Thursday, 31 December 2009

Sinister Product

My jaw nearly dropped to the floor upon finding THIS in a health food cafe!!!

In just what way is a product endorsing people to 'tox up' after its consumption and actually implying by its very existence that it will save its consumer from harm either responsible OR a health food? (I wouldn't care to be their insurance company either when the legal suits start rolling in from numerous hospital beds.)

And who can afford to pre-tox, tox and then de-tox? If I had that kind of spare cash I'd sooner splash out on a new sound system for the car.

I know there'll be lots of people toxing up tonight, it being New Year's Eve and all that, but let's not lose sight of our cynicism here. Lest such cynical operators seek to take advantage of us by out-cynicising us.

Which brings me to the Pre-Cyn drink I am developing in my head - a new range of drinks called 'I Can't Believe It's Actually Part Of My 5-A-Day And Will Genuinely Make The World A Better Place'

No more a case for the Trading Standards Authority than Alibi, surely?

My secret ingredient...? Now that would be telling!

Happy New Year to you all - in the most genuine sense of the word 'happy'. Who needs substance abuse to be happy (aside from lots of cake, obviously)?

Friday, 25 December 2009

The Ghost Of Borders Past

Don't forget folks - only one Christmas day left until shopping days again!
Will you survive?

Only don't expect to find next year's Yoga For Cats calendar in your local Borders store as Borders (UK) is no more.

Innovative calendars were not the only thing Borders brought to these shores. I well remember the time about 10 years ago when my-then boyfriend telephoned to say he'd seen these amazing new bookshops on a business trip to Canada where you could drink a cup of coffee whilst reading the merchandise. 'But what if you bend the covers or spill coffee on them?' I asked incredulously. 'And how do they make a profit if no one buys the books?' My boyfriend did not know the answers but said the bookshops also seemed to host events and be open long after other stores had shut.

You could have knocked me down with a feather when a year or two later the first Borders appeared in Oxford Street, quickly followed by branches in every major city.

When Oxford Borders first opened, it couldn't have been more welcoming. A huge range of bookcases right at the front heaved with novels and books by local authors who were promoted to the hilt with generous reviews from the staff. Author events abounded. All sorts of arty and booky groups were invited to form and host nightly meetings in the shop, plied with complimentary coffee. Myself and Back Room Poets had a monthly open mic in the Sports Section. The coffee shop was staffed by staff who did not seem to know how any of the machines worked but were unfailingly smiley and friendly even if it did take 20 minutes to get a cappuccino. It was great to have somewhere to go in the evenings that was not a pub or a club and while I worried at first about the effect of this newcomer on local bookshops, in actual fact the slant of Borders stock was more Stateside and did not cross over as much as one might imagine with the likes of Blackwells. In addition it also did audio, DVD, stationery, magazines and a coffee shop. Rather than putting other bookshops out of business it encouraged them to raise their game by providing coffee shops and customer loos, hosting events and generally moving with the times. People queued out into the street when Michael Palin came to promote his latest book. The nearby Sheldonian Theatre was hired and filled for a state visit from Jane Fonda!

As time went on however, Borders became a little less friendly and more corporate. A pointless makeover resulted in cheaper and more supermarkety-looking bookshelves, ghastly lighting, a worse events area, where an improved one had been promised, locks on the customer loos, a Starbucks franchise in the once-endearingly inefficient cafe. Various discussion groups began disbanding, a hostile anti-poetry manager put paid to our monthly Open mics, lack of continuity among the shift-worker staff, none of whom seemed to stay long became painfully apparent - rumour had it the staff weren't treated very well. And if you ordered a book you would never ever receive it! All interest in promoting local authors seemed to fall by the wayside, even though their books might be doing well in rival bookshops.

Finally the closing scenes above on Tuesday where everything was discounted by 90% and even the fittings were for sale. An obscenely cheerful woman (the liquidator?) urged customers over the intercom to 'buy as many books as possible so that we can all go home' However biographies of Nicole Kidman and Michael Douglas alongside the dregs of the chic lit section did not appeal, even for 10% of cost price. The security guard stepped forward as if to stop me taking pictures, then shrugged as if to say 'What's the point?' Erotica was the last section to be discounted by 90%.

However for all its shortcomings, such as encouraging a more supermarket-approach to book buying, I shall miss Borders as a hang-out place, even if I was seldom inspired to buy very much for various reasons. It was a good idea which should have worked and did at first, so something went badly awry.

Last Christmas Woolworths and Zavvi, this Christmas Borders - what next to disappear from our High Streets?

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Just Because I'm Paranoid....

I like to hope I am not overly gullible. I am quite content for example to accept the latest theory re the premature death of film star Marilyn Monroe as the most probable (ie she was so used to taking sleeping tablets to get to sleep every night that her tolerance built to the point that a. she was taking more than most people and b. they no longer worked so well and she woke up one night, woozily forgetting she'd taken any, and accidentally downed a second lot). Not least as uppers, downers and sleepers were par for the course if you were a film star in the 50s and 60s, and many stars including Elizabeth Taylor have memories of being drugged up to the eyeballs much of the time. However I find that some conspiracy theories really do play on my mind.

When 9/11 happened, like everyone else, I was mesmerised by the horror of the unfolding TV news, and that such an atrocity could happen on such an unprecedented and audacious scale to a giant complex I had once myself visited. It seemed inconceivable. It never occurred to me to question my own eyes. I thought I was jarred by the footage purely because it genuinely was so shocking. Many documentaries and some years later, I have grown dispassionate enough to find myself bothered by how neatly and completely (not to mention speedily) the towers collapsed almost into their own footprint leaving virtually none of the expected twisted floors or major debris. I have watched one or two videos by the detractors and listened to foreign demolition experts whistle in admiration at 'what a neat demolition job' it was in their professional opinions. I won't go into all the mysterious deaths and disappearances which allegedly ensued. I would just suggest that presuming one considers the conspiracists' take for one moment, one can't deny that it was indeed a handy excuse to start a war, despite the human 'collateral' damage, if the theory holds any water. Then there is the mysterious and unexplained matter of how the 9/11 bombers were apparently all from Saudi Arabia yet Bush chose to wreak revenge by invading Iraq/Afghanistan. This in turn is now rapidly becoming Pakistan.

A minute later and I feel guilty for even thinking that any government could orchestrate such an inside job on its own people, but then you never know... World powers are not exactly known for their morality, and if you think back to the mid-20th century, have previously demonstrated themselves capable of almost anything. And on a smaller scale we all know top weapons expert and bio-scientist David Kelly, about to expose Tony Blair as a liar on the WMD justification for invading Iraq, did not accidentally fall on that rusty pen knife in those woods to bleed to death from an unfeasibly small wound to his wrist and virtually no blood surrounding him. That conspiracy we know for sure has legs.

The second conspiracy theory that really bothers me is that the whole global warming thing is a myth - supposedly cooked up by world powers to keep us under the thumb and have us living in fear, since religion and educational ignorance has almost lost its grip in this sense. A handy way also to keep control of world resources and manipulate their prices in addition to curbing the development of third world countries to the point they risk becoming serious threats to Western economies.

Lastly I wonder if I should also be losing sleep over Common Purpose, an organisation which apparently seeks to appoint strategic people all over Britain to 'lead beyond authority' - ie to deliberately dismantle all infrastructure to bring the UK to its knees so it is then fit to be taken over by the new EUSSR. This is said to be behind 'Broken Britain', though personally if true, they may not be doing anything that those fine modern British qualities of substance abuse, moral laxity, laziness and unfettered workplace access to Facebook and e-Bay are not already.

So yes, the conspiracy theorists COULD be a bunch of fruit loops (and many undoubtedly are - sic 'Ripperologists'), but I do think they also raise many valid questions that need to be answered, considering the potentially powerful motives of the equally powerful vested interests who stand to gain as a result of many of these extraordinary world events and crises.

Which isn't to say we shouldn't turn down that central heating and put on an extra jumper. Like it or not, oil remains a finite resource and being anti-waste of our planet's resources is definitely a good and worthy ideal to aspire to, whether or not it turns out we are also destroying the Polar Bear's habitat/our own by indulging. And before the Green thing became as ridiculous and OTT as the Health and Safety thing, I must confess I really wanted to be part of that Koala-cuddling, right-on, knit-your-own-compost-bin, feel-good-about-yourself-while-you-work world and land a good job in it (my vested interests at work!)

Dismissing all major issue and event questioners/detractors as 'conspiracy theorists' or 'climate change deniers' as if on a par with 'holocaust deniers' does strike me as a jolly good means of censorship when it comes down to it. Though a sizeable number admittedly do not help themselves in the credibility stakes!

Friday, 27 November 2009

A High Class Call Girl Is Announced

This week I have decided to become a 'high class call girl' since it seems to be all the rage and the only way to get a book deal these days. I shall be high class and I shall receive calls. Where I will deviate is on my USP (unique selling point). Namely, I shall be far too high class to remove any clothing.

However if my client wants some expert ego stroking, a cheap life coach, an interior designer (with qualification) and an ideas person who will help him get ahead at work or even a mannerly, glory-reflecting escort to high society events, preferably of the literary persuasion, who won't undermine him by not laughing at his jokes or finding all he says scintillating, then he will find me well worth my £450 per hour. And with that sort of hourly rate this 'Belle de Bore' could afford to devote her time to looking good for him/the rest of her exclusive client base in stunning bespoke 30's art deco-inspired outfits made to her own designs.

So how about it chaps? I shall make being a Soiree Mistress the new British equivalent of the Geisha Girl. Heavens, if you ask nicely I might even make you a cup of Darjeeling in a proper English bone china tea set and toast you some muffins on a proper silver toasting fork. Now there's a personal service you won't see advertised in a telephone booth, never mind taking your library books back when they're overdue.

Incidentally I am reliably informed that there is no such thing as a 'high class call girl' in real life, merely an overpriced one.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Equality All Areas?

This morning on Radio 4's Today programme, it was reported on the News that new classes were to be drafted into the school curriculum to educate boys from the age of 5 that it is wrong to commit domestic violence against women.

The following news item was the recapture of the former Duchess of York's dresser Jane Andrews who had been on the run from an open prison where she was serving a life sentence for bludgeoning her boyfriend with a cricket bat and then stabbing him to death in 2000 for refusing to marry her. Ironically she had then lied that she had slain him in self-defence after he had attacked her; if the forensic evidence was anything to go by; in his sleep!

Does anyone else feel that both genders might benefit from such classes in increasingly compulsive, vicious and immature times of growing gender equality?

Though personally I would much rather both boys and girls were taught HOW to have a functional, loving relationship in the first place - if they have no example to learn from in their home lives - and that they should either seek professional help or call it a day (like civilised human beings) if they can't.

By the way, to avert confusion (and libel risk), I ought to point out that the murderer is the one standing on the left in the picture above.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Some of My Best Friends Are Books

I have just attended an interesting Mostly Books talk by well known author and publisher Susan Hill at the Abingdon Guildhall.

Ms Hill has recently published 'Howard's End is on the Landing', an odyssey which began when she started noticing all the books in her house she had never read or hadn't read for years and determined to take a year out to rediscover them all.

In the course of so doing, she came to reflect on how much books meant to her and what would happen if books disappeared from our lives and shelves completely in years to come - namely if the e-Book came to replace the physical book and designers, printers, binders and bookshops all closed down with the consequent loss of many thousands of jobs. Worse still, whole generations to come would be denied the joy of reading, thumbing through, scribbling their name on and owning physical books. And there would be no repositories for lost love letters and forgotten fivers to drop out of either!

A gloomy thought, but Ms Hill believes the threat is very real if we don't wake up to it fast and support our local bookshops and Libraries in addition to rediscovering our book collections, large and small.

Personally I agree up to a point. I think books and publishing will take a nosedive like cinemas did when video came along, but ultimately I believe those that survive will eventually enjoy a resurgence as we all realise that however high screen resolution becomes, even the most ardent IT lover needs a screen break every so often and does not burn to look at screens of one kind or another 24/7, and even if they did, would their own system take it? Electronic fog is already a recognised syndrome, linked to headaches, eye strain, shoulder strain (through hours of hunching), lack of concentration and therefore productivity when attention is scattered, and depression when one reduces and possibly even withdraws one's engagement with the outside sensual world to become isolated. As a hospice nurse friend also testifies, brain tumours are on the rise in increasingly young patients whatever the experts may say about minimal microwaves being emitted from all these screens, phones and devices to interfere with the body's natural electro-magnetic field.

Furthermore I believe the human need for tactility is not about to go away. A book has three dimensions, is compact, doesn't rely on batteries or electricity, can be read at one's own pace in almost any setting, won't crash, doesn't carry the risk of electronic fog or undue eye strain and it is nice to hold, to own and to cherish, not least with the ever-increasing range of innovative jacket textures and designs available today. More to the point though, a house is just not a home if not adorned with books and the majority of my friends are equally bibliophilic - one to the point of layering a wooden plank between each row of books up to the ceiling on all four sides of his living room with what can only be described as a scant regard for Health & Safety! Plus why would pubs buy secondhand books by the yard to decorate their interiors if they held no appeal? It is also satisfying to momentarily gloat over a book you have just finished, mentally congratulating yourself for getting through it, particularly if thick, its physicality an instant visual gauge. Conversely I remember being disgusted by a former housemate who seemed to own only two books about how to keep tropical fish - and even those had been given to him!

I really do not fathom how the gift of a book with a beautifully-designed and tactile jacket, its own distinct personality and physicality could ever be replaced by someone saying 'Happy Christmas darling - I've got you that download you wanted for your e-Book thingummy' and the reply 'Thank you darling - what a GORGEOUS download, I shall cherish it always!', never mind the challenge of obtaining an author-signed copy! There would be nothing special about it in the slightest, even if accompanied by somersaulting screen graphics.

Rather embarrassingly, I also happen to completely lack the ability to read long documents on screen without an insatiable desire to 'print them out to read and digest properly', despite my conflicting green proclivities which should preclude such behaviour! Perhaps this also reflects a subconscious desire to make the words real and capture them somehow as I don't quite trust things not to evaporate back into the ether - as happened to a cherished exchange of romantic e-mails many moons ago following a system upgrade! As for those PDF forms you're meant to fill in online, but never can....

To get back to books though, while the sexy print-on-demand machine still hasn't materialised in most bookshops ready to print a single copy of any book requested of it for no more than the cover price, whether-in-or-out-of-print at the touch of a button, and despite being well under £20k now (will the technology become the fax machine of the book world I wonder, to be swiftly gazumped by the e-Book?), there are some encouraging signs that the 3D book is making a renaissance already with the rise of the Literary Festival and the bookshop event, whether as one-off or part of an author tour. Then there are all the tie-ins that are possible with some books on the merchandise or related product front and the rise of the book blog, promoting and sharing books. This blog is only an occasional book blog, but I can go on at length about books as you can see. Let us also not forget the tandem springing up of all the Book Clubs and Bookcrossers networks all over the place. Cause to believe that the patient still breathes, surely?

On a more serious note the book trade could help itself by

1. Shooting anyone still responsible for naff jacket design/denying the author a say as to whether the cover complements the book, no matter how severely the wrong cover can impact on sales.
2. Making all booksellers undertake an NVQ in Customer Service or be counselled as to an alternative career if they cannot be friendly, efficient, SMILE and look as if they enjoy selling books.
3. Publishers could refrain from giving the lion's share of their advance and publicity budgets to the likes of Dawn French or Jeremy Clarkson at the expense of all their non-celebrity (some might say 'proper') authors, who are increasingly starving in their garrets and facing threats of eviction, even if outwardly successful published authors.

Finally parents could help ensure the future of the book trade by raising their children to love books and visit libraries from the time they are old enough to toddle. (tip, it's also a cheap way of keeping them out of your hair if you can absorb them in a book while you enjoy some peace and quiet), backed up by their children's schools making the 3 R's a priority once more.

But enough such rumination, I fear the electronic fog is fast descending...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Harry Brown - vigilante

Today I enjoyed a highly gratifying afternoon watching Michael Caine blowing away hoodie pondlife in his latest film outing Harry Brown, not least of interest since I had had a similar idea for a pensioner vigilante film myself some while ago. This film seemed considerably more violent than my own film script might have been, but as with all the best film heroes, had the decency to make Harry a reluctant assassin, doing his best to put his Marine days behind him and live a quiet, law-abiding old age until simultaneously provoked beyond endurance and left with nothing to lose by the druggie scum making his estate a living hell, he rediscovers his latent military skills.

Despite his 76 years, Michael Caine continues to cut an imposing figure on screen with an even more imposing presence as the decent man trying to do the right thing, but just capable of overstepping the boundary when the boundary doesn't seem to know its own position any more and he finds the long arm of the law lacks meaningful reach.

Very much a cut above the usual British gangster fodder and not just owing to Mr Caine's presence, but a damn fine screenplay too, even if it must invariably share a few formulaic elements of the genre.

Entertainment-value aside, the film is a disturbing and damning endictment of both the state of 'broken Britain' and the uselessness of our Police force, who seem by turns frustrated by their own lack of powers and quite happy to afford said hoodie pondlife more human rights than the taxpayers who actually foot their wages bill.

Time was when the police were 'servants of the people' and widely-acknowledged as such - aka there to serve the public. Now they appear to be a free security force for big business (particularly when protecting its interests against any detractors) and enforcers of human rights for those whose actions in infringing upon and denying others their human rights should have led to forfeiture of their own some time ago.

The only ray of light is that as we tax payers are effectively the 'employers' of the Police, perhaps we should have the power to sack the lot of them if their service to us is unacceptable and demand a new Police force actually on the side of the decent and the law-abiding, who also happen to be their ultimate bosses to whom they are answerable.

We can't have all these tooled up 76 year old vigilantes running around on account of a film neglecting to display a 95 certificate, after all!

Top tip of the week: If you need the Police round in a hurry; to deal with a gang of yobs smashing your windows for example; rather than in a week's time, just phone up and lie that a gang of Animal Rights protesters are breaking into your shed to liberate your rabbits and request urgent assistance. Apparently they send the whole caboodle straight round, whirlycopters too, if you're lucky.

Monday, 2 November 2009

You Might As Well Live!

Today I have been on a Suicide and Self-Harming Course called Razor's Edge.

Not so much a 'How To' but more a 'What To Do When You Encounter It' crash course in delivering a mental Heimlich manoeuvre to distressed students. The course was presented by an energetic and erudite glinty-eyed psychiatrist who dressed like an undertaker and evidently regarded the outer extremes of human behaviour with something akin to the relish of a dangerous sports enthusiast, seeming a little disappointed not to have come across a patient with multiple personality disorder in his wide experience yet!

But for all that and a healthy dollop of black humour, Dr Bourne proved practical, compassionate and endlessly imaginative in the means he devised to postpone would-be suicidal practitioners until they'd had time to think it over and consider other solutions to their problems, and convince self-harmers there were safer means of obtaining that endorphin high or psychological relief achieved by cutting themselves.

During the course of the day he came through the door dressed in several guises, adopting the narrative, mannerisms and accents of several 'patients' for us to offer assistance to in the course of our day jobs. He then changed and came back to dissect each case, the advice we had given and the advice we might like to consider giving if it were to happen in real life. All the cases were based on real life cases so he was also able to tell us the real life outcome of each one.
We also learned some fascinating facts such as;
  • Vets are the profession of highest suicide risk. Social isolation posted in small towns and villages where they might take a long time to be accepted into the community plus they have the means and they are trained to kill (ie put animals down)
  • Hose pipe through the car window suicides have radically dropped in popularity in the last ten years owing to catalytic converters. Most modern cars would require you to sit in them for hours or even days to die, by which time you would have been discovered by interfering dog walkers many times over!
  • The majority of suicides do it on impulse and are more likely to do it if they have the means to hand - therefore pharmacists and hospital doctors have a high suicide rate as they know exactly what to do for a quick, painless and certain end and have easy access to the means. GPs less so as few surgeries keep their own drugs on the premises and most must write out prescriptions for their patients to pick up at the pharmacy (providing the pharmacist is still alive!)
  • When talking someone suicidal out of it, or at least into postponing it, do not underestimate their embarrassment. If they feel too foolish for backing down, particularly in a public place where crowds may have gathered and the emergency services may have arrived they may suddenly pluck up the resolve to kill themselves purely because they feel they could not live with the embarrassment of climbing down, literally, and this has become as pertinent to them as the original problem or set of problems which sent them to the top of the high building in the first place.
  • Many suicides are still not recorded as such for various reasons but labelled 'misadventure' or 'accident' to spare family feelings. In addition it is impossible to be sure re many drug overdoses so it is likely that actual rates of suicide may be several times higher than officially recorded.
He also taught us how to protect ourselves both mentally and physically and how imperative it is to do this first in order to be of best use to the person at risk. But that if the worst still went ahead, it would not be a failure on our part, more our misfortune to encounter a particularly determined individual bent on killing themselves no matter what.

You could tell Dr Bourne was an enthusiast about his work as in an unwitting moment of humour and without a hint of irony he recommended 'Night Falls Fast:Understanding Suicide' by Kay Redfield Jamison as a good holiday read.

It may sound strange but I would recommend the Suicide and Self-Harming Course to anyone who deals with people in their day job. It is a kind of equivalent to First Aid but for the mind and was surprisingly uplifting in many ways taking the fear out of being confronted by such a situation, despite some of the exercises being pretty scary and a certain amount of stepping out of comfort zones required.

And it was of course impossible not to recall Dorothy Parker's famous verse on the subject.


Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

I've often thought that if I'm ever famous enough to pen an autobiography it might be called 'If Things Don't Get Any Better In Six Months, THEN I'll Kill Myself', the joke of it being it would be a rolling six months which would eventually take me up to the end of my natural span by default!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Who Will Expose This Evil In Our Midst?

A lot has been said about the facist evils of the BNP, but what about the SNP (Scottish National Party)? It seems to me that with their insidious 'Tartan is Right!' chant and blatant agenda to force every man, woman and child in the UK to become Scottish, this party is getting off any cricitism Scot-free!

Now I'm as liberal as the next person and some of my best friends are Scottish, but I'll be damned if anyone forces me to speak in a funny accent, use funny money and eat fried mars bars. And their plan to convert all British church bells to the bagpipes is outrageous!

And frankly who needs better schools, more caring hospitals and fairer justice in the Courts system, not to mention an end to gazumping in the property market and Rabbie Burns day? Not me.

As for putting a stop to the further climb of the BNP's Nick Griffin. Easy peasy. Aside from the impossibility of taking a man who looks like Humpty Dumpty seriously, one could easily complete the look and ensure he never reaches higher office by swapping his shampoo for hair removing cream (history demonstrates that the electorate seldom votes in the bald guy - even if they actually give a toss about the politics).

Sunday, 18 October 2009


According to Lily Allen's latest hit '22', if a female reaches 29 and hasn't yet found the man of her dreams to define her, 'society says her life is already over'.

You can download this cheerful ditty (full lyrics below) as a ringtone too.

Personally, as a female slightly over 29 who never tried the romantic tactic of piling it high to sell it cheap (aka did the one-night stand thing), but who still never got whisked off to a castle in the air by a straight Prince Charming before her 29-year shelf life elapsed, I'm just off to jump off a cliff...

Ms Allen is 24 years old (only another 5 years to go then. Shame really. Think how much more evolved her lyrics might have had to become as a thirtysomething.)

I know... miaow! But what is life without a little celeb-baiting? Hare coursing is now banned.

When she was 22 the future looked bright
But she's nearly 30 now and she's out every night
I see that look in her face she's got that look in her eye
She's thinking how did I get here and wondering why

It's sad but it's true how society says
Her life is already over
There's nothing to do and there's nothing to say
Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulder
It seems so unlikely in this day and age

She's got an alright job but it's not a career
Wherever she thinks about it, it brings her to tears
Cause all she wants is a boyfriend
She gets one-night stands
She's thinking how did I get here
I'm doing all that I can

It's sad but it's true how society says
Her life is already over
There's nothing to do and there's nothing to say
Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulder
It seems so unlikely in this day and age

It's sad but it's true how society says
Her life is already over
There's nothing to do and there's nothing to say
Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulder
It seems so unlikely in this day and age

[Copyright Lily Allen. Lyrics from]

Thursday, 8 October 2009


Conscientious driver that I am, twice this week have I been forced to slam on the anchors to avoid mowing down a couple of wheat ears among the latest crop of students who specialise in stepping off the pavement straight in front of moving vehicles without looking - relying on that infallible immortality of theirs - the second without even an iPod glued to its ears as excuse.

Whether or not all the 'Drink Yourself To Death For A Fiver!' leaflets the Freshers are bombarded with by local bars the moment they come up had anything to do with either incident, it struck me that just as more and more youngsters are apparently starting primary school without being toilet-trained or able to speak more than a handful of baby words, an increasing number of students are turning up at University without the ability to even cross the road, much though you learn to expect (in my line of work) many won't be able to make toast without activating the fire alarm or use the washing machine without an engineer being required to mop up the aftermath.

I then mused whether Society is in effect, going backwards, possibly trailing evolution not far behind in its wake.

My thoughts turned to the poor and dare I say, increasingly haggard-looking, parents re-mortgaging their homes in order to afford to send their offspring to University, particularly in a recession, only to risk their investment being run over and all that money wasted for want of a Green Cross Code man.

Perhaps Freshers' Week needs to become 'Basic Lifeskills' week rather than an orgy of mindless drinking and pointless dungeon and dragon societies.

If this makes me a killjoy, how much less fun if joy ends up on a slab because it isn't capable of assuming even the slightest young adult responsiblity for itself, whether through 'whatever' lackadaisical nature or a negligent lack of parental nuture.

If only history were still taught, more youngsters might realise how hard many of their predecessors once fought to be educated and then to vote and how the powers that be were terrified of the idea of educated voting peasantry and working classes, contriving accordingly to keep them ignorant and therefore controllable for as long as possible.

They would then also know that religion and cheap drink were historically employed as opiates for the masses, where bread and circuses proved insufficient. Now religion has lost it hold, bread and circuses are passe and drink has become even cheaper and available 24/7, to be joined by drug highs for less than the cost of a cappucino. Worse still, acting dumbly and bragging about it has become fashionable, and even aspirational behaviour.

How reassuring it would be to see a 'Wake Up And Smell The Coffee Dudes! Society' at next year's Freshers' Fair.

Meanwhile I might look into whether there is such a thing as a 'student chaser' available to bolt onto the front of the car. Or invent one, if there isn't.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Save the Human!

This is the sort of town I would like to live in.

Sadly far more towns look something like this..

Sometimes I wonder if housing is built by people for people at all. Or if people can only dream of being listened to when it comes to their own housing.

I guess it's called 'progress'

Let's stand in the way everyone. Let's say a big fat 'No!' to Brutalism. And battery cage homes for humans, with anything but the space and light we all claim to want, let alone room to get our furniture in. Let's demand that all 'progress' be in a forwardly direction, and preferably with posterity attached to help our era mean something.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Slow Down Unless You're A Banker (in which case honk!)

Last week saw the start of a new half-cocked (undemocratically elected) scheme to grind Oxford's traffic to a fume-farting halt by imposing a 20 mph speed limit on various sections of the city centre and residential streets.
Now narrow residential streets with cars parked on both sides with their multitude of hazards such as possible small boys running across the road in-between parked cars I understand, but MAIN roads which already have a plethora of crossings, traffic islands, lights and speed cameras to slow the motorist down? Where is the logic in reducing these to 20?
It feels as if we sensible drivers (and whatever my green sympathies, I am required to drive around the city quite a lot as part of my new job) are being penalised for the drink and drug-addled minority who commit the moronic acts such as cutting up or overtaking on a 30mph stretch and swinging out of corners at high speed minus signals - offences they continue to commit if not more so under the new more-restrictive regime, surprise surprise. Now if the REAL dangerous drivers such as these, not forgetting the latest breed who TWEET about how clever and badass they are to post to Twitter whilst driving faced stiffer penalties such as losing their licence for 10 years if caught, rather than a slap on the wrist, a life ban if they killed or mained anyone, THAT would be be more sensible and effective than this ridiculous money squandering scheme where it is 30 miles an hour one minute and 20 the next with no particular rhyme or reason attached to which section of road is which, bar the obvious side streets. And don't get me started on dangerous cyclists or lemming pedestrians who seem to rate listening to their iPods above looking before they pull out or cross! Don't they deserve a penalty or two? Or doesn't the Highway Code apply to them?
Cars are not going to go away after all. Though perhaps they might be drastically reduced at least if truly radical schemes such as the reintroduction of trams or the provision of continuous cycle lanes were considered, so what is the point of deliberately creating obstacles for cars, thereby promoting the mass pollution of idling engines?

Meanwhile on Radio 4's Today programme this week, a city finance chief was challenged about the fact that huge bonuses continue to be paid to bankers, despite the recession, and performance regardless - even in the cases where banks have been bailed out by the government via our taxpayer's money to stay afloat.

His reply was that they had to continue to pay large bonuses as our banking talent would otherwise be lost abroad.

What a brilliant strategical tactic, I thought! Kill the bonuses so they go abroad and destabilise somone else's economy with foolish risk taking whilst our own country has a chance to recover and fight back.

And do they leave us any alternative when no financial institution will seemingly hear of bonuses being performance-related, or at the very least, paid after tax, and after profit margins have been factored in? It now even emerges that a handful of cheeky bankers are suing for not receiving the obscene bonuses they expected.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Let Them Eat Leaves

The Hungry Caterpillar

Fourteen days from larvae to caterpillar
Then I ate and I ate 'til I was a fatterpillar
I ate and I ate 'til I began to pupate
Becoming a butterfly would be worth the wait
Not to mention save a fortune in fur and Jimmy Choos
I was ready for my time in the sun, ready to hit the news
But first, I was trapped in a chrysalis!
Waiting for my supermodel miracle catalyst
Suppose my shell refused to shed
Suppose a sparrow ate me for a mcsnack instead
Or I became a mutant ninja caterpillar with a caterpillar track
How could I take the cat(erpillar) walk by storm with that?
Luckily I emerged and my wings unfurled to reveal…a Red Admirable
The Royalty of the flutterby world
So it's rose petal red carpets all the way
Heading the butterfly parade at the break of each day
The sweetest nectar, the most potent pollen
I almost binged 'til I was swollen
Before remembering I was the supermodel of stick-insect kind
And snorting sherbet instead.

©LS King 2009

This was my contribution to an open air reading with Back Room Poets in Oxford's Botanic Gardens today on the theme of The Hungry Caterpillar. As you can see I am a poet in crysalis. Who knows what I will hatch into. If only I hadn't ate all that cake instead of boring leaves...

Monday, 31 August 2009

Pride and Progress

This is Caversham Court in Reading, a former Rectory to nearby St Peter's Church and one of the second grandest houses in the Parish dating back to the early 1800s.

In 1933 it was razed to the ground by Reading Council to make way for a road which was never built.

Thanks to the tireless endeavours of several local citizen's action groups and charities, Caversham Court is now somewhat redeemed as a newly-restored riverside public park, and you can walk around the outline of where the grand house used to stand.

Below is
Christchurch Meadow in Oxford, surely one of the most stunning vistas to be found in England and the stuff of Brideshead Revisited with the rivers Thames (aka Isis) and Cherwell bordering two sides of it and Oxford Colleges, the third, not to mention the Botanic Gardens invading a corner, and steeped in about as much history as it's possible to find, including early balloon landings and mediaeval settlements. In the 1950s a city councillor thought it would be a great idea to build a road straight through it. Luckily he didn't get away with it as doughty Oxford citizens fought back.

Makes you wonder what we have lost elsewhere though. What other country is as short-sighted as England so often is about carving up its towns and cities in the name of 'Progress' (but more often mere sacrifice to the greater glory of the combustion engine and its continued sales and movement). And I speak as the possessor of a driving licence who happily uses alternative transport wherever it exists.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Artistic Yearnings

I have always wished I could paint but it is amazing the effects you can get with a cheap out-of-focus digital camera. This was Port Meadow in Oxford this morning doing a good job of pretending to be 1909.

Don't you just love the way the animals are all lined up like those Britains plastic farm animals?

You never know. This could be a latter-day Haywain. Which reminds me I must get back to penning my forthcoming best-seller 'The Constable Code' solving the mystery of why so many thousands of people bought that print to hang above the mantelpiece on their living room walls. I am sure there must be some complicated mathematical equation behind it all. Not to mention Opus Dei.

A strange bird I found in my garden. I think it might be related to the Magpie family.

I haven't been able to afford a holiday this year, but these are some snaps I took on a weekend in Brighton for a family reunion in May to celebrate my mother's 70th.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Things to Do in Oxfordshire Before You're Dead

Quite a random piecemeal posting from me this week I'm afraid.

You've just got to love our local newspaper where the traditional and highbrow vie with the lurid.'Didcot Man Cuts Off Own Penis' was a particularly memorable recent headline, as if the town and the gesture were somehow interconnected. Foolish man I thought, to cut off one of his only sources of entertainment in that godforsaken outpost with only bingo, a power station, Didcot Parkway and alcoholism to offer. As for The Oxford Times Letters pages, they must count as among the only in the country where arguments about bus routes and theosophical debates about the existence of God rage side by side. One thing that startles when you read it for any length of time though are the high volume of both kiddie fiddlers and suicides we appear to have in Oxfordshire. And cancer. Not to mention opera. Only recently tabloidised, it retains its pretentious dinosaur food critic (if he didn't exist, you would have to invent him) but has funked itself up with wonderful photography and maintains high production values with a real bias towards the Arts and few 'Shed Fire!''s creeping in. Friends of mine appear in it and its magazines with worrying regularity with their latest artistic or green triumphs. And it still carries proper Obituary columns to aspire to at lifes' end.

The Sue Ryder charity shop in Abingdon specialises in dolls houses and furniture.

Nice touch in the Cornish Pasty shop of smuggler decor. Someone had smuggled all the flavour out of the pasties though.

Inedible crisps.

You don't say. If they're free, I'm having a dozen!

They've had the feedback forms from Future Generations and it's official - Future Generations want a state-of-the art modern museum that gets down with da kids man. None of this musty antiquated stuff. Except for the Mummy obviously. No museum is complete without a Mummy.

Cherwell Valley Service Station - Every essential for the modern motorist...

Unauthorised golf - a growing menace in Oxford parks...

Actually toddlers are often better parkers than their parents.