Sunday, 29 July 2007

Ethnic Cleansing of the Grey Squirrel

Well it's been a hard day's night spraying all the grey squirrels red in my local park to fool the Pest Control 'operatives' from the local council.

If you ask me culling them is taking anti-Americanism too far. First we import them from the States in the 19th Century. Now we complain there's too many of them and they have to die! Oh and then we accuse them of killing all the native red squirrels.

I asked a red squirrel in Yorkshire if this was the case. 'Oh no', replied Tufty 'It were the bubblegum and the stockings what did it. Our red womenfolk couldn't resist and there weren't hardly any left for us red menfolk to breed with, so we started dying out! If you look closely you'll see today's greys still have flashes of red on their heads, paws and tails. We Yorkshire squirrels had to make do. No jitterbugging for us.'

So the greys are victims of their own success it would seem. Not that we humans can talk, having long lost control of our own numbers.

And now reds are being bred out it would appear. As a red, I propose a cull of brunettes, blondes, greys and whites to redress the balance...

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Putting the Ark into Architecture

Need affordable housing, or building on floodplains be grim?

In a country where flooding is predicted to become commonplace, aside from the obvious solution of building on stilts, would it be viable to have communities of homes such as these in UK?
Or even something amphibious that works just as well on dry land, but has a 'hull' which comes into play when flooding occurs?

There is a growing movement of amphibious housing in Holland in particular. Although my primary interest is in affordable and sustainable housing (specifically the Community Land Trust Model Oxfordshire Community Land Trust for landlubbers, I'm also fascinated by other inventive solutions to our housing crisis which are both attractive and practical, ticking a goodly number of eco boxes.

For even more avant-garde floating 'arkitecture', see here:

Chernoff Thompson Floating Homes
Architects of The Floating World

or deep sea options, here!


Monday, 23 July 2007

End of the Pier

Now Palace Pier is 'Brighton Pier'
And they try to pretend you were never here
Oh West Pier, West Pier, why did you have to go,
With your penny slot arcade museum and variety theatre shows?
And a front with two, looks so much better than one
On a postcard d├ęcolletage of Brighton in the sun
It was a dirty weekend when you were set alight
Though the owners of Palace Pier had an alibi that early light
Palace Pier could have stayed flash and scream, you could have been sedate
Tea dances, flicks, vaudeville, nostalgic tribute to the greats
Upmarket visitors would have loved you, as would Derbys courting Joans
And those of us with noise fatigue who also like to leave our homes.
There was room in this town for more than one jewel in the crown
More than one kind of night out, rare excuse to buy an evening gown
Now you're an eerie iron skeleton cast out to sea on bow-legged stilts
And Brighton, though right-on, lacks the money and wrought iron skills
To resurrect your compliment, not competition, to your former-sister pier
Oh West Pier, why did you go west? Wish you were here…

© LS King 2007

* My Brighton grandmother took me to West Pier as a nipper, just before it was closed and condemned. It was a magical place, even more charismatic than Palace (now Brighton) Pier. Now I hear that a 'Brighton Eye' is proposed for the seafront, even larger than the London Eye and shudder at the thought. Mind you it might not look so bad at the end of a newly re-created Victorian pier, the nature of which is to incorporate the odd new amusement as time goes by.

More piccies & info, Regency Brighton

Thursday, 19 July 2007

A Target Younger Demographic Bites Back - don't dumb down for me!

A couple of older friends recently expressed surprise when I mentioned I had fired off e-mails to the BBC protesting in turn against the axing of 55 year old newsreader Moira Stuart (pictured), the news that 59 year old Nick Ross was to leave Crimewatch and the mooted (and decidedly un-Christian) putting out to pasture of the sixtysomething Gloria Hunniford from BBC's Heaven and Earth show, along with the show itself - allegedly in favour of a replacement show targetted at YOUNGER viewers.

Why would I, a thirtysomething, care that much? This is all for MY benefit, isn't it?

Simple. Aside from being sick of being patronised by a corporation I pay far too much licence fee to (for far too little each year) assuming I want to see only twittering twentysomethings in slash-breasted tops adorning my screen, I want to feel that my generation will still have something to look forward to after we hit 40! Preferably plenty, should we turn out to be late starters in our presenting careers!

Not that television ageism is a new phenomenon by any means, but it's depressing to note that five years after a survey commissioned by the Independent Television Commission and Age Concern found that the majority of viewers actually WANTED to see greater numbers of older fellow humans on television rather than fewer, and only the under-24s showed a 42% bias for presenters their own age, not to mention post New Labour anti-ageism legislation, ageism seems as rampant as ever. Another interesting finding from this survey was that the most popular presenters of 2002 were 1. Sir Trevor McDonald, 2. Michael Buerk, 3.Kate Adie, 4. Jeremy Paxman with the youngest at 5, George Alagiah.

Even the twittering twentysomethings must regularly wake up in cold sweats fearing for their short shelf lives if we are to have an elongated Logan's Run scenario in the British broadcasting world, where everyone over 40 will soon be sinisterly dispatched. And where does that leave the BBC's remit of representing their viewers demographically, in the same way they are (quite rightly) now obliged to represent minority groups as fairly as possible?

Growing up in the 70's and 80's, I recall Blue Peter's Peter Purves, John Noakes and Lesley Judd seemed ancient to me as a small child. And Tony Hart was in hindsight, no spring chicken either. Kenneth Williams often read Jackanory, John Craven, Newsround and who knew how old Paddington Bear was? However none of this mattered a damn. I enjoyed the programmes for their content and the presenters were SUPPOSED to be the grown ups. There was SUPPOSED to be a difference between them and me, the child. Had anyone said to me. 'Wouldn't you prefer silly shiny young grown ups pretending to be just like you and we'll get rid of the older ones you've been watching, Laura?', I would have been horrified. It would have been like losing favourite Uncles and Aunts.

In fact you could say that the dearth of grown up role models on television is partly responsible for the increasingly childish society we now live in where it seems few under 30 want to admit to being grown ups and assume adult responsibilities, although naturally they are fully drilled in their 'rights'. Then again, if the moment you become grown up, a portcullis of societal 'invisibility' begins descending, next step old age and irrelevance, who can blame them? Small wonder we inhabit a botox-crazed society that will queue for hours for Boot's latest delivery of anti-wrinkle serum. I'm not immune myself, fearing the ageing process considerably more than its eventual conclusion! However I recognise that this is largely due to the society I live in which no longer respects and reveres its older citizens as it should, like say Italy. Worse still, it often stops respecting us long before we are even pensionable age, no matter that we are ALL headed the same way!

Of course we do have the odd exception to television ageism who somehow slipped through the net or won a reprieve, but even septugenarian Michael Parkinson and octogenarian David Attenborough have to retire sometime, only please NOT until worthy professional presenters are found to fill their shoes, rather than vacuous zero-lister celebrities I've never heard of, and to whom it's just another job. This is precisely why there is increasingly little difference between BBC channels and all the rest of the competition in a climate where the Beeb needs to be head and shoulders above the rest and hang onto its USPs to survive the long term.

The news in particular almost demands to be read by older presenters who can lend the news a gravitas, younger presenters often cannot. Anchorwoman queen of the States Diane Sawyer is now rumoured to be in her early 60's and yet remains elegant stateswoman of ABC network, taking her job seriously to the point of almost being humourless. She is not always liked, but is almost universally respected and shows no sign of being ready to relinquish the reins, or her long reign, yet.

And now we hear that young programme makers and presenters are so ill-trained that they do not even realise it's a bad idea to put whole network credibilities at risk by faking documentary programmes or operating phone-in quizzes that scam children on Blue Peter. Worse still, they are far too fragile to be sacked for any crime more trivial than their AGE and are merely to be 're-trained'.

Bring back Valerie Singleton - quickly!

I will finish with a couple of Good Arguments for Ageism on television

Lord (but really, I should be at work), Winston
Bruce (was he EVER entertaining?) Forsyth

Friday, 13 July 2007

Prisons Are Like Hotels Nowadays

as my granny used to say.
Now there's a nationwide shortage of prisons to the point of crisis.
So what did Oxford do?
Why, turn its prison into a luxury hotel of course!
Granny would be spinning in her grave (if she hadn't been cremated).

16/07/07 update: Since the House of Commons heard back in February that it now costs the taxpayer £385.00 per night to house a prisoner in a British prison (how?), I thought it might be interesting to do a comparative check to see how much a hotel room at the former Oxford Prison (now the plush Mal Maison above) costs an average luxury guest, not enjoying Her Majesty's pleasure, per night.
£160.00 apparently.
And they don't even have to share a cell (or presumably, a bucket)!

On the heritage front, if Victorian prisons are deemed 'unsuitable for todays' prison needs' as legitimite excuse to bulldoze them, yet a prison dating back to the 11th century can be refurbished into the last word in 21stC luxury, and still charge less than half what we have to pay per prisoner, per night (per room?), something very strange is going on.

An obvious solution - why not reinstate the locks on the novelty 'cell' bedrooms in the Mal Maison, remove anything luxurious, and just book prisoners back in? Long-term block bookings guaranteed - always good news for a hotel...

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Is Caffe Nero as evil as Starbucks?

I've always felt a teensy bit guilty for not being wholeheartedly convinced that the world would be a better place without Blueberry Muffins whenever anti-globalisation marches were mooted and uber-ethical friends did their best to shanghai me into throwing bricks through Starbucks' windows in the Strand. "All this throwing bricks into coffee shop windows and running away from the filth is exhausting!" I imagined myself protesting. "I'm off to Starbucks for a latte - look after my placard will you?"

Then just as it seemed Starbucks was set to take over the world, along came Caffe Nero and began checkmating them, particularly in central London. Classier house decor and music, better cappuccinos, slightly cheaper. AND with the killer Tricolour Panini to keep the 'classes who protest' happy, notwithstanding the odd beastie-free pasta dish for good measure!

Not a word was said. Or if it was, I never heard it. Could it be that Starbucks had the dumber name? Or that by the time Caffe Nero, Coffee Republic and Costa followed the path beat through the jungle of protest and Pret got more of a toehold, the opposition were forced to shrug their shoulders and concede defeat in the anti-muffin wars?

And what made us insist that these High Street coffee chains take on the mantle of incorporating Fair/equivalent Trade products and being a tad ethical, when we had previously been quite happy to go and drink muddy water in our local cafes at half the price, no questions asked?

I note certain protest groups in the US still have it in for Starbucks as fiercely as for their local munitions factory. Personally I have no more liking for McDonalds, and see Ronald McDonald as a far more frightening worldwide force endorsing intensive factory farming, rainforest and poor farmer abuse as well (not to mention patronising our children - an area the big 4 coffee chains have so far desisted from.)

My principles are that I will only visit a Starbucks if there isn't a Caffe Nero nearby (or even better, a classy local independent coffee shop that also offers a soya milk option in its not too slave-traded, beverage selection).

To sum up, whatever the rights and wrongs of global coffee shop chains, they have brought we Brits vastly superior drinks (abeit at vastly superior prices), but even more importantly, the realisation that we should be free to ask for whatever we want in our beverages without guilt at the trouble we are putting them to, or fear of them saying no. The customer is always right! No more bad old days when you drank what was slammed in front of you and god help you if you complained. And while there is undoubtedly a certain amount of 'allergy affectation' in our society, there are also a growing number of individuals who are genuinely intolerant of nuts or dairy, or on special diets, who are genuinely grateful to know exactly what's in their food and drink and to be able to obtain customised drinks of consistent quality. Customised drinks for customers, and service with a smile! What a simple but brilliant concept. How could those who dreamt it up not deserve to succeed?

Post High Street coffee chain invasion, the customer-contemptuous and lazy in the UK catering industry (of which there were many) have literally been forced to wake up and smell the coffee!
Or buy a caravan and sell burgers in lay-bys to truckers who give less of a damn. As for accusations of 'unfair competition', I would argue most of the independents who raised their game accordingly and found their own unique selling points are still around.

However I live in hope that the dire 80's throwback cafes of Birmingham NEC will be run out of town by the global upstarts.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Environmentally Friendly Garden Birds...

‘Cheerful Companion’, it read on the box
And you’d said you were lonely
So I bought it for your birthday
In the hope it might ‘complete’ you
For £9.99
But you didn’t like your new
Solar Powered
Illuminated Blue Tit
(much preferring the badger
Good job I kept the receipt.
I suppose you’ll be wanting a new stoat next.

© LS King 2007

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Self-Esteem and Other Follies

Here's a poem I wrote a while ago to cheer up a friend who was feeling somewhat sorry for herself over a rather elongated period of time. It was meant to be reverse psychology to shock her out of it (minus the current), but I think it may have backfired! In which case, I've little to lose by sharing it with you...

Worthless Human Being

The Samaritans have gone ex-directory
The vicar's changed his locks
The doctor's struck you off
The postman's nailed up your letterbox
Junk mailers no longer want your disposable income
You owe Reader's Digest free prizes
Your computer recognises you as an ‘illegal manoeuvre’
Your dog has defected with basket, next door
Your family and friends have formed a victim support group
Your mobile phone signal is no more
The birds stop singing when they see you coming
Worms hide.
Colleagues take early lunch and beg transfers to Cairo
Rain falls solely on you from a customised cloud
Alien abductors return you un-vivisected
MI6 can’t be bothered to bug or follow you
Science has donated your body back, Oxfam your clothes.
No one wants your blood or organs
The Library just fines you.
No one will lend you their biro.
You whinging, self-pitying excuse for a person
Yes, you’re not wrong, I can't think of a worse one.

© LS King 2006

I'm just off for some therapy now to address 'friend retention' issues.

Monday, 2 July 2007

British Bullying

Three out of four UK children are now the victims of school bullying, apparently.
Which must make that fourth child one evil son of a gun!
Couldn't the other three just gang up and counter-bully the fourth into submission?
Or does this statistic reveal that some of the victims are also bullies?

I was an absolute gift to the bullies of my secondary school in Northern Ireland - English, tall, red-haired, atheist, vegetarian - any one of which non-conformity could have got me killed.
The bullies didn't know where to start! All their Christmases in one!
Naturally I was also blessed with a naivety far too dumb to work out that being an individual before you leave school is the worst possible idea! So while refusing to conform re the smoking, drinking, drug taking (ok Pritt-stick sniffing - it was Northern Ireland) and sleeping around had some benefits, non-conformity didn't exactly make me the most popular girl in school either. Then again if you've got no friends, there's hardly a lot of peer pressure to resist. And my shoplifting phase to be 'popular' lasted all of one afternoon - I still have the Tron duvet cover as self-imposed sentence of my crime.
Luckily my life was saved by the fact that teachers still carried canes. And sometimes used them! Or at least they did for the first couple of years I was at High School before some idiot banned them. The mere sight of a teacher carrying a cane kept most pupils in line. Or aborted the kicking process pretty quickly when a teacher entered the corridor. Sometimes a bully hardly had time to trip you up or empty your schoolbag onto the floor before a teacher came along to put a stop to the 'nonsense'
Teachers carrying canes save lives, all you uber-liberals out there (or are you former bullies out to facilitate the process for your progeny?)!
Bullied kids would not be driven to suicide these days if teachers were still permitted to punish the bullies. And punishment is the only language that'll ever get through to some of them, trust me. They don't respect the softly softly approach - lest it not be forgotten - perceived 'weakness' is exactly what they're trying to beat out of their victims! Small wonder some have now moved onto their 'soft' teachers as well with bullying, harrassment and internet humiliation by staging classroom incidents for webcast via their mobile phone cameras!