Friday, January 27, 2006

I'm off

I'm going away for a few days in France. I've got a book to write and need to seriously get my head down. No washing up, no barking dog, no teenage taxi (she never tips), no going to bed at 3.30 am. No telly, just Radio 4 on the long wave, my guitar and some CDs. And this thing. I hope she holds out. I've got to switch off now because I need to stick the feet on again with some Araldite. See you soon.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fat Slug

George Galloway. Donchajustluvim? No. I'm fed up to the back teeth with him. Now he's out of the Big Brother house he's rounding on his critics and calling them sanctimonious of all things.

Apparently he's said to be amazed at the level of interest in his participation in Celebrity Big Brother. Why? Isn't that the only reason you went in there, George? Because it was popular and attracted attention? Didn't you want to educate the masses and bring awareness of your political fight to the them? Here's a Fat George quote: "There are so many things happening in the world and they seem to have been devoting acres of newsprint to a reality TV show". Yep, George, that's the way TV works. Hadn't you ever seen Big Brother? They humiliate people, George. It's their stock in trade. Even better if you're meant to be famous. That's why it's popular with kids. What did you think they were going to do? Give you a soapbox to stand on? Somehow treat you any differently because you're an elected representative of the people? You gave that right up the moment you signed up. Sadly the, enduring picture of George Galloway isn't the one of him telling the Senate Committee where to stick it, it's of him prancing around in a nice, off the shoulder red leotard (that rather neatly illustrated he doesn't really have the balls everyone thought he did. Actually, how much chutzpah does it take to restate what you only believed in in the first place? They were hardly going to bang him up and give him even more publicity and make themselves look even worse into the bargain, were they?).

The people who watch BB aren't interested in your outside life because the only word they're interested in is "celebrity". You're a politician and as such just as self seeking as any Z-list celeb but in BB, you're just a name they make do stupid things. If you thought you could attract positive attention you were mightily mistaken, so stop bleating and whingeing because you're beginning to sound very much like Bill Clinton saying he never had sex with Monica because he only had a blow job.

There's no point in being wise after the event and saying that you've not been paid while you're in there, either. That just suggests to me you've neglected your constituency even more than we first thought. One of those ludicrous fat cigars you've been chomping away on in there would keep one of your poorer constituents in food for a week, so don't play the sanctimonious card with this voter. You're a two faced lying bastard who's been photographed cosying up to two of the most evil men who've ever walked the planet (and I don't mean Michael Barrymore and Pete Burns). What the hell do you think Uday Hussein went and did after he met and shook hands with you in 1999? Walked off and called a team meeting? No, he went back into his bedroom to his porn and gun collection. He probably even pretended to pick you off as you walked out the door. He was even less a politician than you are. George, you really don't have a clue.

George, here's your last BB task. Rearrange these words into a popular cliché: cake, you, eat, can't, it, have, and , your, you. Now, sod off back north of the border and stay there.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Slug problem

So that disgusting filth-monger Andy Coulson and his toilet-paper rag, the News of the World have got their way and England manager Sven Goran Erikson has said he's going after the World Cup.

He'll be gone by the final then as I can't see us getting past the group stage. He might as well go now to be honest. I hope the NoTW is happy with their "coup". Just as it looked like the few remaining decent English players still playing top flight football in this country were about to come together as a decent fighting unit, the bloke who's made it all possible has been hounded out because of a childish practical joke and will now spend the next 5 months travelling the world looking for his next earner instead of guiding our gallant lads to glory. Bang goes the chance of a 40th anniversary present to the nation (won on the old enemy's front garden, to boot) and the boy David's knighthood. Worse still, Posh won't get to call herself Lady Victoria and I won't want to be in her way when she finds out. How did they trick Sven? By somebody dressing up as everyone's favourite contemporary villain, an Arab. I do wish the police would take away Coulson's computer for something and then everyone could speculate why. That would be sweet.

I really fail to see what Sven did wrong. He was doing what we all do, having a bit of a private chat with someone he thought he could do a deal with; possibly setting up his next job and exchanging some private thoughts with somebody he thought he could trust but was instead just feeding him leading questions and filming it. I chat and meet with potential clients all the time because I'm self employed. Sven's hedging his bets in case it doesn't work out so I really can't see why he's villified for it. So he occasionally likes to leave his Hush Puppies outside the wrong door now and again - newspaper people aren't exactly known for their fidelity, honesty or high moral values so I wonder by whose standards Sven was being judged? Rupert Murdoch's. Rupe's standard for selling papers by whatever means possible. The irony was, after Diana, the NoTW said it wasn't going to use paparazzi pictures anymore. Just dirty tricks instead, then.

And what about the NoTW readership? I use the word advisedly. Remember, this is the paper that in August 2000 and then under the stewardship of soap star beater, Rebekkah Wade, whipped its outraged "readers" into such a frenzy of illiterate vigilantism in the wake of the tragic Sarah Payne murder that they attacked a house belonging to a paediatrician, daubing it with the graffito, "Paedo". These are the people Rupe's coaching to vote-in governments. Great that. Kind of comforting. Anyone remember the "Constable Savage" sketch from Not the Nine O'Clock News in the early 80s? They probably thought it was a serious documentary.

But what can you expect of something owned by the supreme sleazeball, Rupert Murdoch. Nothing's sacred to him. If I remember correctly, he even said as much immediately after the tabloids' finest hour, the death of Diana. His papers didn't even mention Charles Spencer's undisguised attack on them at his sister's funeral. Why, I can't even begin to understand when half the world was watching anyway. Maybe they actually felt guilty? His political standards change when he reckons he's on a winner for News International, not for the benefit of the country his papers are published in. He'll urge you to vote for anything as long as his miserable organisation wins when they can report the country falling apart as the bonus.

Everything is fare game for him. He created the modern paparazzi; a phenomenon that made him so much money in the UK he went off and bought Fox in the US. It also created this ridiculous "fame" culture where people are given celebrity for nothing other than being on the front of a downmarket newspaper with their chest or gusset exposed or for hating another instant celeb. When half the world's in turmoil over the rise in fundamentalism, the tabloid front pages over here are worried about what tenth rate so called "celebrity" is going to be evicted from the Big Brother house or has most cellulite. He's almost single handedly brought the majority of the population of this country down to believing that nothing really matters any more except the ability to sell papers.

He buys up all the decent sport on the telly so he can show it on his amateurish satellite station that almost everybody has but nobody can afford. It means football isn't played at 3.00 pm on a Saturday, it's played whenever it can fit in with Sky's demographics and when most people in Korea or China will be watching. Because they're now laced with TV money, the British leagues are full of undertalented and overpayed foreigners. Arsenal, one of our traditional home international side feeder clubs, regularly fields 11 foreigners and not because they're any good, but because they're followed religiously in their own countries meaning even more merchandising opportunities for this years' change of strip (Oh, you're the Palmer's Green Almunias are you?"). Football isn't the working man's sport anymore, not at £50 a ticket. We won't see any live cricket on TV in this country now either for the next four years at least, because Sky bought the rights. I hate that! I don't want to have to pay a premium rate to watch my favourite sport when I've already bought a TV licence; something that will come bundled with a load of crap I'll never ever watch. It's not progress, it's a backdoor monopoly and it's evil. What's the deal anyway? The population will whinge on about the BBC showing repeats or having to pay a licence fee of £130 a year or however much it is yet they'll happily fork out double that on top of the licence for something they probably won't watch much of anyway because they'll be down the Three Ferrets watching it with their mates on the widescreen.

Let's put this in perspective. They're not doing this out of any kind of philanthropy by making these popular sports more accessible (Channel 4 made cricket popular again here despite reservations about it being done on a commercial channel), they're making them less accessible in the hope that you'll pay £30 a month to watch them through the wok stuck to the front of your house. And who ends up having to do this? Those gullible sods who can least afford it and who once again, get taken cynical advantage of.

OK, Rupe. You've had your revenge on us for transporting your ancestors, if that's what it's about. Although your Australian heritage obviously doesn't mean that much to you because you gave that up so you could be an American and get even richer. It's not often I actually say this about anyone but, I really do hate you. I hate you so much I hope your old age is singularly unpleasant and painful and that the IRS get to take every penny you've ever earned.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

No Zilla

Sorry to have to write this one but I'm sure they'll understand. If you're thinking of downloading the new version of Mozilla Firefox - that's 1.5 - DON'T!! It's pants. It's knackered, wrecked and broken. Stick with 1.07 until they sort it out.

Don't even think about trying it unless you've saved the 1.07 install files and kept all your favourites and your profile and other stuff I don't understand anything about, so you can re-install 1.07 when the new thing goes tits-up. All I do know is that Sharon said yes to an update and I've not heard the end of it. She's lost everything that makes Firefox a dream to use. You must have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat installed and it won't work with gmail. She's lost all her bookmarks and that's a disaster. She's not alone; the Mozilla forums are teeming with horror stories. It's a huge shot in the foot for them but...

...I do wonder whether it was only a matter of time. Once you throw things open to every nutter on the web to tinkle with then you're asking for trouble. Drupal is a maze of unintelligible bollocks, only comprehensible to crisp-eating nerds, not the people it was meant to benefit. Open source software developers are almost certainly French with that unending urge to overcomplicate things. The old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a cliché for no other reason other than it holds true. By all means improve certain little things along the way but to release a huge new version with so many elements that could possibly go wrong is plain daft. Big shame.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Cruise Missive

Showbiz Goatfood. Miniscule Hollywood person and cult follower, Tom Cruise, has supposedly put the vibes out about an episode of South Park which pokes a bit of fun at him. I won't go into the sordid details here but you can read about it here and here. He's indulged in a bit of legal willy-waving with Paramount so we won't get to see the episode over here in the UK. Shame.

I'm having trouble with this on quite a few levels. Why is he getting upset? Because the inference is that he might be gay? What on the good earth is there wrong with being gay? It's certainly nothing to get upset about. Now, if he were to publicly come out and say he believes wholeheartedly in a religion thought up by a bored and broke tenth-rate science fiction writer that's loosely based on a suspect application of certain psychotherapeutic techniques and that actively practises brainwashing techniques on the young and vulnerable in order to extract as much money from them as possible, then I'd call him a delusional and dangerous wanky crackpot.

By shouting loudly, Cruise has only made things worse for himself. No matter how hard he gets the courts to deny it on his part nobody is ever going to believe it. Let's try a little test though and see what he's really concerned about. There's nothing in law to stop me from talking about him to my friends. As I have fewer readers than friends, I might as well say the same things here. If he's really that paranoid, he'll have his legal teams out conducting vanity searches all over the web and shutting down any site that says anything remotely unsettling to him. Come on Tom, put up or shut up and get back to turning out those crap films again. Here, have some of this: Tom Cruise - he's the gay one who believes we're ruled by lizards isn't he?

Chavs: a brief guide

It’s occurred to me that I’ve used the word “chav” a couple of times in this blog. I’m well aware that I have several regular readers from outside these islands who will have no idea what I’m on about. In fact, when I check my stats, it appears that most of my readers are from South America so probably haven’t a clue about any of this at all, let alone care what a chav is. I'll press on though. Education, education, education after all.

More useless even than greenfly, chavs are an abominable form of human underclass that has evolved over the last couple of decades. The word is thought to be derived from the Romany word for a child, chavi. An alternative theory is that it originated in Chatham, Kent and is short for “Chatham Traveller”, a derogatory term for the numerous gypsies living in and around the Medway towns. The culture, and its associated fashions, has spread like a virulent disease and is now known throughout the whole kingdom.

The chav is in part an agglomeration of all waster culture. Their clothing of choice is casual to the point of comical but is drawn from the shell suit craze favoured by Essex man in the 80s. They wear anything with a sports label but have no pretensions to being active in any worthwhile sporting endeavour, except for watching football on widescreen Sky Sports in large 20th Century pubs. Whole chains of sport shops have been developed to cater to the chav’s insatiable desire for anything badged with Adidas, Lacoste and other sundry sports associated labels. These sport shops are usually offering goods at “sale prices” in an effort to kid the aspiring chav that he or she is actually buying something far more expensive than it really is. In summer, the male chav will remove the top of his uniform and tie it round his waist thereby exposing his dish-shaped and hairless, malnourished and tattoo adorned frame.

The predominant clothing colour is white. Tracky bottoms will be tucked into either white or blue socks, a practice that would have caused fusillades of derisory insults regarding the whereabouts of my pushbike when I was a youth because this what you did when you’d forgotten your cycle clips. I would have been called “Spazz” or ”Mong” and have suffered bullying on an immensely humiliating scale. The chav though, is impervious to what non-chavs think.

The whole ensemble will be topped with a baseball cap, again bearing a designer type label. It will be of the large curved peak style and worn at a rakish angle so the chav’s facial jewellery can be viewed. This consists of piercings through eyebrows, ears and tongue, narrowly missing the brain. Jewellery is supplied by the well known West End firm of Elizabeth Duke at Argos. Female chavery demands that the midriff is exposed at all times, regardless of the state of gestation and that all clothing be purchased one size too small. By the way, despite their limited budget, real chavs wouldn’t be seen dead in one of the cut-price clothing chains such as Primark as the clothes don’t bear recognisably expensive looking labels.

There has been a major dalliance with the upmarket West End clothing supplier, Burberry. The Burberry check, a particularly vile beige, sorry "camel", based design, seemed to greatly appeal to the chav. Why is a mystery. It can’t be aspirational; apart from the chav’s total lack of ambition other than to own some loud wheels, I’m sure that the average sink estate wastrel wearing a shell suit tucked into his socks, adorned with a blinding array of nine carat gold ornamentation, swaggering and gobbing its way along Holland Park Avenue is not usually going to be mistaken for the Marquis of Bristol just because he’s wearing a Burberry check baseball cap.

Chavs survive on a diet of cannabis and other proscribed intoxicants augmented by the occasional kebab. The vegetable portion of the diet being provided by the lettuce in Big Macs. Recreational pursuits are legion but the bulk of the chav’s leisure time is devoted to smoking, shouting, sending text messages, scoring drugs, sex and keeping appointments with the Department of Work and Pensions at the Jobcentre Plus. Sadly, the chav female is unusually fecund and will invariably produce offspring at least once a year. It’s a highly matriarchal society, the males having usually deserted their mates soon after procreation.

Chavs are net beneficiaries of the state. They augment their benefits with petty criminality and drug dealing. Benefit fraud is rare as the average chav is incapable of regular paid employment so will rarely make a false social security claim. However, it is thought that if they could apply the same devotion to gainful employment as they do to applying for disability living allowance, they could be capable of quite menial work. Unusually, they are one of the only British cultures to maintain a story-telling tradition. It’s believed that this has become necessary as the chav is more often than not illiterate and that stories based around benefit application forms aid their eventual survival.

A major factor in the chav’s proliferation has been the widespread availability of the “alcopop” style drinks that are presumed to make the females extremely sexually compliant. Alternatively, there’s a theory increasingly gaining favour that the chav male is only attractive to the chav female when she is inebriated. As chavs do not interbreed with other human sub-scultures, restricting the production and sale of cheap alcoholic beverages only to the over 30 sector of the population could eventually force the demise of this laughable biological aberration. We live in hope.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Whassat, mate?

I had a fun day out in the smoke yesterday. I do a bit of writing on the side and I'm helping someone, I'll call him Tony because that's his name, with his autobiography. Now Tony lives in a shiny bit of London, one of the bits dripping with Bentleys and concierges who do nothing all day except say "Hello Sir" and he enjoys a standard of living rather more comfortable than mine. Whenever I visit him I see things around me that would have the swarms of Crewe chavs dragging their chins along the ground leaving a trail of drool to lubricate the passage of their knuckles. Tony wears a Lacoste shirt from the Lacoste shop, not from JD Sports, and he wears it with understated style and panache without having to tuck his trousers into his socks. Despite this, he's well grounded and proud of his East-end Jewish boy roots and is a top-hole bloke.

Because he's able to, he pays for me to travel down by choo-choo from my nest here in Crewe as the railway town is 200 miles away from him and it's not a pleasant trip in the car. Because I was brought up to be a spendthrift, I always try and get the cheapest fare possible but Sir Richard Branson's team has deliberately confused their online booking forms of late to placate the whingers who were complaining about having to pay £100 to sit next to the likes of me who'd only paid £12 for the same trip because we were able to book well in advance. Consequently, the cheapest ticket I could get was a £28 one. Still dead cheap but, hey, it was in First Class and that meant I got a free breakfast.

Breakfast in one of Virgin's new Pendolino trains is a bit of an experience. They are able to go round curves without slowing down because they can tilt. This isn't the same as the old British Rail tilting train that had to have the vomit hosed off the insides of the windows every time it went out, this kind of slides up into the bends much the same way as a motorbike on a wall of death. It's barely noticeable, unless that is, you're eating or drinking. This is because the g-forces involved, although relatively minor, still conspire to make your motor co-ordination go rather askew. I struggled manfully with my tea cup in an effort to get it anywhere near my mouth on a curve somewhere south of Lichfield and I'm sure were I to have been eating one of the rather very nice sausages, it would have ended up poking out from my right ear. All good fun.

The other delight were the crew, who were all from Liverpool. Scouse is an accent I've never really got a handle on. In fact, growing up in the home counties and London, I don't class myself as having any kind of accent at all until people say "pardon, duck?" around here and I suddenly realise I sound as alien to them as Scots. I narrowly avoided a potentially very confusing conversation with a steward yesterday morning when he asked me, in that raised last word query tone beloved of both Merseysiders and Australians, "Soce?" I wasn't aware of what he was carrying, except that it was a tray. I thought he said "sauce" and was just about to say something along the lines of "I haven't actually got my breakfast yet but yes, I'll have brown and some ketchup, please" when I realised he'd actually said "Toast".

At least it was English. I marvel every time I go down to London that English "as she is spoke" is a language fast disappearing from the London sounsdscape. I'm relegated to a series of "pardon"s and "sorry, I still didn't get that" each time I ask for something in a shop or café. In fact, asking for a coffee is a torture. Not only do you have to have an ear for accents uncommon in London 20 years ago (we were all familiar with the friendly Italians and Cypriots, no problem, innit), we've got to negotiate a weary and humourless tirade of "is that mocha, latte, cappucino, Americano, bla bla?" My mum wants to say white coffee, please not caffe con leche. She can't say it anyway, it would come out "caff con er...le...lee...leeches. What's that anyway?" and no-one would be any the wiser. (Bless her. Despite the fact that it's been on telly for aeons, she can't even say "Poirot"; that comes out "Pruro" and once we were served up with "Chicken Chaucer". Which isn't chicken done by the Wife of Bath, it's chicken chasseur). The bizarre thing is, at Euston there's a newsagent with three tills in, all manned by heavily accented Asians and one of those post-office style queuing systems that says in impeccable WASP RP, "Cashier number thrrreee, please". It's just so incongruous when in the queue of 15 people and the three cashiers, there only appeared to be two English people. London isn't the capital city of England any more, it's the world's city, desperately struggling to find some kind of identity among the morass of confused humanity writhing about in it. But that's another blog.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Not a petty offence!

There's been a news story doing the rounds today in the West Midlands area about a driver who's been fined for leaving his fog lamps on in clear weather. The driver, 61 year-old Roger Smith has been accusing West Mercia Police of being over-zealous. Congratulations to the police for actually doing their job and protecting other road users from dangerous drivers. He reckoned he should have just got a talking to and a caution. NO WAY!!

Why? Fine the miserable old bugger double and ban him for a year. I'm fed up with being blinded by fogs carelessly left on at night or in rain and that's what the fine is all about, protecting me. Back there though is the operative word - you're not being absent-minded or a bit daft, you're being bloody careless. If you're so senile you don't realise what those symbols are all lit up on your dashboard, you shouldn't be on the road. If you haven't noticed the symbols you've probably not even checked your dash so you could be speeding; driving with your parking brake part locked on; overheating - anything. It's not funny! If he'd blinded somebody in rain and caused an accident he wouldn't have a case to answer so why rattle on about it as if he's being hard-done by? I reckon he's only whingeing because he's had a clean licence for over 40 years, not because he got caught breaking a law designed to preserve the safety of other road users.

I got caught speeding for the first time last year; I broke the law and got points on a 20 year old licence for the first time, end of story. I've become a better driver for it, though; much more aware of my surroundings than I used to be so it follows my fellow road users are safer, so thanks.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cop this for sweet revenge...

To the casual browser, the internet is a wonderful place full of information and lovely things to do (like getting foreign pages translated by google when you've had a few too many). To others, like meself and Sharon, my lady, it's our main source of income.

Look at your run-of-the-mill webpage. All those colours and words. On average, three people are involved. First off, there's the person who had the original idea but knows absolutely bugger-all about getting it onto your screen. So they hire a web designer who can make pages go green and yellow, get different coloured lines to go round the edge and make buttons work. He knows how to put the words on the page but like the first person, he's usually a functional illiterate. So, what happens is they hire someone to write what's called "content". That's all the information you're reading right now.

Now, some of the website owners and designers are scrupulous, have integrity and are clever enough to realise that being original is best and they hire the likes of Sharon and me to go away and research a topic like "300 uses for old bus tickets" or "Deviant sexual practices involving Volvos" and pay us enough money to make it worth our while. After all, it's our job and think how much you get paid to do yours. Without us you'd still be playing Pong.

Unscrupulous and highly irresponsible website owners (we'll call them "tight bastards") go to the bidding sites, like Scr*ptl*nce, where they auction off a project, usually to the lowest bidder. Sadly the lowest bidder is usually some recently qualified graduate with at best a shaky grasp of English and sitting in his tenement room in Mumbai to whom $5 for 1000 words will buy food for a week. In order to rush out his job he will look on the web for something similar and copy it, changing one or two words here and there to make it look different. I don't see them necessarily as criminals but the people who think that paying an insulting rate to price quality out of the market definitely are.

Different and original it isn't and it's called plagiarism and it's the bane of anyone who writes or does anything creative, especially on the internet. If you are going to research a subject you are unfamiliar with, the temptation to crib off somebody else is great, especially if you've got a deadline. It's simply not worth it though. The rule for re-writing is: read the original, shut the book or the page for good and write what you remember. That way you will be recycling the work but in your own words. If you're a writer of any talent you should be able to do it and not get found out. Your work should not bear any similarity to the original in wording or structure. There are some tests you can do to test for plagiarism but by and large, you know what used to be your own work when you see it. And to see someone else's name attached to it is a huge insult.

A couple of weeks ago Sharon was approached by somebody who'd seen her website and was interested in her doing some work for his new site. I visited the site but didn't venture too far in because it wasn't all that good and some of the existing content on the front page was a little too deliberately provocative for my liking. I promptly forgot about it until this evening when I asked her about whether she'd heard anything back from the site's owner. She then revealed what had happened but what she'd originally forgotten to tell me about.

She'd delved a little further into the site than me and had actually come across several articles that she recognised as being largely her own. She's been writing for the internet for many years now and has hundreds of articles out there, some anonymously, others under pen-names but many under her own name. If you sell your work, you're more often than not selling the rights to it as well and the purchaser can do whatever they wish with it and most append their own name to it. That's OK. But lots of these articles are published with her byline and contact details as it's a condition of them being used for free as a shop window for her.

The articles on this site had been changed slightly but the titles and much of the structure and wording was still easily recognisable as hers. What's more, her name had been removed and the owner's substituted. Now this again isn't an uncommon event and usually a swift email gets the offending article removed.

What has happened in this case is that the guy had probably paid for some original content and got sent Sharon's re-jigged work. If he'd plagiarised it directly he would have recognised Sharon's name when he invited her to put an estimate in. But, he's not done plagiarism tests so he's not spotted anything at all. He's probably thought to himself that he'll get away with it, no problems. The web's a big place and he'll never ever meet the original author if by chance he's bought hookey gear. That is until Sharon put her sensible bid for his work in with a note to say that she's spotted her work on his site and what did he propose to do about it. Needless to say, she's not heard anything from him yet.

Now, here's the rub and what odds would I have got for this if I'd put a bet on I wonder? Not only is he an unscrupulous little shite who got caught out doing naughties; he shot himself in the foot bigtime when he originally approached Sharon because...wait for it...out of the whole world wide web to choose from, he managed to pick someone to nick off who lives about half a mile away from him. Yep - he told us his address, and he's here in Crewe, just down from my favourite Indian takeaway. He must be bricking it. Oh such deep, deep joy. And what sweet revenge for us writers.

So then kiddies; what have you learned about the internet today? That it might not be quite as big and as easy to hide in as you first thought it was. Look behiiind you...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

How Green is Green?

So many things, so few words.

Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council have gone green. They’ve grasped the eco-bull by its recyclable horns in a rather big way and it’s a right pain in the rear.

Most councils have had a recycling policy for some time now. I’d been recycling stuff with Bexley Council for years before I moved here in 2002. They and the neighbouring local council of Dartford had an innovative policy in which they sent all their rubbish over to Essex. Neat. They used to give us a small green crate for paper and another one for glass and they used to collect them every two weeks or so. The rest we used to take to the tip when we were passing or to the bottle banks at the supermarket. For most people though, the crates were enough and on the strength of it, Bexley became a “Beacon Council”

That works fine for the simple reason that you can combine your recycling trips with your other jobs so your energy use is minimised. Now, those cautioning against recycling on the basis of it not being cost effective aren’t exactly getting the idea behind the philosophy. There’s an inexhaustible supply of money but it takes oil to make coke bottles and phenomenal amounts of energy to melt sand into tv screens, so anything that stops us recycling bottles, cans paper etc is a very good thing. So why have I got the hump with the council?

Until three years ago we had one dustbin. For most people this was the repository for all their waste and that was a bad thing. Then we were issued with green bins so we could put our waste paper in and this would be collected every month. Later we were issued with brown bins so all the garden waste could be collected. Just before Christmas we were told that we would now be getting a white bin as well for glass and other recyclables.

It’s all very laudable and I don’t want to poop on their party but their plans are somewhat stymied by one of the other previous governmental initiatives: that of cramming as many people into as small a space as possible. And in our case that means we live in a box barely bigger than the combined volume of these four bins. Now these aren’t crates that we can keep out in the garden and carry through as and when, they are half and three-quarter sized wheelie bins and they have to be kept somewhere. We live in a terrace and we don’t have rear access and I’m not going to wheel bins through the house at any time of the year. There’s nowhere to put them in front of the house because of a slope, or even a hedge to hide them behind because boundary demarcation in the form of hedges and fences is now discouraged. We can’t even put up fences to keep dogs from crapping on our front garden. And of course, empty bins left outside your property are an ASBO magnet.

The council has enough trouble collecting the existing three bins let alone complicating the matter with a fourth. Christmas was a disaster as not only had they recently altered the collection day for the second time in two months, they forgot to notify everyone when the seasonal collections would be made, hence come last Monday there was three weeks’ worth of rubbish laying around the estate. Imagine that kind of chaos four times over, especially when most of my neighbours can’t remember when to put the existing three bins out.

The worst thing is, the normal waste collection is going to be changed to every other week and we generate more than the usual amount of waste as Sharon has a lot of essential medical supplies that all have packaging. The unrecyclable waste from her regime is equivalent to a large waste paper bin every day with around two dozen large cardboard boxes thrown in for good measure every month. As a result, I actively try and encourage recycling so as we can fit it all the normal stuff in the bin and I take the cardboard to the council recycling depot every week. Believe it or not, the council won’t collect additional bags unless you notify them in advance and use one of their marked black bags and even that you have to collect in person from the depot. Now there’s energy efficient for you.

One thing that would help discourage our throwaway culture would be to re-instate the deposit system on bottles. It works everywhere else and in supermarkets in Denmark you can’t move on a Saturday morning because the family “return” is underway (it’s all automated – has been for years and you get a discount or cash back). And it’s on plastic bottles as well.

The whole thing lacks cohesion and foresight. They’ve tried but because there are too many parties involved (waste contractor, borough council and county council) there’s an awful disorganisation and disinterest about it. More roadside collecting points like they’ve got in France would be good and more facilities on the estates so we didn’t have to keep the stuff on our own property for weeks on end. Encourage home composting ( a sore point because I went for a job as the council composting supremo in 2002 and didn’t get it) and get the wastrel youths involved. They’re always complaining they’ve got nothing to do – give them some social responsibility and a position whereby they can earn the respect of their elders. Let them profit from it, too. They wouldn't be glorified dustmen, they'd be allowed to compost on the unused allotment areas and sell the stuff on, even growing cheap organic fruit and veg to be used in the borough's schools and facilities. Now that would be a proper use of council tax money, help to green our local environment and promote civic pride into the bargain.

There are so many initiatives we could make at grass roots level, not only to reduce our waste but to make our environment a much more pleasant one to be in. Crewe try hard at the civic pride thing with lots of pretty floral displays in the summer that liven up what has to be said is an uncommonly drab and featureless town centre. But there are so many other ways it can be done as well and giving those of us who feel somewhat disenfranchised a stake in our surroundings could be good for everyone.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Put that fag out....

Labour MPs are at last to be allowed a free vote on whether smoking should be banned in public places. About time. What the hell is wrong with this country? Just when every bleeding heart is bleating about the government running a nanny state when they don’t need to, they completely lose the plot when they really DO need to be decisive and forthright.

Frankly I don’t see why there should be a vote at all. Ban the filthy habit from everywhere except your garden or officially designated public smoking areas. Maybe this would reduce the hundreds of costly housefires caused every year as well as all the smoking related deaths and illnesses. The government’s existing proposals are that smoking should be banned in all premises serving food, including pubs and clubs. What an insult! Part of the rationale behind a ban was to protect those who work in smoking areas. So if you’re a barman in a non food pub then your health is of no concern to the lawmakers. That’s nice. Now try and get an appointment with your GP to discuss your breathing problem.

Why the hostility? Well, I have to declare a vested interest. I used to smoke, gave up for a year and then started again when I met Sharon. I gave up again and finally on 11th June 2003 and haven’t had so much as a puff since. She smoked like the proverbial chimney when we met and had done for 30 years. In February 2003 she was admitted to hospital with agonising abdominal pains. She’d been getting more and more ill since a mystery “attack” the previous November. She could hardly walk after that and she also went on to suffer blue feet and terrible sickness and diarrhoea. It transpired that the mystery attack was a blood clot in her superior mesenteric artery. This supplies a large portion of the bowel with blood and the pains, sickness and circulatory problems were all tied in.

Her legs were gradually being starved of blood as it was being channelled to her vital organs. The abdominal pains were the result of her bowel losing function. It was dying and becoming necrotic. That’s rotting to you and me. She was projectile vomiting buckets of bile coloured fluid, just like Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” and she was in such pain that nothing except death could relieve her. She’s had three children and none of them gave pain like this. When they operated on her they were surprised at what they saw, not least because they weren’t expecting it. The fact that she was still alive probably misled them into thinking it was something entirely different and they weren’t really prepared for what they found. Anyway, they excised the bowel, lashed up a stoma and we crossed our fingers.

A few weeks later, unable to get to grips with the stoma bag constantly falling off her abdomen and frustrated by the medical staff’s lack of expertise, the surgeons sewed her remaining bits of bowel back together (there’s about 90cm in total) and sent her off to Salford’s Hope Hospital for recuperation. She can now eat and drink with the rest of us but can’t absorb any nutrition. This she gets from being connected to a large bag of evil smelling liquid that’s pumped into her sub-clavian vein through a central line in her chest. A procedure that takes around 15 hours a day. The hook-up and disconnecting procedure has to be done under sterile conditions and we have to have a separate fridge to keep all her feed in.

She suffers from occasional uncontrolled bouts of vomiting that kind of take the edge off of going out for a meal. So far she’s only managed to throw up once in a restaurant (luckily nobody saw her and the waiter was a diamond). And the lady discreetly heaving into the bin in Tesco’s car park isn’t necessarily the neighbourhood lush because intriguingly, she can drink absolutely anybody under the table and walk out of the pub and drive home. Not being able to absorb alcohol is a double edged sword though, as she yearns to sink a couple of vodka and oranges and actually feel the effect.

It costs the local health authority upwards of £125 a day just to keep her fed (I laugh at those clowns who say they’re paying for their future health care with taxes on cigarettes. Only if you die quickly and young you are) and we’re now stuck here in Crewe because no other health authority will take us on. I had to give up work to be what amounts to a nurse because she’s not strong enough to do all the lifting, fetching and carrying involved in managing her regime.

Now obviously this isn’t a scenario that applies to everyone and you would think totally unrepresentative. Our conception of smoking related diseases is that you smoke, work, pay taxes and die young. You’re not a burden on the state too long past retiring so, thanks and all that. That’s why governments don’t discourage smoking enough – you’re good for the health of the nation. You’re expendable once we’ve had our money so hurry up and die quickly. I think I’d rather I lived in a country that genuinely showed it cared about its people and was able to reap the benefits of a healthy workforce.

It's not always the case that people learn fro their mistakes though, you know so you can't always poke blame at tobacco manufacturers and government. In the specialist ward that Sharon occupied at Salford while she learned how to look after herself were around 20 others who had similar experiences. You’d be amazed at the number of people who still smoked despite the agony they’d been through. By the way, she was lucky. We just happen to live near a world centre of expertise in bowel failure at Hope Hospital, one of only two in the country. Anywhere else and she’d probably have died of an infection caught at our local hospital by now. Maybe that’s the idea.

If I had any say in this democracy of ous then I’d be banging on my MP's door urging her to vote sensibly for a complete ban. I really would not wish what Sharon went through onto my worst enemy.

Sorry, but I'm just too tired to be funny.

I'd just like to apologise to anybody who's come here on a link that promised humour. It's not happening at the moment for a number of reasons but the biggest being that I'm too knackered to even try and be droll. I'd love to but not just now.

Both of us have got to turn our lives around as we're turning into night-shift workers. I've never been able to sleep during the day very well because it's too bright and too noisy but the other half can sleep anytime, anywhere. Consequently, when she wants to work, she does. As she's stuck on an intravenous pump for most of the day she also tends to work out of the bedroom and that more or less rules out an inpromptu kip when wou've got a laptop fan blowing in your ear. We try and arrange it but it never works as somebody has to be around to deal with the real world; the one that operates on a 9-5 basis and that someone is me. It was 4am this morning before I got to sleep but I was roused at 7.30 by No. 1 stepdaughter crashing around getting ready for college. The dog barks at anything with a respiratory function within half a mile so I was on a loser from the start.

We're meant to be going to see Narnia this evening in our shiny new cineplex but I'm worried the chairs will be too much on the comfy side and that I won't get to see much of it. Got to get it when you can.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

If it's not ours, we'll get it...

I get sent a daily quote by a site called Most of these I ignore but something about today's one caught my eye. It wasn't the quote by Albert Einstein ("Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking") so much as the mini biog of Einstein himself.

All it said was "German born American Physicist who developed the special and general theories of relativity. Nobel Prize for Physics 1921. 1879-1955". What's wrong with that? Well, nothing because it's technically correct but what upsets me is this constant misappropriation by America of well-known history. Eh? Read on...

The heavy hint is that he was an American physicist of renown when the truth is rather more prosaic. He'd done all his major research by the 20s before he emigrated in 1933 at the rise of Nazism. In fact you could argue that it was more or less all over for him after 1905 when he first published his special theory of relativity. He spent the latter part of his life fiddling with the bits of quantum mechanics (something he'd jointly worked on with Neils Bohr) that were at odds with his own beliefs (if I remember correctly, he couldn't come to terms with the idea of God creating something that relied on being random) and trying to develop his unified field theory. In fact, he never did anything of particular note after becoming an American citizen. Read this timeline: Lived in Europe and was busy busy busy; went to America: slept. The nearest parallel we Brits have is when Eric and Ernie left the BBC and went to ITV. They just weren't funny anymore yet ITV still plug them as their own long after they both passed away.

A more accurate biog should have read "Albert Einstein. Nobel prize winning German-born Jewish physicist and author of theories that changed the world while working as a patent officer in Switzerland. Fled to America to escape Nazi oppression and became a celebrity at the expense of his career".

Friday, January 06, 2006

Quoting me haplessly

Back in November we stayed for a week in a lovely little old cottage in the Calvados area of Normandy. I was so taken with the beauty of the place and the superb hospitality of the wonderful English owners who lived next door that I promised I'd very soon be back for a week to throw myself into some work in the peace and tranquility of the place. Sharon would give it a miss this time though because, although she loved both the place and Steve and Caroline the owners, she found the steep stairs a bit hard going and she feels the cold more than I do. You wouldn't think she'd lived in Norway for 18 years but her problems are largely down to the diet of heparin she's on for her circulatory problems. Her blood's so thin that a) it knackers her just thinking about walking and b) it cools her down very quickly. She also wears a low-dose morphine patch that keeps some of the pain at bay. I call it her heroin patch as she goes a bit cold turkey if she goes too long without changing it. When that happens, it could be 90 degrees outside but I'll have to put the heating right up and temporarily forget any green pretensions.

Anyway, I booked it again a couple of days ago, no problems at all. The holiday company, French Country Cottages, tried to sell me the motor breakdown insurance that's part of the terms and conditions of hire (I was taking my own car and I didn't think I had it) but I said I'd have a shop around and see what I could get as I thought I'd probably need to join one of the breakdown companies anyway as my car's getting on now and it's been a stranger to a regular servicing for the last 40,000 miles (although I did have the radiator, front brakes and cam belt done last year).

I had a shop around the major roadside agencies and found that a week's breakdown cover to France for non-members varied between about £45 and over £100 (disgraceful, Green Flag!) . Then I remembered that I thought my motor insurers, Norwich Union, included breakdown cover in the policy and as I had to call them to extend my policy anyway I might as well ask them. They said they could extend the breakdown policy for £47 and that this would actually last for 14 months although my insurance policy with them runs out at the end of April. As I was having to pay a bit extra to extend the policy anyway I asked what the weekly rate would be. It was £75! I expressed mild surprise (actually I said it was a bloody rip-off). The customer service operative (sad to say, probably in India as he had absolutely no empathy with me whatsoever) kept saying that it was for 14 months, as if this was some kind of selling point.

I made two points rather forcefully to him and told him to pass these on to his superiors. I also said that I hoped the call was being recorded so an unhappy customer could be listened to. I said that if I bought a single potato, I would expect to pay 15p for it. If I bought a big bag of them I'd expect to pay considerably more, not LESS than an individual one. Imagine the waste if everthing was sold on that basis! Also, told him that I considered the fact that they were offering me an attractive deal as part of my policy for 14 months, way past my policy end date, was an incredibly cynical inducement to get me to renew with them and was completely out of order. What if I decided to change my insurer? Come on, I told him, do you honestly think everyone's going to remember to cash in the remainder of their 14 month policy after a few months have elapsed, especially when there would probably be an "admin charge" levied to do it that would eat up the remainder? It's cheap and nasty and not something I'd expected of a respected company and I told them where to put it.

I went back to the holiday company and got a cracking deal for £30 or so that covers me from a couple of weeks before I go in case the old Rover hands in its cards and I need to hire a car for the trip. Now that did quote me happy.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bad what?

Just read this in The Guardian Unlimited's Bad Science section. For all those too lazy to read links it's meant to be a quasi-humorous piece about the government sneaking through legislation on the labelling of homeopathic medicines. Until 1st Jan product labelling has had to include the words "Homeopathic medicinal product without approved therapeutic indications." Now licenses can be applied for providing there is "bibliographic evidence that the product has been used in the indications sought" and the labelling has to reflect this. Naturally this isn't the only proviso; there are other strictures regarding the quality of the manufacturing process, this is the nanny state journos whinge about, after all.

The respected journalist, Ben Goldacre, has used the piece to basically give vent to his prejudices and bigotry towards the homeopathic profession. Although he uses the term "Peddlers" he stopped short of calling them witch doctors or charlatans but you get my drift. He states when the results from all the trials over the years are added up it's proven that a homeopathy remedy is no more or no less efficient than a placebo. This is his basis for saying that "there's nothing in it". But anyone with an ounce of remembered science will justifiably be shouting back that there is, because the placebo effect works. That's why it's called an effect. Without the placebo effect there would be no reliable trials anywhere, including, presumably, the ones he's using as the basis for his article.

Mr Goldacre then rubbishes the government for succumbing to the homeopathic lobby with this labelling, saying it's been an incredible waste of time and public money. I say clever Mr Blair. If people want to believe in homeopathy, and there are millions who do, and spend money on products that "cure" them and subsequently keep them away from clogging up my local GP's waiting room, then it's a shrewd move to give the products an official backing. Because, if Mr Goldacre is right, it ain't gonna harm them one way or t'other. They're not even snake oil.

The fact is, nobody knows why homeopathy appears to work in some cases. When I first met my wife she used to display the equivalent of nettle rash every time we met (I'd like to think it was the sheer excitement of our encounters that caused it. Hell, it was). She borrowed a friend's urtica pills and it cleared up straight away every time she took one. She couldn't even claim that the consultation was part of the treatment and would claim to be a fence sitter where homeopathy was concerned.

Ben Goldacre's crime is that he has judged something solely on the evidence against it. Evidence that can only use current science to either prove or disprove. The government, with its labelling initiative has taken the oft maligned middle ground and said that it's OK. We're not sure why but go ahead as long as... Imagine a 17th century scientist in our world. What would he know about televisions or space flight? He'd see the evidence for it right enough but he'd probably run a mile from the witchcraft. After all, he wouldn't even be able to understand much of the physics behind such phenomena, let alone the mechanics. 20 million of us climb into a car each day in this country but only a tiny fraction of those drivers know how the damn thing works. We take for granted technology that could only have been fantasised about 30 years ago yet we're happy to do so. Likewise all medicines. Some conventional therapies I'm sure rely on trials that prove only their efficacy, the chemistry being an as yet unproven mystery.

Live with it, it won't kill you.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Salad Days

It was inevitable I suppose what with new year and all that. For the first time in my life I've put myself on a "regime". Granted it's not very strict but I need to do something because the alternatives don't bear thinking about. I'd rather people remembered me with phrases like "It was such a surprise" rather than "It was only a matter of time".

I've decided that I need to get down to 12 stones and that means losing 39lb. I'm not going on a diet, I'm just going to try and be healthier. More walks, better food that kind of thing. It means I'll still be able to enjoy a drink and the odd cream cake now and again. I'm also hoping that doing it in front of an audience, however virtual, will be the spur I need to succeed so you can watch, laugh and gloat as it all goes horribly wrong here or click the link in the sidebar.

I have a dieting companion: a few weeks back the vet said that pizza wasn't the best adjunct to our dog's diet. He wasn't actually referring to our dog at the time but I have to say it was remarkably prescient of him to hint that the rest of the family (not me, I eat all of mine) should stop feeding Poppy their crusts. Poppy has a dieting blog all of her own here so you can follow her progress as well. If you too live with a fat bitch and fancy doing something about it, you can join in as Sharon's done it as a fancy membership type blog. Clever, eh?

Must dash as I've got a salad to cook.