Archive for the 'Thoughts' Category



23
Sep
12

Will Self, Cyborg Cockroaches and Democracy

Will Self

Will Self

On Friday night I went to a talk by Will Self at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College arranged by the excellent City Books on Western Road. I had taken the day off work as I had man flu.  I still felt feverish while listening to Mr. Self discuss his new novel Umbrella. He read a passage and it seemed quite a dense stream of consciousness type of work written, as he said, in the continuous present. He talked before and after and took questions. He was good value. Alternately, irreverent, serious and amusing.

My mind has been slightly addled the last few days and I’m not sure where some ideas came from but I think it was he who described technology as a parasite on humanity. This tied in with the ideas of a friend who suggested that we are now so reliant on technology that we are becoming cyborgs without a physical interface.

Today, I read in The Economist that Alper Bozkurt and Tahmid Latif of North Carolina University are experimenting with cyborg parasites which can be used to help in search and rescue operations. A cockroach is fitted out with a little circuit board allowing remote control guidance. The circuit board also carries a microphone and camera.

Obviously this could be very useful in search and rescue…….or spying. I’m sure that police, intelligence services, military and the corporates will all be keeping a keen eye on this type of work. If it turns out to be practical, we will, no doubt, see these things crawling all over the walls of Embassies, foreign military installations and our own homes.

The increasing speed of technological advance is amazing but I sometimes wonder about the consequences. I think it’s generally accepted that Capitalism is better than Socialism at promoting invention and innovation. The key to this is probably the concept of limited liability which has enabled much of the western world’s success.

But the downside of this success has been the growth of massive unaccountable multinational corporations. It’s interesting that Western Multinationals are unaccountable but Chinese corporates are often owned by Sovereign Wealth Funds making them accountable to the Chinese government but I don’t want to get into a discussion on the merits of State Capitalism.

So far, we seem to have decided that the innovation and the standard of living which it has achieved is worth the rise of mega corporations but I wonder if this will always be true. More and more it seems that we get more stuff at the expense of our liberty.

We now have fantastic cars, amazing hand held computers, flat screen TVs and all the other stuff but very little time to enjoy it. I remembering reading a comment somewhere that most basements of middle class Americans have unused aqualungs or sky diving gear and Britain is heading that way.

Sure there are some great technologies on the horizon but are these future wonders worth the loss of control of our governments to corporate lobby groups? Is yet more innovation worth the steady privatisation of commercialisation or public space?

What do we value more: Bigger TV screens, the platooning of our cars, cyborg cockroaches or democracy?

Buy Art Photography by Nigel Chaloner

Buy Art Photography by Nigel Chaloner

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14
Sep
12

Tolerance – You can’t always get what you want

All You Need is Tolerance

All You Need is Tolerance

A friend asked me if I thought there was any difference between tolerance and indifference and theorised that tolerance just meant that you didn’t care. Then I heard someone on the radio criticising British society as tolerating this or that and saying that mere tolerance wasn’t enough. We needed to be more embracing of whatever was on her agenda. Race, religion, sexuality….I can’t remember what.

I believe that tolerance is different from not caring and that tolerance is worthwhile in its own right and even imperative.

Living together as tightly packed as we do, sooner or later we will encounter someone who does something which irritates or offends us. Anyone claiming never to be irritated or offended by anything is lying. May be the music is too loud on the train. Maybe we hate that everyone is so quiet on the train. Maybe someone parks on the grass verge or arranges for No Parking notices on the grass verge.

The modern world is full of irritants and to claim that people should just embrace all this is ridiculous. It is a natural reaction to be irritated and offended so the question is: Should we become angry, should we try to embrace everything or should we be tolerant?

In 1987 an American artist named Andres Serrano created a photograph named Piss Christ. The photo depicted a crucifix submerged in urine. My reaction was that this is more of this “Is it art” bollocks which kicked of with Marcel Duchamp’s work “Fountain”. Perhaps the photograph does have merit and I have missed the point but, to be honest, I can’t be arsed to care. As an atheist I am vaguely irritated by such bollocks as I see it as a crass attempt to insult or arouse indignation amongst Christians. However, I shrug and regard this Serrano bloke as a bit of a twat and leave it at that. It does no harm and if Jesus is the son of God then he doesn’t need me to look out for him. Many Christians of course are extremely insulted by this photo and the artist received hate mail and death threats.

Which brings me to today’s news. Someone has made an amateur video, which is suposedly insulting to Muslims, and put it on Youtube. This in itself is an idiotic assertion as there are thousands of videos on Youtube insulting every religion, race, class and every other category of people we can imagine. As Paul Merton said of Madonna while stifling a yawn: “oh, no, we’re being shocked again”.

One Youtube video named “Innocence of Muslims” has caught the eye of the masses in the middle east and they are busy rioting, murdering and destroying premises. Many are also busy shouting racist and violent vitriol, burning the American flag and attacking people who they believe are a bit like the people they think might be responsible for the video. At least one man has died due to this madness. All in the interests of mutual respect you understand.

It is a cliche that travel and communication make the world smaller. It’s not true. The world is as big as it has ever been but travel and communication mean that ideas travel around the world instantly. Technology has enabled people with rigid, entrenched and/or devout beliefs to view material created by people who live on the other side of the world and neither know nor care about their beliefs. If we are dumb enough then we can spend our whole lives being offended and, judging by the comments on Youtube, many people do exaclty this.

The trouble is that our psychology has not kept pace with  our technology. We view material online which we regard as insulting and we react as if the material is real and present. It is not. It is mere imagery. It is colours on a screen and noise from a speaker. To misquote René Magritte: “This is not an insult”.

In the modern world more than ever before we need Tolerance. We can all be offended every day if we try, but why try? The Innocence of Muslims on Youtube currently has 26,131 dislikes! Why? Why look? Why even click dislike? We are fools to take offense from a video made by a nobody on another continent who does not matter unless we make him matter. Who, in effect, does not exist unless we recognise him.

When I was young I was pretty much part of a sub-culture of punks and hippies. We railed against “the system” and it’s intolerance of the way we dressed or the music we listened too. We should not be judged by the way we dressed, we complained. Pretty soon I realised that most people within this sub-culture were themselves intolerant of the way other’s dressed and the music they listened to. We sneered at disco and, if a man wore a suit then he was part of the system.

Intolerance still exists in British society. Among  right wing bigots of course but, more troublingly, amongst some on the left who promote gay rights and opposition to racism while they yell Fascist at anyone promoting economic austerity or taking pride in Britishness.

The Rolling Stones sang “You can’t always get what you want, but if your try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”.

In an overpopulated world where different ethnic and religious groups exist side by side we don’t need to love everyone or to be indifferent. We don’t need to give up our deeply held beliefs. We don’t need to compromise or to respect the ideas of idiots. We don’t need to accept cultural relativism or cultural imperialism.

We may all WANT everyone to hold the same values as us but what we NEED is tolerance.

Overall, I think that the British are pretty good at that.

Vietnamese Girls

Vietnamese Girls

10
Sep
12

Paralympic Medal table by GDP and Population

The Olympics are over, long live the Olympics! I was interested to see that the medal table for the Paralympics. Ranking by total medals, China was at the top, then Russia then Great Britain and then The United States. Well done all of them. I have to admit that the Paralympics have made me view the “disabled” in a different light. These guys are far more energetic and determined than I will ever be. Indeed, the ubiquitous overexcitement fist waving and overzealous exhalations of victory by the disabled has liberated me to dislike disabled sportsman as much as I dislike any other sports bores.

I have to admit I was surprised to see China at the top as, though I knew they’d made a big effort, I hadn’t realised that they’d made a big Paralympic effort. Russia too. Looking down the medal table got me thinking. Always dangerous……

Plucky little Cuba and New Zealand down there with 17 medals. Good for them. Not as great an achievement as China or Russia but……..hang on…..New Zealand and Cuba have miniscule populations compared with China and their economies are not nearly as great.

Obviously rich countries will do better as they have the lolly to throw at the games. The real test is not how much money you have but what you make of it. I collected some data and created a table which lists countries and their medal totals. I added a column for the country’s Gross Domestic Product which, for those uninterested in economics, is a measure of a country’s wealth. I added another column for a country’s population. I then added extra columns for “ratios” which I calculated by dividing the country’s total medals by it’s GDP or population and then multiplying by a fudge factor to get the numbers into a readable format. (ie. Not so small that they are lots of leading zeros).

More specifically the Population Ratio is the total medals divided by population and multiplied by 10,000,000. The GDP Ratio is the total medals divided by GDP and multiplied by 100,000. I then added extra columns showing ranking by Population Ratio or GDP Ratio.

I should say that I had “issues” obtaining information for all countries. China seems to score Hong King separately, Britain has it’s usual schizophrenia about whether it is The UK or Great Britain and “the former” Yugoslavia seems in a constant state of flux. However, I cobbled the data from Wikipedia together the best I could (well, as quickly as possible) and made a few assumptions.

The results are quite revealing.

Cuba and New Zealand’s efforts are actually more impressive than China, Russia, Britain or the USA. New Zealand ranks 1st by Population Ratio and 11th by GDP ratio. Cuba ranks 5th by GDP Ratio and 13th by Population Ratio. Other notable items are that Fiji is 4th by GDP ratio, Ireland is 3rd by Population Ratio and Iceland 4th by Population Ratio.

And Britain? Well we didn’t do so bad after all. Britain is 1st by GDP ratio and 5th by Population Ratio. On the other hand, India’s performance was dismal. Bottom by total medals, by GDP ratio and by Population Ratio.

Country Rank by Gold Gold Silver Bronze Total Rank by Total Medals Population Population Ratio Rank by Pop Ratio GDP (USD) GDP Ratio Rank by GDP ratio
Britain 3 34 43 43 120 2 45561989 26.34 5 137936 87 1
Ukraine 4 32 24 28 84 6 45561989 18.44 7 137936 60.9 2
Tunisia 14 9 5 5 19 19 10673800 17.8 8 44252 42.94 3
Fiji 52 1 0 0 1 62 876000 11.42 19 3052 32.77 4
Cuba 15 9 5 3 17 21 11247925 15.11 13 64220 26.47 5
Azerbaijan 27 4 5 3 12 30 9235100 12.99 15 51797 23.17 6
Kenya 40 2 2 2 6 41 38610097 1.55 54 32483 18.47 7
Belarus 25 5 2 3 10 35 9457500 10.57 23 54713 18.28 8
Namibia 47 1 1 0 2 54 2104900 9.5 27 11701 17.09 9
Serbia 39 2 3 0 5 45 7120666 7.02 34 37713 13.26 10
New Zealand 21 6 7 4 17 22 4440700 38.28 1 141406 12.02 11
Algeria 26 4 6 9 19 20 37100000 5.12 38 158650 11.98 12
Macedonia 52 1 0 0 1 63 2059794 4.85 40 9138 10.94 13
Hungary 38 2 6 6 14 26 9957731 14.06 14 128629 10.88 14
Iraq 59 0 2 1 3 49 33330000 0.9 62 28141 10.66 15
Latvia 47 1 1 0 2 55 2070371 9.66 26 24014 8.33 16
Croatia 58 0 2 3 5 46 4290612 11.65 18 60852 8.22 17
South Africa 18 8 12 9 29 14 50586757 5.73 37 363704 7.97 18
Iceland 52 1 0 0 1 64 320060 31.24 4 12574 7.95 19
Ireland 19 8 3 5 16 23 4588252 34.87 3 206600 7.74 20
Poland 9 14 13 9 36 12 38538447 9.34 28 469393 7.67 21
Jamaica 52 1 0 0 1 65 2709300 3.69 44 13428 7.45 22
Egypt 28 4 4 7 15 25 82502000 1.82 52 215272 6.97 23
Russia 2 36 38 28 102 3 143142000 7.13 33 1479823 6.89 24
Slovakia 41 2 1 3 6 42 5445324 11.02 22 87263 6.88 25
Australia 5 32 23 30 85 5 22719766 37.41 2 1271945 6.68 26
Nigeria 22 6 5 2 13 27 166629000 0.78 63 196410 6.62 27
Morocco 37 3 0 3 6 43 32660800 1.84 51 91542 6.55 28
Bulgaria 59 0 2 1 3 50 7364570 4.07 42 47702 6.29 29
Iran 11 10 7 7 24 17 1210193422 0.2 72 386670 6.21 30
Bosnia and Herzegovina 52 1 0 0 1 66 3868621 2.58 48 16837 5.94 31
Czech Republic 42 1 6 4 11 34 10507566 10.47 24 197674 5.56 32
Hong Kong 34 3 3 6 12 31 7103700 16.89 9 224459 5.35 33
Netherlands 10 10 10 19 39 11 16740554 23.3 6 779310 5 34
Cyprus 67 0 1 0 1 67 838897 11.92 17 22957 4.36 35
China 1 95 71 65 231 1 1347350000 1.71 53 5739358 4.02 36
Greece 44 1 3 8 12 32 10787690 11.12 20 301065 3.99 37
Ethiopia 67 0 1 0 1 68 84320987 0.12 73 26928 3.71 38
Israel 45 1 2 5 8 37 7900600 10.13 25 217445 3.68 39
Austria 30 4 3 6 13 28 8452835 15.38 12 379047 3.43 40
Spain 17 8 18 16 42 10 46163116 9.1 29 1407322 2.98 41
Republic of Korea 12 9 9 9 27 16 1210193422 0.22 71 1014369 2.66 42
Sweden 29 4 4 4 12 33 9514406 12.61 16 458725 2.62 43
Uzbekistan 67 0 1 0 1 69 29559100 0.34 70 39173 2.55 44
Finland 32 4 1 1 6 44 5418430 11.07 21 238731 2.51 45
Thailand 31 4 2 2 8 38 65479453 1.22 59 318850 2.51 46
Switzerland 33 3 6 4 13 29 7952600 16.35 10 527920 2.46 47
Angola 51 1 0 1 2 56 20609294 0.97 61 82470 2.43 48
Slovenia 67 0 1 0 1 70 2050189 4.88 39 46906 2.13 49
Brazil 7 21 14 8 43 9 193946886 2.22 49 2088966 2.06 50
Mexico 23 6 4 11 21 18 112336538 1.87 50 1032224 2.03 51
Sri Lanka 74 0 0 1 1 71 20277597 0.49 67 49549 2.02 52
Germany 8 18 26 22 66 7 81844000 8.06 32 3280334 2.01 53
Canada 20 7 15 9 31 13 34908900 8.88 31 1577040 1.97 54
Norway 35 3 2 3 8 39 5032600 15.9 11 413056 1.94 55
France 16 8 19 18 45 8 65350000 6.89 35 2559850 1.76 56
Denmark 50 1 0 4 5 47 5584758 8.95 30 309866 1.61 57
Belgium 36 3 1 3 7 40 10839905 6.46 36 469347 1.49 58
Italy 13 9 8 11 28 15 59464644 4.71 41 2051290 1.36 59
Turkey 43 1 5 4 10 36 74724269 1.34 55 734440 1.36 60
Argentina 62 0 1 4 5 48 40117096 1.25 58 370263 1.35 61
Portugal 63 0 1 2 3 51 10561614 2.84 47 228859 1.31 62
Romania 47 1 1 0 2 57 19042936 1.05 60 161629 1.24 63
United Arab Emirates 46 1 1 1 3 52 8264070 3.63 45 297648 1.01 64
Singapore 65 0 1 1 2 58 5183700 3.86 43 222699 0.9 65
Malaysia 65 0 1 1 2 59 29467000 0.68 65 237797 0.84 66
Colombia 61 0 2 0 2 60 46683000 0.43 68 288086 0.69 67
USA 6 31 29 38 98 4 314303000 3.12 46 14447100 0.68 68
Taiwan 63 0 1 2 3 53 22805547 1.32 56 466832 0.64 69
Venezuela 73 0 0 2 2 61 27150095 0.74 64 391307 0.51 70
Chile 52 1 0 0 1 72 17402630 0.57 66 203443 0.49 71
Japan 24 5 5 6 16 24 127570000 1.25 57 5458873 0.29 72
Saudi Arabia 67 0 1 0 1 73 27136977 0.37 69 434666 0.23 73
Indonesia 74 0 0 1 1 74 237424569 0.04 74 707448 0.14 74
India 67 0 1 0 1 75 1210193422 0.01 75 1722328 0.06 75
By beautiful Prints online

By beautiful Prints online

05
Sep
12

Anger is an energy – but not good for your career prospects

New Road Markings on Mill Road, Brighton

New Road Markings on Mill Road, Brighton

Drove home today down the A23. Crossed under the M27 and took a right at the mini roundabout into Mill Lane. Under the bridge and put the pedal to the metal intending to swing out into the overtaking lane and hammer up the hill as I often do. A brief thrill before getting home that I’m sure many Brightonians also enjoy. However, it seems the powers that be have deemed this dangerous and have arranged for the middle lane to be painted out with white traffic separation lines. One must now progress in single file – Hey ho. It was nice while it lasted. No doubt this was done for safety reasons and who can argue with that.

ME!

One problem with employing professional road safety staff is that they feel obliged to go around making things safer. No, hear me out. By this I mean that they will arrive at their desks on a Monday morning and wonder what they can improve this week. However, they will not have a clear target of exactly how safe society should be and since there exists no corresponding organisation going around making things more dangerous the net result is a gradual ratcheting up of rules, controls and general restrictions on individual freedom. Health and safety gone mad as it’s known colloquially.

I give the road markings as one example but this affects all areas of our lives. The human race is engaged in a gradual process of domestication. Think about it. Europeans and North Americans can’t even visit India without becoming ill. Like monkeys reared in captivity we cannot now survive in the wild. This is why men crave danger. This is why people go bungee jumping. This is why young men kill themselves performing dangerous stunts.

This domestication especially affects our work lives where large corporations develop codes of conduct and dress codes. How did we reach the stage where our employers can dictate our etiquette and attire? It’s mind boggling.

Yesterday I became a little emotional at work. Not much. Just a bit. I considered that someone had not performed their work properly and this was preventing me performing my work while I was under pressure to meet deadlines. I did not shout, I didn’t insult anyone. Perhaps I swore, I was definitely more forthright than usual. Having reflected a while I now realise that my behaviour may have been considered “unprofessional” by a senior manager present. He noted that there seemed to be emotion around this; the implication being that the issue should have been raised in a calm manner. We should have sat down and discussed it coolly.

Bollocks!

Many years ago I returned from working in Africa and could not figure out what the fuck had happened to the IT industry. Most people seemed unable to understand technology yet they pontificated confidently on the subject and held down highly paid jobs. I now realise I had been absent during the “professionalisation” of the industry.

All industries go through various stages as they mature. First an inventor, then a craftsman, then a professional. The inventor understands his work inside out because he created it. The craftsman understands most of his work because he loves it. The professional understands just enough of his work to make money. I had left England as an IT craftsman and returned to find IT run by professionals. It was the Blair Bullshit era when the government was led by the likes of Mandelson and Campbell and the whole of Britain was Talking Bollocks and raking in the lolly.

Since that time I have learned the stuff that they teach people who do not understand IT in order for them to work in the industry. PRINCE2, ITIL, COBIT. Like the highway code, people may be trained in this stuff so that they can operate the controls without having a clue how things functions or knowing where they should be going.

So now, IT is like every other “profession”. Staffed mainly be people who don’t care about their work. People who take no pride in what they do. People who are capable of ensuring that the right emails are cc’d to their boss while other emails go unanswered. People who assess requests from colleagues according to the benefit to their careers. Think about it: What is more unprofessional, doing a crap job or losing your temper that someone is not doing a good job?

These allegations are not aimed directly at my current colleagues. A foul temper is as bad as incompetence (Jones first law?).  However there does seem to be a general trend in large corporations to suppress emotion. But passion is an emotion and if your work without passion then your results can never be more than mediocre. Corporations strives to suppress our individuality. Their goal is to embed intelligence in the process so that numpties can be employed for peanuts. In the words of John Lyndon: “They made these feelings go away, a model citizen in every way”.

Or perhaps more appropriately: “Anger is an energy”. I could be wrong? I could be right?

Fulking Bonfire

Fulking Bonfire

19
Aug
12

chimney cake and the globalisation of ideas

Budapest

Budapest

I spent this week in Budapest staying at the excellent Intercontinental Hotel with a fantastic picture window overlooking the Danube and The Castle. Hot and sunny during the day and just plane hot at night. There is nothing like travelling around Europe for a few years to make you understand just how crap British weather is. Once the light faded the castle illumination came on. Gorgeous! As was the parliament building a little further along the river.

room with a view

room with a view

For lunch one day we drove out to Budaörs and visited the  Adler a traditional Hungarian restaurant where I ate good goulash. One evening I took a boat ride along the river. The commentary explained the architecture and mentioned that a Hungarian invented the computer. Odd, as I’d been told that it was either Allan Turing or Charles Babbage, both Englishmen. This reminded me of a Dutch friend telling me that a Dutchman had developed ideas on gravity before Newton. When I was a kid I was led to believe that Britain created the whole of the modern world. At school I was told that William Caxton invented the printing press and it was comparatively late in life that I learned about a German named Johannes Gutenberg.

A little later I ate in the excellent Sörforrás restaurant. Comfortable, good service and delicious Hungarian and international food. I think that, really, the whole of European history is one. We speak of globalisation now but centuries ago there existed a Europeanisation of scientific and artistic thought. Presumably the educated people understood this but the illiterate masses were oblivious to it. Not so different from today when the world’s elite flit around the globe paying their taxes wherever convenient but when they need our support they appeal to our nationalistic feelings with terms like “in this land” and “We British”. Remember Tony Blair banging on about being “passionate” about British this and that yet when he left politics he got a job with an American bank. Patriotism, as Samuel Johnson observed, is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building

In truth, I don’t believe that many great discoveries come about in isolation. Ideas about relativity were simmering away amongst the world physics community before Einstein finally hit the nail on the head. Ideas and memes swirl around in our culture like the currents in a river. They ebb and flow and occasionally some bright spark gets drawn into an eddy and brings it all together. The sum of human knowledge is ratcheted up another notch. Yes, it was Einstein who made the final move but if he’d fallen under a car, someone else would probably have got there soon enough.

It crossed my mind that, like a river, human knowledge has many tributaries and side channels. Perhaps Einstein’s marvellous discovery helped us focus our attention on the material world and we’ve made great progress in this respect. Yet I wonder how it is that a civilisation which can place men on the moon and robot cars on mars can’t figure out an economic system which does not either get bogged down in authoritarianism inefficiency like Socialism or have periodic catastrophes like Capitalism.

The odd thing is that nobody seems interested in developing another system. People who don’t like Capitalism have an irrational faith in Socialism. People who mistrust Socialism think that recessions, depressions and credit crunches are just something that society has to endure along with the concomitant suffering of the poorest. If the brightest and the best could be dragged away from their Bloomberg terminals then maybe they could figure out a sustainable economic model. Ah, but that would mean change and nobody likes that.

The banks of the Daunbe

The banks of the Daunbe

Perhaps the relevant ideas and memes are swirling around us already; climate change, the Internet, super-complex and reliable consumer products,  globalisation, a common language, the creative classadditive manufacturing. Perhaps all the pieces already exist and we just need some Einstein to put it all together?

On this visit I did not board the funicular railway up to the castle but I hung around one evening near the station at the bottom and took photos as evening fell. Vast cruise boats slid by, many from Germany. The Danube rises like an enormous cake in Germany’s Black Forest and flows through Vienna, Bratislava and Belgrade not to mention Orşova, Drobeta-Turnu Severin, Calafat, Bechet, Dăbuleni, Corabia, Turnu Măgurele, Zimnicea, Giurgiu, Olteniţa, Călăraşi, Feteşti, Cernavodă, Hârşova, Brăila, Galaţi, Isaccea and, of course, Tulcea.

As I crossed the bridge back to the hotel I looked down and saw one of these floating leviathans drifting by with a swimming pool on it’s deck. It has never occurred to me to cruise along a river before. What a great idea. You can stay in one place while visiting the great cities of Europe.

Kürtőskalács

Kürtőskalács

The hotels are near the main entertainment area in Budapest and the night was busy with tourists and locals. I bought Kürtőskalács, or Chimney Cake, from a street seller. Spirals of pastry dipped in nuts and sugar that tasted, to me, like mince pies. One starts to eat this delicious confection and gets the idea that one will eat just one more ring before stopping. But these are not rings, this is a spiral and one munches on and on and on until one has devoured the whole thing.

A driver had been organised to take me from the hotel to the office the next morning. I emerged early and he had not yet arrived and so I stood gazing out over the river and waited. The hotel concierge approached, asked my name and said I should get in one of the taxis that always wait outside the hotel. I explained that I had a car coming but he insisted. I walked to meet him at the car and explained again that this was unnecessary. This time a second concierge joined in telling me that I should get in the car and when I tried to speak a passing young man with a rucksack said to me: “He couldn’t come”. For just the twinkling of an eye I thought I was back in The Village. Either that or some Soviet era spy thriller. It seemed that the whole of Budapest knew who I was and was conspiring to kidnap me.

I got in the car and went to the office.

Banks of the Danube

Banks of the Danube

Roses

Roses

28
Jul
12

Marvelous boots

I recall sitting on the rail on a sailing trip over to France wearing a pair of rubber sailing boots. As the weather deteriorated my feet felt like they were clamped to a block of ice as mother nature sought to suck out my soul through the soles of my feet. When the sun came out the next day my feet were broiled in sweat as the sun burned down on the dark rubber.

So a while back I bought a pair of Dubarry sailing boots and they’re amazing. They’re Gortex covered in leather with insulated rubber soles. So they are breathable yet waterproof. Magic! My feet stay warm (or cool) and comfortable.

We live in a society which idolizes stuff. No sooner have we bought our new iPhone bloody 4 and they’ve brought out a newer better version so that we can feel we have a lesser product and become discontented. However, there are a few things that I’ve bought in my life that I am completely happy with and these boots are two of them. I was discussing them with a friend and she said that when she got her first pair they were so comfortable that she sat on the sofa watching TV with them on and I had to admit: so did I!

Dubarry sailing boots

Dubarry sailing boots

Fantastic Art Photography

Fantastic Art Photography

10
Jul
12

Terry and Ferdinand Live

"Who you fucking calling 'cunt', cunt?"

“Who you fucking calling ‘cunt’, cunt?”

Today the national conversion on racism appeared to descend into the depths of absurdity as The Independent and The Sun reported on the trial of England footballer John Terry charged with a racially-aggravated public order offence by making racist comments about fellow footballer Anton Ferdinand on the football field. It seems that the altercation began after they each barged into each other. The Independent and The Sun report the stories differently but it seems to have gone something like this.

Ferdinand claims: “He called me a cunt. I called him a cunt back and he gave me a gesture as if to say my breath smelled.” Ferdinand then said “How can you call me a cunt, you shagged your team-mate’s missus, you’re the cunt”. At this point the prosecutor claims that Terry shouted back: “Fuck off. Fuck off. Fucking black cunt. Fucking knobhead.” but Terry claims he asked Ferdinand if he had asked him if he’d called Ferdinand “a black cunt.” Terry agreed that he had been “stitched up right and proper” as he was sarcastically repeating the words that Ferdinand mistakenly thought he had used.

The prosecutor asked: “You said that your response was to repeat back ‘a black cunt’, or ‘calling me a black cunt?’ How about ‘what?’ Straightforward, ‘what?”‘ and Terry replied: “At the time I was shocked and angry. I had never been accused of it on a football pitch and repeated it back.” and added: “Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. At the time I was shocked, I was angry, you can’t control your emotions.”. He said he would have repeated the word “nigger” back if it had been used.

However, according to The Sun lip-reader Susan Whitewood told Westminster Magistrates’ Court that Terry had said: “You fucking black cunt . . . you fucking knobhead.” though under cross-examination Ms Whitewood conceded that lip reading is not an exact science.

Of course I am interpolating here as both The Sun and the Independent would not print many of the abusive words. Perhaps Ms. Whitewood did err in her reporting as The Independent seems to have changed their earlier version of the story and removed the word “knobhead”.

Since the British elite have fucked up so badly recently, what with the Credit Crunch, MPs expenses and phone hacking, we British seem to have acquired a taste for dragging the great and the good before judges and interrogating them. The Levenson Inquiry seems to be morphing into a version of Big Brother staring bankers, politicians and journalists.

I’m all for it!

However The Levenson Inquiry can be a little dry and lofty. Alright, for broadsheet readers but most of us like to have a quick browse of the Red Tops too. The Terry / Ferdinand controversy fills this gap nicely providing a more accesible insite into the antics of the rich and famous. It seems that Terry and Ferdinand are the comedic successors to Derek & Clive.

I hear that FIFA are at last to allow goal-line technology to help the referee determine the legitimacy of goals. Perhaps they should also mic up all the players and record what they say. It might prove quite useful in enabling a few more court actions and could prove vey entertaining.

Fantastic Art Photography

Fantastic Art Photography

07
Jun
12

The South Downs Way

Dew Pond, Ditchling Beacon

Dew Pond, Ditchling Beacon

On bank holiday Tuesday I walked from Ditchling Beacon to Devils Dyke.

A number 79 bus from Brighton Station dropped me at Ditchling Beacon and, though the sky was overcast, there was no rain. I started immediately. I passed by huddles of walkers and through gates. Ahead a bird in a pasture loudly tweeted while seeming to maintain a constant distance just off to my left. I passed trees with limbs swept back, their shapes redolent of English weather. A cow guzzled rain water at a perfectly circular dew pond.

I had intended to start at Devil’s Dyke but with a strong easterly blowing I decided to keep the wind at my back. There are many places in the world where it is possible to stop and listen with wonder to the sound of nature. Telescope Peak in California or the rice paddies around Ninh Binh in Vietnam. To prevent Englishmen indulging in such nonsense the good Lord has given us a scarce summer and strong cold winds thus ensuring that only hardy type with limited imagination can bare to be outside for any length of time.

I trudged on. A woman on a horse. Walkers with sticks. Everyone well prepared with fluorescent clothing and hoods. I had flung on an old waxed cotton jacket and now regretted not bringing a sweater, gloves and a hat.

A golf course and then, bizarrely, a saloon car driving in a field alongside me. A main road blocked my way. As the South Downs Way is well trodden, I expected there to be a foot bridge or tunnel akin to those used for wild life in wilderness areas; a method to keep road kill figures to a tolerable level but the path petered out as I entered Pycombe. A pub named The Plough was suggested and my spirits lifted as I thought of a jolly walkers boozer with pints of foaming ale and steam rising from wet jackets before a roaring fire.

The Italian bar staff had never heard of The South Downs Way and as I drank a cappuccino I surveyed the bank holiday crowd lured to the nice restaurant just off the A23 by the continental cuisine. They had clearly not walked further than the car park. I took out my smart phone and consulted Google maps.

Cows

Cows

Venturing out again I found the small bridge not fifty yards from the pub and I ruminated on our sense of place. To a walker The Plough represented a much needed hostelry, breaking the journey and marking the crossing of a major highway. The land was something to be surveyed and understood. To the barman the pub was his place of work just off the A23 by the BP garage.

It is the ease with which we travel and communicate which results in such divergence in our comprehension of place. The same area represents different things to different people though they may be neighbours. In areas of London well appointed houses sell for millions but what to do about a cleaner? The rain was now constant though the wind had eased. There has always been a divergence in our sense of a place, social standing being, perhaps, the main cause but, these days, with technology allowing individuals to customise their lives to such an extent, it’s a wonder we recognise anything at all.

I recall returning from four years in Africa. An August evening in Solihull and I drove around searching for a small hotel. I could find nobody to ask for assistance. In Africa there would have been people everywhere. In Solihull the streets were deserted, it’s inhabitants safe behind locked doors. Today, when I ask in local shops for directions, I am met with blank stares. The staff live miles away and are delivered to work by wheeled machines. They know nothing of the shop next door let alone half way up the road.

Perhaps social trends are trends because they are self reinforcing. I had refrained from asking in the pub for directions because the clientèle did not look sufficiently like myself. I had resorted to Google. If another walker had been present my actions would have discouraged him from asking for assistance. And so a technology which is supposed to connect us, isolates us.

The climb was tiring and I started to breath heavily. I wondered why it was that the government are keen to spend billions on projects for industry yet they have not sort to make life easier for the humble walker. I had walked for perhaps an hour and a half and the terrain became steeper. The government is about to spend billions on High Speed Rail 2 yet no plans are afoot to build a suspension bridge between Ditchling Beacon and Devils Dyke. Is it too much to ask that a little consideration is shown for the common man? If businessmen save an hour on journeys from London to Birmingham they will merely stay in bed an extra hour. Why should the walker be forced to trudge up hill and down dale while fat cats enjoy luxurious service replete with milk jugs and brown sugar? Such were my thoughts as I trudged higher and higher.

Cold & Wet

Cold & Wet

The rain eased off and though the sun did not break through it made an effort. I felt a little warmer and opened my jacket. Crossing Sadlecomb Road I began the last leg up Devils Dyke on the southern side and realised that there was a distinct possibility I might just make the 3:15 bus back into Brighton. Drawing near I had to decide whether to continue my path up to the road or dip down into the shallow entrance to Devils Dyke and up the other side. Having realised some time back that there may be a blog article in this and with my brain full of metaphors I peeled away from the path like a Hurricane in pursuit of an ME 109. Diving down into the Dyke and them climbing steeply up the other side I machine gunned a gaggle of walkers crowding my path. I strode quickly past and before me lay just one child and his dog. I glimpsed the roof of the bus waiting behind the trees but the little bastard and his dog then stopped dead blocking the entrance to the car park. The bus began to move as I struggled past and puffed up behind it too late.

Exhausted and wet, the rain began to fall again. At least there was a pub here and, with visions of Frodo Baggins approaching the Prancing Pony, I walked up to the door of The Devils Dyke “Vintage Inn”.

A man stopped me and asked if he could help.

“Help?”, I thought, “This is a pub?” I asked.
“It’s a pub AND a restaurant” he declared.
“And what, I’m not allowed in?”.
“You can go in but please sit in the drinks only area”.

On entering the establishment my hopes of a friendly hostelry were once again dashed by Little England Petty Pomposities (LEPPs). I realised that most of the pub was a “restaurant” while drinkers were forced to sit in the entrance hall like lepers. I ordered coffee and peevishly received a large tray with a cup of coffee, a saucer, a milk jug and a bowl of brown sugar. Finding a small table in the restaurant I removed my sodden jacket while my face glowed from exertion.

Bus Window

Bus back to Brighton

I was tired. Disconnected from modernity. As England has become richer it has turned it’s back on it’s tradition in favour of sugar bowls, milk jugs and “greeters” by the door. I have nothing in common with these people because they have nothing to have in common besides their status as customers. They have not walked here, I thought piously, they have driven. They have no stories to share I bemoaned, no doubt inspired by my halting attempts to read Canterbury Tales on my iPhone Kindle. They are not slaking their thirst or eating a well earned meal they are buying a service.

I stood outside in the rain for a bit before boarding a number 77 back into Brighton. I brightened a little, this walking lark wasn’t half as difficult as it’s made out to be and, at least, I had another cynical meandering rant for my blog.

Ditchling Beacon to Devils Dyke is 6 miles and it took me 2 and a half hours with 15 minute stop at The Plough in Pycombe.

Rose

Buy Roses at Fine Art America




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