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

Wednesday 29 April 2015


Another opportunity this week to indulge in a favourite pastime; it seems someone forgot to put on the handbrake of a Russian spacecraft and, as it begins its slow but inexorable descent - currently predicted (for the UK, at least) to end in the early hours of 9th May (+ 48 hours) - those inclined can enjoy speculating where it would do the most good, should it arrive down here as an assortment of red-hot fragments.

In general, I try to be well-disposed towards my fellow man, but I have to admit there are several people I should be very happy to see on the receiving end. Actually, I like to envisage an asteroid strike which, unaccountably, finds them all gathered together in the impact zone, but I'd settle for some Russian space junk in the meantime.

Once the MSM get hold of it, this will doubtless lead to a repeat of the speculation which, during the 6.5-tonne UARS satellite's decaying orbit, led to entertaining headlines like 'Britain in path of falling satellite' - an assertion owing rather more to dramatic effect than to accuracy.

Though there has been little time for posting recently, we have been diligently drinking to the near-Earth asteroids of the past few weeks - including the house-sized 2015 HD10 passing by at 627,000km today - and keeping an eye on the treasure hunt that has resulted from Sunday night's Irish fireball.

Over the next few days though, we'll mostly be following the runaway space freighter's orbital path and current altitude at Satflare, where the tracking display proves strangely hypnotic.

4/5/15 Update: New estimate:  Fri, 08/05/2015 19:26:00 +/- 24 hours UTC

Sunday 19 April 2015

Cnuttery? There's an app for that...

With the onset of warmer weather around these shores, we are girding our metaphorical loins to document the usual quota of beach rescues.

Along with the foolhardy who either fail to appreciate the lunar influence on our seas or believe that the laws of physics apply only to other people, those calling upon the skills of the maritime rescue services can often include the hubristic unwary who think they can walk on water - or rather, water-saturated mud.

Those members of my family who grew up within spitting distance of the Sands of Dee were, to a man (and woman) reared on the poetic fate of Mary, who chose the wrong time to fetch the cattle home across the estuary and thereby met an untimely and soggy end; 'And never home came she...' Such cautionary tales have, for countless generations, been used to teach impressionable youngsters the dangers of coastal mud and a rising tide.

Now, however, with schools more likely to teach the exploits of Anansi the Spider (spelling amended - see below) or Rama and Sita than the sad story of Mary and her cows and with easy travel bringing droves of unwary landlubbers to the seaside, the rescue services have their work cut out.

This weekend brought a particularly up-to-date version of the problem, thanks to a mobile-phone based craze doubtless conceived by urban technophiles who don't see much of Mother Nature in the raw, so to speak:
The coastguard had to be called out after 15 people got stuck in mud while taking part in a hi-tech seaside treasure hunt.
Someone appears to have had the bright idea of hiding the 'treasure' near the low water mark during a spring tide on a stretch of coastline notorious for quicksand. According to the coastguard Operations Officer:
"We have since discovered that they were undertaking the hobby of geocaching. This was in an extremely dangerous place and we would not encourage others to search in these areas because there are complex tidal patterns and deep mud."
Geocaching is, as I understand it, running around with a GPS-enabled smartphone looking for clues; self-preservation, it seems, is optional. The impressive supporting cast called out out by concerned passers-by (and credited in full in the Telegraph) consisted of:
Clevedon Lifeboat, the coastguard helicopter from Portland, a search and rescue helicopter from RAF Chivenor, the Portishead RNLI inshore lifeboat, teams from the Weston-super-Mare and Portishead Coastguard Rescue and the Somerset Fire and Rescue Firefly Hovercraft.
Along with one for the ultimate selfie fail, it's probably about time they set up a special Darwin Award category for those who, abandoning all common sense, may blithely follow their own pocket-sized Pied Piper into oblivion.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Hot Air, Harman and Hogging It All

Demetrius, as always, hits the nail squarely on the head:
"The sweltering heat in the South and East of England arises from a plume of high pressure caused by hot air movement unusual for this time of year. This is due to a surge of political manifestos."
Foremost among the noxious emissions is the flatulence emanating from Harriet Harman's Big Pink Battle Bus under the guise of a 'Women's Manifesto' - surely as clear an illustration as white facepaint on black celebrities of the principle that discrimination is, for some at least, definitely a one-way street.

Among other gems, this document apparently promises guaranteed childcare from 8am to 6pm, to 'set a goal for fifty per cent of ministerial appointments to public boards to be women' - nothing like ensuring you always get the best person for the job! - and to double paid paternity leave.

It also includes the bright idea of four weeks of unpaid childcare leave for working grandparents; having brought up their own children without the benefit of recent childcare subsidies and tax credits, grandparents are now being invited to forego a month's wages so their grown-up offspring can get to work.

This is apparently because grandmothers "give up their work when the kids are little in order to help the mothers and fathers balance work and home" - in other words, to enable mothers to leave their new babies and find career-based fulfilment in the workplace in the approved feminist fashion.

This, it turns out, is less than ideal for the grandmothers, who put their own careers on hold while youth has its day "and then find that they can't go back to work once the children are back at school because once you're in your late 50s and early 60s it's really hard for a woman to get a job then."

Really Harriet? Could this, perhaps, be because the posts for which they are they are suitably qualified and experienced are already occupied by mothers who have farmed out their children on a daily basis in order to get straight back into the workplace?

It all reminds me of 1990s City superwoman Nicola Horlick, interviewed in her kitchen on how she successfully managed her career and family while her mother silently tackled a sinkful of washing-up in the background. According the the Mail, 'Research suggests 1.9 million grandparents have given up a job, reduced their hours, or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren.'

It appears that the 'having it all' generation of career women, encouraged by the likes of Harman, not only want the taxpayer to fund their childcare but also expect their mothers to sacrifice their own careers to take up the slack; how fortunate, then, that Harman's happy compromise means the grandparents only lose a month's salary instead!

As a bonus, this issue has given us a contender for the most meaningless soundbite of the campaign so far - though, as ever, there's plenty of competition:
"When asked about whether he was assuming that older women could afford to work for free, Mr Miliband said that this was "about going with the grain of people's lives" and that the modern workplace needed to reflect "the reality of family life"."

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Do you think anyone was pleased to see them?

A little more recycling today (with apologies to Thin Lizzy...)

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 cameras could be found
Now the election's come around
Driving all the voters 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 for a break on some millionaire's yacht,
I mean she was schemin'.

And all that time Tony was about the place,
‘Cool Britannia’ and that smug 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, 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 summer comes
And then the Blairs are gone again.

Sunday 5 April 2015

The Sunday Songbook - Election special

A spot of recycling; the apathy of five years ago has returned with a vengeance, compounded by the occasional burst of suppressed rage, so I've plundered the archives for a bit of music to soothe the savage breast...

It’s not a mystery, we ought to want it;
So much depending and relying on it,
So why on earth should I be feeling nothing,
Wishing it were through?
And I can’t bear this Press pandemonium;
On May the seventh it’ll all be over.
People will vote as they intended to anyway;
Nothing, nothing anyone can do.

We’re in the run-up to a general election,
Each side points out the other’s imperfections,
But all they do to get their message through sounds like so much guff to me.
Recall election night anticipation?
This is more like waiting for an operation;
Will the offending growths be removed
To leave us trouble free?
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough.
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough.

Excitement levels couldn’t get much lower;
The whole damn business makes your heart beat slower.
It’s a long time since there’s been any pleasure
Reading Britain’s news.
They’ve all got plans, your future is safe with them,
It’s the same story over and over;
It’s enough to make you want to hide away
Which one’s lying? Could we really care less?

So in the run-up to a general election
I groan and throw away the Politics section;
I’ve heard it all already; there’s no innovation, instead just constant irritation.
And as the juggernaut is set in motion
I start to entertain the dismal notion
It’s too much bother, you won’t win me over
There’s no more left to say;
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough
Of mock sincerity and fake emotion
Yellow, red or blue.

So here we are, stuck in the run-up to a general election,
Hoping everything will take a new direction,
Or is it all lies...
(ad lib)

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Polishing a Turd

Like that last clinging smear on the shoe you thought you had meticulously cleaned, serial bus-stop Lothario Keith MacDonald has this week made another public reappearance.

It seems that, since he was last in the news, his attempts to turn the Sunderland gene pool into a cesspit have continued unabated; the tally of his alleged offspring now stands at 15 or 16 which, in tabloid terms, officially entitles him to the epithet 'feckless'.

It also means that he qualifies to take part in Channel 5's latest freak show along with a collection of similarly fecund specimens dredged up from the Jeremy Kyle standby roster. However, if the Mail - don't go there; it's horrible! - is anything to go by, his usual modus operandi of chatting up women (and occasionally impregnating them) on buses doesn't seem to be working any more:
He says he finds it hard to meet new women because of his reputation in Sunderland and is shown in the programme going to Birmingham to 'pull girls'.

...despite his most recent partner being heavily pregnant, he tells programme-makers he is still desperate to meet new women - and is even shown trying to chat up love interests at a bus stop.
I'm not entirely sure what this televisual feast is intended to achieve but it raises the appalling and very real possibility that MacDonald may launch a media career from it and, worse, that having appeared on TV may even enhance his appeal to the less discriminating single female.

Since he currently has nothing to offer the lucky lady apart from the occasional go on his X-box, any further reproductive activity will add to the burden his progeny currently place on the taxpayer. Moreover, if his children share their parents' casual attitude to conception, the fact that the older ones are now in their teens will surely compound the problem in the near future.

In the run-up to the election, politicians take note: a system of benefits and tax credits, to say nothing of housing allocation, that allows MacDonald to pursue his self-indulgent, exploitative, idle lifestyle while a dozen forsaken young women bring up his children at public expense is surely a system broken beyond repair.