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?

Drank himself to death?
Broken Heart?

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


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!


[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.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Brain Box

I had a "bad Greek" day yesterday. I watched the news, and understood little. It didn't help matters that my favourite newsreader Emilia had the evening off. I read a couple of pages of "Eleftheros Tipos" (a daily paper), then decided I was too tired. I didn't even look at the Garfield strip.

I'm currently reading "The Autobiography of Light" by Giorgos Grammatikakis (a physics professor at Crete University). This is a large book with over 400 pages, and I'm on page 76. So, unless I want to spend the rest of my life on this book, I thought I'd better read some more. I did a page, and had to look up about 10 words. Not good.

I wonder if Alexis Lemaire has off days? He's the "human computer" who calculated the 13th root of a 200 digit number without the aid of pencil, paper, calculator or a computer. Of course, there's no point asking "why?", any more than you'd ask a weight lifter why they bother when a machine can do so much better.

My mental arithmetic is better than many people - any time I've had the misfortune to be in a bank talking to a financial advisor about mortgages or other money things, there's almost always a point at which I'll say something like "So that would cost x", or "That's about y%", and the salesman (lets face it that's what they are) will say patronisingly, "Let me work out the figures", and spend a few minutes tapping away only to do a double-take when he gets the answer.

But like most people, I'm only really interested in being able to use my brain for things I want to do - I don't want to "exercise" it for its own sake - after all, no-one, not even NASA launching a rocket to Mars, is going to need to know the thirteenth root of a 200 digit number.

The main thing you need to do mental arithmetic is a very good memory. Alexis Lamaire's must be very good indeed. Seeing him on the television, it looked like he didn't need to memorise the 200-digit number, but nevertheless, holding 14 digits of the answer in his head, and intermediate calculations, is something that most of us wouldn't be able to do.

Perhaps with his brain, I could have learned the Greek dictionary off by heart. On the other hand, I wouldn't be able to re-read crime thrillers if I could remember all of the endings.

There's another very good reason not to be a human computer - you don't have the ultimate excuse for not having done something: "I forgot."

Friday, 16 November 2007

Girl Friday: Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie (1890 - 1976) is the biggest-selling author other than Shakespeare and the authors of the Bible. 2 billion copies of her books have been sold, half of those in English, and half translated into other languages.

She didn't put a huge amount of description or emotion into her writing. The important thing about her books is the structure. A lot of them are based on Nursery Rhymes, for example.

Who else could write a book set on an island which no-one can get onto or leave, and where, one by one, everyone dies, but even after the last person is dead you are still left wondering which of them was the killer?

I'm referring to her book "And Then There Were None", which was the first of hers I read as a teenager, and again recently (in Greek translation this time). I can't go into too much detail about any of her stories, since it's important not to spoil the mystery for anyone who might want to read them.

I finished "Endless Night" recently, and whilst reading it tried to think of the least likely murderers, and who it might be. But even though I've read plenty of her books, I had not even considered the actual villain! She had me again, hook line and sinker.

She was an expert in poisons, having worked in a pharmacy, so a lot of her victims are killed that way. She created several famous characters, one of whom will make an appearance on this blog before too long.

So, there's a reason that she's notched up 2 billion sales. Her books are fantastic.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Why I Prefer Older Women

The other day, a supermarket in the UK refused to sell a bottle of wine to a 47-year-old grandmother because she couldn't prove she was over 18. She finally got her cheap Claret elsewhere. The story is in the Daily Mail, which isn't exactly a supporter of the current government - it's more of a "bring back hanging for murderers, lefties and illegal immigrants" type of paper. Naturally then, they would blame the government, wouldn't they? But perhaps this time they've got a point.

With the introduction of bigger fines, the retailers are getting stricter. Obviously, this is a good thing in that it presumably means that underage sales are falling, but it can be inconvenient for everyone else. Although strangely, despite my youthful good looks, no one has seen fit to challenge me (not that I ever carry ID).

In fact, a few weeks ago the woman on the checkout looked at me and said something sarcastic like "No point asking you if you're old enough!". Maybe her eyesight isn't so good, or something.

Recently they've started to get stricter, not just about checking the age of people buying booze, but also of those selling it. Now, I know that on paper the idea of allowing, say, a 15 or 16 year old to sell alcohol sounds wrong, but as usual they didn't think about the consequences before they changed the rules.

Perhaps it's because I tend to go shopping after work, but there always appear to be a lot of acne-covered teenagers on the tills at my local supermarket. If you've got a bottle of wine, or whatever, this holds up the queue while they get the supervisor to come over and authorise the sale. "Alcoholic at till 15".

Consequently I have now got into the habit of checking out the checkout assistants. I walk along, looking eagerly for a hint of grey, or a less than perfect complexion. If need be, I'll queue for slightly longer at my chosen till, rather than pick the one that is empty, but staffed by someone who might not be old enough to sell me the Demon Drink.

Maybe I should start asking them for ID. Or since, despite appearances, I'm not getting any younger, their phone numbers?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

2207 part II: Take Us To Your Leader...

Continued from yesterday:

As we approached the alien building, it looked unnervingly more and more like an Earth house - although the style was like nothing we'd ever seen, the proportions were about the same.

Anyway, we got to it and there was a door. We knocked on the door. It opened slowly...

... In front of us was... a man!

"Yes?", he asked. It was clear he hadn't been expecting us.

"Erm, who's in charge here?"

"Well, it's my house. Look, what do you want? I'm missing my programme."

"We're, erm, tourists and we've kind of got lost."

"Well, come in, I'll make you a drink." He left us standing there and rushed in. We followed him. Inside it was much the same as Earth houses. There was a large screen on the wall showing some kind of soap opera which our host was clearly engrossed in.

Sharon was explaining to Margo that she was really Bob's long-lost illegitimate daughter, and that she hadn't realised who Bob was when he started seeing Debbie, who was actually her half sister...

It was one of those split-second things. We looked at each other, made a silent decision, nodded and left before he noticed. We ran to the rover, and sped straight back to the ship and took off. What a waste! We went all that way to find a new civilisation, an alien culture, and found more humans watching crap TV.

Some scientists have speculated that intelligent life will evolve much the same way everywhere, and of course religious people believe that we'll ony find humans, because they're in God's image. Whoever's right it means that we've very little to learn from space exploration.

Our recommendation to the Earth Government is to stop funding space research, and instead spend the millions investigating how we can make better television programmes - then we can really advance civilisation.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

2207: Journey to Cancri

[Picture Credit: NASA]

November 2307

Three centuries ago, people first began to find solar systems that might contain other Earth-like planets, and so might sustain life. Two hundred years ago a spaceship was sent to Selina - the moon around 55 Cancri-f, which it was believed might have extra-terrestrials living on it. Because of the massive distances involved (40 light years), even our fastest ship took almost 100 years to get there. Yesterday it returned, and its crew, who have spent most of the last two centuries in suspended animation, have given us the following account of their exciting journey:

On November 12th 2207 the computer defrosted us - 2 days before our ETA. This gave us time for a shave and hair cut (for some wierd reason your hair keeps growing, even in the freezer - 100 years worth of beard is quite something), and to prepare ourselves for what could be a difficult situation. After all, they might decide we were enemies and attack us.

We had few ideas of what these aliens might be like. All the scientists could say is that it was "probable" that there would be "sentient life". It was also probable that there might just be vegetable life.

In the 20th Century, there had been speculation about "Flashy Light Aliens", who travelled on light beams, but it never really got to be more than speculation. Although somewhere in Chicago there is still a small group of FLA believers - but then, any large city has its share of such people (usually looked after very well in our modern institutions).

The first thing we had to do was to check all the radio frequencies for evidence of attempts to communicate with us. And straight away we found something! Our first contact with the aliens! They were sending television pictures. These looked like old Earth daytime TV, though we didn't recognise any of the programmes, so it must have been before our time ("Jean Knee's Horror Hour", for example, was a programme in which the presenter got a different outrageous hairdo every episode).

This was so exciting! We were going to get to meet something a bit more sophisticated than plant life! A civilisation that was advanced enough to have radio, and to have been watching us! I hoped that their familiarity with our ways wouldn't make them hostile..

We concluded that they must view us as friends, and that they were trying to make us feel at home. Alternatively, they might just be trying to lure us into a false sense of security before blasting us into eternity.

As we got nearer, we could not detect any signs of defence systems. Nor did the aliens appear to want to talk to us - they didn't answer any of our radio messages. The silence, was, as they say, deafening. I would rather that they had fired some warning shots, or told us to go away, or whatever.

Finally the big day came. We had picked an area we thought would be sparsely populated, and touched down. We got into our Rover All-Terrain Vehicle, and drove around looking for any signs of life.

We drove for hours, and found nothing. Darkness was beginning to fall when we saw it. Light! At first we thought it was just a trick of the, erm, light, but as we got nearer we realised that it was indeed artificial.

It's impossible to describe our feelings at this point. Hope. Fear. Terror that we were the human race's ambassadors, and that one wrong action might start an interstellar war that could wipe out civilisation.

we headed towards it. It was some kind of cuboid-shaped construction. Inside this building was going to be the beginning of a new chapter in Earth history. As we got nearer, we noticed something extremely unnerving -

To be continued...

Monday, 12 November 2007

All Because of Green Beans...

Battleship Potemkin, 1925

I've been thinking about revolution, and the failure of the capitalist system. I've always thought that food distribution is one of the great success stories of the Free Market Economy - anything you need is always available - none of the queuing that we used to see in the USSR.

But now, things are getting beyond a joke. Yet another local supermarket has run out of green beans. How are we going to manage? I had to hunt far and wide just to put a nourishing Green Bean Casserole on my daughter's plate. Maybe it's time that the people revolted against a system that is failing us.

After all, that's what they do in Battleship Potemkin. Some of the sailors don't like their soup (the meat's so old it's starting to come back to life), and so they hold a glorious communist revolution to take over the ship.

Faced with mutiny and with hoards of revolting soup-starved sailors, the officers fight back, killing one of the crew. "All because of the soup", we're told. Actually, all because the officers are facing death at the hands of an angry mob.

At which point you may be wondering why they've got such wide steps on a battleship, but the picture above comes from the famous "Odessa Steps" scene, where the ship has docked, and the evil Tsarist authorities decide to massacre all the innocent women and children to stop the revolution spreading.

All because of the soup. I wonder if they had green beans in Revolutionary Russia?

The film is depressing because having had this great revolution in the name of freedom against oppression, the ringleaders take charge and start ordering the crew about, and you know that they're going to have just as bad a time under the new regime.

Incidentally, if anyone mentions "Battleship Potemkin" be sure to comment favourably on "Eisenstein's use of montage", and how it influenced generations of film-makers. That'll save you the trouble of sitting through it - it really is a depressing bit of Communist propaganda about the 1905 revolution. That they didn't even win (though they miss out the bit about losing in the film).

So perhaps instead of instigating the great Green Bean Revolt, I should just get a freezer and stockpile enough frozen ones (which are still available) to get me through a long beanless winter.

Incidentally, this weekend's Green Bean Casserole looked more like the real thing (crispy onions), and Helena's verdict was that it's not as nice, so it's back to mushy onions next time - after all, I wouldn't want to drive my daughter into staging a revolution...

Sunday, 11 November 2007


Exclusive - The Story They Didn't Want You to Read!

In 1972 something major happened. "They" don't want you to know this. In fact, it it weren't for a dedicated group of brave individuals, you wouldn't be reading this now. This is their story.

The only thing that no-one denies is that in 1972 strange flashing lights were observed. These lights cannot be explained by any known phenomenon. They were particularly noticeable over the town of Foston, CA. You may not have heard of this town. That's because nobody lives there anymore. It doesn't exist on any map published after 1972.

One group of people won't let this story be forgotten. Although with time the surviving witness are dwindling in numbers, there are still a few carrying forward the attempt to explain just what happened. Aloysius Cranque is the President of FLAIR - "Flashy Light Alien Investigative Researchers". He explains:

"They didn't want anyone to know. This was the first authenticated attempt of an alien life form to make contact, and they are trying to cover it up. But we're determined to find the truth... Yes nurse, I'm just coming..."

Nevertheless, there is one photograph of that fateful event, which is shown above. You can clearly see the light, and that it's not man-made. Studies of the photo have been made to discover the direction of the light. By correlating these calculations, and using old maps, it has been possible to work out that the light was aimed at the old church. Computer simulations prove that the light beam would have fallen on a sign outside. Specifically on the words "Every Sunday".

I went to see Dr Del Treemens PhD, a scientist and founder member of FLAIR. We met in a bar. He was very nervous about talking to an outsider, and his hand shook as he drank his Bourbon. He explained his theory that the light was the way that the aliens travelled.

"You see, nothing can travel as fast as light, so they use light to travel. It's simple physics, really." He paused as he'd run out of liquor. I motioned to the bartender who got him a fresh bottle.

"They shine themsleves into the light beam."

"Why haven't they been back? What's the message about Sunday mean?"

"Well, I have a theory about that too. The Sun shines during the day, so to them Sunday just meant the day time. So they've been visiting us every day. Because of the daylight, we don't see the flashes."

Of course, "mainstream" scientists refuse to back up Dr. Treemens. Almost certainly they're worried about losing lucrative Goverment science grants. Nevertheless, FLAIR are continuing their work, keen to welcome the aliens, or to find out where they came from.

In recent days there has been discussion of whether the system 55 Cancri, 40 light years away, might have planets or moons capable of sustaining life. Maybe we're on the verge of finding our friends. Perhaps one day we can visit them. Hopefully they'll be more hospitable than us.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Rich Food

Do you have a sweet tooth? Although I do like to have sweet things, dessert is very much an optional extra. I know people (my ex-MIL, for example) who would happily forget the rest of a meal and go for the pud, but not me.

You probably saw the story a couple of days ago - A restaurant in New York has unveilled a new dessert. If you have a special occaision coming up, you might want to try and persuade your other half to buy you one - I'm sure they'll do deliveries for a reasonable charge.

The dessert in question costs $25,000 and is laced with edible gold. Jean Knee, who walked out of a restaurant with a plate, will be pleased to note that she'll be expected to take the spoon with her (though I suspect it doesn't really go with the plate).

If your budget doesn't stretch that far, then there are cheaper options - the ice cream sundae is priced at a very reasonable $1,000.

Presumably someone would only buy the record-breaking sweet in order to impress their "friends".

But, supposing that you ordered it, took a mouthful and didn't like it? It would be unfortunate if you had to spit it out. "You mean you don't like the taste of gold?", your friends would gasp. So my advice is that if you ever do end up getting this, don't touch it. Say you're not hungry, pay the bill and leave. Don't even take the spoon. That would be even more impressive...

[See Serendipity3's Website]

Friday, 9 November 2007

Man Friday: Cary Grant

Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell
"His Girl Friday" (1940)

Cary Grant (Born Archibald Leach, Bristol 1904, Died Iowa 1986) does not need any introduction, being one of the most famous film stars ever.

He started off as an acrobat, and got into films whilst the company he was with were touring the US. Early films of his that are worth watching include, of course, Mae West's "She Done Him Wrong", and "She's No Angel". At that stage he hadn't quite perfected the "Cary Grant" character that he was going to spend the next 30-odd years playing.

A lot of the films that he made in the 30s and 40s were screwball comedies, such as "Arsenic and Old Lace", or "Bringing Up Baby" (one of Helena's favourites). However in 1941, looking for a change, he starred in Alfred Hitchcock's film "Suspicion". Unfortunately, as with Ivor Novello in "The Lodger" the studio bosses wouldn't let his character be the murderer as intended, and the ending had to be altered. (Hitchcock finally got to make a film where the hero was the villain the following year, with Joe Cotton in "Shadow of a Doubt").

CG made another 3 films with AH - "Notorious", "To Catch a Thief", and "North By Northwest".

My favourite of his films is currently "Only Angels Have Wings", in which like "An Affair to Remember", or "The Grass is Greener" he has a more serious part.

Helena's current obsession is watching him and Myrna Loy in "Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House" (she's insisted on watching it the last 3 weekends in a row) - this is a gentle comedy. The plot is in the title...

I'm not sure why he's such a popular actor. It must be because we like the character that he plays (it's always the same one, after all). I'm not sure how many hours I've spent in total watching his films, and I've probably not seen half of them yet, but none of that time has been wasted.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Please Do Not Adjust your Set

Apparently the Writer's Guild of America have gone on strike, forcing the cancellation of many US TV shows, with reruns being scheduled instead.

As a mark of solidarity with my fellow writers, I have decided that I will take action on this blog. You will no doubt notice the reduction in the quality of my prose (What! Did I hear someone say "Same old drivel"???), and I will not be coming up with any original ideas for the duration.

The strike is a good thing from my point of view, because my blogging activities have meant that I'm not getting through CSI DVDs so quickly. This will hopefully give me a chance to catch up.

I believe that they're planning to replace the US version of "The Office" with the UK one. Now, I never thought much of that programme and have never seen the US one, but of course the original has to be far better (it's British after all), so I'm very pleased for American Office fans.

One thing I do think is strange is the fact that the late night "comedy" shows such as David Letterman are affected. You mean they write that stuff beforehand? If I was a scriptwriter I don't think I'd want to admit to that. Anyway, surely the likes of DL have enough talent that they could just wing it for a bit? Maybe not... In any case, viewers probably won't notice that they're getting reruns.

Which gives me an idea - why do I go to all this trouble to write posts when I could recycle some old articles from elsewhere with the names changed? I bet no-one would realise. Especially if I bunged in some "Art" pictures. Oh, don't worry, the artists haven't gone on strike yet.

Don't forget to tune in for tomorrow's thrilling installment: "An Apple a Day Keeps you Burping Away". Complete with an artisic picture of Adam and Eve...

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Mirror, Mirror...

A poll has been done which shows that Brits (both men and women) look at themselves in the mirror on average every 30 minutes. For some reason, Liverpudlian women are even worse - they gaze at their reflections twice as often.

I wonder what question they actually asked? And why? I mean, did some Gallup employee wake up one morning and think "How often do people look in mirrors"? Also, who did they ask? As usual, no-one was interested in my opinion.

I'm certain that I don't look more than 3 or 4 times a day. I don't like my reflection. They say that people don't like photos of themselves because they're used to seeing their mirror image. I'm the opposite, I don't think my photographed features look as bad as the "real" thing.

I don't know whether they've done this yet, but with cameras in mobile devices, it's easy to have an electronic mirror. All it has to do is to display the mirror image of what the camera sees.

People centuries ago did it better, though. Since they didn't have photos or camera phones they relied on painters to capture their image. The painters found they could make more money by painting the subject the way they'd like to look, rather than truthfully. Well, surely we have the technology to make our electronic mirror produce a more flattering image? Perhaps remove some weight, the odd chin, and so on?

This would be great, but unfortunately it wouldn't solve the real problem, which is that I want everyone else to see the flattering version of me as well. Witches can do this by casting magic spells so that men see an Angelina Jolie lookalike instead of a middle-aged green hag, but for the rest of us it's not so easy.

Having said that, it is possible to fool some of the people - I have to confess at this point that the photos of the amazingly handsome chap that I've been passing off as me, are actually someone else's. But please don't tell anyone. I wouldn't want to spoil their illusions. Or mine.

Which reminds me, I should remove the mirror from my bathroom. It's cracked, anyway...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Cookery Corner

Haricots Verts en Casserole

Inspired by all the talk about Green Bean Casserole on Bee's blog, I decided to try it for myself. Especially since even I can just about follow a recipe that involves emptying some tins into a casserole dish. This meant hunting far and wide for some green beans, of course, but eventually Helena and I managed to track some down.

We were less successful at finding french-fried onions, and had to make do with ordinary fried onions instead. Otherwise the Campbell's recipe was followed pretty much to the letter, though since it's all in American units I just guessed the quantities.

It also took longer to heat up than the recipe had predicted, so perhaps I didn't get the American temperatures right either.

When it was done it looked nothing like any of the pictures I could find on the web - I've got a feeling that I should have used more beans, less milk and that using the wrong onions also made it mushier.

I was warned that a lot of people don't like GBC, and I'm not that keen on mushrooms. By the time it came out we would have eaten anything, we were both so hungry. But actually, it was very nice, and there was none left over. Helena even asked if I could make it again next weekend.

If the country's green bean supplies hold up...

Monday, 5 November 2007

Bonfire Night

Remember, Remember

So, it's Bonfire Night again. As I'm writing this, the air outside is hazy and smells of explosives. All evening there have been bangs and whistles - if you were in a less stable country, you'd think there was a war going on.

I've never lit anything more powerful than a sparkler, and of course these days we're discouraged on health and saftey grounds from even doing that. In any case, I'm not sure how people manage these days without milk bottles...

My sister, her husband and her father-in-law have a shop near to where I live. They sell fireworks at this time of year, and what they don't sell her father-in-law uses for a late display, along with some more "professional" pyrotechnics that he gets from his supplier, but isn't allowed to sell to the punters. I'm talking about the sort of thing that you're expected to set off using some kind of electronic detonator. When you're taking cover half a mile away. I haven't been to one of his displays for years, but the image of him lighting these things in his back garden with his cigarette and then legging it is something you don't easily forget. The spectators also had to run when rockets didn't go in the expected direction. Luckily his house is several hundred yards away from the nearest neighbour.

These days, I'm content to watch other people dicing with death from the comfort of my home. Helena and I spent a few evenings photographing them - the results of which are in the picture above.

I wonder whether they'll still be letting of fireworks in another 402 years? And if they are, whether they'll remember anything about why?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Mighty Mouse

Scientists have announced that they have accidentally created a breed of "super-mice" that live longer, have more active sex-lives, and can eat and eat without putting on weight. They are also fantastic athletes. The gene that they altered is found in humans as well, suggesting that they could just as easily make "super-men".

The first thing that I wondered on reading this was why they always have to make these genetic modifications to embryos - why can't they retrofit us with this? But then, would I reall want this?

What point would a more active sex drive be if you don't have an equally active (or indeed any) partner? Even if you did, you still have to go to work, and make time to cycle up the Alps on a regular basis (see below).

The mice are very active generally. This means that they need more exercise. With my lifestyle I don't get enough for my unmodified body, so this wouldn't be very useful. Apparently a human with this mod would be able to cycle up an Alpine mountain without a break. Great if that's what you want to do, especially if you live in the Alps. Not very useful if you're somewhere a bit flatter.

I could eat loads and not put on weight, but this probably requires you to do the Alpine mountain ride every day - these mice are running non-stop for five hours (6km) at a time.

But surely I'd want the longer life? Well, would I really want to prolong such a frustrating and hyperactive existance? I'm not so sure.

There's a less selfish view of this - We're living on a planet with too many people and not enough food. Surely a better modification would be to make us eat less, have a shorter lifespan, and procreate less?

Meanwhile the mice will make great pets - they won't die as often and their hyperactivity will keep the kids amused for longer. Though if they ever escape, you'll never be able to catch them...

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The Gift that Keeps on Giving...

Okay, I'm a bit behind as usual, but I noticed when I was in town yesterday all of the Christmas stuff in the shops. As far as I'm concerned it's still about a month too early, but as a service to my readers I am presenting my Gift Guide - Men: what to get the women in your life, and Women: what to ask your husband for.
  • Gonorrhoea - Also available: Syphillis, Black Death, and Mad Cow Disease, the last one being ideal for the mother in law, especially at only £4 a throw ($8).
  • Beware of Geeks bearing gifts - If you're a geek who's actually managed to get yourself a girlfriend, then buying her a USB drive is a sure way to lose her. Whatever shape it is.
  • Body Mouse - This is a bit of a cheat, since it isn't actually available, for this coming Christmas at least, but it's so, erm, unusual that I had to include it.
  • Padded Coat Hangers - Stylish and useful. If someone buys you these then it's time to start looking at finding a good old folk's home - either for them or for you.
  • The items on this page - Any woman would love to wear those Candy G-Strings whilst cavorting on the Peekaboo Poledancing Pole... The other thing I love about this page is the fact that the gift of sponsoring a goat for a third world country is appropriately placed next to the Free-Range Argentinian Cow Hide Rug.
And Finally: For those of you who have a seventh wedding anniversary coming up, apparently this gift is ideal...

Happy Shopping!

Friday, 2 November 2007

Girl Friday: Victoria de Los Angeles

I've decided to devote Fridays to talking about people whose work I like, or who I think are otherwise interesting.

Victoria de Los Angeles (Born Victòria Gómez Cima in Barcelona 1923, died there in 2005) was a Spanish Mezzo-Soprano. She is known, among other things, for her famous recordings of operas by Puccini, Bizet and Rossini, and later in her life traditional Spanish songs.

She is Rosina in the 1962 recording of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville", which for me is a dream recording - all of the singers are perfect in their roles. Opera stories are like any other plot - all sex and violence. Well, this one doesn't have too much violence... Rosina is the heroine - kept isolated from the world by her guardian who hopes to marry her when she comes of age, but in love with a young Count. She is supposedly an innocent girl, but underneath she is strong-willed and determined to get what she wants:
Io sono docile,
son rispettosa,
Ma se mi toccano
dov'e il mio debole,
saro una vipera, saro.
e cento trappole
prima di cedere faro giocar.
"I am docile, respectful ... But If I'm crossed in love I'll be like a viper, and 'll play a hundred tricks before I give in". Naturally by the end, she manages to defy her guardian and marry the Count.

Rosina has been sung be a lot of sopranos, but it was really meant for a mezzo, who can be more expressive and seductive, And Victoria de Los Angeles' voice is seriously seductive.

Her sexy mezzo is also perfect for Carmen. The opera was written by Bizet (a Frenchman), but is all about Spain, so perhaps that's why my two favourite Carmens are both Spanish - the other one being Conchita Supervia.

She continued to perform well into her 70s. Her voice was special in that it was both beautiful and full of character - something very rare.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

You Can't Take It With You...

Yesterday's "To Vima" newspaper had an article about Forbes' annual list of dead millionaires. These are people who have managed to earn more dead in the last year than we mere mortals are likely to make in a lifetime.

At first sight this doesn't seem quite fair, but then most of us have worked with someone who might as well be dead for all they appear to contribute to their employer (and some who would do less damage). In fact, there was a story a few years ago about an office worker who died at his desk, and it was several working days before anyone noticed, and probably only then because it was his turn to buy the milk.

Some people on the list would perhaps have made a lot less had they still been around. For example, Elvis, John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe (first, second and ninth on the list) might have been penniless has-beens had they not been cut off in their prime (all right, a bit past it in all three cases).

Elvis raked in $49m last year. I know some of you will disagree, but I'm not sure we're getting value for money. There are two deceased millionaires, though, who I think are definitely still making an honest "living". These are Number 5, Albert Einstein, who earned $18 million in the last 12 months, and Number 7, Doctor Seuss ($9m). Both of these men have of course made lasting contributions to humanity.

"Relativity" and "Ten Apples Up on Top!". Albert and Theo: If you are reading this, I'd advise you to ask for a raise...