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

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Jam today

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the coin-operated slot machines that flank the entrance to our local shopping centre. It is always a source of amazement to me that such things are profitable; in our supposedly austere economic climate, how do parents justify such expenditure?

These ride-on machines (or 'kiddie rides', as the manufacturers rather nauseatingly describe them) may have been a significant treat decades ago when they first appeared, but the average child now has access to a comparative wealth of toys and entertainment that must surely diminish the relative value of the experience.

Much of it, of course, has to do with the prevailing belief that children require constant tribute; the cost of pacifying tiny tyrants seems to be regarded as one of the essential elements of the family budget, if the number of children being pushed round the shops clutching brand-new toys or sweets is anything to go by.

Being a prudent sort (and fairly short of money when the children were small), I never spent money on that sort of thing, largely because a part of me was always thinking ahead; if I put a pound in a ride-on slot machine, that was a pound less we would have to spend on household expenses - or on real-life driving lessons years later.

But - and this will doubtless have the Urchin reaching for his elitist whistle - for at least some of the parents happily pushing coins into slots, saving for the future is something to be actively avoided. The reasoning runs roughly thus: since any means-tested benefit will take savings into account, it's better not to have any savings at all. That way, should you need to claim benefits, you get the lot.

Like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, Britain's population are provided for even when they don't toil and spin - as long as they didn't save when they had the chance. Small wonder, then, that retailers of all sorts are queuing up to secure their share of this spendthrift culture and foster an unprecedented sense of entitlement.

Aesop, in his insect fable, had the whole argument for planning ahead well summed-up; only in this case, while the hard-working ants toil to save up food for the winter, the singing grasshopper is rewarded with a recording contract.

Monday 30 July 2012

All aboard the eco-waggon

The foyer of my local shopping centre has long housed an assortment of devices designed to extract the hard-earned (or otherwise) cash of weak-willed parents.

Strategically positioned to catch the eye and elicit that all-important pester-power are a mechanical Thomas the Tank Engine and a variety of brightly-coloured machines dispensing additive-laden confectionery and small plastic toys. Now they have been joined, in slightly incongruous fashion, by a dustbin lorry.

Parents put coins into the slot to allow the child to 'drive' the thing - or at least sit in the driving seat while it moves about - and to stand in the back pushing buttons in front of a screen to 'sort' the virtual rubbish into categories for recycling.

Now I'm all for recycling - as long as it's effectively done - but surely there's something excessively pedestrian about trying to make the whole idea 'fun' in this way. I can't imagine it evolving without some kind of public sector input; worthy as it may be, it is hardly likely to fire the juvenile imagination.

I admit I'm hardly the target audience - even when I had young children, they knew better than to ask me to spend money on this kind of thing - but it seems to me that any commercial enterprise operating with absolute creative freedom is unlikely to have hit on this particular scenario to attract the punters.

So what's the story? Is this oddity the product of an unholy alliance between public-sector eco-evangelists and the manufacturers (motto: "turn smiles into gold")? Is it a deliberate attempt to ensure the next generation have taken on board their social and environmental responsibility while turning a handsome profit?

Or am I wrong about today's toddlers; are they so accustomed to good-little-citizen propaganda that they have come to regard it as mainstream entertainment?

Sunday 29 July 2012

There is no spoon...

It seems we can't even trust the evidence of our own eyes, at least if Lord Coe's latest pronouncement is to be believed:
“Let’s put this in perspective, those venues are stuffed to the gunnels and the public are in there." 
That's right, Seb, they're the ones crammed up near the rafters, behind the massed banks of empty seats in prime position. As the Telegraph has it, the 'stadiums' (or stadia, depending on your level of pedantry) may well be packed solid in the vicinity of the 'gunnels' (or gunwales, ditto) but things are looking decidedly less crowded below the plimsoll line.

It seems the empty seats are, by and large, the ones reserved for the 'Olympic Family', including IOC officials; perhaps yesterday's no-shows were suffering the after-effects of the lavish hospitality that was doubtless on offer after the Opening Ceremony.

It's a shame that, once it was clear the places would not be occupied for the main events, spectators with children were not quietly permitted to move forward - not only would it have looked better on camera, it would have shown a generosity and consideration the Games organisers have so far appeared to lack, as well as being in keeping with the stated 'legacy' ethos.

I can view this with relative indifference, not having applied for tickets, but I can imagine it must be intensely galling for anyone who tried to purchase tickets for these events and failed - especially since anyone who applies for tickets for the early heats of a particular event may well have good reason for wanting them.

Although it makes no difference to the sporting outcome, there is something deeply displeasing about those empty chairs, testifying as they do to the relative values that see the paying public relegated to a literal back seat while the Olympic Family manifest their indifference by leaving their prime places unfilled.

Unless, of course, the gaps were a figment of our collective imagination, as Lord Coe seems to imply.

Update: some joined-up thinking:
Lord Coe said fans with tickets could have them upgraded so they can sit in more expensive areas reserved for VIP members of the 'Olympic family' (though, interestingly, it doesn't say whether this would be free of charge)
and a telling insight into Lord Coe's relationship with his IOC overlords:
He said: 'It's not easy to ask people (in the accredited Olympic family) at the beginning of the Games exactly how, where and when they're going to be in those seats.

Compare and contrast

From USA Today: 

Americans put off having babies amid poor economy 

Twenty-somethings who postponed having babies because of the poor economy are still hesitant to jump in to parenthood — an unexpected consequence that has dropped the USA's birthrate to its lowest point in 25 years

From The Daily Telegraph:

Primary schools face 18 per cent rise in pupils by 2020 

Primary schools are facing a dramatic rise in the number of children needing places as soaring birth rates and immigration push state education to "breaking point".

Saturday 28 July 2012

Wot, no Mrs Tiggywinkle?

Well, hats off to Danny Boyle - sort of.

It was undoubtedly spectacular, it certainly entertained, there were flashes of awe-inspiring brilliance, and yet...and yet...

The green and pleasant land, for example, was very picturesque, along with the carefully choreographed hordes of lusty swains and buxom wenches - Thomas Hardy meets Busby Berkeley - but was I the only one wondering why they sang Jerusalem just before building the dark satanic mills?

Meanwhile, there was more brain-ache induced by Kenneth Branagh, dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, complete with cigar (bet that upset the Righteous!) but reciting Shakespeare - a sort of 'My Little Pony' portmanteau of 'British things we like all combined into one incongruous package'.

No sooner had we negotiated this intellectual contortion than we had to deal with an army of top-hatted, bewhiskered 19th-century industrialists engaged in what appeared to be, according to one inspired tweet, 'interpretive dance on the importance of lawncare' while remaining entirely po-faced and purposeful.

After that, the dancing doctors and nurses - the genuine article, we were assured, fresh from 150 hours of rehearsal (which might explain a lot about recent waiting lists) - fending off massive puppets ('Finally!' the French contingent must have sighed with relief, 'Now that's how you do a ceremony!') were relatively straightforward, though the massed ranks of Mary Poppinses descending from the skies probably said more about the deepest recesses of Boyle's psyche than he would like us to know.

These things always become  more cringeworthy as we approach the present day - teenagers phoning and texting is not what I'd call a spectator sport - but at least we had the benefit of some excellent music for Boyle's name-that-tune/film competition, though the brain-ache was back with the inappropriately apocalyptic lyrics for London Calling (the choice of which has puzzled me since it was used for the Olympic bid all those years ago).

All in all, it was an impressive piece of work - I certainly have great admiration for whoever choreographed and rehearsed the performers - and did the job it was supposed to do. True, there were grating factors, like the choice of a pop vocalist to sing 'Abide With me' complete with the genre's nasal delivery and flattened blue notes or the somewhat baffling prominence given to the NHS.

And, if Boyle meant what he said about evoking what Britain means to outside visitors, why Harry Potter rather than Beatrix? You only have to see the Far-Eastern hordes seething through the Lake District to realise that she is a major influence - so much so that the appearance of a real live rabbit by the side of the road is greeted with something akin to Beatlemania.

With the IOC in the best seats, I can see why he might not have wanted to bring in Tolkien's sinister Rings, however appropriate, to the forging scene (which was very well-contrived), but the bucolic scene at the beginning would surely have been greatly improved with the addition of some of Beatrix Potter's creations - ideally in the guise of characters from Sir Frederick Ashton's ballet - to satisfy their devotees around the world.

Still, it did what it was supposed to do and wasn't too much of an embarrassment - in fact some of it was very entertaining and mocking the rest even more so. I feel I got at least some of my money's worth (an estimated 50p, if rumours of something over £27 million are true - though I should like to have been asked first) before I went off to bed somewhere around the letter G (I wanted to enjoy the full awfulness of the Spanish kit but just couldn't face the wait).

And we've paid for it all now so, for the sake of what remains of our national pride,  let's hope the rest of the glorified sports day goes as well.

Friday 27 July 2012

A serf's-eye view

(A brief musing to occupy those who are not currently watching the preamble to the prologue to the countdown to the Opening Ceremony) 

In a war-torn land of factions and conflict between rival dynasties, the Tudor monarchs hit on a sure-fire strategy to keep the peace - the Royal Progress.

Every summer, the royal household would decamp to the castle or palace of some mighty noble, who would be expected to wine and dine the lot of them and entertain the ruler with lavish pageants.

Being chosen to receive this honour was a decidedly mixed blessing; though it was a hotly-contested mark of royal favour, it also meant months of  frantic building and landscaping even before the harbingers turned up to start slaughtering every edible animal in sight and running up an epic grocery bill.

It was a work of genius; not only did it give the king or queen a chance to keep a close eye on the activities of potential rebels among the aristocracy, the staggering cost of such a visit meant that there could be no question of its host funding a rebellion for many years afterwards.

(The progress also meant that the now-empty royal palaces could be thoroughly cleaned - the pets of the occupants being poorly house-trained and some of their masters not much better - but that's another story.)

Perhaps, when you think about it, that's really what today's Olympics are all about; never mind the rhetoric of brotherhood and unity through sport, it's a four-yearly royal progress that occupies the host nation's minds and - more importantly - wallets to the exclusion of all else.

So the great and the good put the IOC up in the country's best bedroom - 'Jaques Rogge Slept Here'  - and lavish them with plenty while planning this evening's pageant and a succession of tournaments for their diversion.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, just as in Tudor England, an army of servants and labourers toil day and night to create the magnificent display. And where would the money come from to pay for this extravagance? Whether they wanted it or not, it would all ultimately be wrung from the host's tenants and their families.

That'd be us, then,

Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner

A brief moment of amusement today courtesy of reader reviews at amazon.

Curious to see what people had to say about the French edition of Madame Bovary on Kindle, I found only two reviews. The first, awarding the book 5 stars, was a lengthy essay entitled 'Dated period piece or classic tragedy?' in which the reviewer examines in detail Flaubert's moral standpoint and subtle use of irony.

The second review, giving the book only a single star, is headed 'Oops its in French'.

Thursday 26 July 2012

A tangled web

'I'm a reliable witness, you're a reliable witness, practically all of God's children are reliable witnesses in their own estimation, which makes it funny how so many versions of the same affair get about.’
(John Wyndham: The Kraken Wakes)

Step forward Baroness Warsi, Tory peer and party co-chairman.

The baroness has been cleared of wrongly claiming around £2,000 in overnight expenses while staying at the home of one Dr Moustafa, a party donor and aspiring politician (previously posted on here). According to her own statement, she made a 'financial contribution' while staying there, 'appropriate payments' equivalent to hotel costs.

So that's sorted that out, hasn't it? Well, no; not according to Dr Moustafa. The way he tells it, he met the baroness at a Party event in 2006 and offered to let her stay in his home, which she did on several occasions. By his own account a generous host, the doctor took her out for meals and gave her lifts to and from work while she was staying with him.

In return for this hospitality, he says, the baroness criticised him for eating non-halal meat and objected to the presence of alcohol in the house, threatening to smash the bottles. As for money, he claims never to have discussed money with the baroness or received any payment whatsoever.

So where did it go? Out third witness is Naweed Khan, a Tory party official and mutual friend of the doctor and the baroness (and later her special advisor). Mr Khan was, allegedly, staying rent-free on the top floor of Dr Moustafa's home, and this is where things get decidedly odd.

Mr Khan, says the doctor, was invited to stay for few weeks but ended up occupying a top-floor bedroom for a year and a half, without ever contributing to the expenses of the household; even by the accepted traditional standards of hospitality of Dr Moustafa's Egyptian background, that is surely above and beyond the call of duty.

Mr Khan, meanwhile, confirms that he did indeed receive payments from the baroness to compensate him for the 'inconvenience' caused by her presence (whatever that may have been); what he did with the money - the best part of £2,000 - remains a mystery.

Small wonder, then, that the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life described the situation as "very muddy and blurred" - and it's not helped by the fact that Dr Moustafa is in dispute with the Tory party over an unconnected matter.

The fact that the baroness has been cleared of wrongdoing establishes only that she is deemed to have acted in good faith. Should we taxpayers be entitled to know what happens to our money once it has been paid out in expenses? And if so, what did Mr Khan do with the cash, and why was he given it in the first place?

If anyone finds out, perhaps they might like to let Dr Moustafa know - unless of course, he's the one being economical with the truth.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Olympic quote of the day - 3

Two quotes for the price of one, in fact, from members of the Spanish Olympic team describing their official clothing for the games: first up is canoeist Saul Craviotto, who accompanied a picture of himself in his shirt with a comment that broadly translates as,
"It's best if I don't say what I think, I'll leave it up to you..."
while field hockey player Alex Fabregas tweeted,
"Olympic kit; there are no adjectives..."
Looking at the photos - the tracksuit ensemble is illustrated in the second of the main heading pictures, though I'd advise making sure you aren't eating when you click the arrow - will confirm that the kit is, indeed, almost beyond description.

Given the state of their economy, it's not surprising that Spain's Olympic Committee seized the chance of a deal with sports clothing company Bosco to supply them with free uniforms.

Eighteen months later, however, when the promised items arrived, the Spanish must have questioned whether it was really a good idea to turn the design over to Russians who were also in charge of supplying the team kit for their own homeland.

I don't know how much of a threat Spain was likely to present to Russia in the medal tables, but it's certainly going to be something of a challenge to manage 'faster, higher, stronger' when you know you are wearing something that makes a 1970's pub carpet look tastefully restrained.

Meanwhile Craviotto and Fabregas may be doing themselves no favours if this report is true:
Coe believes athletes are damaging their podium chances by constantly sending out their thoughts in a 140-character format, and says he has found "quite a close correlation between the number of tweets at competitive times and the level of under-performance".
Whether or not there is an intentional element of threat to his comments (a tip of the tricorn here to Al Jahom), it's interesting to note that, within hours of hitting the headlines with a negative twitter comment about London traffic, US sprinter Kerron Clement was merrily tweeting away with suspicious enthusiasm (and detail):
"Eating at the Olympic Village. Love the variety of food choices, african, caribbean, Halal Cuisine, India and asian and of course McDonalds."
It will be interesting to see whether Craviotto and Fabregas, when they arrive, will find themselves similarly inspired to praise the living conditions of the Olympic Family.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Olympic quote of the day - 2

Jaques Rogge  this time - or, more correctly, Count Rogge - from the interview on yesterday's BBC News.

No, it's not the quote about being 'working class' - so obviously a slip in translation from a man giving an interview in a foreign language that it seems hardly worth commenting on (though some newspapers clearly think otherwise) - but a short phrase from later in the interview.

What makes this particular quote memorable is the momentary pause and the almost imperceptible shrug with which Rogge, challenged by the interviewer about the IOC's 'limos and five-star hotels', replies:

"We have to have accommodation."

in such a flat tone of stating-the-bleeding-obvious that it's clear he has no intention of even entertaining the idea that requisitioning an entire 5* hotel for the duration might be seen as a little over the top in today's climate of austerity.

Interestingly, this interview has prompted a flurry of complaints at the BBC's sports blog that David Bond, the BBC's sports editor, 'lacked respect', or was 'breathtakingly impertinent' in raising the subject as he did: some commentors claimed to have registered with the sole purpose of expressing their disapproval:

'If Mr Rogge and his organisation need a decent hotel for the duration of their stay then they should have it.'

(It all depends, I suppose what you mean by 'decent' - for most of us the term would not necessarily automatically imply the likes of the London Hilton)

'As 'guardians' of the Olympic Movement why shouldn't they stay in quality accommodation?'

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter - and I think it's a fair bet that the BBC bigwigs don't exactly rough it when they travel abroad for work either - it's interesting to see how this seems to have tapped into a rich reserve of enthusiasm for the games.

It's a stark contrast to the cynicism abounding in the blogosphere - at least in the vicinity of the Tavern (see Longrider Gildas and A K Haart for a sample). How ironic, that this event supposed to promote harmony and unity through sport has divided the nation so radically.

Monday 23 July 2012

Olympics - so she's the one to blame!

Amid all the excitement and national celebration in the run-up to the Olympics, it seems there is an unsung heroine in our midst:
Cherie Blair was instrumental in securing the 2012 games for London [...] according to her husband, the former Prime Minister.
They just can't leave it alone! Not only have they reappeared just in time for the hospitality - like some ghastly distant relatives turning up at every family shindig on the offchance of some free champagne - they are now happy to assume the dubious distinction of arranging the whole bunfight in the first place.

Blair's re-appearance was bad enough, what with his hiring of a new spin doctor and his reported intention to 'make an impact on the home front'; now he's insisting Cherie gets a share of the Olympic limelight too:
'Strangely my wife played a very big part in this really".
Funny - I thought she was meant to be having a high-profile legal career (when she isn't herding goats for Widows' Day or taking part in cake sales); I shouldn't have thought it left much time for fawning on the members of the IOC.
Blair said that his wife had travelled abroad to speak to some of the less well-known delegates to secure their votes.
"My wife was very, very good at going to different countries and seeing people who were the less significant people."
Well, that, at least, has the ring of truth - she's never been one to turn down a free holiday. Still, it would be interesting to find out what Seb Coe and the rest of the London 2012 bid team think about it.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether Tony's attempt to shoe-horn his wife into the public eye once more is connected with reports that one of their spawn has chucked in his banking job and intends to become a Labour MP (with the backing, presumably, of his parents' not inconsiderable fortune).

The thought of being ruled forever by a Blair-Booth dynasty is almost bad enough to distract one from the horror in store at the end of this week as the host nation attempts to beat the record for the number of toes simultaneously curling across the globe.

As Mary Poppins abseils into the arena to save the word from Voldemort, to the accompaniment of a massed chorus of dancing nurses, firemen and 70 sheep, and the world looks on in stunned disbelief, perhaps we may find it in ourselves to give credit where it's due and remember that we owe it all to Cherie.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Yippee! It's asteroid time again!

OK, so it's passing by 14 times as far away as the moon, but here at the tavern, a fly-by is always an excuse for a party.

3.2 million miles away may be uncomfortably close on an astronomical scale but 2002 AM31 is unlikely to put a spoke in Lord Coe's plans when it sails past just after midnight tonight, however appealing the prospect.

Still, it's good to see the astronomical establishment considering the apocaholic point of view for once:
Astronomy magazine's Bob Berman says, ‘Near Earth objects are no longer treasures only for the paranoid, or for those who secretly and strangely are rooting for an early apocalypse. [...] These are important entities. Not to mention, there’s always that exciting little hint of danger.
It's one of those odd statistical things; the chances of a substantial asteroid hitting us at any particular time are very small but the consequences if one does are so immense that it becomes a significant risk.

That one will hit Earth some day is a certainty. Recent estimates suggest there are around a thousand lumps of rock measuring over 1km across in orbits that intersect or approach our own, each with the potential to obliterate a country the size of England.

As a rough rule of thumb, a pea-sized fragment hits our atmosphere every 5 minutes, and a football-sized rock every month or so. We can expect something a little larger a couple of times a year and, every few centuries, something in the order of 40-50m across, the last one recorded being the Tunguska impact in 1908 (unless you believe that was an alien spacecraft, in which case you are probably reading the wrong blog).

With all this cosmic pinball going on, it is, perhaps, a shame that our own prophet of astronomical impact, Lembit Opik, has wandered from the true path, drawn into the orbit of some rather more earthly bodies, and abandoned his calls for research into asteroid detection and early warning systems.

Other nations are doing their bit, however; and it turns out that there are plenty of near misses - give or take the odd hundred thousand miles - from rocks we had no idea existed. While those of a nervous disposition might prefer not to know, we have truly entered a golden age for apocaholics, where the hellfire-and-brimstone of religion has been replaced by the strangely comforting ultimate certainly of celestial impact.

So, ladies and gentlemen, please raise your tankards and wish 2002 AM31 many happy returns!

Saturday 21 July 2012

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly...

...at least in principle.
A wildlife hospital is struggling to find room for 18 waterlogged red kites, rescued during recent wet weather.
Impressive things, red kites - at least as long as they aren't trying to snatch your child's packed lunch or squatting thoughtfully in a tree just above your newly-washed car.

They are, of course, no strangers to news headlines - a raid on a barbecue here, an attempted dog-snatch there - but by and large, they do what one would expect of them; with extra sustenance from roadkill and  from chicken carcasses left out on bird-tables (rather macabre, when you come to think of it), they have quickly found their niche in the rural ecosystem.

Now they are so well established that people are asking why they died out in the first place. We've been told it's because of agricultural practices and the action of unscrupulous egg-collectors, but there might just be another possible explanation.

According to the founder of Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital, where the soggy fledglings have found refuge:
"Juvenile kites seem unable to take wet weather. They leave their nests, get wet and can literally fall out of the trees."
Yes, I can see that could be a problem...
"Once they've fallen out of trees, they just lie on the ground, soaking wet, and playing dead," Mr Stocker said. "For some reason they won't get up."
That explains a lot. In one of the best examples of Darwinism since the dodo found out that it wasn't a terribly good survival strategy to be stupid, friendly and delicious, the kites have amply demonstrated how precarious is their hold on life in the British Isles.

It may be that the price on their heads was a major factor and that egg-collectors - currently in the top 10 of fashionable Victorian baddies (along with tea-planters, the Raj and any white person who ever went to Africa) - destroyed the remaining population, but, if you ask me, any species that can't cope with rain is always going to be here on borrowed time.

Friday 20 July 2012

"The hand that rocks the cradle..."

...packs a mean punch as well, at least if this is anything to go by.
A MAN arrested for carrying a knuckle-duster has escaped jail after claiming it was his mum’s.
Hold on, what was that again?
Steve Lyttle-Byron, 22, of Aragon Close, Jaywick, was arrested with the weapon and 16g of cannabis after being searched by police on June 17. He told officers the drugs were to help his epilepsy and the silver knuckle-duster belonged to his mother.
If it's Jaywick, that explains a lot - they breed 'em tough there! But all the same...silver? As in sterling? That would surely represent a significant financial outlay.

You can almost picture the touching scene; the whole family gathered for a celebration... the kids all clubbing together to buy a special present... Mother's tearful speech -"Thank you - it's just what I always wanted!"
Ita Farelly, mitigating, said: “It is a strange set of circumstances".
That's putting it mildly...
“It is his mother’s weapon - she confirmed that over the phone today."
Ah, you can always rely on Mum to sort it all out - presumably in more ways than one, if she's telling the truth. And she obviously believes in keeping the means to do so readily to hand:
He said his father had been arrested for driving his mother’s car without insurance earlier that day. After realising he had left drugs in the abandoned car, he returned to the vehicle where he found the weapon in the glove compartment.
Young Steve's a chip off both old blocks, by the sound of it. And if he gets his temper from his mother...
He was sentenced to an 18-month anger management programme and told to pay £25 costs. The knuckle-duster will be destroyed.
...then it's perhaps litttle wonder that the police decided to contact her by phone rather than in person, discretion always being the better part of valour - at least in Jaywick.

Thursday 19 July 2012

London 2012 - Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse

(Readers of a sensitive disposition are advised not to follow the link)

Just make them go away....please!

James Higham barely scratched the surface of this 83-fold hideousness; the DM has kindly remedied this in a collection of pictures which I unwisely stumbled across in a misguided moment. I shudder to think how much money this insanity has cost - and if any of it was mine, I want it back!

And just to put the icing on the cake, each of these aesthetic atrocities bears a sign saying  'DO NOT CLIMB' -  surely a most apposite metaphor for the 'inclusivity' of the games.' Hey, kids! You can look but you can't touch!'

By the way, has anyone seen one close up to find out what it says under the admonitory words? 'Penalty - £500'? 'without permission in triplicate from LOCOG'? 'on pain of death'? I'd be interested to know.

(Of course, it wouldn't be the DM without some hideous mangling of grammar as we know it: in this case, the final paragraph begins with the immortal sentence, 'Then there is there appearance'.)

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Olympic quote of the day

Credit to an unnamed friend of the Artful Dodger who passed this on:

"When it comes to the games i think we’ve been labouring under a misapprehension: We thought we were hosts like the queen is at a posh garden party, when actually we’re hosts in the way that John Hurt is in Alien.

Monday 16 July 2012

A bad case of Olympic ringworm

Businesses beware! The sinster, purple-clad London 2012 'Brand Army' is about to begin patrolling  Britain's high streets*, ready to denounce any enterprise presuming to make use of the words 'Summer', 'London' or '2012' in unseemly conjunction with 'Gold', 'Silver' and 'Bronze'.

Under legislation designed for the London 2012 Olympics, they will be able to bring court action against any business breaking the strict rules, with potential punishments including fines up to £20,000.
Jobsworths being what they are, we can surely expect to see several varieties of chocolate and tanning lotion relegated to a box under the counter for the duration - 'just in case' -  along, of course, with Roland Emmerich's best-selling geo-disaster DVD. Anything is possible in a climate that has seen the demands of sponsors place restrictions on catering, staff footwear and even the spectators' choice of clothing.

Of course, we're all by now familiar with the way the Olympic machine has sprung into action to 'protect' the symbolic rings; I have previously mentioned Olympic leeches feeding on the British Bulldog, but far more irritating is Olympic ringworm, the spreading and uncomfortable intrusion of the Games into the everyday lives of Britain's citizens - and particularly the unfortunate Londoners.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that the purple people and their masters are in need of a marching song, a unifying corporate anthem to celebrate their tireless efforts to ensure that the games will be be a resounding and unequivocal success - for the sponsors, at least.

In keeping with the history (was recreating that really such a good idea?) of the Olympic Torch relay, that peripatetic beacon paraded the length and breadth of the land so that the masses might touch the hem of the bearers' garments (metaphorically, of course; can't have the plebs getting too near!), I have chosen a stirring tune from Wagner's 'Lohengrin', which some may find strangely familiar...

And in accordance with the prevailing spirit of protection for the sacred emblems and the intrerests of sponsors, I hereby declare that the tune of this new anthem will henceforth be off limits for everyone else....

Jogging along, hold high the flame;
Let those who infringe our copyright beware!
Striving for gold, glory and fame;
We might even give a few athletes a share.

London will welcome the fit and the strong
Once they've got through passport queues three miles long.
Cheer on those athletes, frantically running;
The Zil lanes are gridlocked, their bus won't be coming.
Forget all the millions we gave G4S;
We'll draft in some squaddies to sort out the mess.

Jogging along, hold high the flame;
Let those who infringe our copyright beware!
'Flourish those flags', LOCOG proclaim,
'It's not our money, so why should we care?'

*A tip of the tricorn to Longrider for the story; I can't link to his post because just after he published it, his blog went offline 'for maintenance'.
Under the circumstances, I find this rather worrying...

Update: He's back with a new-look blog - looks like he wasn't languishing in a hidden dungeon at LOCOG HQ after all (assuming, of course, that it's still the real Longrider...)

Saturday 14 July 2012

Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em...

... And little fleas have lesser fleas and so ad infinitum.

I've long thought that what we have in the UK these days is not so much a service economy as a flea circus.

It's a telling fact that every single one of the 'sure-fire' business plans presented by the 5 finalists of 'The Apprentice' involved making money by acting as intermediary in someone else's transaction.

As a nation, we gave up making things long ago and started taking in each other's washing instead; now an army of subsidiary parasites has sprung up to charge a hefty commission for procuring the soap powder or contracting the actual scrubbing out to lesser mortals.

The journey from manufacturer to final consumer has become a bloodsuckers' progress as successive agents and middlemen scramble to secure their share, while the same thing can be seen on a more abstract level in local government, say, or healthcare, where battalions of vampiric administrative drones extract a rake-off in the form of generous salaries and pensions.

There's precious little incentive to economise or increase efficiency when staff are effectively paid by the hour regardless of output, while in a higher sphere, central purchasing has led to a massive bureaucracy of corporate fleas all merrily drinking their fill at every transaction.

Small wonder, then, that the actual costs of Olympic facilities and security have far outstripped the actual costs of what is provided; in addition to the grunts actually doing the work, a myriad host of middlemen and -women must be maintained in the standard to which our largesse has accustomed them.

From this abundance, they, in their turn, are forking out smaller (far smaller) amounts to the hundreds of workers who take care of the tasks too mundane for their cash-rich, time-poor overlords - childcare, cleaning, gardening and the rest of it.

And then - here's the ironic bit - all of these lesser people, who do their own laundry and cleaning as well as that of the characters in flashy business suits, are bled dry with taxes to help maintain... what? Another army of parasites, this time eating the bread of idleness and sucking the life-blood of the state.

I'm not an expert, but it strikes me that, now the flea circus has been joined by the Olympic leeches, the poor old British bulldog is likely to be looking pretty anaemic and sick.

Sue previsor - unmasked

Humour being truly in the eye of the beholder, comedy is not an easy thing to pull off consistently.

Those who have been following the contributions of Daily Mail commentor Sue Previsor from Doncaster - also spotted and more extensively tracked by SBML - know already that 'she' has been trolling the columns for some months with misspelt and controversial opinions.

The offerings were, as a rule, fairly well judged in tone and content; occasionally hilarious...
"lots off us dont care about the planet and abuse our plaice hear and this is what happens appocolipse"
...but always just plausible enough in isolation to pass moderation as the work of the semi-literate, opinionated public sector employee she claimed to be - heaven knows we've all met examples of the type.

This week, though, she has blown her cover completely; surely no one - not even by the Mail's distinctly elastic standards of moderation - could be convinced by this:

this is great news and cant come soon enough for my son who love his food and is now 45 stone. he had an gastric band fited on the nhs ten year ago but started with his food addiction again an few months afterwards. i will ask my doctor about those next time we go down for his insulins

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Quote of the day - local radio wisdom

From a local travel announcement yesterday...

"We're hearing about extensive flooding in Middleton Road. Reports are saying that it's knee-deep....[thoughtful pause]....though, when you come to think of it, that's actually relative, isn't it?"

Monday 9 July 2012

Real or fake - you decide

She's back!

'Sue Previsor' from Doncaster - remember her? - has graced the Daily Mail comments again, this time on the subject of climate change.

While her comedic offerings - this one again stumbled across by chance, so there may be plenty more out there* - do much to enliven their grim setting, I should be happier about the state of Britain's educational standards if I knew with absolute certainty that they are indeed the work of a wicked satirist...
get used too it people as the shiftings off the gulf streme is permenent and we will for ever have too live with worse whether. this is all thanks too those who berry there heads in the sands about global warmings and carry on with there selfish live stiles

Though it seems a pointless and unsporting target on which to lavish the effort, the name would suggest that this is the case and the sheer abundance of misspellings and misplaced homphones clearly implies that 'Sue' is perpetrating an elaborate hoax. And yet... and yet...

What do you think?

*Indeed there are; thank you JuliaM and SBML!

Thursday 5 July 2012

The price of complacency

When the call goes up for a return to old-fashioned values, I don't think this is what it's supposed to mean...

Five babies have died in the biggest whooping cough outbreak for two decades, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

While we may never eradicate these potentially fatal childhood diseases, the scientists and epidemiologists who are racking their brains over the cause of this resurgence could do worse than talk to a few parents.

When there was an outbreak of whooping cough in our town, I told the primary school that the Urchin - then 6 - had not been vaccinated, having suffered an adverse reaction to the first dose.

Despite my warnings, I arrived one afternoon to fnd him sitting at a table next to a friend who - to my certain knowledge - had been diagnosed with whooping cough a few days before.

The fact that the Urchin then fell ill and missed several months of school is neither here nor there; what is important is why the other child was in the classroom spreading the infection in the first place.

It turned out that the doctor had told the boy's mother that, as long as he was taking antibiotics, he could go to school 'as all the other children there will be immunised'. His mother, anxious to get back to work, happily dropped him off at school the next day, despite his constant coughing.

He wasn't the only one - the school was full of children coughing and spluttering, some of them tearful and evidently feeling unwell. Immunisation doesn't prevent the disease entirely - it just spares the child the seemingly endless cycle of whooping, choking and vomiting that was in store for the Urchin.

Meanwhile, a friend withdrew both her older children from school for a month, frightened that they would bring the infection home to her new-born baby - the school, while happy to accept pupils clearly displaying symptoms of the illness, was markedly less than sympathetic to her plight.

The needs of working mothers and the complacency of medical professionals, with their misplaced faith in science, may well have combined to contribute to this supposedly inexplicable outbreak:

Increased disease activity has been linked to "educational settings" and "healthcare settings", the authority said.

Where once children were quarantined to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, they are now allowed to circulate freely, on the hubristic assumption that mass immunisation and antibiotics have negated the risk - never mind that increasing antibioic resistance means this policy is operating on borrowed time.

It's another manifestation of 'one size fits all' thinking which could, one day, prove catastrophic.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Fun with particle physics

A literary extract today, from a playwright who was interested right from the start...

(The theatre critic Birdboot arrives at a performance and plumps himself down next to fellow-critic Moon)

Birdboot: ...I'm on my own tonight, don't mind if I join you?
Moon: Hello, Birdboot.
Birdboot: Where's Higgs?
Moon: I'm standing in.
Moon and Birdboot: Where's Higgs?
Moon: Every time.
Birdboot: What?
Moon: It's as if we only existed one at a time, combining to achieve continuity. I keep space warm for Higgs. My presence defines his absence, his absence confirms my presence, his presence precludes mine... When Higgs and I walk down this aisle together to claim our common seat, the oceans will fall into the sky and the trees will hang with fishes.
Birdboot (he has not been paying attention, looking around vaguely, now catches up): Where's Higgs?

(Tom Stoppard: 'The Real Inspector Hound', 1967)