28 November, 2007

Difficult to Swallow

According to BBC News:

"Mice carrying a gene which appears to make them invulnerable to cancer may hold the key to safer and more effective treatments for humans."

Now... is anyone else thinking of the sci-fi series V right now?

A woman swallows a large rodent whole.

22 November, 2007

Chanelle Crossing

People push against a glass door, which is blocked by a woman trying to look like Victoria Beckham.

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard an advert for a new 'reality TV talent show' from VH1. Wannabe pitches failed Big Brother girl Chanelle Hayes as the judge in a contest for pop star hopefuls. This is the 19-year-old student who put so much effort into achieving her goal of becoming the UK's leading Victoria Beckham look-alike that she instantly lunged at fellow BB contestant and former pop-singer Ziggy because of a vague similarity to David Beckham (who is male, with blond highlights and, er... that's it).

According to the Daily Star, less than 20 deluded fools bothered to audition for the show, which might be an indication of how pointless the concept is, or maybe it's an indicator that this could be the car-crash event of the year.

What really worries me about this show is not that Chanelle has been put into a position of power over someone's career without any experience in the field, or knowledge of music beyond the stuff she hears on the radio. It's not even the further exploitation of people who are deluded enough to think that a singing contest on a minority digital channel is their best route to instant stardom, bypassing the much harder method of, y'know, working in clubs and gaining experience. No, my biggest worry is that somewhere out there, there's a record executive who believes they might make money based on both Chanelle's discernment and a wannabe's expanded horizons of expectation.

Is there really a recording deal attached to this show? Does the deal extend beyond the one tie-in record that will inevitably become available at the end of the contest? Is there a follow-up show already lined up as Chanelle pretends to guide her protégée through the terrible maze that is the record industry (a prospect as reassuring as getting Helen Keller to lead you across the mine-strewn wastelands of Bosnia)? Is there an audience for this, and if so, who are they? VH1 was always pitched as 'old people's MTV', so who exactly are they hoping to attract here? The same people who look forward to their weekly dose of power ballads and 80s retro?

Or is it all a bit of a laugh and a chance to poke fun at someone whose sole ambition in life is to be famous, regardless of the costs to their own sanity and well-being? Give her her dues, she's managed to extend her time in the limelight for longer than anyone from this year's Big Brother clan, and she's actually much prettier than the woman she styles herself on... in the same way that Michael Jackson was much cuter than Diana Ross until he took his obsessions to frightening lengths.

When she first walked into the BB house this summer, I thought Chanelle looked like a cute kid. It'd be a shame to discover that she's as cynical and manipulative as she is being allowed to appear, wouldn't it?

In the meantime, X Factor has finally become such a big turn-off thanks to the embarrassing attention-seeking pantomime exploits of judges Louis and Sharon. It's surprising to be able to say Danni Minogue comes across as the only one actually looking after her acts and thinking of them above the usual point-scoring at the expense of her rival judges. If I can bear to miss the biggest entertainment talent show on British TV, I certainly won't lose much sleep in forgetting to tune into Chanelle's vanity project.

And in other news, isn't Strictly Come Dancing fun this year? Who knew?!

19 November, 2007

Something About Haggis

You know you're 'pished' when you bump into a man wearing a kilt asking for directions late at night, notice he's bleeding profusely from the lower leg, learn that he's just been stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver by the husband of the woman he's just been shagging ... and you don't freak out.

Yes, I'm back from my long weekend in Glasgow, where I had a splendid time with 'the boys', who showed me round the pubs and nice eateries, forced me to drink way too much and left me with a bad case of furball gagging thanks to the cats who also share my pals' flat.

I'm not a cat fan by any means and while this weekend hasn't changed that, I can say I quite like those cats. Although it was only after one sleepless night that I discovered how to make Merri shut up, by tickling her tum. Otherwise, she wailed around the flat like a one-cat emergency service.

I think we bonded though. She snuggled into bed with me this morning, silently, and let me scratch behind her ears while I simultaneously read a Calvin & Hobbes compendium. I hear she's in mourning for me. Strangely, I kind of miss the noisy fur-dropper myself. Too cute.

And, like in Calvin & Hobbes, the days were just packed. I'm going back to work tomorrow for a rest.

15 November, 2007

Isn't it Lovely, Kicking up Leaves!

On Sunday, I met up with a pal and spent the afternoon strolling through Hyde Park and Green Park. Hype Park is full of interesting birds - black swans, Canadian geese, mandarin ducks - and a flock of seagulls whose attempts to flashmob the pond were royally honked off until they took refuge elsewhere.

'Isn't it fun - kicking up leaves,' I said to my walking companion, and suddenly remembered that this was the refrain from a poem I learned in infants school over 30 years ago. I've just tried to look it up on the net and couldn't find anything, so I searched for "kicking up leaves"+poem and found that somehow, I'd remembered 'fun' where it should be 'lovely'. Hmmm.

Anyway, here's the poem. None of it rings any bells with me apart from the last line (and I got that wrong too!):

'October' by Rose Fyleman

The summer is over,
The trees are all bare,
There is mist in the garden
And frost in the air.
The meadows are empty
And gathered the sheaves--
But isn't it lovely
Kicking up leaves!

John from the garden
Has taken the chairs;
It's dark in the evening
And cold on the stairs.
Winter is coming
And everyone grieves--
But isn't it lovely
Kicking up leaves!

I was taught that my Mrs Swift [edit - my Mum tells me that it was 'MISS' Swift, which I wanted to call her originally, but somehow thought she was a Mrs], headmistress of my infants school and later headmistress of the primary school when the infants and juniors were amalgamated (which I'm guessing was the first five-sylable word most of the children ever learned). I remember her as a rotund, jolly woman who all the children adored.

One time, there'd been some incident or other and she had me and another boy outside the class to decide what the truth of the matter was. Now, I was a horrendously honest child - it got me into trouble a few times until I learned that sometimes honesty equates to being a 'grass'. I remember that on this occasion, my version of events was he true one, but the other boy, Andrew, was insisting that he was entirely blameless. Miss Swift (who must have only been five feet tall, but then towered over us six-year-olds) said to Andrew 'look me in the eyes and tell me what happened.' I was surprised to see that Andrew seemed incapable of looking her in the eyes as he kept glancing back to the scene of the crime and pointing. How odd, I thought. Surely he realises that all he has to do is look straight into her eyes and say what happened? It came to my turn, and I looked her directly in the eyes, lowered my voice to make it distinct from Andrew's shrill protestations and told her that I was blameless and it was Andrew who had transgressed.

Then Andrew started to cry. As his story looked more and more shakey, Miss Swift quietly encouraged him to confess the truth. Eventually, the boy was in some distress and I was told to return to my class.

Now, that might have taught me the key to a good lie is all in the performance, but the fact that I'd been telling the truth just made me feel grateful that I'd been believed. Maybe that's why I've never had much patience with liars.

A similar situation happened with my one-time best friend, James, who'd asked me to go and kick Sarah, a girl in our class. He was my best friend, and I was loyal - so I did. She told the teacher and once again, I found myself outside the class having to explain my actions. This time, however, I'd actually done the thing I'd been accused of. The thought of denying it never occurred to me. 'Why did you do it?' asked Miss Swift. 'James told me to,' came the reply. She turned to James. 'I didn't,' he said.

I couldn't believe that he could lie so convincingly, and this time it was me that got upset, maybe because I was confused that he would lie about it. He hadn't actually done anything wrong, yet he was lying about being the instigator. Again came the question - 'why did you do it?' Again came the reply, and James's counter-claim.

I came home late from school that night and my Dad was angry for keeping them waiting (and probably hiding his fear that something had happened to me). I can picture all of this so clearly even now. I was sat on my parents' bed and my Dad asked me to tell him what happened. When I explained everything, he told me off for just doing what someone had asked me without thinking about it, and I suspect this must have been the first time I heard the 'would you put your hand in the fire if he asked you to?'

(On a later occasion when someone asked me that question, I managed to find the wits to reply 'No, because I already know what the consequences would be, which I didn't in this instance'. As well as being honest, I've always been a smart arse.)

So, my Dad told me that all I had to do was to stick to my version of events.

The next morning, I was summoned to the headmistress's office along with James. As before, I told her James had told me to kick Sarah, and added that I knew it was wrong, but I felt that Sarah must have upset James, and I was sticking up for him, and that I'd now realised my mistake was to be so trusting.

Then she came to James. 'Is this true?' '... yes, Miss. I told him to kick Sarah.'

Miss Swift grabbed us both in her arms and gave us both a huge hug, relieved that I'd been telling the truth the whole time, and that James had confessed. It seemed she was more worried about there being a liar in her class than a random kicker. When I got home that night, Miss Swift had clearly phoned my parents and told them the good news, as I didn't get chance to tell them my side of the story as they already knew.

And all of this came back to me on Sunday - as vivid as if I'd filmed the events back then and just rewatched them projected on a wall. I wasn't an angel - as an only child, the excitement at being in a room full of other children was sometimes a bit too much for me and I was constantly told off for chatting. And of course, in primary school, there was the incident where I put a condom on the school piano - something my Mum never refers back to, strangely. But generally, I think the teachers liked me. And I adored them too.

... and in Related News

We've all experienced this, I'm sure - reading the news headlines and suddenly misreading them as related links, as if each unrelated story is connected sequentially.

Here's an example of 'other top stories' from today's BBC News Online:

- Langham wins early jail release
- Winehouse kicks off UK tour
- Potter hopefuls lose out on role

Did a man convicted of downloading indecent images of children on the internet provoke a notorious hellraiser to start a tour, and somehow one of these events managed to exclude children auditioning for a part in a Harry Potter film?

How about this collection from the BBC News Scotland page?"

- Man, 86, dies after police crash
- Van man jailed for bike road rage
- Man remanded on murder charge
- Bike sex man placed on probation

You could easily read those as sequential headlines on the same story, which makes me feel sorry for the poor man who died, apparently as a consequence of a road rage incident involving sex on a bike. Poor fella.

Funnily enough, I'm off to Scotland this weekend - apparently my trip coincides with an important football match against Italy... a quiet weekend is unlikely.

My sign language tutor was describing yesterday how, in Glasgow, football is like a holy war, with Rangers and Celtic locked in eternal conflict because of the religious affiliations of each team. In Glasgow, he said, if you win, 50% hate you; if you lose, 100% hate you. He then told us a story about footballer Paul Ince, who, on turning up with a white bandage on his head, was described by Paul 'Gazza' Gasgoigne as looking like a pint of Guinness.

I'm pleased that I could follow all of that. My retention of vocabulary's still not strong because I just don't practice enough, but I'm getting good at following his monologues now. And yesterday, one of the new signs I learned will come in handy, I'm sure - index fingers point to the eyes, then come away as both hands spread out away from the face: 'MARVELLOUS!'

08 November, 2007

Sexist Pig

Our sign language tutor told us a joke the other day. Woman driver (don't start - she's a woman who drives, okay?), driving in the country, down tiny, winding road. Man in 4x4 coming other way and then comes to a halt.

'Pig!' she shouts.

'Bitch!' He replies, before backing up - and promptly crashes into a pig.

It's funnier in BSL. Although, as with 'My dog has no nose' in German, it doesn't really translate, as the sign for 'pig' as in animal is one thing, whereas the insult is altogether more emphatic.

Aaaanyway, a friend just alerted me to a form of sexism I hadn't considered. The recent royal scandal about an unnamed Royal being blackmailed for having gay sex and drugs at a party had everyone leaping to their most likely suspect. But when Buck Palace confirmed that it was a minor Royal, everyone abandoned their 'From Nazi to Nancy' headlines and started thinking of lesser Royals. I had mental images of some Royal or other thinking 'Me? Minor Royal? The bounders!', but not once did I think that it might have been a lady.

The fact is, lesbianism has never been illegal in this country (aside from when it involved under-16s), so it's consequently maintained a sophisticated air for most men. Whereas by being driven underground by Old Queen Vic, gay sex has always had a level of horror for straight men for whom homophobia is more to do with being afraid of being labelled as gay themselves than of being afraid of poovery per se. But it's true that I didn't hear a single rumour suggesting it could be a female royal - a minor princess or daughter of a viscount.

Now, is that because the media has trained us to assume all gay sex scandals involve public toilets, or do we simply not think of women as likely subjects for blackmail? Would a bisexual woman feel the need to hide the fact as much as a bisexual man?

I dunno. But something tells me that having sex with a Royal would be as close to bestiality with a horse as one could ever get...

07 November, 2007

We Are Family...

A lawn with the number 404 mown into it.

Social Networking, they call it - those websites that seem to pop up every six months that allow you to make new friends and link up to old ones. I've joined a lot of these over the years, sometimes to get in touch with a specific person, sometimes to explore what everyone else is on about.

I never really got MySpace. It's clunky, many of the profiles are horrifically untidy and ugly to look at (and I don't mean the people, just the junk they litter their pages with), but mainly because it's full of dickheads who treat friendship like Pokemon: GOTTA CATCH 'EM ALL! I've made contact with a few long-lost friends, but I've rejected new 'friendships' with far too many stupid 15-year-old girls who are clearly leaving themselves open to be abused by strangers, but who also clearly have little interest in actually being friends with anyone as they send out invitations for friendship even when my own profile specifically states I'm not looking to befriend strangers.

But I suppose it's a handy tool if you're a musician and have a teensy bit of design skill.

I spent about four months exploring Second Life too, but it's tricky getting into the heart of it unless you have money and 3D sculpting skills. I've had some great nights on there, virtually dancing in a virtual nightclub, but the fact that locations are rented and need to be paid for means you can go to a club in a location one night and then turn up at an empty field the next.

YouTube's a lot of fun. I've linked to things on there here before and I enjoy a good night browsing. No problems with that, although I'm unlikely to ever become a Vlogger (a clumsy port manteau word really). My favourite YouTuber is a fella who goes by the name of 'Blunty 3000'. He get angry with things, has obsessions equal but different to my own, but on the whole he seems to be a voice of reason and common sense on the web, which needs to be applauded. If only the dumb American teens would get off his back.

The current 'UGC site du jour is of course Facebook. It's good for allowing users to add or subtract applications and you can join up with groups that are relevant to you.

And occasionally, you get a message from someone who blows your mind, like I did two weeks ago when my cousin, who I haven't seen in nearly 20 years, dropped me a line.

Almost straight away we were gabbing away like mad, shared a few family stories and memories and agreed to meet up.

Unfortunately, the night we were meeting up happened to come the night after my dramatic tooth incident, so I was a bit slurry thanks to the numb jaw when we first met, and (thankfully) a bit slurry at the end of the night because we'd enjoyed copious lagers.

It's great having family nearby now, and I'm proud to say my cousin is very, very cool.

Oh, and she's on MySpace too, in the form of her project Bad Anorak 404. Who'd've thunk?! There's a review on the Bad Anorak 404 website that includes a review with an amazing back-handed compliment:

Lin Sangster is like a strange aunt you hate to visit as a child (the awkward opening track does nothing to assuage your fears), but when you are older you realise that she’s the well-adjusted one and she quickly becomes your favourite relative.

Spot on.

And That's the Tooth, Ruth!


I've taken a week to recover from this - the rather 'mild terror' that I experienced last Wednesday when I got home from a comedy night, decided to chew my nails and found half a tooth on my tongue. Argh!

The next day, while I was on the way to work, some more of the tooth decided to make itself known in areas it really shouldn't have reached. So - I went to the dentist.

There's a dentist at work, luckily, so I managed to pop in to book an appointment really easily for the same day - at 2:30 (yes, a legitimate excuse to reference that Chinese Dentist punchline).

Actually, it wasn't all that bad. It took 40 minutes - and that includes the time it took to pay (which worked out as about a pound a minute). I had a dead mouth for a few hours but there was no real pain and I managed to conduct a lengthy conversation in a pub that night without too much discomfort.

My tongue occasionally needs to explore this newcomer, but then, if you stick something into your mouth that doesn't belong there, that's what it tends to do, eh?

I think that's a good point to stop...

Gooood Morning, Sirrrr...

A cheery African makes a telephone call.

I can't believe these scams still exist - especially when they've been exposed so many times and they insist on using the same story:


I am Barrister Danuel Wanger, a legal practitioner, I am the personal attorney to Mr.M. W.Sangster, a nationality Of your country, who used to work with Shell Development Company in Lome Togo. He used to be my client.

On the 7th of June 2004, my client, his wife and their only daughter were involved in a car accident along Nouvissi express Road. All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost their lives. Since then I have made several enquiries to your embassy here to locate any of my clients extended relatives, this has also proved unsuccessful.

After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to track his last name over the Internet, to locate any member of his family hence I contacted you.I have contacted you to assist in repartrating the fund valued at US$9.5Mmillion°(Nine Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollas) left behind by my client before it gets confisicated or declared unserviceable by the Finance Firm where this huge amount were deposited.

The said Finance Company has issued me a notice to provide the next of kin or have his account confisicated within the next twenty one official working days.
Since I have been unsuccesfull in locating the relatives for over 3years now, I seek the consent to present you as the next of kin to the deceased since you have the same last names, so that the proceeds of this account can be paid to you.

Therefore, on receipt of your positive response, we shall then discuss the sharing ratio and modalities for transfer.I have all necessary information and legal documents needed to back you up for claim.

All I require from you is your honest cooperation to enable us see this transaction through. I guarantee that this will be executed under legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law.

Best Regards,

Barr.Danuel Wanger(Esq)

Now, try reading this again after watching this YouTube clip of a classic scam from Fonejacker: