Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Deadly Pen

Whilst I was at the supermarket stocking up on ready meals, I went to their stationary section to get some pads of paper, and also ended up getting a Sainsbury's own brand "premium" fountain pen for £1.99 (on special offer).

Now, pens are dangerous things, so as you'd expect there was a health warning on the box. What do you think it said?

After all, pens have a pointed bit on the end, and you could poke yourself or someone else in a sensitive place:
Don't try this at home!

And they say that the pen is mighter than the sword. And swords are a health and safety nightmare.
"Woops! Sorry Mate, I just slipped."

In the wrong hands, a pen can be used to sign someone's death warrant. Or start a war.
Mary Queen of Scott's Death Warrant

However, the sole warning on this packet was something that had never occurred to me:
At least now I know what not to do.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Deadly Virus

The deadly virus that is my cold is still trying to kill me. The congestion has been keeping me awake, and so sapping my energy, but I had a better sleep last night, which suggests that it's easing up on my nasal passages and is going to start attacking my lungs.

Helena and I watched the new "War of the Worlds" film the other day. By "new", I am of course referring to the 2005 version starring Tom "Midget" Cruise and a cast of thousands of CGI effects.

The classic film version came out in 1953. They didn't have CGI in those days, and you could see the threads holding up the alien spaceships. Our hero in that film was Gene Barry, with Ann Robinson providing the eye candy and the screams.

Incidentally this is NOT the same Ann Robinson who's the dominatrix host of "The Weakest Link".

The other classic version of TWOTW was Orson Wells' 1938 radio adaptation. Despite the lack of Technicolor and CGI, this was the one that was considered most realistic by the audience, many of whom famously thought that they were listening to a real Martian invasion.

In both films the aliens invade and prove to be stronger than anything the world's human forces can throw at them. In the end they are killed by the same organisms that are currently making my life a misery - the deadly common cold. Sadly the aliens had spent so much time and effort perfecting their armour plating and their ray guns that they forgot to pack any Lem Sip.

The only problem with this plot is that no-one gets to make any contribution to the alien's destruction. Even if everyone had locked themselves in their basements and done nothing the attack would still have failed. This makes both films less exciting and provides less suspense than similar invasion films where the heros only just manage to prevent worldwide destruction by the skin of their teeth.

The new film is 2 hours long, which was a bit too much. Some of the special effects where cars and debris hurtle towards Tom seemed, well, wrong. It looks like all the crap is flying right into the foreground but somehow it doesn't reach where our hero is standing. Maybe it's meant to look unrealistic.

In the original film the main character is a scientist, but since neither science nor the US Army manage to defeat the marauding invaders, this doesn't really matter much, but it does help his love life, since Ann Robinson's character goes all gooey the minute she finds out who he is. He also gets a laugh at the vicar's party with the line "I was just thinking that if we could harness all of the energy expended in a barn dance, we'd be able to send that meteor back where it came from". I think I was born 50 years too late.

Although the new film was okay, I think on balance I prefer the earlier version. It's shorter and the geeky guy gets the girl. And Sir Cedric Hardwicke does the narration with his clipped British accent. Those were the days...

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Happy Holidays

So, how was it for you? I imagine that for most of you Americans, Christmas has climaxed already. Here, of course, it lasts for longer. Because Boxing Day fell on a Saturday, we get Monday off as a public holiday, so we're only half-way there.

As expected, I didn't venture out at all on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. On Wednesday evening I visited the pub, staggering home after closing, or rather sliding home because it was treacherously icy. I'm glad I had a lot to drink that evening, as had I been sober I might have injured myself.

As usual on Christmas Eve, I watched everyone's favourite seasonal film - Die Hard. This has to be the best Christmas film ever. It's just a shame that I'll have to wait 7 years before I can watch it with Helena. I also cracked open a bottle of Claret, and started on the stilton. Bizarrely, the label says that you've got to eat it within 3 days of opening. Or what? According to wiki, they spend 9 weeks cultivating the mould, so just how is it going to go off in the space of 72 hours?

Christmas wouldn't be the same without listening to at least part of Manos Tsilimidis' (aka "The awake man") Christmas Eve/Christmas Day Special on Greek Radio (10pm - 2am Greek Time). Every year I realise how much more Greek I understand.

The highlight of Christmas Day was having a traditional British roast. Actually, it was one that was labelled "Roast Chicken Dinner for One" and you did it in the oven, but it was very nice, especially when washed down with yet another bottle of Claret. And then more stilton.

I watched one of the DVDs I bought in Athens. There was a shop there selling ex-rental DVDs for €2 a throw, and I bought this one. I believe you can get it here by the name of "A touch of Spice", but don't believe IMDB when they say it's a comedy. It was a very artistically photographed film whose hero spends part of his childhood in Constantinople, but his family is forced to leave in 1963 when the Turkish authorities are, as on other occaisions, harrassing the "Greek" minority due to events in Cyprus. When they get to Athens, they find that they are treated with suspicion by the Greeks. Our hero has been interested in cooking from an early age (his grandfather had a shop selling spices), and food is juxtapositioned with life and with the universe. His grandfather hasn't followed the family to Greece since he's a Turkish citizen, and since he can't bear to leave "the most beautiful city in the world". Finally his grandson returns to his birthplace to bury him and to come to terms with the world that he left all those years before. The plight of the "Romioi" (people of Greek extraction from Constantinople) is both sad and fascinating. These are people who are culturally Greeks, but whose fatherland is Turkey, not Greece. There used to be a large population, but many were driven out after the events of September 1955 and 1963. The film was very successful internationally, and I think most people would find it interesting. The dialogue is in Greek, Turkish and English, so you have to watch it with subtitles unless you're trilingual.

The only bad thing is that I've come down with a cold. The office was half empty this week, and I've hardly been out, so I think I must have got it from Helena. The cold itself isn't that bad (yet - Helena is cheerfully predicting that it will get a lot worse, based on her experience of it), but I find it vey difficult to sleep when I'm congested, so I had a sleepless night with wierd dreams. Though according to wiki that could be the stilton.

On Boxing Day Helena arrived, so the family side to the Yuletide Festival has begun. But that's a story for another day...

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


For the last week or so, Britain has been engulfed in some kind of cold pressure front, or whatever the weather people call it. I don't actually know, since I don't watch the British weather. What's the point of watching the weather on the TV when you can just look out of the window?

We haven't had snow where I live, but some of my colleagues have been snowed in. Apparently things are worse further South. At the weekend some trains got stuck inside the Channel Tunnel. When it's snowing underneath the sea, you know things are bad.

The weather has apparently caused havoc for people trying to go anywhere at Christmas. I wouldn't know because I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles during my formative years and am therefore programmed not to go anywhere over the Festive Season.

The shops will be shutting for Christmas Day, so I've got in plenty of supplies. I even have a roast chicken ready meal for the 25th itself, as well as tins of Big Soup. Assuming that all goes to plan, I don't intend to step foot outside until Boxing Day, when Helena will arrive for her second Christmas of the year.

Not being religious, I like the peacefulness of these holidays. Nobody expects you to do anything other than sit around getting mildly merry. Not drunk, because even the drinking is done in a leisurely and peaceful fashion for once.

Whatever Christmas does or doesn't mean for you, I hope that you have a peaceful and happy time. If you must venture out into the snow, ice or whatever, please do so carefully and safely. If you must spend time with those relatives that you spend the rest of the year avoiding, please don't hit them too hard.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Χρόνια Πολλά.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Secret Santa

For this year's Secret Santa Extravaganza, organised by Bee, The person selected to be my victim, or rather the lucky virtual recipient of a virtual gift from me, was KB from Nonsense Words.

Since KB is working and therefore not at home so much to pamper the various dogs and puppies who end up at her place, I think it's only right that they should get something special this Christmas.

Rod Stewart's wife apparently paid £25,000 for her pets to have this luxury dog kennel made:

I think I might have enough to afford to buy KB something similar, if I raid all of the Monopoly games that are lying around my flat. If not, the dogs may end up with a bungalow. Made up of Monopoly boxes.

Merry Christmas!

Many Thanks to My Secret Santa Always Home And Uncool for taking the time and thought to produce an incredible virtual gift...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas Yet To Come

Christmas has long been associated with time. Dickens' famous story "A Christmas Carol" features the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

One person who has ever less time is Santa. You're supposed to slow down in old age, but the poor bugger has to cope with an ever growing world population. Which means more children to get presents to by Chrismas Day.

And with the credit crunch he's being forced by the International Monetary Fund to lay off some of his elves, and put the work out to contractors instead. This is of course grossly inefficient, since most of the money he was paying his little helpers will now be going into shareholder's pockets.

Something's going to have to give.

Things were so much easier in the good old days before globalisation and Coca Cola. When he became an internationally recognised figure he persuaded the authorities to introduce time zones around the world. This innovation meant that Christmas morning happened 24 times, once an hour*, instead of just once a year. It gave him more time to get around the globe, and proved very popular with watch manufacturers.

* - This isn't strictly true, since some places, such as Afghanistan are half-an-hour ahead, but let's not get too technical.

But now there's a serious risk that some children will end up getting their presents late. Unless something is done. And I will now explain just what that something should be. (No, it doesn't involve Santa swapping his traditional bottle of Coke for a can of Red Bull).

I'd like to claim credit for the idea, but it was actually thought up thirty years ago by an American woman. Sadly, as she announced her brainwave to the world she made a serious slip of the tonuge and ended up appearing on those dreadful outtake programs.

I suggest you only watch the first minute or so of the above. The rest really isn't worth sitting through.

Anyway, that's the woman I'm talking about. One of the foremost visionary thinkers of our time. Unfortunately, she was blonde and had a Southern accent, so people assumed she was an airhead. What she actually meant to say was:

"They should have it every month."

In 1980 people might have thought she was a World Champion Airhead if she'd said that, but it turns out to be the solution to all Santa's problems. At least the problems that haven't already been cured by Viagra.

The idea is really just an extension of the time zones. Starting with GMT (obviously), the time zones are lumped into groups of two, and each time zone holds Christmas in a different month. So in the UK and Western Europe we'll still celebrate it in December, but in Chicago and Toronto the magical month will be April.

Australians will get July and August, and so they won't be able to make the rest of us feel jealous by opening their presents on beaches full of bikini-clad beauties.

Father Christmas will now have twelve months to deliver his goodies, which will mean an end to the seasonal imbalances in the Greenland economy, and employment all year round.

But what about the religious aspect? Well, no-one knows when Christ was born, and December was chosen because there was traditionally a big pagan piss-up around that time. Once all the pagans had been converted or burnt, the Christians could have moved it to any date. Only the monks had spent ages drawing up calendars on beautifully illuminated manuscripts, so they left it where it was.

Some people are so enamoured with the festival that they would like it to always be Christmas. Those individuals will now be able to become nomads who travel round the globe celebrating a perpetual Yuletide. For the rest of us, the Christmas season will actually get shorter.

Christmas carols, lights and shop displays will only be allowed in the month of Christmas, thus reversing the worrying trend of getting ever earlier each year. In addition, anyone wanting to avoid the whole thing will no longer need to go into space, but will simply be able to move a timezone or two away for a month. For example, Texans could go to Tegucigalpa, Brits to Greece, and so on.
Tegucigalpa - Jean Knee's Future Christmas Retreat

I hope that Obama, Coca Cola and Wallmart will read the letters I'm going to send them explaining the benefits of the Year-Long-Yule and set the appropriate wheels in motion, but in the meantime I'd be happy to hear your views.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I wish...

This week, I've been watching some episodes of a TV programme called "4". The four in question are brothers living in Athens. Each was born in a different season, and each has a very different life. The series starts with a rare family reunion in aid of their mother's 60th birthday. At the end of the evening (and the first episode) their father goes off to his study and blows his brains out with a pistol. The four brothers find themselves drawn closer together, as their lives start to change radically.

One of the brothers stays at home looking after his two children whilst his wife devotes all her time and energy to her career. "Do you know how long it is since we last made love?", he asks her one night. "One month and 20 days". "You mean you're counting?", she asks. Women!

Another is (almost) happily married to a woman who wants the same things as he does. Except that he's beginning to wonder whether they have a problem since they can't come up with the baby that they both want. And he's met someone who appears to be even more compatible. After medical tests he finds out that he's firing blanks, but before he can tell his wife, she announces that she's two months pregnant. Oops.

The third brother is a musician who prefers one night stands to a serious relationship. Though that seems about to change.

The fourth (a chef) has a gorgeous girlfriend called "Tonia". Except that he hasn't. He just dreams about her. So much so that he's begun to believe that she really exists.

Now, I don't think I'm exactly grounded in reality. I love reading escapist fiction and watching entertaining films. Not the kind that agonise about mothers dying of cancer, or children getting gassed in concentration camps. I'm fairly withdrawn as a person, and I don't let the real world get me down as much as some people seem to.

On the other hand, I've never been like the chef. I don't live in a fantasy world. That's why I could never be a Trekkie, or one of those soap opera fans who believe that it's all real. I never had an invisible friend or a fantasy girlfriend.

On the other hand, I do live in this strange virtual Greek world where I know all about the weather and events in Cyprus and Greece, but haven't a clue whether I should wear a coat to work. In this virtual but very real world over the last few days, they've been marking the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of the teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos by police. A year ago this became a pretext for violence and destruction in the centre of Athens (and, to a lesser extent, other cities). This year the authorities, forewarned, seem to have been able to limit this, despite the anti-authoritarian thugs getting reinforcements in from all around Europe. Nevertheless, police have been injured by stones and molotov cocktails, and some cars have been burnt.

To make matters worse, the bin men have been on strike, so the city is literally full of rubbish. Piles of bags are strewn all about the streets, and the authorities have been worried the refuse might fuel fires started by the "demonstrators" and cause real damage.

Watching these pictures, I've been overwhelmed by a particular wish. In addition to wishing that people wouldn't perpetrate acts of sensless violence, and that there weren't bags of rubbish all over the place. I wish I was back in Athens...

Maybe I'm becoming a dreamer after all.

Another Athens Pic
Photo by caperboy at Webshots website (click on the picture to visit the site)