happy birthday to me …

It has been one year (to the day) since my first posting, and another candle has found its way to my already crowded birthday cake. What started off as an exhaust vent for the random rantings of an irascible man has followed the natural evolutionary path for blogs worldwide: after an enthusiastic birth, some blogs die young (primarily from neglect), while a few rise to prominence but the majority (and this blog is no exception) settle for a quiet place on the dusty shelf in blogosphere, to be taken down for a quick polish whenever an occasion rises that warrants such effort – because let’s face it, time is so precious these days. In fact I am seriously contemplating ditching my PDA and returning to a calendar free existence – you know, that carefree, stress-neutral, bygone era when you could go to the bathroom without the need to make an appointment But I digress …

These days, I know not to write about what I ate for breakfast, or the mating rituals of my pet goldfish instead limiting my written thoughts and observations to events and experiences that somehow bring meaning to the science of life, and the art of living. In life, we continue to go on holidays to cool places to be reminded of the beauty of Mother Earth, and from time to time, we are humbled by her forces (Aceh, Katrina and now Rita). The art of living, however, is a more complex and rewarding endeavour altogether: sure, we like our food and drink but the way we choose to live is more poignant for the simple reason that our hobbies, musical tastes and other passtimes are totally within our control to shape and mould as we please … except for when they are not e.g. when suicide bombers attempt to inflict terror, when politicians win despite exercising one’s democratic right or generally, when shit happens.

So, this has been an enlightening year for me and my blog, and now I would like to mark its anniversary by asking fellow bloggers out there for whom do you write your blogs? Personally, I thought I started this blog for *me* … but now I am sure it is for my kids.

History is the best teacher not only for the present but also for the future …

suffering katrina …

Once again I’m struck dumb when I try to make sense of man’s actions in times of utter desperation and the almighty’s lack of compassion and mercy to allow such suffering to fall on humankind.

Natural disasters bring out the worst attributes of both mortals and immortals: the former for his reversion to survival instincts of the most cruel and horrible kind rather than rely on rational behaviour, and the latter faces the collective wrath of his believers who cannot come to terms with how he, the almighty, could have allowed such atrocities to happen. The cynical among you may have also spotted the cruel irony of this situation: man throws god’s gift of human rationality – that which is supposed to set man apart from animals – back in the face of god, in whose image man was created. And for the atheist, this is great god-ammo: if man is capable of such horror and was created in the image of god, does that mean that god is not infallible and so why should we believe in the existence of an almighty, but if it is man’s free will to piss on god’s gift of rationality, then one needs to question whether natural disasters are the actions of a merciful god, or the actions of an omnipotent chess player using humans for his amusement, or perhaps in the final analysis, there is no god … and shit happens.

I guess I’m coming to the irresistible conclusion that man is his own worst enemy, and we don’t need examples like Katrina or the Aceh tsunami, or Hotel Rwanda, Apocalypse Now or Schindler’s List to remind us of how fucked up humans can be if we exercise free will. And perhaps, that is why we all need something to pray to – to give us that glimmer of hope, no matter how small, that we may one day rise above this mess that we call Life.

tolerate and integrate …

I’ve blogged on my feelings about excessive religion before and now in the light of the London bombings, I feel somewhat … well, vindicated. Not in a smug ‘I told you so’ way, but with great sadness, regret and more importantly despair for my kids who will have to grow up in a world where religious zealots, bigotry and now practitioners peddle their hate so openly in public, aided by ease of travel and communications and advances in bio-chemical technology.

Take the BNP for example, who are desperately trying to paint a horrific picture of an ethnic Britain where a small group of young, impressionable men swap ‘snuff’ videos of executions on their mobile phones, or the BBC for that matter, when they publicly profiled the so-called ‘homegrown’ bombers, and pushed them into the category of idle, ideological losers who have somehow been indoctrinated into religious hate, from a single visit to Pakistan! Come on you guys – this is complete piffle and as responsible Brits, you owe a debt of gratitude to the immigrants who came over to rebuild post-war Britain, despite the memory and anxiety of past colonial attitudes.

Nationality is an accident of geographical settlement of our ancestors, and not a birth right to establish racial supremacy! Did we not learn anything from the last guy who gassed millions of innocent people because he didn’t like the colour of their hair or eyes …

That the war in Iraq divided British public opinion was to be expected – that it was to polarise religious beliefs to the extent that someone could detonate himself on public transport was quite frankly a big surprise. Not only because of the ‘homegrown’ factor which suggests that the integration may not have been as seamless as we first thought, but it is now clear to me that society’s tolerance to cultural and religious diversity is also on very shaky ground.

As a child growing up in Malaysia (a predominantly muslim country), I often wondered about the need for the frequency and volume of prayers – these questions became more pertinent when the government built the state mosque half a mile down the road and equipped it with the loudest PA system money could buy! Tolerance for me was hard to accept … until I considered my very own Chinese culture – the incessant burning of joss sticks and paper during our religious festivals (and there were a good many of them), the thumping of the barrel drums and fire crackers that accompanied the lion dancing and the regular traffic chaos created by wooden structures that seem to appear unexpectedly in the middle of a major thoroughfare whenever a need arose to host a chinese opera. When I put myself, as I did then, into their shoes, I soon realised how lucky I’ve been to have been born into this environment. If you want to see a truly multi-cultural society, where racial harmony between Malays, Chinese and Indians transcends over religious tolerance of Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, where cuisine and language are so integrated we’ve almost invented a new genre and we certainly speak peculiar, then visit Malaysia. There, end of plug …

I think Britain is miles away from true racial integration, but miles ahead in terms of religious tolerance – mainly because (and call me a cynic if you wish) not many people give a shit about religion these days. But those who give more than a shit and think they understand the full implications of teachings and the concept of martyrdom in their young and irrelevant lives, these people clearly feel excluded enough to make a statement. As a wise law Lord once said:

Tell me, and I will forget.
Remind me and I will remember.
Involve me, and I will understand.

love is the world …

The BBC are proxy blogging the diary of a survivor from the London bombings last week, who is simply known to us as R. R wrote that she was reminded of a WH Auden poem “Musee des beaux Arts” about the fall of Icarus and the banality of evil. But, in the days that followed the the destruction of the WTC in 2001, another of Auden’s poem 1 September, 1939 was widely circulated because of its somewhat prophetic references to New York – “The unmentionable odour of death” that “Offends the September night” and the “blind skyscrapers” that “grope the sky. “

Auden left London at the outbreak of WWII, and was openly criticised by many of his friends including George Orwell for not supporting England at her time of need. As a pacifist, he felt he could not in all conscience stay, but whatever the reason, his poem left behind a legacy – a reminder to us all, black or white, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor – that in the madness that sometimes engulfs our world, there is and always will be love … but to those who have evil “bred in the bone”, there is no salvation. We must love each other … or *all* die.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

fucking losers …

I was expecting the euphoria from the Olympic announcement to last at least 24 hours, but some Londoners had their lives interrupted (and in some cases ended) by the series of bombings during rush hour this morning. To those who carried out this nonsensical act, go fuck yourselves – I mean that sincerely, not as a directive, but as a polite invitation to continue with this futile form of procreation and thus bring about the extinction of your species … whatever that is, because human you certainly are not.

During these times, I see the wisdom in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address when he observed that while men are born equal, they are also born different. And the difference, I suggest, is our morality. Society does not create evil people – neither does religion, poverty nor dysfunctional political systems. Some people are born good, and some are born bad. Period.

Be strong, people of London. My thoughts and prayers are with you …

it was the best of times …

and the epoch of incredulity. It was also undoubtedly the worst of times for Parisians upon hearing the announcement that the 2012 Olympic games have been awarded to London. Somehow the prediction of a close race, set around heavy Dickensian references of two rival cities, could not have concluded more dramatically if it had received Hollywood direction. Perhaps, that was the mistake of the French in engaging Luc Besson … Anyway, I had been feeling a little skeptical about this ‘feel good’ factor – prompted partly by my cynicism about practical outcomes from the G8 summit, and partly due to sheer exhaustion caused by long hours at work and excessive traveling. So when someone pronounced in the middle of our risk workshop today that Lord Coe’s team had clinched the deal, I surprised myself (and other colleagues) by letting out a yelp of joy! Way to go Seb …

like clockwork …

Do you remember how you were taught to tell the time in the old fashion way … you know, with an analogue clock face using phrases like “It is just after ten past 3”? Do you ever think about the concepts and numeracy skills involved in what may seem to you a trivial exercise, but to a child might as well be the toughest Mensa challenge? No, well – nor did I until I attempted to impart this skill on J2.

I’ve itemised below the learning elements that I believe need to be understood in order to tell time in this way. I’ve also made some assumptions that your child already understands basic number sequencing (i.e. can count upto 60) and has the ability to distinguish size and movement (the long, short hands and which one is visibly moving). Ok, looking at my digital watch, the time is 19:43 and the analogue equivalent answer we are seeking is “It is almost a quarter to 8 in the evening”. So, how do you go about instructing your child to arrive at this answer?

i) Modulo 12 arithmetic – there are 24 hours in the day and the day starts at midnight, but at midday, the hour goes back to 12 again. Get your child to look at the clock face and establish where the short (hour) hand is pointing. With any luck, he/she should respond “Between 7 and 8”.

ii) Latin – in the English speaking world one adds “ante meridian”or “post meridian” in order to make the distinction clear between an hour that falls before midday (AM), and an hour that falls after midday, but before midnight (PM). Now ask your child if he/she has had lunch (yes, I’m making the bold assumption here that lunch is still served around midday). Hopefully, the answer should be positive so you add to the confusion with some additional rules – if it’s before lunch, say “in the morning” but if it’s after 5, say “in the evening”, otherwise say “in the afternoon”.

Still with me … good, now let’s try to read the minute hand.

iii) Modulo 60 arithmetic – there are 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes make an hour. On some clocks, the minute segments are marked, but more often than not, only the hour delimiters are marked 1 to 12, leading to the common mistake of calling “It’s 2 minutes past six” when the time is actually indicating “10 minutes past six”.

So …

iv) enter the 5 times table – multiply the number on the clock face by 5 to get the value of the minute, e.g when the minute hand is on the number ‘4’, the minute value is really 20 (4 x 5). In our case, the minute hand is nearer the number ‘9’, so the answer we are looking for is “45 minutes” (9 x 5).

v) roman numerals – if that wasn’t challenging enough, on some clock faces, the hour segments are marked in roman numerals. so teach your child (parrot-fashion if that’s easiest) to convert between roman and arabic numerical notation – sorry, that’s out of scope for this tutorial 😉

v) being able to distinguish your right from your left (you’ll be surprised how many grown-ups still struggle with this concept!) – it is considered clumsy to say “45 minutes past” the hour, so we need to split the clock face vertically down the middle into two halves. The ability to differentiate right and left is needed to establish whether time is ‘past’ the hour (the long minute hand is on the right half of the clock-face) or moving towards i.e. ‘to’ the next hour (left hand side of the clock face).

But we now have to introduce the concept of …

vi) symmetry – having split the clockface into two halves, persuade your child to look at left hand side of the clock face as a mirror image of the right i.e. substitute 11 with 1, 10 with 2 and 9 with 3 etc etc. Now, get your child to confirm that the minute hand is on the left hand side, in which case apply the 5 times table to re-evaluate the minute value as “15 minutes to”.

vii) approximation – it seems anachronistic in this day and age to approximate time when we have the technology to put accuracy of +/- 5 seconds drift per annum on a quartz wristwatch! Nevertheless, this is an exercise in mental gymnastics and not a scientific experiment. So, instruct your child to add the words “almost” or “just after”, depending on whether the minute hand is closer to and approaching the hour segment or just departed, respectively.

viii) higher or lower – now go back to the answer in part i) and apply an additional rule based on the position of the minute hand. If it’s on the left hand side, make the hour the higher number i.e. ‘8’. Otherwise, use the lower number. So, putting it together, we should now have assembled “It is almost 15 minutes to 8 in the evening”.

ix) fractions – this is still clumsy, so we approximate time further by cutting the clockface again, horizontally to produce 4 quarters of a pie. Now, instruct your child to substitute “15 minutes” with the phrase “quarter” and “o ‘clock” and “half” when the minute hand is closer to or at the hour markers of ’12’ and ‘6’ respectively.

“It is almost a quarter to 8 in the evening”. QED … actually, it is 20:47 and boys and girls, tomorrow’s mathematical problem is to evaluate the time taken for me to write this blog in Martian hours so sharpen your pencils and stand ready …

music, the food of love …?

I was going to blog about my selection of favourite Glastonbury tracks but that will only confuse rather than inform you of my musical taste, if indeed the notion of musical tastes exists at all. For me, music (of all genres) act as triggers to help my (failing) memory recollect certain events that have happened in my life, but also to evoke a mood that allows me to relate to a situation that I’m not familiar with. For example, since the elimination of poverty and the G8 is fairly topical at the moment, I’ve purposely listened to The Cars number Drive, to remind myself of the painful images of those starving, pot-bellied children that we first saw in some horrific detail during the original Live Aid – and yes, the eyes still well-up and gooseflesh is evident throughout, but more importantly that piece of music opens a portal to my body that makes it possible for me to experience physical pain even when I’ve never been subjected to extreme hunger. I’m not sure I fully understand the psychosomatic reactions at play, but there is definitely a link between what we hear and our physical well-being – sort of anti-endorphins I guess. Perhaps that’s why I find myself unconsciously singing along to the Car’s song – if listening to it makes me sad and feel sick, then singing is said to release endorphins that act to neutralise the pain. Ummmm, any bio-chemists out there care to comment?

That brings me to the book I’m currently reading – The Food of Love by Anthony Capella which has nothing to do with music or Shakespeare I’ve only just started it but instinctively know I’m going to enjoy the rest since I’m passionate about food and an absolute sucker for sit-coms.

toys & boys …

Two cool things will happen next week: my Mac Mini is scheduled to be delivered on Wednesday and we’ve got tickets for the opening of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith on Thursday. Not surprisingly, the boys are hyper with anticipation for the latter, and the Force is unmistakably strong in their rooms: Lego bricks that once lay lifeless in ambush of parental feet (why is it they hurt so much when you stand on them?!) have been restored into impressive battle crafts as the boys re-enact the scenes from Hoth, Besbin and Geonosis with the usual cacophony of whizz, bangs and pops comensurate with the intensity of the conflict. As for me, I intend to chill in front of the telly with the Mac (I’m plugging the Mini into the DVI of the 42″ plasma to achieve the holy nirvana of 1920 x 1200) and do lots of hand-waving (using the wireless air-mouse from Gyration while unravelling the delights of the new Tiger OS. Ummmm, just can’t wait …

how mayors are made …

Last night, I attended the mayor-making ceremony in Calne … which in itself was quite an experience not only because of the civic insignia on show (the robe and chain looked very nickable) but also the enactment of some age-old traditions, the significance of which, I’ll wager, would have been lost on many of those present. For example, while many of the cast were in character – the newly elected mayor positively beamed with pride and had an air of resolution about her as she took her oath of office, and the Mace Bearer naturally looked menacing – the presence of the particularly charming High Sheriff of the County who turned up in tights, sporting a rapier on his hip was totally lost on me. It didn’t help when he introduced himself and declared that he also used to be the executioner. Ummm, end of that converstion! But, I need your help to satisfy my curiosity on a small matter: why does an incoming mayor need to make a declaration of a chaplain, in what is predominantly a secular, municipal appointment. If you know, answers on a postcard, please.

third time lucky …

Well done everybody who voted yesterday … it seems the turn out was more than in 2001, well at least when postal votes are taken into consideration and we all know how wonderful that system is don’t we?! Anyway if you didn’t already know, Tony’s Labour government is back in power with a greatly reduced majority of about 66-ish seats and already, the media vultures are circling over Downing Street, hoping to see early bloodshed resulting possibly in the present occupant of No 11 moving in next door.

So congrats to Tony and commiserations to Oonagh King who lost her seat to the vociferous George Galloway in Bethnal Green. Isn’t it ironic that he should fight this crusade some 700 years after the last Knights Templar hung up their swords … and for the opposite side! Yes, the war on Iraq was a contentious and divisive issue, yes lots of innocent people were killed and many continue to die, and yes, there may have been clandestine cabinet meetings prior to full parliamentary disclosure of the legality of the ‘invasion’ – but in the end, as Tony said himself, *we* have the luxury of debate but as our leader, *he* had the obligation of decision making. Just ponder a while on this little quote, “The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully“.

Me, I voted with my heart and not my head. But For whom? Now, that would be telling wouldn’t it?! I’ll give you a clue – it wasn’t Tony 😉

countdown to polling day …

Something really likes the taste of me … within 2 hours of carrying out the customary Spring May Bank Holiday hack of the garden, I’m now covered head to foot in large, red and incredibly itchy spots which I assume must be insect bites of some sort. I’ve slapped on the hydrocortisone big time – so much so, it feels like a second (and possibly third) layer of skin has started to grow under the lumpy spots … eeeeeuwww! My colleague Joe reckons I should hit the booze before I next venture out into the garden, so that I can “take the bastards out” if the little buggers have the misjudgment and/or audacity to prick me again. Ummm, interesting theory … and one I should put to the test regardless, especially after discovering this fabulous wine blog.

Otherwise, life goes on in sunny Wiltshire in the lead up to polling day on Thursday. The letterbox flap continues to rattle from the incessant posting of election leaflets, while the UK media continues to bang out more protracted questions for the electorate, in a pathetic and transparent attempt to *make* news. I particularly liked the latest theory suggesting that the nation as a whole is suffering from election fatigue and rather than admit to the social faux pas of apathy, we have collectively decided to sit on the fence with the “I haven’t made up my mind” excuse. Call me a cynic, but I reckon the media has turned this into an election for the statisticians rather than for the politicians; personally, I’ve learned more about poll trackers, swing-o-meters and seat arithmetic than the half-baked promises that the parties have to offer. As someone said on the radio this morning, it would be far simpler to split a chicken in half, chuck its entrails out on the patio and read what the future holds for this great nation – it’s how the Romans used to do it, you know … and look what happened to that empire 😉

the hustler (i wish) …

Our new 6′ pool table was delivered on Monday, and it is lovely ;o) We managed to agree on some minor rearrangement of furniture to accommodate this little (actually, it’s pretty huge) addition to our home, thus avoiding more drastic measures like making the damp cellar hospitable – I can’t tell you what a relief that is … So why do I still feel so inadequate about my game [Ed: rhetorical question btw] Perhaps like most extraordinary talents, even something as mundane as pool playing is more about nature than nurture.

I’ve also been feeling quite washed out recently. Maybe it’s just the changing weather, and the inaugural meeting of our new team earlier in the week at the salubrious settings of the Ettington Park Hotel (outside Stratford-on-Avon) may have contributed to the demise of a few more brain cells, especially after the nth glass of wine! Anyway, the next team event should be fun: we are booked into the National Space Centre in Leicester where we will be engaged in simulated space missions. Our boss wants to assess how we cope with stress … allegedly. Which, curiously, reminded me of a quote from Jean-Luc Picard, the eponymous captain of the Enterprise … “Things are only impossible until they’re not.

have your say …

I really don’t understand the nation’s apathy about the forthcoming elections – politics may be a spectator sport for some, but for the majority, I’d like to think it is a subject that should provoke feelings of ambivalence: like it … or hate, but do one or the other! The worst thing you as can do (in my most humble opinion) is to take our democracy for granted and not care!

Sure, there may be many reasons to think why your vote may not make a difference – the First Past the Post electoral system, for example, which the proponents of PR would describe politely as a ‘democratic deficit’ but conversely, a hung parliament would create a great talkshop in Westminster, but do little to set implementable national and foreign policies. Others living in the sticks may claim a different excuse for the feeling of impotence: faced with the option of the Lib Dems or Conservatives (sorry, Labour don’t have tickets to these posh balls!), both promising pretty much the same things that most people want, or worse agreeable policies that the Labour government have already started to put in place, for these country voters, it really is Hobson’s choice!

Then there are the neo-anarchists who think that withholding the right to vote is not a choice for apathy, but rather a signal to what Lord Hailsham called the “elected dictatorship” that we do not consent to be ruled. I have some sympathy for these idealisms, and idealisms are what they are unless accompanied by action, and action will probably lead to anarchy, and anarchy to tyranny, and tyranny to war, and war back to democracy again. Well, May 5th is only 13 days away and we really don’t have enough time to play out this vicious circle of strife ;o)

It is human nature to appreciate more those things that you have fought hard to get. Many countries (including the US) achieved democracy at the cost of war and human lives – we have not. British democracy was born in 1215 when the Magna Carta limited the powers of the monarch, albeit to the advantage of the aristocracy initially, but was extended later to benefit the common folk. Anyway, the point is this: you have been gifted with the freedom to exercise your voice (much like what I’m doing here with this increasingly tedious posting!) … As Plato, the father of democracy put it, “The penalty that good men pay for failing to participate in public affairs, is to be governed by others worse than themselves”.

So *do* vote, please … if you’re not doing it to make the statement that you are a better man (or woman) than those you have *chosen* to govern you, then do it for those who are still too young to exercise their democracy. One day is a long time in politics, but 4 years is an absolute age … oh, and if you can’t decide how you should vote, the Public Whip has a nifty tool to help make up your mind about the candidates in your own constituency.

Update:

Having looked at the manifestos of the front runners, I’m coming round to the Monster Raving Loony Party’s ideas. Here’s the abridged version of their manifesto:

  1. Our team of experts has decided that Income Tax has not proved
    popular with the public and will therefore be abolished. It was started
    in order to finance the Napoleonic war in 1799 and we now believe that
    the time is right to announce the cessation of hostilities with
    Napoleon. Some of the money left in the coffers will be used to fill in
    our part of the Channel Tunnel in case no one has mentioned it to the
    French. Any remaining money will be strategically placed on a horse at
    the 3-30 at Haydock Park at odds of at least 12/1 in order to see us
    through until the next election. Income Tax will be officially replaced
    by people lending the government a bob or two at the end of the week
    when we’re a bit skint.
  2. We will issue a 99p coin to save on change.
  3. We pledge to reduce class sizes by making the pupils sit closer to
    one another and issuing them with smaller desks. Any MP whose
    constituency sells off a school playing field for development will be
    required to relinquish their own back garden as a replacement sports
    facility for the school. All future Deputy Prime Ministers will be
    required to be fluent in at least one language to encourage the
    education system.
  4. All children will be given two birthdays like the Queen.
  5. The number 13 will be abolished due to its longstanding
    unpopularity. The bus to Acton North will now not have a number on it
    but not much else will be affected. Therefore if you see a bus with no
    number on it, it will be going to Acton North. Please remember this for
    future reference.
  6. Any student who says the word ‘Like’ when not grammatically called
    for, as in, “Hey, I’m .. Like, going down the like, pub”, or, “I was,
    like, don’t do that” will be made to go and stay with George Bush for a
    week in order to discourage them from other stupid Americanisms.
  7. Pram lanes will be created in all shopping centres.
  8. 4 wheel drive vehicles will only be allowed to drive off road,
    therefore stopping mothers picking up their children from school in them
    when they only live 100 yards down the road. They will also be wrapped
    in bubble wrap to make them safer.
  9. Immigration: everyone wanting to come and live in the UK will be
    made welcome, so long as they are over the age of 85 and accompanied by
    both parents.
  10. All foreign G.Ps in the UK will be taught the local dialect so they
    know when their patients feel Jiggered (Tired), Manky (Rough), Gipping
    (Vomiting) or have got somit rang with their Fizog (Face).

stiff pontiff …

There were two significant deaths this week gone by – one was denied life (unnaturally, in my opinion) and the other fought till the bitter end when his frail body of 84 years finally succumbed to nature. The legal case of Terri Schiavo, who starved to death after her feeding tube was removed, will be debated long after white smoke appears from the Vatican chimney, heralding in the new Pope. This little excerpt from the Christian Medical Association said it all for me … “Terri’s death reflects a failure of a medical system that failed to insist on a definitive diagnosis consensus, a legal system that failed to deliver due process, and a culture that failed to distinguish between artificially prolonging life and deliberately ending life.” Anyway, if you feel strongly about this, I’m sure this organisation will appreciate your support …

bad things come in 3s …

I’ve not had a good whinge for a while but my patience ran out yesterday … Firstly, we were advised that our consortium had not been selected as preferred bidder in the downselect on the world’s largest single IT contract. In time, conspiracy theories will emerge to try and explain how we could have lost this deal but my favourite and money (if Ladbrokes care to open a book on it) concerns the simple and probably unprovable fact that the other consortium had used their powerful incumbent position on other major UK Government contracts (read: “if you don’t award this contract to us, then we can’t be entirely confident about the continued financial viability of our UK operations … hint hint who will look after all the other programmes then, Mr Blair?”) to bully ministers into reversing a decision that had favoured us since Christmas. I’m sooooo looking forward to the day when MoD invokes the ‘disaster clause’ – and invoke it they will. And this isn’t just a case of sour grapes: Grapes are only sour if you p*** on them, and this grape has felt the full burden of the government’s procurement incontinence … sorry incompetence 😉 Anyway, I’m a firm believer of the adage that “It’s the second mouse that gets the cheese” and so today, I shall drink to the demise of said company and look forward to brushing away the dead bodies when we next engage with the MoD …

The second thing that goated me yesterday was the gas man. Only in this great and efficient country can you receive a letter from a gas company advising you that a man will come and change your gas meter … sometime between 0800 and 2000! And so I waited, then called, then waited some more and called again … only to be told that someone had attempted to visit at 1710 (and they described the ‘green’ front door) but could not gain access. What complete bollocks! Call me cynical but here’s what I think happened … man drove past, suddenly remembered he had to go home to wash his hair before going out with the other chavs for a beer later that evening, made a note of the colour of my front door and called in to control saying there was nobody home. Well, Mr British Gas man, it’s your f***ing meter and if you want to change it, you’re just going to have to do it on my terms – so if I’m home when you next visit, great … if not, well … you can wait for me by the front door until I return from work which may be anytime between 1900 and 0700, but I’ll be going to bed then so you’ll just have to wait until the next evening, when I can offer you the same hours, and the evening after … Get the picture?!

Finally, this story will be familiar to those who, like me, despair at the state of this country’s healthcare ‘service’. Suspecting that I have gallstones, I visited my GP only to be told that confirmation by ultrasound carried a waiting list of 2 months on the NHS. Aha, I have private health insurance, I declared. Oh in that case, you can have it done within 2 weeks … and fair play to the GP, his referral and subsequent imaging appointment at the hospital happened within a week. So far so good – then I waited, went on holiday, and waited some more, then chased the GP surgery to see if it had received the results from said hospital. Dunno, but she would look into it. So I waited, and waited some more … and finally, she called. Yes, we have received the report … goodbye. Hang on, I said, what’s next – shouldn’t I talk to the doctor about this? Oh good point, said she. Which doctor would you like to see? Well, the doctor who referred me would be ideal if that’s not too much trouble, said I, failing miserably to conceal my sarcasm. In that case, you can see Dr X . Feeling very sheepish at this point, I thought to myself, funny, I don’t recall seeing the sign ‘Veterinary Practice’ when I last visited the surgery, but I’m buggered if I’m going to be treated like livestock having paid good money for the scan. I’ll take the 1st slot on Monday morning, I demanded. Now for the best bit … the so-called report, which had costed 212 squids, was a fax containing just 4 lines – or 50 quid per sentence, or put it another way, 10 quid for every minute at the hospital. There were no images attached, no mention of size of stones, no recommendation of next steps … just a crappy note that started “There is evidence of calculi …”. A couple of observations if you will indulge me – the UK may be the only country in the world that provides a ‘free NHS service at the point of delivery’ … but perhaps, GPs need to be reminded that they need to deliver a service in the first instance! Secondly, in another familiar part of the world, for the cost of the scan and in the fraction of the time it has taken me to get nowhere, I would now be the proud owner of a jar of pickled gallstones. Go figure …

let it snow …

There were a few p***ed off Brits at Dover this half-term break – following the breakdown of one of the berths at Calais port, the indirect consequence is that the M20 has been turned into a car park for freight traffic. We managed to avoid this by going on the A2/M2 to Canterbury, then cutting down into Dover but even so, we didn’t leave the port until 0500 … which meant we were later getting to Venosc, in the Oisans range which includes ski stations of Alpe d’Huez and les Deux Alpes. And that meant Sunday morning was a bit of stressful affair of getting everyone sorted out with registration, photos and lift passes for lessons at 0930.

Still a good day was had by all, some even braving the blizzard conditions after lunch to work on turns etc. Me, I did absolutely sweet FA. When you have views like these (see Flickr), I’m not sure you need to strap anything on your feet to appreciate them any more ;o)

gong xi fa cai …

It would be remiss of me to not post on this most auspicious day of the Chinese lunar calendar – welcome all to the Year of the Rooster! Check out your fortunes for the coming year here. But to the killjoy who posted his xenophobic but clearly ignorant views on the Beeb’s website – lighten up, you bigoted tw*t! Your understanding (or lack of it) of a tradition that has lasted almost 5000 years, is not an excuse or reason to take pot shots at the Chinese or our culture. No, we do not in fact bark at the moon these days … then again, neither do we dress up as bunnies in the spring and hide hand-painted eggs in the back garden 😉 The 21st century is full of anachronisms like these and you should allow folks the courtesy of shaping their destiny in which ever way they choose …

how time flies …

Is it me or did January fly by ever so quickly?! Today, Kilroy-Silk of ‘all Arabs are suicide bombers’ fame launched a new political party, curiously named Veritas. His agenda … well, he thinks the UK is being stolen from its people by mass immigration. That’s pretty rich coming from someone who referred to his UKIP colleagues as “b***** right-wing fascist nutters”. As Condeleeza Rice prepares for talks in the Middle East later this week on the aspirations of a Palestinian state, we are reminded by the erudite Prince Hassan of Jordan that “a future Palestinian state would not be viable if so much of its water remained in Israeli control.” 50% of Israeli water gets diverted to support a national agricultural policy that accounts for less than 5% of GDP – meanwhile in neighbouring states, water shortages (as little as 1 hour a day, in the middle of the night) are making people ill. Come on you guys … live and let live!

Sadly, Ivan Noble said goodbye to the world on Monday, but the legacy of his courageous fight against cancer will stay with us in his blogs.

happy new year …

As the world emerges from the funk of the Aceh disaster, Londoners heralded the new year with one of the most amazing fireworks displays I’ve ever seen … albeit via a widescreen telly, some 100 miles away! We had a quiet New Year’s eve at the flat – more lack of planning than choice, but somehow under the circumstances, a more restrained mood seemed appropriate, especially when the news channels continue to provide coverage of flash floods in Sri Lanka, making the logistics of aid deployment even more challenging in this country.

And sometime during the evening, I came across this photo … which triggered an unexpected reaction that was as selfish as it was surprising: there is absolutely nothing dignified about death (whether peacefully in bed or washed up on a beach), and it is life that we should all celebrate. And with this thought, I wish you all a happy, lively and most of all, a death-free new year.

merry christmas … for some

Many will have returned from spending Christmas with family, full of stories of how stressful the whole experience had been … putting up with grandad who’s losing his marbles, or the interfering in-laws, or in my case a precocious 5 year old nephew who wanted nothing more than to play with his cousins, but was frustrated when he was not in control of the gameplay – typical ‘only child’ behaviour, I suppose. But these little inconveniences are simply inconsequential when you reflect on the plight of those affected directly or indirectly by the Aceh earthquake and ensuing tsunami in S E Asia.

I find it humbling beyond words to sit through news report after news report, watching the death toll rise and feel totally paralysed about the prospect of more suffering and deaths if aid and disease control are not affected in time for these pitiful people. If there is a god, he should be listening to answer their prayers now …

This Christmas, my sis-i-l got a puppy as a pressie – a golden retriever with the peculiar name of Giger, named after HR Giger (of Alien fame) who was a favourite of her late brother. Here he is with J1 – isn’t he just the cutest thing?!

When we were not watching the news or being wound up by said child, we pottered about Dublin even venturing to the end of the red Luas (say loo-us) line to the shopping mall at Tallaght. Great tram, but the experience of the less than salubrious parts of Dublin (for example, there is absolutely nothing mansion-like about Fatima Mansions), is something that most of us can forgo 😉

not so chic …

When an errand brought me to London, I took the opportunity to coast the West End … and found myself locking horns with other crazed Christmas shoppers on Oxford Street. So I turned off down New Bond Street and scanned the haute couture outlets … which let’s face it, just doesn’t have the style and elegance of the Ave Montaigne. Anyway, I made a note to check this out next week when I’m playing tour guide to J’s mum, sis and hubby who are on a shopping spree in the City of Lights. Then, back for another week at work before we take off to Dublin for Christmas. And in early January, I’m Malaysia bound to attend a couple of weddings. Ummmm, not sure what I’ve done to earn these liberty passes from J and the kids, but hey I’m not complaining 😉

not waving but drowning …

At work we finally submitted our final offer on the bid I’ve been working on for over a year … and promptly retired to bed for the rest of the day to nurse the start of a cold which is undoubtedly due to a combination of exhaustion, lack of healthy food and very late nights/mornings. Miraculously, my cold disappeared when I tuned into the preliminaries of Miss World 2004, hosted in Sanya, China this year. You’ve got a week to cast your votes … but my money (or rather my lascivious tongue *lol*) is on Miss Namibia – an effortless union of beauty and brains! BTW, where is Namibia ?!

who’s in control …

Ken Bigley is dead – murdered on the same day that the interim Iraqi PM said that there had been some movement in his plight. Funny, he must have source his intelligence from the same cowboys who were sure that there were WMD in Iraq. But maybe it was all choreographed, right down to the ‘escape’ and timing of the announcement – and that means organisation, which means funding, and in this part of the world, that means oil. So should we really be looking to point the finger at an oil-rich state that is funding terrorism in this region to ensure continued supplies of its own oil, or should we continue the hunt for a bunch of fanatics whose religious zeal has overcome their ability to exercise better judgement, and who have not woken up to the fact that they are mere puppets in this game of high stakes, being manipulated by said state for political and ultimately economical gain.