Friday, 19 November 2010

Always aim high

Sorry for the absence....still can't get online for more than about 10 seconds at a time despite new router, new filters, multiple calls to BT, shouting matches with Virgin Broadband, visits from various computer experts and now awaiting psychotherapist and possible strait-jacket.

Anyway, a mate of mine is well miffed, as we say in academia, about the forthcoming nuptials between an Old Marlburian girl and a well-known man-about-St. James's. He has two daughters you see, and he's spent a shed-load of money sending them to Marlborough and what did he get? Oxford University, that's what. Neither of them is going to be a Queen or even a Duchess. You wonder what you pay your money for don't you? I blame all those stupid textbooks they read when when they could be out snogging the scions of the aristocracy, or at least kissing a frog or two.

My mate had sooo set his mind on being the grandfather of a future King of England! And now all he'll probably get is a couple of bloody professors.

His wife tried her best. Apparently they went up to the Open Day festivities and when they saw their daughter disappearing unsteadily into the bushes surrounding the sports field with a suitable young gentleman,alcohol having been taken, she followed them discreetly into the thicket, hid behind a rhododendron bush and at the appropriate moment whispered urgently "Arch your back, darling, don't let his Lordship have to dangle his testicles on that damp grass!".

(Acknowledgement: Thank you Legend-in-his-own-lunchtime for that last line)

Monday, 15 November 2010

Weird or what?

According to New Scientist (Nov.13, p.42), people who read or write blogs are likely to be WEIRD. They make this claim because such people are likely to be Educated and Rich (compared with peasants in underdeveloped countries), and they live in a Western-style society which is Industrialized and Democratic; shuffle the letters and there you are:- WEIRD.

What you may not realize is that compared with most of the world's population you are also weird in the accepted dictionary sense of the word, meaning strange, unusual, and incomprehensible. This is because WEIRD people like us think differently to the vast majority of the world population.

Psychologists now realize that 96% of the people they have studied in the past have been from the WEIRD population, and in fact more than two thirds of the subjects who have taken part in psychology experiments have been university students. Recent studies in many different cultures have shown that this WEIRD minority has very different ideas about their sense of self, their sensory perceptions and their views of morality compared with the majority of non-WEIRD people.

WEIRD folk like us almost always fall for optical illusions, of the type such as the one with two lines of equal length which appear different because of the way the arrows on the end are oriented. San bushmen just don't get it, the lines are exactly the same length, it's obvious, and most 'primitive' tribesmen throughout the world are less susceptible to visual illusions than we are. Other experiments have shown that rural peasants regard themselves as just a part of Nature as a whole, whereas WEIRD people are much more egocentric. WEIRD children taught a dance-routine that involves a sequence of hand movements such as right-left-right-right will still perform it in the same way when they are asked to turn around 180 degrees, whereas non-WEIRD desert-dwelling children will change the routine to left-right-left-left when they turn around. The WEIRD kids orientate things in relation to themselves, whereas the desert-dwellers relate directions to nearby rocks or bushes. Much more useful if you're going to spend most of the day looking for water or sticks or food in a vast territory with no sign-posts.

There are many other important differences. Weird people think analytically and want to distinguish themselves from others, whereas non-Weird people tend to accept things as they are, and want to fit into the natural pattern. Weird people are concerned about justice and their rights, whereas non-Weird people are more concerned with their obligations to their community and their gods. In some I.Q. tests, the only 'right'answers depend on analytical thinking, whereas there may be other holistic ways of looking at a problem and reaching a different answer.

I recall a wonderful TV programme in which a team of aborigines agreed to participate in a gruelling 5-day race around the Australian desert, pitting themselves against aa crack team of soldiers carrying food and water supplies and with modern navigation and survival equipment. The tough soldiers won of course, because the aborigines only travelled slowly to the nearest water-hole, where they killed a kangaroo and then they rested for 5 days. They just couldn't see the point of it. How could you get lost or thirsty in the desert, and why would you want to show off?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Can you believe it!

The Internet is getting more and more bizarre. It's very difficult to decide who is pulling which bit of whose anatomy.

I was prepared to believe that a fake-tanning company might call itself Fake Bake, and they might even claim that their fake tan prevents ageing by stopping sunlight reaching the skin, but I find it incredible that they'd have the gall to declare that their product called Platinum Face Self Tan contains the "latest anti-ageing ingredient Phyto-CellTec Malus Domestica" . They claim that this was created from stem cells extracted from the rare Swiss apple called Uttwiler Spatlauber(see fakebake.co.uk/shop.html). The apple's totipotent cells have been "harnessed" it says. They're selling it at £29.95p a bottle.

I think it should be called Brass Neck rather than Platinum Face, though Bare-faced Robbery might be equally appropriate, especially from those pallid people who are Half-Baked enough to pay £30 for a Fake Bake apple, even a rare Swiss one with an umlaut. On the other hand a bit of totipotency might not go amiss at my age.

On the similar 'can you believe it!' theme, is the report at bit.ly/newageterror that "New Age terrorists have harnessed the power of homeopathy for evil".

"Homeopathic weapons represent a major threat to world peace" allegedly said President Obama, "they might not cause any actual damage but the placebo effect could be quite devastating".

The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner allegedy said "Large numbers of people would believe that they have been killed or injured and hospitals would be unable to cope".

These bombs are so very daangerous of course because, according to the laws of homeopathy, the more that the water-bomb is diluted, the more powerful it becomes. They are in effect Weapons of Mass Dilution, which could bring cities to a standstill.

Meanwhile, new security measures at airports will be needed so that all water will be tested to ensure that none of it is being used to smuggle the memory of an explosive onto a plane. The only defence is for everyone to remain calm, vigilant and to always wear a magic vibrating crystal.

Actually they're a bit late with this homeopathy story. We all learned years ago that if people taking homeopathic medication miss taking their medication for 3 days they can die of an overdose, and I distinctly remember giggling about 60 years ago when the Goon Show claimed that in World War Two we'd saved time and money by manufacturing masses of cardboard cut-out tanks, until the crafty Krauts saw through this wheeze and started dropped cardboard cut-out bombs.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Smiling pigs

My little diatribe against self-centred politicians('Strictly' for the birds, 11.11.10) reminded me of John Sergeant's admirable efforts in the same programme some months ago. He knew he was sending himself up and in fact he called himself 'the Dancing Pig'. He was a good sport, we had a good laugh, he was extremely popular, and he then retired gracefully before it all became silly. The clumping Widdecombe obviously believes she's a winner and says she won't retire, but Widdecombe Fair she isn't, so I'll refrain from mentioning the grey mare, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

But back to the subject of jolly pigs:



Here's one I made earlier.

One of the joys of living in the deep Dorset/Somerset countryside is the amazing breadth of talent that lurks in most of the small villages and hamlets. The area is stuffed with active artists, writers, potters, musicians, as well as a liberal share of retired headteachers, diplomats, doctors, dons, ex-colonial officers and assorted intellectuals.

So what's that to do with the pig, I hear you ask. Well, my next-door neighbour is an excellent potter and enamellist with his own kiln. He runs short pottery courses, so I went along to have a go at making a raku pot, or more accurately, a raku pig.

This is an ancient Japanese technique which involves making a clay pig, slicing it in two down the middle, hollowing it out, and then rejoining the two pieces, but leaving a vent for the air to escape as it expands when its in the kiln, otherwise you get an exploded pig and a damaged kiln. The tricky question was where to hide the vent so it wouldn't spoil the smooth contours of my pig. After some discussion we agreed there was only one reasonable place, underneath the curly tail.

The pig was fired in the kiln, glazed and then fired again in a dustbin filled with burning wood-shavings, before being quickly taken out and plunged into cold water, which crackles the glaze, thus producing the attractive crazed raku effect.

All went well, apart from some coughing from the smoke and a few singed eye-brows, but when piggy was plunged into the cold water, his body contracted and his internal gases escaped from the vent with a prolonged sequence of bubbling, noisy farts.

How's that for animation! No wonder he's smiling.

Language difficulties

Being an old fogey I blame television for lots of things,quite apart from Anne Widdecombe's 'combs'. Younger readers may need to ask Granny exactly what 'combs' are (pronounced komms).

I blame television for making swearing respectable for instance, especially by young people. Sure, we all swore occasionally years ago, but we knew we shouldn't and if we did, we'd apologize. Nowadays, in this permissive age, if you don't like my language you can f*** off.

As a result, swearing hs lost its power, though one of my middle-aged friends took his aged mother on a Peace March some years and was amazed by what she shouted at a heavy-handed policeman, and by the result it had.

It can be quite amusing when old ladies swear (vide Catherine Tait on TV), but it's less amusing coming from a foul-mouthed, badly-behaved child.

My friend Jim told me about his grandsons, aged 4 and 7. Apparently they'd decided it was time they stuck up for themselves and they'd use swear-words whenever they felt like it. They decided they'd begin at breakfast-time the next morning.

"What would you like for breakfast this morning?" Mummy brightly asked the 7 year-old.
"Ah shit Mum, you never bloody learn do you, you know I always have the frigging Coco-Pops"

THWACK! He was sent flying across the kitchen floor with a clattering of chairs, then he painfully picked himself up and ran upstairs howling.

The pale,tight-lipped Mummy turned to her 4 year-old.

"And what would you like young man?"

His eyes filled with tears.

"I don't know Mummy, but it won't be f*cking Coco-Pops"

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

'Strictly' for the birds

I'm not a great fan of 'Strictly Come Dancing' though where else could a respectable man of my age get a close-up view of girls like that wearing clothes like that?

That Anne Widdecombe is scary though, isn't she? I fear for poor Anton's life if she fell on him, not to mention the bilateral hernias he'll get with all that lifting, and if he swung her round and lost his grip she could demolish the studio.

The physical damage scares me less than the thought that she was once a politician, capable of influencing the policy decisions of the government. She appears to have no insight whatever. Her ego must be bigger than her bum. Fat and frumpy I forgive, but how could she not realize what an idiot she appears! "Vote for me, famous for being fatuous".

Come to think of it, she's not the only politician who might use that as a logo.

Monday, 8 November 2010

I can't bear BearShare.

Speaking of computer problems, which we were in my last Post, I have to apologize for the relative dearth of my new Posts in the last week or two. I've been chattering away to myself in my head, as you do, but trying to transfer said thoughts into the ether via this stupid machine often defeats me.

Windows 7 always gives me problems, it's much too clever for my own good. I can usually be shown or eventually work out how to perform whatever limited repertoire I need, but when people tamper with the computer, I'm lost again, and it takes a long time to find out which buttons to click and when.

The latest nervous breakdowns, mine and the computer's, arose when my wife decided to check the words of a song and found she'd accidentally installed something called BearShare. The cute little fellow decided he liked our computer so much he'd take it over completely, popping up all over the place and replacing all our other programs and bookmarks etc. My wife tried desperately to uninstall him, but couldn't, though she did succeed in uninstalling almost everything else on our computer, which is always an over-excitable beast and tends to go off-line in a nervous sulk for hours or days at a time. (We're 7 miles from the telephone exchange, which apparently explains everything from slow Broadband to Offline and halitosis). We eventually consulted the BearShare Helpline and they told us that BearShare 'can be difficult to uninstall'. Tell me about it! We've tried to follow their gobbledegook and failed.

Anyway, life continues, with or without the stupid computer, and I've suddenly remembered that not only does life offer the usual grouting, with groaning and grumbling, but also many pleasanter half-finished tasks, such as the 'catalogue raisonnee' of my art-work (paintings, stone-carvings and bookbindings), memoirs for the yet-unborn great-grand-children, various new commissioned paintings to start, walks in the sunshine (if and when), trimming and repotting the bonsai trees and learning to cook.

The last one isn't actually true, it was just to falsely raise my wife's hopes (again) to pay her back for HerShare in the BearShare debacle. Oops! There's an idea...Hairshare. She's always having her's cut and I'm always trying to grow more so why can't we share, as we do when we eat a pear (PearShare?). Silly ideas? I have more than my FairShare. We once spent the night in a cave together (LairShare) and she often used to sit on my knee (ChairShare) but unlike some sophisticated couples we don't throw car-keys into a ring (PairShare) and unlike the Beckhams, we draw the line at the UnderwearShare.

So this possible Last Post is by way of an apology and an explanation for the fact that my Posts might, like the Cheshire cat, slowly fade away, leaving only, I hope, a grin, and not a bad smell. Thanks to everyone, particularly Alison and Legend, for your supportive and entertaining Comments.