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

Saturday 30 April 2011

Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub...

...on the Manchester Ship Canal. Well, actually our intrepid heroes’ conveyance of choice for their pleasure cruise was an inflatable paddling pool. According to someone who claims to know them:

My friends [...] were just chilling, soaking up the sun and having a beer whilst not bothering anyone.

However, a passer-by, observing their antics, concluded that they were in difficulties and public-spiritedly dialled 999, at which point the fun started.

The emergency services were alerted and firefighters were sent from Stretford, the brigade’s in shore boat from Eccles, and the GMP helicopter from Barton.

The helicopter flew along the canal until the men were spotted at Barton Swing Bridge, where they glided gently to the bank and disembarked, to be given a severe reprimand by officers. According to a Police spokesman:

"They were given a flea in their ear and had the error of their ways pointed out to them.They should know better and were advised how much this costs in terms of resources."

How much is, of course, a debatable question, since the helicopters are presumably on standby all the time, as are the police boat crews; in any case, I'm not entirely sure why the helicopter was needed, given that they had a location fix from the caller. Still, it's nice to know that, should someone unilaterally decide you are at urgent risk, no expense will be spared.

The best part of this story, however, is the collection of comments it has amassed to date, mainly concerned with who is responsible for the thousands of pounds the callout cost the taxpayer.

Opinion is divided; some think the paddling-pool mariners are at fault for being in shipping waters without insurance or a proper craft, some that the passer-by who ‘grassed them up’ should foot the bill.

There’s an interesting diversion into the fact that the canal is owned by a private company - so why don’t they pay for their own security people? – and a bitter little reply to the suggestion that it would have been fine had it been a river -

Ooh, I dont know. Most of the rivers are owned by one Duke or another and they dont take kindly to us Northern commoners using them for our own needs!

Meanwhile, someone else makes a valid point: 'Hilarious, but the sad thing is, if you call the cops whilst your home is under attack from a howling mass of feral youths, you've got no chance of getting the helicopter sent over immediately. In fact, you'll be lucky to get a PCSO on a bike turn up three hours later......!'

And of course, there’s a running undercurrent of sentiment that it’s almost impossible to do anything remotely risky without someone turning up and stopping you for your own good.

Funny how one little story can encapsulate so many issues!

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the Manchester Ship Canal is a major waterway and somewhat removed from the sort of canal frequented by picturesquely-painted narrowboats.

Friday 29 April 2011

Ryanair on a G-string

Some recent research for a post or two on Ryanair led me to their website and their magazine - and something of a surprise. O'Leary's organ (ryanairmag.com if you really must) lists its contents; Home/Magazine/City Guides/Events/Competitions/Girls/Videos/Blog...hold on a minute - Girls? Girls?

This turns out to be a link to 'Girls of Ryanair', a retrospective of Ryanair calendars featuring bikini-clad (presumably) employees. As a demonstration of the objectifiaction of female staff, this surely takes some beating, though it's entirely in keeping with Michael O'Leary's casual assumption that pilots are male and cabin crew female.

"If the pilot has an emergency, he rings the bell, he calls her [the stewardess] in.”

Bad enough that the company proudly produces a calendar of this sort, but to put all the back numbers in a special magazine section marked 'Girls' suggests that Ryanir is operating in some sort of 70s timewarp and puts a whole new slant on the word 'cheap'.

Meanwhile, though Fascinating Aida did it far better, this has been rattling round in my head:

Now Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair are the cheapest, they declare,
They’ll whisk yez off to foreign parts, eight quid will take you there,
It’s only when you’ve made your choice that things start turning sour;
There’s a load of charges you’ve still to pay once they’ve got you in their power.

There’s check-in charges, booking fees and lots of bills between
For Ryanair won’t rest until they’ve truly picked you clean,
Don’t ever think the price they advertise will get you there;
'Tis one hell of an operation, is O’Leary’s Ryanair.

O’Leary had a big idea, he thought it really grand;
Increase cabin capacity and make the punters stand,
And another money-making scheme where the choice you face is stark;
A euro to use the toilet or hold on till you disembark.

O’Leary he said ‘what do you do if the pilot gets the shakes?
There’s no need for a co-pilot up front, for heaven’s sakes;
I’ve studied every Airport film and seen that, to be sure,
The stewardess can fly the plane if she’s told what the joystick’s for’.

There’s check-in charges, booking fees and lots of bills between
For Ryanair won’t rest until they’ve truly picked you clean,
Don’t ever think the price they advertise will get you there;
'Tis one hell of an operation, is O’Leary’s Ryanair.

O’Leary he got in trouble when the ASA had a strop,
His claims of eight quid tickets to the sun would have to stop;
The poster of girl in a bikini didn’t warn
That the sun would be shining in Norway on a February morn.

O’Leary’s made his fortune but three fellas at least are quits;
Each won a car on a scratchcard and, bedad, was thrilled to bits,
But as O’Leary made the call to authorise the cheque
Anyone standing near enough might have heard him mutter, ‘Oh Feck!’

There’s check-in charges, booking fees and lots of bills between
For Ryanair won’t rest until they’ve truly picked you clean,
Don’t ever think the price they advertise will get you there;
'Tis one hell of an operation, is O’Leary’s Ryanair.

National Headcrab Zombie day

It's the opportunity of the decade for those lucky enough to have secured an invitation - the chance of a loving close-up beamed live to the biggest TV audience in history. Small wonder, then, that the guests in the Abbey are done up to the nines.

And for the majority of female guests, that means paying tribute to Kate's preferred headgear, the fascinator - or headcrab, as it's known in the Tavern for its sprouting tentacles, claws and protuberances. Yes, the headcrab zombies are out in force today*, if the early BBC coverage is anything to go by, and the same phenomenon will doubtless be appearing up and down the land.

One face we won't, alas, be seeing in close-up is that of the thwarted Cherie Blair left at home with no invitation - unless, of course, she turns up at the Abbey in full wedding rig, insisting that there is definitely a spare seat (in which case the Spouse will win a £1 bet).

                             'Headcrab Zombies, take us to your leader...'

*For those not in the loop, 'A headcrab's primary goal is to attach to the head of a suitable host using its mouth [...] incorporating parts of its biological workings with the motor cortex of the host's nervous system. The victim is thus taken over by the headcrab and mutated into a mindless zombie-like being known as a headcrab zombie.' [Wikipedia]

Thursday 28 April 2011

Turning the tables on Ryanair

Typical! You wait ages for a Rynair story and then two come at once.

Picture the scene; a jet-full of Ryanair passengers from Milan are being invited to empty their pockets of cash. O'Leary's finest may not yet have resorted to holding their clientele upside-down and shaking them, but they're doing their level best.

And along with the assortment of snacks and beverages, they bring round the scratchcards at 2 euros a pop - it's all grist to the Ryanair mill. Only this time something unusual happens.

'Mamma mia!' exclaims a passenger, 'I have won a car!' Sure enough, the ticket is a winning one and the prize a car worth £11,500. The other passengers are craning their necks to see the lucky winner when another shout goes up.

'Me too!' shouts a second passenger, brandishing another winning scratchcard, and then, unbelievably, a third joins in. He too has won a car, meaning Ryanair will supply prizes worth £34,500.

I imagine the other passengers immediately demanded scratchcards in their turn. After all, the average win should be one car every month across the whole of Europe until what Ryanair calls a 'printing error' intervened.

Well, it's about time the biter was bitten: around a quarter of the airline’s annual earnings are generated by 'ancillary revenues' - including the notorious check-in fees, booking fees and luggage charges. It's good to see someone getting something out of them for a change.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Fun in the sun - or maybe not

Ryanair now, they're always good for a laugh. This time, the lovable Michael O'Leary - remember him? All-standing cabins and some novel ideas about co-pilots? - is in hot water over a poster.

The Advertising Standards Authority took exception to the implication that the flights were to sunnier climes:

‘We considered that the average consumer would infer from the claim "Book to the sun now" and the image of the woman sunbathing, in a bikini, with a cocktail, that the promotion included fares to destinations warm enough to sunbathe in swimwear during the promotional period.’

In fact, happy £8 travellers, clutching suitcases full of bikinis and sun lotion, would be set down in the chilly February air of Aarhus, Dusseldorf or Oslo - almost certainly a sight worth seeing. You think it unlikely? Consider today's educational standards in the UK and the average level of general knowledge.

Or perhaps I've just spent too much time reading the Daily Mail - or Ambush Predator. Meanwhile, on other matters, it's pretty much business as usual:

Ryanair was also rapped over another advertisement, which offered flights to Dublin for £27.99, over complaints that it was apparently impossible to book at the price quoted because of an additional £6 online check-in fee. The airline was unable to ‘clarify adequately’ how the promotional fare could be achieved, the Advertising Standards Authority said.

Responding to the ASA, a spokesman for Ryanair said: ‘Ryanair has noted the ruling.’

So what? Don't the words 'water' and 'ducks back' apply here? The promotion is over, Ryanair have made their money and who cares? Certainly not O'Leary, who probably watched in amusement as the toothless elderly watchdog bared its gums at him.

Of course, I'm not the only one to find amusement in this kind of thing. They've appeared in other posts elsewhere, but you can never have too much of Fascinating Aida:

Tuesday 26 April 2011

It could be you...

I seem to have won some sort of prize.

‘Good morning’, said the voice on the telephone, ‘I’m calling about your recent car accident’.

In truth, accident is hardly the right word for someone reversing at a snail’s pace into the parked car where I was sitting. It was all very polite and amicable; he got out and apologised profusely – ‘so sorry...wife’s car...wrong gear’ – and his insurers agreed to have the minor dents repaired.

A routine affair and easily sorted, I thought, but I was obviously missing the point. The voice on the telephone was insistent;

‘You were in a collision’, it said. ‘The other driver has admitted liability. That means you can claim at least £1,500 for injury.’

I put the phone down, but that wasn’t the end of it. A few days later, the Spouse took another call:

‘Did you know that the other driver’s insurer will already have put at least £1,500 aside for compensation? If you have suffered any injury, however slight, or any inconvenience at all as a result of the accident, however slight, all you have to do is make a claim’.

It appears that, from the day you contact your insurers, the genie is out of the bottle. Your details are available on a database for any ambulance-chaser to see and, before the respray is dry, there they are on the phone and by text, day after day, promising you untold riches if you can conjure up some sort of injury.

Had I taken up their offer, the other driver’s insurance company would be £1,500 worse off. Multiply that by the number of minor shunts taking place every day on our overcrowded roads and you have one of the reasons that premiums are sky-rocketing.

They have turned car insurance into a lottery – sure, you pay a bit extra up-front, but if your number comes up, there’s at least £1,500 waiting to be claimed every time. Having someone run into me and freely admit liability was the equivalent of a Premium Bond coming up.

And in today’s Lottery-obsessed culture of entitlement, if the callers' incomprehension is anything to go by, few people ever say no.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Middle Class Event Horizon

Something is happening over at Radio 4. Their heads turned by the forthcoming royal wedding and a year of David Cameron, the BBC has gone into Middle England overdrive and the Archers has become inextricably intertwined with Gardener's Question Time.

The bastard child of this unholy union is a recording of GQT (as its followers like to call it) in the Archers' setting of Ambridge, complete with questions to the real-life panel from various fictional characters about what to plant in beds that exist only in the imagination of the listeners.

This, remember, is only a few weeks after the appearance of the Duchess of Cornwall - and the endorsement of Duchy shortbread that sent the biscuits flying off the shelves in Waitrose. And as if that weren't enough, today's Archers omnibus is followed by Desert Island Discs featuring Cath Kidston, purveyor of chintzy doo-dahs to Boden woman.

Is this, I wonder, the BBC's response to ITV's melding of soap opera and news as a tram crashed into the bitter-drinkers of Coronation Street (an event requiring only an injured whippet to achieve the perfect storm of Northern disaster)?

Or could the fusion of these quintessentially middle-class institutions be the catalyst that brings about some kind of implosion, causing Middle England to self-destruct - or to rise up and conquer the world? A sort of End of Days with the odd viburnum burkwoodii thrown in?

Only time will tell.

Thursday 21 April 2011

A hot weather post...

This is from Poorlydressed, where they have given it one of my favourite captions ever:

'Sometimes it’s just too hot to leave the house in head-to-toe quasi-futuristic Victorian regalia. Even steampunks go to the beach.'

There's more fun in the comments...

Now I just need a marble, a chute, a rickety set of steps, a guy in a bathing costume getting ready to dive into a tub…

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Small-scale crime

Ocean's Eleven it ain't! Thieves have struck at a model village in Great Yarmouth, stealing lead from the roof of a miniature hospital. Looks like the Borrowers have gone into the scrap metal business.

According to the owner, they caused £1,500 worth of damage:

'We have an awful lot of security. We have several CCTV cameras and a nine foot brick wall topped with a five foot barbed wire fence running around the perimeter.

‘It was very well planned, they must have come in as visitors to know the lead was here and to work out where the CCTV is because they seem to have found a blank spot in it.'

If he's right, the thieves must have paid £6.50 a head to case the joint, to say nothing of the petrol to get there; meanwhile the lead they stole - all of nine feet by two - could be expected to fetch about £30 on the black market.

Perhaps Norfolk criminals like to start out small; this might be the equivalent of the nursery slopes, a training ground for very small criminals, or maybe they are simply as thick as the waste of oxygen who stole my prescription sunglasses recently and who's probably out there now trying to look cool and wondering why he keeps bumping into things.

Of course, no piece on the theft of roofing lead would be complete without this from the kings of parody:

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Surely you can't be serious!

Fancy jetting off somewhere to escape the royal wedding? If so, you might prefer not to read on.

First we heard about the sleeping beauties who should have been flying the Airbus to Denver; they were finally woken not with a kiss but with the screams of the air traffic controller 20 minutes before touchdown.

And they were lucky - it seems US air traffic controllers themselves have been nodding off left right and centre, leaving the pilots to work it all out for themselves. It's true that, when traffic lights fail, motorists seem to manage but I'm not sure the same thing appplies in three dimensions.

And now things have takes a slightly surreal turn as the crews of planes approaching an Ohio airport found themselves listening to the dulcet tones of Samuel L Jackson over the radio instead of the expected instructions. The controller, it seems, decided that watching a DVD might alleviate the crushing boredom of coordinating high-altitude air traffic.

For three minutes, with his microphone stuck in the 'transmit' position, the controller broadcast the soundtrack of the film* to all and sundry; oh to have been a fly on the wall in the cockpits! No danger of them falling asleep, one assumes - it's the ultimate in introspective disaster scenarios.

I can't wait for Hollywood to get hold of this one!

Spare a thought for Captain Ranty, whose recent post announces that he is shortly to be at the mercy of a daunting assortment of flight crews and air traffic control; he was worried enough before this last story broke. 

*Sadly for the purposes of the blogosphere, the film in question was not 'Snakes on a Plane'. Update: This one has only just occurred to the Mail - or perhaps they have been reading this blog; their 1.36 edit has amended the headline to the distinctly un-snappy Air traffic controller played Samuel L Jackson movie he was watching at desk over the airwaves (at least it wasn't Snakes On A Plane).

Monday 18 April 2011

The elephant in the room isn't all that bright

News this week from the land of the free;

Scientists say substantial weight loss improves cognitive functions like memory and concentration.

Researchers in Ohio rounded up 150 people weighing over 21 stone (not, from what I hear, a difficult task in the mid-west) and gave them a bunch of intelligence and memory tests.

Then two-thirds of the subjects had gastric bypass operations; 12 weeks later, they all took the tests again, and this is where it starts getting interesting.

The group that lost weight boosted their scores, particularly those involving memory, significantly. They also showed great improvement in organisational skills.

So far so good. However, there's more...

The 41 obese volunteers who declined the surgery ended up with even worse results.

Uh-oh; treading on dangerous ground here – no wonder that news reports worldwide have chosen to spin the story from the ‘weight loss boosts brainpower’ angle. The only paper to carry it so far in the UK – the Mail – is no exception:

Losing weight is not only good for the waistline, it is good for the brain.

So what about the converse? Funnily enough, despite the researchers’ assertion that obesity damages the brain, ‘especially the parts most important for paying attention and learning new things’, that side of things seems to have slipped under the radar.

I suppose it’s hardly surprising – those scientists probably don’t get out much, but in today’s climate, anyone in the public eye suggesting such a thing might find themselves on the receiving amount of a considerable amount of flack from the PC brigade.

Should our great and the good accept these findings and decide that the situation needs action of some kind, they would hardly be able to explain why without attracting criticism from every side. It would certainly be entertaining to watch.

So will you tell them or shall I?

Saturday 16 April 2011

Ah, bless!

The glorious 13th April! What? You missed it? Then here for your delectation is the photographic record, courtesy of 'In Defence of Youth Work'.

It's a protest by young people in Oxfordshire.  

Can you guess what it is yet?

Yep, that last one's a bit harder - it says 'cuts', in case you didn't quite get it - but when there are only eight of you, some letters can get a bit tricky. Still, there you are - no fuss, no kettling, no criminal damage and quite a lot of fun by the looks of things; I'd call that a result.

This is a silent protest - 'Scene not Heard' - against cuts to Oxfordshire's youth services - their plan is to send a video of it all to David Cameron, though I can't see him settling down to enjoy it with a takeaway and a bottle of plonk.

Now I may not agree with them - after all, I'm not sure that universal youth services are the best use of taxpayers' money in these straitened times - but you have to admire their determination. After all, the vast majority of their contemporaries are permanently glued to me-pods and bookface, incapable of interacting with the real world.

And, while I accept that there is probably a youth worker or two in the background, it's a great opportunity for them to learn how to express themselves and that you don't need to smash anything to make a point. In fact, the response of the passers-by was generally sympathetic - even those disagreeing with them did so politely.

It's a good illustration of alternative tactics - a charm offensive instead of being, well, just offensive. Since protests against the cuts are unlikely to achieve anything directly however they are conducted, surely it's better to win the sympathy of the man or woman in the street rather than become a public menace.

And, cutest of all, the report carrying these photos ends with a link: 'More images of resistance here.' What's not to like?

Friday 15 April 2011

The Walking Dead(ish)

Remember Keith MacDonald, the Tyne and Wear bus-stop Lothario, busily engaged in increasing the ranks of unmarried mothers in the area for the past 10 years?

He’s back, repaying us for the welfare handouts that keep him in booze and fags by offering a spot of entertainment for a dull afternoon.

Two weeks before the latest fruit of his loins was due to put in an appearance, though he (and his trusty X-box) had decamped several months since, the expectant mother received a text message sent from his phone;
‘Here, its Jason, just tho I would Tel u keith is dead he went on friday.’
This illiterate and interestingly matter-of-fact communication was followed by more:
‘I was getting messages from Keith's Facebook page from someone saying she was his sister, Kim.
‘The messages said Keith had died at his girlfriend's house on Friday night. I got in touch with the police and the hospitals but nobody could tell me anything.’
However, two weeks later, she she had something of a surprise:
‘I got this text from him asking me to be friends with him on Blackberry Messenger. I replied asking him what on earth he thought he was doing.’
As opposed to where he was texting from, perhaps? If I received a text from beyond the grave, I’m not sure I would be quite so calm about it. Incidentally, does this mean that his x-box has been joined by a Blackberry? Nice to see he’s putting his benefit money to good use.

It seems MacDonald faked his own death to avoid parting with any more of his unearned cash than the £5 a week he currently pays for child maintenance; meanwhile, his irresponsibility is evidently matched by his ignorance of biology:
MacDonald denies fathering all but one of his nine children because they have different hair colour to him.
Sadly for the gene pool of Tyne and Wear, this fine, upstanding specimen ‘refuses to have a vasectomy’ – the implication being that it has already been offered at least once.*

I think he might be wise to reconsider that offer, because if this is any indication of how he treats the women in his life, one of them** might just take it into her head to do the job unofficially, so to speak, and without anaesthetic.

Update: thus The Mirror, possibly exercising poetic licence: 'Macdonald claims only one of the kids is his and he has asked TV’s Jeremy Kyle to do DNA tests'. Classy!

*from Burning Our Money: 'The Sun offered to pay for him to have his testicles trimmed, but he declined. Or as the Sun put it, "Slob snip snub".'
**Or, judging by some of the comments, a Daily Mail reader or two.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Tuesday 12 April 2011

She's back! Those Gillian Duffy Blues - Part II

Things were looking bleak here in the Tavern; we were beginning to feel the muse had deserted us and there would be no more song parodies. But now salvation has appeared in the form of Gordon Brown's nemesis:

There’s a lady you’ll have heard of up in Rochdale,
She told Nick Clegg to look her in the eye;
She said ‘Are you happy with the coalition?
Don’t you wish you’d given Labour a try?’
‘It’s all gone wrong’ says that woman,
The one stilll givin’ party leaders the blues.

‘I've watched you speaking on the television,
I've listened to you on the radio,
I know that you've got nothing new to offer;
That’s the same speech that you gave an hour ago.’
‘It’s all gone wrong’ says that woman,
And she's still givin’ party leaders the blues.

‘Yes, it’s all gone wrong’ says that woman,
And now she won’t accept Nick Clegg’s excuse.

Yes, it’s all gone wrong’ says that woman,
And Gillian Duffy's back again in the news.

(See Those Gillian Duffy Blues for the original story)

Roll up, roll up for the flea circus!

On a rare foray into the world of commerce this week, I encountered a new business directory designed to ‘bring local businesses into contact with high-end consumers’.

While the inmates of the Tavern could in no way be described as ‘high-end consumers’, I was interested to see to what delights the affluent denizens of the neighbourhood could be treating themselves – onyx bathtubs? Bespoke champagne coolers? Handmade truffle forks? – so I had a sneaky look.

On the first page was a large advertisement for another business directory, and on the fifth page, a second one. Meanwhile the intervening pages advertised the services of a design consultancy, a recruitment consultant and a life coach.

Subsequent double-page spreads invited the reader to contemplate the benefits of sales and motivational seminars and yet more business directories and web agencies. In fact, the whole thing seemed to be an exercise in consultancies selling their services to each other with a few builders or kitchen firms in there for form’s sake.

And it made me wonder what sustains them all in these straitened times; is the whole edifice balanced precariously on the few remaining manufacturing industries left in the area or are they all involved in a sort of perpetual motion carousel, reciprocally patronising each other’s businesses over and over again?

Or is there another explanation – are they surviving as parasites, quietly bleeding the state dry with seminars, management days, website design and recruitment fees?

Sunday 10 April 2011

'Roll on, thou grate and restless ocean...'

'There, twice in every twenty-four hours, the ocean's vast tide sweeps in a flood over a large stretch of land and hides Nature's everlasting controversy about whether this region belongs to the land or to the sea.' [Pliny the Elder, Natural history]

For the Mediterranean-bred Romans, the rising and falling tide further afield was certainly worthy of comment. One might expect the inhabitants of our proud seafaring nation to be a little more aware, but it seems some visitors to our beaches have yet to grasp this complex phenomenon.

'Liverpool Coastguard are reminding people to check the tide times before venturing out to the coast today after they sent resources to rescue 93 people cut off by the tide in five different incidents this afternoon.' [Coastguard agency]

This story made the news because of the numbers involved, but a quick glance through the agency’s archives shows a regular stream of call-outs for people trapped by rising tides – making a change, I suppose, from rescuing terminally incompetent amateur mariners.

It’s a more extreme version of an event that can be seen almost every hot summer’s day in the East Coast resort habitually frequented by Clan Macheath, on a flat sandy beach that is fully covered by the tide for several hours twice a day.

Families come swarming down the steps to the beach encumbered by a plethora of deck-chairs, picnic baskets and inflatable toys. Once on the sand, they head straight for the water’s edge and set up a complex encampment a few feet from the waves, unpacking their picnics and hammering in their windbreaks.

And then the fun begins. Usually they have had enough time to settle down for a nap or are in the middle of lunch when they notice that the sea, instead of staying put in a well-behaved fashion, is advancing inexorably towards them. The resulting frantic scramble is highly entertaining for all onlookers.

Even better are the ones who, having staked out their territory, set out in search of ice-cream, drinks or entertainment (no chance!) and return to find their belongings bobbing about merrily in the North Sea (locals are reluctant to move them because of the tendency of the returning owners to express outrage first and ask questions later).

And best of all, perhaps, are the ones who arrive at the beach with all their paraphernalia at high tide and stare, open-mouthed, at the water that covers every square inch of sand - utterly perplexed despite the tide information widely available in local papers and online.

It might be worth MPs bearing these people in mind when considering Douglas Carswell’s early day motion calling for a rethink of planned cuts to the Coastguard service.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Aintree - beware of headcrab zombies!

Grand National day - the thud of hooves on turf, the clatter of jumps, the excitement of the finish and, of course, hats.

Though they do seem to have shrunk rather in recent years; regardless of the quantities of bubbly sunk by Liverpool's lasses, there'll be a fair few sore heads tomorow after a day in the blazing sun protected by nothing more that a few feathers and a bit of netting.

I'm told it's all because of Kate Middleton - you just can't get away from the woman! Largely thanks to her predilection for the things, a whole industry has sprung up selling and even renting out what my milliner grandmother would have called 'scraps' for exorbitant prices.

Meanwhile they are, according to the Artful Dodger, causing much amusement in the geek world. You see - forgive me if I get this wrong but I'm off my home turf here - there was once a computer game called Half-life which featured a multi-legged menace to society known as the headcrab.

'A headcrab's primary goal is to attach to the head of a suitable host using its mouth [...] incorporating parts of its biological workings with the motor cortex of the host's nervous system. The victim is thus taken over by the headcrab and mutated into a mindless zombie-like being known as a headcrab zombie.' [Wikipedia]

Half-life in its turn spawned a so-bad-it's-good fan-fiction which has become an internet cult.

Now, thanks to the Dodger, the phrase 'headcrab zombie' has passed into family parlance at the Tavern to denote a mindless fashion victim, particularly one sporting a fascinator.

Frankly, I can't think of a better description.

Friday 8 April 2011

One ring to rule them...

An illustration of priorities, perhaps; despite a few local difficulties in places like Libya and Ivory Coast, the British press continues to enlighten us on vital subjects such as royal wedding rings.

In much the same way as his grandmother was castigated for her failure to emote on camera, the prince is facing criticism from all sides for his choice not to join generation Ratner and wear a wedding ring.

Now I have nothing against men wearing rings if they wish to, or if they belong to a tradition that includes male wedding rings, but it seems somewhat harsh that the poor boy is expected to pop down to the high street simply because a jewellery chain once saw an opening* and started a craze.

Even Mumsnet - that social barometer of our time - has entered the fray:

'...in cases of ring refusal, an underhand motive is often inferred, as shown in a discussion on parenting website Mumsnet that came in the wake of the Prince William announcement.

"It's so he can pick up girls in bars anonymously, no?" joked one contributor. "Perhaps he doesn't want anyone to know he's married cos it'll cramp his style," suggested another.'

Interestingly, the BBC article attracts several comments from men who reluctantly agreed to wear wedding rings at their wives' insistence - and this utterly pompous interpretation: 'Choosing not to wear a ring while expecting your partner to have one is a sign to me that William has less regard for Kate than she has for him. Not a good start to the marriage IMO'.

It all goes to show - if further proof were needed - that commercial pressures have turned the 'ghastly public confession of a strictly private intention' into a circus where all must comply with the conventions or risk the ire of the masses. Still, one commentor, at least, is making the best of the situation:

'My father does not wear a ring and I never planned on it either, when it came to it though my wife said she would like me to. I wasn't a jewellery person, but I did to make her happy. Now it feels weird if I am without it.

Plus it's handy for doing Frodo impressions.'

*The double-ring ceremony, or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a relatively recent innovation. The American jewellery industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this practice in the late 19th century.[Wikipedia]

Wednesday 6 April 2011

No wet blankets at the street party

Royal wedding fever has gripped the nation, it seems. Not our nation, you understand - despite the best efforts of the media to convince us otherwise; the French are going overboard on the subject of les mariages princiers.

For a people who decisively ousted their royal family and fervently embraced liberty, fraternity and equality, they are unaccountably fascinated by the small doings of the anointed; even the fragrant Carla lacks the necessary mystique and je-ne-sais-quoi of the genuine article, despite her obvious merits as gossip-column fodder.

And now French fans of royalty are spoilt for choice; William and Kate have sneakily stolen a march on Albert of Monaco and are getting in there first. Poor old Albert gets relegated to the status of a summertime repeat.

Was that their intention all along, I wonder? To show the Eurotrash how real royals do it - in widescreen and HD? It would be amusing to think there was some such reason, and possibly some recompense for all the extra work I've put in recently.

You see, the RAF isn't terribly season-dependent, and royals run on a regular timetable unchanged since 1857; Balmoral, Sandringham, Trooping the Colour, Ascot, grouse and so on. So they couldn't possible be expected to realise that, out there in the real world, there are things like GCSEs. And tax returns. And hospital appointments.

The wheels of the public sector grind slowly at the best of times - in some offices, POETS* are common and an approaching bank holiday can reduce them to a state of torpor reminiscent of hibernating tortoises; what hope, then, of a swift decision or assessment in the next few weeks?
A couple of extra days holiday here and there may not be much to our Saxe-Coburg overlords, but to those of us who have spent the past few weeks re-arranging timetables and appointments set up months in advance, it's a right royal pain in the neck, to say nothing of the pupils who have lost vital class preparation time before their major exams.

And now the BBC is getting all het up about the lack of plans for street parties; Auntie thinks we should all be out there polishing the best china and brandishing brown betty teapots. French TV has been doing its best to join in, broadcasting footage of the 'Eastenders' jubilee party as a helpful demonstration of 'une fête à l’anglaise'.

Personally, I'm inclined to think we just can't be bothered**. Unlike the French, we've got permanent royals and they just aren't exciting enough. Instead, thousands of Brits are planning to jet off for ten days, leaving the field open for the foreign visitors expected to flock here in vast numbers.

So here's an idea; the tourist boards set up street parties for the visitors instead, along the lines of the one planned for Downing Street. The BBC gets plenty of interesting footage, SamCam pulls off her PR stunt, the royalists have a great experience and the rest of us can go and sulk in peace.

*That's 'Piss Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday'; ever tried contacting a council office at 4pm on a Friday?
**There could, of course, be another explanation.(h/t JuliaM)