Thursday, January 31, 2008

Space Race

The title of this blog comes from a pub-time conversation around the turn of the millennium, in which the possibility of firing the Queen Mum (God rest her soul) into the sun by launching her from a giant cannon at the top of Greenwich Hill was considered. The logistics of doing so can be found in the very first post.

Now, seven years later, another excellent suggestion has been proposed involving sending Thora Hird on a giant stairlift to the moon. This got me wondering though: if it had been a race between the two sturdy old pensioners, who would have reached their celestial destination first? The sheer velocity of the Queen Mum (God rest her soul) would have stood her in good stead, escaping the earth’s atmosphere with the speed of a rifle bullet like a powder-blue projectile, but then eight light-minutes worth of distance is a very long way. Dame Thora’s progress would be slow and steady on the other hand, inching her way heavenwards at a considerably slower pace, but towards a much closer target.

It was calculated that the Queen Mum (God rest her soul) would have taken around 155 days to plummet into the fiery hell of our nearest star, but how long would it have taken Dame Thora to chug gradually towards the Earth’s only satellite? The similarity in the weight and combustibility of the two can be assumed to be roughly the same and they therefore make excellent subjects for a comparative test.

Logistically, it’s not without its problems. Stannah (or similar) would need to be commissioned to manufacture a bespoke stairlift at least 238,855 miles high – the average distance from the Earth to the moon. A staircase of corresponding length would also have to be built to affix the stairlift to (carpet, treads and a banister would be optional).

For the purposes of the experiment we can take Greenwich as being at sea level, and a few seconds' swift Googling tells us that the typical travel speed for domestic stairlifts ranges between 0.07 and 0.15 metres per second (a mean of 0.11).

From a standing start at Greenwich observatory Thora would have started ascending slowly skywards as soon as Big Ben struck midnight. We can therefore calculate that it would have taken her only around eight minutes to reach the height of Nelson’s column (51m) and just under an hour to surpass the height of the Empire State building (381m). At 10:34pm on the first day of the New Year she would have achieved the height of Everest (8,848m) and would have eventually escaped the earth’s atmosphere on 15th April 2000, some 105 days after her journey began. By stark contrast, at the time when Thora was being jostled by satellites, the Queen Mum (God rest her soul) would have been some 85,000,000 miles distant and well on her way to victory.

The earth’s gravitational pull would need to be factored into any objects (or dames) heading through the outer reaches of the troposphere and into the inky blackness of space, though it’s safe to assume that once she’d escaped gravity, the corresponding reduction in mechanical friction (which would normally impede her progress) would result in her picking up speed.

Even with this increase however (which we can arbitrarily take to be around 10%), she would have lost in spectacular fashion en route to her lunar landing. The remainder of her journey would have taken another 3,611 days, which means she would still be traveling today, and would be scheduled for touchdown on 20th November 2009 – 3,455 days after the Queen Mum (God rest her soul) had been incinerated her into space dust at temperatures approaching 15 million degrees.

Thora would have the last laugh though. Whereas the Queen Mum’s (God rest her soul) final destination would end in her spectacular demise, Thora could feasibly begin her homeward journey with a flick of a switch, heading back “downstairs” to a hero’s welcome on terra firma (though care would have to be taken though to ensure she didn’t burn up on re-entry). National hero status would be assured, and her jowly bespectacled Northern remains could occupy the fourth plinth overlooking Trafalgar Square as testament to British endeavour and achievement.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Proud Cox

In these days of agricultural regulations in which home-grown produce needs to measure up to EEC directives for size and quality, it’s good to know our British farmers have something to be proud of. I noticed the following in Tesco yesterday printed on a bag of British-produced apples:

“Our British Cox are now Sweeter and Crisper.”

It’s probably the sort of claim that should be read, rather than heard.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In It To Win It

We don’t really do the lottery in our house; not out of any particular principle, we just never get round to it. However, a compelling argument for never doing at all is that it prevents you from sitting through the banal game show hosted by Dale Winton in which The Lotto, Thunderball and Dream Ticket draws (and whatever other variants they’ve come up with for that week) intersperse it like pellets in the body of a recently-buckshot rabbit.

I know game show contestants aren’t renowned for their intelligence, aside from obvious exceptions like Mastermind, though the chalk of Mastermind’s participants are polar opposites to the cheese of In It To Win It’s.

Saturday’s motley collection of freaks wouldn’t have looked out of place sharing a dorm with Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Five of them lined up on stage, each hoping to be selected at random by “the computer” to answer questions for cash. First up was Daz, a Redcoat from Clacton, sporting the sort of confused happy expression normally reserved for playful canines or Lenny from Of Mice And Men.

Dale subsequently opened his fifteen minutes of fame with the following teaser: “What is the Spanish translation of The Sunshine Coast? Is it Costa Brava, Costa Blanca or Costa del Sol?” After verbalising his thoughts from what seemed like an age, Daz plumped for Costa Blanca and was promptly consigned to ‘The Red Area’ where he stayed eating ear wax or something. The second contestant, a bodybuilder (who exhibited his poses on stage in typical Blind Date style and clearly harboured an inversely proportionate body:brains ratio) was invited across to Daz’s barely warm seat, and asked questions instead.

“What was the snake that killed Cleopatra?” ventured Dale, “Was it an asp, a blank mamba, or a python?” With a brow like a freshly-ploughed field and clearly in some distress, Mr Muscle answered ”Well Dale, I’ve never heard of an asp. So my answer would have to be python.” That’s right mate, The Queen of Egypt was crushed to death by a constrictor – very dignified.

Luckily for Daz, this gave him the opportunity to extricate himself from the dreaded Red Area, his ticket back to the hotseat attainable by a correct response to the following question. “Who released albums called Rattle and Hum and The Joshua Tree?” asked an increasingly defeated Dale. “Umm… The Rolling Stones?” replied Daz.

And so it went on…

Frankly, I’d rather not win eight million pounds if it means sitting through this shit every week. My sanity is too high a price to pay.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Driving Miss Stevie

A woman was banned from driving yesterday after driving along a motorway at speeds of less than ten miles an hour. And rightly so. Stephanie Cole (not the actress) from Bristol told officers she had no confidence on the motorway. "It just felt awful. I didn't know what to do. I panicked and turned to jelly inside."

Perhaps the one thing she shouldn’t have done is slow the half-ton of metal she was in direct control of down to a walking speed on a busy carriageway. For anyone looking for a way to reduce their anxiety, it’s probably not the best course of action. I’m not surprised she doesn’t like motorway driving if Eddie Stobart’s boys are hurtling past at more than six times her average speed. I’d shit meself.

“I really didn't want to go on the motorway,” Mrs Cole continued, “but I desperately had to go to Staples for an ink cartridge.” I know that desperation Mrs Cole. Ink to me is like the very elixir of life itself. God knows what sort of situation she’d get herself into if she had to courier a heart for a crucial transplant or escape pyroclastic flow from a nearby volcano. She might have ground to a halt altogether.

Actually, Mrs Cole and I have something in common as I too am incapable of breaking the speed limit. This is not as a result of jelly-like insides, but because the Great British constabulary have seen fit to slap points on my licence for thee separate transgressions taking my tally to nine. Three more and I’m banned.

Adhering to the speed limit is actually not that difficult and it turns every motoring experience, motorways included, into a pleasant country drive. In fact, the only stress is generated by the rear view mirror which often shows a lengthy queue of irate motorists being held up by my leisurely pootling. I’m considering having a sign made to hang on the back of the car along the lines of “I’m not a twat, I’m just on nine points.”, or maybe “I’m not Stephanie Cole (not the actress), honest…”

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ice Queen Ousted

I find Kerry Katona a genuinely fascinating individual. Not as an object of admiration, but more from a point of view of curiosity and intrigue, like some peculiar zoo animal that you’re just dying to poke a stick at because of its strange appearance and unfamiliar behaviour. For example, on telly the other night I saw footage of a semi-digested alligator which had burst out of a Burmese python’s stomach – compelling to look at but ultimately unpleasant. That kind of fascinating.

She’s reinvented herself numerous times, though has essentially always looked like the sort of girl with a heavily tattooed boyfriend who spins waltzers at the fair. Over the years she’s successfully made the biologically uncommon transition from glittering butterfly to unsightly pupae and her career has seen her change from pop princess, to jungle queen, to fat mum, to fat crap mum.

Sadly, this latest incarnation as has resulted the termination of her three-year reign as the Queen of Iceland. No more will she peddle processed frozen nibbles and highly-processed comestibles with one of the Nolan sisters. This decision was taken by Iceland after she was spotted fagging while pregnant and therefore deemed her unsuited to represent their brand.

Marketing Manager Nick Canning, no doubt speaking from his ice palace in Reykjavik, said “I'm not sure what contract we will be able to offer”, while another source said “Her reputation has gone before her, and she is no longer seen as the model mum she once was.”

I’m sure she’ll sell yet another exclusive to Hello! magazine (which appears to be nothing more than a fanzine) and make oodles of cash while she decides how to reinvent herself yet again, though her tarnished reputation may make this difficult.

In my opinion a more native Bjork would be a perfect, not to mention pun-tastic, replacement. She may not have the common touch, which Kerry (being the very epitome of everything that is common) had in abundance, and was once filmed beating up a photographer at an airport, but the image of her and Jason Donovan tucking into chicken nuggets and breaded prawns on sticks at a wedding buffet is both strange and appealing.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Country Walks

Driving to work this morning, I sped past a man out walking a dog in a nearby field, no doubt on his way to discover a murder victim in some nearby copse as men out walking dogs are wont to do. In fact, there’s probably competition among dog walkers who compare tallies of the amount of poorly-dug graves and dead bodies they and their canine chums have stumbled across on their daily strolls through lonely woodland.

My lovely lady wife and I (and our two miniature look-alikes), undertook a much more pleasant walk on the weekend. A short drive away from the village where we live is an estate with all the usual countrysidey-type stuff like lakes, woodland, hills and trails, all collected by Mother Nature in a single place. The ground was sludgy, the weather was British and the world smelled of earth, rotting leaves and duck poo. In other words, It was a glorious winter’s day in a muddy, grey drizzly British paradise, unsullied by cars, crowds, unsightly buildings or indeed homicide victims – perfect for layering up in Michelin-style clothing and blowing away some cobwebs.

A short while ago we played with the idea of getting a dog. Now however, I’m reluctant to let the discovery of decomposing corpses spoil our enjoyment of the great outdoors.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Parking Parky

[Ooh, it’s a ranty one today…]

Counter to the engaging personalities of 'Antandec' described a few posts ago, Parky (the chat show host equivalent of mild cheddar) has finally retired after 50 years.

For a man whose interview technique consisted of little more than “So, everyone thinks you’re great and you’ve apparently got a book/film/show out at the moment. Why don’t you spend five minutes telling us about that while I swivel in my chair pretending to be enraptured?” he’s done alright for himself over the last half a century. Being on the receiving end of his yawnsome and mild-mannered modus operandi must have been tantamount to being mauled by a particularly tired and recently tranquillised octogenarian sloth who’d recently had his claws clipped.

Exhibiting a pedestrian style that can best be described as “functional”, he’s contributed thousands of hours to Great British telly with about as much spark and humour as a corpse. If you were to program a computer to produce a chat show host, which contained just the right amount of sycophancy, just the right amount of mild earnestness and just the right amount of robotic questioning, Parky would undoubtedly pop out, which makes you wonder why the BBC didn’t do it years ago (especially seeing as the computer would have been far cheaper to run).

Apparently, now he’s concluded his reign as “Britain’s premier chat show host”, his intention is to sit through all x-thousand shows of immensely boring footage. Rather him than me. With any luck he’ll be the only one who’ll ever witness those bloody clips of him being molested by Emu, or drying his tears at Billy Connolly, or chatting with Miss Piggy. Not to mention the thousand interminable interviews with Dame Judi bloody Dench.

I’m happy to concede that I might be wrong however. I’m not too big to admit it. Maybe I’m completely missing the point and the optimum personality for a chat-show host is to be an individual of such blandness with so little to say or contribute that the guests appear monstrous personalities by comparison.

His complete lack of anything approaching “personality” was perhaps never more apparent than when he was a guest on Room 101 where, of all the things he could have picked which anger him to the very core of his being and made him shake with rage, he picked things like ‘the bit of cotton used to secure newly-purchased socks to the cardboard’.

Jesus Michael, if nothing makes your blood boil more than the packaging on a fresh pack of argyles then your world must be an empty one indeed. Ironically, (and if you haven’t guessed by now), top of my list to consign to eternal torment would be Parky.

[Disclaimer: having read this back, it seems unfairly aggressive. Seeing as it was my New Year’s Resolution to be nicer to people I feel I should pay him a compliment to balance things out: he’s got a fine head of hair for a man in his 70s. And yes, I am jealous of it. If I had Antndec’s money and youth, and Parky’s barnet, I could rule the world I tell you…]

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Talking About A Resolution

My company-supplied desk calendar for next year includes the usual wealth of useless reference-type stuff in the opening pages (Celsius to Fahrenheit temperature conversion tables, world time zones, Tube map). Strangely though, this new edition also includes a New Year Resolutions page, headed by the following line: “I am setting the following goals for me to achieve in 2008 and I commit myself to make them happen.”

The diarist is then encouraged to complete entries subdivided into the following: Physical, Mental, Self-Development, Money/Finance, Career/Work, Family, Social, Emotional, Property and Spiritual. Underneath the last of these I’ve resolved to convince a number of Christians that there really is no God and that their faith in a deity is both deluded and irrational.

In all seriousness though, I’ve set myself a few mental goals to achieve this year (mental in the sense of unwritten, not insane – I’m not about to bicycle naked down the street covered in jam or anything). The first of these is to not smoke, and I’m off to a flier as I’ve not had a single cigarette so far. The fact I’ve never smoked in my life anyway in no way detracts from this achievement. Honestly, I don’t know what all these yellow-fingered sticky-lunged coughing individuals trying to reform themselves are on about. It’s easy…