Friday, April 21, 2017

Election 2017: The one we did not see coming

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, had an announcement to make before the press in Downing Street earlier this week. Nobody knew what was intended. Her decision to ask for a dissolution of Parliament and to hold a General Election in early June was a genuine surprise.

This an election that feels wrong. The Parliament of 2015 is sufficiently fresh to be representative; the one-off Referendum on EU membership notwithstanding. May seems to be determined to remake the Conservative Party in her own image rather than to care much about what is right for the country.

I suppose I had better keep an eye on things though I have an uneasy feeling that after all the soundbites, the pointless TV coverage of politicians visiting factories and shops, schools and hospitals, the sloganising and the desperate search by the media for the story of the day, we will be left with a Parliament pretty similar to the one we have now.

We do know that it will no longer be graced by George Osborne, one-time Chancellor, who is retiring (for the moment) nor by one N. Farage, who has decided not to undergo the humiliation of another trouncing at the polls and is not going to stand. And that is about all we do know at present.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

There's gold in them thar pianos

The news story was fascinating enough - a hoard of some 913 gold sovereigns packed inside a piano, discovered many years later by a tuner and subsequently declared as Treasure (and therefore Crown property, albeit a reward will go to the honest folk who declared it).

But the bit that grips is surely the wonderful dead-pan statement buried in the report

The inquest heard 50 people came forward laying claim to the hoard, but coroner John Ellery ruled their true owner remained unknown.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking ...?

I take up my pen in this year of Our Lord 20--. T'was in the spring, just as the daffodils were a-dying back and the new lambs gambolling in the meadows that the piano tuning man came to stay at my father's inn. Times were hard and we never turned away a customer, not even a musician. He hoisted his great black tuner's bag on the counter and requested lodging.
"Show him to the best room" said my father and I beckoned the old man to follow. Once in the room he grasped my wrist
"I bain't got much time, younker. See here, I knows where there's gold, gold a-plenty, but I'm too old and infirm to go find it. I need a bright young lad to seek it out and I'll give 'ee a full tenth of all that ye bring back"

I was much amazed at his talk but said nothing. He reached into his bag and pulled out a gleaming tuning fork which he pointed at my heart.

"Swear to be true and not to cross me or this will sing to you and no mistake". I had no wish to have the fork pinged against my ear and did as he bade. He relaxed then and unfolded a grimy newssheet. "Now then" he said "This is where it is. Stuck down the back of this here piano over in Shropshire. If you goes there and says it was you what put it there, why they'll give it thee, and you bring it back here to me." 

"But sir" I ventured "Why should they believe me? This says the gold is many old coins, which surely someone of my age would never possess"
"I'll tell 'ee the way of it. You shall don this here piano-tuner's hat and this here piano-tuner's cloak and shall walk with a stoop and a quaver in your voice, and hold your tuning fork like this, and say you hid the gold many years ago for fear of foreign invasion."

His plan seemed fairly sound and so it was that I set forth on the quest of the golden treasure of Shropshire. But how I fared is a story for another day... 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting Knotted

I thought this was a belated April Fool story but it seems to be genuine. A scientific study on why shoelaces come undone, even though they have been carefully done up, shows that this is a natural result of the impact of shoes on the ground when walking and the forces operating on the laces as they move about.

Now I have long held this to be the case and not, as Mrs C is wont to insist, on my inability to tie them correctly in the first place. Henceforth I shall be proud to consider myself as adding to science when, no more than a few paces into a stroll down the road, one of my shoes works loose. Any researchers looking for a volunteer to assist in further studies (assuming that expenses are paid and luncheon vouchers provided, naturally) are welcome to get in contact.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Car spotting time

As seen in my local supermarket (in Ruislip, of course)

I must confess to feeling a tad envious of this one.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The End of the Affair

Today the British people abandoned the cause of European developement aimed at preventing centuries of hostile and competing nation states leading to militiarism turned its back on an outdated institution and regained its freedom.

We will continue to trade freely with the EU with full controls over our borders we haven't the faintest idea of whom our trading partners may be and whether we will be able to exert any more control than in the past

The interests of British nationals elsewhere in the EU will be fully respected under the new arrangements and millions of workers and pensioners need not fear that their rights to remain, work and receive health care will be in any way jeopardised We have no idea what will happen to them or to UK institutions and businesses that employ EU citizens or which are interlocked with the EU institutions.

We will retreat into being a closed and xenophobic society in which foreigners can be freely blamed for everything, just as they are in Trump's USA we will continue to uphold traditional British values of liberty and tolerance, just not quite as libertarian and tolerant as before

If the eastern frontiers of Europe crumble under Russian aggression, lack of investment and a renewed vicious nationalism, and slide into Balkans style conflicts with barbed wire frontiers and deportations, it's nothing to do with us. We could have promoted British values in Europe. Now we can only fulminate on the sidelines

The UK will continue to be a United Kingdom with the whole-hearted consent of all of its citizens Bye Bye Scotland, all the best

Friday, March 24, 2017

A man, a van and a pasty

A couple of years ago I considered the question "What makes a restaurant"; specifically, when is an eating establishment a restaurant rather than a cafe or a snack bar? I did not extend my research sufficiently far. For, whilst idly browsing on Tripadvisor for places on a forthcoming trip to Cornwall, the following caught my eye (and now it has caught yours, and it is fascinating, is it not?).

What grips the imagination is not just that a mobile van, selling only pasties and related products in a deserted car park in the middle of nowhere, can be ranked as a restaurant (or indeed that people have bothered to write reviews about it) but that it is 8th out of 20! There are twelve more eating places in this small town on the eastern fringes of Cornwall that are ranked below it. Is your mind boggling yet?

This establishment, which I admit does have some admiring reviews from local pasty-lovers, has the usual rankings

Since the only food offered appears to be pasties and similar filled snacks, they are presumably being rated compared to other pasty stalls, rather than, say, the 2 AA rosette establishment in town that is number 1 in the rankings. Fair enough. I wonder how you rate the service of a self-service snack bar?  Something like this, perhaps?

  • We walked up to the van and the man served us. Rating - 100%
  • We had to queue for a minute but then the man served us - Rating 100%
  • We asked for a hot pasty and he took one from the heated cabinet and gave it to us - Rating 100%
  • We had a choice of hot or cold pasty. Our server was very helpful in explaining that one would be hotter than the other and he recommended the local speciality, a half and half (one of each). This is the sort of attention to detail that you only get in top-end restaurants - Rating 100%
 Value presumably extends to comparing the prices against other pasties. But what do we make of atmosphere? Rated very highly by those in the know, so it must be on these lines:

  • The cigarette ends blowing around our feet as we stood in a puddle added a delightful touch of impertinence - Rating 100%
  • I enjoyed being sprayed with mud as one of the local youth hurtled by on a motorbike - Rating 100%
  • The fragrance of diesel emissions from passing tractors, far from clashing with the gravy oozing from the base of my pasty, reminded us of central Paris - Rating 100%
  • My companion was entranced to find a spray of flaky pastry from her sausage roll sticking playfully to her clothing - Rating 100%
  • Such fun for our kids to be able to run back and forth across the road whilst waiting for their food. We have no such facilities in Leeds - Rating 100%

To keep the boggling process going, here is a little snippet on the TA site for reviewers to consider
Typical questions asked:
  • Do you have gluten-free options?
  • Is there a dress code?
  • Do you allow dogs on the outdoor patio
I can imagine the inspector from TA (if there were such a person) brushing away a few last crumbs and striding confidently up to the man behind the counter.
"Good morning"
"Morning to you sir"
"May I enquire if your pasties, made as they are with the finest flour, are gluten free?"
"Aaar...mebbe. Mebbe not. There's them as knows and there's them as don'ts know"
"I see. Am I in breach of the dress code?"
"You're an outsider and we don't normally have truck with strangers and their strange ways. You're not a Revenue Man are ye? They don't last long round these parts"
"Umm,  might I let my dogs out on your patio?"
"Dunno. Are they from Devon? If so, they stays put"

Good luck with that report then.

** Update April 20th
Mrs C and I had a very pleasant week in Cornwall and, almost by chance, drove past the very site where Helluva Pasties does its trade. It is not really in a deserted car park in the middle of nowhere but located in a deserted car park adjacent to the main road between Callington and Saltash, and it was closed on the couple of times that we passed by. So I can make no further comment on the subject.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Exclusive: We did not spy on Trump

Ramblings  wishes to retract the story published recently that appeared to suggest that in some remote way this organisation may have been associated with a surveillance attempt on The World's Most Popular Man©. This allegation was wholly made up and pretend. However, as keen followers of TWMPM, we shall not be issuing any form of apology or explanation, other than the above. In fact, we shall go further. The story was undoubtedly created by our enemies, probably the so-called blog Investigations of a Itinerate Ickenhamite and nothing to do with us whatsoever. So there is nothing to apologise for and we demand an apology, and substantial compensation, instead.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Exclusive: We spied on Trump

Undisclosed sources, speaking anonymously to unidentified reporters within the Ramblings organisation have indicated the possibility, under certain extreme circumstances, that someone might, at some time or other, have asked someone else (nobody is saying who but their name might start with a 'D'. or 'K'. Or another letter) to look into the options of finding out whether it might be feasible, given a fair wind and a decent start, to review the contingencies contingent upon an investigation into the likelihood of finding out whether so-called President D Trump is actually a real president or just someone who gets photographed in the White House a lot.

This shocking disclosure has shocked everyone who has read and believed it and proves beyond doubt that if you say anything at all - no matter what - some dumb American is going to believe it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dream a Little Dream

In an "exclusive", the Daily Mirror (a news site I have hitherto overlooked, and how wrong I was) features a story that Paul Burrell, one-time butler to Princess Diana, receives regular messages from her in his dreams. Burrell, who has claimed to be the Queen's right hand man (move over, Prince Philip) and who somehow found a considerable amount of Diana's possessions in his attic after her death, (and how they got there nobody knows), may think that being the recipient of the thoughts of an ex-Royal makes him special.

I've got news for you, buster. I regularly have deep and meaningful conversations in my dreams with
  • Jesus
  • Buddha
  • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (three at once, cuts down the cost)
  • Kaiser Wilhelm I (such a nice man and not at all stuck up)
  • Napoleon (and nephew)
  • Fred Flintstone
  • The man who put shot the arrow into Harold's eye at the battle of Hastings
  • His wife, who knitted him his woolly hat
  • The Tooth Fairy
  • The Dandruff Pixie
  • The Itch-in-the-left-leg Gnome
  • Shergar (via an interpreter)
  • Lord Lucan (the Crimean war one, not the one who legged it)
  • The bloke who used to sell jellied eels at the corner of Commercial Road and Aldgate in 1921
  • Two women I don't know very well called Vera
  • All attendees at the football match between Newcastle and Leeds, December 1897
  • Several people who were going to the match but got held up due to extensive delays on the Newcastle to Leeds railway
  • The bloke who had a regular newspaper column bemoaning the constant delays and poor service on the Newcastle to Leeds Railway, and several of his readers

and so on.

Newspaper editors: All exclusive rights to this sensational story, plus loads of others I will happily make up report, can be yours. Apply to the address below enclosing SAE

Lies and yet more lies department
Fantasy House
Easy money for sod all Avenue
Gullible, Berks

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Avoiding the Loops

If you use Google then you may be aware of its social media arm, Google+.  Although I take not the slightest interest in it, it insists of sending me little snippets of information from time to time, no doubt in the desperate hope of luring me in so I will switch my vast army of followers away from other similar offerings. Now you might think: this is the mighty Google, it knows all about my browsing habits, it knows where I live, it might even know my inside leg measurement, my taste in toothpaste and the number of goldfish out on the estate [pond out at the back: Ed] that have survived yet another winter of dark and freeze (all of them, as far as I can tell). And so, as you continue to ponder, assuming that by now you have not dashed off to something more interesting - and who can blame you?-  then you might assume that the snippets would be fascinating and topical, based squarely on the things that I want to know about and relevant to my fast-moving, contemporary lifestyle. Alright, you might not assume that because you may well know far more about the algorithms used to match snippets with lifestyles than I do but for the sake of argument let us assume that you would. In which case, wrap a few braincells around this nugget which popped up when I rashly clicked on the notifications button that told me there was something new waiting.

India huh? Bully for them. I admire the way the country is progressing and wish them well but see no reason why such a story should be pushed to me in preference to the myriad of other news items that are available. I have never been to India and have no plans to go, and fond as I am of the offerings of my local curry house, it is a Bangladeshi establishment.

What on earth is a hyperloop system? I mean, I know I write about IT matters now and then and transport matters (from a commuterial viewpoint) quite often, but this one has me stumped. Is it a theme park? Is it a giant shopping centre with a parking system designed by Ikea where you go round and round for hours looking for the way out until in utter despair you buy the first thing you see? Or is just, you know, an ordinary loop but a really slick ad agency has zooshed up the image to give it that "hyper" look so sought after by us urban trend-setters?

But it doesn't really matter a toss. Whatever it is, it's not going to be ready for at least three years and the cunning use of "could" means the whole thing may no more than a design on the back of an envelope already lodged in a bulging waste-bin on its way to the East Kolkata Municipal Garbage Works.

You might, I suppose, be thinking 'Why doesn't he just click on the link, which is, after all, recommended, and learn more, to his possible advantage?' There is a very good reason for my inert mouse-clicking finger. One touch and and a whole row of flashing lights will be twinkling on the servers at Google HQ. "Got him" they will be saying (in computer-speak), "He likes India, he wants to know more hyperloops and he cares about things which may or may not happen in the next few years". Every frivolous news item about anything happening east of Suez, however loopy, will be coming my way. I do not wish this to happen. The link will remain unsullied and I will continue to have not the faintest idea why a hyperloop in India, which may or may not ever get built, is of such concern.

Readers - do you have your own hilarious Google sent me a irrelevant notification story? Send them in to the usual address and you could win £££.

Terms and Conditions apply. By £££ we mean any amount between £0 and £2. The use of the word 'could' has been approved by the Advertising Standards Authority and Google+. The Editor is having a tea break but his decision will be final if he ever gets around to making one, which, quite frankly, could take a long time. Don't wait up.

Monday, February 27, 2017

And the Winning Picture is? Er, 'old on a mo, I had it somewhere...

I mused a while back about what would really go on behind the scenes when auditors were called in to investigate affairs at the Vatican. I thought that was the end of that particular story but somehow it has struggled back to life, albeit in a very different setting. For last night, at the Oscar ceremonies in LA the stars were not the actors, directors or best boys (whatever they are) but the accountants, from the rather large firm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers who somehow managed, in the finest traditions of Laurel and Hardy, to mix up the results for Best Picture. After the entire cast and crew of La La Land had made their tearful acceptance speeches and the rest were tearing up their invitations in disgust and preparing to leave, an amazing volte face from the beancounters behind the scenes resulted in Moonlight receiving this most prestigious of movie awards instead (cue fresh round of tearful acceptance speeches, I hope the supply of paper hankies lasted out).

Producers will be at their desks (or beside their pools) this morning, barking out instructions to get the exclusives on this sensational story which is certain to be the winning picture at next year's Oscars. I see Tom Cruise as thrusting young ambitious accountant Jim Price, with Meryl Streep as the wiser and more mature Eleanor Waterhouse who teaches him all she knows about how to count ballot papers whilst Julia Roberts plays the shy but brilliant computer expert Alice Alison Cooper whose bubbly and kooky personality so distracts Cruise that the whole count is nearly jeopardised - but there's a twist! (which I haven't actually thought of yet but give me time).

Here's a sample of my award-winning* screenplay.

Interior. Night. An office overlooking the glittering lights of LA. Price is hunched over a thick file of papers.

Price: Papers, papers, nothing but goddam ballot papers. God, I hate the accountancy business but I have to make it, I just have to.

Cooper steals up behind, puts hand on his shoulder

Cooper: Take it easy Jim. You know you can do it. I've been working on a brilliant new program to add up the papers but it needs your touch to make it work.

Price: I thought accountancy was all glamour and going to the Vatican to audit Cardinals. I never knew it was so tough

Cooper: You gotta believe Jim. 

Waterhouse prowls in looking mean.

Waterhouse: Are those papers counted yet, Jim? The Academy is waiting you know.

Cooper: He's so close Miss Waterhouse, so close. You don't know the pressure he's under.

Waterhouse: You think I never counted ballot papers? I've checked them with bullets flying overhead, I've checked them even though my parents were both dying of starvation, even when all the townsfolk begged me to stay to see off the bad guys, even when the asteroid was about to collide and I was the only person who could stop it. I've struggled against oppression and hatred to get papers checked. [music swells] I'm an accountant and I check papers, it's what I do. And before this night is out, Jim Price, you'll be doing it too!

Price: I will! I will count them.

Waterhouse: And here's how we make sure we get the right result, Jim. You put the winner into this envelope - marked 1 for coming first. You put the loser into this envelope - marked l for loser. Got it?

Cooper: It's so simple, it's beautiful. What could possibly go wrong?

Fade out.

* its only a matter of time

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Yahoo wakes up

A week, as Harold Wilson once observed, is a long time in politics. In the frenetic, always-on world of IT it is a vast amount of time. Imagine then my interest, if that is the right word, in an email that arrived this morning from Yahoo informing me that there may have been a breach of data security affecting my account in 2015 or 2016.  For I wrote about a very similar data breach some five months ago and took such steps as I deemed necessary to ensure the integrity of my personal data (almost none at all because I don't use Yahoo for anything personal). And now they have finally got around to informing me of another identical issue and apparently I am supposed to do something about it. Jolly decent of them or a flagrant contempt for their users and their security? [You don't want this to be an online poll, do you? It's tricky to set these things up, you know: Ed]

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Wrath of Doris

Storm Doris struck the UK with full force today and beautiful Ruislip was not spared, as this shocking picture of the devastation shows.

As usual, absolutely no sign of any Government assistance. We're on our own with this one but we shall emerge stronger and more resolute, I give you my pledge.

Update a few days later: I suppose I had better record that Doris had a nasty sting in her tail. We discovered substantial damage to a flat roof over an extension to our house, fortunately no major problems inside, but requiring a rebuild.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Met Throws A Wobbly

The Metropolitan Line was not on good form today. Two weeks ago there was a long gap in the service into town, exactly matching the time I wished to travel and they only bothered to tell people on the platform at Ruislip Manor after I had pressed the button on the Information panel to speak to a member of staff. Today exactly the same thing - nothing ran into London for some 20 minutes, nothing showed on the platform electronic displays or on my phone app that shows a much wider range of movements, not even to show trains ready at the terminus, Uxbridge; but this time nobody bothered either to answer the information panel (which broadcast the sound of a ringing phone for very long time; whether this a real phone or just a sort of placebo sound effect to calm irritated passengers I cannot tell) or make any announcements. And exactly as last time, on arrival at Harrow-on-the-Hill our train was promoted to be a "fast", saving some of that precious time lost hanging around the platform for me but making the journeys of anyone hoping to stop off before Finchley Road even longer.

Ah well, the problem would be bound to be fixed five hour later on my return, eh? Wrong. There was no now service between Baker St. and Aldgate; fortunately trains were running north but were packed about as full as could be. Today I broke my journey at Preston Road to visit a newly home-from-hospital Mother-in-Law [That's a lot of hyphens, they don't grow on trees you know: Ed] but kept an eye on the trains to make sure of the final leg. And just as well that we left when we did for not long afterwards this was the joyful news:

The various reasons for today's pleasantries were given as signal failure at Finchley Road, security alert at Moorgate and finally the absence of control staff. Yeah, maybe they were trying to commute in via the Met and gave up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Who Ate All The Pies?

This familiar chant from the football terraces was gloriously realised last night in South London, where Sutton United went down 2-0 against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Step forward and take a bow (or bend a little from the neck anyway, not sure if the waistline can take a fullscale bow), the goalkeeping coach (and one of the substitutes) Wayne Shaw. Unable to hold out until full time and secure in the knowledge that he would not need to take to the field, Shaw was captured on a primetime BBC broadcast upholding all the values of the plucky non-league team he represents.

Sutton gained promotion last year from the league that the team I support, Wealdstone, play in and they were very impressive then. They put up a battling performance last night and can be proud of it. But alas, I fear that they will be remembered for feats of gastronomy rather than goalscoring for a long time to come.

It transpires Mr Shaw ate the pie deliberately as some sort of betting / publicity stunt and has been fired from his position at the club. Hmmm - one-off pie or continuing involvement with semi-pro soccer at a leading club? Tough call. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Telling It Like It Isn't

There is no need for satirists today; merely check the daily headlines and the stories just write themselves. Here, in a nutshell, is the short diplomatic career of the National Security Advisor to the President of the USA.

"Did you have contacts with the Russians before your appointment?
"But did you"
"I certainly did not"
"I think you did"
"Didn't, didn't, didn't."
"It seems like you definitely did"
"Well that's where you're so wrong because I didn't"
"We have pretty good information that you did"
"You weren't there and I was; er, not that I was there, but if I had been there then I would have known a lot more about it than you"
"Go on, admit it you did though"
"Absolutely not. I deny that completely. It was another boy somebody else my evil twin brother, look it wasn't me, I was miles away at the time doing my homework at my office." 
"But it was you and we can prove it, can't we?"
"Umm - its not fair, they made me, I didn't mean to."
"That's not good enough. Did you have contacts?"
"Umm. yes"
"I can't hear you"
"Yes, yes I did"
"So why did you tell everyone you didn't"
"I inadvertently gave the wrong information. AND IT WASN'T MY FAULT, OK"
"No need to shout. Now go away, hand in your monitor's badge and don't do it again"

Yup. To inadvertently give the wrong information is totally different from lying, even when you have been asked the same question many times on many different occasions. It's one step closer to admitting culpability than 'being economical with the truth', I suppose.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Khan: Defeat by the Mamelukes "Fake News"

from our special correspondent, still in Karakorum, but getting quite keen to come home

As reports continued to arrive from the front line in the Syrian desert of a massive defeat for the armies of the Golden Horde, inflicted by the Mamelukes of Egypt, newly-elected President Genghis Khan went on the offensive. Speaking to a selected group of shepherds, Khan invoked the wrath of the gods on those who disseminated untrue reports. The main part of his speech, based on the comments of his audience afterwards, appeared to be as follows: "Fake news, bad, not real, we won really, it's not fair, they cheated, they attacked when the sun was in our lads' eyes, we fought fair but they hit us when we weren't looking, everyone knows the Mongols are the greatest fighting force and we're going make them great again, er, greater than they used to be, those Mamelukes haven't heard the last of this, they're gonna regret being Egyptian, just they wait until I can raise another Horde and march them two thousand miles across the deserts and mountains 'cause this time my men are gonna whip ass, not that they didn't whip ass last time, they absolutely did, we won that battle and massacred all them Gyppos, and anyone who says our boys were slaughtered is just asking for it, and I've asked my very good friend Ivan the Terrible to lend a hand, not that our boys need any help, we can beat the whole world with both hands tied behind our backs, which is what I gather most of the survivors have right now, but I didn't say that, that's fake news, this was a glorious victory and we're gonna burn Cairo to the ground. And that'll show them Muslim terrorists. One day. Maybe."

Later the President was observed to have stopped foaming at the mouth and his tribal shaman said that, after he inhaled from the entrails of a freshly slaughtered goat, he looked much more like his old self. [The president or the shaman? Ed]

Presidential spokesman Zarn "the Slicer" Spicer added "This was the biggest victory for any army in the history of the world. Period. We killed at least two million of them, and that doesn't include the ones hiding under plastic sheets, whatever they are, and did not lose a single man, I say again, not one man. The guys with the battle wounds who staggered back into Baghdad screaming about being wiped out, they are all cheats and liars and were not even there and and they have a political agenda to damage the President who is the greatest military strategist in the universe."

Asked where the Horde now was, Spicer claimed "They are on their way to wipe out everyone else in the known world, OK? We'll be hearing from them pretty soon." He declined further questions.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

President Khan meets with Wallachian Head

from our own correspondent in Karakorum

Newly elected President Genghis Khan had his first meeting with a foreign head of state today. In a brief visit, Voivode Vlad Dracula of Wallachia had lunch with the President in the Summer Palace. Although there is little contact between the two countries, President Khan said that he had always been an admirer of Dracula's methods and was keenly interested in what he had to say.

"We're gonna bring back traditional Mongol practices of flaying people alive and tearing them apart between wild horses. Our people voted for that. But this guy, he's been around and he knows how to kick Turkish butt and they've got some great counter-terrorist methods in his country that we can learn from" the President said "I'm specially keen to hear more about impalement. Ramming a spike up somebody sounds wholly in keeping with the great law-abiding traditions of the Mongolian people, and it sure as hell stops them being terrorists ever again, or taking up terrorism in the first place".

Vovoide Dracula commented "I find the Mongolian way of unexpectedly riding up to cities, slaughtering the defenders with arrows and then slaughtering everyone else, something we can all learn from."

Asked about his habit of sleeping in a coffin, wearing black satin capes and having rather unfeasibly large front teeth, the Voivode replied "We should respect all cultures and traditions. In my country this is the normal way of life. Here they have camels, in my homeland of Transylvania we have bats. Same difference, huh?"

After lunch the leaders watched a traditional Mongolian football match. The Voivode was clearly impressed by the use of human heads for balls and was seen sizing up the heads of some of his entourage. Meanwhile President Khan signed an executive order to make a thousand ten-foot stakes for "purposes to be explained later and anyway the Chinese are gonna pay for them, sooner or later".

The Chinese ambassador declined to comment.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Those awful advertising slogans - no. 13 - Sainsbury's

First the confession. Mrs Commuter and I shop at Sainsbury's every week. There, I've said it. I know that, for some, that places us at once in a certain category and social class. But that is their problem. We shop there because it is one of the closest supermarkets to us and we can find everything we want in one go.

This week, whilst Mrs C dutifully sorted out vegetables and fruit and began loading up the trolley (which my proud task is to push, let me hasten to add, this is a team effort), my eye was drawn to banners and posters festooned around the place. So thickly strewn in fact that it was impossible to avoid the message. Remember that we were already in the place and buying stuff. So why on earth do Lord Sainsbury and his pals think it in order to proclaim the following gibberish?

#fooddancing is living well

Before I dissect this slogan, let me point those of you who find this sort of thing fascinating in the general direction of the ad world. The Creativity online website, for example, carries some revealing quotes from the agency who came up with the slogan and the campaign that showcases it, and from the adman from Sainsbury's who is paying for it (out of my and other regular shoppers' money!). Explaining that food dancing is people dancing in their kitchens whilst preparing food and that the people portrayed in the TV ads (which I sincerely hope I never watch) are real people who just happen to be twirling about when filmed, a creative director of the agency behind the campaign said

the aim of the campaign is to give Sainsbury's a more consistent look and feel, and also a "cooler" edge. Both the TV and print work contrast black and white portraiture of people with vibrant food in color, 
Oh, and get this, some of the films are filmed on iphones and gopro phones "to add an authentic reality-style TV edge". Filmed by the professionals from the agency, mark you, so really not in any way authentic or edgy at all.

Look, mate, I don't give a flying toss what other people do in the privacy of their own kitchens. If they choose to be filmed on behalf of a supermarket then I hope they got a decent fee. But why on earth should I shop at your client? I shop to buy food. I don't dance with it, or whilst preparing it (or whilst watching Mrs C doing it, to be a bit more realistic) nor whilst eating it. digesting it or evacuating the remains in the usual way a few hours later. Filming in black and white merely suggests utter pretentiousness, as though only admen can afford colour film so the rest of us have to make our home videos in black and white. Jeepers, even in the 1960s people made home movies in colour. Alternately it screams out perfume ad but at least now that Christmas is over we are spared that lot for another ten months.

How does this give Sainsbury's an edge? Do only their customers dance? I put it to the court that this is singularly unlikely; indeed, given the age profile of the average lot shuffling round my local store, the best they could manage would be a couple of half-hearted waltz steps before sinking back into a padded armchair and putting the telly on.

Incidentally, note the adspeak use of the word 'cool'. Question - what is the difference between a cool edge and an edge? [Ah, I think I know this one, give me a moment would you? Ed].

So the film of people apparently dancing spontaneously can be filed under Z for zilch interest. Let us turn to the hashtag.

This is the crux of the nub of the heart of the problem. A hashtag at the start of a word used in a publicity campaign has only one real meaning, if used correctly, and that is to indicate that the word in question is being used to tag postings on social media. Now this may be the case here but it is surely only incidental to the TV/Press/Poster campaign, where it is utterly irrelevant and moreover insulting, trying to suggest that this is a sort of grassroots idea that the caring, listening supermarket has taken up, instead of a slogan dreamed up in an agency by a man wearing odd socks and braces, whilst waiting for an intern to bring coffee. Hashtags were a novelty once. About ten years ago. Time to let them go.

But what do we make of the slogan itself?  How can fooddancing (with or without an otiose hashtag) be said to be living well? The people who do it may or may not be, but the action itself? This is why I was to be found staring up at the top of the food counters last week. I was trying to imagine the mind of the person who thought that this slogan conveyed a meaning and it was not a pleasant experience.

Sainsbury's already has a perfectly good slogan - Live well for less - which at least is understandable and conveys something, although since they don't define what they mean by 'less' it is still adspeak rather than anything useful. I can see why they have tried to give it a new twist [Is that a dance related pun? Jolly good: Ed] but they seem to have put a foot wrong here. Time for a new man in charge (or as they say in Italy, bossa nova).

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Move over, Ziegler

Readers who lived through the Watergate affair and the impeachment of President Nixon will also vividly recall the hapless Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler. An adman close to Nixon's aide Bob Haldeman, Ziegler was the one who had to turn out time and again to face the press and try to explain away the increasingly damning and overwhelming evidence for the conspiracy to use illegal means to damage Nixon's opponents. He will be remembered for his wonderful rebuttal of his own vehement attacks on those who tried to uncover the truth when he told the press that all his previous statements were 'inoperative'; it has been suggested that what he meant was not they were untrue but that the truth itself was simply whatever he happened to be saying at the time, and if he changed his mind then the old truths were no longer in operation.

A brand new Ziegler, in the shape of President Trump's Press Secretary has stepped forward. Sean Spicer has trumped [Must you? Ed] Ziegler with his very first official announcements over the size of the turnout for the presidential inauguration. Spicer has

  • Claimed a greater attendance than previous years, despite absolutely no official confirmation of the turnout and aerial photos showing far more empty space than for Obama's
  • Claimed that plastic sheets used for the first time in some way mysteriously made the crowd invisible. Plastic sheeting was used in 2013. How this would affect the visibility of attendees was not explained.
  • Threatened to hold the press accountable. "...things are going to change now. And they are going to change, and they are going to get it, right?" - Nixon speaking to Haldeman and John Deane in 1972 quoted in Deane's book Blind Ambition. 'They' refers to the press.

Reporters covering the Watergate story called Ziegler's assertions, claims and bluster "ziggies". I wonder if the "spices" will follow suit.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meanwhile, at a football ground in Corleone ...

I am grateful to someone I follow on Twitter (a followee?) for drawing my attention to a fascinating statement from the Chief Executive of Leyton Orient FC. You can find the original here and it is well worth a look even if your interest in football is smaller than Donald Trump's humility but for those who prefer a precis, the statement refers to difficulties in which the club now finds itself. It is close to the relegation slots from League Two and may find itself there in a couple of weeks, and there has clearly been fan anger and unsettled players. Unusually the CE, whose use of English is interesting to say the least, attributes much of the problem to the absence from matches and from training of the owner. This gentleman is a Mr. Becchetti and the apologist is Alessandro Angelieri. The key phrase is

His personal business did not allow him to be close to the team, when he would usually come to the training ground every Friday and to the games on a Saturday. Mr Becchetti has a great charisma and the players definitely feel his absence.

 I fear it is time to return to a certain Sicilian town ...

The players were nervous that afternoon. It was the annual derby against Tattaglia Wednesday and the Corleone Rovers, playing at home, found their eyes turning again and again to an empty seat in the main stand. Where was their iconic boss, their inspiration? Why had he missed the training session? And lunch in the boardroom even though the menu featured his favourite dish, Pasta a la Yorkshire, in his honour?

Borgia, the hulking centre forward could stand it no longer. He turned to the chief executive, the boss's right hand man, Al Angels.
"Where is he, Al? He never miss a game. Why today?"
"I can't help you there son" Angels grunted in his Halifax accent "The boss does things his way and I don't ask questions, alright? There's nowt as queer as folk, as my old nan used to say and I don't cast a clout, sithee".
Much of his patois was lost on Borgia but he restrained himself and he went to gather the team for the kick-off, doing his best to reassure them.

For Angels the first half was a nightmare. Where the hell was Lucas Bexley? That enigmatic, sharp faced man from Leeds who had bought Corleone Rovers two years before and whose acid comments from the sidelines had fired up the whole team. He had his business interests to be sure - but every Saturday he would shut up his pie stall and take his place by the touchline, shouting out words of wisdom in a language that was unmistakeable, though none of the players actually had a clue what he was saying. But that did not matter. Today, sensing their chance, Wednesday had scored two easy goals while the hapless Rovers defence waited for a blast of abuse from the sidelines to unsettle the assistant referee and force an offside flag. They went in and stared glumly at the half-time pizza and it was all Borgia could do to motivate them to start the second half.

Still that empty seat. Rovers defended grimly but their hearts were not in it. The Wednesday strolled around, keeping possession, taunting their old rivals. Time was running out.

"Put some bloody life into it"
Borgia spun roun, heart pumping. Almost unnoticed, Bexley had taken his seat, hands firmly clasped around his flask of tea, that familiar flat cap jammed over his head. "Eee, that were rubbish, lad, rubbish. Seen better round our morgue"
The Rovers midfield perked up. With newly found speed they challenged for the ball. Borgia thundered forward. A Wednesday defender attempted to hack him down and the referee looked the other way until a bellow of "What the hell was that, ref? Put your bloody glasses on. That's a red card that is in any book and no mistake" made him hastily blow up, award a penalty and send off the trembling back. The goalkeeper, jiggling on his line as he tried to guess which way the kick would go, heard "Get that jessie off the pitch" at full volume, turned to give the heckler the finger and watched in horror as Borgia slid the ball into the net.

The Rovers were back in it and four goals later and the match won in style they trotted triumphantly to clap at their cheering fans amidst whose delighted ranks sat one stony faced figure.
"Call that football cause I bloody don't. Our nan could have done better even after she had her second hip done."
Nobody knew what he meant except his trusted consigliere Angels and he did not enlighten them. The boss was back.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bad Taste Corner - 2

Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the "manouevre" that bears his name, died last month.

Family and friends are said to be choked.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

President Khan Speaks Out

From our own correspondent in Karakorum 

Fresh from slaughtering his enemies, old friends who looked a bit like enemies, ordinary people who might well have been enemy-sympathisers and foreigners on the grounds that they look funny, President Genghis Khan has been making statements about his policies as a newly elected leader of the glorious Mongol Empire.

On being pressed by some of his old tribal allies about future rights to share waterholes, President Khan said that of course he would be keen to share everything fairly, but anyone who took his water would get what was coming to them.  "Let there be no doubt" he was quoted "It's our water. They can drink it but if they put a single Mongol sheepherder out of business, they'll be making water rather than drinking it, if you see what I mean".

Pressed about foreign relations and the future of MATO (Mongols against the others), President Khan said "This organisation has had its day. It's time for the Uzbeks, Turks, Kirghiz and so on to pay for their own defence. And boy, they'll need to because if my horde decide to have a go at them, they'll wish they had.". On the subject of relations with the Holy Roman Empire, Khan observed that "Their leader, Barbarossa, he's a man I can do business with. And that's good because with what I have in mind for the Middle East, there's going to be plenty of slaves to go around.".

Asked about his controversial remarks on knocking down the Great Wall of China and requiring the Chinese to pay for it, Khan rounded on his interlocuter. "I never said that, there's not a shred of evidence for it, this is fake news, you represent a crap organisation and will get what's coming to you". When the questioner pointed out that he was Khan's spokesman for Chinese affairs, the President said "Exactly. You got it. I stand by everything I said, apart from the bits I don't". The spokesman was seen to ask something else but vanished behind a huddle of guards and has not been available for comment since.

President Khan's appointees in the Government have all been approved unanimously by the Great People's Assembly. The membership of the Assembly, G. Khan Jr. and Mrs. G. Khan (no relation) said "We have total confidence in everything the President does. He is a man inspired by God and not a dangerous lunatic who says the first thing that comes into his head."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The World's Shortest Warranty

I bought a laptop the other day. A standard HP model. Today a message popped up to inform me that "Your HP warranty has expired" and that the "expiry date" was 13/01/17. So this computer came with a manufacturer's warranty that automatically expires the moment you switch it on for the first time. Impressive stuff. Guaranteed to earn a repeat order (he wrote, sarcastically).

To describe what they wish me to renew as a warranty is as close to a scam as you can get (though clearly not in any way illegal, I hasten to add). What they want is for me to sign up to a support scheme whereby I pay them upfront and they guarantee nothing except they might answer the phone in order to read standard scripts back. You know the scene:

Me: I've got a problem, here is the detailed description including error message numbers, all the steps I have so far taken to remedy it and my diagnosis based on reading 50 pages of other users with similar problems writing about them on your official support forum.
Them: Have you downloaded the latest drivers?
Me: Yes.
Them: Have you rebooted it?
Me: Yes.
Them: I need to escalate this to my manager. I'll get back to you. phone disconnnects

I'm not going down this road to frustration. I've got a warranty from the seller and normal consumer law applies. Whatever it was that magically ended its life the day I went down the mall,  I don't care.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Snow Chaos Slams UK as the Big Freeze Strikes...

... or so you might think if you casually glanced at the news this last couple of days. The army on standby in the coastal areas of Lincolnshire. Commuters braving it through the blizzards in Scotland. Dogs frolicking in the snow. And, er, that seems to be about it. Here in beautiful Ruislip we had enough snow to put a light dusting on the lawns and cars on Thursday night and it was gone by Friday mid-morning. The storm surges that threatened flooding on the east coast did not materialise. And all the pretty pictures of the white stuff shrouding the Highlands, Lakes and Peaks could hardly be much of a surprise, we do normally get some this time of the year over the higher parts of the country.

It has been far too warm for snow to have any impact. A few days ago the early morning frost required a fair bit of de-icer on the car windscreen; yesterday pretty well the whole lot slid off as soon as I applied the first touch of the scraper.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Don't Read This Now

Fascinating to see that a BBC story about the problem of procrastination, particularly with respect to students failing to address themselves to their studies, should feature a professor whose YouTube video on the subject has proved very popular. For these days, when you go to YouTube, you are required to waste time watching adverts before the video of your choice is made available. If, like me, you automatically look away when ads are thrust before you, what displacement activity do you select? There's all the other videos that YouTube will suggest, based on things you've watched before. Yes, one or two could be worth following up; oh, there's that very funny one I saw a while ago, why not go to that one first. Blimey, here's a link to an old TV show I used to really like, must check this one out, hold on, wasn't there something I was supposed to be doing, better check my online calendar, ah yes, doctor's appointment in a couple of days, that's not going to clash with that meeting is it? Better check my emails just in case, no it's ok but wow, someone I know slightly has just had a very special sandwich and put up photos on Instagram, let's have a squint, and while I'm here, anything new on Twitter? I see that sandwich has been featured again and three people have liked it, how very cool and interesting, weather seems to be settling in, and wasn't there something I was meant to be doing, oh yeah, how not to put off things, now where was that again? I'll watch it later. If I can be bothered.