Monday, 31 December 2007

Good Riddance


I was going to take my lead from the New Yorkers, who have been holding "Good Riddance Day", putting the things they're glad they're leaving behind with the new year into the bin. But I couldn't think of anything. Not that there's nothing I'd like to see the back of, but most of those things will be with us in 2008, unfortunately.

So instead, here's my list of things I wish were going - my "Room 101" list, I suppose:

  • War and Unrest - I know I'm risking (i) sounding like a Miss World candidate, and (ii) being serious, but it doesn't seem right to list bad things without thinking about all the deaths that have been needlessly caused this year.
  • London - This should have gone out with the 20th Century. With modern communications we don't need over 1/6th of our population crammed into one small corner without enough water or land. They say global warming is going to finish it off, but it's taking far too long about it.
  • Post Offices - These should have gone out with the 20th Century. With modern communications we don't need over 1/6th of our population standing in queues at any given time. Privatisation of the Royal Mail will eventually finish them off, but it's taking far too long about it.
  • Commas - If we all learned to write without using commas then we would save a fortune in legal bills although we'd also all have to learn to write using longer words and there would be a lot of unhappy lawyers (hereafter and heretofore referred to as unemployed).
  • Sleep - Wouldn't it be great if we could have an extra third of a day? There would no longer be any excuse for missing a day posting on your blog.
  • Work - Wouldn't it be great if we could have an extra third of a day? There would no longer be any excuse for missing a day commenting on everyone else's blogs.
  • Spam - I know that I and many others are making women's lives less fulfilled by not having enlargements and Duracell pills, but...
  • Different Times - I definitely want Summer Time (the time, not the season) abolished. The only reason given for it is that the schools open an hour earlier - Er, you can do that without putting the clocks forward. Duh! But then, while we're at it, why don't we all just move on to GMT? After all, the time difference across the Atlantic hasn't been stopping other people getting the first comment in on Bee's blog.
I would have added "Stupid Lists", but I need them for my blog.

I hope you have a great New Year, and that you don't stay too sober.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Laughing Policemen


Someone's actually taken some of Bee's advice. The Thai police, in fact. News obviously travels fast. They've started sending coppers to laughter classes. They start by learning how to go "ha ha ha" (sounded phony to me), and then to make their fingers laugh, and then their hearts.

I've said this before, but laughter is seriously bad for you. People have died laughing. The most bizarre incidence of this was someone who died laughing at a Goodies sketch involving a Scotsman fighting a haggis with bagpipes. His widow wrote a thankyou letter to the Goodies thanking them for making his last moments so enjoyable.

The funniest laughing death has to be of the ancient Greek prophet Calchas, who predicted the date of his own death, then when the day came and he hadn't died, he laughed so hard that he, erm, died.

It would certainly be a good thing if traffic police everywhere were taught to laugh. The rest of us would of course want training in the art of telling jokes. Some lucky people, such as Jean Knee, are able to sweet-talk their way out of criminal charges, but imagine if you could make them double over laughing for long enough so that they forget why they stopped you, or long enough for you to make a fast getaway,

I can't tell jokes, so I'd certainly need the training, but for those of you who already have the gift of the gab, here are some which will have them in stitches, or scare them into letting you go:
  • You can't pin this on me, I wasn't even there.
  • I didn't realise I was pedalling that fast.
  • I'm rushing to the hospital - I've got Scarlet Fever.
  • I demand a recount.
  • Men in uniform turn me on - this one works particularly well if you're male - women may find that the cop arrests them so he can spend more time examining their particulars, at least that's what I'd do.
Personally, though, I find that the best method is not to speed in the first place. I know, it's selfish of me, since it will deprive someone of a good laugh.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Bits and Pieces


As my time is limited, here are a few bits and pieces.

Putin vs Gore Quick Quiz:

1. Which one actually managed to get elected President of their country?

2. Which one got a whole set of satellites launched so that his country could have it's own GPS system which he could use to put a GPS collar on his labrador, so it wouldn't get lost?

No prizes...

From the Grave

I loved the story about the 88-year old in Portland who died a couple of months ago. His friends and relatives got Christmas cards from "Paradise", in which he wrote that he'd asked to come back just long enough to write and post the cards. Not only did the guy have a great sense of humour, but he used it in a way that would help the bereaved enjoy their first Christmas without him.

Consumer Child

Helena and I went to my mother's yesterday for a meal, and she now has Christmas money to spend, so time to go shopping. I'll see if I can get hold of the Star Wars Trilogy whilst I'm at it - maybe we'll be able to pronounce the names of the planets we're attacking.

Torture

Oh, and I want some pity, please. Or at least some empathy. Someone bought Helena an Aled Jones CD. I've heard it five times in the last two days. Agghhhhh.....

Thursday, 27 December 2007

An Army Marches on Its Stomach


My Christmas has now begun, since Helena has arrived. She very kindly brought me (among other things) a special present, which turned out to be... a tin of green beans.

The green bean famine now appears to be over - they are back on all the shelves, and with Helena's gift I had 10 tins - enough to make 5 green bean casseroles. She's not been here a day yet, and we've already eaten one of the tins. I've also had a request to make GBC for tomorrow.

We'll need all this sustenance to launch our bids for pan-galactic domination.

Helena loves board games, and I'm typing this in a hurry, since we've got "Star Wars Risk" to play. This is possibly a bit ambitious as the aim is to take over the Galaxy, conquering planets such as Bpfassh. The most difficult bit, therefore, will be working out how to pronounce all the crazy names...

Wish us luck...

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Online

"You Tube" Star

I wasn't there, of course, but I can imagine the scene. It was 1957, probably a bleak, cold winter, probably still in black and white. But people didn't let the fact that the country was still recovering economically from the last war, and perhaps facing annihilation in the next one, spoil their festive fun. There would still be turkey on the table, Christmas crackers, and of course the Christmas Tree.

But this was an age of advancing technology, and this year would be special. The Queen's Christmas Day Message, by then a 25-year old tradition (all right, it was the King's before 1952), was going to be televised!

Lots of people had bought the new-fangled TV thingies in 1953 for the Queen's Coronation. In fact by 1957 there was probably at least one household in each street with one, so, after their roast lunch they woke up grandad and all huddled round the TV, whose valves had probably taken as long as the turkey to warm up.

Little did they know as they watched entrhalled as a blurry image of Her Majesty appeared on the tiny screen that 50 years later their descendents would be looking at an equally blurry picture of her on You Tube. That's progress for you.

Personally, I don't think I've heard one of the Queen's messages since I was a child and we heard it on the World Service. But it's a real tradition for many, and the Queen as always is moving with the times, so will be broadcasting it on You Tube for the first time.

This year is my second year online. Last year I remember, either on Christmas Eve, or Christmas day, listening to "o agripnos" (the "awake [man]"), on Greek radio - people phoning in from all over the world to send their best wishes to friends and relatives.

I still expect to be doing that - in fact I'm listening to the Christmas broadcasts as I type this (and might even be able to understand them this year!). However this year is my first (and last, maybe?) as a blogger, so thankyou for your comments and company over the last few months.

All my best wishes to you and your families (drunken uncles and FILs included), and have a safe and happy time.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Swearing in Eight Languages

G.F. Handel

George Frideric Handel was a German composer, though he did end up taking British nationality, and wrote most of his famous work here.

He was larger than life, spoke with a heavy German accent and could (and frequently did) swear for longer than most people without repeating himself, mainly because he was fluent (at swearing) in about eight different languages.

He had a serious temper on him, as well as making innovations in the field of management which for some reason modern practitioners haven't been eager to follow. During the rehearsals of one of his operas, the lead soprano refused to sing one of the songs, as it didn't suit her voice. Handel picked her up and, carrying her to a window, threatened to throw her out of it. She sang the song.

Why have I chosen Handel as the subejct of this post? Because I've been listening to his "Messiah" oratorio, which as you probably know sets to music words from the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Common Prayer, in order to tell the story of Christ, and is often performed at Christmas and Easter.

Ipod users may be familiar with the "Hallelujah" chorus, which is one of the 50 or so numbers from this piece.

Handel was primarily an Opera composer, but since opera was performed in theatres it was considered somewhat sinful in 18 Century London, and he couldn't make a living from it. So he switched to composing Sacred Oratorios, which are basically operas that can be performed in churches, where although the singers play different roles, they don't dress up or move around, and which tell Biblical stories.

These stories tended to come from the Old Testament, and were very much like film adaptations. They'd take a chapter or two that told of a great battle, laced with smiting and heros, bung in some love interest, and because of Handel's great ability to write show-stopping catchy numbers, they'd have a hit on their hands.

"Messiah" is different. It doesn't tell a story in that way. In fact very little of it is taken from the Gospels. It concentrates on the theology. The singers don't play characters. The words were collected together by Charles Jennens. Three weeks later Handel announced that he'd finished it, after composing the music at a frantic speed. He did cheat slightly by taking some songs out of his old operas ("For Unto Us a Child is Born" is an example of this).

Jennens was not impressed. He'd slaved hard to compile the words, and felt that Handel can't have done a very good job in just 24 days. He hadn't actually heard the music, but went around telling people how rubbish it was.

You'd be hard pushed to find anyone in the last 250-odd years who have heard it and would agree with this assessment. Handel isn't as famous as he should be - his music is incredibly easy to listen to, and very melodic - much more so than Bach.

But isn't it hypocritical of a non-believer to be getting enthusiastic at one of the great expositions of Christian ideals? Probably, but why should God have all the best tunes?

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Aϊ Βασίλης έρχονται ξανά...

"He's making a list, he's checking it twice"

Watching a truly tacky 10 minute Christmas song programme last night, which had mechanical reindeer, someone throwing fake snow in front of the camera every 30 seconds or so, and a bunch of schoolkids singing to a Karaoke-style backing, I started wondering where the Greeks got "Ay Vasilis" from.

Then I read Chris's article, which had a link about the historical Man Behind the Beard, and was motivated to find out more (well, have a quick look on Wiki).

He's their Father Christmas. Every culture has one, even places like China and Japan. In these days of globalisation, Ay Vasilis is the Coca-Cola Santa, but like St Nicholas he also has a history. "Basil the Great" was born around 330, and is famous for looking after the poor and needy.

His exertions led him to an early grave at the age of 50 - Looking at our modern version, who is prime heart-attack material, yet moves round the world at velocities approaching lightspeed, it's clearly a dangerous occupation. At least no-one tried to hack his head off.

As for the picutre above, what can I say? Art has moved on somewhat in the last 600 years. They got the beard, but maybe they just didn't have any red for the coat. The writing at the top is too small for me to read, but I'm guessing it's Medieval Greek for "Ho Ho Ho!"

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Putin is the new Gore

Jean Knee's new Beau
Latest News:

Vladimir Putin has beaten Nobel Laureate "Father" Al Gore to the most coveted title of the year - Time Person of 2007. JK Rowling, who has written some books (I didn't get past page 1 of the first one) came third.

A Tsar is Born

"Gasputin" is in some sense the antithesis of "Father Al". The one is peddling gas and oil, and the other is trying to stop people burning, er, gas and oil.

Smoking Pipes

Only the other day, Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, whom I "supported" in the recent elections, on the grounds that he looks like Jim Brass off CSI, was in Moscow having "secret" talks with his buddy Vlad. The Greeks are not only building pipelines to carry yet more Russian energy into Europe, they're also buying Mr Putin's armoured vehicles for their military.

They're probably doing this because they felt guilty about nearly giving President P a serious dose of the shits. When he was last in Athens, Kostas treated him to a slap up dinner at a local restaurant. That morning they'd sent the health people in, who confiscated loads of out of date meat and potato croquettes.

Democracy in Action

Putin is coming to the end of his second term as President. As in the US, he's not allowed a third term, so he's going to let one of his pals take over whilst he becomes Prime Minister. After which he can presumably stand again for President.

In true Russian tradition elections have all been going his way. The fact that journalists who disagree too strongly with the goverment seem to have a habit of plunging from high balconies and that opposition politicians such as Gary Kasparov get arrested for anti-government demos has nothing to do with it.

What A Guy!

I feel sure that Jean Knee will feel moved to switch her allegiance from "loser" Al to the more dashing and powerful Vladimir. I get the impression that she's pretty fickle.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Σαν Σήμερα


35 years ago today, the crew of Apollo 17 returned to Earth. The last trip to the Moon ended. We've never been back since.

However, George Bush (or someone like that) announced plans to colonise it, so we can look forward to being able to live there soon. Admittedly there's not much there. It's not even got a Post Office. Still, there would be some plus points about life on the Moon:

  • No Post Office
  • Less Weight - With a lower gravity, you weigh less, and can leap around a lot more without any effort. This means that ceilings will have to be higher, at least for those of us who aren't dwarves.
  • No Weather - I know that not everyone would agree, but I think it would be an improvement. Brits would of course still need to keep up with the weather back home in order to have something to talk about, but at least they wouldn't need satellite pictures.
  • No Atmosphere - Imagine really being able to shut out all noise. Also no need to worry about living near busy roads. Or pollution.
  • Nice View - See above. Star gazers will be able to see better, too.
  • First Steps - At some point, the human race has to look at moving off the Earth, and ultimately out of the Solar System. Preferably before the sun dies. In all probability we'll have died out first, but moving to the Moon would be a small step in the right direction for mankind.
  • Moon Light - Again, I might be in a minority here, but I think it would be great if people on the Earth could see the artificial lights of human civilisation on the moon.
Give me an internet connection and a plentiful supply of green beans, and I'll happily move there tomorrow. Oh, and I'll want to be able to shop, which will initially involve buying everything online. Which means they'll need to build a Post Office there...

On second thoughts, maybe I'll stay where I am.

Picture: This was taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 by Apollo 8, which orbited the moon.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Inconvenience Store

Happier Days: Communist Poland


Every so often here, they have articles about how the move to out of town shopping centres and supermarkets is killing the local village shops. At least they used to - now I don't read the UK press I don't see them, though last week there was exactly the same sort of article in "Simerini" - a Cypriot paper which was talking about a market that now gets no people because the evil supermarkets have taken all their customers.

I don't agree with those who think that the answer is to stop supermarkets being built - after all, the real problem is that people shop in them. So it's the people's fault, and unless you're a Communist or a Nazi you shouldn't be trying to coerce them.

I also don't live in a village. Nevertheless, this year we've lost our local newsagents. Fair enough - people buy newspapers in the supermarkets, and the other "convenience" products, such as milk, and groceries, can't compete with the supermarket either. However, there was also a Post Office inside which was forced to close.

I've never liked Post Offices. You used to have to go to them to get your car tax renewed annually. Now you do it over the phone. Around the end of every month, there would be queues out of the door with people clutching their road tax forms.

The last time I went to the one that used to be across the road, I queued for 15 minutes for a passport application form, only to be told that they didn't do them - I'd have to go into the main town centre branch and wait there for another 15 minutes.

People say that the demise of the local Post Offices is cutting off a life-line to the old and infirm, who loved to spend what little was left of their lives in an endless queue waiting to collect their weekly pension. Now it's all done electronically into their bank accounts. They say that innovations such as this and the telephone road tax is to blame.

My answer to this is that I shouldn't have to endure misery so that as an indirect consequence some old biddy has an excuse to catch up on the village gossip. If old people need to socialise, then the answer is to organise things for them.

Anyway, on Saturday morning, after a 10 hour celebratory session the night before, I found myself in a queue at the Post Office, standing in front of someone with a bad cough. If I don't survive to see New Year, you'll know why. I really hope they've shut them all down before I retire - the idea of looking forwards to spending my old age in one of those places isn't massively appealing.

I know that we're lucky - I've read a couple of articles from Greece which talk about queuing to renew their identity cards. How Orwellian is that? Still, if I ever get round to emigrating there, at least it'll give me something to blog about...

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Wish List

I'm my own worst enemy. My laid back attitude means that I do everything at the last minute. Yesterday I realised that it's getting rather late for posting parcels across the Atlantic in time for Christmas, and I haven't yet told you what I want. So here's my 2007 Christmas List:

A Gift Voucher - good at any lawyers for a divorce. Alternatively, something of equivalent value, such as ownership of a gold mine.

A Light - like the one they use in "The Prisoner". This makes sure that you get a good night's sleep, so I can stop looking like I'm practising for a role in a George Romero film.

Einstein's Brain - so I can get my head round the Theory of Relativity.

A Food Maker - like the ones they have on "Star Trek". Who needs recipes, or cookers, or indeed kitchens?

A Force Field - that stops spiders getting into my flat.

So it's a fairly modest list of bits and pieces. Alternatively, I'll settle for a new jumper or some socks...

Friday, 14 December 2007

Toilets, Al Gore, Communists

Al Gore at the Nobel Prize Ceremony
[Picture License]

I've never done one of those "Three Beautiful Things" posts before, so here goes...

Toilets

1. David Leggat spent four days locked in a toilet in Scotland. Although it's not as cold there as Oklahoma at the moment, nevertheless he was lucky to have hot water, which he used to stop his extremities freezing. He was in a bowling club - proof yet again, of the danger of sports.

Al Gore

2. Al Gore managed to get his Nobel Prize, at a time when in Bali the international community are failing again to agree to do anything about the environment (or am I being cynically negative?). I didn't see the ceremony, but you have to get your gong from the Norwegian King. It's not permitted to turn your back on him, which means you have to walk backwards down the stairs. If you don't break your neck, you get to keep the millions of dollars. Not that millions of dollars are worth much at the moment.

Communists

3. All this reminded me of a Scandinavian film I saw on TV about 15 years ago. I really wish I could remember enough details to find it again. It was about a communist anti-monarchist craftsman. The royal family of whatever country this was (might have been Norway) is going to visit a factory. The factory bosses have made all the necessary preparations. Someone asks what would happen if His Majesty needed to avail himself of the, er, plumbing?

Surely he couldn't be expected to use the pleb's facilities? So they ask the master craftsman to make a toilet fit for a King. Although he is anti-royal, his first loyality is to his work, so he makes a luxurious stall, complete with royal insignia and a toilet which doesn't flush - after all, it'll only be used once, so the waste products just fall into a compartment under the floor.

Meanwhile the King's visit is being meticulously planned as a military operation, by, the military (I think). They have a special operations room with maps and phones, etc., and everything has been worked out to the second.

Finally the day arrives. The royal motorcade makes its way to the factory. Just before it reaches the gates, disaster strikes! The King's car gets a flat tyre. The King and Queen get out. The welcoming committee is about 30 feet away, but it would hardly be the done thing for royalty to walk. So they wait around whilst the tyre is changed. Unfortunately this means that the King is now behind schedule, so the military planners call off the visit, and the motorcade turns around and goes away.

Inside the factory the master craftsman has a dump in his royal toilet, whilst singing "The Red Flag" (or some other Communist song).

I'm sure there's a moral in there somewhere, but I just wish I could find that film...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Something Smells Nice


I missed this story, which apparently broke last month. Emilia only got round to telling us about it yesterday. This is about the Japanese scientists who have genetically engineered mice so that they don't react to the smell of cats, and are therefore no longer afraid of them.

As with other breakthroughs of this kind, I'm waiting for the day when they can genetically re-engineer people. When they do, there are some adjustments I'd like to have to my olfactory system:

  • Seafood - Perhaps then I'd be able to eat it. The main reason for this would be the odd time when I feel "socially obliged" to consume some, when I'm with a group of people who insist on going to a seafood restaurant, or if I ever find myself stranded on a desert island, preferably with a gorgeous woman. It would be a pity to have to eat her.
  • Perfume - I'm okay with most perfume, but there is a particular scent that I find massively overpowering - other people don't always even notice it. This won't be a problem if I get shipwrecked - my desert island babe will have had any perfume washed away, as she'll be spending much of her time in the water catching my tea.
  • Farm "Produce" - Living in a reasonably rural area, I have to put up with the smells often enough for them to be unpleasant, but not often enough to have got used to them.
  • Spiders - If I wasn't so afraid of them, I'd be able to get a lot closer, and therefore nearer my goal of wiping them off the face of the Earth (or at least away from visible areas in my flat).

Maybe their next area of research should be how to make animals and people afraid of certain things, such as me. I love the idea of street "sales" and survey people running away from me - then I could harrass them!

Similarly the spider issue might be better solved by making them keep their distance. Do spiders have noses?

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Daylight Robbery

Dick Turpin

I don't generally post rants, but I suppose this is one. If you disagree, or if you are one of the people I'm ranting about - (i) Don't take it personally, and (ii) I'm quite happy to be persuaded that I'm wrong, so please feel free to try!

I think I've mentioned before my master plan to rule the world with a benign dictatorship, beloved by all my subjects (or else they'll get slapped with a wet piece of celery). Well, today strengthened my resolve to do something about the modern-day highwaymen.

I went into town to do some Christmas shopping. Several times I was accosted by people who really wanted to talk to me. I don't know what they wanted to talk to me about, because I didn't stop. They were no doubt either trying to sell me something or conducting some kind of survey.

I never stop for these people. If they're trying to sell me something, then it must be something I don't want, or that's overpriced. If it was as good as they're going to try and persuade me then they wouldn't need to employ people to try and mug me in the streets - they'd sell it in a shop or online. In fact, they wouldn't need to advertise because news of this fantastic offer would spread like wildfire.

Maybe they're being paid to do a survey. I've no problem with answering their questions provided that they pay me as well. However, if they expect me to give up my time for free, they've got no hope. My time isn't free. Neither is my car's time, at least not whilst it's parked in town.

So, although they don't have guns, and it is possible to avoid them, I still think that these people are modern-day highwaymen and highwaywomen. They want to swindle me out of my time or my money. People stop because they're too polite not to, then get given the hard sell. I don't think this is right.

They used to hang the likes of Dick Turpin. I'm not sure that's fair, so my penalty for this crime (unsolicited selling) will be fines, which will be given to shoppers who will spend it on whatever goods they choose. The goods will be given to the offenders. Obviously the aim is to buy rubbish and useless items (plots of land on the moon, timeshares in Bognor, watches that don't work, perfume that smells like rat's piss, etc).

But surely the "muggers" are just poor people who are struggling to make a living? They can't get a proper job, so are working for starvation wages plus "comission", which they never earn because they can't sell enough of the crap that they're peddling? I do feel sorry for them, and my real problem is with the people who run these businesses.

Not being one for conflict, I generally try and keep my distance, and if they do manage to talk to me I usually say "sorry" and walk briskly on. However, on my way back to my car I simply ignored a pushy woman who shouted something about how rude I was. Not like her, then.

She'd better find another job before I become dictator...

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Government Health Warning

I'm considering suing the United Fruit Company. There should be a printed warning on every banana peel. Those things can be hazardous to your health. - Walter Mattthau in "The Fortune Cookie".
The world is a dangerous place. There are more and more health warnings everywhere, and yet there's still a long way to go before we completely erradicate danger. Take the common potato, for example. Millions of these are sold each day, with no warning whatsoever about their potential to kill and maim. Only the other day, a man was knocked unconcious when, during a row, his wife lobbed a spud at him. Afterwards, it was mashed, which is a very sensible safety precaution, but unfortunately too late.

In Britain in 2001, 800 people were injured in incidents involving sponges and loofahs. And no fewer than 6,000 people tripped over their trousers, or fell down the stairs whilst pulling them up. Simple instructions could be life-saving, and yet 6 years on the clothes industry appears not to have got the message.

On Sunday I posted a picture of my clothes basket. I regret that I did not include a warning, and have since examined this potential death-trap (wearing protective clothing, and taking full precautionary measures), but there are no danger notices anywhere. And yet 3,421 Brits were injured in accidents involving such a basket.

The more warnings and instructions we have, the more we assume that when there aren't any, something is "safe". We can't afford to take any chances with our health. Our governments must act. After all, why should we actually have to use our brains, or rely on common sense? And why should we be brought up with an understanding that the world can be a dangerous place, and that risk-taking is a fact of life? Or that people who pull their trousers up whilst walking up the stairs, or who lob potatoes around deserve everything they get?

There is some hope, though. For example, the jar of pistachios that I've just been eating has the note: "Allergy advice: Contains nuts". I don't know where I'd be without such helpful and educational information.

No doubt our regulatory bodies will continue to sterilse our existence. In the meantime, please watch what you're doing with that loofah...

Monday, 10 December 2007

Scrooge, The Musical


As you may have guessed, I'm not really that interested in Christmas, and as always, I'm supremely unprepared for it. Nevertheless, there are three things I like about this time of year, which you will find out about over the Festive Period.

First of all, Christmas music. People complain about it, and I always complain about any before December, but during this month, I actually enjoy it. Some of it is terrible, and I remember well the year that I had a student job in a shop and had to listen to the same tape over and over again for 9 or 10 hours a day. I particularly disliked "Nat and Dean", as I remember ("Let's sing the whole thing about half a beat out of time with the music, to sound trendy").

I grew up with Jim Reeves' Christmas Album playing constantly at this time of year, since my father was a great Country fan. I have since made no attempt to relive this experience. In fact, I don't put Christmas music on by choice - it's just nice to hear it when I'm out.

Helena asked me for some music this weekend, so I got out my "Christmas Carol" book, which has loads of them, all in difficult-to-play SATB form, and started busking through them on the piano. She liked "The First Nowell", and I had to play it over several times, whilst she stood enthralled. It's rare that I have an appreciative audience - my playing is truly dreadful, but I'm not to bad on slow things...

It was a really enjoyable experience, and my excuse if I'm late posting will be that I'm playing Carols. I need to get some practice in before my fan club turns up next weekend...

Sunday, 9 December 2007

What's Your Excuse?

Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

"Please Miss, the dog ate my blog post."

Except that I don't have a dog. Bugger! Let's Start again...



Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

I'm sorry, but due to circumstances beyond my control, namely the terms of my lease, I'm not allowed to keep pets. Otherwise I would of course have a dog, and it would no doubt have eaten the wonderfully witty and entertaining post that I wrote for today. Also ...

... You're not buying this, are you? Okay. Try again...




Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

I was unexpectedly busy. Here is a brief summary:

Friday:

Went to the pub at lunchtime. It was someone's leaving drinks, so I felt obliged. Otherwise I'd never have gone, obviously. The pub was very busy, and I was standing up a lot of the time, so I didn't order any food. This meant that the alcohol, which I was of course obliged to consume, wiped me out rather quickly.

There is no other earthly reason why I would ask Sarah the barmaid if she was expecting another child. Especially as I now know that she's not. Oops...

I stayed after everyone else, since the pub is my local and I felt obliged to have a drink with one of the other regulars, whom I'd not seen for a while. This made me even more tired, and I stumbled home at about 4pm.

When I woke up, it was already eight o'clock. Time to get up. Except that I quickly realised (the alcohol had worn off, giving me back my razor-sharp observational skills) that it was actually eight in the evening. It seemed unlikely that I'd slept for 28 hours, so I made the brilliant deduction that it was actually still Friday evening.

However, I'd missed the RIK Main News, and therefore my usual fix of Emilia, their wonderfully expressive weekday anchorwoman. In fact, I'd done virtually no Greek all day.

Because I'd already had quite a bit of sleep, I spent a lot of the night awake. This was good in that it meant that I ended up watching some late-night (early morning) repeats of RIK current affairs programmes, though unfortunately not of the Main News. Still, I now know more about the Cyprus Airlines strike. However, I went to sleep just after some university guy came on to talk about the latest state of the art photo-electric technology, and how it would transform electricity generation in the 2020's. So I missed most of it, and will have to wait another 13 years to find out what he said.

Saturday:

Because I didn't get to sleep until about 3 or 4am, I got up late. I had to vacuum the flat, wash the dishes, and do some ironing. The latter I did whilst watching yet more RIK current affairs programmes and documentaries.

In a fit of rare enthusiasm, I decided to iron all my T-shirts. These go under my shirts, so I haven't been bothering, but it means that there's always loads left on my ironing pile. The picture is of the basket that usually is stacked high with unironed tee-shirts. The one that is left was still drying whilst I was ironing, so got missed.

All of which meant that I didn't start my Saturday blog post until 3pm. Which only gave me 2 hours to do it, go shopping for essentials (lemonade, GBC ingredients, etc), and get Helena. Then I had to start the tea, watch the RIK Main News (whilst finishing and eating our nourishing Farfalle pasta, French Green Beans in green pesto sauce, followed by cherry cheesecake and Satsumas). Afterwards, Helena and I played games and watched a film, until it was time for her to go to bed.

So I was busy.



What? You don't buy that either? But it's all true. Oh, I see, it's because I'd still have about 16 more hours to sleep and write Sunday's post...



Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

Inspired by Chris's post about why she hadn't written the next installment of her story, I thought It'd be great for me to do the same. Except that, unlike her, I don't really have a life and can't really justify it. But Bee said it'd be fun anyway.

So it's all their fault.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Sex Sells


An Italian undertaker has decided to update the traditional "understated" marketing techniques. He has produced a calendar with attractive models draped over coffins. He has been criticised by the Catholic church, but says that the calendars are very popular and that undertaking, like any other business, needs to be properly advertised.

One could argue that the use of models in old adverts for cigarettes was more gruesome - after all, the undertaker isn't actually advertising something that will kill you.

Although some people lament the use of scantily-clad women in advertising, I don't think that companies have yet realised the full potential of this technique. The following are sadly lacking in sexy marketing:
  • Green Beans - Well, I had to include them, didn't I? The tins are really very boring. We all know what beans look like, so why not instead have a reclining model wearing nothing but some strategically placed Green Bean Casserole? I couldn't find any pictures like this on the internet, amazingly.
  • Organ Donation - This is surely open to all sorts of racy slogans "Hello Boys! Let us have your organs!", etc.
  • Power tools - you're trying to sell these mainly to men - we don't want to see pictures of some square-jawed guy. We want bikini-clad blondes. "You'll really impress the girls with this in your tool box."
  • Clam Juice - The model is oiling herself with it. There's not a clever reason for this, it's just that it would give Andy an excuse to spend time looking at it.
  • Home Insurance - "Even if you aren't lucky enough to count her amongst your home contents, you still need to look after what you do have."
  • Double glazing - "There are other ways to keep warm, but if you're married you'll probably need our super insulating windows."
After all, most people who see an advert don't actually buy the crappy product, so they might as well make them nice to look at.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Witness for the Prosecution

"Call the next witness for the Prosecution."

"I now call Mickey Mouse..."

You must have seen this one - Due to a "clerical error", an Italian court summoned Mickey Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, and Tweety to a counterfeiting trial. They were unable to attend, and their lawyer (Cristina Ravelli) expressed the hope that they wouldn't be prosecuted for not turning up.

Clerical error? I wonder what really happened. Maybe they just thought it was a Mafia trial, with Mickey the Mouse, Donald the Duck, etc. I really hope, though, that someone did it for a bet - for the amount of entertainment they've given people round the world, they've earned it.

So If you were that court clerk and there was a tenner riding on it, who would you pick? My choices wouldn't be cartoon characters, but the following are all well-known for great courtroom performances:
  • Mason, Peregrine - This would be risky. One might expect sober court officials not to watch cartoons, but they'd surely have heard of Mr Mason. So this would be worth double the bet, I reckon.
  • Stewart, James - Also a warrant for a pair of women's panties that he has in his posession, and which are required as the crucial evidence that will mark the turning point of the case.
  • West, Mae - Needs no preparation or introduction. Just stick her in front of an audience and enjoy!
I omitted God from the list. He is not known for court appearances, and until a couple of years ago, vicars in England were unable to go to an industrial tribunal if they felt they were wrongfully dismissed. Why? Because their employer was deemed to be God, and no-one felt they could summons Him, fine Him, or make Him re-employ the plaintiff. Recently, they decided that vicars are actually employed by the Church, which consists of people who can be made to turn up. Hooray for common sense (after all, God doesn't actually pay their wages). It only took the legal profession 470 years to sort this one out.

When that notorious serial offender Jean Knee is finally brought to justice, we can expect several aggrieved My Little Ponies to be called as prosecution witnesses. And that will not be due to any clericial error, or wager.

I only hope that they give her a life sentence. To be suspended as long as she keeps blogging.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Randomness


I've been "tagged" by Bee to come up with seven random things, so here goes:
  1. 0.438 (according to my calculator).
  2. The picture above.
  3. Irn Bru is a banned substance in the USA.
  4. The electric chair was invented by a dentist.
  5. If all the Smarties eaten in one year were laid end to end, they would go round the Earth's equator two and a half times.
  6. They've removed the entry about the man who ate a bicycle in the Guinness Book of Records in case someone tries it and sues them.
  7. The composer JS Bach died in 1750 after an operation on his eyes went wrong.(No anaesthetic, sterilisation, etc in those days...)
What's that? It's supposed to be seven things about me? Are there that many things you don't already know? Are there that many things at all? Oh well:
  1. Other people have a lot more confidence in my knowledge and ability than I do.
  2. Lethargy and Thoughtlessness are my biggest failings.
  3. I suffered from Petit Mal epilepsy as a child - they made me take a medicine so heavily laced with cherry flavour that it made me sick, and put me off cherry flavoured things for about 10 years.
  4. At a party, I'll be the one in the corner not talking.
  5. I drink too much, but I'm not an alcoholic, nor am I drunk all the time like Jean Knee says ;-)
  6. I've sung in 4 Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
  7. I was one of the few people at school who never had a nickname.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Lest We Forget

Bloggers Beware!

You may have seen the news about Chimpanzees beating humans when it comes to short-term memory. My reaction to this was "so what?" They'd also beat people in tree-swinging contests, and probably banana-eating races.

Nevertheless, this is being hailed as a great discovery, and led me to wonder whether there are any jobs that a chimpanzee might do better than a human. If so, you would be advised to stay out of such careers, as being replaced by a chimp would be worse than being replaced by a robot.

Waiters: They're not so bad when they can write things down, but if you have to catch one with their hands full, half the time they forget what it is you asked for. On the other hand, the chimp wouldn't be able to understand you, and with one or two exceptions, waitresses are more attractive.

Drivers: Since I don't believe my car is invisible, I suspect that many drivers have a problem keeping track of all the cars. Anyone who cuts me up for this reason should be sentenced to being driven by a chimp.

Politicians: Your average politician could be replaced by a chimp, and no-one would notice the difference - actually things may even improve!

Bloggers: It's a well-known fact that an infinite numbers of chimps typing for infinitely long would end up writing Bee's blog.

I think we're all safe though. I suspect that chimps are too clever to get that involved in human "civilisation".

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Well Unread


I was looking at all my books the other day, and wondering how many of them I've actually read? At a guess, I'd have to say perhaps 60% of them. Generally the easier 60%

Here's what I'm missing out on:

  • Charles Dickens: I've got 9 or 10 of his books. Only read one.
  • Latin books: I did read "Latin in 3 months" when I was 18, but never got round to actually doing anything with it, though I did get hold of quite a few easy texts by people like Cicero.
  • "Italian in 3 months". I've only been putting this off for around 10 years, so won't be touching it any time soon.
  • "The Complete Works of Shakespeare". I read one of the comedies once.
  • Various Peter F Hamilton books: These look good, but are very long and involve huge numbers of characters. Real epics.
  • "Step By Step in Esperanto" - Like a lot of my books, this is second hand, and I read enough of it to understand why the language is only spoken by people who believe that we should scrap cultural identity and any trace of individuality for the sake of all becoming soulless Europeans.
  • The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe - I've read a couple of stories. I'm not quite sure what everyone raves about. Going to the moon in a balloon isn't exactly exciting these days.
  • "Morte D'Arthur", "Don Quixote", "Ivanhoe" - All classics, but I just haven't found the stamina yet.
  • "Teach Yourself to Compose Music" - One day...

I admit it, I'm the sort of person who starts things and doesn't finish them. Having said that I did manage to read "The Life of Samuel Johnson", which is possibly longer than any of the aforementioned works, and in fact, it wasn't until I started to look through them that I realised I'd read so many of them.

They serve a useful purpose though - they make me look erudite - a fiction that a surprising number of people swallow. You won't tell them the awful truth, will you?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Tis The Season...


Artists' Impression of a Snowscape

Warning - This Post Contains Spoilers


On the TV the other day, they showed the Christmas lights being turned on somewhere (Larnaca, I think), and they were interviewing children about what they wanted from Santa. One little boy thought for a while and said "Snow". (It did once snow in Larnaca - February 1985)

When Helena was here at the weekend the subject of Father Christmas came up. "He doesn't exist", she said.

I remembered back to the first Christmas where she was able to understand what was going on. It was a serious moral dilemma. I hated the idea of lying to my own daughter, and yet what would be the consequences of not supporting the Father Christmas story?

For her, I was sure that it didn't matter - After all, the main important things are the presents, the decorations, food, and so on (not being religious). But what about everyone else? By being the one person to break the parental Father Christmas Consipiracy would I face an angry mob of her classmates' parents?

So after some discussion with other parents I knew, I went along with the mass deception.

When Helena was about three we saw a Santa in the supermarket. When asked what she was hoping for she replied "An orange teddy bear". Thankfully, she's not got that much more acquisitive - this year she wants the latest Aled Jones CD. (well someone has to buy it, keep the poor guy from starving).

When whe was four she wanted a miniature Father Christmas. Her reasoning was that because he is magic, with her own FC she could do anything she wanted. I couldn't help feeling proud of her.

But now the "magic" is all over, and I can tell her the truth. Father Christmas as we know him was invented by Coca Cola to sell their evil but addictive caffeine-laced drink. Personally, I think that's a far more educational and entertaining story - after all, it has a villain, which is sadly lacking in the normal tale.

I hope you like my artwork. I know, it's derivative and has been done before, which I suppose will reduce the value. Still, if you'd like to place a bid for the original, feel free to do so.

My Christmas Wish? I'm hoping it doesn't snow. Bah, Humbug!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

A Trifle Incompetent

Applying The Finishing Touches to Trifle Mk II


Incompetent is quite a good word to describe me, and yesterday was a good example of this. I showed my inability to make a trifle. Out of a packet, with detailed instructions.

Helena and I had been invited to dinner, and I'd rashly offered to bring a dessert. I decided that I'd better go for a very simple option. One that wouldn't stretch my culinary skills too much. Hence the trifle. How hard could it be? What could possibly go wrong?

First we made the jelly, which involved mixing water and jelly powder. Then the custard, which involved mixing milk and custard powder. Then we left the jelly to set and the custard to cool. The actual incompetent bit turned out to be my failing to get all of the custard powder out of the sachet, thus making the custard very runny.

I don't know if you've tried this, but if you pour very runny "custard" onto jelly, where the jelly hasn't stuck to the sides of your bowl, bad things happen. In particular the jelly ended up floating in the custard. I'm sorry, but I was too involved at this point in wailing and gnashing of teeth to have the presence of mind to take a photo (more incompetence).

The second attempt (a fresh packet later), resulted in nice thick custard and as you can see from the picture there were no other major problems. Apart from the fact that the end result didn't actually taste nice (at least to me). Everyone else was too polite to say what they thought.

Looking on the bright side, now that I've mastered trifles, I should be ready to try something else. A souflee, maybe? My incompetence is matched only by my optimism...

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Digital Food


Someone has come up with a USB biscuit. Unfortunately, this isn't one that will be around by Christmas, but a "concept". In fact, it looks like he just got a Custard Cream and stuck a USB connector into it, but I think it's a great idea, and I hope they end up making them. Not that I need a flash drive.

Anyway, it started me wondering about digital cookery. Naturally, I'm way out of date, and someone has already done it, with 30 USB ports. Just look at the pictures in this link, the rest is apparently in Japanese. Clearly there are a few technical issues to sort out before this becomes feasible (he's lucky he didn't fry himself by the looks of things).

They're missing a trick, though. Computers pump out heat - that's why they have fans, so what we really need is a combi-computer-oven. Ecologically sound, though you may end up having to scrape Green Bean Casserole off your motherboard.

It would be great. You could have a little camera in the oven and watch your food cooking as you type. And a popup would appear when dinner was ready. Geeks really would forget where their kitchen was.

You may laugh now, but it'll be me who's chuckling when I'm rich and famous. Father of the Combi-Computer-Oven. If only I could think of a better name for it...

Friday, 30 November 2007

Vampire Trail


It was my first trip to the United States, and my first overseas job at the paper. I proudly announced to the Customs official at O'Hare that I was travelling on business, as a journalist. He didn't believe me, though, and I was arrested when I tried to bribe him. In the end, they called the paper to check and I was released the next day.

I was following a hot lead about "vampires". Some crazy woman who claimed to be a descendent of "Vlad the Impaler", and who had been heard to talk about having problems with her bats. Apparently she was married to a guy who thought he was a warlock slayer. If I could get interviews and photos, it would make a hilarious "mad Americans" story back home.

And if it was real? As I stepped into the cold air of Chicago, it never occurred to me that this was even a remote possibility...

It was late morning when I arrived at the medical centre, where "Vampira" (as I was going to call her in my article) worked. I was directed to the appropriate room. A middle-aged woman with dark straggly hair was the only occupant. She was busy devouring a chocolate cherry cake. "Hello", I said.

"Muerchlba" she replied, then after she'd swallowed her mouthful said "Cake! Have you brought some cake? Just put it in the fridge over there. Cake!". She grabbed another slice and began to cram it in her mouth.

I started to speak, but something in her manner stopped me in my tracks. There was something strange about her. Actually, there was a lot strange. From her manic hunger to her wild eyes and her unsteady voice. My blood froze. I became conscious of some dreadful knowledge hidden deep inside me - probably a race-memory. This woman was undead, I was sure of it! Maybe the dark reddy brown cake wasn't chocolate and cherry after all. Human blood would be easy to come by in a medical establishment.

I scurried to the fridge to give me time to plan my next move. I opened it. It was awful! Stuff in there was so old there were cobwebs on it. There were bags of something that looked like crumbs. Who puts crumbs in the fridge? It must be something else. Maybe the dried remains of a vampire? Maybe even the Count himself? I thought back to some of the books I'd read and the films I'd seen as a student. I remembered one where they resurrected a vampire by pouring blood onto his ashes. My blood?

I heard someone approach. It wasn't the scarecrow-like woman, but another about the same age. Clearly she was also a member of this horrible tribe. She shoved me out of the way and anxiously peered in the fridge to see if anything was missing. She looked up and started to say something, but I was out of there.

I ran - I needed a bathroom, as my breakfast was about to make a violent reappearance.

As I was freshening up, my phone rang. It was the editor. I started to gabble furiously about what I'd seen, but he wasn't listening. "You've got to get over to Texas right away.", he said, "there's been a strange crime spree over there. Dogs being kidnapped, plates stolen, very odd." I tried to argue, but he wouldn't believe me, and said if I didn't go, I'd never work again.

As I got on the plane I knew that one day I'd have to return and face the vile vampiric clan, even at the risk of my career - or my life!

During the flight I kept going over and over every minute of my experiences. Maybe I was imagining it? Maybe they were just nutty women? But no, there were the "crumbs". That was the clincher. No-one keeps crumbs.

The stewardess came over to me with a concerned expression. "You look tired", she said, "Try and get some sleep, Mr Van Helsing."

[Based on a True Story - See Bee's Musings for all the gory details]

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Health Issues


I wouldn't describe myself as a hypochondriac, partly because I can't spell it, but nevertheless, I can't help wondering when I'm not feelng one hundred percent whether it's something minor or major.

Recently I've been wondering about my cough. I've had it for weeks. Of course, it is the time of year to get bugs, but that could have caused the lung cancer to become noticeable. Or maybe it's something less serious, like tuberculosis, or pneumonia.

Someone at work has the same symptoms, so perhaps I should be reassured. Except that he's a heavy smoker...

I've also had other scares. However, the bowel cancer has gone away, and I haven't yet had a heart attack, despite pains in my left arm - usually after carrying a heavy load of shopping up all the stairs to my flat (I use my left arm a lot more for things like lifting). I did once rush to hospital and have an ECG, but strangely their machine didn't register anything abnormal.

I don't go to the doctor because either (a) I'm dying, and if so would rather not know, or (b) I'm not and would rather not waste everyone's time.

I did go when I woke up with a fatal neck injury. I had read in the paper about a woman who had a stiff neck. She had an X-ray and was told it was fine. A few weeks later whilst lying on some foriegn beach her mobile rang, and she was told not to move but call the paramedics, as she had a potentially fatal fracture, and her X-ray had been mixed up. My doctor, after having a cursory glance, rather than getting an ambulance asked if I'd fallen over lately. I had, a few days previously (muddy path). I was sent home, reassured that "You probably won't die just yet." So I survived that one.

The one thing I'm not looking forward to as I get older is that I'll start feeling more and more things going wrong, and that some of them might actually kill me. Still, I've got a long hard journey of survival before that happens...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Παγκόσμιος Πρόεδρος;


I spent a depressing hour last night watching a debate about the (Cypriot) 2008 Presidential Elections. Depressing, because I couldn't understand more than a few words of what they were saying.

It's so much better in places like Britain where we have elections at short notice. In countries where they have fixed elections, they bang on about it for months in advance. The Americans spend years on it, and then no-one votes anyway.

One day, we'll have a World Federation or something, and it'll be even worse to elect a World President. So, I'm compiling a list of candidates well in advance.

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger - This needs no explanation. His film-making days are over. Help keep it that way, and vote Arnie. His lack of English should make his speeches nice and short, always a good quality in a politician.
  • Italian Porn Star - All elections need one of these. Provides for more entertaining photo opportunities. Of course in the end it's policies that count, and hers will be well-formed and silicone-free.
  • Boris Johnson - The honest politician. Says what he thinks, which may lead to the odd war now and then, but this will give the military something constructive to do. Vote Johnson and prove that the World has not lost its sense of humour.

Whoever wins the election won't actually have long to do too much damage, since I'll soon stage my coup and then rule with a benign dictatorship. If it was the Italian porn star, then I may let her serve under me.

I've not fully worked out all of my policies yet, but the State will be taking over green bean production, and every citizen will be issued with a tin per week. Football (i.e. Soccer) and Telesales will be outlawed, and everyone will be happy. By order.

And we won't need any more of these annoying and boring elections.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Εφυγε ο Κόμης Δράκουλας


So how was Dracula finally defeated?

Sunstroke?
Anaemia?
Drank himself to death?
Broken Heart?
Drowning?

None of the above. He died of a brain tumour.

I refer of course to Ottomar Rodolphe Vlad Dracula Prince Kretzulesco, the adopted heir of Vlad the Impaler, who has died age 67. He seems to have had a lot of fun with the Dracula Legend, as well as doing charitable works.

Good for him.

RIP, Vlad.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Σαν Σήμερα

On the 26th November 2004, I moved into this flat. This is a date that is fixed in my mind, because it was a day full of hope and enthusiasm. The flat was a lot less cluttered than the above picture, though the room was full of boxes, mainly containing books and DVDs.

I had managed to bring some things with me - the bookcases, the table, but I had to buy everything else. Plates, glasses, a bin, an iron, a microwave, a TV, etc. I had one chair for what is now the computer table, and another single chair to sit in. It took me 6 months to get round to getting a sofa, and another 6 to get my armchair.

I had a futon-type single bed. I got a proper bed for Helena's room in the first week, and my own bed by Christmas (I think it might have been Christmas Eve that it was delivered).

The first evening, I had my new TV on the table I now use for the computer. I had thought of everything, even down to getting tea towels and a draining thing for dishes. Well, almost everything. I had forgotten to get scissors. I had to cut some wire-grips off the cables on my TV. So I improvised with a knife. This did the trick, but also sliced into my hand. It was then that I realised I'd not thought about plasters. So before I could settle down to an evening in front of the box, I had to drive bleeding to the nearest garage.

Every year, I remember not the end of my marriage, but the start of a new life, and how lucky I am that it was a relatively painless transition (apart from the loss of several pints of blood). Last year, I bought my computer. This year my finances are too occupied with paying divorce bills to make any major home improvements.

Though perhaps I should invest in a maid...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

No Books?

Are we about to see the end of printing? I was reading about the latest attempt at an electronic book. People have been talking about this sort of thing as a serious proposition for at least 30 years (Chris Evans' book "The Mighty Micro", 1979, for example), but no-one has yet managed to wean us off paper.

Thirty years ago, it would have been very difficult to produce such a thing. Computers didn't have a lot of memory. Displays used either very primitive LCD technology or CRTs. Most people didn't have any form of electronic technology in their homes.

Nowadays, we're used to carrying around personal electronic items. We are used to getting information from the internet. We don't need to go to the cinema to watch a film. Surely it's time to get rid of the book?

The book does have some advantages. It's cheap to make, but difficult to copy. There are no compatibility issues beyond language. Everyone who can read can read a book - you don't have to pay $400 before you can even get started.

It also has some disadvantages. It's fine to print and distribute thousands or millions of copies of something, but not so good when you only want a few. Printing books involves cutting down trees - how long are the environmentalists going to let us get away with that?

Nowadays, I don't use printed matter very much. Whether at home or at work, it's often more convenient to read things at the screen. As screen real-estate increases (wide screens, multiple screens), you can have a document open on the screen to refer to whilst you're working on something else.

At home the main reason I use electronic media is to read things I can't get in print. Greek newspapers are a little difficult to obtain here on a daily basis - far easier to read a PDF version. Blogs also don't get distributed on paper. Neither does Wikipedia or IMDb. The only advantage I can see to reading these things the old way would be that I could sit in my armchair. So at some point, I need to get a laptop. Problem solved.

But what about the magic of books? What about first editions, signed copies and so on? This is something that doesn't interest me at all. For me, the importance of a book is what's written. I don't understand why someone would pay thousands for a first edition copy of a Dickens book when you can get a newly printed one for a Pound or two.

They're estimating at least 20 years before books disappear. I suspect that when the last book is printed there'll be a news story about it - on the web. And that maybe one or two bloggers (or whatever they'll have then) will pick up on it, but that no-one else will notice.

Personally, I'm not sure I can wait that long - I've already got more books than shelf-space...

Saturday, 24 November 2007

More Famous People

I was soundly beaten in yesterday's "Name a Famous Belgian" game - Jean Claude Van Damme trumped Poirot.

So today I thought we'd try a variation. Name a Famous Cypriot.

I've found three that people should have heard of, not including my favourite newsreader...

[Picture License]

Friday, 23 November 2007

Man Friday: Hercules Poirot


People like to poke fun at Belgium (well, on the rare occaisions that they think about the place), and the favourite joke is concerning the game "Name a Famous Belgian". This isn't as hard as it sounds, because you're usually allowed "Hercules Poirot".

In addition to being the most famous Belgian ever, he's also the most famous Belgian who never lived (a bit like JR Ewing being the most famous Texan, I suppose).

Anyway, Monsieur Poirot first came to the public's attention in 1920 ("The Mysterious Affair at Styles"), and died in 1975 ("Curtain"). According to Wiki, he's the only fictional character to have had his obituary printed by the New York Times.

Poirot was a vain, pompous little man, whom Agatha Christie came to loathe, but couldn't stop writing the books because they were too popular. His sidekick, modelled on "Dr Watson", was Colonel Arthur Hastings, who accompanied him on his cases, and wrote many of them, although not all of the stories are narrated by him.

Inspector Jap of Scotland yard was modelled on "Lestrade". But why was Poirot Belgian? Apparently, Christie considered making him French, but decided there were too many French detectives already. Peter Ustinov, who played HP in six films admitted that as he knew nothing about Belgians, he played him as a Frenchman, with a French accent.

Although there are a lot of "Sherlock Holmes" influences, there is one major difference. Sherlock Holmes is like a hunter, picking up the spoor of his prey (luckily for him the villains had a tendency to smoke rare brands of Turkish cigarettes). The modern day equivalent would be the CSIs.

Poirot is different - he solves the murders using his "little grey cells", and by considering the psychology of the people involved. His equivalent here would be "Cracker" - the criminal psychologist. He solves one murder "Five Little Pigs", years after the event, purely from accounts given by those involved.

Oh, and for those who want to learn how to play the Belgian game, this website is for you - Impress all your friends!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Hail, Bright Cecila!


Today is Saint Cecilia's day. She is the patron saint of music, and over the years there have been loads of odes and suchlike written and set to music to commemorate the occaision.

I looked her up on Wiki, since I wondered what she had done to be made a saint. Apparently she was a martyr, and they first tried to kill her by putting her in an over-hot bathouse (WTF?), and when that didn't work they tried to cut her head off, but after 3 attempts the executioner guy gave up. Though she died three days later, so he must have at least hacked it part-off.

So it seems she earned her saintdom. And some. If that's what you have to do to earn a halo, count me out...

To any Americans who may have wandered in (though I'm sure you've all got better things to do), Happy Thanksgiving. I hope that families get on, arrangements go okay, and that the food is good. Especially the Green Bean Casserole.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Flying? It'll Never Catch On...


On this day in 1873 The Montgolfier brothers were apparently the first humans to fly (didn't they have human cannonballs in those days?), using a hot air balloon. This was a great achievement, and led to all sorts of ideas about what might be done with this fantastic technology. Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe wrote stories about flying to the moon, and other exotic places.

Of course, nothing's perfect, and there were a few drawbacks. Like not being able to steer very well, not going very fast. Having to come down (landing seems to be a major issue with most types of flight). And what do you do if you get a puncture?

Nevertheless, as with sailing boats it is impressive how well people manage to put themselves at the mercy of the wind and still manage to go in roughly the right direction.

Personally, though, you won't get me travelling through the air in anything that doesn't have an engine and some kind of steering controls. And preferably a seat, seat belts, windows, etc. But that's just me - I suppose I'm a bit picky.

I've only spoken to one person who's been for a balloon ride. They quite enjoyed it. There was a Land Rover following them, so that when they landed they could be taken back, and the farmer whose field they ended up in wasn't too annoyed.

Still, they add brightness and colour to our lives. Just so long as one of those things doesn't land on me...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Pet Food

Before

This week, I seem to have been hearing a lot about food and feasting. Not here, but in the US, where they're limbering up for a day of celebration and excess. I thought that this blog should get into the spirit of things with a cookery post.

You'll no doubt be familiar with Guniea Pigs. You may know that they were originally bred in captivity for their meat. This makes sense, after all, they are quite plump creatures. They are still eaten in Peru.

In case you need a novel and "different" dish for Thursday's celebrations, or perhaps Christmas, I have found some recipes. Before you all rush off to the pet shop, or your child's room, I do have one word of caution - please check that you're not breaking the law. Apparently the consumption of this nourishing meal is illegal in New York City, although it is okay in the rest of the state.

If you don't have any Guinea pigs to hand, you might want to check your local laws with regards to dogs. Cats don't seem to be considered much of a delicacy anywhere. Which is a pity, as there are far too many of them about, and they could do with a predator.

If you have squeemish guests, then you may wish to save this dish until you want to get rid of them. I remember seeing an interview many years ago with a couple who kept a placenta in the freezer. When their guests overstayed their welcome, they would remark that it was time for supper, and that they had something special to fry up. It worked every time.

Bon Appetit!

After:


[Picture Licensing details: Top Photo -- Bottom Photo]

Monday, 19 November 2007

Good Deeds


At the weekend, we watched "Mr Deeds Goes to Town" (1936), starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. In the film, Mr Deeds is an eccentric but basically "nice" guy who lives in a small town. He inherits $20million, and goes to New York to live the life of a millionaire. In the end, he gives all of the money away to help out of work farmers, and goes back to his town, with Jean Arthur, of course.

At today's prices, the money would be nearer $400 million. So the question is - would you give it all away?

I think if it was me, I'd have to give a lot of it away - after all, how much would you really want? I don't want or need a private jet, or a mansion. People might say that it would be my duty to make the amount grow so that I could pass it on to Helena, but I'm not sure I follow the logic of that. Is she supposed to do the same?

I think I'd put some of it by for Helena, and some for myself - would it be right to keep enough so I never had to work again? Why should I be able to stop contributing to society? On the other hand, maybe it would be best for me to give up working so that someone else wouldn't have to be unemployed?

Anyway, I don't have any multi-millionaire relatives that I'm aware of - my family is very small, and even if I did inherit that much, knowing my luck it wouldn't come with a Jean Arthur lookalike.

Still, I can dream...

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Changing Times


How things change. I must be getting old (surely not?).

When I was growing up, we had green beans out of tins. Almost all our meals were accompanied with proper home-made chips or some other form of potato, and coffee came out of a jar marked "Nescafe".

Nowadays we're used to our coffee Starbucks style. Until recently I used to make attempts to have "proper" coffee at home, but I don't drink enough and the ground coffee used to lose its flavour. So these days I drink filter coffee, as sold in one-cup packs.

But things are changing yet again. Now coffee is no good unless it has been processed in some way by an animal (processed by humans in a hygenic factory would make it "articifical" and "unnatural").

The latest find is the Monkey Spit Bean - I'm sure they'll call it something posher than that, since it sells for over $100 a kilo (you can buy Colombian for around $10). These are beans that have been spat out by monkeys, and so are infused with their saliva. The link also mentions the ultimate - beans that have been more thoroughly processed by a civet cat. At $1000 a kilo no-one's going to admit that it tastes like shit...

The big problem that the coffee snobs will have, I suspect, is how to top this. If anyone has any ideas, they could make millions.