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30 November 2007

Religious Bullshit

Gillian Reynolds is a teacher working in Sudan. Her class has a teddy bear. She asked the children what they would like to call it. One of her pupils was called Mohammed. The children elected to call the teddy bear Mohammed.

She was then arrested and prosecuted for this act, and is now serving a prison sentence. Under the Sudanese law she could have been given 40 lashes in public, so I suppose she's got off lightly. Thousands of people have demonstrated in the streets of the capital actually calling for her to be shot. Can you believe that?!

What is it with these people? They are an obscenity. They are a throwback to the Middle Ages. I'm fed up to the back teeth with these religious fanatics. I was pleased to note that British Muslim groups have condemned the treatment given to Gillian Reynolds, and have stated it was wholly out of proportion.

25 November 2007

A day trip to Manchester

Yesterday we had a day out in Manchester, and it says something for the way in which our public transport systems appear to have improved somewhat that we were able to forsake our car (except for the 8 miles to the train Station), take the Trans-Pennine Express to Manchester, use Manchester’s Metro-Link “super tram” system to reach the new Lowry Theatre and Arts complex on the newly developed Manchester Ship Canal waterfront, have lunch, take in an afternoon play, and be home again by 8.30 p.m., having completed a round trip of 220 miles.

The first pleasant surprise was our train pulling into the station just 20 seconds later than the stated time. So, whilst not exactly of Swiss Railways standards (by which the train would have arrived on the dot) a 20 second discrepancy, by my reckoning, was pretty darned good! In fact it could even have been explained away by the fact that the station clock might have been incorrectly set. There was a similar lack of absolute precision on reaching Manchester Piccadilly, but forgivable in that we arrived 3 minutes early!

Then, for the princely sum of £2 each we purchased our return tickets for the 25 minute ride on the Metro-Link tram to the Lowry Centre. The trams were pulling into Piccadilly approximately every 3 minutes, though for different destinations. For our route they were coming in about every 10 minutes.

We arrived at the new Lowry development (named, of course, after the famous painter who depicted Manchester’s earlier industrial life using hundreds of human figures sometimes described as “Matchstick Men and Women”), having braved a bitterly cold driving wind in our faces for the 10 minute walk from the tram stop.

The theatre and associated buildings were spectacular in their bold denial of all things conventional. Walls, windows and floors went every which way, and strong primary colours abounded. But it was all supremely functional, spacious, and comfortable. The theatre auditorium was one of the largest and most comfortable we have experienced. The development was part of Manchester’s Millennium Project, and so is only seven years old.

We enjoyed a play called “Whipping it up”, starring Richard Wilson (well known for his role in the TV series “One foot in the grave”) – a political comedy set in the Westminster office of the Conservative Party’s “Chief Whip” and with a newly elected Conservative Government trying to survive on a House of Commons majority of 3 seats.

Other unexpected pleasures associated with the day was the discovery of so many names in the newly developed waterfront that reminded us of our 2003 visit to Canada and the USA .. “Anchorage”, “Ontario Basin”, “Erie Basin”, “Huron Basin”, “Michigan Avenue”, “Broadway”, and “Ohio Avenue”.

Our train home was crowded: when we stopped at Huddersfield a crowd of football fans who had come all the way up from London to watch their team (Leyton Orient, I believe) playing away. Judging by their mood they must have won. They were loud but well behaved, and amusing. One young lady from Dagenham in Essex sat across the gangway from us and immediately engaged in friendly banter with two guys from Newcastle (judging by the Geordie accents) who were already on the train. One of these guys had been boring the pants of everyone else by pontificating in a loud voice about the meaning of life to his mate, and moving swiftly on to a discussion on the various preferable ways of dying. At one point it briefly crossed my mind that being thrown from a fast-moving train might be one method he might like to try.

Anyway the Essex Girl diverted him on to discussions about regional accents. She herself had an East London-cum-Essex accent that the average “Essex Girl” is known for, assaulting one’s auditory senses with all the finesse of a chain saw, but interestingly she avowed that she didn’t have an accent – she spoke “normally”. The Geordie – who spoke with the Newcastle version of the chain saw – thought that the Essex Girl’s speech was delightful and put forward the proposition that her accent was “very cultured” (at which point it was fortunate that I was not in the middle of sipping a hot cup of coffee).

They all got off at York, to catch their respective trains – one going north, one going south. For the rest of our journey we had the carriage to ourselves apart from a mother and her little boy who provided a small diversion by locking himself into the toilet, then pushing the emergency button instead of the one that flushed the toilet, causing the train conductor to come rushing down the train to open up the toilet with his master key, to deliver the boy back to his embarrassed mother.

It was a day that we should try to repeat when the weather is better.

Finally I have no hesitation in recommending the Lowry complex to anyone wanting a good day out.

21 November 2007

Move over Darling

A major government department - HM Revenue & Customs - has lost two CDs containing the confidential data of 25 million people in receipt of child benefits, including dates of birth, National Insurance Number, and bank account details.

In an act of unbelievable stupidity their offices in the north east of England decided to send the data to London by CD using a Courier Service (TNT). One wonders how a department such as this could even contemplate such an obvious breach of security rules. Surely the Government has an "Intranet" over which data can be transmitted in encrypted form over a secure line?!

The Head of HM Revenue & Customs has fallen on his sword - an increasingly rare act of honour these days - and I can't help thinking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling (see photo) might usefully do the same, since this is not the first act of incompetence by departments for which he is responsible since the transfer of power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown. In fact government departments seem to be so good at making a complete hash of major IT schemes that one wonders how anyone can believe they could bring to fruition their stated policy of bringing in National ID Cards.

16 November 2007

Advice on Health Advice

There used to be a time when one could rely on certain basic tenets of health, for example, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” or “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases - cover your mouth”, or “Wash your hands after using the toilet”.

These days, however, whilst the above still holds true, we are bombarded almost every month with some new piece of so-called research concerning what we eat, how we exercise, how heavy we are, etc. that results in a new set of “rules” for healthy living as each month goes by. That would be fine but for the fact that the rules have a nasty habit of contracting each other with each new “discovery” from some university research project or other.

Coffee is good for you and helps you start the day.
Coffee turns you into a caffeine addict and gives you the shakes.

Tea is good for the heart.
Tea contains caffeine.

Red wine is good for the heart.
Red wine contains alcohol.

Alcohol helps you relax and unwind.
Alcohol causes social breakdown, and also destroys the liver.

Smoking Cannabis has no long-lasting effects on your health.
Smoking Cannabis causes severe psychosis in later life.

Some life-long smokers live to be a hundred or more.
Cigarettes cause poor circulation, heart disease and lung cancer.

Fat people are happier than thin people.
Overweight people are more prone to heart disease and diabetes.

If you are overweight go on a special diet.
There are a thousand and one special diets, they all fail in the end, except in the matter of making money for the people who sell you the system and the products.

Exercise is good for you.
Exercise is bad for you.

Stress is an essential part of being alive.
Stress causes mental breakdown and shortens your life.

Brush your teeth after every meal.
Brush your teeth before eating.

Oily fish, e.g., tuna, contains something called Omega 3 and is good for you
Too much tuna should be avoided because you may get mercury poisoning.

Fish and chips clog the arteries and makes you fat.
Fish and chips contain all the nutrients you need for a healthy life.

Milk and cheese are a good source of calcium, good for the bones.
Dairy products are bad for the circulation and the heart.

Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and lowers blood pressure.
Milk chocolate is bad for you and leads to overweight.

Chocolate is as good as sex for some people.
Chocolate is more expensive than sex (unless you are using professional services).

Fats are good for you.
Fats are bad for you.

Some bottled water has taken 150 years to reach us after filtering through volcanic rock.
There is a “Use by” date on the bottle.

Tap water in modern civilised countries is as good as bottled water and is cheaper.
Tap water in modern civilised countries often tastes of chlorophenols.

Gardening is good exercise.
Gardening exposes you to pollens and fungal spores and gives you hay fever.

Writing Blogs on a computer allows you to share your opinions with the whole world.
Writing Blogs on a computer increases stress, strains the eyes, and leads to repetitive strain injury.

My conclusion is that Health Advice is bad for the Health.

10 November 2007

Death of Common Sense hits my Village this Christmas

Every year my North Yorkshire village puts on a good display of Christmas lights. They are painstakingly erected over a period of weeks by enthusiastic volunteers. They are funded by public donations. Visitors from other towns and villages in the area come to admire the display.

The switch-on involves a bit of fun on the village green, with Father Christmas entertaining the children, and there's plenty to eat and drink from the stalls provided by local shopkeepers.

The green is a triangular patch of ground adjacent to the crossroads at the centre of the village, and so for this bit of Christmas fun a very short length of road separating the green from the main shopping area has, hitherto, been closed off with permission, so that the green, the road and the pavement outside the shops become integrated as a pedestrian area. In no way does this impede the flow of any traffic since the triangle has a road on all three sides. Therefore after the road closure, two sides remain for traffic going in any direction. The Police and the Highway Authority don't want to help.

We have now received notice from the Christmas Lights Committee that because of new regulations the act of physically blocking off two ends of this short stretch of road can only be done under the supervision of someone fully qualified in Traffic Management! It has therefore been necessary to hire a Traffic Management Consultant this year at a cost of about £2,000.

In future, apparently, it will be necessary to train up one of the volunteers in the black art of traffic management so that by Christmas 2008 we shall have our own tame qualified person.

As part of society's downward slide towards such a degree of over-protection that we shall soon require a certificate in the art of sneezing safely, there are rumours that in future we shall also have to employ qualified electricians rather than intelligent volunteers to string up these lights.

Up and down the UK towns and villages are giving up many of these festive activities because they are overburdened by Health and Safety legislation and attendant prohibitive costs. In some areas the use of ladders to string up lights has been banned by local council officials who will only be able to sleep at night in the knowledge that volunteers are hiring the services of lorries fitted with hydraulic lifts.

When are we going start fighting this rising tide of interfering bureacracy and regulation? I'm sick of it. I'm off for a stiff whisky before someone makes a regulation requiring me to have some suitable qualified person check the strength and stability of my pouring arm and my knowledge of the optimal dilution factor when adding water.

03 November 2007

Spammers are invading my Blog

In the past few days my e-mail inbox has been flooded with messages from this system notifying me of new comments made on this or that post. (There were 51 in 6 hours just today, and I've wasted a great deal of my time locating them on the Blog and deleting them.) They are all rubbish comments, e.g., "Great Blog", "Nice writing", or "I'll pass this on" and they all link to some website or other of doubtful provenance trying to sell you stuff.

I've had enough! These people are a waste of space, a blot on society, a bloody nuisance, sad gits, and they should crawl back underneath the slimy stone from which they came.

Since it is highly unlikely that we shall be rid of these online parasites I am forced to re-introduce "comment moderation". In this way, when the next 50 so-called comments are passed to my inbox I can go to the "moderated comments" page and zap them all at once and prevent them from being published. I know that some regular and genuine contributors don't like this system too much, preferring to see their comments go straight to publication, and so I apologise to them and hope they will not be discouraged from making comments.

I can assure any genuine contributor that his or her comments will be passed for publication as soon as I see them. I am interested only in separating proper comments from the automated garbage.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.