Monday, May 30, 2005

IKEA Purgatory



It’s Spring bank holiday in the UK and Memorial Day in the US. This holiday mood has caused me to recall one of the great traditions of these days, namely shopping. A few years ago, while I was still living in London, I found myself at a loose end on a bank holiday and decided I’d take a trip to (wait for it)… IKEA. Now before you think I’m even more deranged than that demented frog, you have to remember two things (1) as someone who doesn’t really hold with the notion of retail therapy, going shopping is a chore akin to taking out the rubbish and (2) I had always though that on UK bank Holidays the entire Nation decamped to Brighton or Bognor Regis. They certainly didn’t go shopping. Shows what I know.

So on a bright and sunny spring morning I set out to drive the 20 or so miles from my flat in South London to IKEA in Croydon with the idea of buying a TV stand. I should have known that anything to do with Croydon would be a bad idea. I duly arrived to find the car park choc a bloc full and half of SE England looking for somewhere to put their cars. After several frustrating circuits of a lot the size of Madagascar, I eventually found a spot about half a mile from the store and trudged into the entrance.

Now I should also explain that this was my first visit to one of these Swedish testaments to capitalism. Naively I thought I’d just go to the appropriate department, select my item, a flunky would deliver it to me, I’d pay for it and leave. Bloody hell, no. Probably everyone in the world knows by now that IKEA has a system in which the punters are channeled through the whole store, even if they just want to buy a teaspoon. Well on that day I think several million people were shuffling through the store’s one-way system. Children were running berserk using the place as an adventure playground while their parents screeched, “Wayne and Tracy, get down off that wardrobe you little bleeders or I’ll belt you”. The place was a modern day Tower of Babel. Or Dante’s inferno. After an eternity of shuffling I found the TV stand I was looking for, filled out the necessary piece of paper and went to the cash register. After the plastic transaction I was then in for another surprise. A company peon did not deliver my flatpack -I was invited to pick up my own merchandise from the warehouse. I duly located my telly stand and then nearly herniated myself in the process of dragging it off a shelf and hauling it to the car. This was no fun. Eventually I drove off with the flatpack sticking through the sunroof…

I’ll spare you the parts of the story about getting lost in Croydon (a form of purgatory in its own right), being stuck in a traffic jam, dragging the effing package up a flight of stairs through four different fire doors and moving around the furniture in the flat to accommodate my new purchase. What I will tell you is that when I duly opened the box I found that I’d got the wrong item. Instead of a tall slim TV stand I’d got the alternative model, a low squat number. Aarrgh! After a letting off a stream of good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon I decided that regardless of slightly compromised aesthetics, I couldn’t bear going back to IKEA and I would keep the item. So I bolted it together and dragged it into the room where it was due to live. It didn’t look too bad. But then a final awful though occurred to me. Would it fit in the room with a sofa bed open? The fact is that it wouldn’t. The bed would not fully open by a margin of about 1 cm. Nothing could be moved or shortened. Neither could the room be reconfigured. By now I wanted to cry or blow something up. There was no option but to disassemble the poxy thing, stuff it back into it’s box (needless to say they never go back in) and schlep back to Croydon. What I’d intended to be a quick shopping trip turned into a whole wasted day.

I haven’t been back to IKEA since…

Sunday, May 29, 2005

That Bloody Frog

crazy-frog-1-1024x768

In my mostly rather vain attempts to keep up with popular culture in the UK I’ve encountered numerous references to the “crazy frog” ringtone available for mobile phones. So yesterday, in a moment of idle curiosity, I Googled the damn thing.

I wish I hadn’t bothered. It’s the most egregious, annoying, piece of audiophonic excrescence I’ve ever heard. No wonder the lunatic asylums are full. I can just imagine that f***ing thing going off in a hot and crowded railway carriage. That sound would be enough to turn any poor sod who’s had a bad day into a homicidal maniac. Indeed it wouldn’t surprise me if it became a legal defence for inducing temporary insanity. If I had my way I’d re-introduce impaling and spit roasting as punishment for anyone installing it on their phone.

I noticed the company responsible for distributing the tone (no, I’m not going to encourage you and provide the URL) apparently makes it available in the USA. Heaven preserve us, America has enough to worry about right now without that bloody thing going off in every public space…!

P.S. Having just published this post, I note that John B at Shot by Both Sides has a like-minded view.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging No. 2

Minim
Minim

For those of you musicians out there, Minim is twice as long as Crotchet (see post for Friday 20th May). Geddit?!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Top o' the Morning

Irish Animation

Last month I posted an essay on “Irishness”, namely reflections on my own Celtic mongrel roots and a perspective on the Emerald Isle. Interestingly, I came across this brilliant animation What have the Brits done for the Irish? referenced on the Shot by Both Sides site, which seems in keeping with the leitmotif. Check it out, it’s hilarious.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Mad Dog Rallying -Out of Hibernation

Hard driving
The Mad Dog Rallying Mini Cooper leads a Lancia Fulvia on the 2005 Monte Carlo Historique Rally

Of late I’ve been too distracted with work and host of other issues to give much thought to rallying. Even the blog has become somewhat more serious than usual and I hope all you Mini aficionados haven’t given up on me. So yesterday it occurred to me that we were nearly halfway through the year and it will soon be time to give very serious consideration to the 2006 Monte Carlo Historique rally. Indeed as far as sponsorship overtures are concerned it’s time to get going now. I duly cobbled together a budget that includes one full reconnaissance of the rally route by Bill Richards and me in December and TWO service vehicles on the event (one 4x4 for the service work per se and one spotter car to check out road conditions). Damn, it’s going to be expensive! But if we want to be contenders for a class win and an overall high position then there is no alternative. All the front runners are very well prepared and extremely serious. I duly emailed the figures to Bill. As yet I’ve had no reply from The Eccentric One; if I don’t hear from him within a couple of days I’ll give him a call.

I’ll keep you all posted as plans take shape…

Monday, May 23, 2005

Airline Food is not Food -It’s Official

PanAm004
A meal served on a PanAm flight in the 1960s. Unfortunately both the airline and meals like this are now a distant memory. Photo from Airline Meals.

Recently I was making a travel claim regarding a trip to Singapore to attend a conference. The administrator handling the claim asked me why I’d only claimed for three days food and subsistence when I was in fact six days away. I explained that I spent three days of the trip in an airplane and was provided with food during that time. The reply I received was that I could still claim for food and subsistence because the US State Department doesn’t count food on airplanes as meals! I now have new respect for the Federal Government in view of its enlightened position on this matter.

Outrage

saddam_underwear

Today I want to let off steam as I’m incensed by some of the events we have witnessed over the past week regarding prisoners of war. Consider the following:

• Following an article in Newsweek regarding prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp being subject to religious humiliation by flushing Koran(s) down a toilet, worldwide indignation erupted in riots in Afghanistan with at least 16 people being killed in the process.

• Newsweek, under intense pressure from the US Government, retracts its story although at no point says it did not occur.

• Several agencies, including the BBC and the International Red Cross agree that religious intimidation did occur at Guantanomo Bay.

• Specialist Sabrina Harman receives a 6 month prison sentence for her role in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

• Photographs of Saddam Hussein in his underwear appear in the British tabloid, The Sun.

• The US Government is furious and says the publication of such photographs is in breach of the Geneva Convention.

• Previously the US Government has said that detainees at Guantanomo Bay, mostly suspected Taliban and al Quaeda fighters, are not subject to Geneva Convention treatment as neither of these parties were signatories of the Convention.

• Saddam Hussein says he will sue The Sun for the publication of his photographs.

• Following new revelations that two prisoners died in custody at the US Airforce base, in Bagram, Afghanistan, the pro-American President, Hamid Karzai, demands an explanation.

• US officials charge Mr. Karzai with failing to control the drug trade in his country.

Well there seems to be some pretty bad behaviour occurring on both sides of the fence although I couldn’t really care less about the outcome of the trial between the heinous Saddam Hussein and the egregious Sun. But I am outraged that a country that claims to be the leader of the free world considers it acceptable to detain individuals indefinitely, without trial or charge. I am outraged that the free press is bullied for political reasons. I am outraged that not only is torture not condemned but is considered acceptable by some members of the Government particularly Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. I am outraged that no senior government figure has resigned following the Abu Ghraib scandal and that the blame has been heaped on junior members of the armed forces. I am outraged that the US Government will brook no criticism of its policies and when justifiably criticized by ally, Hamid Karzai, unleashes its spin machine and accuses him of failing to control the opium trade in his country.

poster-1
Poster from the Propaganda Remix Project via Larry Ayers.

Beatings, religious and sexual humiliation and other types of "aggressive interrogation" are all forms of torture and have no place in a civilized society. As far as I'm concerned torture by any name shouldn’t be a topic up for consideration by Western governments (or any governments for that matter) unless in a historical perspective. Not only is it barbaric but a totally ineffective means of eliciting information. Unless the US Government makes some major policy changes regarding the way it treats prisoners it will lose completely any moral high ground it had following the events of 9/11.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars Tedium

the_empire
Am I the only person on the planet who can’t stand the Star Wars franchise? I hated it when I first saw it in 1977 and I hate it now. As far as I was concerned the original movie failed in the opening credits as the huge spaceship traversed the screen making a deep roaring noise. Now every schoolboy knows that in the vacuum of space there is no sound. So to suspend my disbelief I must not hear roaring outside the atmosphere and neither do I want explosions with flames etc. I wanted to dope slap everyone who said “But the special effects were great…”. They were implausible and the story was a crude cut and paste job from Lord of the Rings and just about any zen-martial-arts-samurai parable. To make matters worse we had a lot of hokey characters with even hokier names like Chewbacca, Jabba the Hut, that robot that was modeled on a P.G. Wodehouse character and Obi Wank Enobi (what on earth was Sir Alec Guinness thinking when he did that –he must have needed the money). And if that wasn’t enough, the “episodes” were delivered in random order with stupid titles like The Empire Goes on Strike and so forth. I always felt that Lucas was taking the piss. But somehow he created a cult as well as an obscene pile of money. I wouldn’t mind so much about this but since 1977 we’ve had to endure legions of twats running around with Darth Vader masks, capes and light sabres and reciting large chunks of the script from memory. Aargh!

Perhaps the only good thing to come from all this nonsense is a solar system sized pool of satirical material. The latest offering, Revenge of the Cyst, or something, has all sorts of interesting parallels with current world political situation and I note with glee that the wags are already tearing into it. Ha! Ha! Agitprop has some interesting observations here, and I thank him for the use of his graphic.

Now it’s time for my medication…

P.S. It seems I'm not alone; see here for kindred spirits.

Friday Cat Blogging

I'm taking a cue from David Noon here...
Crotchet in bed
Crotchet

Yes the naughty creature has sneaked into the bed and ensured that I will need Beconase for the rest of my life in the process...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Projectile Penguin Poo

Penguin poo2

I was looking for a serious pop science story for today. I sifted through all the usual stuff; -genes that regulate ageing, the latest outbreak of Ebola virus in the Congo, bird ‘flu in Asia (I will write about that soon), undersea tectonic fault lines, string theory and that bloody asteroid that’s going to miss us by the skin of our teeth in 2013. Then I found this on the BBC website. A study on the excretory habits of penguins. My reasons for posting such a piece of silliness are inspired by the excited commentary Scaryduck gets on his site when he writes about doing a “Number 2”, which is quite often (BTW, Scary, that story you posted last Friday was truly gross, even by my standards).

Anyway, according to the article, the penguin can shoot a poo 16” out of its nest. I calculate this to be 44% of the length of a 3 foot tall bird. Scientists (and we know they’re always right) have calculated that penguins take a dump with 4 times the force of a human.
This is not, as you might be tempted to think, for puerile entertainment in the dark Antarctic winter months but done for the purposes of hygiene. Penguins, like to keep their feathers and nests in pristine condition, apparently. You know the attitude: “Not in my back yard, Matey (but someone else’s is ok)”.

Now it seems that this sort of behaviour is not uncommon in the animal kingdom. The caterpillar of the silver-spotted skipper butterfly can shoot a turdette 4 feet. That's the same as humans firing their poo a massive 250ft. The mind boggles. Synchronize a couple of jamjars full of those little buggers and it would be like the afterburner of an F-16 fighter.

I wonder if I could patent this as an alternative, renewable energy source?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen


NHOP
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I've been a bit slow to report this sad news; there's been too much going on this month. The great bass player, Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen died in his native Copenhagen on 1st May at the much too young age of 58. He recorded prolifically and played with all the greats: saxophonists Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Roland Kirk and Dexter Gordon; trumpeters Chet Baker and the pianist Bill Evans. From 1984 until 1987 he toured as a member of the Oscar Peterson trio. I saw him in London once in that period although I don't remember where, -the Capital Jazz Festival or Ronnie Scott's club perhaps. He will be mourned but not forgotten.

Jazzcat posts a full obituary.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Rover Mini Cooper J213 HML: Part 2


J213 HML, c2003, looking much more muscular than it was back in 1993.

OK, enough of the biohazardous Beeny: let’s get back to matters of substance. So there I was, back in 1993, driving around London in my sooper-dooper Mini Cooper S, thinking I was the dog’s bollocks. I then discovered that the Mini has an entire industry devoted to customization and I showered my little car with presents. Better wheels, sports suspension, twin fuel tanks, walnut dashboard, genuine Webasto fabric sun roof, extra spotlights and so on. Every month I would scan the pages of MiniWorld for new ideas and over a period of a few years the car got faster and sportier. I drove the length and breadth of the country at demon speed but I was still hankering after one more thing. Horsepower! The 1275cc “A” series lump was willing but certainly no firebreather. I talked to most of the engine tuners and I particularly liked the sound of Bill Richards. I took the car down to his facility in Ashford, Kent, and lo and behold I found myself agreeing to a 1380cc big bore conversion. This was the start of a beautiful friendship.

The engine was duly rebuilt and converted to the classic twin carburettor format. Once run in the car was truly very quick. I saw 124mph on the M20 motorway, albeit with downhill with the wind behind me, and I once drove 271 miles from London to Durham in under 4 hours. Fantastic! However all this performance came at a price. I was constantly fettling the car. Something was always in need of adjustment and it developed lots of silly minor faults. The cam made the engine too lumpy for slow moving London driving and the radiator barely coped with the extra heat. I started to dread any kind of traffic jam and my eye was always riveted to the temperature gauge. I’d tried to turn the car into a modern GT cruiser and while I’d got tremendous performance, I hadn’t realized that to achieve this objective in a 40 year old design it is also necessary to do a lot of maintenance. Really I’d converted the Mini into something more like a Porsche –and it was no coincidence that that I’d convinced myself I needed something like a German autobahn cruiser. So reluctantly I sold J213 HML in January of 1998. I got a good price for it and it went to a good home. Nevertheless I felt teary about its departure. Somehow I’d sold an old friend. I think that Minis, despite their shortcomings, are the only cars that can get under your skin like this. I did indeed buy a Porsche but that’s a tale for another day….

So where does the story end? Well for four years I often thought about my little green friend. Then, in early 2002, a few months after my move to the USA, I was reading the classified ads in a copy of MiniWorld and noticed a familiar looking description “Rover Mini Cooper S, BRG, Bill Richards motor….” J 213 HML was up for sale! I emailed the owner the next day but the car had been sold and the trail was once again cold. But not for long. Within a month I was contacted by a gentleman by the name of Skip from Michigan, USA. Skip had purchased the car through a broker, had it converted to LHD and exported to America. I felt incredibly relieved to know that my former little companion was at least on the same continent and was living with an enthusiast. That was three years ago and Skip and I correspond regularly. All in all a happy ending I think. It’s nice when things work out like this…

Monday, May 16, 2005

Top Tottie's Toxic Terror

Property ladder
Today I'm going to break my rule about writing only one post in a 24 hour period as the topic below is too good to miss for a cheap opportunist like me. And furthermore if I save it until tomorrow I'll alienate all those of you who come here looking for stories on Mini Coopers.

This story has just appeared on the BBC News website. It seems that the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Co-Operative Bank have been trying to draw attention to environmental toxins. To do this they tested the blood from a panel of public figures for over a hundred different chemicals including nasty halogenated hydrocarbons, organophosphate pesticides and so forth. So guess who was the winner? Why none other than the lovely Sarah Beeny who has featured extensively in these pages over the last week or so. The unfortunate Ms Beeny had 30 different chemicals in her blood. No details of her clinical chemistry profile were published so we can only speculate how she came to be in this state of profound pollution. Perhaps she's been exposed to asbestos in dodgy old properties (I really hope not) or she's got mercury poisoning from eating too much shellfish? No mention was made of silicone...

Alright, that's it. I promise. Two weeks ago I'd barely heard of this lady and now she seems to be omnipresent. It's funny how things go.

Mini story tomorrow unless World War III breaks out (perhaps I shouldn't tempt fate)!

New Links for Your Entertainment

Today I’m adding some links to a few new sites. These are permanent features of the right-hand sidebar. Since I’ve started blogging I’ve become aware of many great websites. I’ve also sifted through a great many dull, boring and plain silly offerings. So today I’m trying to offer some diversity. A large number of blogs have the same old links to sites that, in my opinion, are quite poor. I’m trying my best to avoid this problem here and I’ve been “auditioning” the new links posted here for some time in order to mimimize the chance that you will be sent off on a wild goose chase to some dreary outpost of the web; -having said that I must emphasize that the content of all sites, other than my own, is outside my control and if you are offended or find they didn’t meet your expectations don’t come whining back to me.

General Interest
Schpaa has a lot of hilarious movie clips and animated cartoons. Some are a bit off colour though so as I said above, please don’t come back to complain. Personally I recommend the film clips of “Why Arabs shouldn’t shoot guns” (#9), “Extreme Rally Crash” (#61) and "Zazoo Condoms" (#69).

Science News: The content is self-evident -all sorts of interesting news about scientific discoveries and breakthroughs.

Smoking Gun
: This site is well known for its political exposés.


Arts and Entertainment

Now here's an eclectic mix:

Jazzcat: A great Jazz site.

I’ve posted two martial arts sites. They may not be your cup of tea but I’ve had a lifelong interest in this stuff and these two blogs are sincere, well-written and have lots of photos. Mingshi’s kendo blog is an attractive diary of a young martial artist living in the UK. I can relate more to iaido (sword drawing) than kendo but note that I still struggle with the same issues she does even after years of practice. Uchi Deshi describes the day-to-day life of a full time aikidoist in San Diego. Having trained for 5 years in this city myself (although not at the same dojo) this blog brings it all back to me. And, unlike Mingshi’s blog, I note the author is of similar age to me which makes it easier for me to empathise.

Mo’s Musings: Mo is the mirror image of me, geographically speaking. An American ex-pat living in England.

Larry Ayers: A gentle account of life in the country by a maker of stringed musical instruments and technology whizz. Nice photos of flowers and generally soothing. I just hope he doesn’t kill himself on his motorcycle.

Onionbag: Whimsical and humourous blog about life in South London. Lots of photos. My only criticism is that it paints too idyllic a picture. This is London without traffic congestion, Chavs, larger louts, Lewisham and dog poo.

Soapy Goldfish: A strange and funny site. It’s easier for you to read it than me to describe…

Mostly Political
The political sites are mostly American and somewhat left-leaning. I don’t know why but Brits seem more inclined to humour while the Yanks take their politics very seriously. So I offer the following:

Axis of Evel Knevel: Clever and funny! Some pictures. The author, David Noon, likes cats too.

Daily Kos: Superb news site with strong lefttward leanings. Professionally written.

Juan Cole: Informed comment by a Professor of History.

Lawyers Guns Money: Another semi-professional site. Entertaining and progressive.

Majikthise: Analytic philosophy and liberal politics from Lindsay Beyerstein. OK, she nicked the name from Hitchhikers Guide but she’s very good.

Shot by Both Sides: A British site, I think. Tagline, “He’s drunk, he’s mean, he works for the bad guys”. I don’t know who “He” is though.

Smirking Chimp: A very good site. Very professional. No prizes for guessing who provided the inspiration for the name.

Part 2 of the Green Mini story tomorrow, I promise...

Friday, May 13, 2005

John Smith Memorial Breakfast

Sorry, but you're all going to have to be patient regarding the second episode of my Rover Mini Cooper reminiscences. A pressing topic has struck me and it can't wait as will become evident. Oh and to you perverts readers who came here looking for pictures of Sarah Beeny and Kirstie Allsopp just scroll down to get your fancy tickled.

The reason for the urgency of this post is that today is John Smith Memorial day [see footnote]. Now before you say, "Oh no, not another bloody obituary", I must interject to make a few points. First of all this isn't really an obit, although it does commemorate a great man. Second there is a real obituary in the works for someone else but I haven't had an opportunity to lash it together yet as I've been too obsessed with other matters such as my site traffic and Sarah Beeny.

Here's the story. Eleven years ago today I'd decided that a bonding session would be good for the lab and that we should all go to breakfast. So it was on May 12th 1994 that I traipsed off with half a dozen other miscreants from the Dept. of Immunology at St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School to the Fox & Anchor pub in Smithfield for a bolus of cholesterol. Now the F&A really do make the best breakfast in London. The pub services the porters at the Smithfield meat market and was, at the time, open to serve alcohol at 7.00am in the morning. Now I understand that licensing laws have been reformed but a decade ago it was a big deal to legally buy beer for breakfast. I don't know whether the pub had access to especially fresh cuts of meat but the gargantuan plates of bacon, sausage and black pudding they served up were absolutely delicious (not to mention the eggs, mushrooms, baked beans and fried bread). Magic! Apparently they do a special seasonal beer known as "Old Growler" although I always missed the opportunity. Anyway on that fateful day we all rolled back to the lab in a pleasant cholesterol-induced torpor. I remember thinking that my arteries were hardening by the minute and I had no interest in eating more food that day. Truly heavy fuel.


John Smith
We'd not been back at work for more than half an hour when some shocking news was announced on the radio. John Smith, the leader of the Labour opposition party (remember these were the days when John Major and the Tories ruled England's Green and Pleasant Land) had died suddenly of a heart attack, wait for it, in St. Bartholomew's Hospital!. What irony!! While we were working on inducing congestive heart failure, John Smith was actually dying of the same in our place of work. Poor man. He was, by all accounts an extremely pleasant person and of the highest integrity. I never read a bad word about him. Tony Blair, who could have learned a thing or two about ingenuousness from John Smith, then seized the reins of power and the rest is history.

And thereby a tradition started. Every year therafter on May 12th the lab held the John Smith Memorial Breakfast at the Fox & Anchor. Partly in jest and partly in honour of the man. It was a popular event with all manner of people from outside the Dept. inviting themselves along. Now, having not attended a JS memorial Breakfast for four years it occurs to me that we have nothing quite like it here in Seattle. Never mind; John Smith we will remember you although perhaps for the wrong reasons!


P.S. Oh, and before some smart Alec points out that today is May 13, I did actually write the post on the 12th.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Rover Mini Cooper J213 HML: Part 1

With John Cooper
The author (left) with John Cooper and J213 HML in October 1993. Yours truly is sporting a very nice jacket and totally dire Reebok (box-fresh by the look of them) trainers. So California c1989, although I remember thinking at the time that this was the “Hampstead Intellectual” look…

Right, yesterday I promised you something more substantial. I thought I’d do another “nostalgia-automotive” piece. It’s quite a long story and will require two parts but anyway here goes. Recently I had some correspondence from a nice man who goes by the nickname “Skip”. Now I’ll get to Skip a bit more in just awhile but my dialog with him has prompted me to write this article.

Back in 1992, after spending 10 years in the New World I returned to a good job in London. My reasons for doing this were very typical of many ex-pats. I had an aged and infirm parent as well as a rosy view of England’s green and pleasant land. You know, warm beer, cricket and all that. Anyway no matter what the reality, back in 1992/3 I was inhabiting an outrageously expensive studio flat in Primrose Hill and feeling totally depressed by the Renault 19 I’d bought from a friend out of convenience on my arrival back on Albion’s shores. So I went searching for something a bit more satisfying and sporty but not too expensive and still practical for inner city driving.

Lo and behold the answer was sitting on the forecourt of a Rover dealership in Muswell Hill: a perky one-year-old Mini Cooper in British Racing Green with white bonnet stripes. I’d wanted a Cooper since my teenage years but the only Mini I’d owned was very rough 850cc around 1981-82 that seemed to live mostly in the workshop of local Finsbury Park mechanics, Costas and Sodos (yes, really). But the modernized Rover Cooper was another kettle of fish. The dealer convinced me that thanks to modern quality control methods the new cars didn’t rust and were totally reliable thanks to fuel injection, modern electronics blah, blah, blah (the lying bastard). I didn’t need much persuasion and the Renault was duly traded in and I drove off in the Mini grinning like an idiot.

The great charm of Minis is that they are smile-inducing. The handling is ultra responsive thanks to razor sharp steering, decent brakes and small size with a “wheel in each corner”. In other words you always know exactly where you are and feel in control. But I’d forgotten something quite critical. While living in the USA I’d got used to driving in a modern Mitsubishi turbocharged hothatch. The 1950s origin BMC “A” series motor in the Mini couldn’t hold a candle to the Japanese car in terms of performance despite its 1275cc motor and fuel injection. In addition the motor sounded like a set of spanners rattling in a biscuit tin when pushed hard. After a bit of pondering I decided to visit John Cooper Garages in Sussex. John Cooper had recently re-offered an “S” upgrade and let’s face it I’d ogled Cooper Esses since my teenage years and devotedly followed the rally exploits of Hopkirk, Aaltonen, Makkinen et al. So I quite willingly forked out for the S upgrade (hot cylinder head, hi-lift rockers, big exhaust) as well as a pair of sports seats, Koni shock absorbers and some shiny aluminium fittings that had the John Cooper insignia all over them. The car looked and sounded great, went a bit faster and certainly handled better. Definitely a cheery little beast so for awhile at least I was satisfied. But things change…

Come back to read about Part 2 of the story.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Stone the Crows -My Site Traffic has Doubled!

Today is just a quick note. Once again I blame pressure of work. But before I say anything else, if you arrived here looking for salacious pictures of female TV celebs just scroll down a bit although you may be disappointed with what you find...

To everyone else I should say that my experiment with site traffic has succeeded. The number of hits has doubled in the last three days. Amazing! And this is not due to my writing prowess on matters about theoconservative politics, camshaft profiles or other such erudite matters. Most of the visits are due to Google searches looking for pert property programme presenters. Indeed at one point yesterday Mad Dogs and Englishmen was the second listing on Google for the keyword string "Sarah Beeney Pictures". Note the subtle plug, I've got that name in again!

Actually I feel it's a bit of a cheap trick. And I'm not sure what I think of a lot of voyeuristic types pawing through these pages -look, just don't touch anything, OK!

I promise I’ll have something more substantial to say tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Evolution

The Kansas State Board of Education wants to change the way evolution is taught in schools. It proposes that Darwinian evolution be described as a theory and that teachers give consideration to “Intelligent Design”: a movement that suggests that life could not have originated randomly and an intelligent mind or deity is the real architect of the universe.

While religious teachings are not permitted in publicly funded schools in the USA (the country is officially secular and there is, in principle, a separation between Church and State) it seems to me that Intelligent Design is nothing more than a tarted up version of Creationism.

The march of fundamentalist Christo-Facism in America is disturbing and these proceedings bear more than a passing resemblance to the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, where a high school science teacher was famously convicted of violating a state law forbidding the teaching of evolution.

In any case if Intelligent Design really is behind Life on Earth you’d think it would have come up with something better than the Kansas Board of Education.
QED!

Monday, May 09, 2005

A Cozy Relationship

bushandabdullah8ag
Somehow I find this well-travelled photo of W cozying up to Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia quite troubling. Perhaps it's because of the blatant grovelling going on. There seems to no limit to the hypocritical depths he will sink in order to secure the oil supply from and sell arms to a regime that is horribly repressive to women, conducts public beheadings and was home to the majority of the 9/11 hijackers. And what about the hand holding you ask? Well George is notoriously homophobic and you know what they say about that and repressed tendencies, don't you?

Suggestions for captions, anyone?

Site Traffic

The number of people visiting my site doubled yesterday although not for the reason I predicted in my previous post. The influx of visitors was not due to the reference to Sarah Beeny and Kirstie Allsopp (so much for that hypothesis) but because of a review on veteran blogger, Tim Worstall's site. Thanks Tim!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Top Totty: Sarah Beeny and Kirstie Allsopp (an Internet Traffic Experiment)

First of all I must apologise for The Sun-esque title of this piece. It’s not my style to be gratuitously lewd but you’ll catch my drift in a bit. Last month (see post for April 15) I made mention of changes in UK popular culture since I left for the USA nearly 4 years ago and specifically how certain people had since risen to prominence. Two individuals I mentioned were Sarah Beeny and Kirstie Allsopp. I had absolutely no idea who these women were except that incorrigible blogger, Scaryduck, keeps referring to them in a way that involves improbable fantasies with large quantities of baby oil (and I think he mentioned a melon on one occasion). Now it seems I am not the only one in the dark as several readers appear to be equally clueless but all I can say is that I’m getting an awful lot of hits from Google searches for this pair. And all because I casually mentioned their names! So I thought that this post would serve two purposes: (1) It would enlighten readers who have somehow missed out on the ascendance of two Brit TV celebs and (2) It’s a cheap way to increase my site traffic!

Thus let me explain, courtesy of Google, Amazon and IMDB.

Sarah Beeny
Sarah Beeney
Ms Beeny, it seems, is the host of a couple of TV shows on Channel 4 (From House to Home and The Property Ladder) relating to, err, property. Now I have no critical insight into the quality of these shows or really of Ms Beeny herself. There are one or two photos on the web that suggest she is indeed pleasant on the eye and FunJunkie makes reference to her feminine charms in a marginally flattering way. I suspect she’s quite bright and has books published and available here. I can’t find her biography though so that’s about all I can say.

Kirstie Allsopp

Kirstie Allsopp
Funnily enough this individual is also a Channel 4 presenter who knows a thing or two about real estate. What’s with that? –as they like to say over here. Well I’m not sure but it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. The Channel 4 site lists several other posh looking uberbabe types who present property programmes. Other names salacious internet cruisers may want to check out include Naomi Cleaver, Melanie Cantor, Victoria Hollingsworth, Simone Bienne, Zilpah Hartley, Seetha Hallett (look, I’m not making these names up –just look for yourself) and Jasmin Harman. Oh, and I suppose I should mention that there are two or three male presenters but they all look like dreadful wide boys and are quite unremarkable. So back to Ms. Allsopp. She appears to be more than a bit sloaney. Her father is Lord Hindlip, the former chairman of Christie's. I’m not sure how bright she is (she left Bedale’s with just a handful of GCSEs) but supposedly she’s studied architecture and design quite extensively. The Guardian referred to her as a “dykon” (ghastly word) because of her penchant for high heels and a tendency to be bossy.

So there you are.

To those previously in the dark, I hope this helps. To you sleazoid net cruisers, sorry this wasn’t very exciting –and please don’t touch anything around here without first washing your hands.

This has certainly been an edifying process for me: I’m still trying figure out how Channel 4 can broadcast so many shows on houses. Maybe the British have turned into a nation of property speculators?

Now I’m going to sit back and see what happens to my site hit counter.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Swingometer

No proper post today. I've got quite a lot on my plate at work and my spare time will be taken up listening to Radio 4 feed and trying to find Peter Snow and his swingometer somewhere on the internet.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

"Clapton is God (Bruce and Baker too)"

Cream 2005
Royal Albert Hall, London, 2005

Cream’s reunion concerts being held at the Royal Albert Hall this week have been very well received to say the least. Reams of pretentious copy have already been filed about the reformation of the world’s first supergroup; -I suspect in many cases by hacks who grew up listening to Duran Duran and other such lightweight ninnies. OK, I’m sure that back in 1968 Messrs Clapton, Bruce and Baker would have had apoplexy if they had been told that The Daily Telegraph would be writing ecstatic reviews about their performances. But things change. The boys from the 60s are now in their 60s. And not in the best of health either. Ginger Baker has osteoarthritis and Jack Bruce has had a liver transplant (hmm, I can imagine what that’s all about). Mercifully all are now apparently free of addictions to dangerous injectable substances. However despite age and infirmity it seems they can still play their backsides off. I’ve seen each member of the band perform as part of a separate group but I never saw Cream as a functioning unit. One of my classmates at Guildford Tech went to see the farewell concert and the rest of us were insanely jealous. I’d love to see them now but I can’t afford two thousand quid for a ticket and I somehow doubt this reunion will last for very long (but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed).
cream-fillmore-67
Fillmore, San Francisco, 1967

Four decades ago (where have they gone?) these guys changed the sound of “amplified popular guitar music” in the space of two years. Pure genius. Tony (if you get back in tomorrow) take heed. A few more knighthoods are in order here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Blog with a Difference

Marburg virus
An electronmicrograph of the Marburg virus taken by Dr. F.A. Murphy, University of California, Davis and featured on the National Health Museum site.

While most of the blogging community submits posts from fairly comfortable middle class surroundings, Zoe Young, couldn’t be more different. She works for Medecins Sans Frontieres in Angola where she is trying to contain the outbreak of Marburg virus. Her accounts of the disease and her attempts to control it are described in a series of reports on the BBC News site, here. This diary is simply extraordinary as is the heroism of Dr Young and her colleagues. It is very difficult for us to imagine the discomfort of working in a biohazard suit, in tropical conditions, with nothing but a bleach spray to prevent infection. Marburg is similar to its more notorious cousin, Ebola virus. There are no vaccines or effective drugs. Infection is invariably fatal. Dr Young’s posts are harrowing but serve as a reminder that we are fortunate, for the most part, to be spared from this savage side of nature. Do read it!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Ariel Red Hunter

Ariel Red Hunter_1

Enough political ranting for awhile, -it's time to for automotive matters once more. Today's picture is of my Ariel Red Hunter of mid-50s vintage. I owned this lovely single cylinder 350cc bike around 1967-68. I paid quite a lot of money for it back then (for me at least). I seem to remember a sum of £25-30. It was a proper full size motorbike and in very respectable condition. The exhaust note had a delightful mellifluous "thud-thud-thud" that is exclusive to singles. Starting involved manipulating an ignition advance-retard lever and choke, easing the kickstart to get the piston a bit before top dead centre and then giving an almighty heave. If I got it wrong (not too often, thankfully) the motor would backfire and try to kick me over the handlebars. Manly stuff indeed!

I zoomed around on the Ariel for about 6 months. I no longer felt inferior (as I did with the hopeless BSA Bantam) when in the company of friends who owned bigger machines made by Triumph, BSA and AJS. Indeed I used to ride into the Guildford Tech car park feeling very cool. I felt less cool when I turned up on it at my school speech day. In a moment of adolescent pride (stupidity?) I had eschewed the offer of a lift from my parents, wishing to appear independent and a free spirit. Needless to say this was a big mistake as, somewhere along the eight mile journey, the clouds opened and I got drenched. I can remember very clearly trudging on stage to collect my O level certificates with damp trousers and sodden Hush Puppies. I certainly didn't impress the girls that day.

Ultimately the bike developed a bizarre fault. Something like clutch slip. I examined the clutch plates and they appeared fine as did the primary chain and sprocket. I couldn't diagnose the problem and put it down to something "expensive" like main gearbox bearings. Fixing such items was beyond my budget and I sold the bike for £15. In retrospect the Ariel was a classic piece of British engineering and I should have hung onto it. Oh well...