The most realistic story ever told.

Category: Moaning about London (page 2 of 3)

And as the kitten of opportunity throws up on the sandwich of destiny, I see we’ve reached the end of the show…


After several days of failed attempts to psyche myself up to ask Mystery Sandwich Girl out for a drink, I decided that today was going to be the day, dammit.  A real “GO BACK IN THERE, ARTHUR PEWTEY” moment.  All week something’s been not quite right, like there was a big queue of people standing behind me, or the other sandwich shop lady was standing there next to her.  Today it was not going to happen.  I had a plan.  Not quite on par with The Italian Job, but still involving a good deal more thought than I put into most things.

It was all set – I wandered in at 2:30, after the rush hour.  I was starving.  I ordered my sandwich & espresso from her at the counter, and in a break from routine I went over & sat down at one of the tables.  Perfect – she would come over, and as she dropped the chicken, spinach & bacon bap off I’d smile and say, “Hi, what time do you finish work?  I’d really like to take you out for a drink”.

In my peripheral vision I could see her getting everything together.  Here we go…  Oh bollocks, what’s that?

My phone starts ringing.

I answer the phone, and it’s a guy making enquiries about booking our morris dancing team.  I try to answer his questions as quickly as possible without being abrupt or rude, but as we’re still at about conversational midpoint, Mystery Sandwich Girl appears at my right shoulder with a big smile, a sandwich, and an espresso, which she places on the table along with some serviettes, and then disappears.

Backup plan swings into action.

Having anticipated FAIL on phase 1, I had taken the precaution of ensuring I had a reason to stay at my table – a 60 page printout of tech articles to study intently and take notes all over.  Foolproof – I’d sit there with an obviously empty plate, and she’d come over to collect it, at which point the asking out could take place.

Almost an entire frigging hour I sat there nonchelantly studying this damn printout, and only then did a head & shoulders appear from behind me – it was the other coffee lady.  Mystery Sandwich Girl had disappeared!


The open button

Appealing, isn't it? You want to press it... but you don't need to.

I know what this is for. Admittedly, it’s not quite what everybody thinks it’s for. However I refuse to believe that the situation is shrouded in so much mystery that people can misinterpret what is going on.

Yes, it’s a button (and it’s found inside carriages on the London Underground, handily adjacent to the doors), and as long as you don’t put up an “improper use” notice people will happily push buttons just for the sheer joy of it (as previously reported, this is known as “frobnicating”).  Some people seem to think that the more often you push a button, the more chance you’ve got of achieving your outcome (for example at lifts, and pedestrian crossings).

Maybe it’s just intolerance on my part – on the Paris Metro the doors are individually controlled.  It’s not so much the button pushing that gets to me – it’s the impatient repeated stabbing before the train’s stopped moving.  If the button really *did* work, would these people really want the doors to fly open whilst we’re still hurtling along?

The correct answer, by the way, is that the doors operate in 2 modes (individual, or driver-controlled), and by and large the default is the latter.  The only time in 5 years I’ve ever seen it switched over is when it’s hissing down with rain and the platform is one of the above-ground sections which doesn’t have shelter, as there’s no point in pelting all of the passengers with weather if there’s nobody wanting to get on the thing.  Of course this mode only comes into play if the driver’s not a total cock.

Nope, no humorous observations here as it turns out.  Just old fashioned straight out whinging.

Trainwreck journalism

My Google Reader account has 360 newsfeeds in it.  As such, I’ve totally stopped reading the freesheet newspapers that are provided around the London Underground – the Metro, the London Lite, and The London Paper.  Y’know… reading them hardly seems relevant when they’re largely an amalgamation of stories that have been harvested off everyone else’s newsfeeds.

For some reason, however (I suspect it was because I was entering a competition) I get The London Paper’s daily midday emailout.  Advantages of this over any other means of transmission are that I can easily dispose of it without having to worry about wasting paper, and as it arrives in precis form it’s easy to skim the handful of banal stories without having to immerse my brain in the childish tedium of it.  I should know better than to read their daily email even, because I already know that it’s going to wind me up into a state of fury before even clicking on the links.  Here’s my list of reasons why:

  1. The hyperlinks in their email don’t always work. Quite often I’ll CTRL-click a bunch of links in Firefox to get the pages all open in new tabs then CTRL-tab my way along reading them, but The London Paper’s links quite often just either fail with a gray screen, or take me to the section heading which that story was from, meaning I’ve got to scan their selection of crap again to find out what it was I was supposedly interested in reading about.
  2. The mentality of their commenting system. I still can’t figure it out, really – stories generally have an “add your comments” box down the bottom.  It’s not framed quite in the same way as the one on The Sun’s website (heading level font screaming “HAVE YOUR SAY”, as if the opinions of Sun readers would be worth hearing), however every now and again where the editor wants to elicit public outrage (one assumes) the story ends with bold text challenging things like “Do you think it’s a good idea to get rid of check-in? Would you prefer to carry your bags to the plane? Let us know what you think … “.  I can’t be bothered digging up any more example of that.  Equally frutratingly regarding comments though is that there doesn’t appear to be any obvious way of reading what the people have said.
  3. The quality and tone of stories. OK, it’s not meant to be The Times, The Independant or The Guardian, but I guess I’d optimistically expect the thing to contain something approaching factual news reports.  Whilst they eschew the word “news” from the title, an example of the sort of thing published in their “news” section is today’s selection of articles:
    • Robbie Williams quizzed by armed robbery cops – probably more one for the Celebrity News category I’d have though?
    • Swarm of bees closes road in Kensington – this is probably news, but if I were in charge it wouldn’t be in the first 3 stories listed.
    • London detective to be sentenced over sex offence – probably news, I guess.
    • Web rental scams are ‘on the rise’ – possibly news, although not 100% sure, as they’ve quote-marked “on the rise”, meaning that it probably can’t be quantified or substantiated.  Still, something to look out for.
    • Return of the mix as Woolworths makes online comeback – yeah, that’s news.
    • Jade’s legacy call snubbed – the story being that doctors have said that Jade Goody’s advice to girls to get cervical cancer tests is in fact medically unsound.  Not exactly topical, and not surprising that Jade was dishing out advice without being fully conversant with the fact.
    • London is the cocaine capital of Europe – could be news, although the statistics mentioned in the story were ropey enough to make the reader wonder if it all hadn’t just been made up.
    • Panic at the Beeb after newsgirl gets swine flu – looks like the “panic” part was subjective headline tweaking, but ultimately it’s close to being news.
    • Wonderbra launch revolutionary bra – seems a thinly veiled excuse to get more pictures of boobs on the website.
  4. The casual shoehorning of nudity into as many stories as possible.  Now I’m completely glad that the UK isn’t as prudish as the USA (refer to the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” if you’re windering what I mean there), however I’m constantly bemused that The London Paper bothers to try to pass itself off as a news source when it seems more intent on ensuring that office workers have their daily helping of boobs to ogle, or a story involving sex in some lurid way.  TLP seems to have also appointed itself some sort of publicnipple watchdog, because it’s building up quite an extensive catalog of pictures of female celebrities who have either had the occasional garment slippage issue, a see-through garment issue, or if it’s a particularly slow news day, a lack-of-support-garment issue.
    • Wonderbra launch revolutionary bra (today)
    • Jennifer Lopez ‘pops out’ for dinner (today)
    • Katy Perry gobbles pizza naked in the bath (today)
    • Women go topless to campaign against Pamplona bull run (yesterday)
    • London’s best life-drawing classes (Tuesday)
    • Corpses having sex go on show at the O2 (Tuesday)
    • Wimbledon babes 2009: A gallery of the finest tennis talent (Monday)
    • Meanwhile Lily Allen has embarrasing nip-slip at charity bash (Friday)
    • Lily Cole and Daisy Lowe go topless for new Pirelli calendar (Friday)
    • Eva Mendes poses in the nude for Calvin Klein (Thursday)
    • Katie Price returns to her old ways (Thursday)
    • Peaches’ boob at Bungalow 8 (Thursday)
  5. They put in reactionary stories which I fall for.  I absolutely hate being emotionally manipulated by news stories, because that’s exactly what they’re going for by use of tone and texture.  Occasionally though TLP gets me to swallow the bait, like with today’s startler: Wimbledon church sorry for letting tennis fans park on graves.  The appropriately enraging paragraphs were:
      “The vicar of St Mary’s is sorry for any offence that has been caused.”Yesterday the Rev Mary Bide reportedly admitted the graveyard parking looked “odd” but claimed the cars were stationed only in the oldest part of the graveyard which contained remains from the 18th and 19th centuries, whose descendants could not be traced.
  6. To me what those actually say isn’t “Wimbledon church sorry”, so much as “Wimbledon church embarrassed that they got busted, but otherwise they couldn’t actually give a toss so long as they’re making a few quid out of it”.

  7. The main thing prompting my tirade: Bloody ridiculous reporting. TLP published the following headline, in what can only be described as a visible and desperate scramble for a story: Britney gets a McDonald’s burger in Neasden.  But equally infuriatingly, today they had this important & newsworthy piece regarding Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, whose career they seem to be following particuarly closely at the moment (one can only assume that, based on their usual journalistic focus, they’re angling to get a “nip-slip” photo of her too – having waited for years for her to be old enough for them to be able to publish such things).  The story was regarding Watson’s rumoured enrolment at an American university, and featured the paragraph:
      The Harry Potter star, 19, is apparently going to the prestigious Columbia University in New York. But in order to maintain her anonymity she is going to enrol under the name Charlotte E Watson, as opposed to her full name, Emma Charlotte Duerre Watson.

    Well there we go, that’s that secret safe.  And England’s capital is all the more educated for having been told that.  For some reason it reminds me of the infamous 1991 Gulf War amphibious landing, where US troops came ashorewith only the lights from a hundred or so media crews to light their way**.

Bloody hell, and now I’ve written 1200 words on whinging about a newspaper I don’t even read.  Really should have put one and a fifth pictures in there instead, eh?

** Edit : Thanks to Anglico for the correction (see comment below).  I’d remembered it as being Gulf War, but then at the age of 14 or 15 I don’t suppose the intricacies of military activity on the other side of the world were foremost among my interests.  But thankyou very much for that!

Bring on the vitamin D

Incredible: 10 minutes of sunshine on a Friday and this is what you get.

It’s impossible to tell whether there’s been a fire drill, or if people have just bunked off early for a pint.

Good job I’m still beavering away in the office in a dedicated way. At blogging, I guess.

Guess the government here is recruiting lerts now too. Bring on the fridge magnets!

Leaving aside momentarily the whole issue of me being a mavericky fugitive type for taking a photograph in the Underground*: the other day whilst waiting for the usual 3 or 4 minutes until the next train (I love this town!) I spied this particularly unctuous poster, which I hadn’t seen before.

For the benefit of those with dodgy eyesight, the text reads “These chemicals won’t be used in a bomb because a neighbour reported the dumped containers to the Anti-Terrorist hotline”.  There was a companion to this further up the platform, but I couldn’t get my snap taken before the train trundled up, and it hardly seemed appropriate to be late for work in order to gather blog material…

For starters my incredibly flexible and delicate hackles tend to raise at any campaign which I perceive as praising a group of people for being smug busybodies (he says, referring specifically to the Together For London campaign – which seems specifically designed to reassure intolerant wazzocks who don’t have strong enough convictions to actually say something to the person who’s upsetting them so much that they’re in the right – by and large most of the behaviours “targetted” by that campaign are more irritating than inconveniencing, and as easily as getting irritated about something one could easily choose not to get irritated, thus saving everyone stress).


Ever keen to know what it is I’m supposed to be perpetually afraid of, I popped along to the website for the Anti-Terrorist Hotline, and was relieved to see that the police have given some nice clear guidelines as to the sort of thing we ought to be vigilant about:

    • Terrorists live within our communities and blend in. However, behind closed doors they may be storing bomb making materials or meeting others to plan attacks. Are you suspicious of a property where there is unusual activity or strange comings and goings that don’t fit day-to-day life?
    • Terrorists use surveillance to help plan attacks. Have you seen anyone taking pictures or filming CCTV cameras or making notes about other security arrangements? Has it made you suspicious? If you have seen this or know someone who takes an unusual interest in security measures, we need to know.
    • Terrorists need communication. They communicate with others to plan meetings or buy materials and chemicals. To avoid possible detection they use multiple anonymous pay-as-you go mobile phones and swap SIM cards and handsets. If you are suspicious about someone who uses phones in this way, we need to know.
    • Van – Terrorists need transport. If you work in commercial vehicle hire or sales, has a sale or rental made you suspicious?
    • Passport – Terrorists use multiple identities. Do you know someone with documents in different names for no obvious reason?
    • Mobile phone – Terrorists need communication. Anonymous, pay-as-you-go and stolen mobiles are typical. Have you seen someone with large quantities of mobile phones? Has it made you suspicious?
    • Camera – Terrorists need information. Observation and surveillance help terrorists plan attacks. Have you seen anyone taking pictures of security arrangements?
    • Chemicals – Do you know someone buying large or unusual quantities of chemicals for no obvious reason?
    • Mask and goggles – Terrorists use protective equipment. Handling chemicals is dangerous. Maybe you’ve seen goggles or masks dumped somewhere.
    • Credit card – Terrorists need funding. Cheque and credit card fraud are ways terrorists generate cash. Have you seen any suspicious transactions?
    • Computer – Terrorists use computers. Do you know someone who visits terrorist-related websites?
    • Suitcase – Terrorists need to travel. Meetings training and planning can take place anywhere. Do you know someone who travels but is vague about where they are going?
    • Padlock – Terrorists need storage. Lock-ups, garages and sheds can all be used by terrorists to store equipment. Are you suspicious of anyone renting a commercial property?

So we only need to be suspicious about people who take photographs, use mobile phones, have access to vehicles, have passports, purchase or use chemicals on a reular basis, use credit cards, have computers, carry luggage, secure their properties, and of course, who have a different daily schedule to ourselves.

In other words, anybody may have something to hide, so WATCH OUT!

In NLP there is a linguistic model called the Meta Model, which describes how language can be tuned to nudge people into thinking certain things, and one of the tools is known as Presupposition.  An example of this is when you ask a question with your desired outcome implicit as an effect, and merely give the respondent the illusion of choice.  For instance, “Shall we meet at the pub at 7 or 8 tonight?” immediately presupposes that you are coming to the pub with me, and it’s only a matter of what time that has to be finalised.   In fact, in order for you to not end up meeting me at the pub, your brain has to wrench a bit from trying to work out the best time to go to the pub, back across to thinking “Hang on, I’m not going to the pub tonight!”.  Similarly, Led Zeppelin came under fire in the 80s by vocal Christian groups for having included satanic messages in their songs – the idea being that if you play sections of their songs backwards there are hidden messages which subconsciously influence people.  The idea of hidden messages had already gained a foothold in peoples’ minds thanks to the “Paul is Dead” hysteria, so the presupposition here was that these songs must have such messages in them, and then it’s only a matter of looking for them.  Here’s an example – play the following video with your eyes closed to listen to the section of “Stairway to Heaven” played forwards, and then backwards.  See if you can spot what the Satanic message is.  When it’s finished, do it again with your eyes open in order to see it.

The lyric is “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now. It’s just a spring clean for the may queen. Yes there are two paths you can go by; but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on,”.  The Satanic message is supposedly: “Here’s to my sweet Satan. The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan. He’ll give those with him 666. There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”.

What’s the relevance?  TERRORISTS HAVE TOOLSHEDS! No, but seriously – every authoritative statement published that tells you how terrorists behave is based on the presupposition that our society is riddled with terrorists, and by making you be on constant vigilant lookout for them implicitly means you have to accept that they’re everywhere.

The trouble with having a confidential service to report potential terrorists and then giving such free-ranging criteria on what sort of thing you should report is that it is an obvious recipe for false positives – 2 anecdotal examples are:

  1. Singer & actor Henry Rollins visited Australia in 2006.  He received a letter from a fan stating that she worked in a government anti-terrorist call centre, and he had been reported as a potential threat by a man sitting near him on his flight over.  The reason for the suspicion was that Rollins had been reading a book entitled “Jihad” – a history of Central Asia, written by a Wall Street Journal, CNN & BBC contributor.  As a result of some anonymous busybody, Rollins had been flagged on the Australian Government’s “persons of interest” list – purely based on having been reading something interesting and informative.
  2. West Indian jazz musician Victor Frederick (63) was incorrectly detained in Cardiff, strip searched, and had his house raided following an anonymous tipoff on his suspicious behaviour to a phone hotline.  According to the news article, “police confiscated apparently suspicious items, which included a video of boxer Muhammad Ali and a ceramic urn containing a traditional West Indian drink”, and “police interpreted soundproofing equipment and wiring from his musical studio as a potential sign of illicit activity”.

An interesting reference to this is the wikipedia article “List of terrorism incidents in Great Britain“.  Since Jan 1 2000 there are 11 listed incidents which went ahead.  All of these were not stopped by police, however one was also listed in the “Prevented, failed or aborted attacks” section, and one attack was partially contained by a baggage handler working at the airport under attack.  In the Prevented/failed/aborted list are 5 incidents since 2000 – 3 of which look to have failed due to ineptitude on the part of the assailants rather than any intelligence-based policing.  In the “Arrests, detentions and other incidents related to the Terrorism Acts” section a further 17 events are listed – of those, 8 incidents resulted in suspects being released without charge, or cleared of wrongdoing in court, and one further one was wrongly shot dead by police.  To total it up another way: of 33 listed incidents, 10 were stopped as a result of police intervention, 9 were false positives, 4 failed due to incompetence or being taken care of by members of the public, and the remaining 10 actually resulted in the terrorist plot being executed.

More than 50% false positives – when you consider that the goal of terrorist activity (although there’s still debate internationally on an agreed definition of the term) is to instill fear in a people and disrupt their ordinary way of life, one could argue that the mentality propogated by campaigns such as this is equally as effective, although agreeably less violent/fatal.  In the campaign poster above, police are asking the public to suspect anyone who might be dumping chemical containers – not only potentially upsetting if you live near a dry cleaning shop, have mopped up a spot on your carpet, or have a darkroom… but also completely ineffective should the would-be bomb makers have had the foresight to purchase garbage bags in which to put their empty chemical containers.

Ultimately though what can be done?  The only thing I can think of other than shrugging one’s shoulders, sighing, and saying “shit, eh?” is to embrace counter-initiatives like the photoshopping contest subsequently run on BoingBoing to remix the posters to send a more rational message – sending that sort of stuff around is the best protest I can think of for we, the powerless.



Oh wow, another tirade.  Sorry folks.  I promise I’ll get back to writing about What I Did On My Summer Vacation soon.  You’ve all been very patient.

* I had always interpreted the instructions as “No flash photography” as it distracts the drivers – clearly the designs of the trains aren’t meant to be any sort of secret, as they run above ground half of the time.

Three men of assorted nationalities walked into a public establishment

I suspect I need to be careful how I go about phrasing this, so as a preamble – if you could endeavour to interpret this post mainly as bewildered head scratching and attempting to come to grips with something I’m just not getting the hang of, rather than an outraged “I can’t believe it, what IS the world coming to?!” type of arrangement, then that would be perfect.

OK, so British actor Sir David Jason – famous for his 45+ year career comprising such gems as Danger Mouse, The Darling Buds of May, and Only Fools And Horses – was thrust under the media spotlight today regarding his appearance on a radio show on Tuesday.  When the host asked David to suggest a question for the next caller, he reached into the mental bag & grabbed what was presumably the most middle-of-the-road joke he could think of:

  • What do you call a Pakistani cloakroom attendant?  Mahatma Coat.

Now, before going on I suppose some analysis is important.  The structure of the joke is a fairly simple riddle – a question with a comic response involving a pun or play on words, in this case a homophonic phrase.  The question sets up the answer, in that if you were to visit a cloakroom to retrieve your belongings you could conceivably say “My hat, my coat”, and “Mahatma” is a name taken from the Sanskrit language and as such it’s reasonable to assume that due to the cultural settlements & movement patterns over time that there would be men of that name living in Pakistan, India, and possibly other countries with an Indo-Iranian linguistic basis, like Nepal.

The response from the radio station, as reported in The Telegraph, was:

A spokeswoman for Absolute Radio said the joke was “unacceptable” and that O’Connell distanced himself from it by saying “no more jokes like that” afterwards.

“To minimise any offence among our listeners we also edited the comments from the Breakfast Show podcast,” she said.

“We consider the views of our listeners to be very important and have received no complaints about these comments. Christian O’Connell will issue an on-air apology in tomorrow’s breakfast show.”

A spokesman for media watchdog Ofcom said it has not yet received any complaints about the joke.

Google News listed a whole swathe of similar stories by a variety of news sources, most of which at face value seemed to hint at the usual bubbling over of righteous indignation & fury at how unacceptable this sort of thing is.

  • The Mirror: The gaffe on Christian’s Tuesday breakfast show was widely condemned yesterday.
  • Again, from The Telegraph: No apology was offered to listeners for the 8am gaffe and the offending clip was edited out of the show’s podcast available online.
  • Edinburgh Evening News: Sir David Jason has apologised for a “joke” he made about Pakistanis on a radio show.
  • Evening Standard: The joke was edited out of the show’s podcast on the station’s website as race groups condemned it.
  • Amusingly, the Malaysia Sun‘s story is headed “Brit actor David Jason apologises for Paki comment

Bizarrely, the least outraged of the articles seemed to come from The Daily Mail, who reported:

Britain’s first Muslim minister, Shahid Malik, who is of Pakistani origin, said he did not see the joke as racist. ‘It really is a storm in a tea cup,’ he said. ‘I’m a big fan of David Jason.

‘The only thing is he’s let me down because it’s not very funny.’

It would have been an interesting conflict of interest for them, and clearly their longstanding campaign against Political Correctness came out on top in this case.

So the thing I’m having a hard time understanding is what about the joke was actually racist?  The Wikipedia article on racism begin:

Racism, by its simplest definition is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. People with racist beliefs exhibit stereotype-based prejudices towards individuals and groups of people according to their race.

My understanding of racism, as the concept was explained to me in Australia in my formative years during the 1980s and 90s, was where a person expresses negative attitudes to another person or group of people based on their appearance, culture or background, or leaps to assumptions about an individual based on the same.  This has always worked reasonably well for me and aligned with what the people around me seem to feel, more or less up until the last few years – has the definition changed, or did I have it wrong?

To go back to the example of the joke: one of the reactions featured in The Telegraph’s story was “These are inappropriate remarks about a stereotype that may have held a little water in the 50s and 60s but is not true to today. Many top jobs in this country are held by British Muslims, from lawyers, to doctors, politicians and businessmen.”.  I’ve read that joke several times now, and nowhere can I see where there’s anything to suggest that the teller of the joke is trying to make a point that any particular racial group is limited to working in menial jobs like in a cloakroom, or that it might not be possible to shoehorn an equally bad pun into any other profession’s context.

As there’s no sentiment of malice that I can detect anywhere in that joke, to my eyes it falls into the same sort of basket as others such as:

  • What do you call a French guy wearing sandals?  Phillippe Pholloppe
  • What do you call 2 Mexican firemen?  Hose A, and Hose B
  • What do you you call an Irish double-glazing salesman? Paddy O’Doors

To me they all look like simple wordplay based on common names or pronounciation connected with the country/region mentioned in the joke setup.  Nowhere do these jokes mock the professional efficacy or fashion sense of any of the fictional individuals who are the subject, nor do they make any generalisations about the people or cultures mentioned in each other than providing context to the reader in order to set up the joke.  The firemen don’t specifically have to be from Mexico – in fact it’s immaterial really where they’re from, so long as it’s a Spanish-speaking country that pronounces the name “José” with an “h” sound at the beginning, but not Portuguese which I understand uses the “Zho-sé” pronounciation.  However as a joke it doesn’t really work to say “What do you call two firemen who were named by parents who originated from Spanish-speaking countries, excepting those from regions speaking the Galician dialect, which doesn’t intone the j as a voiced velar fricative?”.  Well perhaps it does as a statement against political correctness – however I feel like most people would have walked away by the time I got to the question, had no idea what I were talking about, or branded me as a smartarse.  None of these conditions are unusual, by the way.

I had a discussion with a quite culturally aware colleague of mine who, when I asked if he thought the joke was offensive, replied “contextually, I’d say it’s mildly offensive. That’s definitely a racist joke. It doesn’t offend me but would others…”.  That seemed an interesting point, as the Telegraph’s article stated that Ofcom hadn’t received any complaints, and yet The Mirror was citing widespread condemnation.  Being offended by something is a conscious choice, so how is it possible for a human from one culture to know what would offend others?  To me that assumption undermines the capacity of all of the “others” being referred to.

I guess I’m more keen to embrace the philosophy of Australian comic Brendon Burns, who put on a storming show confronting racism entitled “So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now?” and won the big award at Edinburgh the year we were there.  It was a pretty full-on show, and certainly more confronting and in-your-face than most standup sets.  However he made several (what I believe to be) excellent points: “racism is one of humanity’s funniest shortcomings, because when you laugh at it, it goes away”.  It’s actually a brilliant show – I’ve just watched the DVD trying to get quotes for the other points, and am now gonna be late for work.  He pointed out also that during these race-related “furores” in the British press, the ones making the most noise on either side are usually making money or publicity from it.

It just seems that it’s becoming more and more difficult to make a statement incorporating elements of someone’s race into it, for fear that the person you’re talking to is going to have that kneejerk reaction of “You can’t say that, that’s racist and I’m offended”, or worse you say it in the public arena somewhere and the media shine their spotlight on it until the witchhunt begins again.  To me it feels like, in many cases, the reaction is a Pavlovian one which gets reinforced every subsequent time it happens, and the more twitchy people get about mentioning race in any context means that presumably it gets harder and harder to celebrate the cultural differences which make humanity interesting.

I’ve had racist statements made at me (and notice there avoidance of using the phrase “victim of racism”) before – for instance I caught a taxi once where the driver took me an extremely elongated route owing to him making a mistake, and the meter read £12, whereas every other time it’s only cost around £8.  I told him that I’d give him £10, as that’s all I had on me (assuming that even with delays and a slightly creative route it wouldn’t top a tenner), and his unimpressed response was: “You Aussies are all the same – you never pay what you’re supposed to”.  The only reason I can see to display offence however is not to indicate that my feelings have been hurt, but rather as a way of getting back at him, and were I to write a formal complaint to the cab company citing his number and what transpired he’d probably get a bollocking about it and still feel the same way about Australians.  But the statement he made was clearly racist, I think.

This has gone on rather a lot longer than I’d expected, however I’m not trying to make a point so much as to understand one.

Oh, I hated the Colonel… with his wee beady eyes…

This evening I went against my better judgement and, after alighting from the bus from Oxford in a state of extreme peckishness (at 10:30 on a Sunday night), thought I’d pop in to KFC for a bit of quick grub.  In “So I Married An Axe Murderer” Mike Myers utters the question “How could you hate The Colonel?” – well, if what I saw tonight is an indication of the direction The Colonel’s intending to move, then we’ve found our answer.

Aside from the layout of this particular KFC being a little confusing, the obvious thing you now notice is the row of LCD screens adorning the checkout/counter area.


It very much appears that KFC are adopting the Argos method of operation now – the photo doesn’t show it particularly well, but the area on the leftmost end of the counter is marked “Order collection point”.

Being reasonably good at judging these things, I saw the chip&PIN pads attached to the screens and reasoned that they were there in case you wanted to pay by card & not deal directly with one of the KFC’s culinary servants – as my experience with computer-based checkout mechanisms is less than stellar, I patiently waited for the gentleman in the baseball cap to become available, and when I indicated my order he gestured & asserted that I needed to use the screens, adding that if I was paying cash I choose that option at the appropriate point in the process.  Actually, one of his co-workers came around to my side of the counter to show me how to use the screens, which I think underlined what a ridiculous system it is.

So, fail #1: new customer interface unclear that it’s for all ordering transactions, and not merely the card-based ones.

I was a bit perturbed at being forced to use these things – even places with established uses of self-checkout (Sainsburys, Waitrose, Argos) give you the option of queuing for a person’s attention should you so wish.  Even given the queue time it usually works out quicker & more satisfactory – not a statement I’d give up lightly.

The particular form of food substitute I’d mentally settled on was a Zinger Tower Burger (no chips or drink), and the screen’s initial menu options didn’t yield what I wanted.  To get to the Zinger Tower Burger I had to choose Burger Meal Options, then Burger Only Options (as all the options on the first page included fries & drink), and having selected my burger I was presented with a screen asking if I wanted to “meal it” by adding chips & drink?  This is just irritating – at least with the old system, when I asked for burger sans extra carbs the employee had a window to upsell on the offchance I maybe hadn’t thought of adding chips & drink, but in this system I’ve already implicitly stated I don’t want them by navigating an extra layer of menu.  And all the while I’ve got an employee standing to one side impotently gesturing to show me how the touchscreens work.

Fail #2: customer interface non-intuitively forces you through extra selection paths and then ignores your preference.

Without getting into a discussion with the food substitute vending assistant, it seemed reasonably clear to me that the thinking behind this innovation is to reduce headcount of front-of-house staff – however this ignores the highly developed British queueing instinct: lets face it, if there’s a person at 1 register in the middle of the counter, you know to form a queue at that point, as queueing at an empty position won’t get you served next.  Similarly, if they’re reducing to the bare minimum number of staff required then it’s counter-productive to have one staff member on the customer-side of the counter explaining how to use the screens.

Fail #3: system occupies more of newly reduced resources and also advertises itself as being serial interface in the traditional way whilst actually allowing parallel access.

As it was we’d automatically formed a queue in front of the one employee, and each person was having the system explained to them, so the ordering input wasn’t particularly high.  Even with 1 queue and large interval between orders placed, however, there were still 4 people gathered at the Collection Point waiting for their orders.  It struck me that the one thing you don’t want in a KFC is people milling about waiting – they do an awful lot of business during what you might call the festive hours of the day, primarily due to the fact that KFC gets exponentially more appealing (or, if you like, less disgusting) in proportion to how pissed you are.  In a traditional queueing system you’ll get 3 or 4 lines of people in varying degrees of drunkenness approaching the counter – this seems alright, because in many cases they’ll spend the time staring at the menu trying to figure out what they want, and depending on how badly affected they are, more time staring at the menu trying to remember what it is they’ve just decided they wanted.  Having made it through the ordering process, they’re handed their paper bag full of fat & carbs and sent on their way.  The new system means they’ve got to navigate a menu system, wait for the an employee to become free if they’re paying cash, then take the receipt and wait to one side for their number to be called.  Suddenly you’ve introduced unoccupied waiting time between people and their KFC, and there’s also the slight possibility that someone who came in after you might get served before you.  It just seems ill-advised, is all.

Fail #4: ambiguous queueing scenario and compounded loitering.

KFC have already suffered enough in the public image stakes – the name change from Kentucky Fried Chicken was in large part I believe due to the intrinsically unhealthy sounding moniker “fried chicken” (although the change also fuelled the urban myth that they changed it because what you’re eating ISN’T CHICKEN!).  If they’re now going to embark on a wholesale campaign of alienating their clientele by messing with a comfortably accepted service industry convention then it can only be good for their competitors.

On the plus side, it gives me 4 fewer reasons to want to go into KFC.  Which presently puts me at minus 3 reasons.

Is there no depths to which this blog will not stoop for content?

An ongoing war of wills has been going on between me and our front door knocker for about the last 7 or 8 months, and I’m embarrassed but not surprised to admit that the doorknocker is presently winning.  In fact, this weekend’s battle proved to be quite a savage blow from the forces of darkness.


On our front door we have a nice big heavy brass doorknocker.  It’s in the shape of a lion’s head, and the knocker-ring thing sits in the lion’s mouth.  At some point last year one of my housemates said that it had come apart, and instead of being a nice lion with metal ring in its mouth, the bottom jaw-piece had come off, and what we now had was a bottom-jawless lion on the front door, a metal ring hanging off a nail just inside the front door, and a fairly hefty bit of brass in the shape of a lion’s bottom jaw sitting on tiop of the fire alarm panel box.


The problem – as it turned out – was that the screw holding the jawpiece on had come out, so all that needed to happen was to get hold of a new screw and return to our prior happy-go-knocky state of play, right?  Well when the handyman turned up to fix the door locks I handed him the jawpiece and asked if he had anything in his random bag of screws that would do the trick.  Despite having nearly one of every type of screw and bolt you could possibly imagine, this type wasn’t in there.

Never mind: a trip to the hardware store would SURELY yield the correct type of screw, thought I.  On the way over to Richie’s place one weekend I popped in to Homebase, armed with the jawpiece, and went screw-searching.  It turns out that loose individual screws are a thing of the past in the British Handyman’s psyche, because now the smallest configuraion available is the 10-pack.  I duly went through a series of 10-packs of varying specification, coaxing a screw out of the packet and trying with increasing numbers of failures to find the correct one.  I was stumped here, so I suspended disbelief for a moment and went & asked someone for help, and 20 or so minutes later after having found someone available to dispense hardware advice, I was told in no uncertain terms that they didn’t carry the correct sized screw.

Last week it dawned on me as I walked down towards Mornington Crescent tube that I’d be passing Romany’s ironmongers, who claim that if they can’t find it, it doesn’t exist… so in I pop to seek out this screw.  It took a little bit of explaining, and the man seemed more interested in me buying a whole new doorknocker, however eventually he rolled his eyes at me and said “Of course you won’t find the right screw at Homebase, it’s a non-metric thread!”.  The correct screw lay in the palm of his hand, and now having established that I wanted it and it was the only thing standing between him and a sale for 35 quid’s worth of new doorknocker, he had the good grace to charge me 50p for it.

The chief problem now as I saw it was that the screw was about 3 inches long, whereas what was required was a screw perhaps 1 inch long… and guess who didn’t have a hacksaw?  This is why this week I ordered a hacksaw off t’internet and had it delivered to the office.  The hacksaw duly arrived, and this morning I set about adjusting the screw to the proper length.

Literally all that now remained was to undo the bolts on the inside of the door holding the lion’s head on, take it off, and then reattach the jaw.  Easy, right?  As it turns out, our front door is a victim of inept-handyman-cut-cornerism, and where ordinarily you’d expect to see a pair of easy-to-remove nuts holding the bolts where they needed to be, instead there protruded 2 nutless bolt threads, covered in white paint (akin to the back of the door).  Further investigation showed that these bolts didn’t use nuts at all to remain in place – the bolts had somehow been paint-sealed in, meaning that there would be no easy way of removing the lion’s head without finding the nuts which I’d assumed were just missing.  Luckily, a rudimentary search on the top of the fire alarm panel yielded 2 endcap-style nuts.  And did they nicely fit the back-of-door bolts meaning that I could simply reattach these after removing then replacing the lion?  Yeah, did it feck.


The choices available now are:

  1. give the protruding bolts a whack with a hammer and hope that it dislodges WHATEVER is holding them in place at the moment, fix the knocker, then hack the bolts off to the correct length & reattach with the nuts provided
  2. give the bolts a whack, fix the thing, then get hold of a couple of tube/barrel pieces and use them as washers of sorts so I don’t have to cut the bolts or worry about the fact they’re gummed up with paint
  3. whack, fix, and get hold of correct sized hexnuts which are open-backed and therefore travel all the way up the bolt
  4. call the landlord and get them to deal with it

Whilst I’m leaning in favour of 4, prior experience shows us that Christmas cards may go out before this is likely to take place.  It’s actually reasonably tempting just to buy a new one & be done with it – although this still doesn’t address the issue of how to get the old one off.

See, nearly 1000 words about cleaning a keyboard, and now the same on fixing a doorknocker.  Perhaps I should pitch for a Jackass sequel?

I recognise that distinctive flapping sound…

‘Tis the gently beating wings of my old guardian, The Fuckup Fairy. I ought to have learned by now it’s pointlss to try to get to airports.

Today, however, she’s pulled off a rare confluence of subtle cockups, and it would be both unfair & out of character of me not to share them all with you. Probably in chronological order.

You see, to get to Dublin, the combination of services I needed to make use of was:

  1. London Underground
  2. A train system of some sort
  3. Ryanair

Stop. I know you’re going to tell me that Ryanair is a thinly veiled exercise in cynical sadism by The Architects of Misery and I shouldn’t be going anywhere near them… however the flight was booked by my employer, so that was largely a decision made for me.

Now, if we’re going to pinpoint the moment I heard the mellifluous tinkling of fairy dust being sprinkled over my life it would have been Wednesday afternoon when the Dublin Office rang and told me to come across for Thursday & Friday, as months beforehand I’d booked a ticket to see Russell Brand on that Thursday night.  So that was the end of that.

Oh yes, another important point is that following some conversations with colleagues of mine I thought I’d try out the  validity of the adage “dress for the airport”, so rather than slumming it in my usual t-shirt, trainers & combats, I’ve gone suited & booted in the hope that it’ll invite less suspicion/hassle. No chance of an upgrade on Ryanair of course, but hey. Plus it makes my laundry situation less complicated for a few days.

Back to the trip in – my relationship with London Underground is a tenuous one at best, but the trundle from Camden to London Bridge wasn’t TOO arduous – a little slower than normal, but I’d built in contingency time. You’re probably thinking “London Bridge?? Why aren’t you going to Victoria for the Gatwick Express??”. I find myself now thinking the same thing, however at the time foremost in my mind was the regular reports by Chisel of how rubbish the Gatwick Express has been of late, and the oracle of transport told me that I could get the Southern Trains service from London Bridge in about half an hour, for a fraction of the cost. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Upon arriving at London Bridge rail station at 8:16, I learned that the Southern was leaving at 8:19, and try as I might to convince the ticket machine to issue me a ticket in some kind of speedy interval it seemed almost attuned to my thoughts – perhaps the touchscreen can sense the electrostatic pulses running through a stressed fingertip, or maybe it’s just aware of the urgency with which you’re stabbing the screen in the vainest of attempts to try to convince it that you require something of it. At any rate, I got the next Southern service at 8:30; no big problem there. EXCEPT as it turned out it went via Wyoming and Petragrad, and eased into Gatwick at 9:20. Clearly NOT the half-hour train.

Problem – my flight’s at 10:00, and LyinFare (see what I did there?) are militant about check-in closing 40 minutes before departure. I gave it a proper go of sprinting up to the desk, and arrived at the desk as the guy had started packing up.  “Can’t check in”, he says, “check-in’s closing”.  “If it’s closing that means it hasn’t closed yet”, says I, “Check me in!”.  He keys my confirmation code, then says I haven’t paid for airport check-in, and I’ve got to pay a fee of £10… only I can’t pay that here at his desk: I’ve got to go over to the service counter, and judging by the length of that there’s no way I’ll make it over & back before he closes check-in.

A brief linguistic tussle at the Ryanair counter (as well as forking out the requisite £10 for airport check-in fee, plus another £70 for a replacement ticket) and I was booked onto the next flight at 13:30. Perhaps a spot of breakfast now, seeing as I have time on my side?   Hmm… what I could have sworn was specified as a ham and mozzarella panini arrived as 2 slices of cardboard held together by a micron-thick slice of spam and some wallpaper paste. Ah well. It was a relatively relaxing way to kill half an hour until checkin opens for the later flight, so now was the time to set off in search of that.

The departure boards claimed “Check in Zone H” for my flight, so I dutifully paced up & down Zone H for about 20 minutes trying to find any sign of someone prepared to let me check in. Alas, no. Acting on a hunch, I returned to Zone E to where I’d been denied boarding previously to find them proudly announcing that that’s where my flight was checking in from. I mean, why not just sprinkle random misinformation to make everyone’s trips that little bit more miserable, eh? Good… checked in.

Speaking of check-in – this is another channel through which budget airlines have managed to extract the maximum amount of joy from flying anywhere.  On these budget airlines it was once commonplace for there to be no free food/drink served inflight (got to make a buck somewhere).  Then they decided to start charging for any bags you checked in to hold baggage.  Now, after having provided online check-in as a convenience for their customers, they’ve suddenly realised that they were offering something convenient, and altered their policy: now online checkin is the basic form of service, and if you want the “premium extra” of airport checkin then it costs you (as indicated above) an extra £10.  A “brilliant feature” of this system is that you can ONLY checkin online if you have a UK or EU passport, so effectively if you fall outside of that group then you can’t possibly check in any other way than online, and the round trip gets £20 less attractive.  Apparently you can rite to the airlines and demand this fee back from them as being discriminatory, but in the short term there’s no actual way around it.  Charming.

One can’t really bleat about the actual security queue, cos they’re always awful anyway. After proactively removing my belt & shoes to put in the tray thing, and following the written & overheard instructions to the letter, I walked through the detector and it went off.  Turns out I’d forgotten about my cufflinks (as I’ve never worn a suit to the airport before), and the guy decided to give me the full treatment in the name of security. Swabbing my laptop for explosives: everything!  All it missed was rubber gloves, but there was definitely some cupping taking place.

You’d think the end was in sight after all that, however approximately 10 minutes before the flight would have ordinarily started boarding the departure screen flicked over to indicate that my flight had been delayed by an hour.  It seemed a sensible idea to phone the Dublin office to let them know, however because I’d been using my phone pretty extensively for internet during the course of the day the battery was nearly flat.  No problem – I’d just recently bought an external battery pack for just such occasions.  The message on the screen following plugging it in wasn’t surprising by this point – “This accessory not compatible with this type of iPhone”.  By this point it would seem naive to believe that it would work.

I’m keen not to OVER-dramatise events (he claims, having just written 1000+ words about missing a plane), so it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that the rest of the trip went reasonably smoothly, and that on the way back the only hassle was that upon reaching the front of the checkin queue I was again sent back to the service desk to pay the airport checkin premium fee…  Why the hell I couldn’t just have the option to pay both at departure is a complete mystery.  Stands to reason though that in the interval between my getting to the front of the queue a class of what appeared to be Spanish teenagers bumbled into existence, presumably leaving a trail of devastation behind them.

Also of interest was that on the Thursday night I’d been toying with the idea of attending the London branch of Twestival, although not able to due to already being booked up to see Russell Brand.  At about 17:00 (after I’d been in the office all of 20 minutes) my boss Merv wandered in and said “What are you up to tonight? Want to come help us take photos at the Dublin Twestival?”…  so I did end up going.  Unfortunately due to having spent most of the day with a focused ball of rage on deck, and also having pulled a 2am-5:30am sleeping shift I didn’t find myself in a very talkative mood, so it wasn’t the social opportunity I’d hoped for.

As a final punctuation mark to the story, it seems just as well that I didn’t attempt to buy tickets to Brand’s Friday or Saturday night shows as a catchup effort, because I read in Chortle News that he cancelled them because of a throat infection.

In future I think I’ll just stay home.

But as long as you love me so, let it adverse-weather-condition, let it adverse-weather-condition, let it adverse-weather-condition!

No surprises there then.  London, a city which has had a few days of snow pretty much every year I’ve been here, gets a bit of snow and grinds to almost a complete standstill.  As if to celebrate, Transport for London cancelled all buses today, and the Underground kept on running as best it could.  I say “running”.  It’d be closer to “a half-sideways stunted lurch, akin to that of an elderly hunchback with a club foot & dragging a piano filled with granite”.

There’s no denying that snow (or as TfL and every other institution who elected to use it as the excuse-de-jour referred to it, “adverse weather conditions”) makes streetscapes prettier – actually perhaps it’s not prettiness, perhaps it’s just variety?  No, there’s a tangible aesthetic gain to be had in Camden when nice white fluffy snow covers up all the skanky grimy pavements.

Not quite as grotty as usual.

Not quite as grotty as usual.

The photographers were out in force today, which I guess stands to reason as the streets were essentially devoid of traffic (certainly not much bus or taxi activity taking place), and there was little incentive to get to work anyway – if you didn’t live right in Central London there was next to no way of getting to work, hence I imagine most peoples’ co-workers were missing.

Even Big Ben experienced shrinkage... (ha ha ha ha thud)

Even Big Ben experienced shrinkage... (ha ha ha ha thud)

Back on the topic of the Underground – they have quite a good Realtime Disruption Map, which displays the tube network in a light grey colour.  The idea is that if any particular line or station is experiencing problems, closures or delays then that part of the map is rendered in colour so that at a quick glance you can see which bits to avoid.  My pet name for this map is “The Christmas Tree Map”, as generally when I’m in a hurry to be somewhere I can guarantee that the map will be lit up like a christmas tree.  Today was one of those days.  Essentially every underground line which has any section of its track outside of the tunnel network (so, all of them excepting the Victoria line and the Waterloo & City line) was either suspended or severely delayed.

Mmmm... pretty....

Mmmm... pretty....

There is quite a lot of it, yes – people have been out snowboarding on Primrose Hill – but it’s intriguing that the stuff hasn’t arrived in the sorts of quantity that Moscow, or Stockholm, or even Tokyo get.  And yet it seems to have completely brought this place to its knees!


So anyway, there’s apparently more of it on the way tomorrow, and later in the week – hopefully somebody figures out a way to deal with it, or at least works out whatever technique it is that bus drivers all over Europe, Scandinavia and Russia use to keep their buses running when there’s ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS.  Today loads of flighs were cancelled, and earnest commentators recommended that people not travel anywhere unless it was absolutely necessary (generally a sensible policy around here anyway, given the near constant level of hassle you encounter).

The view from my office.  It isn't as nice as the view from my old office, but it's still pretty nice.

The view from my office. It isn't as nice as the view from my old office, but it's still pretty nice.

Ah well, see what happens, eh?

(Incidentally, I took all those photos – except the video – myself.  There’s some more on Flickr.  I didn’t take the one below, which instead I ripped off from the BBC News website.)

Look kids, Big Ben... Parliament...

Look kids, Big Ben... Parliament...

I also ripped this photo off someone’s Flickr page.  I can’t remember whose it is, but it’s apparently somebody I know.  It doesn’t relate to snow, but it cracked me up for about 17 minutes.

"The best photo ever taken", says I.

"The best photo ever taken", says I.

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