Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A Symphony of Horror

(A Fairy Story for Halloween)

Wisberg, 1838

It all started, as so many horror stories do, at the estate agent's. "Count Orlok from Transylvania's keen to buy some property here", said Knock. "These Counts have more money than sense - I thought that huge vacant house opposite yours would be ideal, Hutter. So I'd like you to go to his castle and sell it to him. With a bit of luck he won't want to actually look at it first!". He had a point. The property in question had been vacant for many years, and none of the walls or floors were at right angles any more.

So Hutter went off, dreaming of his comission, to see the Count. Of course, it was a long and difficult journey, and the stupid superstitious local coachman insisted on stopping well before he got to the castle. What could he know? His family had only lived there for generations. Anyway, our hero eventually got to the castle and met Count Orlok.

The Count was very generous, and gave him a good supper and a choice bottle of Claret, even though he himself explained that he never drank ... wine. Hutter, being a bit nervous about the sale, cut his finger with the breadknife. The Count was very interested in his wound. "What a nice fellow", thought Hutter.

Next morning, Hutter felt somewhat drained. A hearty breakfast had been laid out for him. The Count had explained that he would probably lie-in until sundown. When he did appear, he wanted to go over the sale brochures. Whilst looking through them the Count noticed a photo of Hutter's wife, Ellen. "Your wife has a beautiful neck!", he enthused. "Yes, I suppose she has", said Hutter, who was more of a "breast man" himself.

Anyway, the Count immediately announced that he would buy the house opposite Hutter's, and signed all the appropriate papers, since he wanted to move straight away. Hutter went to bed, but when he looked out of his window he saw that "Pickfordski", the removal people, were busy loading the Count's stuff up, all carefully packed - in coffins. These nobility chaps didn't hang around, he thought. He would have gone down to give them a hand, but for some reason the door to his room appeared to be stuck.

The next day, he was still shut in. He shouted, but there was no one around. They must have moved out and forgotten about him! By tying together all the sheets from his bed (it was lucky that they didn't have quilts in those days) he was able to escape, and start the long journey home.

Meanwhile, the Count was busy moving in across the road from Ellen. In a small town like Wisberg, a new neighbour was bound to attract attention, especially when he had arrived on a boat whose crew had all died mysteriously with funny holes in their necks, and which had also brought a load of plague-ridden vampire rats. So the Count found that he was practically a prisoner in his new home, since the locals made it clear they weren't keen on him coming out.

Meanwhile, Hutter had arrived back. He'd also realised that Count Orlok might be a vampire, and that the two holes in his neck might not be mosquito bites as he had first thought. He'd also got hold of a copy of "Vampires for Dummies", which he showed to Ellen. The only way these vile creatures could be killed was if they were forced to stay out in daylight. Hutter went off to find the local vampire expert.

However, whilst he was gone, who should appear at the window but the Count himself! He seduced Ellen with a look, and she let him in. He then indulged in some serious necking. In fact he got so carried away enjoying Ellen's charms that he totally forgot the time. When it dawned on him, he shrivelled up into nothingness.

And they all lived happily ever after. Well, except for the Count, and all his victims, and Ellen. And the rats, who all disappeared along with their evil master, and all the townsfolk who died of the plague. And Hutter wasn't best pleased with losing his wife, and Knock with losing the sale...

People are never satisfied...

Picture and story from Nosferatu, 1922, Directed by F.W. Murnau

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

High Spirits

Picture the scene. A traditional drawing room, lit only by a single candle. The candle is on a circular table, around which are seated four people. A man and woman in their 40s, a younger woman, and a large middle-aged ostentatiously dressed lady.

"Are we ready?" Asks Madame Affrawd. Taking the silence as affirmative, she blows out the candle. There is an atmosphere of tense excitement in the air. Or maybe the brussels sprouts they ate for dinner are repeating on them.

"Hold hands", says Madame A. They do so.

She raises her voice and asks, "Is there anybody there?"

No reply.

"Knock once for yes, twice for no..."



One of the ladies gasps.

There is a creaking noise. No-one dares breathe. Some light shines onto the table. The drawing room door slowly opens, and the maid enters. "Excuse me ma'am, I just wondered if you needed anything?"

"I told you we're not to be disturbed!", says Mrs Rogers (the hostess) angrily. "I do apologies, Madame Affrawd, please continue".

They start again.

"Is there anybody there?"


"O Dear Departed! Speak through your humble servant! Who is it you are looking for?"

Suddenly a trembling disembodied voice rasps: "Archie Rogers!"

"What is it you wish to say to him?"

"I'll be seeing you soon..."

"Em, look..." says Madame A, "Surely you mean that you have a nice message from his mum, or something?"

"No. Tonight he will join me in the hereafter."

"Okay, I can't do this if you're not going to be serious", says Madame Affrawd and stands up. She turns on a light. "Who was making fun of me?"

The others look at one another blankly. "It was a spirit", says Archie, obviously shaken.

"But it can't be!", says Madame A. "There's no such thing, er, I mean... Look I really ought to be going", she says and disappears rapidly.

"Maybe a seance wasn't such a fun idea after all", sighed Mrs Rogers.

"She was a total fraud.", says her husband, regaining his composure.

"Oh Archie, darling, I hope so!" cries his secretary, and then realises what she's said. But it's too late.

"You cheating bastard!" shrieks Mrs Rogers, bringing down the candlestick on her husband's head. A fatal blow.


In the shadowy world of the afterlife, Archie finds his mate Bill. "I knew it was you! What did you want to do a thing like that for - I had years ahead of me"

"Well, I was getting a bit lonely", rasps Bill (who died young from lung cancer), "and anyway it was only a matter of time before your missus found out. We'll have fun. And, there's plenty of talent here!", he winks.

"Just so long as my wife doesn't get here too soon!", says Archie, and the two pals float off in search of a good time...

Monday, 29 October 2007

I Dream of Jean Knee

Around this time of year, people's thoughts turn to scary things. I had decided to do some research into the scariest thing I could think of. Spiders? No, The Psycho Woman herself - the one known only as Jean Knee...

I'm afraid my driving was a bit erratic - I could hardly concentrate as I drove the once busy highway that had fallen into disuse after the Interstate was built in '59. I moved forward in fits and starts, as my foot trembled uncontrollably on the gas pedal. It must have been those Chicken McNuggets, but I had to get to a toilet fast...

Finally, I saw it. Another shadow on this dark unlit hellish road. The old sign was faded, and I could make out the delapidated huts, as I turned into the car park. I cut the engine and got out of the car. It was a black moonless night and it was raining heavily, despite the fact that I'd set off two hours ago at noon on a sunny summer's day. Bad places are like that.

Several weeks of inquiries had led me to this place. I had scoured Texas, talking to the shadier characters in that massive state (everything's bigger there). Finally, I had come across an old toothless gypsy. She asked me to cross her palm with a silver dollar. I told her I could get her a discount at my dentists, but she said no, she'd rather have the silver. Fair enough. She looked at my palm, and screamed.

I looked, and saw that it was blood red.

"It's okay", I said, "that's off the hot dog I just had on my way here."

Anyway, after a lot of persuading (and my whole stash of silver dollars), she told me. Everyone knew about Norman Bates and his stuffed mum, but there had been a sister. She had left her family as a young girl, because her brother wouldn't stop cutting up her dolls. She had started a new life in Texas, where apparently she was still living. Like her brother she lived in a fantasy world. One where she pretended she was a wife and mother, and children's party organiser.

The gypsy had reluctantly given me directions to the motel where she said that Jean Knee-Bates was actually living. In fact she'd handed me a leaflet entitled "The Other Bates' Motel", sponsored by the local Tourist Board. And then her eyes had darkened and she had told me not to go there. The place was cursed, and I would meet my doom...

So here I was. I looked around. One of the old huts had a light on! I crept towards it, and peered in through the cracked glass of the window.

There, I could just make her out. Sitting in front of a laptop, a polka-dot covered image on the screen, she was typing madly. Every so often she would throw back her head and scream "The Horror!". It was a gruesome sight.

But even more gruesome was my pressing need to find a bathroom. I dashed into the motel room next door - it wasn't locked. Whilst I was there, I thought I might as well take a shower. After all, surely she wouldn't mind?

The water felt great. My quest had taken up so much of my time that I hadn't had a shower for days. I found myself singing. I felt happy and relaxed.

Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back. All I saw was the gleam of a huge knife (did I tell you, everything's bigger in Texas?).

A final thought went through my head, just before the knife did. I know my singing's not great, and not everyone's a fan of "Volare", but even so, I felt that she was overreacting just a bit...

Then I woke up.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

και σαν πρώτα ανδρειωμένη

Today is the 28th October, a special day in the Greek calendar, since on this day in 1940 the Greeks said "Οχι", or "No" to the Italian demand that they allow Axis forces to enter Greece. The Greeks instead insisted on fighting, a battle which they and the British eventually couldn't win, and in honour of the Greek's refusal to give in quietly, the day is celebrated as a public holiday, with large military parades and other events.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.


Yuck! That's my reaction to the above poetry. I've never really seen the point in flowers. But when you come to think of it they really can be useful. Here is a Man's Guide to Flowers.


The best thing about flowers is that for a few Pounds you can buy a bunch in the supermarket whilst you're stocking up on booze, and the woman in your life will go all gooey and think you're absolutely wonderful. Yes, chicks love them, and really show their gullible side. You can get away with almost anything as long as you follow it up with flowers.

Cats and Dogs

Supposing that you're seeing someone who's absolutely fantastic, but has got a psychopathic cat or dog? Nature has again provided us with the answer. Just make sure you get her lillies (for cats), or crocuses (for dogs), as these are poisonous to those animals. Once Kitty or Fido have mysteriously left for the great animal farm in the sky, you can festoon her with even more flowers to show what a great caring guy you are.

Chickens and Eggs

Something I hadn't realised is that they feed marigolds to chickens to make the egg yolks more yellow. Omelettes just wouldn't be the same if they were white, so hooray for marigolds!


It also never occurred to me before, but broccolli is a flower. Eating lots of it not only gives you nutrients and stuff like that, but it reduces the risk of prostate cancer as well. Cauliflower (the clue's in the name) is another usefully edible flower.


Without them, there would be no honey.


So, flowers really do make the world a better place. But they have their downsides - For example, they've inspired some pretty nauseating poetry...

Friday, 26 October 2007

Poop Art

Today we continue our survey of classic art.

Meaty Chunks

Yesterday I mentioned Piero Manzoni and his tinned "Merda". Earlier this year, there were suggestions that the whole thing might have been a hoax. No shit? But of course, no-one who has paid $45,000 for a tin (or even $168,000) would actually open it to find out, would they?

Seminal Works

One pair of artists who have used their own excrement, as well as blood, urine and semen are British-based Gilbert and George (be careful if you're at work and you follow any of the links at the bottom of the Wiki page - you have been warned!).


And then there's Marc Quinn. He made a sculpture of his own head using 8 pints of his own blood. Now that is worth paying for, in the sense that it is valuable - not that I would want to own something that creepy!

What a Waste!

You'll be glad to know that the pictured tin, part of my personal collection, is not for sale.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Trash Art

"Without the cock." pastel on paper, 2005

On the news last night, they had a story about a woman who found a painting in the rubbish (what was she doing looking in the first place?!?), and rescued it minutes before the dustcart came to empty the bins. What she had found was a lost example of Latin American abstract art, which is expected to fetch $1 million at auction.

Now, personally, I wouldn't pay $1000 for it, but that's just me. I can see that it might have merit if you know what to look for (I don't). And of course, the guy's dead, which also makes the work more valuable.

What I really find interesting is the fact that people will pay $1 million for a painting in the first place. You can get an original in almost any style by a professional artist for a few hundreds or thousands. It's not the material or the labour that you're paying more for, it's the connection with the particular famous artist who painted it.

Tracey Emin's bed fetched $300,000. They could have mine for $200,000. It's not got the funny stains or used condoms, but at that price I'm sure I could find (hire?) someone to help me with that...

I would draw the line, though, at this. If you read the article carefully, you'll see that the gallery spokesman describes it as a "seminal" work. Wrong end, surely?

I don't care how much money I could make. Except, of course that no-one would pay for mine. It's not as "valuable". But why?

Which brings me to the pictured work. This is a prime example of the juxtaposition of figurative and Picassoesque traditions (look at the positioning of the nose, for example), and the masterful use of light and shade to draw a subject who's life's work could be summed up in those very words, is simply breathtaking.

It's also the only existing work by this particular artist (unless anyone's been going through my rubbish). So surely it's worth something? I mean it's crap, but you'd rather have this than one of Manzoni's tins, right?

Anyway, I'll sell it to the highest bidder...

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Inside Story

Fans of Ghostbusters will remember that Sigourney Weaver has a demon in her fridge, so she calls on the Ghostbusters to investigate. Bill Murray cautiously opens the door, says "My God!" and closes it again. "Look at all the junk food! You actually eat this stuff?".

Apparently that line was put in because a soft-drinks company had a large share in the film studio and insisted that bottles of Coca Cola and Perrier were prominently displayed.

Anyway, Zool would feel right at home in my fridge, as you can see.
  • 4 x 500ml Bottles Mineral Water - Not much you can say about that. A convenience.

  • 2 x cans of Guinness Original - Far superior to the "new" stuff. "Guinness is Good For You!"

  • 1 x "Olive Oil" spread - I get this one because I like the look of the tub, but the adverts claim that it'll help you live longer.

  • Edam - Great snacking food.

  • 2 x five packs of "hot" pepperami - I forget what you call this in the US - It's meat in a thin condom-like wrapper. In this case with loads of spices. Great dipped in houmous, but then what isn't?

  • 1 1/2 bottles Retsina - This is the main alcoholic thing I drink. It's the only white wine I like.

  • 1 Vegetable Curry - I'll have this with a pack of microwaveable rice. It must be healthy, since it's vegetables, right?

  • 2 x 4 hot dogs - Great with mustard, houmous, gherkins & cheese slices in pitta bread.

  • 1 x trifle - I only get these for Helena, but then they start to get near their sell by date, so I have to eat them...

  • Cheese Slices - See hot dogs.

  • 10 plums - The healthy option

  • 1 x French's Mustard - Almost run out (that's why there's another waiting on the top)

  • 1 x Lime Pickle - Seemed like a good idea at the time. If I remember, I'll bung some on the curry.

  • 1 x partly used Green Pesto - Will probably get thrown out - it's been there for a couple of weeks.

  • 1 x Ketchup - Hardly used. Helena likes it, but I rarely give her anything she can put it on.

  • 2 pints Milk - For coffee and hot chocolate, and occasionally drinking.

  • 1 pot of custard - To put on something else that I've since eaten, so I'll end up just having it on its own before it runs out of date.

  • 1 x Hellmann's Mayonnaise - No other make is anywhere near as good.

  • about a litre of Coca Cola - For mixing with whisky.

  • 4 yoghurts - useful when I get indigestion - quite likely after that lot.

So there you have it. I'll be going shopping in a day or two, and it'll be full up again for a little while. In my defence, I should point out that it could be worse. I knew someone who lived on Fray Bentos pies for years - admittedly he's not exactly the picture of health, even though he has graduated to M&S Ready Meals. And I never eat out of date food - if it's at all suspect it gets binned. But, I'm fairly good - with the exception of the green pesto, which might be going even greener, none of the food will go to waste. Unlike me, perhaps...

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

I, Robot

We hear a lot about how bad video games are, and how much they corrupt children. All of that is about to change. Soon they'll be teaching gaming in schools, and the ability to get a high score on Grand Theft Auto will be a young person's passport to the career of their choice.

I'm referring to the news that the US Army plan to put robots in place of soldiers on the front line. Of course, they'll need soldiers to control the robots, but eventually I imagine they'll be able to do this from the comfort of their own homes. No longer will the army be looking for people who can march, or keep their uniforms clean, or endure other physical hardships. No, basic training will involve 1000 hours on a Wii shooting imaginary Iraqis, or terrorists, or something.

But why should soldiers get to be the only ones to turn work into a video game? I'm sure that robots at work will become much more widespread.

First of all will be firemen, at least once they've worked out how to make the robot climb up ladders (at the moment it trundles along on caterpillar tracks). I once played that game where someone was throwing babies out of a burning tower block, and you had to catch them, so when the time comes I might apply.

Other dangerous professions, such as policemen and teachers will follow. No-one will misbehave at school when their teacher is a combat robot armed with a machine gun. If I'd realised that was how things were going to turn out I'd have become a teacher after all.

Next to be replaced will be people who do unpleasant jobs, for example Portaloo emptiers at work sites. In the interests of worker's morale, they will presumably use robots more like the one in the picture to replace any hot babes that might currently do this job.

There are already robot surgeons in development. They won't have shaky hands, but for all you know the person driving might have gone straight from fighting Ninjas to performing open-heart surgery.

What does this mean for you? It means you'd better start getting into this video game lark (if you don't already), or face the double shame of being replaced by a robot and a spotty nerd.

You have been warned!

My fridge

Monday, 22 October 2007

Τα βρήκα!

Not in my usual supermarket, though, they're still beanless.

How to Get Thinner and Age Slower

The above question has occupied some of our greatest minds. Especially if you don't want to give up eating, or to spend your whole life in a gym. Neither of which helps with the ageing, anyway (though the latter might help you live into senility). No one's come up with any great answers.

Expert Advice

So, who better to ask than Albert Einstein? Well, I'm about 50 years too late, so it's just as well that he was way ahead of me, since he worked out an answer to both of these questions over a century ago.

Light Reading

I've been going back over his book "Relativity - The Special and General Theory". This is his dumbed-down explanation, with only a few equations. Actually I went back over the Special Relativity section, because (i) it's easier than General Relativity and (ii) it's the bit that addresses today's topic.


Special Relativity tells us that time and distance are relative, and depend on how fast something is going that you're observing. If someone sees you moving past them, then they observe that your size is smaller and you are ageing more slowly.

Rocket Science and Naomi Campbell

So that's the answer. Just move fast. It's not rocket science. Though a rocket might help, since the faster you go the more extreme the effects are (that's why we don't normally notice them). To get supermodel thin, you're going to need to travel at almost light speed - which is 2,000 times faster than the best rockets.

Amaze your Friends!

You'll be going so fast that no-one will notice how super thin you are. However, the ageing trick is much more impressive - You just go off in your super whizzy space ship, travel for a bit, come back and all your friends will be wrinkled and grey. The travel will be boring - there aren't many places you can get to even at light speed, and of course they go past so quickly.

But not yourself

The other slight problem is that you don't get thinner or age less quickly relative to yourself. The only thing you can do is to effectively travel forwards in time faster.

My Head Hurts

Which only leaves me with one thought - If Einstein couldn't come up with any practical suggestions, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Sunday, 21 October 2007


I've just noticed: Deborah Kerr died on Tuesday aged 86. She was wonderful in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, as well as An Affair to Remember. I was watching her only a few weeks ago in The Grass is Greener with Cary Grant.

It Just Takes a Smidgen

This is the Piazza San Marco in Venice. They have recently banned people from feeding the pigeons, because the waste products that they deposit are damaging monuments and causing a public health issue.

Street vendors who make a living selling bird seed in the square are now going to go out of business. Tourists who go to feed the birds won't be able to any more. The pigeons will hang around expectantly wondering where the next meal is coming from. There will be general misery.

This is yet another example of unimaginitive politicians making silly rules without asking me first. Instead of banning the feeding and the sale of food, I would have made a rule requiring all seed sold in the square to be laced with fast-acting poison. That way the seed-sellers could stay in business and the tourists could happily feed the pigeons, who would die before they could make any deposits. In addition there would be opportunities for street vendors selling hot pigeon sandwiches.

When they see us coming, the birdies all try an' hide,
But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanhide!
[Tom Lehrer, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park]

Elsewhere, there are problems with Seagulls. Mainly from their airborne bombing raids, although they occasionally attack people too. The solution is apparently to coat the eggs with oil. Maybe seagulls aren't as gullible as pigeons when it comes to eating poison. Having been at the receiving end of their antisocial behaviour - they got me when I was driving with the window open - I just hope it works. It seems rather pitiful that humans can build complex anti-missile defence shields, but can't stop a few birds - perhaps that can be Bush's next project.

I've got some peanuts here - anyone want one? I thought not.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Give us back our 31 days!

Yesterday, I was almost early for an appointment. Well, I'm usually early, so why was this unusual?

I was almost a month early - I had written down the right day, but put it in the wrong place in my calendar. Only an obsession with double-checking things saved me from embarrassment and a waste of my time.

But it got me thinking about fast-forwarding in time - Not really in time, you understand, but missing days or months out of the calendar. This is sort of the opposite to what Bee did when she lived through the same month twice.

There are plenty of times in history when this was done. It looks like altogether between 1751 and 1752 they skipped around 3 months - which I think explains at least partly why our financial year starts in April rather than January - after all, you couldn't expect accountants with their years of training and high numercy skills to be able to cope with a shorter year, could you?

So, had I not realised my mistake, I could perhaps have got out of it by persuading everyone to skip the 31 days between the 19th October and the 18th November. Then no-one would have known.

In fact, the only people I'd really have to persuade would be the media, who could publish their papers with the new date, and the people who do the clocks on the internet. Many years ago The Daily Telegraph got the date wrong on its paper and an amazing number of people lived out the wrong day (not sure what that says about Torygraph readers).

But how would I have sold it? Well, I can see quite a few advantages:

  • An early Christmas - the day would be longer, and we wouldn't have to endure quite so much of the shop's Christmas campaigns.

  • No Bonfire Night - That would please the country's dog owners.

  • People who didn't miss their birthday would be 31 days younger in reality than their age.

  • People who did miss their birthday would lose a year of theirs.

  • The football season would be a month shorter.

You'd miss Halloween, but that could also be an advantage - you'll have eleven months longer to prepare.

In fact there's only one thing that stopped me doing all this - someone has a milestone (as in high mileage) birthday coming up and we wouldn't want to miss out on the "getting old" taunts - I mean the celebrations, would we?

The picture above by Hogarth includes references to the "Give us back our eleven days!" campaign of 1752.

Friday, 19 October 2007

It Couldn't Be... ME!

Every week, millions of Brits pay their Pound ($2) for a lottery ticket, with the dream of becoming a millionaire. Of course, it is just a dream. The chance of winning the jackpot is around one in 14 million. Given that you'll win something like £7.5 million, you get a rubbish return on your money, and would be far better off putting it on the horses, or better still playing Blackjack.

As you might be guessing, I don't participate in this folly. There's another very good reason. The prize money just isn't high enough. A one off payment of $15 million just won't get me that luxury lifestyle.

My Shopping List:

  • House: $140 million Bran Castle, otherwise known as Castle Dracula, might be on sale soon - subject to legal wrangling in the Romanian courts. Obviously the only place to live!

  • Yacht: $130 million All right, you can slum it and get one for about $10 million or so, but we need to keep up with the Abramoviches.

  • Jet: $10 million LearJet 45 - an affordable way to travel (according to the advertising literature)

  • Swimming Pool: $1 million For a proper inlaid tiled Olympic-sized pool (landscaping extra). Not that I'm into swimming, but all the women who'll be surrounding me need an excuse to go around in bikinis.

  • Horse: $500,000 For some kind of thoroughbred - Actually, this is an optional extra, but if you really do win $300 million on the horses, you might feel it's only right to give something back...

  • Rolls Royce Seraph: $230,000 Not the most expensive, but possibly the most comfortable.

And of course, I'll need to keep the LearJet and the Rolls in petrol, and employ people. So I'll need several millions a year. I'm not going to see any change from $300 million. It hardly seems worth mentioning the hand-made John Lobb Black calfskin wingtip shoes for $2,692 - we're down to small change now.

Once I'm this rich, I'll also think nothing of buying a decent Malt to drink. The Macallan Fine and Rare 1926 only costs $38,000 a bottle. I'll buy one for each person who comments on this post*

So the lottery's no good. You're better off robbing a bank, and taking the chance on getting caught. Let's face it, most of the other people in the world with this much money have got it by robbery of one sort or another, even if was strictly-speaking legal.

Finally, you might be wondering about the cat. It's an advert for the Japanese lottery. It Could be Mew...

*Subject to me getting my hands on at least $300 million. Terms and conditions apply. Subject to availability. Your bottle may get lost in the post. What do mean, what Terms and Condidions? Obviously ones that will mean that although I'll buy your bottle of whisky, I get to drink it. What are you doing reading the small print anyway? You're not supposed to, you know... That's why it's so small. I'd have made it smaller, but the Blogging Gods wouldn't let me.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

The People Have Spoken

Voting has come a long way since the Ancient Greeks wrote their candidate's name on broken pieces of pottery, or even since the wonderfully high-tech machine pictured above. (this is where the term "blackballing" came from).

The dangers of technology were highlighted in 2000 with the unfortunate "chad" incident in the US Presidential election. One can argue whether or not the end result was good or bad, but more importantly it was all rather embarrassing.

Of course, nowadays there are little voting boxes appearing on websites and blogs everywhere. There' s one on a news site that I read. I don't often vote, but I like to try and guess the result before having a look. It all looks like fun, until I saw one I had voted on published in a national newspaper as the opinions of the Greek public. And me.

This is all very well, but with new technology comes new ways to, erm, unduly influence the result. People can vote both at home and at work, and sometimes the voting widget is just rubbish. There's one I saw recently where you can vote for as many things as you want (maybe it was designed by the Lib Dems), and which allows people with the right browser settings to vote as often as they want. Not that I'd do that, of course...

So, I'll be a bit worried when they introduce Internet voting for elections, though I'm sure they'll be more careful (won't they?). And for now this blog is remaining a vote free site. Actually that's not quite true. There's one vote, and that's mine!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Σκέφτομαι, άρα...

Philosophers are strange folk. They ask strange questions. Like "does this table exist?". Then they think about it really hard. For years. And then they decide they didn't like the question, and instead ask "What does it mean to exist?" and "What does it mean to be a table", and so on, for a few more years. That's why they have such long beards.

Anyway, they realised early on (after a few thousand years of thinking about it) that it was impossible to disprove the theory that you are the only person who exists. Everyone else and everything else is a figment of your imagination. Apparently the only people who believe this are insane, since if you do believe it you go mad. Or end up becoming a philosopher.

The internet raises these sorts of questions. I "know" people online, but I've never met them. They may not actually exist. Someone could be running a very clever computer program. In fact, it could be running on my computer. Or in my head. I've not got any way of telling. Is there really anyone there?

Bertrand Russell said that in the book "Principia Mathematica" which he co-wrote with Whitehead, there were passages which he didn't understand, which Whitehead had written, and that he couldn't believe that they could have come from his brain. Similarly a lot of the stuff spouted by my internet friends and acquaintances couldn't possibly have come from my head - surely? I'm not that sick? Am I? Now I can understand why all those people went mad. If I really believed that it was all my invention, I'd book myself into a mental home straight away.

James Boswell told Samuel Johnson about the idea of the non-existance of matter, and how it was impossible to refute it:

...Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it 'I refute it thus' [The Life of Samuel Johnson, 6th August, 1763]

Now why didn't I think of that? So I think that convinces me that stones exist, but I'm still not totally sure about you lot...

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Sports News Part II

Welcome back. In part II:

Broken Glass

Another dangerous school sport involved propelling glass objects into one another. This was marbles, which I believe is even more internationally known than conkers. It is a game I remember playing much more often, especially with my sister. Often people played "for keeps", getting to keep the opponent's marbles that they won. Which leads me nicely to today's International Contest.

United Kingdom: 32    Greece: 0

I am, of course, I'm talking about the Elgin Marbles. In the early 1800s, Lord Elgin removed large chunks of marble friezes and sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens and flogged them to the British Government. The Greeks have been trying to get them back ever since. The issue is in the news at the moment, because they have just started transferring artefacts to the newly built Parthenon Museum in Athens, and would like to put the Elgin Marbles in there as well.


The British Museum says that the marbles should stay where they are because (i) the Museum is a centre containing treasures from many different cultures under one roof, (ii) there's a law forbidding them from giving away their exhibits, even if it's later decided they were "stolen", and (iii) Ner Ner! We've got them so what are you going to do about it? (All right, they might not actually have said that last one...)


On last night's news they did a vox pop. outside the Museum. A couple of people said the marbles should go back to Athens, but another Brit summed things up very eloquently: "They're better off here.", he said, "Not everyone can go all the way to Greece". Nicely put. It's a long way just to see some slabs of stone. And they speak funny, and don't know how to make decent fish and chips.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Sports News

Putting the Frogs in their rightful place...

Perhaps I should watch the sports news, since I missed the great sporting event of the weekend - a rerun of Waterloo in the form of the World Conker Championship. An English player saw off opposition from 300 other contestants from 20 countries including France, USA, Germany, Canada and the Phillipines.

Don't try this at home!

The event was almost cancelled because of fears about the dangers of this activity. Hurling chestnuts through the air, even on strings, is clearly something not to be done without paramedics standing by. Miraculously, there has never been an injury in the Championship's 43 year history. And to think that we used to play this unsupervised at school!

Big Cheeses

That other great international game, Cheese Rolling is somewhat more dangerous, and was even cancelled a few years ago. If it was up to me, I'd make them both Olympic sports, but for some reason I wasn't invited onto the Olympic Comittee this time round.


What's really surprising is that one of the most dangerous games of all is still allowed. I'm talking of course about football (sorry, soccer in US English). Players and spectators are killed and injured every year, yet no-one whinges about health and saftey. Football is such a pointless game (often literally "nil-nil") that the "spectators" spend more time fighting each other than watching it. They could do this much more easily if the pitch and players were removed. Again, no-one thought to ask me.

Live a Little

Anyway, I think that after a quarter of a century's absence from the scene, it might be time for me to take up conkers again. After all, there isn't nearly enough danger and excitement in my life.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Of Human Bondage

Handcuffs are restraint devices designed to secure an individual's wrists close together ... Without the key, the person cannot move their wrists more than a few inches (centimetres) apart, making many tasks difficult or impossible. [Source: Wiki]

Helena and I watched The 39 Steps yesterday. In the film Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll spend a night handcuffed together. Presented with this classic 1930's tour de force of British cinema, the 9-year old film buff's critical faculties were working overtime. "How would they go to the toilet?" she asked.

I was impressed by her insight into the director's intentions, since this is exactly what Alfred Hitchcock found amusing about this part of the film. The actors hadn't met beforehand, and AH "lost" the key to the handcuffs whilst the crew went to lunch, forcing them to get to know each other. Finally when nature called, he relented and "found" it.

Another crew member wasn't so lucky on an earlier film. AH bet him that he couldn't spend a night in handcuffs (possibly also locked in his car - there are different versions of this story).

Would you take that bet? It really doesn't sound so bad.

Except of course when you're then tricked into drinking a nightcap laced with laxitives...

Got to go...

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Organ Makers

Tom Lehrer, mathematician, US cultural icon and the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Composers" did some research in the 50s into Dr Samuel Gall, whose varied achievements in the field of medicine include the invention of the Gall Bladder.

More recently, an Australian performer has had a third ear attached to his arm, presumably in a bid to become an Antipodean Davy Crocket (the man with the wild front ear).

Unfortunately, this ear does not function, but no doubt this problem will soon be overcome by those clever medical folk. When it is, he'll want a fourth ear for Quadrophonic, as well as one at the back for that authentic surround sound experience.

Of course, there are those who are worried about the ethics of organ making. And they do have a point. One can imagine voyeurs getting eyes on their fingers, or drug addicts visiting seedy backstreet clinics to get noses sewn onto their hands (far more convenient). But these disadvantages will no doubt be outweighed by the great benefits.

I hope that they invent the replacement liver before I've completely pickled mine, and talking of ears, I'd love them to fit me a volume control - I'll even pay the extra for a mute button. How many times have you wanted one of those?

And what about a brain for Britney Spears? Unfortunately, even modern medicine has its limits.

Friday, 12 October 2007

No Beans

I went to the supermarket to get enough provisions so that I won't starve over the weekend. This is a real worry, as my daughter comes to stay, and she doesn't stop eating. However, she doesn't like anything too spicy, so as long as I have something curried left, I'll probably survive.

I've got plenty of lemonade for her to drink, bread and humous (she takes after her dad there), and I never like to run out of pickeld onions (it annoys her mum when she goes home with the smell of those on her breath).

One of Helena's favourite meals is farfalle pasta with green beans and green pesto. However, it's been (bean?) hit and miss lately whether or not I manage to get any green beans. The shelves are stacked high with sweetcorn, and there's never any shortage of artichoke hearts, but common or garden green beans? I am, of course, talking about the tinned variety. I believe they sell them loose, but I prefer the real thing.

I'm getting really worried about this - I mean, where are all the tins going? My best guess is that Gordon Brown likes them, and that they're stocking up his bunker with them. Which can only mean that something bad is going to happen soon. World War 3? Invasion of the Flashy Light Aliens? Or maybe a General Election? Whatever it is, I think I'll stick to ignoring the news and hope I don't notice.

In the meantime, I've got garden peas in brine to look forward to tomorrow.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

No News...

I've given up on British news. I no longer buy a paper - instead I read Greek papers online. I no longer watch the TV - instead I prefer to watch Emilia Kenevezou on Cypriot TV. I have written to her suggesting that she come and read the news here instead, which will make dating me more convenient, but she hasn't yet replied.

Anyway, today someone mentioned the Postal Strike. News of this hasn't yet reached the Mediterranean, so I was surprised to hear that this had been going on for some days. Nevertheless, it explains a few things that had had me puzzled.

Mail I've Not Recieved:

  • Lawyer's Letter: This is concerning a long-lost relative who I don't know, but who has died and left me a fortune.

  • Parcel: I responded to a generous email which offered to sell me some amazing blue pills, and some female-attracting pheremones, and now I know why I've not recieved this, despite my credit card being debited.

  • Invitation: To lunch at Buckingham Palace

  • Bank Letter: Telling me of an "error in my favour". The one I never seem to get when I play Monopoly

  • Apology: From the Post Office for the inconvenience caused by the strike, together with a book of free stamps

  • My Reply: From Emilia Kenevezou.

So now I know. It'll all be a few more days.

I'm curious - is anyone else missing any important mail?