Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Wordy Wednesday - Exclusive

Over the weekend London hosted the Gulf Luxury Goods Fair. This fair is aimed at wealthy Arabs, and is full of things that they couldn't possibly live without. For some reason I wasn't invited. Admittedly I'm not a wealthy Arab, but it would have been nice to at least have been invited. It's not as if I'd have embarrassed anyone by actually showing up. Still, no-one likes being excluded, especially a blogger who delights in keeping his readers up to date with all the latest products. Luckily, the fair got a mention on the Aimilia Show.

One of the leading attractions was the £90,000 iphone. "So what?", I hear you ask, "Apple products are always ludicrously overpriced." However, with this one not only do you get some bog-standard electronics in a fancy case, but the fancy case is jewel encrusted. This doesn't seem entirely sensible on an item that you're likely to misplace or get mugged for, but maybe that doesn't happen in the Gulf. Or maybe if you own a significant proportion of the world's oil, you just shrug and buy another one.

If, like me, you're on a more modest budget, you will be interested to learn about the cheaper items. Such as the new Jaguar. Starting at £52,000, it's only around half the price of an iphone. In fact, I'm not sure why they bothered to turn up to the fair. Surely no-one with a £90,000 phone is going to be seen dead in a £50,000 car? Perhaps you'd buy such cars for your servants, to save them risking them pranging one of your 30 Rolls Royces whilst running errands.

If I was an oil magnate, I'd have servants like that.

Those in a frivolous mood could do worse than get a £150,000 novelty watch. A lot of people could easily afford this if they traded in their house. They showed one on the news that has a built-in fruit machine. You'd have thought there wouldn't be much of a market for such a thing in the Gulf, where their religion frowns on gambling, but I suppose they're allowed fruit.

With all these amazing offers, it's perhaps just as well I didn't get my invitation. At least I'll be able to afford to eat again this month.


FADKOG readers might be interested to know that in response to this post, google gave me adverts for Arab dating. Maybe I'll try it. Though I'll insist that my potential dates have to own at least one jewel-encrusted iphone...

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Mr President...

This post contains an open letter to the President of the USA. It's the second one that I've posted here since his election, although this time I didn't write it.

I happened to mention to Helena that female Elephants are called "cows", and male elephants "bulls". Being a great fan of the bovine variety of cow (both alive and on her dinner plate), she took exception to this, and immediately demanded to know who was responsible for allowing elephants to take on the names of cows and bulls.

I suggested that it was probably a zoologist, but she asked me whether I'd informed the Prime Minister of this terrible injustice. When I confessed that I had omitted to do this she suggested I either write a letter to Mr Brown, or to the US President. I said that they probably had more pressing matters on their minds. She wasn't having any of this and wrote the following letter on my behalf to the "Planetarch", as the Greeks call the American leader:

Dear Baraca Barman,

Elephants have their own name and they don't have the right to steal cows and bulls' names. Why can't elephants be elephants, cows be cows and bulls be bulls?

You will probably want to take this to court and please inform the Queen so that she can help you do something about it.


Brian o vretanos.

I've made no attempt to correct or edit this, apart from giving Her Majesty a capital Q. She even got all of the apostrophes in the correct places.

[l-r: US President, British Queen,
US First Lady, Shifty-looking Greek]

I think you'll agree that this is a wonderfully eloquent letter for an eleven year old. I think she's got a great future ahead of her as a blogger or a twitterer, or something...

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Wordy Wednesday - Sunless

Apparently today was a special day for astronomers in Asia, since they endured the longest eclipse of this century.

In China, they believe that this is a time of misfortune and disaster, since by tradition the sun is swallowed up by a huge invisible dragon. I'm not sure how they explain its return. Maybe it shines out of the dragon somehow.

In India people rushed to the Gangees where by being immersed in its unique waters they believe they can be freed from the circle of life and death. At least one woman drowned, sadly.

These areas of the world were without sun for all of 6 minutes and 39 seconds.

I'm afraid that I'm not really impressed. In Britain, the sun was eclipsed for most of the day.

I shouldn't complain. There are floods in Germany and fires in Spain, whilst New Zealand was moved closer to Australia last week by a massive earthquake. I hope that wherever you are you're managing to avoid the worst of the summer weather...

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Small-Minded Conspiracy Theorists

With the fortieth anniversary of the Moon Landings, the conspiracy theories have started to make a reappearance. They say that Neil Armstrong and co never actually went anywhere - the whole thing was an elaborate ruse.

Of course few people believe them. Why would the US government go to such lengths to create a massive hoax when they could just stick a couple of astronauts on top of a rocket?

In an amazing stroke of good fortune involving public transport and a misplaced laptop, this blog has obtained exclusive access to secret information concerning not only the events of July 1969, but a conspiracy which has been perpetrated on the innocent citizens of the World for over 2000 years.

It turns out that the conspiracy theorists just aren't thinking big enough.

The flat earth brigade were closer to the truth than they (or we) imagined. However, they believe that the Earth is just a single flat surface. What they failed to do was to think three-dimensionally. If they had they might have realised that the Earth isn't flat. It's a block of flats.

Each floor is around 2 miles high. If you sail over the horizon, you end up in a large elevator, enabling you to get onto other floors. If the lift is there, of course. If not, your ship might just fall into the lift shaft. Now we know the real secret of the Bermuda Triangle.

When the first explorers sailed forth and discovered all this, they realised that it would be very foolish to tell people about it. If there were untold riches to be found on other floors, they wanted to keep it all for themselves. So, they started to draw maps showing vast expanses of sea, and to tell tales of monsters, of seductive mermaids that would lure ships to be wrecked, and so on. They wanted to discourage the majority of people from setting sail and finding out how easy it was to get to another country. They also wanted everyone to believe that they were brave heroes. Especially the ladies.

A Sailor's Map of the World c. 800 AD.
The central lift-shaft is clearly depicted.

As sailors found more and more places, so their maps got ever more elaborate. And then someone had the bright idea of making the world spherical. It's not known who this clever chap was, but his colleagues thought he was barking mad. They said that no-one would ever believe that. What a silly idea! They'd ask awkward questions, like "why don't the Australians fall off?", and "what's holding it up?", and so on.

"They won't fall for it..."

Nevertheless, the naysayers were wrong. People liked the idea of living on a ball. It was aesthetically and mathematically pleasing. It made the Earth a nice finite place, and it was as far away as you could get from the real picture of a giant run-down apartment block.

But all this happened centuries ago. Why are governments so eager to keep this secret in the 21st century?

The answer, as always, is "money". When the Wright brothers first managed to fly a few feet in the air, the Powers That Be realised that once people got 2 miles up, they'd see that there were ceilings, lights and sprinklers up there. So they devised a plan which would not only keep the aircraft industry from spilling the beans, but which would make vast quantities of money.

As long as the airlines kept up the pretence, and made people sit in their cramped airplanes for hours on end instead of the 5 minutes it would actually take to get to another floor, they could charge a fortune for Business class, whilst the governments of the world raked in airport taxes and the like.

And what about the Moon? Well, only a handful of the world's floors are habitable. The rest aren't finished. As usual the property developers conned investors into building something that was way too big. The moon's actually in the basement. And Neil Armstrong really did go there. Of course, the best way to get down the lift shaft wasn't in a rocket.

The real Apollo 11

So there you have it. Of course, "they" will say that these are just the deranged ramblings of a blogger desperate to find something to post on a weekend. But we know better...

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Military Coup

On July 15th 1974 a military coup was orchestrated in Cyprus by the Athenian Junta (who ran Greece from 1967 - 1974), deposing the government of President Archbishop Makarios III. Early reports of Makarios' death proved to be incorrect - he managed to escape, got to a radio station in Paphos where he made the announcement that he was still very much alive, and then left the island, spending the next 6 months or so abroad.

Five days later, on July 20th, Turkish forces invaded the island, and 35 years on, with "The Cyprus Problem" remaining unsolved, they still occupy a large area in the North of the island.

Today Greek Cypriots held services to mark the anniversary. Hopefully one day it will become a historical event rather than something that is still an ongoing issue for both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.


I took my car to the garage today. When it was having it's annual MOT test a little while back, they warned me that some parts of the suspension were starting to crack and would need replacing. I've got no idea what happens if your lower front rear bush gives out, but it sounds painful, so I got it changed. I'm happy because it didn't cost as much as I thought it would.

Rain or Shine

We've had a lot of rain the past few days, but things have brightened up today. So I feel justified in posting a sunbathing picture.

Picture by quimby at Flickr, covered by

I hope you're getting all getting some summer weather, with the exception of Jean Knee, whose dog is in dire need of our rain, or at least our clouds.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Menu

The other day a menu came through the post for a Chinese takeaway in town. There are several others which are much nearer to where I live, so I'm not likely to go there, but I was intrigued by the following:

I'm not trying to mock whoever wrote it - I'm sure their English is far better than my Chinese, and indeed their Chinese may be better than my English - but I'm at a loss to work out what they mean. I don't know about ducks and king prawns, but I'm sure that fish aren't vegetarians but piscivores. If there's such a word.

And why didn't they just make the Chicken one £4.80 as well?

On the back of the menu there is a horoscope, full of useful advice. For example, anyone born in 1962, 1974 or 1986 is best suited to being a boss, explorer, racing car driver or a matador. I was born in 1970, on the second day of the Chinese year, so I ought to become a businessman, activist, teacher or secret agent. I did come close to being a teacher, so maybe there's something in this after all.

If you're eating out this weekend the I hope you have a good time, but don't forget to ask whether they do vegetarian duck...

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Wordy Wednesday - Wakeup


This week has been fairly miserable so far weather-wise. We've not had any storms, just showers and general dullness. So, no snowbathing or sunbathing today, I'm afraid. Those in search of skin cancer will need to get it by artificial means.

Alarming Invention

Getting up in the morning is something that I'm not very good at, so I'm always on the look out for innovative ideas. You may remember a while back about the alarm clock that runs away from you. Here is something even more unlikely to catch on.

I'm sure that this can't be good for him. One morning it'll all go horribly wrong, and he'll wake up dead.

What he really needs to do is to get a life, a woman, and have children. When Helena was a baby, she always used to wake up early, which meant that I always got to work at a reasonable time, and I never used an alarm. Until the clocks went forwards. Sadly she hadn't learnt to tell the time, and so the household arose an hour later.

My problem isn't so much waking up, it's managing not to go back to sleep after turning the alarm off. At the weekend I woke up just before 6 in the morning to the sound of a large bumblebee which had managed to get into my bedroom, but wasn't clever enough to find its way back out again. Needless to say I was up and dressed before I had the chance to fall asleep. So now all I have to do is to train bumblebees to buzz threateningly at the right time every morning.

Perhaps that fleeing alarm clock wasn't such a bad idea after all...

Monday, 6 July 2009


I was fascinated by Chris' latest (and much awaited!) post. In it he talks about his heroes, which started me wondering who I'd choose. Which led to this post. Thanks, Chris!

Johann Sebastian Bach

Famous for inventing the "perm", Bach also wrote a bit of music. Actually, he wrote so much that people doing caculations about how fast you can write music with quills have come to the conclusion that 65 years aren't enough. He also fathered 20 children. During his lifetime he was better known for his prowess with his organ than for his compositions. After his death some of his children became famous composers, and his (now out of date) work was forgotten.

Or rather it wasn't completely forgotten. Professional musicians knew about him, and centuries later there was a Bach revival. Here was a man living at the end of an era. Baroque music had been dominant for 200 years, and people generally date the end of this period with his death in 1750. Many people also consider his work to be the finest of that period. And that's what makes him a hero. To write music that was starting to be considered as old-fashioned even in his lifetime, and yet to do it better than anyone else had managed in two centuries is a pretty amazing achievement.

He also wrote the music to the most successful British TV advertising campaign of all time.

Music by Bach (Arranged and performed by Jacques Loussier)

Samuel Johnson

Dr Johnson was a talented writer. He was also a great conversationalist. And a lazy git. Okay, he single handedly wrote the most famous dictionary of all time, as well as some other stuff that was well regarded during his lifetime, but he spent most of his long life doing bugger all. Or rather, doing as little as possible.

In 1767, at the age of 57, during one of his regular visits to the library at the "Queen's House", he met King George III. The King had heard that Dr Johnson frequented the library and arranged to be there during one such visit. The librarian went up to Dr J and said "Sir, here is the King". The good doctor hastily shoved February's Hustler under a chair and stood to attention.

The King asked for his opinions on various matters, including literature, science and history. Then His Majesty asked why Johnson hadn't published anything lately. Not satisfied with the answer that he'd written down everything he knew and so had nothing else left, he suggested that Johnson should write a literary biography of Britain. No doubt Dr J would have told anyone else that he was retired, but he couldn't ignore a command from his Sovereign, and did indeed write the biography.

What makes Johnson heroic is his integrity and his humanity. As far as possible, he treated his fellow humans equally. He shared his house with several "waifs and strays", was a great believer in education for all (he sent his African manservant off for a few years to college at his expense), was vehemently opposed to slavery (he shocked fellow diners by proposing a toast to a slave rebellion in the West Indies). He was friendly with some of the most influential people of his period, but would equally happily and enthusiastically talk to any dodgy character that he might meet in the streets of London.

Reading his biography 300 years on, you realise just how ahead of his time he was. Very few of his opinions look dated or strange. Perhaps his respect for royalty and the upper classes is a bit old-fashioned, and his pathological hatred of Americans hasn't been completely explained. He certainly didn't agree with their presumptious ideas about independence.

Mae West

Mae West trod the boards with her rather dodgy Vaudeville acts, and got into films in her late 30s. Sadly, this was around the time when the US was getting into film censorship, and her films made them realise that it wasn't just visual stuff like nudity that they had to worry about, but innuendo. Their rules seriously cramped Mae's style, and her film career was relatively short-lived.

So why is she famous? This is something that I can't figure out. I wonder how many people have heard of her but haven't seen any of her films. If you fall into that category then I strongly advise you to watch some of them. What you'll see is not a sex symbol like Marilyn Monroe, dumb and submissive, but a strong-willed kick-ass woman. She is interested in men for what they can give her in bed, or in diamonds and cash, preferably both. It's not difficult to see why the Catholic censors didn't like her.

I love a scene in one of her films - it might be one of the ones with Cary Grant - where she encounters a young man. "Can I help you?", he asks. She looks him up and down (particularly down), and replies "Hmmm. Yes, I think you can."

My favourite quote:

Woman: "Goodness, what lovely diamonds."
Mae West: "My dear, goodness had nothing to do with it."

Glenn Gould

I could write volumes about GG. I could have a Glenn Gould blog, and write a couple of posts a week about him. It's difficult to describe the effect that this one dead person (he died in 1982) has had on my life over the past ten years. Maybe one day I'll get my thoughts sufficiently organised to write something about it.

Initially, I wasn't going to include him as a heroic figure, but the more I thought about it, I realised that he was. He was an extraordinarily gifted Canadian pianist who was an even more gifted communicator. There is something special in his playing that has led to people (including me) having experiences that are similar to a religious-style revelation. Seeing the light. Or rather, hearing it.

The heroic part is the way that Gould managed to achieve his goals. A concert pianist who hates giving concerts, who has some interesting mannerisms and who accompanies himself by singing along loudly would ordinarily appear to be on a hiding to nothing. Nevertheless, he was one of the greatest and most influential Bach interpreters of all time. He gave up concerts at the age of 32, devoting himself to recordings and writings. The latter are incredibly entertaining if a little pretentious at times. He believed that he could get closer to his audience through recordings and technology, and not only did he succeed, but he continues to do so decades after his death.

So that's four of the people who I feel are worthy contenders for the title of "Hero". Even if none of them have slayed Medusa, or done whatever Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles do, I hope you'll agree that they're all impressive in their own ways.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Time to Celebrate

I was over at Bee's blog earlier, and she mentioned that she and some of her fellow colonists on the other side of the Atlantic were having some kind of celebration today, which prompted me to check my calendar to make sure she wasn't having another hallucination.

It is of course the 233rd anniversary of the day that America ceased to be Britain's problem. According to Wiki, this actually happened on July 2nd, but Wiki's not always reliable, and 300 million Americans can't have got the wrong day, surely? That would be rather embarrassing.

You'd have thought that the British would be celebrating, but sadly we don't get any time off. To be fair, if we had a holiday for every piece of the Empire we'd managed to get shot of, no-one would get much work done. Nevertheless, I thought we should have a review of the many achievements of that very young nation across the pond.


Invented by the Greeks a couple of millennia ago, and adopted by the British in the 13th Century, the American version is of course bigger and better. It takes years to elect a president (we only have 4 weeks to elect 650 people), and everybody gets a say - even little bits of paper. Al Gore lost the 2000 election by failing to win over the highly influential minority group of pregnant chads.

Voting US style.
We make do with a piece of paper and a box.

Electricity and the Hard Sell

Of course, no-one invented electricity, but it was an American dentist who came up with one of the most sadistic uses for it - the electric chair. This was a great success. The Ethiopians even spent a fortune on one in the 1890s, and their King ended up using it for his throne since (a) it was the most expensive chair in the country and (b) they didn't have any electricity. The New York salesman almost talked them into buying the Brooklyn Bridge, but they'd already gone bankrupt paying his comission on the chair.


These were developed by the Germans, but it was American know-how that flooded the planet with cheap Fords and helped cause Global Warming. On the plus side, horse driven carts were driven out of business and so our streets are no longer full of shit.

An 1885 Merc.

Our friends took this British World War II invention and installed Windows on it. Thanks, guys!

The First Computer

German Cuisine

Frankfurters and Hamburgers have hit the global big-time thanks to US fast food chains, something that I'm vary grateful for - even if eating them is probably going to kill me in the end.

American Cuisine

I've saved the best till last. Three magic words describe the greatest achievement of the loudest nation in the world. Green Bean Casserole.

Happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Wordy Wednesday: Overheating

I hope you all appreciate the sacrifies I make to bring you this blog. Don't worry, I don't mean sacrifices in the ritual sense - no virgins were harmed in the making of this post. At least, not that I know of.

However, the working conditions are somewhat less than ideal. In particular, the temperature is rather oppressive. We've had a hot week, but today is vary warm. No snowbathing photos today.

Working temperatures are goverened in this country by some ancient factory law, which gives a minimum temperature that workers are allowed to endure. If it gets any colder they can go home. It doesn't, however, give any maximum. After all, this is Britain, where things are cold and grim.

I've taken legal advice, and I've been told that I can't get out of doing my Wordy Wednesday just because there's a heatwave. Not unless I die or am hospitalised. Which wasn't what I wanted to hear. What's the point of paying your legal team huge salaries if they don't give you the right answer?

According to the thermometer in my lounge, it's around 30 Celsius. Translated for my American readers, that's "Too Hot". Especially at 7pm. I'm working up a sweat just typing.

In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good idea to open the windows, as I just ended up letting more hot air in. I did consider sitting in a bath of cold water with my laptop, but I'd probably drop it in and fry myself.

The last time we had a hot summer I tried having a cold bath. The main problem is that you can't spend your whole life in the bathtub, and when you get out you feel even hotter. It also reminded me of something I read years ago, about a couple on their wedding night.

The man worked in a mortuary, and he informed his bride that he could only enjoy sex with women who were dead, or pretended to be. I dread to think how he found this out in the first place. Anyway, he told her she had to lie in a bath of cold water for 20 minutes and then go to bed and play dead. Needless to say, she spent the night at her mother's.

With that chilling thought, I'm off to get a cold drink.