Category Archives: General Musings

That’s it, then

So – that’s it. Another National Blog Post Month complete. 30 consecutive posts throughout November. I’ve really enjoyed it this time, and I hope that you’ve found at least some of the posts interesting, amusing, or otherwise worthwhile.

But if you’ve found it all a bit of a chore (or, god forbid, even a bore) then perhaps this T shirt is the one for you.

Thanks for reading. I promise not to clog up your notifications quite so regularly for at least another eleven months!

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It’s clearly a matter of common sense

Air travel is statistically very safe. The chances of death on a commercial flight run by a European or North American airline are incredibly remote – somewhere in excess of 1 in 7 million. That’s very reassuring and is a tribute to years of research and advances in engineering, training and safety procedures at airline manufacturers, airports and air traffic control centres. Admittedly, very large aircraft still look as though the last place they should possibly be is 35,000 feet up in the air, but that’s just our feeble, emotional, irrational anxieties overcoming our logical, scientific, reasoning intellect.

And then a story like this one hits the news. To summarise, US fighter jets based at UK airbases were involved in 19 near misses with non-military planes in the past 5 years, and the main recommendation for ensuring future safety is……

…… to keep the glass in the aircraft cockpit clean!

aircraft

Now, I don’t know about you, but I get really twitchy if the windscreen on my car gets a bit smeary. I hate it if I allow the washer reservoir to run dry and I can’t clean the windscreen as I drive along. In fairness, though, it’s rare for that to ever get to the point where my vision is so compromised that I can’t see everything around in perfect clarity. And my car doesn’t travel at 500 miles per hour 1200 feet off the ground.

I get that these fighter jets are equipped with all sorts of digitally enhanced displays and that radar and other devices keep the pilot aware of her/his position at all times. But I’ve got sensors on the back of my car that tell me if I’m getting too close when parking. It doesn’t mean that I don’t also look where I’m going!

I guess the serious point is that no matter how good the technology is, sometimes there is no substitute for human reactions and the application of common sense. Maybe something that we will need to bear in mind as we spend the Chancellor’s £500m developing driverless cars as well.

When English seems like a foreign language

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A ‘friendly’ football match between Rhyl FC and a Leeds United XI was abandoned last evening following a mass brawl between the two sets of players. The concept of ‘friendly’ fixtures in any sport conjures the idea of gentle matches in which participation is valued over the ‘win at all costs’ mentality that pervades formally competitive fixtures. In fact, the opposite is often the case. In August this year, a ‘friendly’ match between Premier League Burnley FC and German side Hannover was abandoned at half time when a section of the German team’s supporters attempted to attack fans of the home team. Nor is the phenomenon limited to professional teams. An over 50s walking-football match had to be abandoned after just 2 minutes when a brawl broke out following a crunching tackle.

So if ‘friendly’ fixtures can be anything but, what other oxymoronic phrases do we have in the English language? I’ve always been intrigued by ‘public schools’ that are almost invariably open only to those juvenile members of the ‘public’ with parents able to pay the often eye-watering annual tuition fees. Or what about the ‘World Series’ of baseball – a competition that purports to crown the world champions but which is only open to North American teams.

baseball

One of my favourite work-related incongruous descriptions is the ‘informal disciplinary investigation’. I always picture a kind of bohemian figure reclining on a velvet chaise-longue and asking the poor employee : “So, just relax, chill out, and give me the low down on how you came to punch your supervisor in the kisser?” The reality, of course, is much more prosaic. There’s no such thing as an ‘informal’ HR process, regardless of what the organizational procedure may suggest.

Perhaps more controversially, the Faculty of Homeopathy is an organization that challenges the normal definition of Faculty as the members of a learned profession. Homeopathy has been extensively and consistently debunked in a series of recent scientific studies, and whilst there may be a moderate positive effect where homeopathic treatments are used for some patients, this rarely exceeds known placebo effects. A Faculty of Homeopathy is no more scientifically and intellectually cogent than a Faculty of Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden.

And don’t even get me started on ‘Soft Brexit’, or ‘Jobs First Brexit’. They’re not oxymorons. They’re b*ll*cks!

 

 

The light in the window

office view

This grainy image is the view from my office window as I sit wondering what I should write for this evening’s post. The camera on my iPhone (other mobile communications devices are available) has lightened the shot considerably, but it’s still possible to appreciate the atmospheric lighting effect on the first floor window sill. The highlighted ledgers standing somewhat drunkenly in the window appear almost Dickensian. And this allusion is reinforced by the fact that the building was originally a 19th century almshouse.

I have no idea who occupies the space now, but I like to think that there’s an old walnut desk under the window, where an ageing writer, probably wearing fingerless gloves, is bashing out histories and tragedies on an old typewriter – manuscripts that will be sent off to a publisher before being returned with a kind but ultimately final letter of rejection. Occasionally, a short story or fact-based piece will be accepted by a periodical journal, and the resulting cheque will allow my imaginary writer to supplement her meagre civil service pension and buy a bottle of port and some stilton. A fleeting moment of congratulation in an otherwise unappreciated writing career.

The ledgers on the window sill are the completed manuscripts of novels that have been read only by my writer; lovingly crafted accounts of the lives of a family that exists only in her head – and which she long-ago gave up any hope of meeting in reality. But occasionally, she takes them down and reads them through, thinking about what could have been. She is alone, but she is not lonely; and while her writing is a solitary pursuit, she still meets up with colleagues from the office. They reminisce about what was, and what might have been, and (sometimes) about what should never have been.

When she finally dies, a distant great-niece will come to the apartment to sort out the belongings and settle the estate. She will take down the ledgers and read the meticulously presented manuscripts (my writer never lost the skills gained in the 1980s typing pool), and she will reflect that there was much more to her aunt than ever met the eye. And my writer will look down and smile, and relish the fact that her memory will live on in the crisp pages of the window sill ledgers.

Greggs misadventure, or genius advertising?

There are times when the only response to a news story is a dumbfounded : “What were they thinking?!” That was my response to the news that Greggs, the high street bakery and convenience food chain, had this week released promotional material for their branded advent calendar with a picture of a sausage roll replacing Jesus in the manger. I know that you may find this hard to believe too – so I’ve included the marketing image here.

sausagerollnativity

Aside from the obvious crassness of placing a pork-based food product at the scene of a Jewish birth (thus achieving the double-whammy of offending both Jews and Christians), it’s not even a particularly attractive image. (Let’s be honest, Greggs sausage rolls are ok, but they’re not a patch on the chicken bakes!)

Wholly predictably, the campaign launch prompted outrage amongst Christian groups. An Evangelical Alliance spokesperson accused the company of deliberately courting controversy, generating “processed outrage to sell processed food”; while the Chief Executive of the Freedom Association called for a boycott of Greggs products “to protest against its sick anti-Christian advent calendar”. (As an aside, is it just me who sees the irony in a representative of an organization of the Freedom Association calling for a boycott of anything? Oxymoronic much?)

A spokesperson for Greggs issued a standard response in cases of this type : “”We’re really sorry to have caused any offence, this was never our intention”. In truth, though, it’s hard to see how anybody with even half a brain cell could have thought that substituting the baby Jesus with a sausage roll was eve going to be anything but offensive to those who believe that this was a divine event. How did the marketing strategy meeting go? “Um – guys. Are we sure about this whole sausage roll instead of Jesus thing?” “Yeah, man – why not? It can’t be offensive. Look if you write ‘Lord Jesus’ backwards – Susejd rol – why, it almost even spells sausage roll.” “Oh hey – that’s so cool – no-one’s going to mind about it now.”

Some Christians sought to see the funny side of the whole thing, arguing that religions and their adherents need to be able to laugh at themselves as part of a mature understanding of their place in the world. Writing in a letter to the Guardian, the Very Rev Richard Giles stated that : “When a faith tradition loses the capacity to laugh at itself, it is on the slippery slope to the hardline fundamentalism which brooks no comment or criticism.”

Others turned their ire on the Christian organisations whose outrage had served to propel the story into the mainstream media in the first place. One such piece was written by Peter Ormerod. In a really well argued piece he states that “anyone who claims to take Jesus seriously should really be finding literally hundreds of other things to get outraged about instead. There’s child poverty; there’s the rise in food bank use; there’s environmental degradation; there’s the surge in hate crime; there’s profound inequality; there’s warmongering; there’s slavery”. And his conclusion is surely the only sensible one : “At the heart of Christianity is a critique of religion itself. It tells us that God is not who, what or where any of us ever believed God to be. We’ve long buried this radicalism under layer after layer of cloying sentimentality and deadening pomposity, to the point that it’s taken a sausage roll to remind us of its significance. And for that, if not for the steak bakes, thanks be to Greggs.” I have to say, I can’t agree with him about the steak bakes, but for the rest, I’d suggest he’s spot on.

So where does that leave Greggs? I somewhat spitefully suggested earlier that their marketing team may not have been the sharpest tools in the box when coming up with this campaign. But if you stop and think about it for a moment, the coverage that they’ve achieved has been astonishing. I can only assume that as the story was picked up by the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Independent, and a whole host of other media outlets, so sales of sausage rolls, pasties and cream-filled Belgian buns were sky-rocketing.

belgian bun

A cream-filled Greggs Belgian Bun can’t be beaten!

In the final analysis, then, this particular manufactured outrage wasn’t so much mis-advent-ure as genius marketing.

 

 

(With thanks to J. for the inspiration for today’s post)

The grizzly world of teddy bear deaths

teddy bear“More people are killed by teddy bears than by grizzly bears.” That was the Tweet that was first on my timeline when I woke at 2am this morning. I know that checking social media in the graveyard hours is a bad idea, but I’ll admit that I was shaken by this bald statement, put out by the folks @qikipedia with no further context. I was left with a vision of killer bears sitting around all furry and cuddly and like butter wouldn’t melt, before turning into frenzied murderers during the wee small hours in the first phase of the moon. (I had eaten quite a lot of cheese before bed, which may have contributed to this fevered interpretation).

 

Of course, on further investigation, the truth is much less fantastical. ‘Teddy bears’ in this context is used as a short hand for toys in general; and the deaths (which are not at all common) are usually the result of choking on the glass eyes or other plastic components that are sometimes used in their manufacture, or a consequence of trips and falls over toys left strewn on living room floors. Just for the record, 82 Americans have been killed by real bears in the last 89 years; and there are 22 deaths a year linked to toys in the US (most of these, children).

In researching this blog post, I came across a blog dedicated to recording unusual deaths from around the world. The accounts are helpfully organized by country. They are gruesome but fascinating reading. There is the death of a man from Croydon who consumed a litre of carrot juice a day for 10 days, poisoning his body with excess vitamin A, and destroying his liver. Another account that caught my eye was titled : The London Beer Flood of 1814 – caused when several large vats of beer broke simultaneously sending 600,000 litres of fermenting brew into the nearby streets, knocking down walls and destroying several houses and (ironically) a pub. Five people attending a wake at the pub were killed in the debris of the collapsed building. One that appealed to my particularly dark sense of humour relates the tale of a 67 year old woman in the north east of England who decided to feed her flock of sheep by tying a bale of hay to the back of her electric bike and riding around the field allowing the bale to unravel behind her. The sheep – presumably ravenous – rushed the bike as a flock, forcing both it and the woman over the edge of a cliff that formed the boundary of the field. Remarkably, the woman appears to have survived the fall, but was killed when the bike landed on top of her. I’m sure I’m not alone in recalling this classic scene from Naked Gun when reading this one.

Of course, each of these deaths was an individual tragedy for the people involved, But sometimes, it’s hard to respond with anything other than a shrug and the question : “What were they thinking?!”. This is where the Darwin Awards come in. The awards “honour those individuals who improve the species by their departure. RULES: (1) adults, who remove (2) themselves, from (3) the gene pool, in a (4) spectacularly clueless manner, that is (5) true.” There are some spectacular accounts of truly innovative and monumentally stupid ways of fatally injuring yourself on the website. Among recent entries are the two Mexican women killed by a landing aircraft when attempting to get a selfie of themselves on the runway; and the Colorado man who climbed a tower crane, attached a length of rope to create a massive swing, before leaping off, and arcing out, across the neigbouring street and smack into the equally tall building on the other side. If the impact didn’t kill him, the resulting fall to the pavement certainly did.

All of which serves as a salutary warning. Take care out there everybody – and watch out for those teddy bears!