Saturday, November 22, 2014

North Korea - The CNC Song

I'm sure you'd like to see what I do all day, and amongst a number of other things, it's to watch stuff like this on North Korean Central Television.

While we in the West are getting down and groovy with our favourite popular beat combos such as the Bay City Rollers, Shed Seven and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, the poor citizens of Pyongyang are treated to this bouncy little number praising CNC milling machines. It's enough to make your heart burst out of your chest.

There are lyrcis included, so sing along if you know the words (and speak Korean).

Standard North Korea murderous human rights abusers disclaimer goes here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Tore down the House of Commons in your brand new shoes"

A noisy afternoon in Westminster

To the Palace of Westminster in the line of duty, for a meeting of a parliamentary group on – what else? – North Korea.

It's the first time I've ever been inside the building that I've been past hundreds of times in my life. In fact, it was the source of years of youthful terror when I was small. This stems from the days when we would routinely drive through Westminster and along the Embankment on the way to my grandfather's house on the far side of London – by far the least slow route in the days before the M25, and probably still the case now.

Big Ben filled me with dread. What would happen if the bell struck when we were driving past? Blood out of the ears, painful death, the whole nine yards. What an arse I must have looked, cowering in the foot-well of the family car. I'm over it now. After all the traffic's so loud, you can barely hear it on a good day.

(Nevertheless, in my days as a boy technician at the BBC, one of the feeds we had coming through the control room was the microphone up in the bell tower, which was used for – among other things – the chimes on Radio 4 at 6 o'clock. Just listening to it, hearing the traffic hundreds of feet below gave me the willies.)

So – inside I go for the first time ever, and it's exactly like visiting your local town hall, except for a genuine student riot going on outside, and considerably more heavily-armed police officers.

Despite terrorist fears, its amazing how much of the place is open to the public. So much so, you can wander through Westminster Hall, arrow-straight corridors, winding staircases, peeking into rooms, occasionally to the bark of "No photography!" from important-looking people in extravagant headwear. I might have taken some pictures.

The Palace of Westminster, twinned with Hogwarts
 The real show – naturally enough – comes thanks to the public galleries above the main debating chambers. They're a long, long way up, and you have to surrender your bag, your phone, and sign a piece of paper promising not to be an arse. Unfortunately, you're sat behind a glass screen, because certain people in the past cannot be trusted on that front. And there's some poor bastard whose job it is to watch you watching the politicians, and there can surely be a more thankless task in the whole of the world.

The view is magnificent, especially if there's something interesting on the agenda. I got Home Secretary Theresa May quietly sitting through a proper, heart-warming bollocking from Yvette Cooper, a waft of dusty old Ken Clarke, a touch of Keith Vaz, and an Ed Balls.

I repeat: ED BALLS.

Some of their lordships have frankly bizarre names
Then, another wander around Hogwarts, the committee room, a sighting of William Hague in a penguin suit, then out and home.

Tourist tips: Avoid the gift shop. You get better stuff from the tat stand on Westminster Bridge, which does Princess Diana postcards into the bargain.

Find and excuse and take a trip before UKIP turn up in droves and fuck it all up for everybody.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"I appear to be a tad over-dressed, what?"

There are misunderstandings, and then there's the case of Sir Alexander Glen:

Admit it, we've all done it. One minute you're in your best penguin suit looking forward to trying your luck with those lovely debs, the next you're shooting seals on a glacier with Evelyn Waugh.

From his entertaining obituary in the Daily Telegraph's archive.

Some comments from social media:

"I like to imagine that when he was invited to his daughter's wedding he accidentally ended up on a trip to Mars, and that's how he died."

"Is he really Bertie Wooster?" 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Big Issue Issue Revisited

I expect you're wondering what happened after last week's difficulties with my local (un)friendly Big Issue seller.

If you're short on memory, or you're new to the story the tl;dr version is this:

Our local Big Issue salesman is getting rather pushy with the begging when he should be doing his job, for eg selling magazines. This came to a head last week, when he guilt-tripped me into buying him a sandwich, which he then refused.

As you'd expect, this confused me somewhat because I'm British and I don't take social awkwardness very well. This is mainly because everybody thinks a Big Issue sales person should be a happy, cheery soul, not some misery tapping you for money while you're trying to get from Starbucks to the British Heart charity shop. The lady in Caversham is lovely, and always has a kind word. Ours is not quite so cuddly.

That being the case, I asked the internet hive mind whether they thought he was an ungrateful wretch, or if I should think more of him as a human being. They said he was an ungrateful wretch, but one thoughtful soul suggested - perhaps - I should just buy a magazine off him, and give him the money they way he's supposed to be earning it.

So. I decided to reset our relationship completely, and stick to what I should have done before: Just buy a magazine from him, no more, no less. After all, that's his job - one that gives him the dignity of doing something for a living while getting a roof over his head, without having to resort to begging.

And Saturday lunchtime this happened as I strolled from Starbucks to the British Heart charity shop, belly full of skinny latte and buttered hot fruit toast:

"One Big Issue, my man," I didn't say, because that would have been dreadfully patronising.

I pushed a fiver into his hand, for two-pounds-fifty-worth of finest charity magazine.

And he stiffed me for my change. I was so British, I nearly said something.

I don't care if he's a Big Issue seller. I've decided he's a git.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

In which - once again - I insult the dignity of the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

"When you've quite finished staring, rip me a page out of that notebook"

 "Then they drift down the rapids, right to the pool where the hungry crocodiles will be waiting for them"
"Excellent, excellent. When's Mr Bond due?"

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Big Issue issue

Help me with an ethical dilemma, people.

Part One: Sandwichgate

"Get me a sandwich, man," our Big Issue salesman asked and we bid him hello on Saturday afternoon.

And I bought him a sandwich - as usual - because I'm a nice ask-no-questions sort of guy, and it breaks my heart that even our town - officially the place with the best standard of living in the whole of the UK - still has a homeless problem.

But this week, the sandwich I bought wasn't a sandwich from Starbucks because we realised we're paying through the nose for a Starbucks sandwich that's no better than one from any of the local supermarkets.

So I bought him one from Waitrose. Not too shabby, I know.

"Take it back, I don't want that. Why didn't you get me a Starbucks sandwich?" he asks. Rather unreasonably, I thought.

I do my impression of a goldfish as he then demands that I go to Greggs to get him something else instead.

He got this: The square root of shit-all, and a determination never to show him any kindness ever again. Until next week, of course.

Part Two: The Dilemma of Charity

And here's where I am torn between kindness and bastardism.

It would be very easy to say "Beggars can't be choosers" and leave that to be the end of it. The would be exactly the kind of thing I would have read dozens of times over if this was a local newspaper story, and those were the comments left by people with names like 'Common Sence' and 'UKIPDAVE'.

But I'm neither Common Sence nor UKIPDAVE and I question my actions as much as I question Big Issue Man and his natural desire for a decent lunch.

Big Issue Man has a job and he makes money by selling magazines. But he's homeless, or in a hostel and needs as much help as possible. I promised him food, and threw a silent passive-aggressive hissy fit when he turned down my act of charity. I never stopped to ask what he actually wanted, and instead got him what I thought he DESERVED, even though he's entitled to preferences like every other human being on the planet.

It was a failed act of charity that was supposed to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but instead left me quietly seething. That's the selfish gene inside of us all.

By way of background, Big Issue Man has become increasingly cheeky in his demands, having tapped me for some money outside McDonalds so he could have a burger, and then not buying a burger. I was all 'never again' after that one as well, and it has come to the point that we sometimes take a detour to avoid him.

So, should I have got him a Starbucks sandwich, or something greasy from Greggs like he wanted? Or should I just say 'bugger it' and never speak to him again?

Middle class problems in a middle class town.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The new John Lewis Christmas advert that will bring Britain to its knees

This boy could wreck the entire British economy with his flightless bird madness
The new John Lewis Christmas advert is a disaster for Ed Miliband.

There, I've said it.

I've said it as a card-carrying trades unionist and Labour party member who knows a kick in the teeth when he sees one.

Not long ago, Young Ed was confidently pushing his "one man, one owl" policy onto an enthusiastic British public, who received this Harry Potter-like fiction with gusto, not stopping to think of the billions it would cost to bring into reality.

And now, with his plans already in pull swing, they've been stopped in their tracks by John Lewis and their "One boy, two penguins" Christmas advertisement.

As a result, the bottom's fallen out of the owl market, owl prices are now less than 50p for a dozen, owl houses are nothing but scrap wood, and enthusiasts daren't give their owls a friendly squeeze in case another damn egg pops out.

Like a bacon sandwich, like giving money to a street beggar, Ed takes a winning policy and deftly - yet innocently - rends it into shreds.

Ed blows it again
But the other parties can cease their gloating. David Cameron finds himself red-faced too as his copycat "One man, one polo pony" election promise shuffles off to the glue factory, its tail firmly between its legs. With stables already half-built the length and breadth of the country, on long-term private-public contracts, it's going to cost tens of billions to shut down.

And meanwhile, in the snug bar at the Jolly Xenophobe, UKIP's Nigel Farage mumbles glumly into a near empty pint glass, his party's "One man, one rabid ferret" policy in similar disarray.  Already a popular membership offer among UKIP voters, the incidence of rabies among the over-50s in the UK has already risen one-hundred-fold in the last twelve months, leading to the swamping of the National Health Service, and an emergency slash-and-burn policy by agriculture officials that has laid farmland to waste the length and breadth of the country. The cost, DEFRA and Department of Health ministers say, is beyond calculation.

But Nigel has alternatives. He opens a letter from a fan to read a single condoling word: "LEDGE", and manages a smile, For Marks and Spencer are due to unveil their Christmas advert, and the grapevine tells him it's rabid badgers.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Is James Bond a Timelord? An important and definitive study into Britain's most celebrated MI6 agent

Commander James Bond has been a fixture within the United Kingdom's military intelligence security for over fifty years, yet he still shows the youthful exuberance towards his work in the second decade of the 21st Century as when he first emerged in the 1960s.

In fact, some would argue that 007 displays powers of endurance and recovery that preclude him from being human at all, and point to more a other-worldly genesis for the secret agent.

Current theories speculate that he arrived on Earth at approximately the same time as his kinsman known as "The Doctor". While one Gallifreyan made it his business to venture through time and space, the "Bond" Timelord fell in with the British establishment, to use his extraordinary powers to defeat evil.

One could also theorise that Bond is stranded - or even exiled - on Earth, much like The Doctor's third regeneration, possibly due to his violent nature.

Now on his sixth regeneration, it is clear that no ordinary human could carry out the feats of strength, deduction and resilience that Bond possesses in his arsenal.

Firstly: Consider his powers of recovery. His extra heart means he is fitter than the average human, and while getting knocked out would disable a man for several days, Bond returns to consciousness with a clear head, ready to fight on. No human could take punishment like Timelord Bond.

Of course, there are times when the punishment becomes too much, hence the six regenerations. Even when the regeneration fails (in the case of Agent Lazenby), Bond is able to 'roll back' to the previous regeneration (Agent Connery) before eventually settling on a more permanent face.

Second: Q Division. Bond's weaponry is presented at the work of one doddery old man, who often presents himself as Bond's "uncle". This is - of course - a future version of himself presenting 007 with alien technology to defeat his enemies.

Shape-shifting cars are just a simple corruption of the chameleon circuit, well beyond Earthly technology. Timelord Bond, like The Doctor, has every eventuality covered.

And finally: Like The Doctor, Bond has employed a succession of young female "assistants". While these "Bond Girls" have a varying life expectancy, it's a common thread between the two Timelords that they cannot work without an Earthly companion.

The difference with Bond is that these companions are very much of the temporary variety.

But is there an alternative narrative? Of course there is.

While the Timelord theory is compelling, MI6's own version reads more like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist.

Bond, the British Government says, is not so much a man but an idea. There have been several Bonds down the decades, some more successful and longer-lived than others. When one Bond expires, or simply outlives his usefulness, he is replaced by a newer, more determined 007.

It is - they say - a model that is well used among global intelligence agencies and their adversaries, which goes to explain why there have been a number of Ernst Stavro Blofelds, while the CIA's Felix Leiter, has at least nine difference recorded faces.

This "Evolving Bond" narrative also explains problems with continuity that have plagued Bond-watchers down the years.

The original Commander Bond was said to have a degree in oriental languages, but by the time of Brosnan Bond, he can't speak a word. The poor man is so confused, he resigns from the service and launches a career in musicals.

The same can be said for Lazenby Bond, who went AWOL after the events portrayed in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and MI6 were forced to recall Connery Bond back from retirement.

While all previous Bonds were recruited from Royal Naval officers with a background in intelligence, Craig Bond shows a marked departure from the tradition. Craig Bond was reportedly  recruited from the special services purely for PR reasons, on the grounds that the public "like a bit of rough".

As backstories go, it's not a particularly good one, and shows that cuts in Whitehall PR departments are biting particularly deeply if that's the best they can come up with. In fact, this failed attempt at PR spin is all the evidence we need to show MI6's cover story is nothing but a sham.

James Bond, 007, is not of the Earth and this is the proof.