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Friday, 30 January 2015

Pacer, Ponies, and Lynx

Man accused of having sex with a Shetland pony was found 'smelling strongly of horses' 

The Telegraph

Police say Alan Barnfield was 'sweating profusely' and had several cans of Lynx in his bag on the night he was seen leading two ponies into a dark wooded area 

I couldn’t get this image out of my mind, nor what they found in his rucksack:

..... several cans of Lynx deodorant, a length of white electrical cable, a handheld water sprayer, a cloth, a metal dog chain and two bottles of Lucozade

Lucky Doncaster Crown court that brought him to justice. Lucky jury, pondering on how these various items were used. Either way it didn’t read as a particularly good advertisement for Lynx. I was still trying to figure out whether the ‘horsey smell’ in the headline referred to an innovative new fragrance, along the lines of Opium or Africa, whether indeed he'd been led astray by Excite. Or whether it was making the point that Lynx was powerless against the stronger smell of  Pony. Bestialists, I think, should be warned. 

This is one of the dangers of long distant walking. The mind goes freewheeling, racing joyously and unconfined by the more sober tread. My mind needs little encouragement to freewheel but now it's on hyperdrive as a result of the new App my beautiful  daughter has installed on my phone.

It’s called Pacer, and I can recommend it for those missing out on something to obsess about. For those who are still Pacer-virgins let me explain. You switch it on and begin walking. In return the app will tell you how many miles you have walked, calories burned, and it will even congratulate you on passing the 6,000 step mark. How I long for these little rewards – to the extent if I’m three or four paces short, and I’m sitting, watching TV or on the computer, I’ll take it out of my pocket and swing it a few times to earn Pacer’s praise. Talk about Pavlov and chimps…or was it dogs…and did Pavlov ever use Lynx?

It has another feature too – Pacer not Lynx. You can become Pacer Buddies. I thought nothing of it when my daughter suggested it. In fact, I was touched. Still am. Though truth be said, there are drawbacks, for with a glance at her iPhone she can observe my lengthy bouts of idleness. She is graceful. She says nothing. But I am aware. I’m aware, too that with her 13K paces a day I’ll never be able to criticise her. So if there's anyone else, equally forgiving who would like to be 'pacer buddies' just let me know.

Stop press. Pacer has just informed me I can set myself goals. Oh Joy.

Thursday, 22 January 2015


Just before Christmas, I detected blood in my urine. ‘Detected?’ It was pink as strawberry blancmange. It only happened the once and didn’t happen again. Still, take no chances I thought. My GP took a similar view. Within a week, I was in Neville Hall hospital having it investigated.

It’s a nice euphemism that, ‘having it investigated.’ The reality was a camera pushed up my urinary tract. I watched as it approached, my eyes flitting from the doctor’s eyes – they looked sympathetic – down to something the size of a small a bicyle pump. ‘That’s not going to fit in,’ I wanted to scream. Instead, I shut my eyes quickly and winced. When I opened them again, I was able to see my bladder and kidneys on the big screen.

 It was like a NASA probe investigating Mars, at least that's what the specialist said in a chatty, warm hearted kind of way, like he was talking about ‘Voyager’ and not my insides. ‘Look,’ he said, drawing my attention to veins on a dim pink terrain, ‘just like Martian canals’. What was he talking about? My kidneys and bladder and God knows what else were being violated by a hideous, metallic snake, my insides actually shuddering. He detected a faint shadow but assured me it was almost certain the pressure of an enlarged prostate doing a bit of empire building. All very Star War-ish. Still, again taking no chances, I was referred to the Royal Gwent Hospital for a biopsy, and shortly after Christmas my appointment came through.

This involved something considerably bigger than a bicycle pump but I was mercifully anaethetised by an injection via the spine. ‘You’ll like this,’ he murmured, ‘a nice tingly glow.’ And it was true - like a magic spell had been cast over my legs. Fairy Dust. A moment later, to all intents and purposes, they had vanished. I could see them, but they were no longer there. I was dead from the waist down. ‘Now,’ he murmured, ‘do you want to see what’s happening? If you don’t, I can give you something else.’
Was the man mad?
‘Give me all you got,’ I said. ‘All you’ve got’.
‘It will make you calm and sleepy.’
And it did.
They erected a dark green screen, a surgical Berlin wall, separating the living from the dead. Over it, I could see masked and capped heads bobbing up and down but felt nothing. They could have been building the Hoover Dam, the Great Wall of China, building a new motorway. There could have been road cones and warning lights all the way up to my bladder. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Quantum nothingness behind the green screen.
And then it was over.
Before I knew it, I was trolley-boarded back on to my hospital bed, where I had to wait five hours for my legs to return. That was fine but for the fact that I’d been put back slightly askew and was in no position to straighten myself. I could have called the nurses but a sense of humiliation trumped common sense.
My legs did come back…and so did everything else. I looked down at it with quiet pride. You’ve been to hell and back, buddy; knew too, there would be no Purple Heart or  Victoria Cross. Just the results due in a few weeks.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Je suis Charlie...I think

Je suis Charlie, cathartic yes, also a pageant of emotion, hypocrisy and doublethink. There are hashtags and small designer badges, (like there were for the girls kidnapped by Boko Harem,)  and world leaders, arm in arm, defending the right to free speech – except when it comes to anything they don’t agree with. 

The actual murders – those of the 17 journalists and the innocent shoppers at a Jewish supermarket – were vile. The murders were instruments of intolerance, an attempt to impose a code of behaviour on a different culture and on those who would not be ‘persuaded.’

The establishment of course has no need to resort to kalishnakovs. Political elites and an engineered concensus exert a more subtle and powerful intolerance. Their instruments are less bloody but more powerful. How many people have been pilloried by media and twitter for expressing views against the prevailing morality, how many have been forced to resign, and how many of these were essentially private conversations subsequently leaked?


A case in point is the Jewish cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe who drew a cartoon showing the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall with blood-red coloured cement, in which were trapped Palestinians. The case against Scarfe was made stronger because the cartoon was published in the Sunday Times on Holocaust Memorial Day. All hell broke out as everyone from the Israeli Ambassador to leading British politicians spoke out against it and Gerald Scarfe was forced to make a grovelling apology. 

            Why? And what does that show?

All of Scarfe’s cartoons, and all good political cartoons from James Gillray to Spitting Image are vicious and brutal and spiteful. Political cartoons, as another practitioner, Martin Rowson, puts it represent ‘assassination without blood.’ Check Scarfe’s cartoons on Tony Blair and George Bush, and a more recent one of Bashar al-Assad guzzling from a large cup labeled ‘Children’s Blood’. The Netanyahu cartoon is part of Scarfe’s canon attacking man’s inhumanity to man, and focuses on an individual, a mere politician - not a race, a prophet or God. 
Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, accepted the Sunday Times’ ‘right’ to publish Scarfe’s ‘disgusting’ cartoon, but went on to say it was a ‘misjudgement’ and that the Sunday Times had made a ‘mistake’ in exercising that right.

But what does Stepen Pollard have to say about the famous (or infamous depending on viewpoint) Danish cartoons, depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. He accepts they’re offensive to Muslims but essentially says so what. ‘If free speech means anything, it surely includes the ability to question and to mock the belief that Mohammed rewards jihadists.” So are we talking double standards here. It’s all right to offend a large number of Muslims but not Jews, or in this case a Jewish  political leader?


And here is the crux of the problem. You either have free speech or you don’t. The pick and mix free speech we currently uphold is morally unviable. Already the weasel word ‘but’ is coming into play. For example, the murder of the seventeen journalists was terrible but….followed by variants of ‘they had it coming,’ or 'they should have known better.'

 And already those various paragons of democracy in the Muslim world are putting pressure on the United Nations to legislate ‘Islamaphobia’ as a hate crime. As that tolerant and democratic champion of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan, recently said:
‘There needs to be international legislation dealing with attacks on people's sacred and religious beliefs. As Turkey, we will take the lead. Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others begins’   Well, that clearly works well - in Turkey and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, but where does that lead the rest of us - other than in a goldmine for lawyers as every major religion interprets it as they choose. And where does that leave the already dangerously diluted concept of free speech? Bottling thought and free speech, subjecting it to license and the whims of the great and the good will eventually lead to something worse than hurt feelings.
A mature and considerate person may choose to moderate what they say so as not to offend someone but just as I am free to consider the feelings of others, another person should be free to choose otherwise. Courtesy cannot, nor should be leglislated for then it becomes a tool of government and the status quo, the antithesis of free speech. Twitter as the new sheep dogs.  

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Lake District Murder

I have just read the worst book I’ve ever read, perhaps the worst book ever written, and discovered a deadly flaw in my make-up. I finished it despite every atom and corpuscle, the bacteria in my gut and eyelids screaming for mercy and an end to the pain. The book – for any masochists out there – is called The Lake District Murder by John Bude, and I can afford to be so viciously wanton because this Pol Pot of the written word is now dead.

It was written in 1935 and has an Introduction by Martin Edwards. Reading the Introduction you’d be forgiven for thinking the book was a winner. It is set in nice scenery, the Lake District, and the story kicks off with the discovery of a dead motor mechanic who has apparently committed suicide. Of course, he hasn’t, otherwise there would be no book, but by God, if only he had and spared us the pain of turning beyond page two. 

The hero, Inspector Meredith, is boring, the other characters make cardboard exciting, and the chief villain is someone we hear of but never actually see, so it’s hard to get excited over his eventual demise.
In his introduction Martin Edwards stresses this is an early police procedural detective novel. He makes the point: "Whatever faults may be attributed to the British police force…a lack of thoroughness is not one of them.” I should have taken that as a warning. 

The book takes you with Meredith painstakingly following one lead after another all of them false – but all of them snail-paced and packed with technical details like how petrol pumps work, the respective storage facilities of underground sumps and petrol containers and how fast one could go on the Cockermouth road. And such detailed minutae is regurgited and chewed upon again and again as if our hero had three brains instead of the ruminant’s three stomachs. Then, a third of the way through, when we know more about the inner workings of petrol pumps than any sane person should, Meredith discovers his mistake and leads us on another false trail. By the end we no longer care who did it or why or how. We just want the bloody book to end.

I couldn’t even throw the book against the wall or set it alight. It was one of those seductive Kindle Daily Deals – a snip or a death sentence at 99p. So burning or smashing wasn’t an option. 

Stop reading then.

I couldn’t. I ploughed on trapped like a dog tied to a post by its back leg, barking at anyone who came near. And that my friends is my flaw – like the apocryphal monkey, its fist trapped clutching peanuts in a narrow necked jar, I couldn’t let go. I had to realise the dreadful ennui of a truly bad book.

Martin Edwards ends his introduction with:  "Those who like a soundly crafted and unpretentious mystery will surely agree that John Bude deserves to be better known."

No he damn well shouldn’t. He lost me a week in too short a life.