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

Thursday 31 May 2012

Quote of the day - end this cruelty to fish!

I would normally resist the temptation to steal a quote from Daily Mail comments - it feels like shooting fish in a not-very-clean barrel.

This, time, though, I couldn't resist it - especially given the piscine connection: 'Sue Previsor' from Doncaster, on the threat of the potential supervolcano bubbling up under Yellowstone (well, it is the Daily Mail) opines thus:
"lots off us dont care about the planet and abuse our plaice hear and this is what happens appocolipse"
Pure comedy gold!

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Whistle while you work...

A busy day, so a bit of recycling: part of this first appeared a few days ago as a comment on a post by Captain Ranty*.

The Captain's subject, suitably acerbically treated, was the list of words and phrases the US Department of Homeland Security uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats.

It must be terribly boring for their analysts to have to wade through hours of facebook inanity and endless blog posts, so, since the effort below might well bring them to the Tavern door, I thought I'd liven up their day with a little ditty; a dozen or so more verses and perhaps they could adopt it as an aide-memoire...

(tune: Windmill in Old Amsterdam [again])

There’s a US department patrolling the net;
They're looking for a mention
Of hostile intention.
From morning to evening their analysts vet
Social networks for signs of a terrorist threat:

Assassination, anthrax, cocaine
Avalanche, plume and plane
Swine flu, evacuation,
Gas, hurricane
And all kinds of weather but rain.

They’ve drawn up a list of such words as Iran,
The Mexican Army,
Typhoon and tsunami;
So woe betide bloggers who name Pakistan
Or ricin or sarin or a full body scan.

Contamination, pork, quarantine
Hostages, docks, AQIM,
Crash, standoff, mitigation,
Cops and vaccine;
It’s all part of their daily routine.

*H/t for inspiration to Angry Exile who set me thinking with the first comment:
'I think it could be a project to use all of them in a single blog post in the most ridiculous way possible.'

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Olympics? Enough, already!

This morning, from the BBC news website :
LATEST: LIVE   Watch the Olympic torch pass through the North Wales countryside on day 11 of the relay
Er.. thanks, but I think I'll give it a miss; I have something I like to call 'a life'.

I'm starting to wonder whether all this fuss is some kind of national aversion therapy; are they actually trying to get us so sick of the idea that we stay away - or even leave the country - in droves and the prophesied traffic chaos in the capital is averted?

A trip up north at the weekend took us past motorway signs urging us to plan our journey wisely during the Olympics - 250 miles from London and 60-odd days before the event.

Meanwhile, even the GCSE papers are in on the act - in last week's PE paper, the multiple choice question, "Which of the following is a gateway to physical activity?"  offered, as one answer, "Volunteering to help at the London Olympic Games." It's being marketed to the young with a shocking degree of cynicism, given the startling  amount of commercial and marketing interest involved.

Don't get me wrong; I'm quite happy for talented athletes to enjoy a fortnight of running and jumping - though preferably not at my expense - but, for those of us who preferred to skulk in the library on gym afternoons, it seems a little excessive to expect us to develop a sudden enthusiasm out of the blue, even before you add in the irritation of all those dignitaries on freebies and junkets.

By the time the Olympics arrive, complete with toe-curling opening ceremony and draconian restrictions imposed on spectators by the corporate sponsors, I susupect much of the population will be so fed up that they just turn their backs and do something more interesting instead, leaving the authorities to rely heavily on the brainwashed.

It won't, of course, be a damp squib; as American political rallies depressingly illustrate, throw enough money and effort at whipping a crowd into a semblance of ecstatic hysteria and they'll be waving their little flags fit to bust, convinced they are having the time of their lives and providing that essential video footage to suggest unanimous public approval.

But I can't help feeling that, like 8-year-olds at a birthday party, those who do choose to get involved will have been worked up into such a frenzy of expectation in advance that the real thing may turn out to be a disappointment, ending in  squabbles, sick and tears before bedtime.

Monday 28 May 2012

"appropriate" payments

We all know that house guests involve some inconvenience - clean sheets, all that hoovering, an extra pint of milk - but I have to admit I'm struggling to see exactly what an overnight guest in your home could do to warrant over £100 changing hands.
"In the early part of 2008, for a short period, Baroness Warsi stayed with me," said Mr Khan, who later became her special adviser.
"I confirm she made a financial payment on each occasion, which compensated for the inconvenience caused and additional costs incurred by me as a result of her being there."
Everyone concerned has gone to some trouble to point out this was not rent - since Mr Khan was himself living in the property rent-free, sub-letting would have been an entrepreneurial step too far - so it must indeed be compensation for the expense and inconvenience of having her to stay.

So what on earth did she do? Gorge on the contents of his fridge? Spill coffee on the goose-down duvet? Throw the television out of the window? Or perhaps she insisted on being served a lavish breakfast of larks' tongues and truffles washed down with Fijian spring water.

In any case, since it appears that the owner was also living in the property at the time (he claims to have given Lady Warsi regular lifts to and from work and taken her out for meals) why was it his top floor house guest Mr Khan who experienced the 'inconvenience' - so much so that he was compensated with 'appropriate' payments comparable to hotel rates?

Though I doubt she would appreciate the comparison, is this any different from claiming housing benefit when staying rent-free in someone else's council flat? According to the owner, Wafik Moustafa, neither the baroness nor Mr Khan offered any contribution to household bills or expenses.

If Dr Moustafa is a Muslim, he has demonstrated admirably the hospitality that many of that faith regard as a moral obligation - though his choice of beneficiaries may not have been entirely unconnected to a desire to advance his political career. Certainly Mr Khan and the baroness seem to have been happy to take advantage of the situation.

While the squeezed middle struggle on, funding their own expenses in an increasingly difficult climate, there appears to be a galloping sense of entitlement among those in a position to reap rather than sow; a supreme irony has placed them at both the very bottom and the very top of society.

If only there were some way to teach them the lesson once and for all: Just because you can claim, it doesn't mean you should!

Sunday 27 May 2012

Toast of the Week - a short story

It's always good to follow up an old post. Regulars may remember one Chris Whitehead, who went to school in his sister's skirt to protest at a rule prohibiting shorts for boys.

His argument has, it seems, prevailed; the school has announced that from half-term onwards, boys at the school may wear shorts.

A pity it couldn't have been done before the current hot weather, but a step in the right direction none the less, and all due to the moral courage of young Chris, a boy to whom peer pressure is (or very likely soon will be) making sure the House of Lords does the right thing.

So, in keeping with his tender age, this week we are raising a glass of the Tavern's finest ginger beer to Chris Whitehead and the soon-to-be well-ventilated knees of Impington Village College.

Saturday 26 May 2012

I'm sorry, I'll read that again

I think it's time I got some reading glasses.

Browsing for books online this week, I was arrested by the sight of a cover featuring an armoured centurion wielding a bloodstained sword under the title 'Warrior of Frome'.

Some interesting speculation - this was a side to Somerset I really hadn't imagined - was cut short by the disappointing realisation that it actually said 'Warrior of Rome'.

It's not the first time I've misread something -  but it's happening more and more; what finally decided me, however, was a feature in today's paper on 'Priapic Sportswear'.

It was such an apposite term too; obviously the article was a piece on where footballers buy their clothes, or possibly on the hideous contents of those high-street 'sports' emporia that sell nothing but logo-infested streetwear for strutting teenage boys*.

Not so; on closer inspection, the garments turned out to be merely 'Patriotic' - as in the attire of our Olympic team; "Hurrah for the old blue, white and blue!"

Sometimes the real world is an infinitely duller place.

(I should point out, before anyone suggests I might need psychoanalysis for my Freudian misreading, that I have recently taught several lessons on Classical drama)

*Another chance to air this joke from Hugh Dennis (on 'The Now Show'):
"This train will shortly be arriving at Birmingham New Street. For passengers wishing to change for Wolverhampton, there is a JD Sports opposite the station entrance."

Thursday 24 May 2012

The spirit of the age...

"From me you are going to get somebody who will make mistakes, but who will come up the next day with a fresh mind and a fighting spirit and do the same thing again."

(Stephen - The Apprentice, BBC1)

A public sector career surely beckons....
Rather busy at present so posts will be sporadic and short for a while

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Offered without comment...

National Lottery sales hit an all-time high of £6.5 billion over the last year. Sales of National Lottery products, such as tickets and scratchcards, were up 12.1% on the previous year.
(Press Association)

Thomas Rowlandson: The Hazard Room

Sunday 20 May 2012

The Sunday Songbook - A tale of two turbines

A few months ago, the incomparable Anna Raccoon wondered whether future generations of schoolchildren would be reciting rhymes about wind turbines.

If so, along with the paeans of praise (should the Green lobby prevail), there would surely be ditties commemorating the memorable failures - 'Red sky at night, turbine's alight' and so on. A news story this week perhaps also deserves to be celebrated in song.

That being so, I'd like to offer this as a possibility...
(And yes, it is our old friend Kirklees Council again)

The council put windmills in Huddersfield town,
A couple of turbines
Up there on the roofline;
From morning to evening they'd spin round and round
Generating power in Huddersfield town.
I saw a turbine,
Up in the air
Though there's no wind up there;
It's clearly not revolving,
Well I declare,
It earns less than it costs to repair.
The Town's Civic Centre turns out to be set
In a sheltered location
With a low elevation;
The redfaced officials now try to pretend
That public awareness was their ultimate end.
I saw a turbine,
Up in the air
Though there's no wind up there;
It's clearly not revolving,
Well I declare,
It earns less than it costs to repair.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Nice work?

"Yes, you can have your 15% - just call off the strike, please!"

In today's Europe-wide climate of austerity, it seems unthinkable that a group of workers could strike for a 15% pay rise and get it within two days. What vital part do they play, these people? Have they a stranglehold on some essential issue of national security or economic stability?

Well, no, not exactly; the strikers in question are the dancers of the Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris, famous for its nude shows and regarded by the French as a kind of cultural institution, the subject of numerous backstage documentaries and guest appearances on national television.

While all the acts on televised variety shows are applauded with unaccountable enthusiasm by the audience, the occasional appearances of the girls from 'Le Crazy' are greeted with a kind of awed veneration, which is odd, when you come to think of it. After all, the act essentially consists of a set of nearly nude women in matching wigs striking poses to music under some very clever stage lighting.

Despite the US news sites referring to them as 'exotic dancers', their 'Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde'* performances are regularly broadcast for family viewing, largely because, though aesthetically pleasing, they bring to mind Kingsley Amis' description of a nude revue - 'as exciting as looking up the word 'naked' in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary'.

The Crazy Horse has always been seen as the 'artistic' counterpart of the more exuberant Moulin Rouge or the Las Vegas-influenced Lido, providing tits sans feathers for a more discerning clientele. While the Moulin Rouge routines evolved from the frenetic high kicks of the public dance-hall where ladies of dubious virtue strutted their stuff - there's a fine description in Zola's 'L'Assomoir' (recently the subject of a post by A K Haart)- the Crazy Horse opened in the early 1950s with a distinctly modern orientation.

Modern for the 1950s, that is. In today's internet age, images of naked six-foot amazons are so widely available that few would consider it worth forking out Parisian night-club prices purely to see the real thing. What attracts customers now is a reputation among tourists - and more than a touch of patriotic sentiment.

The appeal must still be there; the haste with which the management rushed to settle suggests that the 2,000 euros each a month it payed its dancers for a six day week was a small share of the takings. No dancers - no show; a simple equation that was enough to force a capitulation after two nights. And so national pride is salvaged and the Show Goes On.

The Crazy Horse - now so tame that its shows are performed before a family audience - has become a Sacred Cow.

*While Variety has more or less bitten the dust in Britain, replaced by the horrors of 'Strictly X-Factor Find Me A Talented Nancy Boy on Ice', it is alive and well on French television in the guise of 'Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde'. Now it its 13th season, this show features a variety of cabaret acts, some impressive, some cheesy and some downright bizarre (my all-time favourite has to be a contortionist hanging from a high trapeze and singing 'Makin' Whoopee' while hooking her left foot around her right ear, though the stripping German punk unicyclists on a tightrope run her a close second).

Friday 18 May 2012

"Will someone please tell me why it's funny?"

Here's a litttle something guaranteed not to brighten your day; passengers on the Chiltern Trains London to Birmingham service are to be treated to 'comedy' announcements scripted by 'Green Wing' writer Richard Preddy.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this morning’s announcements are brought to you by Chiltern Railways in association with the nation’s favourite comedy channel, TV Channel Gold, and my lovely, lovely voice."
In a cynical marketing ploy, the rail company has signed up Tony 'Baldrick' Robinson (who is presumably at a loose end when not urging a bunch of muddy archaeologists to beat a spurious excavation deadline) to give guards lessons in comedy timing as they deliver such gems as:
"Passengers might be interested to know that you are travelling on a Mark 3 train with a gauge of four feet eight and half inches and an average carriage weight of thirty seven tonnes. (pause) Look, I did say ‘might’ be interested."
Now I'd like to think I have a reasonable sense of humour but this just leaves me cold. It's bad enough being startled from a reverie to be told, quite unnecessarily, that 'selection of hot and cold beverages' is available in the buffet car; the last thing I want is to be assailed at intervals by pointless drivel from a bloke who fondly imagines he's just a step away from being onstage at Jongleurs.
"If there is a Mr Mowgli on the station, Mr Mowgli you have the following message. “Ooh, oobee doo. I wanna be like you. I wanna walk like you. Talk like you, too.” That was a message for Mr Mowgli, thank you."
Comedy has its place - as a culture, we British are pretty good at injecting it into almost any situation - but the key is surely spontaneity, the quick-witted response to the unexpected. True, the young and trendy flock to comedy clubs and sit expectantly waiting to be diverted - the result is the sort of Pavlovian response that has led to the rise of some truly dire 'celebrity' comedians - and material.
"Soon we will be passing Warwick Parkway’s famous herd of alpacas. There are rumours that one of them is actually Gareth Gates in a costume. Can you spot him?" 
Hence Chiltern's attempt to cash in - tell people that the announcements are hilarious, goes the reasoning, and, encouraged by a bit of stardust, they will rush to board the Laughter Express (their phrase, not mine), ready to guffaw uproariously at every announcement.
"Please don’t store heavy luggage in overhead racks. Other things which shouldn’t be stored in the overhead racks include geese, canoes and wheat. Thankyou."
It's going to make things very trying for passengers who don't wish to share in the common amusement. And what happens the next time someone throws themselves under the 9.15 doesn't bear thinking about.

The announcements reproduced here - and all the others - can be found here at UKGold's website.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Statins are bad for the blood pressure

Or mine, at least. I do so hate starting the day in a bad temper.

Unfortunately, the first news article to meet my eye today was on prescribing statins for all - a subject about which, as regular readers will know, I have strong feelings - though it goes some way to mitigate the fury that the Telegraph article has over 500 comments, the vast majority of which condemn the idea.

Aside from a deep mistrust of blanket prescription in general, my main objection that the many known side-effects of statins - liver problems, kidney failure and muscle weakness to name but a few - can mask the effects of serious disease; we will never know how many people have suffered as a result of doctors dismissing their symptoms as statin-related until it was too late, but I certainly have no intention of joining their ranks.

The pill-pushers insist that medicating a whole population is justified because 'the benefits outweigh the known risks', which may well be true - though it's scant comfort for those who are effectively killed off in order to protect ten strangers from potential heart attacks - but what of the as yet unknown risks associated with long-term medication for all?

By the time I recovered my equilibrium, the eminently sensible Longrider had got there first with a post that says all that needs to be said on the matter, so I shall confine myself to a quote from the BBC's version, in which Prof Colin Baigent makes an asymptote of himself:
"We've been taught over the years that high cholesterol is the thing that matters; you mustn't have high cholesterol. But what we've actually learned is that, whatever your level of cholesterol, reducing it further is beneficial."
Now that's what I call marketing!  However healthy you are, they want you to join the happy band of prescription junkies and be grateful to them for preventing the heart attacks you were never going to have.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Thinning out the ranks...

Hundreds of thousands of children face being taken off the special needs register because they have been wrongly labelled as requiring extra help, the Government will announce today. (Telegraph)

A bit of recyling today, but it's as true now as when I wrote it back in 2010...

If Jack swears at his teacher and throws his books around the classroom, is he a spoilt, rude child whose mother can’t or won’t make him understand what is acceptable or does he suffer from a behavioural disorder? It’s far easier to put him on the SEN register than undo fourteen years of indifferent parenting.

And when his mother arrives on the scene, guns blazing, demanding to know why he was given a detention, do his teachers explain what she is doing wrong or sympathise that she has to cope with his condition? Thus the school establishes its caring credentials and Jack and his mother are accorded the status of victims struggling against the odds.

So Jack and his mother go home satisfied that his poor behaviour is not his fault – or hers – and Jack ends up on the school’s special needs programme. In time, if he doesn’t swear or throw anything for a while, he may even be rewarded with that old standby, a trip to Alton Towers.

Everybody’s happy – except, perhaps his class teachers, who are warned not to damage his frail self-esteem with criticism of any kind and are thus rendered virtually impotent in the face of deliberate provocation. And there's a lot of it about; nearly a quarter of special needs pupils have emotional, behavioural or social difficulties.

When Ofsted blames poor teaching and pastoral care for needless SEN registration, this should not be forgotten. There are inadequate teachers out there; no-one would dispute that – except, perhaps, NUT general secretary Christine Blower;
“Teachers do a great job in often very difficult circumstances to meet the needs of all their pupils, and for Ofsted to suggest otherwise is both insulting and wrong.”
but school policies and progressive ‘child-centred’* methodology have led to SEN registration becoming a justification and muddying the waters for those with real needs.

The sooner the numbers are reduced and teachers can concentrate on helping pupils with real learning difficulties the better.

*the fundamentally sound concept of 'child-centred learning' - adapting materials and methods to the individual pupil's skills and abilities - was long ago seized on by uncomprehending jargon-meisters, whose literal interpretation of the phrase wrested power from teaching staff and placed it in the hands of the mob.

Meanwhile, in another bit of timely recycling, this piece from the Tavern archives is sadly appropriate once more ....
'If Dickens had a spiritual descendant among today's bloggers, it was surely Anna Raccoon - tireless researcher, indomitable campaigner, witty satirist and gifted raconteuse. The blogosphere will be much poorer for her absence.'
Though it will not be the same without Anna behind the bar, the Raccoon Arms has been left in excellent hands; best of luck, lads - there will, of course, continue to be a link in the Tavern's sidebar for readers who fancy a virtual pub crawl.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Eight o'clock, and the cheetahs are in the diary room...

'Planet Earth Live; join us for the ultimate global wildlife drama.
Real animals. Real lives. In real time.'

"Welcome back to the Masai Mara, where the heavy rain has not dampened the spirits of Richard Hammond. Stuck in his tent amid the downpour, Hammond is reverting to his usual behaviour, gesticulating and chattering excitedly to camera; he must now use all his entertainment skills if the programme is to survive the next few weeks..."

Oh dear! Auntie has blown a massive chunk of our money on an all-squeaking, all-slaughtering Natural History jamboree and it's not going down at all well.

It was obviously meant to be a triumph of 'My Little Pony' broadcasting - make a list of the things viewers like best and put them all together in an incongruous one-size-pleases-all package - with hot and cold running popular presenters in exotic locations and lots of cute baby animals, some of which get eaten in exciting chase sequences.

The public, however, turned out to be resolutely ungrateful for this largesse; the first episode has brought a volley of complaints, not least about the fact that, despite the grandiose strapline above, the programme featured just 20 minutes of live footage consisting almost entirely of the presenters talking to camera, although a couple of buffalo were glimpsed in blurry night vision at one point.

However, the disgruntled viewers are, according to the BBC, quite literally missing the plot:
A spokesman for the BBC admitted that there was little live animal action but said the presenters were there to comment on the day’s news and stories and to provide analysis.
“A lot of it had been filmed that day on location and the footage was clearly signed as pre-packaged,” said the spokesman. “We consider the series to be a multi-media experience so the Twitter feed and website is key to the live action.”
So get with it, Grandpa - live TV is just so last year! Those hip young things at the BBC know what the viewers want, at least the viewers that matter; constant anthropomorphic soap opera is the order of the day, held together with lashings of cuteness and cheap sentimentality.

Thus it is that Hammond breathlessly describes a lioness as a 'single mum bringing up her son in difficult circumstances', while an elephant - 'Emily' - is 'a first-time mum who is finding things tricky'; all that's missing is Jamie Oliver recommending a list of healthy alternatives to decomposing zebra.

That being so, I suppose it makes perfect sense to choose wildlife programme presenters for their popular appeal rather than any expertise in the subject; perhaps the more intellectually demanding viewers should be grateful they were not invited to vote and say which of the the least talented animals should be fed to the lions.

This is Mother Nature as a pregnant 16-year-old with a Justin Bieber fixation.

Monday 7 May 2012

The Blairs are back in town

Sometimes these things just write themselves...
(See previous post)

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed Blairs that have been away;
Haven't changed, have much to say,
But man, I still think them cats are crazy!

They’ve been asking what’s going down
Asking where all the famous could be found
Now the Olympics are in town
Driving all the locals crazy.

The Blairs are back in town

You know Cherie that used to smile a lot?
Any sniff of a freebie and she’d be there takin' all you got
And then off on holiday on some pop star’s yacht,
I mean she was schemin'.

And all that time Tony was about the place,
‘Cool Britannia’ and that grin on Tony’s face;
Man, he made politics a disgrace,
As they said - “Things can only get better”.

Spread the word around
Guess who’s back in town

Every night they'll be dressed to kill
Down at the Ivy or the Ritz grill,
The drink will flow and money will spill
And if the people want to bitch, they’ll just let them.

And the satirists in the corner blasting out the same old song;
The Blairs’ll ignore it, so hope it won't be long,
Won't be long till September comes
And then the Blairs are gone again.

Friday 4 May 2012

The Blair Rich Project 2

There was always, I suppose, a horrible inevitability about it.

Like a retired circus pony trotting up whenever he hears the music, Blair is back and looking for the sawdust and spangles. The temptation of a global event taking place in London, with all the accompanying razzamatazz and media opportunities was obviously too much.
"The former prime minister “has things to say” and believes the time is right for him to make an impact on the home front after years in political exile.

Mr Blair will appear on a joint platform with Labour leader Ed Miliband in July at an event to celebrate the Olympics."
'Political exile', in this case meaning 'Look, it's not exactly junketing about the world pocketing hefty consultancy fees as an advisor to, well, anyone who's got the cash, really'.

The story has appeared out of nowhere, following Blair's appointment of a new 'director of communications', who, according to the Mail, faces a task of Herculean proportions:
The spin doctor will also attempt to portray Mr Blair's cash schemes - such as charging up to £300,000 for after-dinner speeches - in a more positive light. 
With the news turning up just as Labour were securing vast numbers of local council seats, this unexpected resurgence is more than a little disturbing. Don't start filling out those emigration papers just yet though:
A source close to the former prime minister said pundits had gotten 'overexcited' about a potential return for Labour's most successful post-war leader.
Labour's what? Whatever you may think of the competition, this source gives the impression of being so 'close to the former prime minister' that only his feet are visible.
'News of the appointment of a new director of communications is correct, but that's all there is to it,' the source told Metro.
So what's the real story? I think it has much more to do with the reflected glory of the Olympics than anything else. Blair must be trading heavily on his status as the former British Prime Minister - that kind of thing impresses the sort of people who like to 'open the kimono' and 'channel the ten thousand-foot-view'.

What better, then, than a worldwide glut of media images of Blair - and Cherie - grinning alongside a Miliband or two in front of the Olympic rings? Forget a thousand words; that picture could be worth a fortune to the couple's marketing machine.

After all, why bother with the actual nitty-gritty of politics, complete with all those tiresome, unwashed common people, when you can simply swan around telling everyone what to do? According to the Mail's source;
‘The question is how he re-enters the UK scene without re-entering domestic politics and interfering with the Labour Party. He wants to intervene where he can add value to political debate, but it will be above party politics.'

Sounds alarmingly like the beginnings of a God complex - unless, of course, he's planning on heading for the House of Lords (where he'd doubtless feel right at home alongside the likes of Baroness Uddin). Too bad for him that the Queen has not only recovered from his attempts to upstage and discredit her but gone on to preside over a resurgence of public approval - otherwise I'd suspect him of having his eye on the job.

On the other hand, it's quite typical of the couple that they would not be prepared to miss out on any limelight going, and if you add the possibility of being wined and dined among the great and good in town for the IOC's massive beanfeast - not to mention the chance that Cherie could pop out for a spot of shopping - it was more or less certain that they would turn up at some point.

H/T The Quiet Man, also at Orphans of Liberty

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Quote of the day - bizarre tattoo edition

It's been a while since we had a tattoo story here at the Tavern, although the phenomenon of wearing your heart on your skin rather than your sleeve continues to exert the fascination of the completely incomprehensible.

Some, however, are more incomprehensible than most*:  this is from one Danielle Power, 27, a nurse and part-time model from Romford, quoted in the Independent:

"I'm constantly updating my tattoos; I tend to go in every couple of months. My left arm is covered in roses, and I've got an owl and a ball of wool on my chest – I'm really into arts and crafts."

You don't say!

*The same, of course, could apply to the teenager who now proudly sports a likeness of Boris Johnson on his left thigh - so far beyond boggling that I couldn't think of anything sensible to say about it at the time.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Wilderness blogging

Honestly, sometimes I wonder why I bother!

The latest attempts to account for the passport check fiasco - 'the wrong kind of rain' being the best one to date - raise a number of awkward questions, not least among which should surely be who authorised the purchase and installation of an assortment of automatic scanners which are, frankly, not doing the job.
'The difficulties were exacerbated by a series of technology glitches including the failure of a finger print machine, used to check passengers who require a visa to enter Britain.
On other occasions both the iris recognition and new automatic passport scanning gates failed, adding to the frustration of new arrivals.'
It's clear that this new technology isn't up to the task - and that the travelling public has not been given sufficient time and incentive to adopt the new system. Last month, I watched a mere handful of people successfully negotiate the vast array of gates in a local airport while everyone else queued up for half an hour.
Meanwhile, the shortage of UKBA personnel is surely due to shrinkage, in the expectation that all of the estimated 50% of Britons with biometric passports (issued or renewed in the last 5 years) would use the automatic gates - the sort of misconception that has 'statistician' stamped all over it.

It has all the hallmarks of a rushed job; a lack of clear information, malfunctioning equipment and an apparent failure to consider the possibility that travellers are unwilling - or unable - to separate from companions who do not qualify to use the machines.

The Olympics, of course, provided the catalyst; like one of those home makeover programmes, the installation was completed against the clock and doubtless looks great in some company's publicity material - never mind that the tin-foil is already peeling off the pelmets and the curtains are coming unstitched.

And yet, amid the outcry, there has been almost no reference to either technology or staffing policies. Instead, we have blame heaped on incomplete flight manifests, late and early arrivals and now the British weather.

This suggests two things to me; firstly, someone has made a great deal of public money out of supplying this machinery, possibly someone important and powerful enough to discourage any suggestion that it is at least a contributory factor.

And secondly, no-one* is paying the slightest notice to what I have to say.

*Apart from JuliaM, that is, who sums the matter up in admirably laconic fashion.