Friday, April 29, 2005
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Now that I’ve been out of Britain for nearly 4 years, my view of the politics there has become somewhat two-dimensional and I no longer feel I have my finger on the pulse of daily life. So I thought I would caricature the major (and some minor) parties based on my perspective from a Starbuck’s coffee shop 6000 miles away as well as offer some unsolicited advice.
Botox Blair seems to be struggling with credibility issues these days. Back in the heady days of 2001 when I departed for these shores, I was already so irked with his antics that I didn’t renew my Labour Party membership. Things seem to have got quite a bit worse since then. The Iraq War has been profoundly unpopular and even over here the moniker of “Bush’s poodle” is regularly thrown around. Now Tony seems to have been caught by Jeremy Paxman telling porkies about fingering (or not) the unfortunate microbiologist, David Kelly. Distorting science for political gain is a capital bloody crime in my book. If I had my way I’d bring back impaling for causing the unnecessary death of a principled and honourable man. But if I’m more objective, I see a litany of manifest failures in key areas for which I had high hopes when I voted Labour in 1997. Healthcare, education (secondary and tertiary) haven’t improved much, transport policy is still disastrous and crime of all types seems on the increase. Gordon Brown seems to be a pretty canny Chancellor but Blunkett, Straw and Prescott have been badly underperforming for one reason or another. Overall a big disappointment.
Advice: Tony, you will probably get back in for another term. That’s about as much as you deserve. Increase transparency, put less emphasis on spin, stop doing so much nannying, fix the NHS and for goodness sake get rid of that trio of obsequious, ineffectual twits Blunkett, Straw and Prescott.
Michael Howard is an old style Tory who is oilier than the Kuwaiti desert. And now he’s playing the race card. What a bunch of clueless dinosaurs! Creatively bankrupt and unelectable (I hope). Additional words fail me.
Advice: Bugger off back to Tonbridge Wells and try to modernize a bit. Get some intelligent, sane, women in the party too.
Quite a decent bunch with that very unfit looking Ginger Bloke in charge. Their policies seem quite reasonable. Definitely now the most left-leaning party. A good option for a protest vote. Now getting close to critical mass and with any luck could replace the Tories as the Opposition Party.
Advice: Charles, for goodness sake stop smoking and drinking, try some salads and get down the gym.
A new phenomenon and I’ve only read about. A right wing party trading on an anti-Europe platform. Got thrust into the limelight when they were joined by former Labour Party MP, Robert Kilroy-Silk who emerged as a closet racist and then buggered off to start his own party, Veritarse, or something. But what can be expected of someone with such a dodgy comb over and the appearance of a scoundrel? The whole UKIP business seems much more loony than Shirley Williams and the Gang of Four (remember them? -populist slogan: “keep politics out of politics”) who did something similar with the Social Democrats back in 1981.
Advice: Don't waste our time and your own.
Still in the “worthy but dull” category. A good protest vote.
Advice: Keep trying!
Hateful fascist losers now trying to look slightly more sophisticated (but not fooling anyone).
Advice: I don’t like to commit such uncouth sentiments to print…
Well that’s my 5 cents worth. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I’m off to the pub to avoid the hatemail.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
"I think their capacity stays about the same. And where they are right now is where they were almost a year ago."
Between 50 and 60 attacks are carried out every day by the insurgents.
But then he went on to say:
"I think we're definitely winning - I think we've been winning for some time," he said.
Am I the only one that thinks there is something faulty with this logic...?
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Sorry for the paucity of posts over the past few days but I'm in a state of upheaval known as "job change". It's funny how moving just two miles across Seattle seems almost as bad as traversing the Atlantic. Things should be easier next week.
For those Mini Cooper anoraks out there, that great automotive publication, MiniWorld, has a feature (May issue) on the Cooper Car Co's assault on the Monte Carlo rally. There are some nice pictures including our disastrous collision with a mountain wall -I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies as the wall did prevent us from disappearing off into the thin Alpine air. On sale at newsagents everywhere in the UK as well as some enlightened newsstands in the USA and worldwide.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Last year some commercially-inclined genius managed to flog a ten year old toasted cheese sandwich claiming it resembled the face of the Virgin Mary. If I were the VM I'd sue for libel. Anyway she managed to get $28,000 for it indicating that either (i) there is one born every minute or (ii) I should review carefully my Sunday activities.
The auction of the domain name www.popebenedictxvi.com is now up to $2751.99.
Now, in Chicago people are flocking to a motorway off ramp to look at some kind of stain resembling the Virgin Mary. This theophillic hysteria is beyond me. Before some clever dick finds a way of hawking this piece of freeway furniture I'd like ask if anyone has heard of graffitti? Or watermarks?
I'd better get to work as I swear the accumulated paper on my desk is taking the shape of St. Antony (patron saint of Lost Articles). Offers anyone?
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Just a short post today, pressure of work and all that.
I was going to comment again on the selection of Benedict XVI but SaneScientist has voiced precisely my own concerns eloquently and ascerbically.
Despite predicting, half in jest, in my previous post that relics of the Pope JP II would end up on eBay, I note that that there are already 402 items listed under "Pope Benedict". Some people will not pass up on a marketing opportunity. That's capitalism for you, I suppose.
In addition I found that the website domain name: "www.popebenedictxvi.com" is up for auction by someone in Canada. The starting bid is $100,000 and the Buy It Now price is $250,000. What chuztpah! Personally I'd think very carefully about the Swiss Guard and the Mafia before trying to pull a fast one on the Vatican. Remember what happened to "God's Banker" Roberto Calvi.
Monday, April 18, 2005
I offer the following comments regarding the selection of the new Pope:
• It’s amazing how The Vatican, which is notoriously old fashioned, suddenly starts behaving like the CIA (i.e. organizing sweeps for electronic bugs, etc.) when it comes to maintaining secrecy regarding the selection of the new Pope. I doubt even reporters from The Sun will be able to penetrate this security screen.
• Why is it that Italy, an overwhelmingly Catholic country and home to The Vatican, has virtually the lowest birth rate in Europe? Not listening to Il Papa, eh? Naughty!
• Why is it that 78 year old Cardinal Ratzinger, an arch conservative and allegedly a former member of the Hitler Youth, a front runner for the candidacy?
• It’s odd that at this time, four individuals have suddenly been charged with the murder of Roberto Calvi, otherwise known as “God’s banker”, who was found hanged under Blackfriars’ Bridge, London, 20 years ago. It is believed that Signor Calvi was topped because of links between the Church and the Mafia. The timing of this announcement seems very suspicious.
• John Paul II’s ring and seal have supposedly been destroyed, ceremoniously. I can’t help thinking that it won’t be long before some wide boy is offering the broken bits on Ebay.
• Why is it that a geriatric, unmarried, abstinent (possibly virgin) male controls the sexual and reproductive health of a billion women worldwide?
If I’m found hanging from a structure in Seattle or I’m struck by lightning you’ll know I’ve overstepped the mark.
The BBC News website has just announced that Cardinal Ratzinger will be the new Pope. Does the Catholic Church need an extreme conservative who will probably be a divisive figure at this time? For me this is depressing news. Worse for women worldwide. But then I'm not a catholic so what do I know?!
Sunday, April 17, 2005
I’ve been contemplating the demise of MG/Rover. The almost certain final curtain for the last volume produced British car manufacturer is very sad. Not only will two more great automotive marques be lost but possibly tens of thousands of jobs around the country will disappear causing misery and hardship. A sorry situation indeed. I can’t help feeling that if Rover hadn’t greedily sold its soul to BMW in 1994, burning bridges with long time ( and deep pocketed) partner, Honda, in the process, things would have been different. BMW treacherously asset stripped Rover and despite a valiant attempt by the Phoenix group to take control of the company in 2000, there was never enough capitalization to produce the necessary new models.
Rather than rant on about the pros and cons of Government bail outs, I’ll leave you with a photo of the lovely old Rover 100 owned by my Dad. It was a 1961 model and quite gorgeous. It had a classic English interior –all leather and polished wood. I tried to get my hands on it at every available opportunity and drove it in a highly undignified manner (sorry, Dad). Fortunately it was as tough as a tank and withstood the hooligan tendencies of young driver without mechanical complaint. The car was in the family for nearly 20 years and was ultimately sold by my Mother in the late 1980s to a young fellow working for the BBC.
They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Friday, April 15, 2005
View from my old apartment balcony on St Saviour’s Dock, London, SE1
Of late I’ve been feeling wistful about the UK and London. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’ve been reading too many English blogs but the sentiment of Robert Browning’s poem has been tugging at me a bit recently. It’s hard to believe but it’s now been four years since I was stomping around the streets of Southwark, Docklands and Old London’s square mile. Nostalgia is a funny thing. It seems to come and go according to the season and is very situation dependent. In considering this emotion I’ve started to think about a couple of recent and rather brief trips back to the Old Country and how things have changed since I departed for these shores in the rosy optimistic glow of the New Millennium. Mostly I’m aware that despite reading the BBC News website everyday, I’ve completely lost touch with British popular culture. Consider the following of which I’ve read but have no first hand knowledge:
Chavs: a new word but an old concept. Bring back public flogging, I say (just joking -sort of).
Minging: a new word meaning rebarbative. I don’t think it is used by anyone over 25.
Ant & Dec: I have vague memories that this pair might have been around before 2001 but they seem to have made the big time now. A couple of Geordie larger louts I’m told.
Kirstie Allsop and Sarah Beeney: Sacryduck keeps going on about these two. Allegedly they are hotties. Back in 2001 Carole Vorderman and Charlie Dimmock were the thinking man’s crumpet. Or, something. I have know idea about this latest pair though…
The Office: This phenomenon has now crossed the Atlantic but I don’t have the required cable package to watch it and I’m not prepared to shell out $80 for a whole series on DVD. So I'm in the dark.
Dr Who: now back after a nearly two decade hiatus. I’m curious to know what the new Doctor is like. I’ve read he is a bona fide actor although for some reason handed in his notice before the credits finished rolling on the first episode. I expect it will take a couple of eons to get it on American telly.
Top Ten: I haven’t a clue who might be appearing on TTTP (assuming it’s still running). My interest in popular music largely ended with Dire Straits, around 1982.
John Peel has gone which is unbelievably sad and leaves an unfillable void…
The Erotic Gherkin: I’m really curious to know how the London skyline has changed in four years.
Congestion Charges: Probably a good thing but I’d certainly be broke if I was still living in London.
Oh well, fings ain’t what they used to be, I suppose.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Who should I vote for?
Your expected outcome:Liberal Democrat
Your actual outcome:
|Liberal Democrat 44|
|UK Independence Party 9|
You should vote: Liberal Democrat
The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.
Take the test at Who Should You Vote For
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
The nice people at SAMOA have linked the MD&E blog on their site which has recently undergone an very extensive makeover and is now quite impressive. I found on it this wonderful account of co-driving by the late, great Henry Liddon, Paddy Hopkirk’s navigator on the historic Monte victory of 1964. It tells the story of how BMC pioneered the use of pacenotes and is really an eye-opener. It’s quite hilarious too and has some nice cartoons. Highly recommended.
Monday, April 11, 2005
A trio of Mini Coopers led by Bill Richards/John Morrow followed by Peter Collier/Paul Easter and Rob Stacey/Nicky West
Thoughts of rallying, harsh winter weather, mountain roads, Minis and the south of France seem distant memories now. However several developments have reminded me that I’ll have to start thinking about next year’s event fairly soon and I'll write a few posts on Mad Dog’s plans in the near future. In the meantime I have a number of pressing personal and work-related matters that must take precedence, so please bear with me. For those of you who have come to this site hoping for in-depth discussions about straight cut gear ratios and camshaft profiles, I’m sorry to disappoint for now. I’ve posted a nice photo taken on the Monte Carlo Historique earlier this year. For those of you who are new to this site and maybe having trouble finding the Omnibus Edition rally report, click here.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
The unseemly display of schadenfreude that has accompanied the preparations for Charles and Camilla’s wedding has been remarkable. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of respect left for the Royal Family in Great Britain these days and I suspect we are seeing the start of an inexorable march towards a Republic. Nevertheless I’d like to wish The Happy Couple well and am tempted to speculate that if they’d been allowed to marry 30 years ago not only would a lot of misery been avoided but the Royal Family might beheld in somewhat higher esteem. But because I’m predictably shallow, I can’t resist taking a final cheap shot and displaying the latest offering from Neil at Beau Bo d’Or who sent me, unsolicited, the above poster.
Friday, April 08, 2005
It’s amazing what’s published on the net. A couple of years ago I stumbled across this wonderfully nostalgic site that is dedicated to music festivals held in Britain during the golden years of the 1960s and 70s. It’s run by an affable chap by the name of Dave who seems to be currently resident DownUnder and collects paraphernalia related to these great events with meticulous and loving devotion.
The very first rock concert I attended was the 8th National Jazz and Blues festival held at Kempton Park racecourse, Sunbury, in August of 1968. The lineup was incredible and on the day I attended included Spencer Davis, Traffic, Chicken Shack, Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull (who were making their first big performance and were brilliant). Also playing in a marquee was the late, great, Duster Bennett, Savoy Brown (and I’m 95% certain although he’s not listed on the programme, a young Reg Dwight before he transmogrified into Elton John) and others who were compered by John Peel. Overall it was a brilliant event and had a profound influence on my musical taste as can be judged by the number of CDs from the above artists in my collection. A poster from the festival adorned an interior wall of my Dad’s garage for years after and it’s replicated above.
Another festival I attended in that era was at Plumpton racecourse, Sussex, on the Whitsun (remember that?) Bank Holiday weekend of 1970. Hard to believe it was 35 years ago. There was another stellar line up but the highlight of the evening came when the power was turned off when Ginger Baker’s Airforce outstayed the organisers’ welcome at the end of the evening. The defiant, unamplified drum solo that followed was quite amazing and ended with Mr. Baker being carted off stage by security staff. A caricature of a rock musician if ever there was one.
I went to other festivals in the 70s: I remember Bob Dylan at Blackbushe Airport in 1978 and Led Zeppelin at Knebworth House circa 1978. But by then the magical musical era was over and I had developed a dislike of large crowds, exposure to bad weather, an aversion to being trampled on by drugged up idiots and most of all an absolute need for decent toilets. Sad to say but I had grown up and become middle class.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
This week has been far too sombre for my liking and it’s time to contemplate automotive matters again. I never intended this blog to become the obituary column that it seems to have done recently. Thus today’s post is an attempt to lighten the mood and return to my original themes of “motors, memories and molecular microbiology”. So for your viewing pleasure here is a photograph of my first ever car; a 1949 Morris 8, Series E. I bought this for £12 10s (that’s twelve pounds and ten shillings in old money and for those of you who are too young to remember there were 20 shillings in a pound). I’d passed my driving test the year before and was the first person in my class at school to do so –something that gave me minor hero status. Up until then I’d been getting around on various motorcycles including the wretched BSA Bantam. Now I’ll post more on motorbikes in due course but back in the winter of 1967 I thought it was time for some maturity and I duly purchased the car, borrowing £2. 10s from my Dad in the process and telling him it would be safer than a motorbike (to this day I have a bad conscience about the fact that I never paid him back: sorry Dad but I think the appropriate karma has been transferred in the form of my daughter who not only has never repaid me for anything but seems to have no conscience either!). So back to the car. HXM 737 and I were both 18 years old. It had a suicide doors, a three speed gearbox (as long as you held it in 2nd), the rear springs were attached to the chassis by shards of rusty metal, there were no seat belts and the tyres were “bald as a monkey’s arsehole” as a friend of mine put it in a refreshingly poetic manner. It really was a piece of junk. Totally unreliable, not at all economical (I used to get no more that 25mpg) and to boot the performance was useless –I remember one lunch hour I was showing off to my friends at Guildford Tech and I managed 55mph along the Guildford bypass, flat out, downhill and with the wind behind us. I was redeemed by the fact the silencer had a hole in it so the car sounded rortier than it really was.
As you can imagine, the poor vehicle didn’t last long. At some point in the winter of 1967/68, I was making my way to work on a Saturday morning. It had been snowing and I liked the way the car felt slippy underfoot. On the Mayford roundabout, just outside Woking, I managed to get the car sideways. Great, I thought, this is just like rallying: give it more gas. So with idiotic youthful exuberance I floored the accelerator. The car pirouetted in the road, hit the kerb and toppled over. I scrambled out: another car and a fellow riding a motorcycle (what was he thinking?) stopped and checked to see if I was ok. When they ascertained that I was uninjured the three of us tipped the car back on its wheels and I continued on my way. Actually I buzzed home first to hammer the driver’s side wing (fender) away from the wheels as it marginally more dented than my pride. I also had to “confess’ to my parents who for some reason didn’t seem that alarmed. Amazing really as I could have been killed. As I recall that was pretty much the end of HXM 737. The incident highlighted the fact that car was in unsafe condition and it was financially unfeasible to fix it up. A few weeks later it was unceremoniously towed to the council dump at Byfleet although to this day I wish I’d hung on to the registration number. Oh well…
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Oh dear, this really is too much. I've just read on the BBC that the author, Saul Bellow, has died at the ripe old age of 89. That's my second favourite American author to have passed away in just over a month (the first being Hunter S. Thompson). In the 70s and 80s I devoured, Humboldt's Gift, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog and others with gusto. In terms of reading material, this was my "Jewish Period". Now I'm not even close to being Jewish (or Catholic for that matter) but I've felt guilty about one thing ot another my whole life and I identify with Jewish angst. Bellow's books were eloquent, refreshing and very funny. No wonder he won a Pulitzer and the Nobel prize. Saul, we will miss you and fortunately you've left a treasure trove of literature for us to study and take delight. I shall finish with a quotation that should be memorised by all young scientists starting out on their careers:
I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, "To hell with you."
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
I know other bloggers (notably Zoe, Scaryduck and Vicus Scurra) have covered this already but being the predictable old plodder I am, I'm going to comment anyway. It seems that the Royal Wedding is being haunted by the ghost of Diana, and Charles at least is having an annus horribilis. Consider:
• First the Queen refuses to attend the wedding
• Then Prince Philip announces he can't come either because of trip to Germany
• The Great British Public is miffed because poor Camilla will legally become Queen unless a law is passed to the contrary
• Charles is caught on microphone slagging off the BBC's Nicholas "I sat on a lesbian" Witchell
• Now it seems Camilla will be Princess of Wales into the bargain (a bad April Fool's joke if ever there was one)
• The Wedding is postponed due to the death of Pope John Paul
• The wedding souvenirs industry goes into a tailspin because the date printed on the paraphernalia is out by one day
• Charles is repeatedly referred to as a "Horse Shagger" by mean spirited bloggers
• To top it all it seems the bloody wedding will now clash with the Grand National (there are too many horse references here for my liking) -I suppose Charles should be grateful it isn't the FA Cup Final but does anybody really care? At least a fortune in taxpayers money won't be spent filming the event in Windsor Registry Office.
What else can go wrong? The way things are going I would say quite a lot. Heaven knows, you couldn't make this stuff up. I suspect that Diana is laughing herself silly in the Great-Palace-in-the-Sky...
P.S. Thanks again to the superb Beau Bo d'Or site for the poster.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
The first was the unfortunate Terri Schiavo. This was the tragic case of an individual in a persistent vegetative state and caught in a bitter Right-to-Life vs. Right-to-Die legal war of attrition fought between her parents and husband respectively. The battle seemed to escalate into a massive display of polarized, political grandstanding. I won’t bore you by reiterating the details again; this has already been done by just about every news organization on the planet who subjected us to an interminable display of images that showed the Ms. Schiavo in the most humiliating circumstances. Now, even after her death the legal wrangling continues. Two aspects of this case seem remarkable:
First, the irony of the situation. The poor woman’s condition was brought on by a heart attack associated with bulimia. After being kept alive by means of a feeding tube for 15 years she was ultimately starved to death when it was removed. Second, it seems to me that the views propagated by the various protagonists each claiming the moral high ground are secondary to a more fundamental and humane principal: what Ms Schiavo and others in a similarly afflicted state should be afforded is the Right-to-Dignity.
The Pope’s passing yesterday took no one by surprise and following the details of his clinical condition became almost macabre voyeurism. By the time of his passing we were all fully acquainted with the status of his Parkinson’s disease, intubation and urinary tract infection. Oh, and his feeding tube. Anyway he is now at peace after considerable suffering. As a lapsed protestant agnostic with Buddhist tendencies I cannot overly mourn his passing. He was doubtless charismatic and travelled tirelessly to propagate the mission of the Catholic church. While I applaud his efforts to promote world peace, I can’t agree with his views on sexual morality. Theologically he was an arch-conservative and his refusal to condone condom usage has been a huge impediment in the fight against AIDS. The Roman Catholic church is reeling from scandals regarding closet paedophiles and has deep divisions regarding the role of women. In my not so humble opinion it seems high time for some progressive thinking and actions. There are supposedly half a billion women worldwide who follow Catholicism and it seems only logical that their sexual and reproductive health should not be dictated by a geriatric white male abstinent (I hesitate to say “virgin”). I wonder what odds Ladbrokes is giving on the election of a female Pope…?
And in any circumstances, feeding tubes, whether inserted or removed, are A BAD THING!
Friday, April 01, 2005
I came across this optional extra a few years ago. Apparently Police in Oulu, Finland, dreamed up this idea after being given the run around by boy racers and aspiring rally drivers once too often. It's a deployable harpoon that can be fitted to police cars. The idea is that in a chase, the telescopic "carpoon" as it's known, can be swung out and fired into the rear of the fleeing vehicle. It looks like something straight out of a Mad Max movie. Barbs in the device ensure that the cars remain connected: the concept is a bit like a solid towbar but in reverse. The police car then slows to a halt, forcing the errant vehicle to slow with it. Apparently tear gas can be pumped into the criminal car if necessary.
Now I can see a few problems with the thing, like what happens if there is a hostage in the boot/trunk? Or what if the criminal has a more powerful car than the police car. Some amusing scenarios can be envisaged. I suspect the Carpoon never gained widespread acceptance. A pity. I wouldn't mind one for myself. I have a nice little fantasy about what I'll do to the next little git in a VW Jetta who cuts me up... (laughs maniacally)