Monday, 30 November 2009

The Blood Donor

NHS dress code used to be much more relaxed
Addressing a lifetime's delinquency, I went to give blood today. My wife has done it for years, and in the 'container of blood' club, she has attained small wheelbarrow status. It's a breeze, she tells me. You won't feel a thing, she tells me.

We set off. Hell's bells - what have they done to the village hall? It's ghastly, like a scene from the old Hammer classic "The Mass Production Facility of Count Dracula". Beds everywhere, with people on them bleeding into bottles. My knees wobble, but I've eaten garlic recently, and the missus is with me, so in we go.

They greet her like an old friend ("Back so soon, Mrs Grumpy? Usual bed?"), but I have to undergo first-timers' initiation. It turns out they're quite fussy. Amazingly, it's OK to visit North Africa, but you can't give blood if you've been to North America. They may claim West Nile Virus, but I think they're worried we might start demanding payment. They're a canny bunch across the pond.

Besides wanting to know where you've been, they want to know all about your sex life. Some of the questions would make a trooper blush. Certainly not, I answer to questions 4 through 9, not with my bad back, and even if I wanted to I wouldn't know how. They ask if you've bounced around with anyone in a country where HIV is prevalent. I've been on an exotic holiday with my wife. Does that count? Confusing.

Questions, questions. What is your ethnicity? Have you ever been a member of the Conservative Party? Do you sell wartime memorabilia on eBay? Do you wear pyjamas in bed? I lie, obviously. Their privacy statement ominously says 'Unless we are required to do so by law, we will not disclose any personal information'. In other words, if you admit to having visited Morocco then HM Customs will drop round with dogs and sledgehammers, demanding to inspect your souvenirs. You have been warned.

At last the nosy questionnaire is out of the way. A nice nurse pricks my finger and then squeezes out a gigantic blob of blood, to test me for anaemia, and squeamishness. I pass the test by not passing out, so then it's off to the bed where the real business starts. It's super-efficient. Sweater off. Lie down. Tap, tap on the arm. Squeeze this. That? Yes, this. 'Nice vein'. 'Why, thank you'. Out with the needle; little scratch. Ouch.

Ouch. And more ouch. 'Does that hurt?' she asks. Er, yes. She wiggles the needle. Ouch. 'Does it still hurt?' Ouch. Yes. It seems she's gone in one side of the vein and out the other. I bravely try squeezing a fist for a while but I'm drier than Alabama on a Sunday morning. She's a bit embarrassed, and patches me up. It might bruise, she says. (She's right).

So I skulk in the corner while my wife lines up with the other veterans to receive her golden wheelbarrow. But there's a silver lining. On the way out, they still give me a free drink, and a curly-wurly! Ha! I beat the system! I can go again in 16 weeks. Sign me up.

(With apologies to the late but still great Tony Hancock.)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Haikus Are For Weenies

Limerick, Ireland: Home to humourous
verse and, er, shorts

I summarised last month in haiku. My good mate dozyoldbuga at the time said that 'Haiku are just limericks with a posh education'. Stung, I report the month in limerick form then.

First, a round-up of world news:

At the prospect of President Rompuy
Europeans are getting quite jumpy
A Belgian on top?
Someone else, put a stop!
So I nominate UberGrumpy

The anonymous Lady of Ashton
By the press has been thoroughly bashed on
After far too much fizz
She defends her job, viz:
"I'm the firsht, but I won't be the lasht one"

From the US, the no. 1 charmer
With the slightly odd name of Obama
Went to China but then
Buggered off home again
What a blow for the poor Dalai Lama

And in science news:

And lo! the Large Hadron Collider
Finally has protons inside 'er
She'll soon be the cause
Of new physical laws
Which will silence the folk who deride 'er

London traffic congestion is chronic
But they're planning a car, supersonic!
Why not, instead
Make a driveable bed
Since we all come to work catatonic

Closer to home, the quaint but weird Queen's Speech has triggered the run-in to the UK General Election. Snore. Here are the main contenders:

Gordon Brown, through the speech of the Queen,
can vent his electoral spleen
More taxes by stealth!
Then that dirty word, wealth
Just like Brown, will become a has-been

David Cameron, old boy from Eton
Doesn't think he can ever be beaten
Dave, don't count that chicken!
Or you'll soon be lickin'
The wounds from the voters' unseatin'

Nick Clegg, of the Lib Dem persuasion
Has ambitions to rule the whole nation
But he hasn't a hope
Unless we can cope
With proportional representation

A nasty young young man name of Griffin
Ate far too much BNP tiffin
But it's really all right
'cause the chocolate is white
So he'll just have to tuck his midriff in

Lord Pearson is looking quite surly
The polls make the UKIP1 look girly
So let's cheer him up
With a great steaming cup
of Earl Grey, and a nice curly-wurly

1 - Pronounced you-kip so yes it does scan, thank you very much

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Goodbye, award, it's been real

Advanced astronaut training.
I never made it this far

I'm supposed to pass on the award I got the other day, so it goes to Kate Lightfoot. Kate runs a warm and chatty blog from a village in Spain and she never fails to cheer me up, although her recipes are making me chunky. And no, those aren't her real ears.

I am reminded that a condition of the award was to reveal seven things about yourself. A deal's a deal:

1. I have been in a succession of bands with dubious names; The Flying Bogeys, The Sensible Jerseys, The Puffy Daddies, and these days, Hot Rabbit, to name but a few. The Sensible Jerseys gave Billy Bragg his first gig at some godforsaken college in North London. He blew us off the stage. I then left and they promptly got a record deal

2. I was turned down for astronaut training because of claustrophobia, and a nasty propensity for haemarrhoids in zero-gravity situations. Since that fateful day, I have never been on one of those free-fall rides at Thorpe Park, Six Flags, etc

3. Whilst attending the Bolshoi ballet in Moscow, as you do, I once stood at the next urinal to Peter Gabriel. And no, I didn't take a sneaky look at his manly parts, I was too busy trying to look nonchalant. This is tricky when you're peeing, even though Frenchmen seem to manage very well. We ran into David Byrne of Talking Heads in the hotel lift that very same weekend

4. I started a software company in the UK and US on the very same day (with some buddies, obviously). Its first name was 'Harlequin' which here means 'witty and sharp', but which stateside turns out to mean 'buffoon'. We quickly changed it to MATRA which everyone then mistook for MARTA, the Atlanta so-called public transport system

5. I drive a shiny Jag-wah supercharged turbo nutter bastard, and a really beaten up old Nissan Primera, and I think on balance I prefer the Nissan, even though it's a bit smelly from taking garden rubbish to the dump. This is mainly because it has more seats, and it doesn't have those ludicrous alloy wheels that cost you a bazillion quid to fix if you brush up against an awkward obstacle, like, oh, a pedestrian, or Sainsburys

6. I cut my own hair, apart from the awkward curly-wurly bit at the back which my wife hilariously pretends to do, but actually leaves so the kids can have a good giggle. Ha! Didn't think I knew, did you?

7. While revealing facts about myself I always tell one lie. Or is it two?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

It's Frothy, Man

Phew! I'll have another Grande please
Sainsburys used to corner off a section where the old ladies and gents could come and have a natter and a cup of tea, for the princely sum of 30p. It was all a bit greasy and the tea was cold, but they'd warm it up in the microwave at no extra charge, and they'd wipe the old lipstick off the cup if you asked nicely. It had a rather pleasant, chatty English feel to it.

You could get a bacon sandwich if you stumped up a bit more. As a bonus, when your teabag broke, they'd read your fortune in the tea-leaves. ('You will feel slightly queasy this afternoon...')

But a couple of years ago they wiped all that away and put in a shiny new Costa Coffee.

I don't like it. £2.79 for a coffee. Two pounds seventy-nine! The word 'Costa' seems a cruel irony. And you can't get tea at all.

I resisted for a long time, but I thought I'd finally try it. I went in today and joined the queue of yummy mummies with Nasa buggies, and serious-looking business guys. (The old ladies and gents have gone somewhere cheaper). After a long wait it's my turn at the vacant-looking serving person. I ask for a coffee. Coffee? Blank face. Do you want Latte? Cappucino? Americano? Al-caponeo? No, if I want pasta I'll go to bloody Italy, I just want a coffee-o.

Will that be Fair Trade, she asks? No, I say, it's daylight robbery, but I'm thirsty so let's not argue any more.

Much scratching of heads, and whispered negotiation with the 'manager'. How can she be a manager? She's only 12. They duck behind the bar and do something very loud (whooooosh!). Clouds of smoke billow up. I'm just casting around for the fire extinguisher when they pop up and present me with an enormous mug. I negotiate a quick re-mortgage on the ole' mobile phone and pay up.

I sit down with the daily rag and a refreshing curly-wurly, and take a sip. Or rather I don't. No matter how much I tip the mug nothing comes out. This is strange. There's a lady wiping tables. I aske her if ther's something wrong with my coffee. Oh, she says, you'll have to ask the barrista, I'm only the wipe-ista.

Barrister? I only want my coffee, I'm not pressing a lawsuit. Yet.

No, barrista, she says, patiently, they're the schoolchildren who make your coffee.

Enlightened, I return to the bar and politely ask why they've given me coffee-flavoured shaving foam instead of the coffee-o that I asked for. More blank faces. The manager puts down her colouring book and looks sternly at me. Ah sir, she squeaks, our customers like their coffee this way.

I'm your customer! I just handed over my life savings! And I can't find the coffee!

It's there in the bottom, sir, she says, be patient. If you'd wanted less froth you should have asked for it dry.

Eh? Dry coffee? Once when drunk, nearly hung over, and desparate for food, I tried snacking on undissolved instant Nescafe. I have to report that it's not good, although on the plus side your head clears pretty quickly.

I hand back my cup of froth with a haughty sneer. Never mind, I say. I'm off to Tesco. They've got a nice old-fashioned Starbucks.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Unaccustomed as I am...

My wife wins heaps of awards.
This isn't her, obviously

I got an award! Check it out! (I hung it up on the right, there). Thank you Sarah of The Good Girls; I'm quite touched. Go visit her for a warm taste of California sunshine.

The last time I got an award was, I think, when I was 11 and I won the maths prize for swottiest kid. As I remember the prize was a bag of curly-wurlies and an eye-opening book on sex education for the under-12s. I've never looked back.

That was a good year; I also won the slow bicycle race at sports day although my joy was spoilt at the finishing line as I found out you were supposed to come last. It felt good for a while though.

I did win a prize once for Most Reckless Beginner when skiing at Killington in Vermont, but I don't count that since it was awarded mostly for falling all the way down the bunny hill, and may not have been entirely sincere.

So this award is all the more heartfelt, particularly since it comes with a £100 book token at Amazon and lifetime membership of Mr Bojangles, the happening nightspot for over-40s in downtown Eastleigh. Well, OK, it didn't, I bought those, but we all deserve little treats now and again.

My wife, naturally, gets hundreds of awards; tennis, skiing, euphonium, javelin, shot-put, etc. And I suspect there's another one coming. When she was late back from yoga the other day I called her mobile, only to get her instructor. He explained that they were practicing some extra tough positions, and he did sound a bit breathless. They were obviously working hard. Pretty soon I expect he'll be pointing a knick-knack or two her way.

But this one's all for me! I think the etiquette is to pass it on. Hmmm - off to the blogosphere...

Friday, 20 November 2009


Referendum? What referendum?
At last! Europe has appointed its first president. Please welcome: Herman Van Rompuy! Herman Van Who? You may well ask, and you wouldn't be alone. He is the prime minister of Belgium, a country about the size of Disney World, but less sunny, where the belligerent French and Flemish population are continually at each other's throats. Belgians brew insipid beer, make over-sweet chocolate1, and - ah-ha! - host the vast bureaucracies of the sprawling European Union.

Lucky Herman ascended this lofty throne courtesy of a disastrous general election in 2007 which nobody won. Out of this mess, the King Of Belgium asked him to form the government of Belgium. It's like Willy Wonka handing over the chocolate factory. (This Herman seems like a nice kid; let him have a go.)

Behind closed doors, Herman has now been chosen by the leaders of the EU's 27 states to be our glorious leader. He's the president of 500 million people. I didn't vote for him, and neither did anyone I know. We didn't get the chance.

And second place goes to: Britain! The position of foreign policy supremo is handed to Lady Ashton, the EU trade commissioner, who has never held publicly elected office and has only been in post for a year. You've never heard of her either? Neither had I, until just now. But apparently she's jolly nice. And she does have a sociology degree, so she's obviously pretty damned smart.

What have these two paragons of fluff got in common? They're both completely bland. They haven't annoyed anyone, except people like me, and we don't count.

In Britain we were repeatedly promised a referendum on the constitution, which then became the Lisbon treaty. It never happened. The promise meant nothing because it was made by Blair/Brown. At least they're consistent.

Cameron's turn now. Sigh.

Can you imagine this happening in the US? American elections may cost as much to enter as the GDP of a small country like, ooh, Belgium, but at least they get bumper stickers ('Vote Herman and Lady Wotz-er-name 09!'), and everyone gets a say. Even in places like China or Russia they're honest about their dictatorships.

This is the biggest stitch-up in history, bigger even than Jedward on the X Factor. It doesn't feel right. Can it last? Of course it can. No-one cares. Chocolate, anyone?

1 - Not curly-wurlies, obviously, they're British

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Doctor Who?

One of Belle's many fans
Who is Doctor Brooke Magnanti? Why, none other than Belle De Jour, the infamous £300-an-hour courtesan who has blogged her way to fame with detailed and very naughty accounts of her professional exploits. Apparently she got into this after running a bit short of cash for the old PhD. I'm kicking myself. When I was short of beer money at yoony I went and stacked shelves in Sainsburys, which is a much less fun way of doing your back in. But hats off1 to BdJ for a job well done.

Nevertheless, I for one am shocked. £300! And what were they doing for a whole hour? Negotiating? You have to feel a bit sorry for the punters who parted with their hard-earned readies for an illicit quickie, only to find their inadequacies plastered all over the blogosphere, with great wit, erudition, and detail. Explain that to the wife.

The good Doctor now works in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology, where she is a respected specialist. I'll bet. How does she find time to develop all those neurotoxins between book signings, movie rights negotiations, and in-depth interviews? This is one serious over-achiever.

What's she got that I haven't got? It's taken me months to build up a modest following, and there isn't even a sniff of "UberGrumpy: The Movie" yet. A change of tack is needed. Perhaps I need to start blogging about my exploits between the sheets. I think I could raise an eyebrow or two.2

So watch out for my racy new blog. It'll be called "In Bed With UberGrumpy", and the first article will be "Surprise her with a curly-wurly". I'll post as regular as clockwork, once a month, except summer when it's too hot. And Christmas, when we're too tired after all the shopping.

1 - And trousers, presumably
2 - And not much else these days, if the truth be told

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Roger Less

Where do you want these?
I've gone right off the cinema. I'm not unsociable, but I have the family curse; Strange Attraction. If I ever get on a train, the drunk sits next to me. On a plane, I'm in the middle seat between the sumo wrestler and the travelsick Mum with triplets. In Tesco's, old ladies pigeonhole me demanding to know where the luxury toilet rolls are. If the animal rights mob or the Hare Krishnas are in the neighbourhood, they always bang on my door first. You get the idea.

So the cinema is a nightmare. Do you have a mobile phone, BO, extra large popcorn, and four noisy children? Come and share my row. Do you spit when you chew your gum? Yup, the seat behind is free. Did you just buy an enormous hat? Sit right down in front of me then. Yes I can see just fine. Sigh.

So the Family Grumpy tends to watch DVDs. Which is why I've only just seen the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Here's how a Bond movie should be. Bond, interrupted while servicing a beautiful ambassadoress1, is summoned to fight a rogue General/Businessman from Germany/Russia/Korea. He stops off to sexually harrass Miss Moneypenny and diss poor Q. With his gorgeous assistant, agent Dee Cupps, who he sleeps with forty-five seconds into reel two, he flies first class BA/Virgin2 to Budapest/Hong Kong/Iceland where he uses his exploding pen/rocket bicycle/homing jockeys to escape from the yacht/castle stronghold/ice palace.

And so on. It all ends with a terrific explosion and lots of shot-up villains descending on ropes, but lucky Bond escapes with the villain's girlfriend, who obliges him with a damned good seeing to. 'No, M, can't talk to the PM right now, I'm on the job'. Snigger. That's a Bond movie.

So what's with this Daniel Craig chap? He must dispatch about a thousand baddies, and some goodies (oops), but there's not even a kiss. There's no time.

And it's not only the love interest that's gone. OK, Dan's got the man boobs and a good pout, but where are the pithy quotes? ('Shocking!', 'No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!', 'Is that a curly-wurly in your pocket or are you glad to see me', etc). Where is the comic American policeman? Gadgets? Q? Big lapels? Jaws?

The argument I keep hearing is that Bond is better now because it's much more realistic. Come again? Realistic how exactly? I've never killed anyone but I've done sex heaps of times, at least five, although admittedly never with a beautiful ambassadoress3.

Bring back Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, or that bloke who only got one movie (George Lazerbeam was it?) They may be wrinkly. But they had heart.

1 - I know it's not a word, I made it up
2 - And that's the only virgin you'll see in this film
3 - Yup, made it up again

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Ten (PC) Commandments

And there'll be none of that either
1. Thou shalt not debate. At dinner parties thou shalt restrict thyself to talk of house prices, and the X Factor

2. Thou shalt never criticise the NHS, and thou shalt hold dear its essence, of being free to everyone forever

3. Thou shalt pay without complaint NHS parking charges, prescription fees1, eye tests, dental work, substitute edible food for in-patients, poncey coffee in the lobby, essential services in thy dotage, vaccines, etc., and thou shalt cough up charitably for the MRI scanner which shall remain forever idle for lack of staff

4. Thou shalt keep thy Private Healthcare a close secret, although thou canst swank to thy heart's content about the expensive school to which thou sendest thy progeny

5. Thou shalt mightily endorse all things gay, even when thou becomest slightly queasy during Brokeback Mountain, and thou findest Graham Norton to be the most annoying and unfunny midget on TV since the Crankies, or even Ronnie Corbett

6. Thou shalt never criticise anything Jewish, lest thou be branded anti-semitic and have valuable banking services withheld from thee. However thou canst enthusiastically kick the Christian, for he will offer his other cheek, at which point you can kick that too. Thou canst likewise diss the Muslim, although thou riskest a Fatwa on thine arse

7. Thou shalt not read nor peep at the tabloids. Only The Guardian shall be thy organ of choice, even if thou preferest the crossword in The Telegraph, and thou findest Polly Toynbee to be self-righteous and up herself

8. Thou shalt express a preference for Labour although deep in thy heart thou longest for a bit of common sense, and the return of thy pension dividend credits

9. Thou shalt be in touch with thy feminine side, but not in a naughty way. Wolf whistle shalt thou never, except where it be an ironic endorsement of a male colleague who looks particularly buff today

10. Thou shalt stick to only Ten Commandments, and Ten shall be the count, even though thou feelest thou've only just got started

1 - Unless thou art Scottish or Welsh

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Dark Side Of The Sun

Too much Sun is bad for you
You've got to hand it to The Sun. Despite accusations of being a tawdry two-dimensional witless rag, they keep on plugging, and they're still Britain's most popular paper by a very long chalk. We Brits may not have much taste but we read voraciously. Or at least we look at the pictures.

What's not to like? Irrepressible editorial style, unconstrained by conventional journalistic norms (truth, accuracy, ethics, etc). Attention-grabbing headlines. Handy format. Free DVDs featuring ropey films of yesteryear. Although admittedly the scantily-glad female in every copy is a bit of a cheap gimmick (ahem).

The Sun is so popular it has its own Cockney rhyming slang - it's the Currant Bun, my son, innit? Perhaps this unique blue-collar accolade is not such a surprise. There aren't many words that rhyme with Guardian (Cardigan?) and Telegraph is downright impossible.

But a watershed has been reached. After twelve years of Labour love-in, The Sun has decided to support the Tories. Cue furious reaction from the jilted party. We've seen copies ripped up at conference, Harriet Harman complaining about 'News In Briefs', and Peter Mandelson hinting at some dark contract between Murdoch and the Tories. He should know.

Does this strike anyone else as a teensy bit hypocritical? Can anyone remember them complaining as they enjoyed all that support? And the love was reciprocated. During Blair's glory years, Murdoch's News International enjoyed no shortage of favours from him. It's not every company that can persuade the UK PM-in-waiting to fly to Australia to give a pep talk to its executives. And Hattie Harperson was notably absent from her high horse, wasn't she?

It's all changed now. The Sun has been accused of distortion, rabble-rousing and hysteria. But UberGrumpy can reveal it's not just them. Here's a sample of articles from the so-called respectable press this week:
So don't believe what you read. Except on the Internet, of course. Here, it's all true.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Fat and happy

Sudoku schmudoku! Let's eat!
Check out this terrifically sexist article from the BBC, saying 'curvy' women (their words) are cleverer than skinny ones. I particularly like the way the article reports that 16,000 people were tested, but the Beeb, scientific to its luvvie core, affirms the research with a sample of one, the very lovely Nigella Lawson.

Bloody cheek. What about us guys? I have long suspected that as I get fatter I get more brilliant. And the effect is instant. Picture me this week, seduced by the secret addictive ingredient in McDonalds, wolfing down a Supersized Big Mac with conscience-salving Diet Coke. I'm loving it, I think as I tuck in. But two minutes later and five pounds heavier my eyes are opened! It's disgusting. (Belch).

The converse also applies; lose weight, lose wit. Many an evening I've hit the pub and come out a lot more bloaty, yet extraordinarily wise. But beer, alas, doesn't last, so I wake up feeling stupid, until I embark on my five a day.1

The government hasn't cottoned on yet. They're still trying to make people thinner. A brilliant new NHS scheme in Essex, obviously conceived by skinny doctors, is tackling obesity by giving people 50% off in the chippy if they choose the healthy option. What healthy option? Mushy peas? Pickled eggs?

So Gordon Brown's new jogging habit is a big mistake. He's losing his edge over that lightweight Cameron. Perhaps they should both move over; yield the Despatch Box to MPs with gravitas, gravity, and, er, gravy. I nominate Prescott and Pickles. Prime Minister's Questions will be a great deal livelier.2 Between them they'll soon sort out those imbecilic Fat Cats at the banks. Here, hold on a minute...

1 - Sausages
2 - And a lot shorter, as they'll need to stop for their afternoon curly-wurlies

Monday, 9 November 2009


Bosons: small but fascinating
Anyone with a passing interest in science will know that the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, will start operating pretty soon, after the odd false start. This monumental machine will move science forward in ways that are tremendously important, more mysterious than a UK government budget, and eye-poppingly expensive, obviously, as it's a European project.

I have done some research. I now know what hadrons are. They are not the invisible villains that Captain Scarlet struggled valiantly against - those are Mysterons. No, hadrons are tiddly1 bits of atoms, composed of even tiddlier quarks2.

'Large'? It ought to be called the Absolutely Gobsmackingly Enormous Hadron Annihilator. It's a circle 27 km in diameter, like the North Circular Road, but quite a lot faster. It's got to be terrifically cold, so that the magnets can superconduct; a bit like Andre Previn in a freezer.

This all persuades the unlucky hadrons to hurtle round at huge speeds and then WHAM! They smite each other mightily, producing energetic and wacky particles that we can then observe, if we have the right sunglasses and a high-quality magnifying glass.

It costs about £4.5 billion. A mere bagatelle; the Bank of England could Quantitatively Ease that much in about a week.

Could it go wrong? There is a risk that it might produce a black hole, which would obliterate all matter within a 100 km or so. For this reason it has been built in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU. Wales was ruled out because all the documents would need translating into Welsh and it's already quite tricky enough, thank you very much.

What's it for, you may well ask as you fill in your tax return? Ah. We are on a quest for the Higgs Boson. This produces the Higgs field, which allows us all to have mass. Most of the Higgs bosons disappeared very soon after the Big Bang. Problem. If there are no Higgs bosons then we will get lighter and lighter, and eventually float off into space.

So the LHC will produce a steady supply, gluing us all to the Earth. Because it's been paid for by the taxpayer, Higgs bosons will be provided free of charge, except in America where you will need to buy Higgs insurance. Unless you are poor, in which case you'd better not plan to go outdoors anytime soon.

1 - To give you an idea how tiddly, if we used hadrons instead of sugar to sweeten our tea, then the question 'one lump or two' would need to be '1024 hadrons, or a multiple thereof'? If you then put them in one at a time, as fast as you could, your tea would be cold by the time you got to drink it, but you wouldn't care because you'd be long dead anyway.

2 - If you think that's a Star Trek character, just stop reading and look at the picture.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Twenty Feline Facts

Who, me? Yes, you

1. Cats can lick their own bottoms, and often do
2. Use of toilet paper is quite rare in the feline world
3. Cat poo does not smell very nice
4. Cats just love to sit on your lap

5. Cats have claws that are sharper than razor blades
6. Each cat has over 700 claws
7. Cats often use their claws to catch germ-infested vermin
8. When cats get on your lap, they instinctively bury their claws about an inch into your skin. They rarely hit an artery

9. Upholstery is really really expensive (not strictly a cat fact, obviously)
10. Cats need to keep their 700 claws sharp
11. You can buy purpose-bult scratching posts
12. But the bloody thing prefers to rip the back off your new leather recliner

13. When they're not licking their bottoms, cats like to lick the rest of themselves
14. Cats swallow a lot of fur and need to throw it up, often
15. New rugs are even more expensive than upholstery
16. Cats always throw up in the middle of the nearest rug

17. Cats like to spray their territory with pungent, sticky urine
18. Even female cats do this, we were unpleasantly surprised to discover
19. Cats can mistake your brand-new and very precious guitar amp for a territory marker
20. We no longer own a cat

Some useful online resources:

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Up in smoke

Fireworks used to be a lot
more interesting

It's bonfire night! Tonight's the night we set light to our garden clippings and set off fireworks. Unless, that is, we are the Ilfracombe Rugby Club. These weekend warriors, who hurl themselves at each other every Sunday with scant regard to life and limb, are watching fireworks on a telly because of Health and Safety concerns. I'm with Stephen Fry; Health and Safety are the two worst words in the English language.

What happened to proper fireworks? Anyone remember Jumping jacks that used to chase you round the garden? Or those aeroplane things that used to fly up your Dad's leg?

So what can we burn in complete safety? I know; money. The Bank of England is extending it's Quantitative Easing policy by £25bn to £200bn. So two questions. What's £25bn? And what is Quantitative Easing?

£25bn is a LOT OF MONEY. We've got so used to seeing billions and zillions bandied around we've lost our sense of scale. So, £25bn is
  • About £180,000 for every doctor in the UK, or

  • About £830,000 for every school in the UK, or

  • About £417 for each of us, or

  • MPs' expenses for well over a year.
Yup, a lot.

As to Q2; what is Quantitative Easing? Well, it's printing money. Why don't we call it Printing Money then? Perhaps QE has come to mean 'trying desperately to recover from wretched excess'; and PM already means that, doesn't it Gordon? Or perhaps it's so that we can baffle the electorate with a piece of nifty jargon, so they think we know something they don't.

But surely printing money means it arrives out of thin air? Free cash for everyone? Er, no. QE just spreads thin the intrinsic wealth of the UK. The value of the pound stays depressed; have you noticed how expensive your foreign hols feel? And inflation is just around the corner. But that's OK, because the nasty Tories will have to deal with it.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Bigger, Stronger, Fatter

Don't look up Ethel!
Interesting stories today. Apparently rugby players are much bigger than they used to be, so their injuries are proportionately bigger too. We're considering American-style padding, although that won't help much when someone is twisting the family jewels through 180o in the scrum.

At the same time, child obesity is levelling off, which is a nice way of saying virtually all of us are now lardy. Hardly a surprise, is it? We don't buy Kit-Kats any more; we buy Kit-Kat Chunky! And we don't eat crisps; we eat Walkers Max Cheeseburger Crisps! Move over Dandelion and Burdock (what is Burdock?), here comes Pepsi Max Big Gulp!

It's not just people getting bigger. When we were at Yoony we used to watch Coronation Street twice a week on our b&w portable. Today we watch EastEnders on our forty-two inch plasma, four times a week, repeated on BBC3 with an omnibus edition and a web-site. Or rather we don't, as a) we can't afford one b) it's drivel.

Even already-big stuff has got bigger. The UK government is 866,000 people bigger today than in 1997. (Yes, really)1. Our banks are so bloated they need to be split up, so they can re-bloat. Is everything growing?

No, not everything. When I was a kid a Curly-Wurly was three feet long. Now it's so short it ought to be called a Straighty-Waity. Also, the notes and coins with which we buy our Straighty-Waities are pathetic little things. I miss half-crowns like dinner plates and fivers the size of parachutes. With one half-crown you could buy a Party 82 and an economy bag of Monster Munch, and it was party time! Nostalgia, eh?

But our living space seems to be shrinking the fastest. In Winchester, Chilbolton Avenue is a road full of old sprawling Edwardian houses, with some wasteful open space called 'gardens'. They're being demolished at a furious rate. Same story all over the city, except for three very bland fields, where neighbouring nimbies are holding out. 'Save Barton Farm!' they cry from their old sprawling Edwardian houses. Regardless, a house a day is replaced by about fifty very efficient flats, with just enough room for a bed and a loo, and a forty-two inch plasma.

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the M3 is a car park from Basingstoke to London every morning. For most of these poor sods, it's the only place they can find somewhere to spread out. Perhaps we should build another lane. Sigh.

1 - Admittedly that includes over 200,000 merchant bankers.
2 - That's 'insipid beer in an oil drum' to the under-40s.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Texty Beast

Try texting on this
When our kids were small we could fool 'em by spelling things out. We knew we were rumbled when The Boss, spelling to me 'Shall we go to M-C-D-O-N-...", was interrupted from the back seat by "We want happy meals!" And in recent times they've completed their revenge, by somehow mastering the oriental art of text.

Not so fast, kids. I too have learnt to text. You can too. It's crucial to get the rules right so you can communicate effectively with the yoof at yoony. I learnt the hard way, so here's a small tutorial for all you fellow technophobe oldies. Don't worry; it's a breeze once you know how.

Grab your mobile, and a pair of extra-strength glasses so you can see the fiddly little buttons and the rotten little screen, unless you have an iPhone, in which case you won't be able to find the buttons at all, so give up now.

Your kids hold the phone in one hand and use their thumb to text, but you will dislocate it if you try that, so you'll need both hands. You'll just have to steer the car with your knees.

Start assembling your text. There are two ways to do this. First, the traditional method, where numbers correspond to letters. For example, '2' equals a, b and c1. To get a 'c' press the '2' key 3 times. Notice your screen shows 'aaa'. You pressed too slowly, because you are old and arthritic. Start again. Eventually your fingers will fly around the keys, and you can be as annoying as the little sod sat in front of you every time you go to the cinema.

Number two is the 'Psychic Text' method. With your eyes closed, press keys corresponding to your word, and the phone magically works it out. Perhaps you want to write 'money', a word you will need a lot to communicate with yoof at yoony. Simply type the keys 66639. The word 'bankrupt' appears as if by magic. Type in your message. When finished, your screen shows a a bunch of apprently unconnected words; but don't worry, your text-savvy recipient will understand it perfectly. I don't use psychic text because I am a Catholic.

Now for the clever bit. It's common to use some shortcuts when texting to save time, and as we all know, time equals money bankrupt. First, we can leave out most vowels. Ths rmovs th need fr a lt of unncssry typng. Scnd, lve out mst pnctuatn, bcs its actlly qt hrd to pnctuat on a mbl phn Ths mks you qckr stll Thrd, dn't use cptl lettrs jst cntnue your sntnce you are frly flyng alng now 4th swp cmmn wrds fr lttrs & nmbrs e.g. 'you' bcms 'u' nw u cn b th gr8st txtr on th plnt & u r frggh sdfsjjkf gdtrgdb snzzz glpsrrfgnm

See? Easy.

1 - The '1' key is not involved in texting, because it was invented in Japan, where one is a sacred number.