Friday, 29 April 2011

Great Britain

My greatest memories of the marriage of Charles and Diana in 1981 was me and my mates racing our pedal bikes along streets that were completely free of traffic as everyone was inside watching it on the telly.

Then we went to one of my mates houses and were surprised to find his mum watching it and crying. The surprise was that she was a Socialist and member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and didn't like the Royal Family.

When we asked her why she was crying she pointed at Diana and said "She looks so beautiful".

I can't by any stretch of the imagination be called a Royalist. Not that I dislike them or think the monarchy should be abolished, just that I am indifferent as the Royal Family don't have much impact on life.

I spent the last two days with my wife camping and hiking in the Lake District, so far to the north of England that southern Scotland could be seen from the summit of Scafell.

As we set off on the long drive home today we put on the car radio, tuned into BBC Radio 4 and listened to the Royal Wedding live.

As we drove south from the Scottish border we drove through the incredible mountains of the Lake District, the sky was clear blue and the sun shone. We drove through rural villages with bunting strung out across the streets and village greens.

Driving through this beauty and listening to something that a third of the world's population was listening to gave me a real sense of pride in being British, somethng that I cannot remember feeling in a long time.

The media build up has been so saturated with it that it had become an annoyance but on the day the excitement was catching and I was glued to the radio.

We even tried to get home in time to see the balcony kiss.

What I am trying to say is that today I felt genuinely proud to be British. I know it rains a lot here but the rain makes the land green and pleasant.

We are not perfect and get a lot of things wrong but when I look at the disastrous governments in some of the Third World countries then I know that this is a great country to live in.

So let me blow a trumpet for Great Britain, no-one can put on an overblown, pompous wedding like we can and as for our countryside I give the last word to my mates mum, "She looks so beautiful".

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Mystery of the Profile Picture.

I've been a busy lad this past week and haven't had much of a chance to blog so here is a quickie.

I'm thinking of changing my profile picture but before I do let me tell you the story behind it.

In 2009 I was travelling through the Scottish Highlands on the way to the Isle of Skye, I was driving along the A87 and climbing the hill just past Loch Garry.

As I came over the brow of the hill and was coming down the other side I noticed something just off the side of the road.

I pulled over and my wife and I got out and had a look. We were standing on a patch of moorland overlooking Loch Loyne and in front of us were hundred of stones, all arranged into piles.

Not like cairns but all precariously balanced, one on top of another. There were no signs advertising it, no towns or buildings of any kind for miles around and no logical explanation for these.

They weren't glued together ot anything and I tried to do the same, balancing one rock on top of another but couldn't manage anymore than three before they fell off. some of these piles were six or seven stones high.

Now this was a failry high, exposed area and the weather in Scotland is notoriously violent so these things must blow over.

Which means someone must go up there regularly to re-stack these things. Is someone getting paid for this, if they are they need to advertise this as a tourist attraction.

World of Stone or Rockland perhaps.

If anyone else has seen anything like this please let me know.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

This is the Future.

A bloke in a shop was trying to sell me an Xbox Kinect the other day. He explained that it was similar to a Wii but instead of the control wands you used your own body as the controller.

Now I might be getting the wrong end of the stick here but as far as I'm concerned I'd be dancing round my living room like a puppet following the commands of my Xbox master.

This is the stuff that science fiction authors were writing about years ago.

The vision of life in the 21st century back then saw everyone wearing skintight silver jumpsuits and having purple hair. We would travel around in flying cars and hover shoes.

Big, clanky robots would do all the work for us and bring us our dinner while we sat in our jet-powered armchairs in front of the Smell-o-Vision.

Food would be a pill that tasted of bacon and eggs or apple pie, and we could catch a space bus if we wanted to visit Uncle Vernon who lived on the Moon.

Weirdly enough, some of these things have come to pass but have arrived gradually and in so mundane a form that I didn't realise until I was already treating them as everyday.

We deal with robots on a daily basis, from automated answer services on phone networks to the unmanned checkout in the local supermarket where a posh, faceless female voice tells us there is an 'UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA'.

If you want food pills then look at most burger outlets or ready meals. Food that has gone through such an intense industrialised process that the taste and smell have to be chemically added.

Ok, so we aren't all wearing tinfoil clothes, but at least some people have got purple hair.

Automatic doors are now so commonplace that if they don't open themselves as we approach we stand in front of them looking puzzled, as though we have momentarily forgotten how to use them.

So here we are, it's the 21st century so as far as I can see we are officially living in the future. There are people floating around in space as we speak and doors open themselves.

If science fiction is to be believed then one day we can expect the automated checkout to start blaring out 'DESTROY THE FLESHY ONES' when we try to scan our groceries.

You have been warned. Watch the skies.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

New York Conversation

Here's a quick post I thought I'd stick up after chatting with someone at work today.

The first time I went to America I landed at JFK airport and caught a bus into New York city to the Port Authority Bus Station.

After walking out of the station and standing open-mouthed, gazing at the enormous buildings like a rubber necking simpleton I went to the Interclub Hostel on the top floors of the Carter Hotel on 43rd Street.

For $15 I could get a bunk in a dorm for the night and I was planning to travel the country, so I had to keep an eye on my spending.

After chucking my bag onto the bunk bed in the dorm I was sharing with two Germans and a Japanese guy, I went outside looking for food and cigarettes.

So there I was, walking along a New York City street just off Times Square at 22:30 at night, people everywhere and car horns beeping incessantly, I kept expecting Spiderman to swing past or Woody Allen to go by.

I walked into the first likely looking shop and went up to the counter. There was a fat guy in an apron standing there who said "What can I get ya"?

"Coffee, two of them donuts and twenty Winstons, please", I asked feeling like Popeye Doyle.
This was fucking great, it was like being in a film.

"You want twenty packs? You wanna die young or sumpin'" said the bloke.

I then found myself explaining to the New York shop guy that in England we buy cigarettes in packs or ten or twenty so when I ask for twenty Winstons I just want the one pack of twenty fags.

I then found out that fag means something different in America.

The point of this is that the colleague I was talking to at work had gone to New York but had only eaten in McDonalds or drunk coffee at Starbucks because they knew exactly what to expect.

I suppose I could have done the same and that is the appeal of these chains, wherever you go in the world the quality and taste remains the same.

But what's the point in travelling somewhere to get something I can get at home?

Instead I went into a New York deli just off Times Square and it was brilliant.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Harry Potter and the Cloak of Kevlar

Sometimes when kids play cowboys and Indians or Commandos and one of them pretends to shoot another, there would always be one kid who would claim to be wearing a bullet proof vest. This could sometimes extend to a bulletproof hat if the other kid claimed it was a headshot.

That's the problem I have with wizards in stories. Whenever they find themselves in danger or peril and it looks like there's no way out they always come out with something like 'There is perhaps one way, the Spell of Infinite Problem Solving'.

Then they spout a load of gibberish, wave their arms around a bit and some magic happens and the problem is solved. It is the same notion as the kid making up bullet proof clothing, changing the rules of the game to suit.
This sort of Get out of Jail free card is cheap story telling.

So it comes as no surprise that the Harry Potter phenomenon has passed me by. I have never read any of the books and only saw the first film which to my mind was a story about public school with added magic.

Now I'm all for books that encourage kids to read but that's the thing, these are kids books. Yet millions of adults read them and even worse used to queue all night outside book shops when a new one came out.

Then they try to justify this by calling these books 'Young Adult Fiction' instead of 'Childrens Books'.
If you start using labels like that then a baby could be classed a young adult, so are grown men and women going to start reading Mr Men books for their own entertainment as well?

I can prattle on like ths all day but it won't change the fact that J K Rowling has made gazillions out of this and millions of people all over the world enjoy these books. I have never read any of them and as such am not really in a position to criticize.

However this is my blog so I can write what I like. So I say that all wizards are cheating bastards who should use their brains to get out of problems instead of changing the rules.

Apart from Gandalf, he's alright.