Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ham the monkey and his fruity prize

Exactly 46 years ago today a chimp named Ham (after the Holloman Aerospace Medical Centre) was blasted into space from Cape Canaveral in an effort to prove that humans could one day survive space flight, think clearly and not go Radio Rental in the process.

However, someone hadn't done their sums and got the trajectory wrong, resulting in him hurtling way off course. Worse was to come with re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere which saw him belting seaward at meltdown velocity, tumbling through the stratosphere in a '60s tin can full of rattling rivets, flashing lights and ungraspable levers. It's not a pretty thought to imagine him filling his space suit with liquified monkey shit, hiding his wrinkly 'old-man' face with his hairy hands, and whimpering "oop-oops" into his miniature helmet while NASA listened in.

Despite his terrifying ordeal however, Ham survived, eventually landing somewhere in the Atlantic, some 420 miles off course. The BBC reported: "Then when rescue helicopters finally arrived, they found the capsule on its side and sinking. It had landed with such force that the heat shield had punched two holes in the capsule. Ham, however, took it all in his stride and when the spacecraft was opened accepted an apple and half an orange in reward."

Half an orange? What would the poor litle bastard have had to do to get himself a whole one? It shows complete thoughtlessness by the scientists who even failed to offer him a banana - the perennial simian favourite. Monkey or not, fruit seems a woefully inadequate reward for such monumental achievements as space travel. I bet Neil Armstrong got better than that.

It's just as well that similarly ground-breaking human efforts aren't rewarded in the same way: "Congratulations Dr Pasteur, you've discovered a way of treating dairy products to prevent the growth of bacteria, ultimately saving millions of lives worldwide from life-threatening viruses. Here's some kiwi fruit."

Or Thomas Edison remarking to his assistant on witnessing the first stuttering lightbulb: "Eureka! I've finally successfully created electrical current which can power generators, make pictures on tellys and light the darkness forevermore. The world is now truly mankind's oyster!"
"Well done Mr Edison. I'll get the grapes..."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dressing down

It's dress-down day in work today, which means it's off with the ancient formal black trousers that I refuse to replace (despite being no more than a micron thick through years of ironing) and the cheap cotton shirt, and into an altogether more comfortable combo of T-shirt and jeans. Call me a revolutionary but I think it's possible to still look smart without locking myself into a collar and tie and am of the opinion that the quality of my work in no way suffers as a consequence. If anything, the opposite is true as the freedom to breathe while I type can only ever be of benefit.

Happily, ties in the office are rapidly becoming the exception, rather than the rule and generations to come will look back at office workers of yesteryear and wonder what on earth they were thinking. They should bring in dress-down days for other occupations, like newsreading and undertaking. Huw Edwards delivering the day's events in an old gardening T-shirt, or a funeral director formally leading a procession of sobbing relatives in a casual lemon-yellow polo shirt, a pair of denims and some of those funky trainers with flashing lights in them, would add a degree of light-heartedness to traditionally sombre affairs. He could keep the funny hat on as a mark of respect if desired; you might have to make some concessions.

QE poo

There was an unwelcome passenger aboard the QE2 according to the BBC news yesterday, in the shape of a gastrointestinal virus called the novovirus. The unfortunate effects for the 276 passengers and six crew included extreme vomiting and diarhorrea.

With so many people bucketing out of both ends, the luxury liner was propbably aswill with "hay-clarse" vomit and shit (no doubt smelling of champagne and canap├ęs). Look closely and you might even have seen the captain's log.

Channel 4 have scrapped the phone vote for Big Brother this week after mistakenly screening "to save Shilpa" instead of "to evict Shilpa", thereby forcing it to refund money to phone voters and think very swiftly to ensure a fair final result.

Somewhere there's one very red-faced typesetter who'll spend the next few days blasting nervous flatulance into the seat of his swivel chair every time his boss walks in the room...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Medical advice for reggae stars

"Girl, I'm gonna make you sweat. Sweat 'til you can't sweat no more..." sang Ian Lewis of reggae outfit Inner Circle, displaying a nonchalant attitude to the health of his partner and a dangerous ignorance of the body's basic biological processes.

The inability to sweat is symptomatic of severe dehydration and inhibits the body's ability to cool itself. To reach this point is already indicative of perilously low fluid levels.

Mr Lewis would be well advised to promote the regular intake of water during such bouts of heightened activity, for the well-being of his ladyfriends as well as himself.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Chuckles on the High Street

Is there anything less funny than a greetings card? It's a rhetorical question because the answer is abundantly 'no'. I can probably count on the fingers of Django's dodgy hand the number of cards I've ever laughed at. A branch of Clinton's is the retail equivalent of the Chuckle Brothers without the gay moustaches. Rack upon rack of singularly unfunny (and often poorly-spelled) efforts appeal to the lowest common denominator of humour and cater for the unsophisticated and comedically-challenged individuals who believe Ant and Dec are cutting edge. Gags about getting old, being fat, saucy seaside humour and other staples of the lightest of light entertainment seep out of the place like a gas leak.

And don't even get me started on the overpriced comedy mugs, cuddly toys, desk plaques, calendars, novelty glassware, lucky gonks and other tat to be found there...

Crimson & Cohen

We're in the process of moving house and almost everything is in boxes, which renders most of our stuff inaccessible including 90% of our CDs. There is, however a small section sticking out from a mountain of cardboard.

As I no longer alphabeticise my music (not due to a decrease in geekiness, more a lack of time and resource, as well as a fear of ridicule), they're in a fairly random order and I've been selecting the next one in line to play in the car on the way to work. This journey is 20 minutes each way, which happily amounts to pretty much an album length. The first couple out of the hat are: In The Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson and Songs From A Room by Leonard Cohen, both of which have been a surprising and welcome exercise in nostalgia as I haven't played them for yonks.

Despite a belter of an opening track (21st Century Schizoid Man) though, the King Crimson album quickly devolves into poncy experimentation. I quite like my self-indulgent noodlings as it happens, but it's a even a bit too much for me. To have 20 seconds of silence broken by someone blowing a singular note on a Patagonian nose flute (or something), followed by a drum solo that sounds like Ringo falling down a flight of stairs, sadly crosses the fine line between avant garde and pretentious pap. I'd recommend it to anyone who has time management issues though as it has the effect of making half-an-hour seem like an eternity; the A350 to Melksham the other morning seemed more like Route 66.

Faring better is Leonard Cohen whose voice has dropped an octave with each successive decade since 1969 when the album was released. Sadly, this means that by the year 2009 he'll effectively be sub-audible to humans, and only certain species of whales will able to hear his gravelly monotone, so catch him while you can kids.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Salsa extravaganza - five years on...

I've only tried salsa dancing once in my life, and that was in 1992 in an effort to impress my future wife (which looking back seems ludicrous, as I probably resembled a cartoon character struggling to maintain an upright stance on a floor of recently-spilled marbles). We'd just met and, with our relationship just a few hours old, I was called upon to employ every iota of rhythm that my ill-co-ordinated body possessed in order to portray an image of loose-limbed Latino panache via the medium of dance.

Despite, or as a result of, my undoubtedly crap efforts, we ended up together and as of this evening we've been together for five smashing years. I'm saying this because I don't believe in fate and I think people wrongly attribute it to situations when instead they should revel in the fantastic Technicolor randomness of events the world is really governed by.

I believe instead in happenstance, effort, compatibility and seizing an opportunity when it comes your way, but above all luck. I was unspeakably lucky five years ago and we've since built on that luck to create something fantastic. This, I find infinitely more amazing and satisfying than the notion that there was a mysterious force which engineered our first encounter on the premise that a relationship would thereafter follow.

Happily my dancing shoes are now hung up in the dusty cupboard of memories, though the door remains slightly ajar...

Be a big fat bloater - it's nature's way

I know there's an obvious Darwinian explanation for this, but the continual press coverage concerning Britain's slippery slide into obesity and gloomy predictions that we're becoming a nation of gargantuan salad dodgers has made me think about what the evolutionary benefit is of being predisposed to liking the very foods that in quantities are bad for you (ie. those high in sugar and fat).

Sugar, being pure carbohydrate, is obviously able to provide a temporary burst of energy, which is undoubtedly handy when running away from lions or something. Too much sugar for the metabolism though, turns to fat, and by storing an excess of saturated fat while scampering around the plains of the Serengeti, you'd be less likely to escape predators and would become a victim of natural selection, meaning your lardy genes wouldn't be around to continue to produce similarly rotund offspring. So I'm guessing here, that Man, as an ape, needs a bit of fat to sustain him when times are lean, and a bit of sugar, to give him bursts of energy. Everything in moderation.

It seems to me though that there's a good argument that obesity is simply the way it's meant to be. Brain power and advanced cognitive thought processes have resulted in civilisation and convenient solutions to primeval problems. The next time me and my wonderwife are gorging ourselves on a fat-saturated Pizza Hut all-you-can-eat-buffet, I'll be taking solace in the fact that our ancestors have earned us that right.

We should be allowed to get as fat as we like. It's not our fault that our ancient hairy brethren had sufficiently developed brain power to walk on two legs, use rudimentary tools and open fast-food restaurants with 'bottomless' Coke and Ice Cream Factories. Brain development is no less of an evolutionary miracle than opposable thumbs or the capacity for compassion and we modern humans are sufficiently far up the evolutionary ladder to reap the benefits (though looking at some of the individuals who work in Pizza Hut, some may still have a few rungs to go).

It's not all bad for the other apes though. At least they haven't got a simian Gillian McKeith scowling around the jungle floor examining monkey shit and tutting at the presence of undigested nuts and berries.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hoist by her own petard

Jade Goody, blissfully unaware of just of unpopular she is, is a dead cert to leave the Big Brother house tonight, and the whole of the UK are primed to indulge themselves in national schadenfreude (the gleeful practice of delighting in the misfortunes of others). Some psychologists reckon it's human nature to laugh at others' hardships, though even they'd have to admit that it's made all the more easy when the person involved is Jade.

Given the height of feeling she's recently caused, Channel 4 have taken the step of disallowing any members of the public to witness her stupefied troll-like face live at Elstree Studios for fear of an 'incident'. The ratings will be enormous though. It's with fantastic irony that she'll be rendered infamous by the very show that made her famous in the first place. Memories of the stupidity and aggression she displayed back in Big Brother 2002 were muted over time and she was accepted as being a celebrity. Celebrity BB '07 though, has just reminded the nation, with aplomb, why we found her so odious in the first place. Hopefully, the great British public won't make the same mistake twice.

As a result of her runaway mouth, toe-curling views and all-round immense dislikability, the show's future is now in doubt and Channel 4 are under pressure to pull what will always be, by its very nature, a controversial programme. This, hopefully, will just make people dislike her even more. It's a win-win situation...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A fitting end for Chalky

Unbelievably, the number one most emailed story on the BBC News site today was "Celebrity Chef Stein's Dog Dies", the celebrity chef being Rick Stein, and the dog being Chalky, his faithful 17-year-old Jack Russell. "It's a source of puzzlement to me that he never knew how famous he was," said his owner. There's nothing puzzling about it Rick, it's because he was a dog.

Rick continues, "We knew him at home as rather an unassuming, diffident dog, who was never greedy, pestered you a bit for walks but not too much and kept reasonably quiet."
Hmm, quite a character then eh? Fascinating stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I like dogs, and I'm sure Chalky was a fine example of man/chef's best friend, but no way worthy of the fame that's been heaped upon him by his celebrity owner. It seems to me that a much more fitting end for Chalky would be if he was flipped on his back and sliced open, his innards systematically scooped out and pan-fried in a fine Rioja and served up in his hollowed-out corpse with a side order of sweet potato and roasted shallots in the brutal culinary style for which his owner is so famous.

Ads I like, ads I don't

My favourite ad at the moment is for Sony Bravia tellys - the one where explosions of colour splash over a Glasgow tower block. Sometimes, when a big client gives an ad agency a big budget, they spunk it away on shitty concepts, but this is a rare example of a big budget being used for a good concept which has been well-executed. Their previous ad was equally as good - the one where loads of coloured balls bounced down Russian Hill to a twangy Jose Gonzales soundtrack (incidentally, for all those people with kids, this can be convincingly recreated by dropping multi-coloured balls from a ball pit down a staircase. This was discovered by accident while moving house recently.)

Another ad I like features uber-cockney Ray Winstone extolling the virtues of some forgettable cereal or other, for no other reason than the fact it's got Ray Winstone in it. Just when you think the man can't be any more stereotyped, he goes and usurps himself. Another legend is Barry Scott on the Cillit Bang ads. Just imagaine the jaunty jangling of all that loose change (squeaky-clean after dipping it in that pink stuff) in his pocket when he walks; you could probably hear him coming a mile off.

At the other end of the scale is an ad for some car or other which features shitty little actors pretending to be adults (with the adults pretending to be kids) in a less-than-hilarious exchange of parent/offspring roles. This is lazy agency work and comes from the school of concepts that assumes all kids and animals are cute and can be used for the promotion of any product. This approach is responsible for producing Kandoo toddlers or anthropomorphic creatures like Andrex puppies and is just lazy. Kids and animals can be used to good effect, but the inclusion of one (or, god forbid, both) in an ad doesn't guarantee its quality. Additionally, in this case, it doesn't help that the kids are odious little creatures with about as much talent for acting as I have for making souffles. The ad's so bad, I can't even remember what car they're advertising, which is a shame because now I can't go out of my way not to buy one. Maybe that's their master plan.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sterilise the Goodys for the future of mankind

I heard Bernard Manning say once that he couldn't be called a racist bigot because he slagged off all races equally. Call me picky, but that's like Hitler claiming that he wasn't really anti-Semitic because he had it in for gays and gypsies as well.

There have been over 200 official complaints about racism on Big Brother centering around the treatment of Shilpa by a number of the other housemates, though led, naturally, by the bullying Goodys - Jade, Jackiey (now departed - not dead unfortunately, just booted off) and some gangly spanner called Jack, who isn't yet part of the family but if recent evidence is anything to go by, should fit right in.

Jackiey's first offering in her post-eviction interview was to state that "Indian was jarring me bigtime". To refer to Shilpa generally as "Indian" (due to an unfathomable inability to say her name, despite it being comprised of no more than two syllables) just smacks of ignorance. I'm not even entirely sure what the word means, but can hazard a guess and am more-or-less convinced she (Shilpa) wasn't guilty of "jarring" anyone.

The Goodys are vile. And stupid. And disgusting. Though the real tragedy is that they are blissfully unaware that they possess these qualities. In America they'd be banjo-plucking trailer-trash retards with piglets sleeping at their deformed feet, but unfortunately over here they're being held captive a house for two months, with their ignorance broadcast 24/7 to awe-struck masses, with fame resulting as a terrible consequence. Recent gems from these troglodytic nobodies include: "What's a dimela [dilemma]?", "What's an emvryo? [embryo]" and the fantastic "What noise do eskimos make? [among a multitude of other awesomely stupid questions from Jade about the native people of the polar regions]".

Equally astonishing is that fact that Jade has the best-selling perfume in the UK, entitled simply, Jade. This astounds me, as the implication is that by using it, you too can smell like Jade. Why would anyone possibly want to smell like Jade Goody? To my knowledge, odious pigs from council estates aren't renowned for their favourable aromatic properties. I can only assume it's ironically named, like 'Opium' or 'Poison'. Maybe they should have called it 'Pikey'.

I still maintain there's a sound argument for sterilising some people at birth.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Jade, Leo, Dirk and Mahatma

Why is Jade Goody famous? Actually, I know why she's famous. The question is: why has she remained famous? There's something about her twisted little goblin face that makes my hair stand on end and blood begin to boil. My ire is nothing compared to my disappointment though as the discovery in recent days that Leo Sayer is a moody little bastard. To me, he'll always be the cheeky chappie with the crazy hair and the summertime smile, not an egotistical pompous pseudo-celebrity with a filthy mouth, stumpy fingers and a fuse that is shorter than his diminutive stature.

It was funny to hear him refer to Jade Goody's family as a "bunch of fucking c*nts" though...

Conversely, Dirk Benedict, despite the pressures of the house which have been blamed by a volatile Leo for his "uncharacteristic" behaviour, has retained his 'Face Man' demeanour with charm with dignity, and is a credit to z-list celebrities everywhere. He had a brief mardy stint the other day where he poured a half-bottle of whisky in the bin because he didn't want to share it with Jo, but no-one's perfect. I bet even Ghandi said 'Fuck it' when he couldn't find his car keys, or hit his thumb with a hammer doing some DIY on his shack. Or something.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Muzak to my ears

I've recently re-discovered The Housemartins. My wonderwife bought me a Greatest Hits CD (though to call it greatest hits, would be stretching the truth a little) for Christmas.
They wore cardigans, were the unlikely launch pad for Fat Boy Slim (in the days when he was just a goofy bass player called Norman), came from less-than-glamorous Hull, hated playing live and took their Marxist message to the masses via the disposable medium of jangly three minute pop. "How come you wear Rupert Check when you think you're so hard?" Brilliant. I'd urge anyone to buy it...

Below are three other musical opinions I harbour:

- Roy Orbison had a crap voice. An impressive range, but he sounded like your grandad breaking into song after one too many festive sherries
- A-ha were actually quite good and wrote some cracking songs
- Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison is an over-rated pile of horseshit
- Prince (or "symbol" or whatever the cheeky little purple fella's called), for all his touted musical genius, hasn't actually written that many good songs.

But then musical taste is subjective I suppose...

Monday, January 08, 2007

No deal

The infuriatingly slow Deal Or No Deal has just produced its first jackpot winner. Thank Christ. It's not on that much in the Collier household as we often have drying paint that needs watching around that time of the evening. Pint-sized host Noel is another of those unfortunate individuals who buys his trousers according to chest size (and he tries to puff his likkle chest out, bless him), and strides about like Stalin, talking on an old Bakelite phone to a mysterious "banker" (who, for the benefit of the slower-witted, doesn't exist).

I will concede that Noel looks good for his age though, which I can only assume is as a result of selling his diminutive soul to Bealzebub sometime around the early '90s. Actually, Dirk Benedict on Celebrity Big Brother also looks very good for his age. It's lucky there are 'celebrities' like Keith Chegwin around to provide counterpoint to this trend. He seems happy enough looking as rough as a rhubarb crumble wrapped up in human flesh, bounding around the country with his giant GMTV "Chegbook".

Even less fathomable is the attraction of the DOND 'interactive DVD' that's being sold in enormous quantities at the moment. Because it's a game of chance/fate (call it what you like) and requires no skill whatsoever beyond the ability to call out numbers, surely the only appeal in participating is the possibility you might win some cash, which can't be a feature of the DVD version.

"Ooh, look. I've won £250,000 again."
"Well done. Another game?"
"(sigh) I suppose so."

When you think of the thousands of man-hours wasted in pointless activities like this, it's a sad indictment on the modern world. Years ago people would make good use of their time by build pyramids or conquering civilisations or something. Not, strictly speaking, ethically sound, but at least it was time spent constructively. Tutankhamun, the boy king of Egypt, wouldn't have delayed the building of his geometrically astonishing tomb because he was deliberating over whether boxes he was about to open happened to be coloured blue or red inside.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Donald, Thomas and Leslie

There was an article on the BBC site today called Bluebird's Last Journey or something about the restored wreckage of Donald Campbell's boat which is currently on its way to a museum near Lake Coniston where he met his maker. I'm not one to discredit the name of a national hero, but this last journey has taken 40 years in which he's travelled no further than five miles down the road. A swift calculation tells us this involves an less-than-impressive average speed of approximately 0.00001 mph. My two-and-a-half year old son can do more than that on his Thomas the Tank Engine scooter and that's not in a museum. Once again, it's one rule for aristocratic daredevils and another for the rest of us.

Celebrity Big Brother started yesterday which, along with a glut of other reality shows is proving that everyone in the world is becoming steadily famous and it's only a matter of time before Hello magazine looks like the Domesday Book. Tenuous brushes with fame will undoubtedly increase. I met the Honey Monster once in a south Wales supermarket, but this pales into insignificance compared to my wonderwife who can boast once sharing a bouncy castle with the late Leslie "The Price is Right" Crowther.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Royal Welcome

Right, I've got through the sign-up doo-dahs and have two fingers poised over me keyboard like Torvile and Dean waiting for the Bolero to start. I've got me a 'blog (apparently "everybody's doing it"). Maybe this should start with some sort of mission statement along with lofty aspirations, but then maybe that's a bit wanky...

Anyway, it's New Year and a time for new starts! (Unless you're Saddam Hussein or one of the thousands of people who elected to pop their cork during the always-popular festive period.) It's a time of resolutions, fireworks and celebrations. Therefore it's only fitting that the first post is about similar celebratory type things which have resulted in the name of this 'blog.

Six years ago on Millennium Eve, disappointed with the British efforts to commemorate the year 2000, me and my mate Ben hatched plans for more spectacular festivities, centering around blasting the Queen Mother (God rest her soul) sunwards from a specially-made cannon at the top of Greenwich Hill.

We did identify some problems. The velocity needed to escape the earth's gravitational pull is 11km a second (some eight times faster than the average bullet) and her majesty would have needed to achieve this speed at the very minimum (or should that be minima'am?) to reach the beginnings of space. Also, extra thrust would be necessary given the undoubted drag from her flowing dress and particularly unaerodynamic frame.

Obviously, by using a cannon, the effect of the massive and immediate acceleration on the withered body of royal centenarian would be too destructive and she would have disintegrated into jam without even making it out of the barrel, with gin-saturated fragments spraying into the cold December night.

If (and it's a big 'if') the logistics of our suggestion had been overcome however, and the plan approved, she'd now be seven years into her journey. I don't pretend to be a mathematician - far from it. If you want a real mathematician, have a shufty at Dan's blog at He doesn't have to pretend, and the things he can do with concatenated Excel formulas will make you weep. However, my back-of-fag-packet calculations however, go as follows:

We can assume that, on reaching the inky blackness of space, her velocity would have continued at its arrival rate given the absence of friction or gravity. Providing she wasn't deflected by satellites or suffered collisions with any passing asteroids which may have altered her course (or worse, snagged her dress), it's possible to plot her journey. The distance from Greenwich, South-East London, to the sun is roughly 149,000,000 miles. Thus we can calculate that she would have completed her mission after exactly 156.77 days, ultimately arriving at her 15-million-degrees-centigrade destination on the 4th of June (coincidentally enough - my birthday!) at around 6:25pm, not quite in time for the evening news.

Her journey would have been magnificent, and possibly filmable with one of those little cameras that skydivers fix onto their heads, with the images beamed back down to earth to awestruck spectators. Resplendent in a powder-blue dress and peacock feather hat, she'd stand as a testament to the enduring British spirit, steadfastly grimacing against the solar winds until triumphantly ploughing headlong into our nearest star.

Of course, many more calculations would have been necessary. If the trajectory of the cannon wasn't precisely calibrated, she may have overshot and would ultimately dissolve into nothing more than harmless space dust. Except maybe for her teeth - a mouthful of pearly-browns remaining as miniature toothy asteroids forever. There's something quite poetic about a mouthful of royal manky molars slingshotting around the sun and into the black abyss of eternal nothingness. Rule Britannia...