Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bad haircuts, and their part in the rise and fall of empires

There's a guy down the Kumsusan Palace who swears he's Elvis
You might have noticed the media chatter about Kim Jong Un's new haircut. Yes, it's ridiculous and his eyebrows look like the first couple of pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but let us not forget he is the man nominally in charge of The Worst Government In The World.

If you've been paying attention, you will know that media in North Korea is (jointly, with Eritrea, a close runner-up for the Worst Government In The World) the most restricted on the planet. Not a word is uttered on air, not a line printed in the press, not a picture published without the approval of very senior party members who wear their Kim Jong Il / Kim Il Sung loyalty badge with pride over their hearts.

So, while Kim's haircut has met with state approval, one wonders how this got out:

BOOM! Foot like a traction engine, that lad
The more eagle-eyed among you will note that it is Manchester City's Samir Nasri blatting one into the top corner against AS Roma in that party to capitalist excess that is the Champions League earlier this season, aired some three months later as peak-time viewing on Korean Central Television.

I know what you're thinking: "Who won?" And the answer to that is City, 2-0.

But the question I'm asking is: Are they going to show Joe "The Voice of Head & Shoulders" Hart and his beautiful, beautiful head of hair, or is he going to be pixellated out for fear of shaming the Supreme Leader and his done-by-his-aunt bouffant?

Other makes of anti-dandruff shampoo are available
Yes. Yes they are.

Across Pyongyang, a million voices cry out: "Hey! Where do I get such a luxurious head of hair?"


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING - GO! and some other music videos about going to the FRAKKING MOON

From the new album "The Race For Space", which I am currently playing to buggery.

And while you're here, here's OMD doing much the same thing in 1991.

Oh go on... Jean-Michel Jarre as well, but you'll have to use your imagination, as his record company are geo-blocking bastards who won't let me use the official video.

That's enough moon.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

FAITH HEALERS: Under the Gazebo of Ignorance

To town, to pick up some drugs for my streaming nose and to hand money to those Starbucks tax-dodgers in return for their tasty, tasty fruit toast. Because if there were gods, Starbucks fruit toast would be their food.

However, it wasn't that which left the bad taste in my mouth (see what I did there?), but the fact that the management of our local shopping centre had let a bunch of faith healers operate inside the premises.

Now, I've had run-ins with roving gangs of faith healers before, but their place is outside in the pissing rain, not in the warmth of the indoor shopping centre, where their little pop-up stall, banners and camping chairs patrolled by middle-aged chaps in anoraks on the look-out for potential marks is given some sort of respectability.

Sadly, I had decided that morning not to use my crutches that day, so any chance of flinging them away and dancing up and down outside The Works shouting "It's a miracle, It's a rootin'-tootin' Jebus-sent miracle!" went right out of the window.

But then, I doubt whether I would have been Chosen. The middle-aged chaps in anoraks - from my own observations - choose their marks carefully. Our town appears to be in the midst of a rash of foot and knee injuries, and everywhere you look there's some poor sap hopping around on crutches. At least three of these hopped past the Faith Healing stand while I watched, and they were completely ignored. I suspect people with real physical injuries are too difficult for the hands-on-pray-to-Jesus approach to medicine, and they're left well alone.

In fact, I reckon anybody who looks like they might know better and could cause a bit of trouble are carefully filtered out. Jesus didn't want to know me, genuine limp or not. No, they're after the easily impressed and easily converted for their mind games. It's all about adrenaline and endorphines and the planting of belief so that the mark leaves the stand, clutching a few leaflets, buzzing enough from the experience to think their ache in the side is cured.

Which, of course, it isn't.

I'm a big fan of medicine backed up by evidence and peer-reviewed research. That's because medicine backed up by evidence and peer-reviewed research fixed my foot while the reiki lady who pronounced me cured several years ago couldn't have been more wrong. So, the minute the BMJ publishes a paper that proves faith healing works, I'll pat them on the back and welcome them to the fold, but I'm certain that trhe heat-death of the universe will happen first. In extreme cases - and there are plenty of examples - faith healing costs lives.

Yes, there are many, many people out there using the concept of faith healing to con vulnerable people out of money in return for the belief that their cancer has been cured. And that's evil. But on the other side of the same coin are people who practice faith healing because they firmy believe in its god-sent powers. Misguided? Yes. Evil? Probably not, and depends on your perspective, just a different class of wrongness. Parents who let their children die because a pastor says that God will heal them, there is evil afoot, but the parents may be victims themselves of a collective con that all parties believe in.

Either dangerous nonsense or the Nobel Prize for Medicine. (Hint: Dangerous nonsense)

But that's a world removed from street-healing, types, right? No. If they claim they can cure cancer, MS, despression (just a few highlights from the now banned leaflet above), then they are dangerous in giving false hope.

Like horoscopes, reiki, remote reiki, homeopathy, crystal healing and something I just made up involving the psychic power of dogs, it doesn't work, yet there are probably millions of people who swear otherwise. Belief in these things rejects the power of expertise, in a world where the unproven is given just as much weight as evidence-based science because it has enough people believing it to be true.

But belief in fath healing, homeopathy etc etc is just the start of a dangerous road where vaccines are rejected and life-saving medicine is ignored. Yes, given enough time, the problem will cure itself, but I'm not one to put up with the colateral damage, and I'd never wish harm on any person no matter what they believe. And yes (as I've since be reminded), there are many Christian doctors guided by faith. Which is good, because God doesn't like leaving things to amateurs armed only with garden furniture.

If you want to worship anti-science, that's fine by me. But as you stand under your gazebo in a town centre pulling in the vulnerable for a bit of hands-on, remember that your anti-science kills.

A rule of thumb:
  • Hospital, loads of certificates on office wall = GOOD
  • Gazebo and garden chairs in a shopping centre = BAD

You can read a far better demolition of street faith healing types by Hayley Stevens HERE

PRO-TIP: Gazebos in town centres always mean idiocy is afoot. Duck into a shop before they make eye contact

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winning at Hula Hoops, winning at life

I wish they'd stop putting beef-flavoured Hula Hoops in the vending machine at work. Beef-flavoured Hula Hoops are made of rabid potatoes, evil in beef form, and the tormented souls of the dead, which – of course – makes them one of the greatest foodstuffs in the galaxy.

Imagine my surprise when I opened a packet to find this monster.

HULA KONG (Actual size)
I eated it.

But my interest was piqued. Why not make beef-flavoured Hula Hoops in a perfect hoop shape? You could, quite literally, eat them right around the clock. Better still, a two-foot-long Hula Hoop. Beef at one end, ready salted in the middle, cheese and onion at the other. No salt and vinegar, because salt and vinegar Hula Hoops are of Satan.

Or, they could just follow the road taken by the people who make Quavers and make a giant wheelie bin-sized Quaver that weighs half a ton, and caused an industrial accident.

My dream Quaver (Once they've got the blood off)
I'd buy that for a dollar.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Time I Worked for Darth Vader: A Tale of Mirth And Woe

Somebody asked me to do a repeat of the story of the time I worked at Darth Vader's Newsagents in Twyford. Seeing as there are two stories – written 12 years ago - I've pulled them together into one throbbing whole for your delight.

(TL;DR version: Had a paper round, saw naked people, got sworn at)

Darth's shop: Now a Thai restaurant

I was fourteen years old, stony broke and living in a village 35 miles west of London. There wasn't much left from 50p pocket money after 2000AD and the bomb-making materials were taken into account, so I faced the shocking truth – I had to take a job. I took myself down to Darth Vader's newsagents and begged them for a paper round. Darth, a man with a heroic fifty-a-day smoking habit told me to (gasp) bugger off (gasp).

A couple of weeks later I got a phone call. It turned out they no longer wanted me to bugger off, because their star paperboys the Pepall twins were moving house, and there were vacancies in the highly-prized newspaper delivery business. Three (gasp) fucking quid a week, take it (gasp) or leave it, sonny (gasp), the owner said, a filterless high tar number hanging from the corner of his mouth.

I took it, as did my brother, who got the nicer end of the village. I'm not saying that parts of my round were rough, but the tarmac road actually ran out halfway through, and you would often approach some of the council’s finest housing across lawns several feet deep in grass, burned out and dead postmen.

I soon found, to my disgust, that the village's other newsagent paid their paperboys a whole, shiny pound per day, but Darth was adamant that "there are (gasp) plenty of other kids (gasp) willing to work (gasp) for peanuts, and you can (gasp) fuck right off (gasp) if you don't like it".

Darth, it turned out, was in his hog heaven, working in a business that dealt in his favourite hobby of smoking heavily, with a whole wall of tobacco products at his fingertips all day, every day. He indulged to the limit, even when it became clear that it was killing him completely to death, unable to say a whole sentence without coughing up his lungs all over the newspapers, the huge wheezing gasps for air inevitably followed by extreme profanity.

I'd get up at six in the morning, cycle down to the shop, run round the houses as quickly as possible, ripping number eighty-eight's unfeasibly large Daily Telegraph to shreds trying to get it through their unfeasibly small letterbox, get home by seven and do my homework before going to school. This got me a) paid and b) evenings to myself.

"Those (gasp) fuckers from number eighty-eight have (gasp) been in with their (gasp) fucking whinging again"

Nicotine-stained from head to foot, Darth was always on your side. "We've had a (gasp) complaint from (gasp) number eighty-eight (gasp). Fuckers (gasp). Told 'em to (gasp) fuck off."

Fridays were the worst. That was the day the Maidenhead Advertiser came out. For a town were precisely nothing happened, the Advertiser could be anything up to 140 pages long, all in a tabloid size that defied folding in half. Everybody got the Advertiser. Everybody. The miserable buggers on my round, too lazy to go down the shop and buy it for themselves, often got their copy one sheet at a time. And while I was struggling with that lot, it turned out that other paperboys round had punters who had his porn delivered with his morning papers, fuck my luck.

All I got was a couple of nuns living next door to the Catholic church, and a copy of Jackie on a Wednesday for a horsy teenage girl in one of the posh houses. But I also got Peter's mum. Every damn day.

See that hedge? I've been sick in it

My round had the unfortunate effect of bringing me into contact with Peter, the school drongo. I'm not being drongo-ist here, for I have always considered myself as 30% drongo and some of my best friends are drongos, Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip), was an obnoxious little turd, who could often be seen wandering the village, lost in a daze, reading “Commando” comics through broken National Health glasses worn, squinting, like a monocle; and dressed in his Army Cadet uniform, the only clothes he possessed outside of his school clothes. When I worked in the civil service, I ran into him working as a filing clerk in the prison-like document registry, still reading those commando comics, still wearing combat fatigues in his mid-twenties.

Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) lived with his mum and his nan, two enormous, frightening women, who would often wade into fights to defend their son’s honour, which was often, because at the merest slight against his honour, he would got home and tell his mum, and all hell would break lose. School bully, classmate, teacher, headteacher. It mattered not to Peter's mum (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip), for they all took a whipping.
I had to deliver the Daily Star to his house, perhaps the most forbidding in the whole village, and every morning I had to endure the sight of Peter’s mum with a face like a melted owl, of a size that more polite writers would call "formidable", getting dressed in the living room window. I reached a deal with the milkman where we'd meet by the gate and "do" the house together. Safety in numbers, but as the first naked woman I ever saw in the wild, she left me with a lifetime of issues.

One day, Darth announced that Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) would be (gasp) starting a (gasp) paper round. He got Pennfields, the next road along from my round, and perhaps I’d like to (gasp) show Peter (pronounced with your (gasp) tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) the (gasp) ropes?

I showed him the (gasp) ropes, like a good boy, and the complaints soon started rolling in. Mainly because he couldn't match up the houses with the numbers that Darth had scribbled on the papers, and mostly because he would leave his morning paper round for after school. Or after his dinner. Or the next day, which, in the paperboy industry is known as "fucking up your round", and is a deadly sin.

Out of the way, Hipsters. All the cool kids are riding the Raleigh Shopper these days.

His second week on the job, if things weren't going badly enough, it snowed. Showing a bit of rare sense, my brother and I left our bikes at home and walked to the shop. The whole affair took an hour longer than usual, but we got round and earned our precious fifty pence for the day. Riches.

Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip), on the other hand, brought his mum’s Raleigh Shopper bike, and spent the next twenty minutes carefully rearranging the newspapers in the basket on the front while we warmed our bones in front of Darth’s ashtray. Then he got on his bike, cycled a full ten yards up the road and fell off, flat on his face. Newspapers exploded across the road, and whipped up by the wind, flew in all directions across the High Street and over the Post Office.

We laughed.

"Didn't hurt," Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) said defiantly, blood running down his chin.

Darth went ballistic, calling him a "(gasp) fucking twat you (gasp) fucking moron (gasp)". He was so cross, he nearly dropped his cigarette. Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) sheepishly picked up what was left of his papers, and disappeared into the blizzard, rounding up loose lifestyle sections and Daily Mail health scare specials like Captain Oates on his last fateful walk into history.

The next day, it rained. Buckets and buckets of freezing cold rain. We had our bikes, our waterproofs and our special thick plastic newspaper sacks to keep the newsprint nice and dry. Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) turned up in his Army fatigues and his mum's Raleigh Shopper with the wire basket on the front, still filled with what was left of the previous day's newspapers, which he had diligently rounded up, and taken home and dried on the radiator. They were now soaking wet. He piled the new day's papers on top and spent another twenty minutes carefully rearranging them while Darth watched, shaking his head at the shop window, a sprinkle of fag ash giving a cheerful Christmas effect. "(Gasp) Fucking idiot (gasp)".

Then he got on his bike, cycled a full ten yards down the road, and fell off, his glasses skidding under the wheels of a passing car with a sickening crunch.

We laughed.

"Didn’t hurt," Peter (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) said defiantly, blood running down his chin.

The next day I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime offer, the chance to do my own round and Peter's (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) as well because "I've (gasp) sacked the useless (gasp) cunt". I got an extra quid for my efforts, not to mention mouthfuls of abuse from locals thinking I was to blame for a week of newspaper buggery.

"(Gasp) Fuck 'em", Darth said the next day when I complained about my near death experience, "I had that little (gasp) turd's mother round (gasp) shouting at me (gasp). How did (gasp) such a fine woman spawn (gasp) such a (gasp) arsehole?"

Darth finds out I've gone for a job in a supermarket

Over the next months, I saw enough quivering flesh and industrial strength brassieres constructed by the best of the British shipbuilding industry to last a lifetime, and all for fifty pence a day. Friends, desperate for any naked flesh at all, thought I was the luckiest kid in the world.

But I was still irked that my so-called friends working for the other newsagents in the village were getting twice as much as I was, so I resolved to ask for a pay rise, or I'll walk.

He told me to "(Gasp) Fuck off you (gasp) greedy twat. You trying to (gasp) fucking break me?", while puffing on a Capstan Full Strength which he probably hadn't paid for.

Still annoyed at his attitude, I hatched a plan. A plan that would – if perfectly executed – engender much-needed community relations in a village that was in danger of becoming little more than a dormitory town, where one neighbour would never even acknowledge the chap over the road. It was also very wrong, mais je ne regrette rien.

I gave everybody's paper to the house next door, and all the Advertisers went to the last house on the round, who just happened to be the village doctor. If they wanted their morning rag, they would have to go knock for it.

This was made all the more fun by the fact that one side of the road was entirely posh houses with south-facing gardens who all took the Telegraph, The Times or the Daily Mail, while the other was decidedly servants' quarters where the Daily Star was seen as highbrow reading. It was also the side of the road where Peter's (pronounced with your tongue pressed firmly against your lower lip) mum got dressed in front of the living room window every morning. She got the Daily Express and I got another eyeful.

Mission accomplished, I popped into Darth's shop the next day to pick up my money, just in time to see Dr Thomas storming out, veins bulging on his forehead in fury.

"You (gasp) cunt" said Darth, the last words he ever spoke to me. But I didn't care, because I was already on one pound ten per hour. One pound fucking ten, and a digital watch that played "It's a small, small world". Stick that in your pipe, Vader.

And then he sicked his lungs up in a hedge.

Exactly like the computer game, only with more nuns and more nudity.