Saturday, June 30, 2012

This is Lincolnshire

But stunned residents of Louth gasped in horror on Wednesday as dozens claimed she looked more like a giant phallus.
Sentence of the week, I think you will agree. Perhaps residents of Louth should get out more often. Exclusive photographs from This is Lincolnshire clearly show the Mayor looked more like a banger than a pecker on that auspicious day. She looked just like a giant sausage, as she intended; a sausage with a face, a sausage with sausage-eating propaganda leaflets, a sausage happy to promote the eating of its fellow sausages, a quisling sausage.  But then again, I might be wrong:
Comments on Wednesday's story on This is Lincolnshire included: "The costume makes her look like a gentleman's appendage," and "she is clearly deluded if she thinks that costume looks anything like a sausage."
But this is not a matter of some Bizarro Lady Godiva who decided, on the spur of the moment, to flaunt convention and stand up for the sausage by dressing as one. The Mayor's appearance in costume had been announced some time before and she was encouraged by others, powerful organizations like the East Lindsey District Council and the shadowy British Sausage Appreciation Society, which supplied the costume (had the costuming been the work of the British Penis Appreciation Society, we might have been more inclined to believe that it looked like a gentleman's appendage). Furthermore, the smaller but no less umbrous Lincolnshire Sausage Association is looking to find ten grand to appeal against the Food and Farming Minister's decision to reject their claim for protected geographical indication, a status enjoyed by the Cornish Pasty, Arbroath Smokies and the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie. It might also be noted that the chairman of Louth Food and Drink group on Louth Town Partnership has supported the Mayor in her stunt. This is by no means the work of a maverick mayor.

It might further be worth noting at this juncture that, in the neighbouring county of Leicestershire,  Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe of the aforementioned Melton Mowbray welcomed the Olympic torch to its town with an exclusive Gold Medal Hamper. Clearly the stakes are high in the Midlands and elsewhere to capitalise on the benefits accruing from the Olympic juggernaut storming through sleepy towns that are little-known but for the manufacture of authentic heritage foodstuffs.

It might yet further be noted, in passing, that the juggernaut was headed, as it stormed through Louth, by no fewer than five torch bearers in succession and these are but five of 8000 inspirational people who will raise high one of many torches and carry it for an average distance of 300 metres before passing on the flame to another local hero or minor celebrity. You would have thought the organizers and their presenting partners might have reached for higher standards of inspiration and of fitness but no: almost everybody gets a turn, including Muse and, of course, Torvill and Dean. And let us not forget, courtesy of This is Somerset,, as if we could. And, before we finally return to Louth, here is a photograph of an Olympic Torch Relay dress rehearsal (why are the torch bearers dressed to look as if they were escaping from an old-style mental asylum?) in Melton Mowbray, of all places.

Anyway, where were we? In Louth of course; despite the support of the powerful sausage-making lobby, at least one of the townsfolk, one Bill Nicholson of Kidgate, objected to the Mayor's scheme. But his objection was not one of gross moral turpitude on the part of the Mayor, not one of impersonating a sex organ in a public place, but of municipal humiliation caused to the populace. As This is Lincolnshire – a news organ with more grasp on this subject than the red tops – tells us, Mr Nicolson declaimed thus:
The council chamber must put a stop to this embarrassment and restore some dignity to the people of Louth who do not want the local Olympic event hijacked for commercial reasons.
Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that Olympic events were hijacked for commercial reasons decades ago and remain in bondage,  the real question in indeed one of dignity. Louth, the Capital of the Wolds or if you prefer, the Historic Capital of the Lincolnshire Wolds, is but one of many towns to be headed by an exhibitionist chief executive or, if your prefer, a municipal embarrassment.  Here in New Zealand there are many such mayors, men and women who never miss an opportunity to be a complete arse on behalf of some local industry. Such is the way of local body politics in our times.

It seems rather sad that, when the aforementioned Olympic juggernaut stormed through the sleepy town of Louth, the Mayor - who had not been invited to participate in any official capacity - was running alongside the relay team dressed as a sausage. It also seems farcical, the sort of thing that might happen in Ever Decreasing Circles, all that desperate shouting and waving on behalf of a sausage that failed to gain protected status because it is nondescript.

At least, though, we need not worry about the children:

As they carry out their 300 metre stint of the relay runners are accompanied by police cars, buses for the scores of staff involved, a “chaperone car” to monitor runners under the age of 18, two buses to drop off and pick up the torch-bearers, a media bus and a “command car” to keep a close eye on the bearer.

Astonishing, don't you think? And yet comforting: if at any stage of the relay a young person is carrying the flame and a mayor dressed as a sex organ rushes out of the teeming crowds to run alongside, chaperones will be close to hand and ready to protect their charges from moral corruption.

This, after all, is England.

Below is a promotional music video for a song by the Young Knives, a popular music combo from Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Romans of the Decadence

No, me neither; what is wrong with that photograph?

Is it the lighting, the empty plastic bottle, the uncomfortable look on little Ottoline Cavendish's face as her mother applies a friendly Heimlich Manoeuvre? Are any of these symbolic of our folly?

 No, none of the above. It turns out, on reading the article, that the symbolic photo is one of something called a Kardashian, a photo so symbolic that the Independent must have thought it unpublishable.

 Some late news -  here is Stereolab, singing about a painting on a cardboard box. You see, the painting is a trompe l'oeil, but it confesses willingly that it is a painting; this is a bit rum, because a trompe l'oeil by its natures does not appear to be a painting. However as Stereolab put it, "an intimate spectacle gives the idea of the game and the humor, spectacle that rhymes, that arouses on the eyes a flash, a discovery, an idea that can play tricks, a muse, admittedly, gives the idea of the game and the mystery." 

Oh, please yourselves; it is a beautiful song, whatever it means

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pricks in space

Among those booked on Virgin Galactic's first mission are Branson, his son Sam and daughter Holly. Angelina Jolie is scheduled for an early flight, as is her partner, Brad Pitt. Others booking the £125,000 journey include Ashton Kutcher, Formula 1 drivers Rubens Barrichello and Niki Lauda, and scientists James Lovelock and Stephen Hawking; Princess Beatrice and Paris Hilton also make appearances on early flight schedules.
Oh. I had thought... oh, never mind. I should have realised that this is a British venture so it is guaranteed to be pompous and full of celebrities. It is not too late to get a refund, is it?

Brad 'n' Ange I could bear, so long as they don't bring along their child (whose name really ought to be Cockney rhyming slang by now - "you're just a Shiloh Pitt, mate") but Ashton Kutcher would induce lockjaw. Although there are exceptions, Formula 1 drivers are mostly arrogant pricks; they probably would be fighting over who gets to sit in the front with the driver. Princess Beatrice and Paris Hilton might raise a laugh with their silly hats and empty heads, but then they might just make you feel sick.

Then there are the celebrity scientists. Lovelock and Hawking would be fine, but what if Dawkins came along for the ride? He would just make it miserable for everyone else:
Look at all this. Isn't nature marvelous? Who needs God to explain it all? We have Science. Who needs religion, when you can have experiences like this and learn that you are just a tiny part of a vast and magnificent universe, which only we scientists can understand? Haven't you read my books?
And so on. And who else might be there? There would probably be some smart-alec from the Guardian  (am I the only middle-class male who does not find David Mitchell in the slightest bit funny?  It seems I am. I'll get my coat). There might be a famous writer on board but it wouldn't be anyone fun like Marty or Self; it would probably be Cormac McCarthy or China Meiville. Then there would be a hyperactive television presenter, fresh out of rehab. And there would be a digital entrepreneur who made a really amazing presentation at TED where he showed conclusively that the planet could be saved only if we did exactly as he said. The cheap seats would be filled by Perez Hilton and a minor Kardashian.

Not surprisingly, people on the ground would be praying for disaster. As onlookers watch a Virgin Galactic craft being lifted into the air, they will be hoping that it might contain One Direction and that the flight will end in a fireball. Were that to eventuate, no commentator will be wailing "oh, the celebrities."

Pity anyone with the misfortune to be on a flight with these people. Surely there must be some part of the booking system that would allow the sensitive passenger to make decisions on this matter, an Anyone but Jedward clause. If not, there must be insurance.

After all, these people are bad enough on regular flights. Seemingly incapable of traveling for a few hours in the lap of luxury without getting drunk, angry or laid, celebrities are an air transport menace. Remember, if you will, Peter Buck's attack of "non-insane automatism"or Gerard Depardieu, the elephant  in the cabin. First Class still exists only because nobody in Business would put up with these creatures. Imagine sharing a spaceship with any of the ghastlies on this list or this one. And it is not just the obviously awful: here are some more, including hip people like Dr Dre - woman beater with attitude.

So what is to be done? Maybe Lynx is the answer; no, not the adolescent camouflage deodorant, silly, the spaceship. It works like this: there is a pilot and there is you. Or, to put it another way, you fly with a trained professional and nobody else. No grinning Branson, no Ant, no Bieber, no Cher, no Dec, nobody whose name begins with E and so on, all the way to no Ziggy Marley; yes, that's right: a wanker-free space experience.

Unless, of course, the pilot wants to spend the flight telling you what he thought of Prometheus.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Don't look back

Mount Albert Grammar School student Negin Shademan, 17, tried on a replica of the strapless number Angelina Jolie wore to the Academy Awards in February - one of the most popular designs this ball season - at Ms Burley's store this week.

Caption: Mount Albert Grammar students Idoho Purcell, 17, Negin Shademan, 17, and Ashleigh Curtis, 18, try on ball dresses at Affordaball Dresses in Mt Roskill.

Asked how she would feel if someone else turned up to the event on June 30 with the same dress, she said: "It would be a dream-shattering moment. You'd constantly be wondering if she looked better in it. You talk about what kind of dress you're getting ages before the ball and make sure everyone knows."

Curved Air: 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

You've got to ask yourself one question

What an earth would you have done in the days before there were LPs and transistors and Top of the Pops?

Jethro Tull, completely barking mad, a parody of the sort of band they were.

Contains naughtiness and stripey underwear

Ruusujen aika - A Time of Roses - is a 1969 Finnish sic-fi film set in 2012. Funny how it didn't turn out this way.


I know this because I read about it on Toys and Techniques.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Together in electric dreams

One day last week, I forget which, I received a phone call. This is an event so rare that it is noteworthy. I have a brutalist office, all to myself. I have a desk. On it is a telephone. It has rung four times in the last year. I get a lot of emails instead. Phones are so twentieth century.

So was the Digital Equipment Corporation. Kids, ask your parents. They made computers, real computers with swapping disks and memory cabinets that filled a whole room, computers like the PDP-10 and the PDP-11/70.Then they made much smaller computers. Then they went bust. No doubt there are lessons to be learned from this, but the Wikipedia account of the firm's demise gives enough clues as to the causes:
In June 1992, Ken Olsen was replaced by Robert Palmer as the company's president. Digital's board of directors also granted Palmer the title of chief executive officer ("CEO"), a title that had never been used during Digital's 35-year existence. Palmer had joined DEC in 1985 to run Semiconductor Engineering and Manufacturing. His relentless campaign to be CEO, and success with the Alpha microprocessor family, made him a candidate to succeed Olsen. At the same time a more modern logo was designed.
Quite. The man who had founded the company thirty-five years earlier was deposed by a man who really, really wanted to be in charge and to have a shiny new title to show that he is in charge. And the firm responds to falling sales by getting a new logo.

So it came to pass that the company was assimilated by the awful Compaq in 1998, and now is just a memory. Which is why my phone call this week came as a surprise, since my caller announced herself as an employee in  customer services at Digital.

Yes indeed. She introduced herself and asked after my wellbeing, in an oddly mechanical way as if she were reading from a card, before telling me that she wished to know about my customer experience with her employer's products. Since the computer in my brutalist office, on my desk and next to my telephone, is a Macintosh, there would be little I could tell her that would be of use to her employer. Moreover, since this employer no longer exists, I suspected that my caller was not entirely frank with me. Since I had heard that alluring women from the Sub-Continent are likely to call ingenuous computer users and employ their wiles to extract vital information about the computers being used, I ended the call at this point. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Yet still, I am haunted by doubt. Maybe I was too hasty and too distrustful. Maybe this woman was not one of Internet's sirens, a Mata Hari of the global superhighway. Maybe her intent was not devious. Maybe she was genuinely interested in my customer experience with the products of the Digital Equipment Corporation.

Consider this. Perhaps this poor woman was a former employee of the Digital Equipment Corporation who simply did not stop providing customer service when the company folded. No, I do not want you to imagine some kind of Japanese soldier hypothesis - that would be cruel. But perhaps she left her cubicle in Clock Tower Place, Maynard MA, on the day of the company's dissolution, picked up her severance cheque and began the long journey back to the village whence she came, all those years earlier - a journey that takes her across the world to the most remote part of the furthest plain in India. She is greeted on her arrival by relatives and friends, feted by all those who wished to hear stories of her adventures in America. She feels good to be home, glad that circumstances have taken her away from the bright lights of Maynard and back to the village she calls home.

But still, she is troubled. "What of the customers," she asks herself, "what will they do now I am no longer able to help them? What is their customer experience?"

So this kindly woman collects her meagre savings and buys a telephone connexion, the first in the village. And in her small but tidy hovel she sets up her own call centre.  Her nephew builds her a cubicle, which she decorates with the Garfield calendar and Love Is  notelets she brought home from her office. Her neices talk to their friends and word goes out across the plain, to other villages and the distant towns. Soon, travellers are bringing gifts - a fax machine, a telex, a terminal, a call logging and administration system. Before too long the call centre is up and running. The woman can return to her calling.

Every day, from 9 to five with an hour's break for lunch, she is there, come rain or shine (in fact, it never rains and always shines). With a customer list - found in a market in Uttar Pradesh - loaded on her computer, she calls around the world, speaking to Digital customers who had long lost hope of ever again being asked about their customer experience. She brings comfort and advice. She brings consolation and joy. She reaches out to the dwindling band of users who remember the Digital Equipment Corporation's  dancing days and offers them the customer experience they thought had been lost in the bowels of Compaq. These customers bring her joy in return, the joy of knowing she had made someone happy, the joy of reaching out across the world to a fellow Digital user, a comrade, a friend.

And then she phoned my number. And I completely stuffed up her day. Well, what do you expect from a Mac user?

This is what the eighties were like. True story.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Dreaming spires

He and Key met briefly at Oxford but struck up a friendship when they were both still Opposition leaders. When Cameron was confronted with an MMP style result on election night 2009 it was Key who offered advice by phone and text. Key, for his part, thinks of himself, Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who will be joining them for dinner, as a special breed of modernizing, less ideological, right wingers - so much so, says Key, that US President Barack Obama sees them as having as much in common with him as they do with each other, despite coming from what is traditionally seen as the other side of the political spectrum. "President Obama has said to me... some of the leaders around the world he would count as friends are fundamentally from centre right parties - Harper, me and Cameron," says Key.

The news that nice Mr Key met nice Mr Cameron at Oxford, a university the latter attended, will come as a surprise to many of us, since we no nothing of when Mr Key went up, whether he read Mods and Greats or PPE, whether he was a scholar or an exhibitioner or whether he was any good on the river. More surprising still is the revelation that a newspaper story can be written in treacle.

The estimable Bounder has posted the image that was published with this article, proof that Photoshop is a  many splendored thing.