Wednesday, 28 February 2007

London Icons

Yesterday I added a photo to the blog page title header. I guess most people would recognise the skyline. And I suspect most would incorrectly name the clock tower. No it is not Big Ben, though people refer to it by that name. Now I could set the Quiz of the Day question and ask - what is the name of the tower? But with Google ready at hand, it would be pointless!!

It’s in fact St Stephen’s Tower. So Big Ben is the clock not the tower - wrong. Big Ben is the 13.5 ton, 9ft-5” diameter bell which strikes the hour chimes. There are four other bells that chime the quarters.

So the building on the left is the Houses of Parliament, again strictly speaking no - it’s the Palace of Westminster in which the two houses of parliament are housed.

The clock tower is one of the iconic images of London. The latest visual icon is located on the other bank of the River Thames - The London Eye, pictured in the 24th February blog. The oldest part of the Palace dates from 1097, while the London Eye was opened in February 2000.

The two icons characterise the contradiction that is London. London is perceived as an old capital, it was settled by the Romans in 43AD, yet it is a modern continually changing city.

The above view from Hungerford Bridge (click on it for a larger image) is looking in the opposite direction to the Palace of Westminster, towards the City of London. Another contradiction, London is made up of a number of cities, The City of Westminster, Southwark and of course The City of London.

“The City“, also known as the “Square Mile“, is the district first settled by the Romans. The three towers on the far left form part of the Barbican complex. Built between 1965 & 76 consisting of among other things: apartments, concert halls, theatre, a Business School and the Museum of London. The musium located in a modern building is adjacent to parts of the original London Wall built by the Romans. If you visit London with children the musium is a must see place - and its free!

To the right is one of the many Church spires seen on the London skyline - the wedding cake tiered spire of St Brides. The present church built in 1672 is the eighth located on the site, which has been a place of worship for two thousand years.

Just to the left of St Brides you can just about make out the dome of The Old Bailey - the Central Criminal Court. On top of the dome stands the figure of justice, holding a sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in the other.

Moving to the right we see two examples that typifies changing London - tower cranes.

In the centre stands the jewel of the City, St Paul‘s Cathedral. Built to replace the cathedral destroyed in the Fire of London in 1666; Christopher Wren commenced designing it in 1668 and the construction was completed in 1708. The great dome has witnessed so many state occasions: The wedding of Prince Charles to Diana, the funerals: of Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

The City is the worlds leading international financial and business centre. And the home of Fat Cats. This year £19bn, US$ 37.4bn was paid out as annual bonuses, one individual getting £52 million - obscene?

No I’m not going to rant, today I’m a well behaved Grumpy Old Fart, YesBut!

Lets finish today with another iconic building, the bullet shaped 30 St Mary Axe, affectionately known as the “Gherkin”. The 590ft Swiss Re Tower was designed by Sir Norman Foster, taking three years to construct it was completed in 2004.

I haven’t mentioned The Iconic London structure. I’ll leave that for tomorrow.

In the mean time, I would be interested in hearing what you consider are the top 5~10 iconic images (structure or geographical features) in the World.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

For the blog’s sake.

I’m later than usual writing the blog; I normally do it in the morning - wake up with an idea and send it into cyberspace while it’s nice and fresh.

But today I’ve been doing other things. To be honest I haven’t a clue what I've been doing - it was like walking blindfolded through a dark tunnel with the hope that there was a light at the end - and thank goodness there was, a light that is.

You see books on Computing for Dummies or Blogging for Dummies, well compared to me Dummies are geniuses. I switch on the computer and it makes a noise it shouldn’t or doesn’t make a noise it should and I panic - sweaty hands, racing pulse the lot. So to attempt the task of altering the appearance of the blog was, for me, equivalent to participating in an extreme sport activity. I also decided to try doing something to get my blog noticed by search engines.

Now while I’m three levels below “Dummy”, I’m not stupid, so I decided to seek help. Yesterday I left a message on the Blogger Help Group message-board “I’m so dumb I need a real idiot’s step by step guide”. Fortunately I had replies from Sherrykins and Panther.

Sherrykins she pointed me in the direction of her blog which directed me to a number of informative sites including one produced by Chuck .

Panther listed a number of sites including:

With the help of the information provided, I think, I’ve added a Google sitemap to my blog and the blog URL to Google’s index. Reading that you might think I knew what I was doing - nope - but I followed the instructions. Whether I’ve been successful only Mr Google knows.

I also, and I know I was successful because I can see the result, edited the Template HTML code to allow me to post a photo in the title.

Am I a computer genius or what? Nope

Monday, 26 February 2007

Appropriate language.

I received an adverse comment on my blog “Listen, can you hear them? It’s the French laughing their bollocks-off” they objected to “Up-yours you froggy bastards” and “What a f#cking farce, no wonder the French are chuckling”. Out of context the words might appear offencive, but read the blog and I hope you agree the phrases were appropriate.

What is regarded acceptable or unacceptable language is continually changing, even more so over the last 60 years. Which incidentally is how long this Grumpy Old Fart has been experiencing the joys of life. In Great Britain, as in most countries: print, radio and films were strictly censured. Then along came television.

Regular TV broadcasting started in 1936, but before it could get into its stride along came World War 2. How things have changed, now war is daily brought into our living rooms in all its gory details. But in 1939 the BBC closed down its television service. Television broadcasting started again after the war, in 1946 in the USA. But in those early days it was still the media for the rich. It was not until the early 1950s’ with the start of mass production of TV sets that it became affordable for the masses.

There we sat in front of our 9inch black and white sets. You could buy a magnifying glass to place in front of the screen; it didn’t enlarge the picture but it did effectively distort the image. Oh what exciting days those were - with broadcasts starting at 7p.m.It was thought it would have been too disruptive to broadcast earlier. All broadcasts were live, coming from two studios, the scenery had to be changed between shows. To avoid a blank screen interludes were shown. The image of two films is scared onto my memory. A horse drawn plough endlessly ploughing a field, the other was a potter making a pot - the clay thrown onto the wheel his fingers forming the wet squelche clay. If complicated scenery had to be set-up, the potter’s film was repeated and repeated and repeated. And there we sat, in bored brain-dead expectation “surely the show will start soon”. They had the technology to show films, so why didn’t they schedule short films between shows? They didn’t have to. With only one TV channel we were a captive audience, until ITV burst on the scene in 1955.

Fifty years ago and censorship was strictly applied. Programs were introduced by black-tied dinner jacketed plumb mouthed upper middle class sounding continuity announcers. The women announcers looked as if they were clutching the cheeks of their arse together to prevent a fart escaping. The slightest hint of sex, blasphemy or the mildest of obscenities and the pages of next days newspapers would be screaming outrage. And then there was self-appointed God’s moral guardian on Earth, Mary Whitehouse with her “Clean Up TV” campaigns.

But there was one thing, that now we think totally unacceptable, was in those days common fare on TV - racism. In the 50s’ and 60s’ the Great was vanishing from Great Britain, with the progressive loss of its Empire. “How can those stupid blacks in Africa govern themselves? You must be joking”. Meanwhile back in the UK more and more immigrants were coming from, what was euphemistically called the New Commonwealth, i.e. they were black. The white populace felt threatened. They had to somehow retaliate and so it became perfectly acceptable to make racist jokes. Situation comedy series had to have a black or Indian character who was the butt for the jokes. Inevitably they were servile and not to bright. From the mid 60’s to the 70s’, “Till Death Us Do Part” was the most popular TV comedy. Each week the foul mouthed cockney racist misogynist Alf Garnett ranted his anti-black male chauvinist diatribes, while his lazy layabout scouse son-in-law (played by Anthony Booth). egged him on. Booth? Yes father of Cherie Booth wife of Tony Blair our great and saintly Prime Minister.

By the 1970s Mary Whitehouse had lost the battle for British morals. The end started in 1959 with the passing of the The Obscene Publications Act which allowed publishers to escape conviction if they could show that the work was of literary merit. A year later Penguin tested the law when it published D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, containing not only steamy descriptions of love acts, but shock horror the f#ck and c#nt words - am I a prude or not, using # instead of “u”. Penquin won the case and the floodgates were opened allowing the bookshelves to be filled with profanities.

By the start of the twenty-first century obscenity was as common an occurrence in print and television as it was on the street. Newspapers are the only media, which in the main, have remained a four letter word free zone, except when it is germane to the story being reported.

Finally we come to the newest form of communication, blogs - which with the exception of China and Korea is censorship free. The language used reflects the code of conduct of the blogger. This ranges from the libertarian to the prudish. I hear one of the most popular blogs is posted by a young lady providing detailed accounts of her sexual exploits.

As for me, my blogs do contain f#ck but never a c***- I’m not a prude, more a little boy giggling at seeing a dirty word in print.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Marriage on the rocks?

It was reported this week that the number of people marrying in England and Wales is the lowest since records began in 1896. There are many theories being put forward for this, including women’s growing sense of independence.

Many couples say “we don’t want to go through all the fuss and expense that marriage involves”.

There would appear to be two images of marriage:

  • An act of making a life long commitment to each other.
  • A romantic image of “The Big Day”; the most important day in a girls life, large flowing dress, horse and carriage taking her to a picturesque village church, grand reception with the latest fad a chocolate fountain.

Marriage is the former not the latter. There is no need for a grand ceremony costing thousands of pounds. The average cost of a wedding in the UK is £15,000 (US$29,500). With the spiralling cost of housing, making it difficult for first time buyers to get onto the housing ladder, it would make more sense to put the £15,000 towards the deposit for a house.

Fortunately there is no tradition in my family of large weddings - in deed the contrary. My parents had a minimalist wedding - my father met my mother (for the record I wasn’t to appear on the seen for another three years), at the Registry Office and in the presence of two witnesses got married. Afterwards he went home, and she went back to her home - two months later they told their families that they were married and finally moved in together.

It was similar when I got married; it was done in front of two witnesses - followed by no reception or honeymoon. When my daughter got married she wore a white two piece suite that she could wear on other occasions. There were about twenty people present, the reception was held in her in-laws house, and my wife did the catering - a nice simple affair. After lunch we all went out for a walk.

Why bother to go through a marriage ceremony? People say “in five years time, I don’t want to be tied to someone I no longer love, just because we’re married”. I found marriage to be a support not a constraint. In the first year of every marriage, there are strains imposed on the relationship. You are starting to learn to live together, starting to think about what is good for the both of you, not just what is good for you. It’s easy to think “this isn’t working” and walk away. Marriage makes you think twice. You might say, “If you need the prop of marriage you couldn’t have been in love”. All I can say is I’m more in love now than the day I got married.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Listen, can you hear them? It’s the French laughing their bollocks-off.

How the British gloated back in July 2005, London had stuffed Paris and had won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Up-yours you froggy bastards. But how things have changed. For six months the Government has been squirming and twisting trying to avoid giving a firm estimate of the costs. Next week it is likely to reveal the estimate has risen from the original bid document figure of £2.35bn to £9bn. That’s a rise from US$4.61bn to $17.66bn.

Now there might be some confusion over billion, at one time it was a million million, but thank f#uck in this case it’s a thousand million - so why complain its only £9,000,000,000 it could have been £9,000,000,000,000. Whether it’s a thousand million or a million million the sums involved are beyond imagination.

The London Eye is by far London’s most popular attraction with 3.5 million passengers per year, each paying £14.50. It would take 177 years for it to earn £9bn. The estimated population of the United Kingdom is 60.6 million, which means each woman, man, child would have to make a contribution of £148.50 to pay for the 2012 Olympic Games. No wonder the general public is questioning whether the games are worth the investment. And no wonder the Government is reticent to discuss its cost estimates.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingston is adamant, the inhabitants of London will not finance the cost increases. The Government is equally resolute that it should not pay. So who do the Government want to pay for the Games? The Lottery Fund. They want the Lottery to divert funds it would give to charities to fund the Olympics. You might agree, after all it is a good cause. But wait, lets examine some of the factors that are contributing to the quadrupling of costs.

One of the reasons the original estimate was so wrong was, the Organising Committee were told Value Added Tax (Vat) would not be charged. But it now turns out the Government will be collecting £1bn in Vat. Realise what is happening; as a result of the Government, by requiring the Lottery to pay the excess, will in effect be getting £1bn, (US$1.96bn) that should have been given to charities. So the Government is using the Olympics to impose a stealth tax.

At this stage of a construction project, there should be a fair degree of certainty of the final construction costs. However there are always the unforeseen or things that will not go to plan, so its normal to add a contingency sum, depending upon the degree of uncertainty 20 to 30%. However the Government is insisting on a massive 60% contingency sum. Why? Prudence, given the UK’s appalling record of failing to complete prestige projects on time and within cost. There were a number of embarrassing “Millennium Project” failures: the biggest embarrassment was the Millennium Dome which cost twice the original estimate, and failed to attract visitors. Even the London Eye, which is now a success was plagued by construction problems, resulting in its opening being delayed. The Government are more than conscious of the New Wembley Stadium saga, it should have cost £352 million and been finished early 2006, in fact it will cost £757 million (more than double the original estimate the most expensive stadium ever constructed) and might open this year. So to have a 60% contingency is prudent.

What a f#cking farce, no wonder the French are chuckling.

Friday, 23 February 2007


Look you’ve taken the trouble to visit this web page, so why the anxiety to rush off to another sit?

Stop relax.

Why did you visit this page? What were you expecting to see?
I am interested to know. Please just take a few minutes to leave a comment. Or if you prefer you can type a short note in the box on the left (under Message of the day). Thanks.

If you are a blogger and you have a tracker installed you will know a large proportion of visitors remain for less than 5 seconds. You have gone to all the trouble to write the blog, and they can’t be bothered to devote a minute to read it.

Why do you blog?
Please leave a comment tell me why you blog, a few sentences, I’m really interested to know.

I’ll leave you something to look at while you are thinking about what to write.

Things look different when they are turned through 90°
Things look different when you turn your thinking through 90°

I promise to respond to every comment.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Mumbo-jumbo or psychology?

Is Tarot reading a complete waste of time? Do Tarot readers exploit the naive and superstitious? To answer those questions we must have some understanding of Tarot reading.

A Tarot deck consists of 78 cards, which is divided into 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana.

The Major Arcana are numbered 0 to 21. Number 0 is the Fool, No. 1 the Magician, No. 2 High Priestess. . . through to No.21 the World. Each card has its own meaning, take for example No.13 Death.

People fear seeing the Death card in their reading but the card doesn’t signify an immanent death. It represents: transformation, change (voluntary or involuntary), ending (but with ending a new beginning).

The Minor Arcana are divided into 4 suits: Swords, Wands, Cups and Pentacles. Unlike a conventional deck which has 13 cards per suite, the Tarot deck has 14. There is the normal ace to 10 cards and four picture cards: King, Queen, Page and Knight. The suits are:

SWORDS - represents action, progress - either good or bad, ambition, opposition and strength. They generally indicate there is, or will be a problem which requires action. They can also often indicate health concerns or problems.

WANDS- represent challenge in all its forms. They correspond to the fire element. The appearance of wands in a spread means creativity, progress and growth through negotiation. Wands are generally optimistic cards but do not show the easy route.

CUPS - are associated with anything emotional, from marriage to personal possessions and concerns, which also covers anything related to partnerships, whether in our work or personal context.

PENRACLES - the suit of possessions and financial matters.

What is seen in the cards are trends and possibilities, rather than definite solutions or events. In addition each card is shrouded in ambiguity. Take for example the first Major Arcana card the Fool:

The classic Rider-Waite deck shows a young man standing at the edge of a cliff. The sun is shinning. The Young man looks as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. He is looking upwards and not where he is going. He wears brightly coloured cloths, with a feather in his hat. He has a flower in his left had, while holding a stick in his right which rests on his shoulder, his belongings are wrapped in a cloth tied at the end of the stick. A little dog jumps up at his feet.

What does the card signify? He is standing at the edge of a cliff and his head is turned upwards. Does that mean he isn’t looking where is walking and he is soon going to encounter a disaster? Or has he viewed from the cliff edge the world laying before him, and is now pondering his options before taking the next step? Does the little dog represent a warning, or is the dog a companion equally excited and not looking where it is going? So many ambiguities and options. And that is the secret of Tarot definition.

A good reader just describes the cards, listing the options, and then listens to the subject’s responses. If the Fool is the first card in the first column of a spread, representing the subject past, the subject could see his/her self as a fool or an optimist. Did they in the past walk blindly into disaster or after reviewing options plan a route?

Tarot cards are very sophisticated ink spot diagrams, which are used by psychologists. The cards are just pieces of cardboard they do not possess any magical power, they cannot predict the future. They can however, be used by skilled practitioners, to assist the subject to: gain an insight into their own psychology, their reactions to past events, their desires and fears.

Mumbo-jumbo? Yes when practiced by charlatans and fools.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Tea leaves and the future.

I’m going to continue on the theme of tea. But not to praise the benefits of drinking it, rather looking at the empty cup. Almost from the very start of tea drinking, the leaves left at the bottom of the cup have been used by fortune-tellers. At first sight its ridicules to believe that the dregs at the bottom of the cup can be used to predict the future.

I have never studied tea leaf reading, so I cannot judge whether it is hogwash or has a degree of authenticity. What I can, based on personal experience, discuss is Tarot reading.

I had heard about Tarot cards, but knew nothing about them. Some years ago I became sufficiently intrigued to read books on the subject. The more I read, the more I was drawn into the subject. I finally bought a deck of Tarot cards. I read more books and practiced with various spreads. There are various spreads, number of cards and the way they are laid out. I used a 12 card spread, 3 columns of 4 cards. The first column represents the past, the second the present, the third the future. The four cards in each column represent the subject, the cause, the action and the result. It is important to appreciate the success of a reading depends on building the right ambiance and frame of mind of both the reader and the subject. This can be done by making a ritual of selecting the cards to be read.

When I had sufficient confidence I started to give readings to family members - with some startling results. They told their friends and very soon I was being asked to give readings to total strangers. These readings brought home to me both the power and dangers surrounding Tarot cards. Let me give you two examples:

I knew nothing about the woman who had requested a reading, other than she was originally from Cuba. The reading started with looking at the first column, representing the past, as the reading progressed the woman began to perspire. Within minutes the persperation was pouring out of her, and then she fainted. The reading had revealed events from her past, which were so horrific; she had blotted them out of her memory.

Because of the highly personal facts a reading can reveal, I preferred to give readings on a one to one bases, in the absence of a third person.

One day a young woman asked for a reading, she was accompanied by her husband and her mother. They had been married for less than a year. I suggested to her we should go into another room for the reading, but she insisted her husband and mother should be present. As the reading progressed the husband and mother became more agitated. I suggested the reading should stop, but she insisted it should continue. The reading revealed both events that had occurred in her childhood and her ingrained fears and phobias. I’m pleased to say that following the reading she was able to have an open discussion with her mother, and husband.

That’s enough for today; tomorrow I’ll blog about why I think Tarot readings can, under the appropriate circumstances, work.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Tea and the decline of British Society.

After blogging about tea yesterday, I started to think about the significance of tea in British life. I was wondering if tea drinking statistics can be used as a measure of social behaviour patterns.

In the past tea was attributed with having special powers.

You’ve just been knocked down by a bus and someone would rush up and offer you a cup of tea, “you’ll feel a lot better after drinking that”.

In the Second World War a bomb has just demolished your house, no problem a neighbour would be there to brew up a cuppa for you, “you’ll feel a lot better after drinking that”.

Your doctor has just informed you you have terminal cancer and have six months to live, “no problem dear lets go to the café for a nice hot sweet cup of strong tea, you’ll feel a lot better after drinking that”.

In those days tea was brewed in a teapot using tea leaves.

Britain lost its Empire and the British were no longer worthy of having tea brewed from tea leaves. With the loss of respect they only qualified to have tea bags, made from the sweepings off the floor of the tea factories.

But tea still had a unifying influence on British family life. At 4p.m. children sat around the kitchen table with their mother, drank tea, eat jam on toast and exchanged stories about the day’s events, before doing their homework.

After a meal, the man of the house would take out a packet of fags, (no he didn’t have miniature homosexuals in his pocket), light up a cigarette and drank a dark brown cup of strong sweat tea, (my father would put 5 heaped spoonful of sugar - I would sit and watch as he stirred and stirred the tea in an attempt to dissolve the treacly glob of sugar). I’d wait to see if he would blow a smoke ring. That’s one of the last memories I have of him, the night before he died, sitting watching TV, blowing the most perfectly symmetrical smoke ring, “that was perfect”, “yes” he laughed.

In contrast to the British, the Americans have always been hooked on coffee. They have no appreciation for tea - look at the Boston Tea Party and the barbaric act of emptying boxes of tea into the harbour. The start of the decline of their society can be traced to that point in time. All that caffeine from coffee was bound to have a detrimental effect. They were too stimulated to appreciate the joys of cricket. Probably had an adverse influence of their brain cells.

Regrettably there has been a similar decline in Britain. Up to ten years ago, every town in Britain had at least one “Greasy Spoon”. Cafes whose atmosphere was a combination of steam from the hot water boiler and fat vapour from the deep fat fryer. They would be inhabited by youths listening to the jukebox, housewives dragging at their cigarettes and coughing over their empty cups, the saucers full of ash and lipstick stained cigarette butts. Now those glorious bastions of all that was great in British culinary arts are no more. They have been replaced in the High Streets by Starbucks and other large multinational coffee shop chains. So now the young think it’s hip to sit around drinking over priced extra large cups of frothy milky coffee. In the mean time children drink sweat gassy liquid concoctions from tins.

What has been the result of replacing our great British cuppa, with those insipid chemically modified foreign drinks? Moral decline, New Labour, Tony (I lie through my teeth) Blair and the Iraq War.

Bring back the good old British cup of tea. Let’s have kids sitting around tables communicating with their parents. And most of all re-engender the community spirit which saw neighbours offering cups of tea in times of joy and trouble.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Anyone for Tea?

Never been one for herbal teas - nettle, mint, rose hip - things you feed to rabbits not make tea out of. No, tea is what chimps drink at zoos - don’t expect they have chimp tea parties any more, too none PC.

My wife started drinking Liquorice tea - that took my thoughts back to schoolboy days, short trousers and scuffed knees - chewing liquorice root. But liquorice tea is not for me, even the smell is overpowering.

Then she bought Sweet Chai, blended by Yogi Tea. Thought I’d be adventurous and try a cup. Followed the instructions, let it infuse (nice word that -infuse) for seven minutes added milk and honey. And do you know what, it was really nice. Just a hint of anise, the spice of ginger and clove, and a hardly detectable trace of liquorice. Yes delicious.

Then she bought Choco, also blended by Yogi Tea. Perhaps tea isn’t the right name, when the ingredients are: Cocoa shells, cinnamon, liquorice, carob, barley malt, cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon extract, vanilla extract, black pepper, ginger extract, vanilla beans. Now I confess I like a mug of chocolate before going to bed, so I thought, “go for it!” Am I getting adventurous or what? So now I have a new bedtime drink. Hint - if you try it you must let it infuse (there’s that word again) for the full seven minutes to get the full balanced flavour.

Then she bought Lemon & Ginger. I thought enough is enough; I’m not going to become one of those herbal tea freaks. Drink too much and next thing you know you have long hair, wear beads and sandals and spend the day chanting Om. But then I had a cold. All the fault of that pig of a man who coughed just as I was passing him. Why is it that people no longer cover their mouths when they sneeze or caugh? And as for spitting, where has that habit come from? As a kid I’d have a clip across the ear if I spat on the pavement, but now it appears to be acceptable behaviour. Stop, stop calm down - stick to tea - today isn’t a day for ranting. Where was I? Yes, caught a cold, had a sore throat, my wife nagging “try the Lemon & Ginger tea, it will do you good”. Anything for a quiet life, I made a cup. Just off to buy some sandals and beads - Om, om. It was invigorating and did ease my throat. Though it’s not a tea I would drink on a regular bases.

Ho and I forgot to say yesterday, Happy New Year - it’s the Chinese New Year. 2007 is the Year of the Pig (must be named after the man who coughed on my face) .

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Teeth & St Valentines Day

Monday night just before going to bed, happily brushing my teeth, when a tooth came flying out of my mouth, just managed to grab it before it disappeared down the sink drain. It was the cap from my upper right 3rd tooth. So Tuesday morning I had to go to the dentist to get it stuck back in. The dentist took one look at it and said I needed a new cap. I haven’t had it two years, now I need a new one!!! So the dentist stuck the old one back, it should last a couple of months, while I get a new one.

There are a number of design faults with the human body and teeth heads the list. My six months old granddaughter has just cut her first tooth, so she’s not been in the best of moods for a week. Teeth, painful to get, painful to keep and painful to get rid of - and f#cking expensive.

Wednesday was St Valentines day. St Valentines, the patron saint of wasting money and conmen. You have to prove your love by paying £3 for a piece of cardboard with hearts printed on. Then there’s the cost of posting the card. Then you have to pay £2 for a red rose, which cost less than 50p any other time of the year. Then you have to take your true love out for a meal. On St Valentines day restaurants double their prices. This year I refused to buy into the racket, told my wife we would go out for a meal on another day. Am I a cheapskate or what? No I’m a grumpy old fart and proud of it.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Dreams, ghosts & meditation

You wake at 3.30 in the morning and the events you have experienced in your dream seem so real. The dream was inhabited by characters from your past, people you have not thought about for ten, twenty even thirty years. Yet there they are so real talking to you. They are characters from different stages of your life who have never met, but there they are interacting. It all seems so factual, but it can’t be, the events are too bizarre the location weird. You are awake, you know it was just a dream, yet the feelings induced linger on - fear, hate, love, anger, etc. You lie restlessly in our bed, the ghosts of the dream still inhabiting your mind, finally you fall asleep. You wake four hours later and the ghosts still remain.

People who have experienced traumatic events talk about “it took years for me to come to terms with my memories”. Ghosts of the mind are so real. Whose mind? Your mind. My mind. My mind? I call it my mind, but realise I have as much control over it as I have on the growth of my little toe nail. Buddhist meditation techniques teach methods of observing the mind and through that learning about its true nature. The first thing you learn is you have no control over it.

Take two minutes now to perform a simple exercise. Just concentrate on your breath, watch the in breath and out breath. Just do that for two minutes, don’t think of anything else. Within seconds thoughts will arise, and you realise that you are no longer concentrating on the breath but chasing after your thoughts. Its called Monkey Mind. Like a monkey who cannot sit content on one branch, but jumps from branch to branch; so too the mind cannot remain contentedly focused on one object but jumps from thought to thought.

I call it My mind, yet I have no control over it, it is only my mind because it influences all of my actions. Those ghosts influence me, they cause action or reaction. Even though I know they are unreal, and not based on fact they still influence. Trying to use the mind to control the mind, is as feasible as using your right hand to cut your right hands fingernails.

There is only one way of dealing with mind ghosts, not by control but by observation. Just sitting and watching, avoiding the temptation to react. This is not easy when the ghost shouts do this, and there is a reaction which says no don’t listen its only the ghost shouting. Which is the true voice of My mind? The truth is they are both voices generated in the mind as are the reactions to those voices, and the reactions to those reactions. So do nothing but watch, see the thoughts arise and pass away. The mind is transitory with no substance. As people who have had traumatic experiences state “it takes years to come to terms with memories”. It happens when their energy is used up.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Six Nations Rugby Championship - 2nd Weekend

Today England is playing Italy, and Scotland playing Wales. Tomorrow Ireland is playing France.

The Italians like playing with the sun on their backs, so the cold winter weather of the last four days would not be to their liking. After last weeks game against Scotland, the English supporters were singing the praise of their team. But really the Scots were so weak; no concrete evidence of a recovery can be taken from the game. It will not be until 24th February when they play Ireland that the strength of the English team can be measured. Unless England beat Italy by a margin of over 30 points, it will be seen as a poor performance.

Wales should beat Scotland, but they are still weakened by injuries. After last weeks defeat Scotland will be playing for their pride. Whoever loses today their season will be over, and it will also dent their confidence leading up to the World Cup, to be played later this year.

Tomorrows game is really juice, both Ireland and France have the potential to not only win the Championship but achieve the Grand Slam (winning all their games).They are also the two Northern Hemisphere teams who have the capabilities to challenge, if not New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Ireland have suffered a big blow losing their captain Brian O’Driscoll due to injury. The French like the Italians play their best rugby when they have the sun on their backs. Its finely balanced, hopefully its going to be an open running game.

It's going to be a tense afternoon watching Wales, but first the England vs Italy game.

Did you hear that thump; it was England falling to ground after spending last week in dreamland.

It was as if there was an invisible wall at the Italian 10 metre line through which England could not pass. They had to wait 35 minutes before they got into the Italian 22. Up to that point Wilkinson had kicked penalties at the 3rd, 14th and 24th minute. On the 37th minute Italian forward Marco Portola was sin binned for 10 minutes. In the 39th minute Jason Robinson went over in the corner for a try, which Wilkinson failed to convert, making the half time score England 14 - 0 Italy.

Fifteen minutes into the second half Wilkinson put over another penalty. Virtually all the play in the second half took place in the English half. The Italian pack had full control of the game, and England looked devoid of ideas. Italy got their reward in the 65 minutes with a try under the posts. In the 73rd minute Wilkinson put over his fifth penalty, to make the final score England 20 - 7 Italy.

Two statistics say it all, in the second half Italy had 75% of the possession and territory. Though they won, this was a reality call for England, last week’s performance was a false dawn, in reality they have made little progress since their Autumn Internationals dismal performances.

In the other game of the afternoon Scotland started strong with Wales conceding penalties at the 5th & 18th minute. Wales got a penalty back at the 24th minute to make the score Scotland 6 - 3 Wales. Scotland got a further penalty in the 36th minute, with Stephen Jones putting over a penalty just before half time to make the score Scotland 9 - 6 Wales.

In the second half Wales lost control of their own lineout and Scotland dominated possession. However even when Wales were reduced to fourteen men in the 57th minute with the sin binning of Rhys Thomas Scotland failed to score a try. In the second half Scotland scored 4 penalties to Wales’s one, making the final score Scotland 21 - 9 Wales.

The win will give Scotland confidence for their match against Italy in two weeks, while Wales are left to lick their wounds and pray for inspiration for their visit to Paris.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Would you believe it England have beaten Australia.

Call me a cynical grumpy old fart, but I must ask did England beat Australia or did Australia let them win?

This was the first match of the best of three final. If Australia had won they might have had a reasonable crowd for the second game, but that would have been it. As it is now, the final will go to three matches and almost guaranteed sell out for the next two games.

You might say “Give England credit for the win”, but look at the evidence England were 15 for 3, McGrath dropped the simplest of catches which would have made it 35 for 4 and England would again be Walking Dead.

Or is the answer, if England play Australia enough times then they might win one game.

What is the above all about? Just Cricket.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Dysfunctional Britain

When I heard on the news yesterday that the weather forecast for today was 10cm (4“) of snow in Wales, the Midlands and South East England, I knew what I would be bogging about today. I was right, the first item on today’s news was the chaos caused by the snow: airports closed, schools closed, roads closed, interminable disruption on the railways, on the list goes.

Four inches of snow in most European countries would be regarded as a light shower, but in the UK it brings the country to a grinding holt. In previous years the excuse is “it was totally unexpected”. But no such excuse can be used today, there was adequate warning given yesterday. Lorries should have been out overnight gritting the roads and snow ploughs keeping the roads and railways open but evidently that is too much to expect.

I read with amusement the reaction of people on internet message boards. They report of going to supermarket to find shelves cleared of goods. Yes it’s the normal British reaction, panic buying. The first thing to disappear off the shelves is bread, followed by flour. “We can bake our own bread” - they ignore the fact that they haven’t baking tins, or have forgotten to buy yeast. The flour will be put in the cupboard to join the packets bought the last time we had snow - five years ago. And of course ‘The’ must buy item toilet paper - whatever the crises, you must have an adequate supply of toilet paper. Nuclear wars, hurricanes, floods, epidemics Britain will survive as long as there is a supply of toilet paper.

Why is it that this country can not cope with anything but mild weather? In the summer, if the temperature goes above 80ºF / 26Cº railway tracks buckle and the rail service comes to a grinding holt. A ban is imposed on watering gardens as there is a “drought” and we are likely to run out of water.

On first sight Britain looks a reasonably well governed and managed country, but it only takes 4” of snow to reveal the true level of incompetence which exists in all branches and at all levels of government.

The British army is sent to war with an inadequate supply of body armour and the wrong type of troop carries. There aren’t dedicated hospitals to treat injured soldiers. While the soldiers are away fighting, their families are housed in substandard housing.

The National Health Service would be a joke, except the inefficiency and incompetence results in patients suffering and premature death. Last week my wife was due to undergo Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), fortunately the doctor due to perform the procedure reviewed her records. “Why is this patient having ERCP?” There in the records was clear evidence that the procedure was unnecessary. But the doctor who ordered the procedure wasn’t to blame; at the time, the relevant information was missing from the file. So because of a missing piece of paper, my wife could have suffered the pain and discomfort of undergoing ERCP tests and exposed herself to the associated risks.

Every week for nearly a year, reports appear in the news of yet another mind boggling example of incompetence in the Home Office which is responsible for the police, prison, customs, immigration, etc services. Last week judges couldn’t give jail sentences to people found guilty of crimes because all the prisons were full.

We look critically at “Third World Countries” and deride their shortcomings at not being able to provide clean drinking water or a reliable electricity supply, but in reality Britain is just as much an Underdeveloped Country.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Short term objectives, long-term consequences.

Last week eight men were arrested in Birmingham in early morning raids. A ninth was arrested later in the day. It immerged the police had information of a plot to kidnap a Muslim British soldier and to film his beheading.

Almost immediately members of the community where the arrested live were publicly voicing their incredulity of the arrest of hardworking shopkeepers who were not devote Muslims. Three days after the arrest it became known that those arrested were still waiting to be questioned.

Today, two of those arrested were released without charge. They said they were never questioned about a plot to kidnap a soldier. Their solicitor said both men had met with “consistent refusal” of an explanation of their arrest.

The police and security services have a difficult job to do. If a bomb goes off on the British mainland, questions are immediately asked “why was this allowed to happen?”. They quite correctly say they can stop thirty plots but it only takes one plot to pass under their radar for innocent people to be killed and for them to be blamed.

Unfortunately it only takes one innocent Muslim to be arrested and held for five days without an explanation, why he was arrested, for people in his community to be alienated. There is a fight for the hearts and minds of the young vulnerable Muslims. On one side there are the radical Muslim clerics on the other there should be the voice of reason. Unfortunately the voice of reason is missing. It is not being provided by the moderates within the Muslim community, and unfortunately the governments handling of the whole affair has been inept.

The Government preaches rather than communicates. And the action of the police, rightly or wrongly, is seen as being at best heavy handed at worst they are deliberately targeting Muslims. Today’s statement by the police “Balancing the safety of the public against the rights of the seven men in custody remained their priority”, does not help and is naively short-sighted. Police action is perceived to run roughshod over the rights of individuals. If as is stated in the press the target of the kidnap plot was known, protection could have been provided to him, until the true perpetrators were identified, avoiding the arrest of innocent men.

Unfortunately the government and its security services are doing more long-term damage than any terrorist group. They are alienating a sector of society. As with any moderate group the silent majority within the Muslim community cannot be expected to take action against radicals within their community. Ultimately affairs will take their natural course, with actions and reactions. All that can be done is to insure the security and police services do nothing to aggravate the situation.

If you want to see the future, look at today. In the past the police was a racist organisation. In 1999 the report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence labelled London’s police force “institutionally racist”. It will take years for the police to earn the trust of the black community. Similar lasting damage is occurring in the Muslim community.

The police must be seen to be working with and not against communities. This starts with the way policemen on the beat perform their duty and more so the way special operations are undertaken - sensitivity is required in the way they are performed and the statements made for the reasons for those special operations. Regrettably in an endeavour to give confidence to the general public, that the police have the situation under control, they give the impression of being too gung-ho.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Wales vs. Ireland

Wales own Barbie Doll Katherine Jenkins set the scene with her rendition of the Welsh National Anthem. But within 45 seconds of the start of the game Welsh feet were brought back to ground with an Irish try. Given such a start in previous seasons the Welsh spirit might have dropped. But not with this team. The forwards in particular put on a demonstration of fast movement and ball handling which was rewarded by three penalties. Even though Wales dominated the play the Irish backs always looked that they had the potential to break through the Welsh defence. This came in the 32nd minute with a try in the corner by O’Driscoll, converted by O’Gara. The score remained at Wales 9 - 12 Ireland at half time.

Within two minutes of the start of the second half Czekaj following a grubber kick was tackled without the ball. Surely a penalty try or at least a penalty, but the referee inexplicably gave a scrum in Ireland’s favour. There then followed an exhibition of rugby which was a showcase for the sport. Wales did everything but score. But as in the first half, the threat of an Irish breakthrough was always present, and true to form in the 71st minute O’Gara scored a try in the corner which he converted. Despite all Welsh efforts the score remained Wales 9 - 19 Ireland.

As Welsh supporter I can honestly say I am not disappointed by the Welsh effort. The pack played their hearts out, Peel once again demonstrated he is the No1 Inside Half in the World. The only question mark is against Stephen Jones the Welsh Captain - can he retain the Outside Half slot, is he capable of making the breaks necessary to unleash the Welsh backs? The fact he is the Captain might be the only reason he retains his place.

If Ireland keep their heads they can go on to win the Triple Crown and possibly the Grand Slam.

Next weekend its:

England vs. Italy
Scotland vs. Wales
Ireland vs. France

Me and my big mouth.

There’s a terrible chill around here - nothing to do with the temperature outside. It’s accompanied by a deathly silence. I’m afraid it’s entirely my own fault.

Being a Welsh supporter I just hate it when the England Rugby team does well. It’s even worst when I have to view it in the presence of an England supporter. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t control myself and accused my wife of being a traitor supporting England. Married to a Welshman she should be a loyal Wales supporter. She stormed out of the room.

This morning I found she has removed the plug from the TV to prevent me seeing the Wales vs. Ireland match. Now I know what you are thinking, why not replace the plug? When my wife removes the plug, its more than an action, it’s a statement “Don’t even think of watching the game”. In the past I have beaten the ban by standing on the bed and using binoculars to watch the TV in the pub across the road. But she’s hidden the binoculars.

I guess there is only one answer; I have to grovel and eat heaps of humble pie, plus the offering of a large bribe.

Better go and perform an act of atonement.


Negotiated a truce with my wife. I hoped I would have the staying power to perform the reparations she demanded.

But then I had a flash of inspiration. She cooked stew for lunch. While her back was turned I put a handful of salt in the pot. She was so embarrassed at putting in too much salt and I was so very very sympathetic that I was immediately forgiven for yesterday’s faux pas

So lets switch on the TV to see, I hope, Wales win their first game of the 2007 RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

2007 RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship

So its here at last the first weekend of the 2007 RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship. The sun is shining and there are the usual mixed feelings of expectations, dread, anxiety and excitement. For the 2 ~ 3 hour period the rest of the World will not exist and all attention will be fixed on the ritual leading up to the game, the game and finally the post match analyses - excuses, praising, looking forward to the next match.

One of the lead items on today’s news bulletins is the indefinite suspension of all football matches in Italy, following the killing of a policeman at a match between two Sicilian teams. Hooliganism has been the curse of the sport for decades. How different from rugby. While punches might be thrown, the odd ear bitten or testacies squeezed on the rugby field, each teams supporters will coexist in harmony. Unlike football, there is no segregation of supporters, they commingle, drinking, singing, and teasing each other in the common joy of being present at the game.

Supporters will plan for months, their trips made every two years to Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Paris, Rome and Twickenham. Each venue having its own very distinct characteristic. Once experienced never to be forgotten the singing at the Millennium Stadium Cardiff - worth a 7 point start to the Welsh team. The Sunshine of Rome. The Welcome of Dublin. The colour and camaraderie of Edinburgh. The brass bands and flying chickens of Paris. The impregnable citadel that is Twickenham.

Last minute flights, buses on motorways, special trains all heading to three locations for the first three games. Today:

England vs. Scotland
Italy vs. France

And tomorrow Wales vs. Ireland.

While winning the championship is the objective, there are a number of subplots. Today England and Scotland will be playing for the Calcutta Cup donated in 1879 by expatriates serving in India. The Home Nations will be aiming to win the Triple Crown, beating the other three countries, and then there is the ultimate Grand Slam, winning all five games. This year there is the added interest of the World Cup to be played in September and October; the Six Nations Championship will be an indication of how well prepared each team is to take on the awesome might of New Zealand.

So much for looking forward. The time has come to put the computer into hibernation, switch on the TV and watch the first game Italy vs. France. Will Italy be able to continue the improvements made each game? Will France be able to recover from a very disappointing show against New Zealand in the autumn?

Italy could have taken an early lead but missed two penalties. France dominated the scrums and lineouts but Italy put up a strong defence until France scored a breakaway try. Italy nearly countered with a try, but a forward tried to score himself rather than pass the ball out to two waiting Italian backs. Following another try for France and penalty for Italy, the score would have been 17 - 3 to France at half time but for a further French try exactly on the 40 minute, giving a half time score of 22 - 3.

Within five minutes of the start of the second half France scored their fourth try. There followed a further try and penalty. The final ten minutes of the game saw Italy make slug like progress from the halfway line, but the French defence was more than adequate to hold the unimaginative Italian attack.

The French dominated the game but with Italy being so disappointing it was difficult to judge how good the French were. The final score was Italy 3 - France 39.

In front of an 82,000 crowd at Twickenham, after ten minutes play England opened the score with a penalty. Scotland came back with a penalty before Jonny Wilkinson put over a drop goal. After a period of probing kicks by Parks, Scotland scored off an England lineout. With the score 6 -10 in Scotland’s favour, the try should have given impetus to Scotland, however England came back with two penalties. In the 36th minute Jason Robinson crossed over in the corner for a try, giving a half time score England 17 Scotland 10.

Two minutes into the second half Scotland scored a penalty. This was followed by two penalties by England - which highlighted the danger of giving away penalties in your own half when Jonny Wilkinson has his kicking boots on. Jason Robison was then gifted a second try making the score England 30 - Scotland 13. In the 66th minute Harry Ellis made a spectacular break passing the ball to Wilkinson - the try was given even though the action replay showed that his right foot was in touch. A further English try followed before Wilkinson was substituted in the 73rd minute. After being out of international rugby since 2003 and having only played 40 minutes of first class rugby Wilkinson’s return was beyond anybodies wildest dreams. Scotland scored a consolation try in the 77th minute to make the final score England 42 - Scotland 20.

While the English performance was a vast improvement on their autumn efforts, it was mainly due to a strong pack providing a platform for Wilkinson’s boot and inspirational play.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Internet Message Boards

What is it about BBC message boards that make people want to return to them, day after day. Even boards that do not cover subjects of interest have a particular allure.

Close knit communities develop around some Boards; strangers post there at their peril. It’s the equivalent of the deathly silence that envelopes a bar when a stranger walks in. Yet back they go to see what the conversation is about. No, actually that isn’t correct. In most cases there isn’t a conversation. Most of the posters are in transmit mode with the received function inhibited. There is no exchange of views, its individuals trying to prove how clever they are, or bitter and twisted middle aged men trying to get rid of their angst. Then there are the bored housewives seeking attention, much safer seeking solace on the internet than being screwed by the milkman - not that there are many milkmen left.

That’s another thing supermarkets can be blamed for. Selling milk at such a low price not only drives farmers to the point of bankruptcy, but has put hundreds of dairies out of business. There must be thousands of British housewives sexually frustrated as the result of the closure of dairies - no milkmen to flirt with of the front door step. So in the absence of milkmen housewives turn to the internet for their titillation, cheeky conversation.

Then there are the board secretaries in their office, looking blankly at their computer screen, feeling very adventurous if they post on a board. With luck they can strike-up a dialogue with a lonely gay window dresser, all perfectly innocent - just “girl” talk.

Specialist Boards, particularly Religious or New Age - attract the self appointed Gurus, who pontificate to their imagined devotees. The only entertainment provided by these Boards occurs when there is a clash of Gurus. Then religious piety is thrown out of the window, replaced by venomous abuse.

How the human race has changed, from hunter gatherers working collectively as a tribe, to lonely individuals with only a computer keyboard for company.