Monday, 16 January 2017

CBeebies




You can't beat playing and being silly with your 2-and-a-half-year-old. That said, sometimes you stick on the telly for a bit (for longer or shorter depending on your energy and/or sanity levels).

After countless such instances, you begin to make internal reviews of the shows you and your kid consume. I'm beginning to fancy myself as a bit of a kiddie's Barry Norman, or perhaps even Jonathan Ross (minus the 'kiddie' bit because that's a tautology). Here's my (semi)grown-up take on what we watch on CBeebies.


The Adventures of Abney and Teal

The pot-smoker's choice. That floating character with a cup of tea balanced on horizontal surface of his fat belly is the perfect depiction of 'chilled out'. I don't know how or where he produces that fog-horn sound, but I like it. And the dog that plays on the accordion just tops the whole thing off. Love it!





Andy's Prehistoric Adventures

Groovy theme tune! Andy, in spite of his weird face, is a cool cucumber and gets really into his time-travelling dino escapades. The opening shots of the museum (Natural History in London?) are a bit over-the-top though: huge sweeping views across the hall as you fly over a towering dinosaur skeleton...you feel like you're about to settle in for an epic 3-hour Spielberg!




Baby Jake

Firstly, it's patently obvious that Jake's parents don't use and/or don't believe in condoms - have you seen how many kids live with them in that f***ing windmill?! Anyway, I'm already a bit irritated by the overacting intonation of the kid who narrates, so it's not a good start.

Then, once Baby Jake enters the magical world, my cortisol levels really begin to rise. I have to bulletpoint my reasons why.
  • The jerky animation style of Jake's movements (I think it's based on playing around with photographs of him) is really grating.
  • That rabbit's laugh is possibly the most irritating (and un-rabbit like?*) noise ever produced by a human vocal tract.
  • HAMSTERNAUTS? And not just one - which I could handle at a stretch - but five of the bastards, moving in perfect North-Korean-style unison? I'm sorry...
  • The regular sing-song, which we're supposed to know the words to (according to the faceless-yet-somehow-smackable narrator), but you can't tell what the hell the words are, because of the background cacophony and mumbling singing style. Something like 'acky-acky-oggie, noo-noo-nee...' (I can't even be arsed trying to type out the rest).
  • The seriously questionable Beyonce-esque arse-shaking by dancing Baby Jake. Baby-booty? That's just wrong.
*A quick Googling suggests the right word here would be 'uncunicular'.



Bing

What the hell is Flop?

Whatever he is, he has the most infinite patience with that extremely needy kit Bing.

Image result for flop bing



Boj

Not a bad cartoon, with a catchy theme tune. Can't get over his shrill Australian accent and his annoying upturned nose, though.




Chuggington

Pretty decent show that must have just landed on the right side of 'copyright infringement' for Thomas the Tank Engine. The human characters in it always sway around like they're pissed.


Do You Know?

Actually, Maddie, I bloody didn't! Learning how a sponge-cake forms at a microscopic level, and how bin-lorries and zips work - it's as much educational for me as it is for my younger co-viewer!

Image result for do you know



Everything's Rosie

We don't really watch it but love the theme tune! Especially the final chord lick with a diminished in there somewhere, similar to the end of Lady Madonna.



The Furchester Hotel

Blatantly American with British voices added. The regular song 'A Furchester never gives up, never gives up, never gives up' always sticks in my head for the rest of the day at work.

My wife keeps calling it 'Colchester Hotel' - I rather prefer that amusingly dull, mundane alternative title!

Go Jetters

Another groovy theme tune - I always picture Heather Small from M People singing this one. Love the 3-2-1 facts about real-world sites given by the omniscient-yet-cooler-than-cool Ubercorn. What a guy!


Image result for ubercorn


Hey Duggee

I'm always mesmerised by the animation style of this one. As geeky as I am about this, I love how the tentacles are created for Betty the Octopus, one of the 'Squirrel's. It looks as if there are five tentacles, which is how a circle of eight could appear from side-on, when you think about it. Geniuses are at work, here.

Image result for hey duggee betty

You've also got Alexander Armstrong narrating, which can't be bad.


In The Night Garden

If Abney and Teal are for pot-smokers, this one's for the Class-A gang. I'm talking Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Pinky-ponk? Iggle Piggle? Makka Pakka? (He's the Mother Superior, I reckon.) I can only assume this series has been made in loving memory of Keith Moon, and the commercial appeal to infants and young toddlers is a fortunate coincidence.

Kate and Mim-Mim

Another clearly hyper-sentimental American export with voices redone in British (I mean, since when do the English accents say "No sweat", "Sure thing" and "Way to go"? They could have a least tweaked the script!) At least the BBC even bother to change the voices, unlike over on CITV.

We like to call this one 'Kate and Minging'.


Peter Rabbit

Christ, since when did Beatrix Potter stories take on such a hard-core edge? I'm talking about the high-octane opening sequence. It's like the start of Trainspotting when Rigby is running and running and running. And the pumping music with the singer shouting "COME ON!" is bordering on The Prodigy. Beatrix Potter? More like Beatrix Pothead.


Postman Pat

Another example of writers/producers trying to hype up kids shows, almost spilling over into CITV E-numbers territory. You'd never have thought back in his humble beginnings that Postman Pat would now be flying around in helicopters and leaping Bond-style through the Greendale air. It must be something to do with the privatisation of the Royal Mail, with its need to be 'distinctive'! Bloody Pat and his cat, they're only in it for the money these days - tut tut!




Raa Raa the Noisy Lion

Is that really Lorraine Kelly narrating? This one has another catchy tune with a few nice jazzy fills in it. The only other thing I've taken from it is amusement at Raa Raa's jungle car having watermelons for wheels. The only thing my son seems to really take from it is the prompt to shout "RAAAA!!!" like a lion.








Sarah and Duck

Another surprise here - the bloke narrating this chillout antithesis to everything hyper / American / no-Panda-Pop-after-3pm is this guy from The Thick of It!



Twirlywoos

Yet another zen theme tune - gotta love CBeebies. Haven't a fucking clue what Twirlywoos are, but if you imagine an alert hoopoe with its crest up...


...which then, after an unfortunate altercation with a cat, has had its bill ragged off...
 
...and then, after finding a job as an adminstrator, develops an 'admin arse' from 10 years of permanently sedentary work...

...you're approaching a Twirlywoo:


I also admire the story-writers' regular use of prepositions as educational episode titles ('Through', 'Up' and 'Underneath' being my personal favourites).


So that's my take on the current state of CBeebies. I hope you found it a mildly amusing distraction while your kid(s) has either:
  • been asleep (it's evening and you're getting your breath back);
  • put some crumpets in the washing machine and managed to turn it on;
  • brought to your attention a mysterious dollop of poo on the carpet with no apparent ex-owner;
  • spilled milk on the table and promptly spread it across as large an area as possible;
  • emerged from another room wearing your partner's / your knickers on his / her head;
  • said "What's that?" 1.45 x10^78 times;
  • quietly performed a critical review of that new political drama you've been watching, concluding that it's puerile trash - serves you right for slagging off Boj!


Friday, 10 June 2016

Brexit Wounds: Britain shooting itself in the foot (and heart, and head)

The EU referendum is coming up, and lots of people still haven't made up their minds whether to vote 'Leave' or 'Remain', or indeed whether to vote at all.

Now I'm not claiming to be an expert, but like a lot of people I've paid close attention to both sides of the debate for a while now; they are both equally guilty of exaggeration, over-generalisation, scare-mongering and straw-man tactics, and I sympathise for anyone relatively new to this issue who wants to make up their own mind based on the actual facts of the EU and its effects on UK citizens.

As it stands, the only known facts are, for better or worse, on the Remain side. The Leave side is purely conjecture, because it's never happened before, and we've no meaningful experience to draw from.

Following the EU debate is interesting but frustrating. However, once you've listened to enough politicians, commentators and experts talking about the EU, you begin to notice patterns and inconsistencies, and you start to filter out the actual truths from the half-truths and the junk. I've decided to write this hopefully junk-free blog to express my view on the main aspects of the topic.

If you've already decided which way to vote, you may as well stop here. If you're uncertain, please read on. I'm going to start with the main arguments that the Brexit campaign uses, address them and debunk parts of them (though some points are valid), then move on to the surplus of positive arguments in favour of Remain that Leave doesn't have an answer for.

Immigration

Let's leave to one side the fact that there are more non-EU migrants than EU ones here. 500 million people live in Europe, and so about 440 million live outside the UK. Although they could, they are not all going to end up in the UK. Even if Turkey and other south-eastern European countries join the EU (and if none of the current 28 heads of state, including the British PM, veto the decision!), they won't all flee their homeland, skip the other EU nations and land squarely in the UK. It ain't happening. Turkey has been trying since the 80s to join, and it is far from meeting the necessary requirements even now - add to that the UK's power to veto and it's clear that Boris's statement "Turkey is joining the EU" is just not true (or at least weasel words).

By the same logic, all 63 million Brits aren't going to end up in London, deserting their homes in Manchester, or Glasgow, or Cornwall or Nuneaton. So to talk like that is just empty and purely designed to scare; if you want to have a normal discussion about immigration within the EU, then you have to be realistic and focus on what is probable, not possible.

Now, a true counterpoint by the Brexit side here is that there are areas of the UK with already very high levels of immigration, increasing pressure on the NHS, in schools and elsewhere. This is certainly a partial consequence of being a relatively prosperous country in a union of nations which enables freedom of movement of people, where other nations are considerably poorer and with high unemployment. I say partial consequence of being in the EU because, as I have said, a great many migrants are non-EU.
   To be fair to most Brexiters, I'm sure most of them don't blame migrants for exercising their right, and have problems with the policy rather than the people it affects positively. Those living in highly populated areas really do feel the effects of high migrant populations, but that could and should have been avoided by not imposing devastating cuts on public services - thank the Tories, not the EU.

Notice that the above paragraph about current immigration isn't your typical Remain-style discussion. Some of it could even have been said by a Brexiter. However, also note the lack of xenophobic undertones. I believe EU immigration is a great thing, and am proud of my country for providing a home - temporary or permanent - for Germans, Spaniards, Poles...It would take a lot to convince me that the current levels of EU migration are too high across the country as a whole (notwithstanding regional pressures discussed earlier) - 'too high' would be a situation where the overall population, whether British born or not, is such that unemployment rises and standards of living fall; that simply isn't happening.
   We're still a prosperous country, and still attractive to migrants and business. If we were at such a breaking point, people would stop coming. Again, public services such as schools and the NHS are suffering because of the Tory government and not the EU. I see crowded A&Es near my home but hear almost entirely native English people. Most EU migrants are young, educated and healthy; most of the strain on the NHS is coming from older Brits in an ageing population. (So, that recent Vote Leave campaign advert with a split-screen video of an inside-EU and outside-EU hospital A&E is highly misleading, a.k.a. bollocks.)
   As for schools, you often hear about full intakes, but it's a fact that there is an equivalent of one EU-born (non-Brit) child per school. In short, the impact of EU migration levels in the country as a whole is exaggerated and politicised. (Note: I say the impact is exaggerated, not the numbers - the official numbers are not exaggerated, and probably underestimated.)

Talking or being concerned about immigration isn't racist. When someone on the left quickly brands someone 'racist' or 'xenophobe' for bringing up immigration, the debate takes a step backwards. It also does nothing to help the Remain camp. For sensible, normal people, immigration is simply about numbers. The problem here is that we are so often told using pejorative language that the numbers are 'unsustainable' or that we're being 'swamped' or we have to 'put up the shut sign' etc, etc. This use of language is subliminal and, unless you pay particular attention to people's choice of words and the motives behind them, you are going to gradually develop negative knee-jerk feelings - probably unconsciously - whenever the topic of immigration is mentioned. This is especially true of less educated or analytically minded people. And as the Archbishop of Canterbury said, it is "pandering to people's worries and prejudices".
   The Gillian Duffy types who Ukip/Farage, Daily Mail and other right-wing press seek to manipulate and misguide (with or without success - they are not all brainwashed idiots!), tend to live in communities where this shared misperception of foreigners naturally thrives and is constantly reinforced. Over the last 5-10 years or so, they have become a significant part of the (generally white working class) population and are energised by the Leave sentiments. It's important to point out that many white working class people are not this way inclined, and people will make up their own mind; but it is true that if right-wing politicians and press have successfully xenophobised anyone in this country, they're by and large in these communities. I'm not pointing out this demographic to demonise them - far from it (I grew up in a mostly white working class northern town) - but to show how the Brexit movement has been so successful. Now there is a perceived issue with the EU that was not an issue before, so much so that a referendum has been called, and the Brexiters are close to getting what they have come to want.

Sad times. Sad because EU immigration - for the most part - deserves celebration, not condemnation.

An in-depth report a year or two ago concluded that EU migrants pay in to the UK in taxes more than they take out, by about £20bn over the previous decade. I can believe that: a very strong work ethic. They are no more benefit scroungers than your average Brit, and probably less so if you could measure such a thing. Many EU migrants are young and well educated, working in manual jobs that their British counterparts would consider beneath them. Nigel Farage loves to include the phrase 'former Communist' when referring to the countries these people come from - if there's any relevance to that maliciously highlighted association, it's that they come from a culture where being idle is not so much frowned upon but simple doesn't enter people's minds as an option! Why isn't Mr Farage being more wary of young Brits instead, who grew up in a 'former Imperialist' country? (Of course that would be ridiculous, but it's no less ridiculous than Farage's 'communist' reference designed to stir distrust in Eastern Europeans.)

It reminds me of Schrodinger's Immigrant: one who simultaneously takes your job whilst leeching from the state.

As has been shown, in terms to working and paying taxes, there's nothing wrong with the EU's free movement of people principle. Employment among Brits is at a record high! So then, what about driving down wages? Some employers recruiting from poorer EU countries will enjoy being able to pay minimum wage without hearing a grumble, but it's hard to believe that if they could only employ Brits, they would somehow pay higher wages. If you're a employee worried about your wage level and workers' rights, don't flipping vote Tory
   If we left the EU and slashed migration, there'd be such a shortage of potential staff that many organisations just wouldn't be able to exist. As I said, a lot of Brits nowadays simply wouldn't want to work on a production line, which so many EU migrants do, hence so many businessmen and businesswomen, high-level and small-level, publicly warning that leaving the EU would bring big problems for them.

(A side-point: it's a pity that the word 'immigrant' has developed a negative connotation. The fact that Brits living abroad so often are referred to as 'expats' allows a horrible dichotomy to flourish. There's rarely any actual need to label people in such terms anyway, no more than calling someone a 'brown-haired' person. Here's an interesting thought experiment: imagine calling a well-to-do retired British couple living in Mallorca 'immigrants' and a Slovakian man working in warehouse an 'expat', and see how those two words just don't fit the people. Of course, words are powerful and can shape perception.)

Also, there is one big unanswered question in the Brexit plan, if we are to actually control EU migration in the case of a Leave win: If you don't want freedom of movement of people, they you have to leave the single market as well (as Michael Gove wants). You can't have the best of both worlds (if you think 'movement of people' is a 'bad' thing in of those metaphorical worlds). Norway and Switzerland don't have it both ways. Britain won't either. So, if you vote Leave to try to reduce migration, and if the Tory government achieve this themselves (outside the EU), then you also have to face a future in which we aren't part of the European single market. That's a lot of 'ifs' and a big loss at the end, all for the sake of saving yourself a bit of time in the A&E queue or having one extra place at your local Primary school, nationally speaking.

By the way, remember that we're not in the Eurozone and we're not in the borderless Schengen Zone; and if the British majority don't ever want us to, then it won't happen, because we elect our government and we elect MEPs.

Ok, I don't want this to become just about immigration, because the EU debate is much more than that, though for the Leave side of it, not much more. However, one area which I think Remain hasn't been honest enough about is democracy, and to a lesser extent, sovereignty.

Democracy

The EU should be more democratic. I'm not saying it isn't democratic, because democraticness is a scale rather than black-and-white, and the EU is reasonably democratic. However, before I explain where I think reform needs to happen (and how), just remind yourself about how the UK democracy looks...

At the last general election, nearly 4 million people voted Ukip and over 1 million voted Green. Both parties have only one seat in Parliament. I don't see such passionate campaigning about the state of British democracy!


We also have an unelected House of Lords comprising over 800 people, nearly 100 of whom inherited their position. Less than a quarter are women. I don't see such passionate campaigning about that either!

I could also mention one other person, but it's her 90th birthday, so I'll give her a break...

True democracy is unattainable in practice; nothing would ever get done. Some bureaucracy and appointed decision-makers have to exist for countries or even small organisations to function. You can't please everyone all of the time, and you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere between the two extremes of autocracy and democracy. For example, there are 649 MPs in London who I didn't elect, who can together propose and debate laws that do not express my own views. Then those laws are passed to an unelected house who would only reflect my own opinion out of pure coincidence, and often don't reflect my views. But that's life! If I don't like it, I vote for an opposition or campaign or join the political process in some other way. The same applies to our elected MEPs in Europe.

Speaking of opposition, I do partially agree with the Leave campaign on the matter of accountability - there should be a formal opposition structure built in to its workings; at the moment it is just MEPs, with Ukip and Farage actually doing quite well at providing opposite voices, albeit aggressive and personal and not representative of their country (so vote in the next European elections!!).

So, what's the issue with democracy and the EU? After all, it does have MEPs who are directly elected, standing in the European Parliament. It also has a Council of Ministers who are ministers that the UK people elected through government. That's fine. They (in theory) represent the needs of Britain on the the European stages. If they don't represent your needs, then that's because either you didn't vote in the last European elections (for the European Parliament) or General Election (effectively for the Council), or you are just in a minority.

The problem lies, as I mentioned earlier, in that the European Commision is not elected by EU citizens. This, in my view, should at least have a democratic 'in' point, and it currently just has our own Commissioner appointed by our government.

Also, a reformed EU should have increased accountability, and a post-Remain UK political scene should stay at the table and encourage it. A Brexiter at this point may say that it's futile, that the European Commision would always win over - this is rubbish. The Parliament and Council of Ministers are there, and increased engagement in European politics is needed by the British public in general. No bugger in the UK seems to have followed EU politics at all in the past, with tiny voter turnouts, and now suddenly people are shouting about how 'undemocratic' it is, as if they'd been violently lobbying for years!
   The reality is that we vote for our MEPS, and they have the power to accept or reject proposals from the Commision. Yet the democratic deficit still persists because new proposals still originate from the appointed, not elected, Commission.

Again, this should be the type of thing the UK should lead and help bring change to. If we are so drastic as to leave the whole thing, then we'll have no say whatsoever on the decisions in Europe that will still affect us over the Channel (assuming we want to continue trading and collaborating with Europe and not float away somewhere to the mid-Atlantic!). You shouldn't run away and just hope for the best, which is basically the Brexit approach. Stay in and help improve it from within!

Sovereignty

At this point in the debate, when listening to Boris and co, you'd think the EU had impose laws on us that are morally wrong or fly in the face of British needs; remember, the EU is there to deal with transnational issues, not local ones. This logic is equally true for your local government, who are elected to deal with local issues. In a globalised world, there has to exist a hierarchy of governance; without it, we end up with competitive nationalism and distrust of neighbours, weakened response to international crime and terrorism, and a climate and environment that gets increasingly worse. That's not scaremongering - that's plain fact. Just as the current UK Tory government can overrule or direct policies that affect Labour constituencies in issuees that need national-level management, so the same holds true for the EU and supranational-level issues. Without it, there'll be little progress in the long term. You've got to pool sovereignty in the real world (unless your name is Kim Jong-un).

We hear the slogan from Leave "Let's get our country back"; this is so often said but so utterly exagerrated in its implications. This isn't Soviet communism in eastern Europe. This isn't Israel in Gaza. This isn't Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. To use such language is inflammatory and an affront to countless other countries with real problems. Meanwhile, back in Old Blighty...

The directives and regulations coming from EU concern the greater good, and are not part of some malign design that seeks to do bad to the British people. If you're not sure about this, don't listen to the Leave campaign or Ukip, but just research some of the laws derived from the EU; if you ignore the many that don't apply to us (e.g. olive oil), ignore the silly or exaggerated ones (bendy bananas and straight cucumbers), and ignore the countless mundane ones (manufacture of oven gloves), you have almost nothing left that any rational person would find more damaging or disagreeable than what the Tories are doing. Ask a Brexiter to name an EU law that they think the British people (overall) wouldn't also vote for within the UK. You'll rarely, if ever, hear a legitimate answer. You're far more likely to find abhorrent policies in the current government - cough, Jeremy Hunt, cough. Only 24% of British people actually voted for the Tories - the lack of democracy in the UK (caused by having First Past The Post) is far more damaging than the lack of democracy in the EU.

Leaving the EU wouldn't give more power to us, the voters. It'd give more power to the Conservative Party. Only if you think Corbyn's Labour Party have a strong chance of winning the 2020 election could you believe otherwise.

Money

The last real debating point that Brexiters make is about cost. The Leave campaign printed on the side of a big lorry that the EU costs £350 million a week. I hope most people know by now that this is simply false, and the the campaign organisers have ignored instructions not to keep saying it. But the buggers still do.

   Once the UK's special rebate (another extra perk that other net-giving EU nations haven't got) is considered, as well as investment back in from the EU and various subsidies in industry, it is said to work out at about £2.70 per person per week. I think that's a small price to pay for all the advantages of the EU, more of which I will provide shortly. The UK still pays far more in defence, education and health, and that's even with the tight-fisted Tory government making the decisions!
   Such large numbers are rarely given in context. Actually, take a look at your Annual Tax Statement which is now posted to everyone (or see examples at this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/millions-start-receiving-break-down-of-how-their-tax-is-spent). It shows a pie chart of tax spendings, and the EU is a tiny slither of about five degrees of the chart. It's nothing, yet you'd think the EU was bleeding the taxpayer dry, the way Leave campaigners talk!

Also, the benefits in economic growth and investment from EU and worldwide business investors is huge. That's why so many businesses don't want us to leave. Economists are - quite amazingly - practically unified in their conclusion that leaving the EU would damage the economy. The uncertainty is already putting of investors right now. Why on earth would an investor want to come to the UK in the next few years if we Brexited at the end of June? Brexiters delude themselves into rubbishing these arguments from economists all over the place, including the International Monetary Fund, Institute for Fiscal Studies, London School of Economics and OECD to name but a few. And which experts say Brexit would be good economically? Someone from Cardiff Uni, plus a handful of others. If any rational person has read recent reports and still wants to vote Brexit on economic grounds, then he or she ceases to be a rational person. It would be madness.


Ok, so I've addressed the Leave campaign's main points about immigration, democracy, sovereignty and money. I've tried to debunk the common claims where I can, but conceded a few points. You might think that the decision on your poll card is still flitting between 'Leave' and 'Remain', depending on your own personal circumstances and values.

So, let's push this decision comfortably into the 'Remain' side and wave a wise goodbye to Leave's flimsy case...

We have good trade agreements with the other 27 countries, and 500 million consumers. These would have to be renegotiated over several years after a Brexit, and would certainly be less favourable than if we stayed in the EU. The EU would not want to provide equally good terms, because that would be a driver for more Leave sentiment in other countries. Even if we did magically get good terms on new agreements, the prevailiing uncertainty beforehand is a fact, and that is bad for business. (Alan Sugar explains all this in layman's terms on his video.)

Products and services, e.g. flights abroad, are cheaper. These prices would go up if we left, as the increased cost to business would be passed on to British consumers. This may change later on as an inward-facing Brexited Britain develops its new trading structure, but it certainly wouldn't be any time soon.

Crossnational issues like climate change and crime/terrorism. These issues are undeniably more effectively tackled by working with other EU nations; that's not scaremongering, it's bleeding obvious! A Brexited British government could not be trusted with the environment - just look at its position on fracking. Thanks goodness the EU is there to put pressure on countries to become environmentally sustainable; if we left the EU, the little islanders' oft-used phrase of 'this green and pleasant land' will lose its meaning.

We're living in a 21st century, global world. Most Brexiters grew up in a less connected past on a more isolated British Isles; the world is changing and we need to move with it by operating within the EU. It's a fantasy to say we could "stand on our own two feet" as a country outside the EU, even after many years of restructuring following a Brexit; if you believe that we could go it alone, take a look at what's happened thanks to the Conservative Party that one quarter of the electorate voted in: Junior Doctors' strikes, academisation of schools, tripled tuition fees, etc. It's hardly a fairly tale. We won't be a world player outside the EU whilst run by Boris and his gang.

Scientific collaboration. Universities across Europe collaborate through EU initiatives, and share resources, equipment and research findings. Science and medicine progress faster with an EU there to facilitate it. Stephen Hawking recently spoke out about this. As for students, the Erasmus scheme is unparalleled in terms of enrichment and development; a Brexited UK would have to reapply to be considered a part of this scheme again.

Cultural learning. Being able to freely and cheaply travel and work between countries, without red-tape and visas, allows us to mingle with our neighbours. If we mingle, we understand. If we understand, we trust more; we see our similarities more than our differences. People mostly have the same basic values, especially in Europe - Britain was, and should continue to be, a leader in promoting these values. The languages spoken may be different, but it's really not much more than that. You'll still have angels and demons within any society, of course, but that won't change. The only differences in culture are superficial but also enriching to see: food and drink, music, traditions, the arts...all those things are to be celebrated, and being in the EU encourages these cultures to come into contact with each other - not to be eroded or replaced, but to be shared and respected.

Peace. Most Brexiters grew up post-WW2. Those old enough to remember the war, and veterans of the war, are pro-EU, because they know first-hand what a fragmented Europe looks like. Middle-aged people grew up in the 60s and 70s, when peace was growing and the EU's predecessor was set up to accelerate peace-building, but sadly a lot don't see these merits of the EU and want Brexit instead. The EU has unquestionably done a great deal (along with Nato and the UN) in promoting a peaceful continent and fosters collaboration, not conflict between nations that were enemies not that long ago.
   This doesn't mean that a Brexit would bring on WW3, of course. But it certainly won't help peaceful relations between politicians and between citizens if we are to be discouraged from interacting, trading, working, living and travelling between these countries! Vladimir Putin is the only world leader I've heard who would like to see a Brexit. Judging by his opportunistic occupation of Crimea, which is actually about the same distance from the UK as Cyprus is, you'd be naive to overlook this or put it down to 'scaremongering'.

Travel and tourism. This is linked to the cultural point, but even if you just want to go to Europe for the weather and sunbathe with other Brits, that's fine: the point is, travel and tourism is cheaper and easier when we're in the EU than if we're out. Plus you get free or subsidised emergency healthcare, e.g. A&E, which will probably end if we Leave.

Love the UK? Scotland may leave. Scotland is generally pro-EU. If the UK votes Brexit, it will be even more likely for Scotland to have a second independence referendum (even Alec Salmond recently let this one slip in a TV debate), and more likely for them to leave the UK so that they can rejoin the EU. Don't want Scotland to leave the UK? Well think about that if you're leaning towards Brexit. I'm not joking or scaremongering - it's clearly possible and quite probable!

...and Northern Ireland? Leave has said nothing yet about what would happen at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which would be a frontier of the EU which is mostly open countryside and crossed daily by locals who now thankfully have great relations with one another. Build a wall? Have patrols? I don't think our Irish/Northern Irish friends would like that.

The rest of the EU would suffer greatly. Yanis Varoufakis, economist and former Greek MP, justifies this view in a very insightful read (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/05/yanis-varoufakis-why-we-must-save-the-eu). Not only would this delight Putin (as said above), but it would be damaging to the structure and a step backwards for other EU countries and its close neighbours. Even if you didn't care what happened over the English Channel, the repercussions would obviously affect us too, unless we really became isolated from Europe! 


So, to wrap up this partially structured rant: the EU question is complicated. But to leave is more complicated than to remain, though the latter needs reforms, and that does add uncertainty. A post-Brexited Britain would have thousands of legitimate questions to answer, though it's answered very, very few so far, with the referendum very soon. Compare this with the Scottish independence referendum - the SNP produced a long White Paper outlining their vision and its rationale in great detail. Leave have nothing of the sort.
   To remain carries risks too, but most of them are known quantities. There are also reforms on the table, which we would still be sitting at, and other EU members would have to listen, especially given how close they are/were to losing the UK from the team. And yes, we are the EU - it's not some external body that has nothing to with us. We have elected representatives working in it. It's not about us versus them, but us with them.
   The fact that we're having a referendum at all is quite strange, really: such a complex set of scenarios behind a simple yes-no question, with no-one knowing for sure what the hell is actually going to happen if we leave the EU. To ask millions of laypeople to decide on something so unknowable and complex isn't the kind of thing referenda should be for; you can have a referendum on something plain with a straightforward set of outcomes, but not this! Ok, the outcome will hopefully settle a question that's been bugging a certain segment of society for a while, though either way there's going to be a whole lot of people who are seriously pissed off (though admittedly that applies to most referenda), and potentially an undesirable future that resulted from lots of badly informed but passionate people turning out to vote Leave.

Of course we're all entitled to our opinion, but we should think long and hard about where our opinions come from. We have values and personal experiences, and if yours tell you that to leave is the best decision, then so be it - but make sure you're informed about the facts and the probable future facts. If you agree with enough of my blog here, hopefully a bit of reality and rationality will swing you towards the decision to Remain, even if it's not perfect and all roses. It's got to be better than a Leave, if you think about it completely honestly.

I just hope not too many people who would generally vote Remain, but aren't that bothered, don't refrain from voting. This is especially true of younger folk, who grew up in a more globalised UK inside the EU, and are happy with how things are now and would choose Remain if asked. If the EU was so bad in recent years, you'd expect the youngest to be the keenest to Leave.
   The older generation (but not as old as those now in their 80s and 90s who have adult memories of the war) are generally more eurosceptic, and many are likely to turn out to vote Leave based on vague notions of greatness and lamentations of a past Britain (and even Empire) that's dead and buried.   
   Other Brexiters will vote because they've been led to see the EU as 'undemocratic' (rather than the true 'could be a bit more democratic') whilst their attention has been diverted from the UK's own democratic flaws.
   Some Brexiters will vote based on immigration, in some cases based on legitimate but localised and personal reasons rather than the true national picture; many anti-immigration voters are likely to be oblivious and uninformed about the inextricable question over the single market, and the implications of leaving that.
   That leaves the Remain voters. How many that is is anyone's guess.

It appears to me that the greater the turn-out, the greater chances of a vote to Remain. This would also be more democratically representative of the country's true national character (assuming Brexiters are actually passionate about democracy).

If you're still on the fence, I hope you can see that Brexit is a fatally bad idea and that Remain, for all its sins, is the only real way forward.

To end with (if anyone has got this bloody far!), here are some noteworthy, well-regarded people from all walks of life, who will be voting to (or support) Remain:

Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Richard Branson
Sir John Major
Robert Winston
Stephen Hawking
Emma Thompson
Benedict Cumberbatch
David Mitchell
Bob Geldoff
Richard Curtis
Billy Bragg
Noam Chomsky (!)
Brian Blessed
Bill Gates
Deborah Meaden
Eddie Izzard
Lord Alan Sugar
Sandi Toksvig
William Hague
Jo Brand
Jeremy Clarkson (!)
Jude Law
JK Rowling
Slavoj Zizek
Simon Cowell
Michael Eavis
Steve Coogan

...not to mention scores of world leaders (past and present, EU and non-EU), leading academics and economists, prominents businesspeople and CEOs, university vice-chancellors, leaders of professional bodies (inc. NHS), key figures from MI5, MI6, NATO, and all of the Armed Forces.

Ok, I've finished! Roll on the 23rd June...









Saturday, 14 March 2015

Response to article about 'Englishness', on a theme of Ukip

I just read an article from The Guardian about English identity. It was a bit long-winded and went overboard on the metaphors, but it made some interesting observations about how England is struggling with its identity. The article is called 'England's uncertain future' (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/englands-uncertain-future?CMP=share_btn_tw), and although the author has written it with a keen awareness and knowledge of English history, my gut reaction was 'When has any nation's future been certain?'. Anyway, I dropped the pedantry and decided to write my own thoughts on at least some part of the topic of 'Englishness' in the light of current events, media and politics.

So...I'll start with Ukip, ah lovely Ukip. Actually, I'll continue and finish with Ukip too. For the party's name, I've opted for the first-letter capitalised instead of the full-blown acronym so as not to attract too much attention shouting the party name everywhere. The BBC can do that for me.

With such a multicultural country like the UK, and the undeniable rise in numbers of non-British people  living here (why is there no separate demonym for the UK? United Kingom-ish sounds a bit odd I suppose), I can entirely understand why Ukip have increased prominence in recent years; in other words, I entirely understand why the media have given Ukip increased prominence in recent years. A lot of people - generally those who for various reasons have not had the opportunity or desire to know and understand lives and cultures different to their own - feel uncomfortable. They may see a woman wearing a niqab, and feel 'freaked out' by the sight of it. Why wouldn't they? They may hear someone on the metro chatting in what could be Romanian, and feel uneasy. Of course they would. Multiply these experiences by a hundred, spread them out over a few years, and it's no surprise that people may feel that their Englishness or Britishness is under threat.

Most of those people who feel like this are quite innocent, and their knee-jerk reactionary feelings are often forgiveable. People fear or at least distrust the unknown or unfamiliar. This truth lies at the heart of Ukip's growing success. The media just provide the vehicle, and tank it up when there's a lull in the news.

In many people's eyes, Ukip are coming to the rescue. Just as you were beginning to lament the good old days when yet another unpronouncable surname is before yours at the doctor's, here comes a political party brought up on the same values as you. None of these disconnected toffs like Cameron, or any other policitian for that matter - they're all liars and they're all just the same. No, Ukip's different. Look at that bloke with the pint and fag - he doesn't even mind whether I rhyme 'Farage' with northern 'garage' or not! What a chief, a proper Brit. He's got my vote.

Why would you blame someone for voting for him or his party's candidates, when the notion of Englishness or Britishness is blurry and may soon be drowned out?

The problem is, it's all based on falsehood. The falsehood that English or British values and culture are under threat. Even the unvisited premise that there is such thing as 'British values', as distinguished from other countries', is false. Do Germans not 'love their neighbour'? Does an Iraqi man not believe that he should help someone in need? If you could measure what values are most prevalent in Britain, you'd find the same in practically any other country, if the citizens told you honestly. (I add that last bit because of the lack of democracy in the world, where it's so often the rulers/ruling class of foreign countries who depart from these basic human values in the name of staying in power.) So, any differences between the values of your average Brit and someone from another country are small and inconsequential.

What's more, you'll find huge variation of individuals' personal values in any country of the world, regardless of how strong the national identity is. The USA is famous for its pride, but you have some Americans frequenting brothels and other Americans living a life of celibacy. If Britain did have a democratically-produced constitution written, you could probably translate it into Mandarin and get most of China's population to find it pretty agreeable (provided the ruling Communist party didn't hear about it!).

So, the first reason why Ukip sympathisers think the UK is under threat from people who don't share their British values, is because, thanks to foreign leaders and how their countries are portrayed, these Ukip-voter-to-be think that many immigrants have rather different values.

The second, more blatant reason, is differences in culture and traditions. Brits and Englishpeople have just as distinct and celebrated a culture as any other nationals or ethnicities, and exchange doesn't mean erosion. Farage, like me, loves a pint down the pub and a chin-wag, putting the world to rights. He probably likes a bit of darts like I do. The thing is, my mate from Gdansk loves darts too, and he's bloody good. Another friend from Poland told me that he's a big fan of fry-ups. My Polish wife likes chicken tikka masala (now there's a cultural mix-up if ever there was one!).

The point is here, movement of people has always caused cultural changes, additions and deletions (no I'm not going to try to follow a DNA analogy). Folk who have lived for generations with unchanging cultures and traditions have always felt threatened when something new has come along. I bet the Anglo-saxons after 1066 thought 'these bloody French' - although that sentiment hasn't changed much! The difference between old cultural imperialism (Brits should know) and the changing cultural landscape in Britain today is that, in the latter, no-one really loses: you keep yours, I keep mine, but I might dabble in yours, and you can dabble in mine. God knows we welcome American imports, and that's the closest thing we have to 'losing our culture and identity'. Strangely, I never heard Farage lament the conversion of countless premises (probably plenty of ex-pubs) into Starbuckses, but make it a Polski Sklep and he'll give you a rant about it.

Once you accept that your own culture and traditions are not threatened, and you are confident and proud of them (if pride is something you want), then you'll have the self-security to allow foreign cultures to live next door. If you distrust the foreigner next door, like Ukip's divisive agenda wants you to, then your own self-security is immediately challenged - you're on tenterhooks. But if you start with the assumption that the foreigner next door probably has the same values as you, and loves his/her food just as much as you love yours, you have nothing to fear. You can be secure in your own way of life, and get on with it. Ukip don't like the notion of that existence, because they themselves have the fears and insecurity mentioned above. That's why, ironically, they're anti-British.

I'm British and I like and do lots of British things. I also like and do lots of 'foreign' things. I'm drinking an Erdinger Dunkel. Just because I'm not against immigration, generally left-leaning and really hope we don't leave the EU, does not mean I "exhibit a strange national self-loathing" as I read somewhere. On the contrary, it's because I'm confident and secure in my values, morals and many parts of my culture that I like my country, and I'm frustrated whenever Rooney cocks up for England. I'm also angry about many things British people have done throughout history, and how Britain's reputation can negatively impact what non-Brits see of me when I'm abroad. But the coin has two sides, and I would be lying if I said that I have never had a foreign person warm to me because I'm British, and not enjoyed it a little bit. Though I still explain to them how I like Queen but not the Queen, but that's another story.

I come from Europe, the UK, Britain, England, Lancashire, Longridge, Stonebridge and Lee Street. Those associations each have good sides and bad sides. Whether there's another 50,000 EU migrants living around me or not, it won't stop me enjoying a pint and a bit of darts. Robert Burns, a foreign Scot but fellow European, put it nicely with 'We're all Jock Tamson's bairns'. The only current threat and embarrassment to my national identity and sense of 'Englishness' or 'Britishness' is Ukip.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Confusing parts of Polish language for an English-speaking learner

This open-ended blog is basically to help clarify bits of confusing bits of Polish language for an English-speaking learner. I'll try to cover a wide range of vocabulary and grammar - particularly in terms of meaning - that anyone from beginner to approximately upper-intermediate might want to get their head round.

I'm a native English speaker and have been learning Polish since 2006. I should point out that I'm not an advanced user, but with help from my Polish wife, friends and books, and having lived in Poland, I've got a reliable grasp of most of the common tricky bits. The explanations of meanings don't claim to be exactly accurate (semantics is a difficult enough topic within one language!), but they should convey a decent 'ball-park' meaning in a way which you can quickly assimilate and apply.

(The theory goes that once you have this rough but usable meaning in your head, following lots of input and practice, your brain will naturally chisel, polish and associate these phrases to reach a deeper meaning...)

If you have any questions, amendments or whatever, please comment below! :)


1. dopiero

  • It often roughly translates as 'only just':
    • dopiero + first event, gdy + second event shortly after
    • used for past or future (past, present of future perfect tense in English)
    • e.g. "I'd only just fallen asleep when my alarm went off!" ("Dopiero zasnąłem gdy budzik dzwonił.")
  • It also can translate as 'not until':
    • when something that is expected to happen actually happens later than thought:
    • e.g. "Einstein didn't start speaking until he was three." ("Einstein zaczął mówić dopiero gdy miał 3 lata.")
    • or to at least make a time of waiting sound drawn out:
    • e.g. A: "She's coming back in September." B: "Not until then?!" (A: "Ona wróci we wrześniu." B: "Dopiero?!")


2. Note about exclamation marks - they tend to be used less in Polish than in English (like in the above sentence). I'm told that they generally have a more striking effect than they do in our relatively desensitised English usage.

3.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Room 101: The Cynic's Paradise

You've probably shared similar experiences of angst, though I hope one or two of these might not have entered your conscious pissed-offness until now!

By the way, they're in no particular order; just the order in which they pop into my head. It's a growing list, and suggestions or non-dickheadish comments are most welcome!


1. SLOW WALKERS: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD! The sooner pavements have a special crawler lane for heavy traffic, the better for all of us.

2. The Simpsons has run out of ideas and is no longer funny. Newer episodes fill the minutes largely with unfunny songs that you find yourself waiting for to finish.

3. You can't open windows on trains, because the air conditioning is on, which is inappropriately set too cold (or doesn't work). JUST HAVE OPEN WINDOWS! Let passengers take control according to the temperamental British temperatures and don't waste your rip-off revenue on ineffective AC.

4. Crap city/town maps. They're everywhere (well, in urban places). Either they don't indicate where you currently are, or they're just plain wrong, or there is no scale at all, or there is a massive white blotch where a million grubby fingers have pointed saying 'Look Barry, it sez we're here!' and so you can't navigate yourself to any nearby landmark.
   *footnote: upon re-reading the above, there probably weren't a million people talking to someone called Barry, nor a million fingers talking to Barry. Still, a million isn't an exaggeration.

5. Opening devices on packaging that simply don't work. Those little 'tear here' ribbons of card on cardboard packages are pretty shit. It takes surgical precision, steadiness of hand and judgement of pressure to achieve what seems to be expected of you.

6. When people on British TV programmes talk about how hot the weather is somewhere, and switch to Fahrenheit so that they can use triple-figure numbers, and in doing so making most viewers actually clueless as to what that really means. "Today temperatures soared to 100 DEGREES (shock on viewer's faces) ... FAHRENHEIT (viewers wonder what the fuck that actually means) or ...ahem...37 degree celsius (viewers realise it's not that amazing)". Just tell us the temperature in celsius and we'll know if that's actually hot or not!

7. I don't mind this on casually scribbled signs, but using apostrophes before plural 's' on large signs which seem to have had some time spent on their creation is somewhere between surprising and depressing (and of course annoying, which is the whole point of this blog). I've seen service's printed on the side of a company van, pizzas' on chain-pubs' printed menus and even neon lights saying burger's.

*A little challenge for sign-makers: spot the possessive plural above! A years' supply of redundant apostrophes for the winner.

8. Christmas-related activities and marketing starting unnecessarily early - I was affronted one October morning on the train to work, when the tannoy announced "With only 60 days until Christmas, why not pop into Liverpool One near James Street Station to do some Christmas shopping?". Also being advertised at (not 'to') on a Merseyrail train wasn't very nice on a Monday morning!
   I don't mind Christmas, but with the commericial hype starting sometimes as early as September, by the time the 25th December has arrived, you're sick to the back teeth of anything remotely Christmassy, and all passion has been replaced with Scrooge-ness. And don't tell me to watch A Christmas Carol - bah humbugger off!

9. MUST...TELL.....FACEBOOK!
I don't care if you've managed to fill the petrol in your car to exactly £20.00-worth! Or if you've made a particularly well presented lasagne. There are, sadly, some individuals who don't feel like events in their life are actually real until they've been announced and 'liked' via Facebook. Passing a pseudo-emotional message to your wife/mum/friend telling them how much you love them - through a status update instead of telling them directly and personally - drastically cheapens the whole thing. It seems more and more people are doing this shit - and it's by no means limited to teenagers...

10. Reports or documentaries using dollars-a-week figures to make us understand how poor a person or nation is. It doesn't work and it's meaningless!! If a Thai girl earns the equivalent of $8 a week, how the frig do I know whether $8 in Thai baht will buy a Mars bar or a yacht?! I just make the assumption that $8 is very low, which is what I'd assume anyway, only I'd be a bit less irritated while doing so. Why not put it in context and say what he/she can actually afford to do in their hometown? None of this intelligence-insulting bullshit.

11. When bars/pubs not constructed for dancing in play music so loud that you cannot really chat to anyone unless they're speaking close enough to also billow still-moist breath down your ear-hole. It's a lose-lose situation: nowhere to dance (if, for some weird reason, you are inclined to do so) and nowhere to speak. You just spend the time struggling to hear each other or, as I often do, pretending you heard by giving an essentially meaningless movement of the head and eyebrows. The drinks are usually shit in the those places too (where the best/only 'bitter' they pour is John fucking Smiths - see annoyance 13).

12. A sponsored event, where a huge chunk of what you paid goes towards the cost of doing something not supporting the cause; that bit should come out of the person's pocket! I want 100% of my donation actually helping the charity! And the idea that a crazy, big event such as parachuting will pull in more donations might be true, but that doesn't excuse the idea of the first £300 of donations going to a private parachuting company (no offence to them). It's the CAUSE, not the EVENT which should make you want to donate more. I'd donate say £20 for a charity helping rehome mistreated animals, regardless of whether the 'event' is someone jumping with Felix Baumgartner or spending a whole day with their finger up their nose. Equally, I'd pay a mere £1 for a comparatively trivial charity, for the same two events. In fact, the more expensive and boisterous the event, the less I'm likely to donate.

13. Shit bitter masquerading as real ale, or, more to the point, the kind of old blokes that drink them with an air of "oh this is a dignified, hearty beverage - look at me, I'm drink real British ale!" I'm not one for over-glorifying my own country (see point 17), but Britain really has got a great thriving culture of real ale brewing, with endless choice if you go to the right kind of pub/shop. If you do like your drinks slightly warmer, darker and less fizzy than lager, why would you drink that bland dishwater?!

14. The term 'full-time mum'.

15. The unnecessary, pretentious use of borrowed foreign expressions (e.g. je ne sais quoi) for ideas that have a perfectly functional English equivalent; the only difference in doing so is that it makes you think either a) wow, they're smart/intellectual/deep and interesting, or b) what a complete tosser, why did they need to say it like that? Example: Will Self on Room 101, using the expression homme du monde while chatting to Paul Merton, followed immediately by translating and saying 'man of the world', thereby making the French bit a waste of time and patronising the audience as well. Twat.

(note: there's nothing wrong with using foreign phrases when there's no fitting English expression, provided that the other person's going to understand - none of these fancy obscure terms like that German word used to describe the sense of pleasure derived from crossing things off lists...)

16. Having news correspondents report from 'location', where all you can see in the background is a non-descript building or a few bushes - they might as well just be stood in their own back garden or round the back of the BBC Television Centre! Even this morning there was someone reporting from somewhere affected by the floods...not only was your sense of 'location' provided solely by a long privet hedge, but you could hardly hear the twat speak for the morning traffic of the road he was stood by! Save some frigging expenses and just stick up a photo of the place; I don't give a toss if some reporter is in the place of events. I am capable of understanding the story just as well without watching him/her enjoy their 'day out of the office'.

17. Empty phrases that are used to 'define' an aspect of Britain against some unknown alternative. "What I love about British is our green hills" - what, you mean like those in Romania? "You could only get chips like these in Britain" - some of the best I've eaten is where they were invented, Belgium. "The British really know how to make a guest feel welcome" - funny that, 'cos so do Yurt-dwellers in Kazakhstan. Yes, there are some features of Britishness that you can identify them by (cough-orange chubby-faced girls with butterfly eyelashes-cough), but just use your fucking head before you attempt a self-affirming comment please. Your ignorance is oh-so very British.

18. Lighting shops when closed at night - but with everything switched on for all to see! Endless varieties of lamp, all fecking switched on right through the night (one can only assume their target customers are drunk post-nightclub folk, well-known for having intense cravings for kebabs and touch-operated reading lamps after a pissup). What a grotesque waste of energy.

19. Litterbugs. Or as I sometimes call them, litterpricks. Can't stand 'em. Especially when there is a bin about 5 metres away from them. Seeing fag butts flying out of passing cars, older-and-should-know-better blokes chucking their recently finished can of Irn Bru into a bush, smokers ripping into a new packet while carelessly letting the small flecks of paper fall in a trail of petty destruction behind them...the list goes on. The idea that someone might have to pick that up, otherwise they'd be knee-deep in crap, just doesn't remotely enter their small brain. A simple but quite telling sign of self-centredness.

20. The British Museum - give stuff that belongs to other countries back to them, you nobs! So many people travelling in most countries of the world must have reached a place of special cultural interest, only to hear that the painting, sculpture or other artefact is X miles away in the British Museum. It's all very well for London (a place that clearly struggles for tourists...) having everything in one place, but it's not all very well for the countless places across the globe that have been robbed of their own cultural treasure. The Empire's long dead, times have moved on quite a bit, so give the fucking things back.

21. Fishing in pre-stocked fisheries. 'Shooting fish in a barrel' is only partially a metaphor for this one. I can't imagine any satisfaction in catching a fish that has been specifically put there for you to catch, and then throw it back and carry on. God, there are plenty of real rivers, lakes and seas where there's the sport-defining uncertainty of catching a fish while it naturally does what fish do. Yes, you may come away having caught nothing (trust me, I know), but if you do, then the fun of that will equal 100 days of fishery time. And why do they always look a bit like a lesser-known corner of Tellytubby Land?

22. People who go to small comedy clubs expecting the same experience as watching a Peter Kay DVD at home - in other words, without responding to the comedian and joining in the fun with him/her. I watched a comedian recently, a good one too, who 'died on stage' because of this. The 15 or so people watching him were so silent and non-responsive to the ice-breaker/joke ammunition questions about their occupation etc, that the atmosphere was shit and the comedian evidently didn't get into his stride. Stand-up comedy is a two-way process, needing laughs (even forced at the beginning just to give a bit of feedback and kick-start the natural spontaneity of good comedians) and some kind of willingness to join in the game. If you don't like that idea, and just prefer a court-jester-style act, then try YouTube instead.




UK Trains and associated shenanigans...

Trains are generally alright in the UK (I do wish they were the ones with compartments though, much more fun and cosy for long journeys with a few friends). I'm still amazed that you can drink alcohol on most trains - probably the transport minister hasn't noticed yet, so SAY NOWT, KEEP MOVING!

As for certain shortcomings...well obviously there are famous things like 'the wrong kind of snow' and 'leaves on the track' as being ridiculous excuses for delays, high costs and all the rest of it,  here's one that I've not heard echoed:

Windows which you cannot open when hot, replaced by overly strong air conditioning which actually makes you cold enough to want to put a jacket on. Energy put to excellent use. Apparently the air-con has only one setting, so you either sweat your balls off or freeze your tits off when the weather is colder or warmer than the usual mid-range 'meh' temperature.

Oh and also for that minority unfortunate enough to have experienced delays (cough cough), the bloody departures board which says 'Expected Time'. It is BOLLOCKS. Firstly, the expected departure time is often adjusted to precisely 30 seconds from time of reading, without a glimmer of a train's light on the horizon - is it really gonna be here in time to have boarded/spat out and left again in 30 seconds?! Hmm....
Then the next trick is to add a few minutes, toying with the frustrated sods stood on the platform. A late 20-something lad (usually someone like myself) turns up to the platform sweating, yet pleased that the train is late and he'll make it. Whoever is controlling the digital board joyously adds another 3 minutes to the time, chuckling while sat in the privileged knowledge that in reality the train is caught behind a rogue blade of grass stuck indelibly to a section of rail 30 miles back.
By the time the train makes it through the arduous journey to the station, 35 minutes have passed. Had the said controller person sourced his cynical fix from something else - perhaps typing a ranting blog about shitty buses - and actually told would-be passengers a realistic departure time, then we could have all gone for a pint at that ominous-looking yet conveniently located pub over the road for a pint of some generic beer....

I really shouldn't pad out my rants with so much other stuff, but y'know, this is the chaos that my mind goes through at such times.