Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 31 January 2014

Asteroid round-up

As regulars are well aware, an asteroid fly-by always calls for a drink. 

That being so, we have been in something of a celebratory mood for the past few days, what with 2014 BA3 and 20134 BP8 on Sunday - at 2.3 million and 1.4 million km respectively - followed by Wednesday's 2014 BK25 at 1.2 million km and 2014 BM25 at a bit over a million.

And it goes on: next Monday gives us 2014 BW32, at a mere 730,000km and, to make matters even more exciting, while those others are somewhere around 10-15m wide, this one could be up to 37m across, getting on for the size of the one that caused the Tunguska airburst in 1908. 

If it were to hit us, the results could be catastrophic. The devastation seen at the Siberian site when the first expedition arrived there (in 1927, which suggests a certain lack of urgency) shows the force of the explosion on the ground. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? You bet!

It's all a lot of numbers, I know - don't you long for the old days, when you knew your asteroid by name? - but it's worth pointing out that the 2014 prefix means these have all been identified this year; it just shows what can be done once the need is recognized. Eagle-eyed asteroid spotters, both human and machine, are clocking up sightings at an unprecedented rate.

Apart from having a noticeable effect on the Tavern's drinks bill, this painstaking labelling of everything hurtling around our neighbourhood clearly shows just how busy it is out there. Every week this year has brought us at least one within 10 Lunar Distances, most of them discovered only a few days or even hours before their closest approach.

The majority, of course, are mere tiddlers by asteroid standards, with  no room to swing a space slug, and there are probably thousands more of them out there. In fact, given the way the Chelyabinsk meteor came out of the blue, it's hardly surprising that a large number of fireballs are recorded annually as rocks up to 2m in diameter burn up in the atmosphere - and that's just the ones that appear over inhabited areas.

In the face of the cosmic pinball going on around us and the certainty that, one day, the big one will arrive , the only sensible attitude is a degree of fatalism. At least we know it's random -   if fire from heaven were truly a manifestation of divine displeasure, Celebrity Big Brother would surely have elicited a bolt from the blue by now.

Meanwhile, though this weekend - as far as NASA are aware, at least - will not bring a close flyby, I invite you to raise a glass to this week's crop of space rocks and to those currently whistling past us but as yet unknown.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Promises, promises!

Of all the points for discussion raised by Ed Balls' Magic Porridge Pot pledge to 'balance the books' by 2020 while reducing the national debt, my favourite is the fact that, according to in the conventions of headline-speak, his utterances are reported thus...

Labour not anti-business - Balls

or

Balls - Labour Government will 'balance the books'

...and somehow I find myself mentally adding an invisible exclamation mark of disbelief each time.

I admit it may be somewhat below the belt to poke fun at a chap's name - though in this case I'm prepared to make an exception - but you have to admit there is a rich vein of satire to be mined here.

We have, of course, already celebrated him in song back in the days when he was Education Secretary - sorry, 'Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families'; it's not New Labour without a touchy-feely title - and doing such a good job that many of those who entered secondary school during his tenure now 'cannot write properly, add up or even wear appropriate clothes for work'.

Apparently this is damaging Britain's hopes of economic recovery, which gives an interesting irony to the grand schemes he unveiled this week.

I think it's time for a reprise (with apologies to The Who):

He walks onto the platform and gazes round the hall
"I promise you," he tells them, "That we can have it all;
A healthy budget surplus while Britain's borrowing falls."
And this man's behind it; it's got to be pure Balls!



Friday, 24 January 2014

Uh-oh!

An application to conduct field trials of a genetically modified crop containing Omega-3 fatty acids normally found in oily fish has been submitted.
By substituting synthetic versions of up to seven genes from marine algae, the researchers have engineered Camelina plants to produce two key Omega-3 fatty acids normally obtained from oily fish, EPA and DHA. 
"By the end of this decade, there's a possibility that people will be able to obtain a GM plant-based source of fish oils," Prof Napier said.
Ring any bells? How about this, from a novel written in 1951?

     His first appearance as a possibly disruptive spanner on the neat machinery of the edible oil interests occurred when he walked into the offices of the Arctic and European Fish-Oil company and produced a bottle of pale pink oil in which he proposed to interest them. 
     The first thing they discovered about it was that it was not a fish-oil, anyway: it was vegetable, though they could not identify the source. The second revelation was that it made most of their best fish-oils look like grease-box fillers. 

     'Do you mean that it is some new species? Because if it merely some improved strain more easily processed...'
     'I understand that it is a new species - something quite new.'
     'Then you haven't actually seen it yourself? It may, in fact, be some modified kind of sunflower?'
     'I have seen a picture, senhor. I do not say there is no sunflower there at all. I do not say there is no turnip there. I do not say there is no nettle, or even no orchid there. But I do say that if they were all fathers to it they would none of them know their child. I do not think it would please them greatly either.'
(John Wyndham: The Day of the Triffids)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Fashion excess

According to a recent article in the Financial Times, 2013 was a frustrating year for Bangladeshi garment manufacturers.

While their exports have grown dramatically, political unrest and uncertainty has increased their costs, depriving them of the opportunity to achieve even greater increases. According to their trade association,
"In November, [garment] exports rose over 29 per cent but our target was about 40 per cent."
It's a fair bet that at least some of that 29% increase is now hanging on sale rails or languishing in warehouses, waiting for some shopper to succumb to the lure of a hefty sale discount; many major chain stores still have large areas of the shop floor devoted to sale garments nearly a month after they first began to cut prices.

The major supermarkets, too, have been left with unsold items clogging up their clothing departments - cheap and cheerful their wares may be, but when the high street giants have slashed their prices to similar levels, the discerning customer is likely to head for the mall.

The clothing retail industry seems to have bought wholeheartedly into the belief that growth is infinitely sustainable, and, with a finite customer base, this means expecting everyone to buy more - the reasoning behind a major retailer's boast that its website has 'hundreds of new arrivals every week'.

Many of these new arrivals will be marked down within a few weeks to make way for the next shipment. The trouble with this strategy is that it ignores the inherent conservatism of many shoppers and the financial and storage constraints that place a natural ceiling on almost everyone's purchasing.

Prices are the lowest they have ever been in real terms as retailers compete in a race to the bottom, but much of this has been achieved at the cost of low pay and appalling working conditions for workers in the industry. Somehow it makes it worse to think that the results of their labours now sit neglected on a sale rail amid a glut of unwanted merchandise.

Meanwhile, other countries are getting in on the act, with India planning the kind of factory and dormitory combinations that have allowed China to undercut the rest of the world in manufacturing costs. Even allowing for new markets opening up in developing countries where second-hand clothes are currently big business, it's hard to see how these millions of garments will find a home.

Clothing sales surely cannot continue to grow indefinitely, whatever the manufacturers of Bangladesh may wish for.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

"And I for one welcome our new insect overlords."

First it was fish in space, now 800 common ants are orbiting 370km  above our heads. The insects have been sent up to the International Space Station to investigate how they move about in microgravity.

The idea is to apply the results of the experiment to the field of robotics, possibly in the development of the scavenging battlefield drones that may yet be the future of warfare on this plant.

Science fiction fans, however, will have a different dystopian vision in mind; the occupants of the ISS receive a considerably higher dose of radiation than they would get from natural sources on Earth. While human crews are rotated to reduce exposure, the ants are presumably up there for a while.

And any science fiction fan worth his (or her) sodium chloride knows what happens when you expose ants to radiation....



As a bonus, the post title, popularised by 'the Simpsons' and a host of internet memes, was inspired by the 1977 film 'Empire of the Ants'*”, in which another lot of irradiated ants, rather than destroying civilization, enslave humans to refine vast quantities of sugar for them.

I imagine Action on Sugar will be advocating a remake for propaganda purposes any day now.


*(Very loosely) based on the H G Wells short story of the same name.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The needs of the many...

How generous are you?

Would you, for instance, be prepared to put your health at risk in order to prevent a total stranger having a heart attack? How about if that heart attack is, at present, purely hypothetical and may not happen for years, if at all?
Increasing numbers of patients in this country have been put on statins in the last decade, amid spiralling obesity and more aggressive prescribing of the medications by family doctors, whose pay is linked to take-up of the pills among their patients.
The pills, which cost the NHS less than 10p per patient per day, are now the most commonly prescribed medication in Britain, with eight million people on some type of anti-cholestoral drug. 
So convinced are the hard-line advocates of statins that they would like to see them routinely prescribed for the general population.
Some cardiologists have suggested they should be automatically prescribed to all patients from the age of 50, but others have said they are “disturbed” by the trend to dispense the pills ever more widely, exposing millions to potential side-effects.
But the benefits of statins outweigh the risks; the scientists have said so.
Research has suggested up to one in five patients taking the drugs suffers some kind of ill-effect, including muscle aches, memory disturbance, cataracts and diabetes.
That's a pretty nasty collection of  potentially serious and irreversible health problems, particularly if you were in perfect health before you started taking the pills. As new, improved versions appear on the market, more side-effects are bound to follow.
Atorvastatin was linked to one extra case of diabetes for every 160 patients treated.
Most serious of all is the widely-ignored problem of statin side-effects masking the symptoms of life-threatening conditions. All those muscle pains, kidney problems, headaches and jaundice could be the effects of the statins, but they might also be indications of serious disease.

By the time your doctor has swapped brands, changed the dosage and finally decided it wasn't the statins after all and he really ought to run some tests, it may well be too late to do anything about it.

But the benefits of statins outweigh the risks; the scientists have said so.

This is essentially the Trolley Problem - you can save five people from a runaway train by sacrificing one man. The Utilitarian principle says this is justifiable, even if he would otherwise have led a long and healthy life.

But in this case, we don't really know whether the train would actually have hit the five people, or killed them outright even if it did; according to the author of a recent book on statins (quoted in Saga magazine):
If you’re at high risk of heart disease or stroke and you take a statin for 30 years, you’re likely to live an extra nine months.
If that's true, it hardly seems worth risking the debilitating side-effects that, if universal prescription for the over-50s went ahead, could affect millions of previously healthy people, let alone the premature deaths from undetected cancer.

But the benefits of statins outweigh the risks; the scientists have said so.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Citation du jour

Sarah Vine, on Francois Hollande's motor scooter assignations with his glamorous actress lover:
"...Wallace and Gromit meets Emmanuelle"

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Repeat after me...

...correlation does not imply causation:

How religion cuts crime: Church-goers are less likely to shoplift, take drugs and download music illegally

Researchers surveyed 1,214 people about how often they visited a place of worship, stock image of a church is pictured, across all of UK's major faiths. The respondents were also asked if they'd ever taken part in low-level crime. The study found a direct correlation with higher visits to religious places and lower crime
Researchers from Manchester found a direct correlation between higher visits to religious places and lower crime rates, especially in relation to shoplifting and drug use.

(Daily Mail - unsurprisingly)

Monday, 13 January 2014

Vital Statistics


(c) Matt Pritchett (The Daily Telegraph) 2006

In the high-and-far-off times when satellite television was so new and all, a bunch of people in offices looked at the healthy sales figures for the first few months and decided that the entire UK population would be sitting down to Sky TV within a decade.

Instead, after an initial surge, the take-up rate slowed dramatically, throwing their business strategy into chaos. While the gadget-minded, the sports-obsessed and the 'frequent flyers' immediately installed their heart's desire and settled down to marathon viewing sessions, a fair proportion of the population went about its business largely unmoved by the visual cornucopia on offer and steadfastly refused to buy.

Some, in fact, actively opposed the idea and do to this day; while Sky Arts won over a few die-hard snobs, there are still plenty of people out there who view satellite dishes in much the same way that a 13th century villager might regard the cross painted on his plague-stricken neighbour's door.

The advent of Freeview has rendered the matter essentially academic, but the same false logic now appears to be applied to the obesity 'time-bomb'. Those not-so-clever chaps crunching the numbers forgot to factor in the inevitable weight increase with age, so they have revised their figures amid much media fanfare and emotive language:
"We're now seven years on from the Foresight Report. Not only is the obesity situation in the UK not improving, but the doomsday scenario set out in that report [that half the UK population will be obese by 2050] might underestimate the true scale of the problem."
History and literature show that, except in times of famine, Britain's population has always included some people who are overweight, a few grossly so. Today's abundant grazing opportunities, combined with medical advances that have dramatically reduced child mortality among mothers in poor health, mean that the descendants of those people may well form a large proportion of those now giving cause for concern.

Whatever the reason for their state, whether nature or nurture, it's unlikely that the seriously overweight are distributed evenly throughout the population, however much the statisticians think they ought to be. While some individuals - and families - have piled on the pounds, most of us have for years had the same opportunities to eat ourselves to a standstill and have manifestly not done so.

Today's environment, with unprecedented access to cheap fast food and a sedentary lifestyle, may have contributed to some people gaining excessive weight, but does that really mean that the rest of us are bound to follow?


Update: this news story has been brilliantly satirised by Mark Wadsworth, while Longrider questions the motives of the National Obesity Forum.

Friday, 10 January 2014

A cheery wave

It's been a busy week for near-Earth asteroids; on Wednesday there was 2014 AD16, 576,000 km away, then yesterday brought 2014 AE29 at the rather more respectful distance of 1.5 million km, and, the icing on the cake, tonight we have 2014 AW32.

This 13-metre chunk of rock will be passing by a mere 186,636 km away at 9.48 this evening (GMT), half the distance from the Earth to the moon, although anyone hoping to watch it on the Virtual Telescope tonight will be greeted with the unintentionally grandiose announcement:

Because of clouds and fog
the asteroid 2014 AW32 event
is cancelled

If only it were that simple!

All three were discovered only a few days before their closest approach; one doesn't know whether to be pleased they were detected or worried that three of them managed to creep up on us like that in as many days. It's certainly starting to look pretty crowded out there, and that's without all the debris with which we've littered our exosphere.

Still, as always, a flyby is a good excuse for a drink, especially when it happens so conveniently on a Friday night, so let's salute 2014 AW32 as it goes on its way.

Cheers!

Step away from the sherbet!

"I don't want my children exposed to these traders."
It's the oft-repeated protest of a concerned parent, though the subject in this case might come as a surprise to those of us old enough to remember the school tuckshop.
With obesity rates among children soaring, sweet-sellers outside schools have been labelled irresponsible. 
Nottingham City Council is considering banning them from streets around three schools.
It appears that some enterprising chaps have taken to turning up outside schools with vans selling sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks, which has stirred up a hornets' nest of healthy eating issues, road safety and discipline. According to one parent:
"My children also say they have heard that some students are often late to classes, as the trader will always stay until the last student is there."
That one, at least, is in the school's court, always assuming that The Powers That Be have left staff with sufficient disciplinary sanctions to deal with persistent willful lateness. The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has gleefully seized on the story and found itself a suitably emotive quote from another parent:
"To me, it’s no different than a drug dealer peddling drugs to addicts."
It is highly opportune that this story should turn up at the same time as a mass media condemnation of sugar consumption - a phenomenon tackled with panache by Leg-Iron and passion by Longrider. It's difficult to tell, amid the feeding frenzy of diet advice, 'expert' opinion and fake charity opportunism, exactly who is jumping on whose bandwaggon, but the issue has produced a startling degree of unanimity in the chorus of disapproval.

And it may be a deduction too far, but is it really a coincidence that this onslaught has coincided with media focus on the West Indian slave trade and the ill-gotten economic benefits derived by Britain from the resulting sugar industry, along with a demand that both should feature in the school curriculum?

Today's schoolchildren will be bombarded with anti-sugar slogans and carefully-designed PSHE programmes to demonstrate the risks - look how well it's worked with drugs! - and an army of state-funded busybodies will doubtless swing into action writing stern health warnings to accompany 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'Mary Poppins'.

Just as the Temperance movement indulged in flights of hyperbole in its portrayal of the 'demon' drink, the Righteous are rushing to attribute a plethora of ills past and present to the consumption of a legal substance which most of the population manages to use without ill effects. There is more than a a whiff of religious fervour in what is clearly seen by its proponents as a moral crusade.

Under the circumstances, I suppose it's hardly surprising that selling sweets to children has produced such a dramatic overreaction.



Thursday, 9 January 2014

Quote of the day - gourmet edition

This one is from a teenager who found more than she bargained for in a box of Chicken Popsters (nope, me neither!):
"The box said it was 100 per cent meat, but it didn’t say anything about maggots." 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Flooding - an exclusive report

'I'm speaking to you from the tiny rural village of Upton-in-the-Marsh, which has been completely cut off by floodwater for the past week. Until I arrived this morning, the inhabitants had had no contact with the outside world for seven days.'

'Er...'

'For the past week, the local residents have been gazing out at the floodwater and waiting for someone to help them.'

'Excuse me, but...'

'When I got here, I was embraced by weeping villagers, overcome with joy that someone had at last recognized their plight and come to their aid.'

'Now look here...!'

'They are down the the last reserves in their store cupboards; no food or medical supplies have come in since the deluge began.'

'Rubbish! Mike and Amy here have have been running errands to the next village in their kayaks...'

'I paddled my canoe through ten-foot-deep water along flooded lanes where no-one has ventured for at least a week.'

'...and  Bill's been bringing in milk on his tractor every morning.'

'It was heartwarming to see the residents' obvious emotion as they welcomed the first new face for days.'

'You mean, apart from the BBC camera crew over there? And ITV news last Friday, and those blokes in the dinghy from the local police?'

'This is a community in crisis facing an unprecedented challenge.'

'Oh, for goodness' sake! This area has been flooding on a regular basis since before the Domesday Book; that's why the village is built on a hilltop.'

'I'm only glad I could bring these unfortunate people some small comfort by being the first to bring their desperate situation to the world's notice.

'I... just.....aaargh!'

'As you see, their gratitude has left them at a loss for words.'

Inspired, perhaps unsurprisingly, by The Mail.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A fatal attraction

'...behind all, is spread as a curtain the eternal sea, ever the same and ever changing. Yet I love to see it best when it is lashed to madness in the autumn gale, and to hear the grinding roar and churn of the pebbles like a great organ playing all the night. 
'Tis then I turn in bed and thank God, more from the heart, perhaps, than, any other living man, that I am not fighting for my life on Moonfleet Beach.'
No-one reading John Meade Falkner's classic novel could have any doubt that the sea can be lethal not just to mariners but to those struggling with storm waves onshore.

The media coverage and Christmas break have conspired to send an unprecedented number of storm-watchers and thrill-seekers out to cause anxiety - and extra work - to those responsible for public safety around Britain's coast and, for some, the results have been fatal.

Some years ago, I attended the funeral of an ex-sailor with decades of experience of the sea. He was swept off rocks by a freak wave only a few miles from where the now-notorious parents took their small children onto the harbour wall; even those familiar with the risks can be caught out.

When the hymn 'Eternal Father, strong to save' began, the congregation stood but the hymn-books remained closed. Everyone there knew by heart the words of that heartfelt plea on behalf of 'those in peril on the sea' - a telling indication of how coastal communities view the risk with which they live and, sadly, of the number of sea-related memorial services the church has seen.

These same communities provide the volunteers who crew the lifeboats; they know better than anyone the potential danger of rough seas along the coastline and yet are prepared to go out in appalling conditions to save lives.

By contrast, even allowing for over-dramatic journalistic commentary, it appears that those putting themselves in harm's way for the thrill of a soaking or a memorable photograph must have little idea of the destructive power of waves or water-borne debris.

I've written elsewhere in a more light-hearted vein on popular ignorance of the sea, but, this week at least, it's no joking matter. There is a natural attraction in the spectacle of in waves 'lashed to madness' but, unless appreciation is tempered with respect and common sense, it is likely to go on luring the unwary to their deaths.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

A fox in asses' clothing

You think our horsemeat scandal was bad?
Wal-Mart has recalled a donkey meat product in China after tests showed that it contained DNA of other animals.
Oh noes! They eat Little Donkeys! Still, I suppose it does give the story a seasonal touch.

Though it may well evoke cries of horror from anthropomorphic westerners (at least those who don't know what goes into regional speciality Salami), donkey meat is apparently a popular dish in some parts of China, a nation schooled by past famine into doing creative things with a wide variety of ruminants, sea-life, birds or insects - not to mention all those traditional medicinal unmentionables.

However, even the consumers who happily bought "Five Spice" donkey meat might have balked on finding out exactly what they were getting:
The Shandong Food and Drug Administration said the product contained fox meat.
Well, that certainly places us squarely in Aesop's territory; now all we need is a lion.

The concept of eating foxes is not, of course, unknown, as in the ancient tale of the young Spartan who, required to live off the land in the traditional test of manhood, hid a stolen pet fox under his cloak and then stoically endured being gnawed to death rather than confess his crime.

Fox meat, however, has generally been regarded as the last resort of the truly ravenous - it's often described as an indication of just how hungry the Spartan lad must have been that he actually considered eating one - so one assumes the customers were less than delighted at this latest example of food contamination.

This particular form may well be an interesting by-product of the resurgence of fur in European fashion circles - a trend which led to Naomi Campbell's entertaining volte face on the subject - and the resulting surplus of fox, rat and mink sans wrapping.

It's a useful lesson for Wal-Mart; even a nation westernised enough to have embraced an American supermarket may have levels of corrupt practice and deception inconceivable in the good ol' U-S-of-A.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Essential reading....

....for anyone who thought that today's BBC news coverage of Environment Agency job losses stank worse than a flooded-out sewage works:

http://www.insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk/

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 AAaaaargh!

The year has started in an auspicious manner for asteroid-watchers with the possible impact (and subsequent disintegration) of 2014AA.

Spotted on New Year's Day, this pint-sized asteroid is believed to have burned up over the Atlantic at around 5am this morning (GMT).

As asteroids go, it was a tiddler at less than 2m in diameter; still, every fly-by is an excuse for a drink - cheers!

Ink and Incapability

It's less than three weeks since our last tattoo story, but this week's papers have produced a gem too good to ignore.
Mum Michelle Elliott, 36, said: “I was horrified. It was the worst tattoo I’d seen."
If so, she probably hasn't visited failblog's 'Ugliest Tattoos' page, but this one is pretty dreadful. Mrs Elliott's main objection, however, is that her son is 17 and thus under-age. As Kent Online helpfully explains:
The Tattooing of Minors Act 1969 makes it an offence to tattoo anyone under the age of 18 except for medical reasons. Robin has no medical reasons.
...as if, given the right medical justification, the NHS would endorse hideous back-street inkings as well as the precisely-placed dots needed to line up radiotherapy equipment.

As for the poor innocent lamb at the heart of the story:
He had the tattoo inked on his upper right arm at LoveTattoo in Dymchurch High Street, for £5, last August.
Caveat, as they say, emptor. And, as if the £5 charge were not warning enough, this is the establishment in question:


(Photo: Kent Online)

The article is interestingly vague about the exact inspiration for the design:
Robin chose sergeant’s stripes in honour of members of his family, such as uncles, who had previously served in the Armed Forces.
If it is a  tribute to UK servicemen, then the stripes are not only poorly-executed, they are upside-down. (The US army used to have them the same way as us but flipped them in 1902 to the points-up version current in popular culture - and, presumably, tattoo parlours).

The Elliotts have responded in the now-traditional fashion and set up a facebook page calling for the business to be closed down. Their choice of name is certainly unequivocal:
The LoveTattoo Hate Group grew to have 518 members but Shepway council understands that the business is now shut.
This means that, as well as ceasing the tattooing operation there, it will no longer be providing the other services its owner advertises online:
we also offer, Dermal filler, Botox,
and we sell items like jewellery, ornaments,
and everything I think is worth selling..lol
Oh, and,
learn to heal with laying on hands on body with the help of signs and spirits ...
And, according to her listed interests, you'd be welcome to pop in for a haircut or a tarot reading too. Shutting the shop may not stop her in her tracks, however; as she says on skillpages:
tottooing [sic] is one of my hidden skills.I just love to ink ...anything...i welcome tatt parties&home visits as i am mobile...hey got one jet? why not
I'm sure most of us can think of several reasons, not least this one:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. (Wikipedia)
None of this will restore young Robin's previously unblemished hide, of course, but one hopes at least that he has learned a valuable lesson for the future.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Brassfinger

“And of course certainly in my life there were no Aston Martins and Ferraris. Bicycles if you were lucky, and Ford Escorts. That sort of level.”
The words of Dame Eliza Manningham Buller, former head of MI5, describing what it was really like on Her Majesty's Secret Service provide a handy opportunity for a bit of recycling as New Year's day entertainment - it looks as if I was closer to the truth than I knew.

(This piece first appeared in 2011, in response to the news that the MoD were selling off assets such as expensive watches to fund a cash shortfall.)

On Her Majesty's Cheapest Service

James Bond sipped his drink and looked at his wristwatch once more. The digital display read 10:25. He got to his feet, pushing aside the polystyrene box that held the last few crumbs of his Big Mac. Carrying his large 7-Up, he went to the door of the restaurant and looked out.

It was still raining. His imitation Converse would be soaked through long before he reached the Premier Inn. If only M would let him take a minicab on expenses.

Turning up the collar of his Burton jacket, Bond stepped out into the street and walked the ten yards to the Silver Dollar Amusement Arcade. Two girls smoking in the doorway made way for him to pass; a hint of Burberry's 'Touch' lingered in the air where they had been standing.

Bond selected a slot machine and began to feed in 50p coins. He was gambling with his own money now; M had been very firm about allowances when they last met. One of the girls from the door had followed him and stood beside the machine, watching him closely. He looked up and caught her eye.

"Gum?" she said, offering a packet of Wrigleys Extra.
"Don't mind if I do." Bond took a piece. "What's your name?"
She leaned closer to him and giggled, her Elizabeth Duke earrings chiming in sympathy. Her breath was warm on his neck and smelt of Bacardi Breezers.
"It's Lauren, but my friends call me Chardonnay," she said.
"Chardonnay? I like it. Smooth, and with a touch of oak. Tell me, Chardonnay, where would you like to wake up tomorrow morning?"

The girl looked up at him from under eyelashes heavy with Rimmel Volume mascara.
"Dunno, really," she said, "As long as I'm in time for school, yeah? I got double geography first and 's the only GCSE I'm goin' to get, innit."

"B***er!" said Bond. Turning on his heel, he walked outside onto the pavement and lit a Lambert & Butler.

Since the Ministry cuts, the job just wasn't the same, somehow.