Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A Short History of Yoga

Cutting toenails, yoga-style

Whenever my wife leaves for her weekly yoga session and booze-up I am left pondering the mysteries of this Eastern art (the yoga, not the drinking). It certainly does her good; she always comes back slightly flushed and a little dishevelled, and her yoga teacher seems very pleased as he drops her off in his Porsche, so I know she's putting her back into it.

This evening's session is a little longer than usual so I have had the opportunity to do a little research. Yoga, it turns out, has a long and colourful history. We can scarcely do it justice here. In short, it was invented in the 13th century by a mysterious ancient person from India. Like Father Christmas, he had a long white beard and kindly eyes, but unlike Santa, he was double-jointed, thin, and wore only a very ill-fitting pair of swimming trunks. On his head. During his long and illustrious life, he derived enormous health benefits from bending further than a man has any reasonable right to expect, both forwards and backwards, sometimes even left and right, and shortly before he died he perfected the position snimanataputra upsabootsy ('good heavens I can see your house from here') which today is sadly lost.

Yoga travelled slowly westward to gradually smile upon the ignorant fat unbendy people from Europe. As it travelled it developed and changed, so that many branches of yoga appeared. There are popular derivatives today to suit every taste, such as Pilates (yoga for pilots) and Iyengar (an involuntary exclamation of dismay when you see the back of your knees for the first time). Lesser known types include Waystaponelee (yoga for the upper body) and Pasmeethachipps (yoga for the larger person, involving eating rather than bending). And it's not just an imaginative way to slip a disc; there is a whole set of ideologies which would shame a fully-qualified Jedi. At £4 a week, that's what I call value for money.

Although this is strictly my wife's territory, I have to admit to having dabbled myself. My few lessons opened up new sensations for me; an overwhelming feeling of humility as a whole roomful of women, touching their toes with their elbows, snigger discreetly while I try to touch my toes with, well, anything, actually; the discipline of not breaking wind on the way down; how it feels when you rip an entire toenail off on the carpet. You get the picture.

Despite its origins yoga does seem to be an activity designed with women in mind. I acknowledge that I may be just doing it wrong, but some of the positions can be really quite uncomfortable, leaving one's male accoutrements either crushed or distressingly stretched. On balance I'll probably stick to golf. At least there's a sport that when you lose a ball, it's an annoyance, not a disaster.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Brave New (Plastic) World

Much better than the real thing

Front page news! Local bars are now to begin using plastic glasses and bottles instead of glass. This is a good thing, according to the local constabulary. I entirely agree; use of plastic means that the local yoof can now knock seven bells out of each other every weekend in complete safety. You might even argue that the use of plastic is an inspiring call to arms; the establishment that uses it is obviously expecting trouble, so let's not disappoint them.

But there are other, less obvious, advantages. Once the 'glasses' wear in a bit, the rough surfaces become quite absorbent, leading to the retention of some interesting flavours. You may order a 'glass' of water, but if the previous user of the 'glass' drank, say, a Pernod and Blackcurrant (a popular drink in the 70s so its return is imminent), and the user before that drank, ooh, a Babycham (ditto, except it was never all that popular), then imagine the subtle tastes that will leach into the water. Mmmm.

But not so fast. As the airline industry knows all too well, the most innocent items can become weapons. Shoes and belts can be pretty scary, as can nail scissors. A friend of mine had the immobiliser removed from his car keys as he boarded a flight, rendering his car useless, but hey, he flew in the knowledge that he was safe. Probably.

But I digress. The point here is to issue a warning about the dangers of plastic glasses. What's to stop some enterprising soul filling one with stones and knocking the opposition on the head? Or holding their nose in a 'glass' full of beer until they drown? Or focussing the rays of the sign into a dangerous spot of heat?

So here's a modest and envrionmentally sound suggestion. The pub of the future should serve drinks from cardboard containers. (If we can pee into them in hospital, then surely we can hold a drink in them for a while.) We could print useful public health messages on the glass, like 'alcohol is harmful to your health' or 'bumping into tables gives you bruises'.

Me? I'll stay at home and watch a film. With a glass of wine. From a glass. Cheers.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Merry Christmas everyone!

Always dress warmly
during cold weather

Not grumpy today, no sirree. I am lifted from the drudgery of a visit to Sainsburys by the sight of the new Christmas chocolate biscuit range. Festive cheer already! We can have three whole months of celebrating, and I for one can hardly wait.

Whilst examining the sumptuous new range I overheard an old lady asking a cheerful storeperson where the gardening range was. His response was that such things are seasonal, and therefore no longer stocked. So she can take heart too. Autumn is traditionally a very busy time in the garden, but this year she can kick back and enjoy a premature Yuletide Chocolate Hobnob.

Since the biscuits are in already, I wonder what other seasonal delights await. Let me guess. Soon we will be able to load up on Spiderman Holiday Calendars, since Advent calendars are horribly old-fashioned, two-dimensional and just not calorific enough. Our pets will enjoy their very own stockings; hilarious novelty items will send us giggling round the aisles; we can be astounded at forty-seven different varieties of Christmas cracker; baubles for the tree, checked by the HSE, will ensure a shiny but safe holiday for our loved ones.

If we think this is all too gluttonous, then we can salve any guilt by chucking a tin of Basics Tinned Tomatoes into the Basics Bank. So all those poor and homeless people can enjoy three months of relentless jollity too. Share the love!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Beginner's guide to Twitter

Tweet! Tweet!

Who needs yet another social networking site? Not me. How anyone can begin to write anything significant in 140 characters or less is beyo

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Baroness? Scotland? Resign? Nah

Scottish people often
wear tartan

So Baroness S has been handed down a £5K slap on the wrist for flouting her own laws with respect to the hiring of illegal immigrants. As difficult as it might be to envision anyone outside the government getting away with this, she has, and will. Quelle surprise.

While I'm warming to my subject, why is everyone in the Labour Party a Lord, Lady, Baronet/ess, etc. these days? Didn't Tony Blair come to power with lots of rhetoric about an elected second chamber? (Shortly before replacing nearly all the hereditaries with his mates, bankers, and family).

Anyway, do politicians ever resign for anything any more? Does anyone remember Robin Cook's heroic resignation from the cabinet over Iraq? If it seems a long time ago, that's because it was. The last person with any honour deserted this bankrupt and defunct government years ago.

And lest we forget, the good baroness was in the news two days ago for waltzing off with £170K of yours and my money after claiming the allowance for peers living outside London. Perhaps Chiswick is outside of London in her book, or perhaps she considers her £2M house to be so above the run of the mill that she is effectively outside London. Whatever, I bet she gets away with that too. It's a good day to bury bad news.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

It must be Sunday...

A typical mower

...because the neighbourhood is alive with the sounds of garden machinery. Mowers, hedgetrimmers, chainsaws, machines for pointlessly blowing leaves around the garden, you name it.

There's a gap in the great wave of ecomentalism that's sweeping the planet. We're worried about pollution, carbon footprints, rainforests, gulf streams, et al, and quite right too, but we've missed something. What about quality of life? Not just for endangered species or exotic tribes, but, well, you know, me. We don't seem to worry about noise pollution in our own back yard; and if we're desensitised enough for that then maybe our judgement when trying to save the rest of the planet is equally impaired. (Oops - I'm off subject - I feel a future grumpyblog coming on).

So back to garden machinery. What's going on here then? How come Honda, home of the slick and slimy adverts proclaiming how their products are making our world a better happier fluffier etc. place, make garden tools which can be heard clear across town? If they can make a car run on a glass of water or a cow fart for a week, can't they fit a silencer to a lawn mower? Just wondering.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Die, Electronic Arts, die

A randomly-chosen
character from RA2

Ok, I admit it. I play games. I'm 47 and I play games. Why? A host of reasons; they relax me, it's a way to share a hobby with the kids, they're good for the brain (if you choose carefully) but most of all this; they're clever. You're not just playing a game; you're getting into the mind of the person who wrote it.

I've worked with computers all my adult life, and games have always pushed what they can do. It takes a very bright team of people to make that little box under the desk jump and hum the way some games force it to; extraordinary graphics, other-worldly sounds, and an intelligence that in the best games, runs rings around the gamer.

Westwood Studios were among the brightest and best for a long time. Their Command and Conquer games were witty, sharp, imaginative. Time and again they pushed their own envelope to produce a game that engaged the imagination for long enjoyable evenings. They were among the first to produce a game that could be networked allowing two or more players to share a game. Gaming became a social activity and a very enjoyable one. Read Alert 2 is still one of the best games ever; try it if you haven't already.

Then along came Electronic Arts. They bought out Westwood and proceeded to milk the franchise with a series of dull and lifeless titles. But worse - they got greedy. Westwood used to give away an extra CD with each game so you could play with a buddy. This is way too generous for EA. Go out and buy two.

But with their latest title, the execrable Red Alert 3, they've gone a step further. It's not a great game; recycled humour and washed-up actors grinding out a tired plot. Much has been made of DRM (Digital Rights Management) which only lets you install the game five times; then your expensive DVD is a coaster. But I can live with DRM, because the game was hyped as one where you can play along with someone else. My two sons were dead keen; and father-son time is a precious thing.

So here's the added twist, and the one that's really hacked me off. To play a network game you need to register with an e-mail address. So my younger son registered and promptly forgot which address he'd used. He's 13 - what did they expect?

The result? Having bought two copies of this game, I can't play on a network with my kids, regardless of the hype. EA support is non-existent; we can't reset it. My game is a coaster before I ever expected it to be.

A new C and C title is in the works. It'll be the first that I won't buy. I don't think I'll be alone. People of Westwood, if you're still out there, buy your poor broken company off these idiots and give us our games back.