Monday, 31 December 2007

Good Riddance

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Laughing Policemen

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 December 2007

Bits and Pieces

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

Putin vs Gore Quick Quiz:

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

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

No prizes...

From the Grave

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

Consumer Child

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


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

Thursday, 27 December 2007

An Army Marches on Its Stomach

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

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

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

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

Wish us luck...

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Online

"You Tube" Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Swearing in Eight Languages

G.F. Handel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Aϊ Βασίλης έρχονται ξανά...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Putin is the new Gore

Jean Knee's new Beau
Latest News:

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

A Tsar is Born

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

Smoking Pipes

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

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

Democracy in Action

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

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

What A Guy!

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

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Σαν Σήμερα

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 17 December 2007

Inconvenience Store

Happier Days: Communist Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Wish List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 December 2007

Toilets, Al Gore, Communists

Al Gore at the Nobel Prize Ceremony
[Picture License]

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


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

Al Gore

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Something Smells Nice

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Daylight Robbery

Dick Turpin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Government Health Warning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 December 2007

Scrooge, The Musical

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 December 2007

What's Your Excuse?

Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

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

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

Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

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

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

Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

I was unexpectedly busy. Here is a brief summary:


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

So I was busy.

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

Why I've not got a post for Sunday:

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

So it's all their fault.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Sex Sells

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

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

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

Friday, 7 December 2007

Witness for the Prosecution

"Call the next witness for the Prosecution."

"I now call Mickey Mouse..."

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 December 2007


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

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Lest We Forget

Bloggers Beware!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Well Unread

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

Here's what I'm missing out on:

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

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

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

Monday, 3 December 2007

Tis The Season...

Artists' Impression of a Snowscape

Warning - This Post Contains Spoilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 December 2007

A Trifle Incompetent

Applying The Finishing Touches to Trifle Mk II

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Digital Food

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

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

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

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

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