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 26 July 2014

I smell a rat

The Quiet Man this week spotted yet another manifestation of aggressive puritanism masquerading as public concern:
A Lancashire school has been slammed for commissioning and selling a beer for two extra-curricular events as part of its centenary celebrations.
The plan - to market a local beer labelled with the school crest - was squarely aimed at selling to former pupils a perfect marriage of personal and regional nostalgia. Brewing is, after all, a fine old British tradition that has long combined aesthetic pleasure with hydration and B-vitamin intake (with the added bonus of helping to avoid some of the nastier water-borne diseases of bygone days) and Lancashire is home to some excellent practitioners of the art.

This, however, was of no concern to the lone dissenter trying single-handedly to bring this worthy enterprise to a halt:
A concerned resident lodged a complaint to the Portman Group, Britain's independent body in charge of promoting responsible drinking regulations.
One single unsupported objection to a beer intended for consumers over the age of 18? Surely the recipient would be wise to consider the possibility that it could be the work of a disgruntled employee or the result of personal animosity towards the school or the brewery.
To the disbelief of the school, the Portman Group then upheld the resident's complaint.
The objection centred on the use of the school crest on the label and the implied association of alcohol with school-age children, though I think it's fair to say that the majority of today's teenagers aspire to more heady concoctions than a bottle or two of real ale.

In any case, this matter seems, if you'll forgive the term, rather small beer compared to the myriad injustices with which our society and the world in general abounds. Where is this Utopia in which a 'concerned resident' can find no more pressing cause for protest?
The BRGS centenary ale was brewed by the Irwell Works Brewery, in Ramsbottom, Lancashire.
Wait a minute - that rings a bell...
A bar in the House of Commons refused to serve beer featuring the black faces of the Britannia Coconut Dancers.
Following hot on the heels of the twitter storm caused by Will Straw's photo opportunity with the same black-faced dancers, this recently publicised tale of a label which 'may have caused offence' opened the door for knee-jerk vilification and possible harassment of those responsible.

And who were those potentially racist brewers?
Irwell Works Brewery in Ramsbottom dropped the image of the Coconutters from the beer pump and replaced it with the Bacup crest, which will accompany the ale in the Strangers Bar.
An interesting coincidence, I'm sure you will agree.

Friday 18 July 2014

"You say black, I say white..."

Here we go again:
An MP has slammed this weekend’s controversial naked bike ride through Clacton as “offensive exhibitionism”.
Yes, it's Clacton's naked bike ride again. According to the subsequent online edition of the Gazette, opinion on last year's one was divided to say the least:
Clacton's first naked bike ride was such a success it could pave the way for the UK’s first naked fun run.
Outraged councillors are calling for a clampdown on naked events, which they said could harm tourism in Tendring.
So, good or bad? And why do it at all? Some supporters describe the ride - last year's was a not insignificant 17km - as an “environmental protest against car culture and a celebration of the bicycle and the body”, placing it firmly in the counter-culture camp, while others attach a more safety-conscious message, claiming it highlights the vulnerability of the cyclist on the road.

Even so, Carswell does have a point, at least about the exhibitionism; it's likely that the event will primarily attract those already accustomed to appearing naked in public. Few people, after all, would want their first tentative dabble in naturism to take place in the middle of Clacton with the local press photographer on hand.

On the other hand, if people want to take their clothes off and aren't breaking the law, are they really doing any harm? It is, apparently, entirely legal to participate in a mass bike ride while totally harry-starkers, though I wouldn't advise stripping off and hopping onto the nearest Boris Bike in a built-up area to test the rules.

This means that those in opposition - which, according to the press, include the council and the police (who, since they will still accompany the riders, have presumably been ordered to keep their eyes averted) - have no way to prevent the ride going ahead. They have, however, decided to do what they can.

The ride has therefore been re-routed so that the cyclists do not go through the town centre and, in an unusual variation of pre-event publicity:
The council has published the route so people can avoid the bizarre spectacle.

Thursday 17 July 2014

'The Harem Shuffle'

I can't lay claim to the title (though I wish I'd though of it first); it was an inspired comment at 'Underdogs Bite Upwards' which irresistibly led to the following...

(Image from Daily Mail)

(With apologies to Bob & Earl)

You move to the left,
Put Gove on the shelf.
You move to the right, 
Ken Clark’s out of sight.
Get those women; you know
They do well in the polls
Elections looming fast;
You can’t be last.

You'd sign up a monkey,
If it made you look cool;
With the old guard in limbo,
Your squad's good to go
So call all the papers
Tell them ‘look at me now!”
As you groove it right here
To the harem shuffle.

Update: (with thanks to Mark Wadsworth in comments) Or, if you prefer:

Wednesday 16 July 2014

That sinking feeling (again)

Another day, another car. The search and rescue team at Brean Beach must be getting sick of having to dig out the stranded motors of people who think the laws of physics don't apply to them.

The driver of the latest unintentionally amphibious vehicle had taken it half a mile down the beach heedless of warnings to the public not to approach the water's edge at low tide because of soft sand and mud.
"I'd just been driving along the beach with my daughter enjoying the sunshine and didn't think I could get stuck."
This is, presumably, the same mindset that causes school run parents in 4x4s to pull out across two lanes of traffic without looking; the hubristic sense that your vehicle makes you somehow indestructible.

Fortunately for the driver and his daughter, they didn't get the opportunity to qualify for a multiple Darwin Award by discovering that quicksand is more than just a handy plot device in adventure films.

Connoisseurs of Schadenfreude can find photos and some highly satisfying video footage at the Burnham news site.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

All at sea

It is, alas, no surprise that the warm weather has, once more, brought the nautical Darwin Award hopefuls out in force . Exmouth RNLI, for example, were roused from their beauty sleep at 5am on Sunday when shouts for help were heard from the river:
A coastguard spokesman said: “The guy had been to the pub in the evening and decided to go kayaking in the middle of the night. 
“The tide was coming in and he was taken up the river which wasn't the direction he wanted to go. He capsized and the inshore lifeboat found him holding onto a moored boat at Pole Sands.”
A few hours later, the Exmouth crews were out again, this time delivering a stern lecture to one of those parents who, having already contributed to the gene pool, appear to be attempting to remedy the fact with the help of an inflatable toy,  an outgoing tide and an offshore wind.

And RNLI crews on the Tamar have quite enough on their hands without having to deal with the likes of the Plymouth man reported missing by his wife when he failed to return from a fishing trip by 10.30pm on Saturday night; emergency services finally traced his mobile phone to the restaurant where he was having dinner, though the news story sadly fails to say with whom.

Elsewhere, Man's (or, in this case, Woman's) battle against the tide has claimed yet another automotive victim; since it's clear that individual responsibility is never going to be enough, perhaps the authorities at Brean Beach car park should look into some way to alert motorists to the rising waters.

A few pence on the cost of parking could, with a bit of imagination, furnish a brightly-coloured paper wristband stamped with that day's 'leave-by' time, though personally I rather like the idea of firing a cannon from the nearby fort as the water approaches.

After all, if people need to be protected from the consequences of their own lack of forethought, the rest of us ought to be able to get some fun out of it where we can.

Monday 14 July 2014

Putting the cart before the alpaca

We're back in Essex today with a phenomenon that appeared in JuliaM's recent post on a news story from the Basildon area:
An alpaca trekking business has had to shut after yobs hurled rocks at the terrified animals.
Leaving aside the animal cruelty aspect for a moment, this sounded intriguing; alpaca trekking? In Basildon?

Pony trekking is well established as a way of looking at spectacular scenery while letting the animal do the hard work. Alpacas, however, are too flimsy for this.
Instead, 'trekkers' must walk beside the animal and lead it on a rein, although, to be fair, the alpaca sometimes makes a token gesture by carrying a picnic lunch on its back. Basically, you are paying to take a country stroll slightly impeded by one of the campest animals on the planet.

Alpacas are, I am sure, delightful creatures when you get to know them but it does seem a little odd to hire them by the hour, especially when you are only allowed to walk them round the park under supervision rather than, say, take them shopping in the Eastgate centre or experiment with their capacity for show-jumping.

The owner was, apparently, inspired by Victorian  pictures of llamas pulling cartloads of children at Whipsnade:
She decided she wanted to recreate the scene in her home town of Basildon, albeit with alpacas rather than llamas. 
Alpacas aren't big enough to pull carts so she decided on the trekking model instead at £10 for half an hour.
“It’s very exciting, this could finally be my big break.”
Assuming the alpacas were happy with the arrangement, it would be a laudable effort at free enterprise were it not for two things which suggest a painful degree of misplaced optimism and faith in human nature.

Firstly the surroundings: although businesses like this are springing up in scenic environments such as the Austrian Tyrol, the Pennines or Sudeley Castle, the prospect of plodding round the Essex marshes just north of Canvey Island is rather less thrilling even with a diminutive camelid mincing along by your side.

And secondly, of course, there are the rock-throwers, tangible proof, that, for some local residents at least, civilization is something that happened to other people. I saw 'Gladiator' at the Basildon Empire on a Saturday night and the on-screen barbarian hordes were nowhere near as frightening as the crowd outside afterwards.

The three alpacas have now been moved to safer quarters until accommodation can be found in, one hopes, a more salubrious neighbourhood. It all goes to show that, in the bizarre world of alpaca trekking, it's probably best to start with the ideal location and then look for livestock rather than the other way round.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Quote of the day - outsize edition

Continuing on the theme of the unfortunate encounter experienced by a late night traveller which was the subject of last Wednesday's post, a comment on the logistics of six women squeezed into the confines of a train lavatory got me thinking, so, in an idle moment, I tried to find out the dimensions involved.

This, it turned out, was easier said than done, though it was almost certainly one of the modern sliding-door affairs with room for a wheelchair or for one of those double buggies that provide such interesting and varied gymnastic challenges for other users of Britain's high streets and public transport.

The size of the new cubicles has led to their number being drastically reduced to the point where there may be only three toilets to cater for the needs of an entire train full of passengers. Instead of a quick trip to the facility at the end of the coach, travellers now need to embark on a lengthy and often futile quest to find an unoccupied cubicle.

Incidentally, it is, in theory, possible that the lavatory in this story was decorated with the winning image from c2c's design-a-door competition; with commendably creative sadism, the judges chose a large and vivid depiction of a dripping tap sure to be greatly appreciated by pent-up travellers waiting cross-legged in the corridor outside.

Anyway, this research ultimately led to a somewhat startling headline in the South Wales Evening Post:
Port Talbot train station toilets 'too small for portly women' says Llanelli MP 
Political correctness evidently has not yet arrived in Llanelli, at least in describing the larger lady.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Six harpies - clean round the bend

At the risk of trespassing on JuliaM's terrritory, we venture into deepest Essex today for the sorry tale of a traveller on the 10.45pm train from Southend who wanted to use the lavatory.

Finding the door jammed, he tried to push it open, whereupon six mini-skirted young women burst out of the cubicle and started shouting at him.

One of them punched him in the head and, when the train pulled into Benfleet station immediately afterwards, kicked him out of the carriage door.

As if this were not bad enough, as he fell onto the platform he collided with a 'heavily built' woman waiting there who, despite his frantic protestations, accused him of trying to steal her handbag and punched him in the face.

The unfortunate 54-year-old victim has been left with injuries including a broken nose and two black eyes and, presumably, a vague feeling of having been caught up an episode of 'The Benny Hill Show' directed by Paul Verhoeven.

Though the police say it is 'currently unclear' why the six women were in the lavatory, their disproportionate anger at being disturbed surely suggests some nefarious purpose. Even if the man gave the door a a hefty shove, his impatience hardly justifies an attack that could have proved fatal.

The story suggests that the women on the train were so intoxicated - whatever the cause - that they were incapable of rational behaviour. Six of them could hardly have felt threatened by a lone man; this was essentially an unprovoked attack by a pack of feral predators.

Without wanting to prejudice any future investigation - always assuming that the police manage to track the original perpetrators down from the interestingly vague description 'early twenties' and 'wearing miniskirts' - it is not unreasonable, given the time of night, to suggest that their final destination was Basildon, a couple of stops further along the line.

It appears that when JuliaM commented here some time ago that 'The Basildon chavs could take Snake Plissken', she really wasn't joking.

Monday 7 July 2014

Painted Lady

Time was when a glimpse of feminine ankle would have set pulses racing for British men.

These days, things are generally rather more relaxed here (although other parts of the world are still rather less accommodating) and, with the advent of summer, bare ankles are visible in offices up and down the land.

It seems, however, that there is still one last taboo:
A high-flying career woman who lost her job because of a butterfly tattoo on her FOOT [sic] is contemplating taking a legal stand.
This is the tale of a woman, employed via an agency, whose contract was terminated because, over a period of weeks, she 'made no effort' to comply with a ban on visible tattoos at her workplace.
She is consulting a solicitor, on behalf of all professionals with tattoos, to see if the Salisbury’s action constitutes discrimination under inclusion and diversity laws.
How public-spirited of her! Frankly, this dispute with her boss looks like a case of irresistible force and immovable object; he says all tattoos must be covered in the office to project a professional image to customers, she says that disguising it would be impractical...
“The only way to cover it would be to wear a sock. I’m a businesswoman and I wear smart dresses to work, so that would look stupid."
 ... and, on the sidelines, in the best soap-opera tradition, the local paper happily weighs in with some loaded narrative making it clear whose side it is on:
Jo [...] did not deal with members of the public and was praised for her “outstanding” work during her five months at Salisbury.
I, for one, would be interested to know why this thirty-something businesswoman - albeit one sporting a rather un-businesslike tattoo - appears unaware that cosmetic tattoo-covering creams are widely available*; indeed, how could it be otherwise, given the popularity of tattooing and the exorbitant price of removal?
“I suggested covering it with a sticking plaster but thought that would look 
unprofessional and draw 
attention to it.”
And who, in sartorially liberated 21st-century Britain decrees that women must wear dresses to work anyway? A smart pair of long summer trousers would surely hide the artwork to the satisfaction of all but the most draconian of employers.

While the policy is, perhaps, a harsh one in a society where even the Prime Minister's wife is no stranger to the needle, given this lady's persistence and her readiness to seek legal advice (and the ear of the local newspaper), it is hard not to conclude that she was stubbornly determined to flout the rules.

Under the circumstances, her choice of the delicate and ethereal butterfly as a motif seems more than a little inappropriate.

*And that's not all; a quick google reveals a host of specialist websites complete with such quotes as:
"Every bride I encounter now needs/wants their tattoos covered for their wedding, and airbrush is the best way to do it."

Saturday 5 July 2014

"The tide rises, the tide falls, The twilight darkens, the curlew calls..."

I know, I know.... it's been a bit quiet around here recently. Still, however severe the demands of real life and the blogging fatigue, sometimes a news story comes along that is simply too good to let go.

Here at the Tavern, we try to do our bit in chronicling Man's battle against the elements and, in particular, his lack of even the most basic grasp of tidal dynamics so we were naturally most diverted to learn that:
Jedward, the Irish pop group, has been rescued by the Irish Coast Guard after they became trapped by the incoming tide in north Dublin.
For those who managed to escape it thus far, Jedward is a pair of twins - John and Edward (are your toes curling yet?) - gifted with truly astonishing hair and dress sense. It plays the guitar and, arguably, sings and burst onto the music scene some years ago in series 157 of 'Britain's got X-rated Opportunity Knockers' before becoming Ireland's secret weapon to avoid having to host the Eurovision Song Contest again.

A quick trip to Youtube may help to account for the delicious sense of Schadenfreude elicited by this tale of Jedward and its cousin stranded amid the rising waves:
"The boys were getting more and more desperate as the water was coming in. Thank God the Coast Guard sent the helicopter up and it found them trapped on sands near Malahide."
So was Jedward airlifted to safety, plucked from the rising waters in the nick of time? Reader, it was not:
The helicopter crew spotted the stranded Grimes family members and used a floodlight to point out their location to rescuers on the ground.
Skerries coast guard members reached the group on foot shortly after midnight and reunited all three with the rest of their family.
This escapade was, it appears, the result of a late evening stroll along the beach in blissful ignorance not only of the incoming tide but also of the fact that night follows day.
The Irish Coast Guard received a report that the three had become "disoriented in the area due to the falling darkness and unusually fast incoming tide".
Such a startling lack of self-preservation instinct should surely qualify for some kind of award. Still, it all ended happily and, being well-brought up, Jedward had the good grace to thank its rescuers publicly and exhort other Darwin Award hopefuls not to follow in its soggy footsteps.

Sadly for the rescue services, past experience suggests that the appeal is likely to be in vain.

My thanks to those of you who have turned up and rattled the Tavern door during my absence - the bar should be opening for business on a more regular basis for a while so please drop in and join me for a virtual pint.