Friday, April 30, 2010


We Brits love a bit of tradition and eccentricity. With an election coming up next week we like to put the candidates through their paces. Over the centuries a few tests have been devised for prospective prime ministers, some to test their ability to deal with a crisis and others to simply provide entertainment for the masses to sustain us through the relentless boredom of a political campaign.

In order to level the playing field they are obliged to tramp around the country for a month making mealy-mouthed promises and insulting the intelligence of their prospective voters. Most politicians can straddle this particular hurdle with ease. One of the other tests is that they must witheringly dismiss the views of one of their core voters but try and do it without the aforementioned voter actually finding out. Gordon Brown failed this test absymally earlier this week

The reason for one of the more entertaining tests has long been forgotten and quite why we have retained it is lost on me but it was on TV last night. Each prospective candidate must prove to the electorate that he/she can stand on one leg for a period of five minutes.

Here you go....

Poor show by Cameron on the left there but they're allowed a minute or two to prepare for this test and Cameron appears to be looking for divine inspiration before starting his legathon. I'll try to publish more illustrations of our arcane democratic process over the next few days.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Volcanic Ash Cloud - Breaking News

The crisis deepens. The novelty of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud is starting to wear thin with the chattering classes. UK reserves of Rwandan mangetout are running dangerously low. Cut flower supplies have been failing to get through. Kiwifruit have achieved a mythical status that was once only afforded to bananas during the second World War. There is talk of panic-buying but when people realise they can only panic-buy homegrown potatoes which they have absolutely no idea what to do with the frisson rather soon wears off.

The government has invoked the Dunkirk spirit and dispatched the Royal Navy to the continent in order to collect stranded holidaymakers who although happy to holiday in a country, as soon as they discover they can't get home start comparing the place to Beirut in the 1980s.

Whitney Houston, currently midway through an apparently career-destroying world tour was reduced to travelling on a ferry to get to Ireland in order to unravel her reputation even further. Oh the bravery.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Right now in the UK all aircraft are grounded until 7am tomorrow morning. That's everything. All UK airspace is closed. Nothing is flying in or out of UK airports. Nobody can even fly over us. I think this is rather cool.

Way up above the UK and a little to the left, out in the Atlantic Ocean is Iceland. One of their volcanoes went off and has sent up an ash cloud which is currently passing over the UK. Down here at ground level it's no big deal. As I came down the A40 this evening on my bike I got a whiff of what seemed like damp fireworks. I don't know if that was the ash cloud or whether there was something else going on. It is apparently way above us at about 11km up where the planes fly. Down here we have blue skies and a pleasant evening.

We're kind of lucky in the UK. We have a temperate climate, no volcanoes, and the ground is thankfully not prone to opening up or shaking unexpectedly as it does in so many other parts of the world. We don't get cyclones, hurricanes, monsoons or typhoons. We don't get landslides on the scale we see in other parts of the world. On the whole, nothing much happens. If it wasn't for the Gulf Stream which brings warm air and warmish water to our shores we'd have the same climate as Moscow which as you may know, is no fun at all.

Quirky little anomalies like today however are always an opportunity for the media to go into overdrive. Typically, if the temperature varies more than five degrees away from the norm for the time of year - which is frankly the best we can hope for in terms of excitement - newsrooms clear their schedules and reporters are sent across the land to inform us in the minutest detail of exactly what is (usually not) happenning.

What I like about events like this is that it shows us that the planet still runs us, we don't run the planet. We are simply passengers, mere specs of nothing, here for no significant amount of time and subject to the whims of far greater natural forces which, at a moment's notice can stop us in our tracks. We flatteringly call ourselves custodians of the planet but we're really nothing more than janitors with an overinflated opinion of ourselves.

Last night as I went to bed we were unaware of this impending event. This morning, a mere six hours later and the country is apparently in turmoil. It isn't by the way. By lunchtime tomorrow things will be back to normal and people will be back to complaining about the price of petrol and what colour to paint the garden shed

Our politicians and scientists would have us believe we can influence the behaviour of this giant lump of rock we live on as it careers through the cosmos. We can't. The best we can do is respect it, appreciate it, enjoy it and look after it as best we can, leaving it as tidily as we found it when we arrived and just hope, that while we're here, it doesn't do anything too nasty to us. And if it does, then it's nothing personal, it's called nature and we're simply a tiny little part of it.

As a species, we really need to get things into perspective.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

And who the hell....?

I work for a very large multinational corporation. I sit on a comfortable chair at a well sized desk in agreeable offices located in a business park on the outskirts of a moderately large town to the west of London.

We are well looked after. I think our employers appreciate we need a pleasant and comfortable environment in order to work and they are good enough to provide it. I work with pleasant, courteous and friendly people and I do my best to reciprocate their good nature. All in all, I can't complain and so I do my best not to. On the whole, we're a good crowd. We don't socialise together much but the office chit chat is stimulating and the place is refreshingly free of nutters, weirdos, creeps, lechers and the other types of ne'er-do-wells you often encounter in life. All good, nothing bad, I hear you say. This is true.

So what's my problem? What I cannot understand as I look around this large building of such a congruous group of people is which of them are unable to use a toilet in a competent and hygienic manner? When I have to make the ineveitable visit to the facilities I'm invariably pretty disgusted by what I find.

There is obviously a minority - but certainly more than just a few - who seem to have not yet mastered how to leave a cubicle in a condition just bearable enough for another person to use. Who the fuck are they?

There is of course the inevitable evidence of someone not being able to hit the toilet and managing to piss on the floor. Don't invite me round your place for dinner thanks. And of couse there's the usual skid marks. Why can't you use the bog brush provided and clear up the mess you leave? And who the hell thinks it's ok to leave a turd floating in the pan for the next person to have to confront? Don't you check after you've flushed that everything's gone? And who the hell feels the need to throw what looks like an entire roll of toilet paper down the toilet and not even bother to flush at all? Is this how you behave at home?

That's not all. I regularly visit the toilet to find somebody has broken the seat. I don't just mean that the seat has come off the pan, I mean the seat is actually pieces. This is a substantial piece of heavy duty hard plastic that you'd have to hit against something considerably harder (like a fucking brick wall or something) to break. But somebody regularly manages this. Seriously, you'd have to go in there with a big pair of boots and really kick off to cause this sort of damage. Who are you?

I've even gone in there and found discarded packs of half eaten sandwiches on the floor by the toilet. Who the hell feels the need to multi-task so much that they have combined having a eye-wateringly stinky crap with eating their lunch?

A year or two back, we were all asked to nominate, by secret ballot, people in the company who we felt made a real contribution to the organisation. Who do you think won? It was the woman who twice a day went around our campus of buildings and cleaned the toilets. She's not even a direct employee of the company but works for the cleaning contractors - goddamn it she certainly earned that bottle of cheap champagne. I can only think that there are a lot of people with a guilty conscience who voted for her.

Is everybody's workplace like this or is this just a British phenomenon?

I apologise for the overuse of the phrase "And who the hell" in this piece.