Sunday, 29 June 2008

Zimbawbe Election Latest

Outside a polling station in Harare...

Pollster: Excuse me,sir, are you going to be voting for Robert Mugabe?

Mr X: I don't think so. I won't be voting at all.

Pollster: I see. Let me re-phrase the question. Are you going to be voting for Robert Mugabe or would you prefer to be sliced into pieces and fed to ravenous dogs?

Mr X: Erm, I'll be voting for Robert Mugabe. In fact, I'm just going there now...

Pollster: Thank you. How about you, sir? Are you going to be voting for Robert Mugabe?

Mr Y: Certainly not!

Pollster: Okay. Perhaps I didn't make the question clear enough. Are you going to be voting for Robert Mugabe or would you prefer to have a large red hot poker inserted in your bottom?

Mr Y: Erm, I'll be giving Mr Mugabe my undying support.

Pollster: Thank you. Now, you sir - if I'm not mistaken you're not from Zimbawbe?

Mr Z: No, I'm originally from the Home Counties of England but I've lived in Zimbawbe since the days of good old Ian Smith when it was called Rhodesia.

Pollster: Quite. Will you be voting for Mr Mugabe?

Mr Z: I hardly think so.

Pollster: This is getting tiresome. Are you going to be voting for Robert Mugabe or would you prefer to be tied to a rack and beaten with leather whips?

Mr Z: To be tied to a rack and beaten with leather whips, thank you. I paid a fortune for this last week...

Pollster: Bloody English! I'll ask you the same question but with a different slant. Will you be voting for Robert Mugabe or would you prefer to have large needles rammed through your body and most private sections of your anatomy?

Mr Z: My Lord! I'd love to have large needles...

Pollster: Okay, okay. One final chance. Will you be voting for Robert Mugabe or would you prefer that I shoot you dead now with this rifle?

Mr Z: Er....Vote Mugabe?

Pollster: Thank you - sir.

Exit poll forecast: 100% swing (from a rope of those not voting Mugabe)

Friday, 27 June 2008

Life on Mars?

Martian soil appears to contain sufficient nutrients to support life - or, at least, asparagus - Nasa scientists believe. Preliminary analysis by the $420m (£210m) Phoenix Mars Lander mission on the planet's soil found it to be much more alkaline than expected. Scientists working on the spacecraft project said they were "flabbergasted" by the discovery.

The find has raised hopes conditions on Mars may be favourable for life.

From the BBC News Website

So if NASA, or whoever, built a rocket that could carry humans to Mars - but only one way - who would you like to see on that rocket? I can think of a few names instantly:

Robert Mugabe
George W Bush
Vladimir Romanov (although he would want to pick who went on the rocket)
Margaret Thatcher
Jonathan Ross
Amy Winehouse

The list could go on and on. Above all, what I would ensure is that the rocket isn't flown by someone from Worst Group (Rants passim) There would be a distinct chance it wouldn't even get off the ground...

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Adam Smith

Adam Smith (1723-1790) a leading light of the Scottish Enlightenment through his books, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), is recognised by people from all academic disciplines.

A new statue, by Alexander Stoddart, was provided by private subscriptions arranged through the Adam Smith Institute, and is the first major statue of Adam Smith to be erected in the world.

The statue is located by the Cathedral and opposite the City Chambers, where Smith worked as a Scottish Commissioner of Customs from 1778 up to a few weeks before he died in 1790. He was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard, not far down the Royal Mile. A little further on is Panmure House, Smith's residence in Edinburgh, where he lived with his mother, Margaret Douglas Smith (1690-1784), and his cousin, Janet Douglas (d.1788) for twelve years, and regularly dined and debated with many members of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Adam Smith Statue Unveiling 3-4 July 2008

Thursday 3 July 2008

RECEPTION AND DEBATE: “This House would prefer to be led by the Invisible Hand”, chaired by BBC Scotland Political Editor, Brian Taylor.

Proposing: Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (former Scottish Secretary), Dr Madsen Pirie (Adam Smith Institute) and Andy Hume (past World Debating Champion).

Opposing: Brian Wilson (former Energy minister), Alex Neil MSP (Scottish National Party) and Kenny Fleming (former Observer Mace Champion).

In The Caves, 8-12 Niddry Street South, Edinburgh EH1 1NS (off Cowgate) 6.30pm for 7pm

Friday 4 July 2008


By Nobel economist Professor Vernon Lomax Smith, High Street, Edinburgh, near Parliament Square and the Mercat Cross 12.00 noon for 12.15pm.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Fancy a Drink?

It's a subject that's never far from the news headlines. The 'epidemic' that is alcohol abuse, particularly here in Scotland. Latest figures show that one in four men and one in ten women are putting their health at risk through drinking. If you'll excuse the pun, that is quite staggering.

Like, it seems, the vast majority of my countrymen and women, I enjoy a couple of pints, particularly on a Friday evening. Life is tough most of the time and the stress of a job that can sometimes be overwhelming and the seemingly interminable problems of family life can be temporarily relieved by a few drinks after work on a Friday or after the football on a Saturday (and we Hearts fans have more reason than most to head to the pub after a game!) But the danger is when enjoying a drink can so easily lead to depending on alcohol for relief. And it seems a good too many of us are doing just that.

I was out for a meal on Friday night and went for a couple of drinks after. As usual in Edinburgh on a Friday every pub we visited was packed. A cacophony of noise, loud conversations and even louder behaviour was fuelled by the need for people not just out for a drink but out to get blind drunk. It seems to me that an ever increasing number of people are unable to realise when they've had enough. Perhaps it's a sign of my advancing years but come ten o'clock I was ready to head home, tired and weary after a hard week at work. The effect of a large Italian meal and some rather strong cider triggered a bell in my head which said 'Time, Michael, please'. On the bus journey home I saw two people throwing up by the side of the road. I asked myself what enjoyment they got out of it.

Scotland has always been associated with alcohol. Indeed much of its reputation was gained through its thriving whisky industry. When I was a child in the 1960s, I seem to recall that Hogmanay and family occasions such as weddings, birthdays and funerals were the only times when people consumed too much alcohol than was good for them. Now, it seems every weekend is an excuse for some people to get stocious. Perhaps I had a sheltered childhood.

Not only do people seem to be drinking more, they seem to be younger and younger. I read recently that 750 children between the age of 11 and 16 were admitted to hospitals in Scotland with alcohol-related problems. That is truly a frightening statistic. Just as frightening is that this now seems to be embedded in our culture.

I was sent the picture at the top of this blog as a humourous aside of men starting early in some aspects of life. And, of course, it's funny in context.

But alcohol abuse, particularly in Scotland, is no laughing matter...

Friday, 20 June 2008

Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014

As most people know, Glasgow has won its bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

What you may not know is that many of the famous events which go to make up this spectacular event, are to be especially altered for 2014.

A copy of these changes has been leaked from the Commonwealth Games Committee and I can reveal its contents...

The flame will be ignited by a petrol bomb thrown by a native of Ferguslie Park , in the traditional dress of balaclava and a Burberry shell suit. The flame will be contained in a large overturned police van situated on the roof of the stadium.

In previous Commonwealth Games, Scotland 's competitors have not been particularly
successful. In order to redress the balance, some of the events have been altered slightly to the advantage of local athletes.

Competitors will have to hold a DVD player and microwave oven (one in each arm) and on the sound of the starting pistol, a police dog will be released from a cage 10 yards behind the athletes.

As above but with added obstacles (i.e. car bonnets, hedges, garden fences, walls etc)

Competitors in this event may choose the type of hammer they wish to use (claw, sledge etc) the winner will be the one who can cause the most physical damage within three attempts.

This event shall be sponsored by Cash Converters who shall also provide the hardware. The contest itself shall be based outside Kebab shops in Baillieston, Riddrie, Drumpchapel, and Easterhouse....the winner shall be the one who can leave A & E first.

A strong challenge is expected from local men in this event. The first target will be a moving police van. In the second round, competitors will aim at a post office clerk, bank teller or Securicor-style wages delivery man. The traditional .22 rifle has been replaced in this event by a choice of either a Browning automatic handgun or Sawn-off 12-bore shotgun.

Entry to the boxing will be restricted to husband and wife teams, and will take place on a Friday night. The husband will be given 15 pints of lager while the wife will be told not to make him any tea when he gets home. The bout will then commence.

Competitors will be asked to break into the Glasgow University bike shed and take an expensive mountain bike owned by some mummy's boy on his first trip away from home. All against the clock.

As above, but the bike will be owned by a visiting member of the Australian rugby team who will witness the theft.

Amended to include mugging, breaking and entering, flashing,joyriding, under-age drinking and arson.

All waterways are currently being tested for toxicity levels, once one is found that can support human life, swimming events will be organised. Please note that the Synchronised Swimming event for this year will comprise of dropping acid and watching all the funky ripples on the pool, the specific musical support to this event will be provided by 'Belle & Sebastian'.

A safe route has yet to be decided.

Unfortunately this will have to be cancelled, as the police cannot guarantee the safety of anyone walking the streets of Glasgow,especially anyone that appears to be mincing ..

Entertainment will include formation rave dancing by members of the Govan Health in the Community anti-drug campaigners, synchronised rock throwing, and music by the Dennistoun community choir. The flame will be extinguished by police riot water cannon following inevitable pitch invasion by confused old firm fans.

The stadium itself will then be boarded up before the local athletes
break into it and remove all the copper piping and the central heating boiler.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

360 Degree Thinking

I read an article on the BBC News website the other day about 'office-speak phrases you love to hate' And, unsurprisingly, I found myself nodding and smiling at many of them.

Thirty years after I first began working - jings, that makes me old as I still recall my first day as a working man, 1st June 1978 in a ramshackle furniture store -the world is a much different place. In the late 1970s, you were bawled out if you made a mistake, the ever-present threat of an on the spot sacking loomed large, sexism was commonplace and the words 'grievance' and 'procedures' were about as common as hairdressers refusing to do perms because they looked ludicrous.

Three decades on and much has changed for the better in today's working environment. But the downside of better working conditions is the jargon which has not so much crept into today's working vocabulary as swept in.

In the BBC list was the use of idea showering instead of brainstorming - less this offended people who have epilespy. That's one used in the company I presently work for, the head office of which is in Preston and whose regular guidelines on what to say and how to behave cause much amusement to us plebs north of the border. Thinking outside the box and blue sky thinking are others. I recall doing some blue sky thinking while at school in the 1970s -only for my teacher to believe I was merely gazing out the window and throw a chalk duster which struck me on the back of the head. She wouldn't get away with that today (principally because I'm now 46 and the fact she's probably scrawling away at a blackboard beyond the Pearly Gates. Can I say 'blackboard'? Is that politically correct?)

I particularly like my door is always open which emanates from our office - particularly as we're in an open plan office and the only door is the one heading for the way out. Of course, senior managers may be trying to tell me something - and my appraisal is tomorrow...

Anyway, I suspect I don't have enough bandwith to carry on with this nonsense and the end of this rant is now in my radar. I've just received an e-mail from someone who wants to touch base about something off-line.

So I'm turning the computer off...

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Worst Group Recognised by the Queen...

You may have gathered, dear reader, that I'm not a great fan of First Group. So when I read today that group chairman Moir Lockhead has been given a knighthood in the Queen's birthday honours list I thought this must be the start of the silly season. But, no, apparently it's true.

My trip to Aberdeen on Friday was with First Scotrail. Here's the timetable of events.

11.10 Due to depart Edinburgh Waverley, Platform 14

11.11 Announcement to passengers sitting patiently waiting for departure that they should get off as the train that will actually go to Aberdeen is now pulling in to Platform 14 - despite numerous reservation tickets prominently displayed on the first train.

11.12 Passengers disembark original train - despite the announcement, no sign of replacement service on Platform 14.

11.20 Empty train arrives at Platform 13.

11.22 Frantic First Scotrail staff inform bemused passengers that the train now at Platform 13 is actually the Aberdeen train, when they previously advised it would pull in to Platform 14.

11.30 Depart Edinburgh Waverley - no reservations on any seats so passengers are sitting anywhere that takes their fancy.

11.35 First apology from First Scotrail.

13.00 Arrive Dundee - passengers for Arbroath, Montrose and Stonehaven are told to leave the train to catch the next scheduled service from Dundee as our train is late and would be travelling 'non-stop' from Dundee to Aberdeen.

13.01 Disgruntled passengers vent their feelings.

13.03 Second apology from First Scotrail.

13.30 Non-stop train to Aberdeen stops outside Montrose due to southbound train on a stretch of line that is single-track only.

13.33 Third apology from First Scotrail.

14.00 Arrive Aberdeen 23 minutes late.

14.01 Fourth and final apology from First Scotrail.

Saturday 14 June - Depart Aberdeen 09.50 by National Express Railways - a lot less hassle and infinitely better service. Arrive Edinburgh Waverley bang on time.

Well done, Sir Moir - just as well your knighthood isn't for services to organising a drink in a brewery...

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Northern Lights

I'm off to Aberdeen tomorrow to meet an old mate where we will try and put the world to rights. Last time I was in the Granite City was in the middle of January when it was dark, cold and miserable - and the weather wasn't up to much either...

I used to live in Aberdeen although it's nearly twenty years since I left. The city centre in particular has changed so much in that time. Some might say the soul has been ripped from the city. In January, my mate and I thought about trying a few drinking haunts from years gone by - for old times sake. But we found that many of them no longer exist.

So if anyone from there happens to read this and can suggest some pubs close to the city centre where the beer is cheap and the atmosphere unthreatening, I'd be much obliged.

On Saturday morning I shall return home - armed with at least a dozen rowies...!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...

We live in an age of instant communication. Computers, the internet and mobile, wireless technology mean we can communicate instantly with almost any part of the world at the press of a touchpad or click of a mouse. Satellite wizardry has changed the world and made it a much smaller place. But naturally there has to be a down side to all this.

Spam. Unsolicited e-mails from all parts of the globe (although mainly, it has to be said, America) It's a blight of the communication age and a constant irritant. Why don't you fit a spam filter I hear computer experts cry? I have - through those bastions (no, that's not a spelling mistake) of communications, BT. I pay the princely sum of £1.50 per month for the chaps and chapesses at BT to divert rogue and sometimes malicious e-mails from my in-box to the bulk mail box. And to be fair to BT it usually works with as much as sixty junk e-mails heading my way every day. But occasionally, e-mails that aren't spam are read as such by BT and are deposited in said bulk mail box. Which is as much as an irritant as having to deal with the damn spammers in the first place.

My good friend from Seattle, the lovely June, cheers me up no end with her thoughtful and compassionate words. But sometimes the BT filter gets suspicious and diverts her e-mails in the same direction as dubious messages offering everything from Viagra to valium. Which means I have to check the bulk mail to ensure there isn't anything of value there. I made the mistake of just emptying the bulk mail folder the other week without checking and thereby deleted an important e-mail from Heart of Midlothian FC about plans for my contributions to next seasons programme.

So, I have to wade through reams of rubbish just in case something has slipped through. At this time of the year I'm receiving dozens of junk e-mails about what I ought to do for Father's Day which, apparently, is this Sunday (if my daughters are reading this, that's this Sunday) Given my father has been dead for more than eleven years it's not something high on my priorities but this is a stark example of my privacy being invaded by unscrupulous companies who show no consideration for the feelings of others.

As for the companies constantly screaming at me to buy Viagra, I have considered taking legal action against them.

But then a good friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, told me it would never stand up in court...

Sunday, 8 June 2008

There'll Always Be An...

Euro 2008 began yesterday with two unspectacular games which saw victories for the Czech Republic over the co-hosts Switzerland and Portugal over Turkey. Three weeks of football beckons but I'm already getting weary of the comments of comentators and pundits of our cousins south of the border. Apparently, England didn't qualify...

BBC Radio Five Live, usually a station par excellence, bemoaned the fact England wasn't there (no mention of the fact that neither are Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) Saturday morning had Eammon Holmes interviewing former England manager Steve McClaren and included the probing 'Aren't you sick England aren't there?'

During the commentary on the opening game, Alan Green asked summariser Chris Waddle a key question midway through the second half as the game entered its crucial stage. 'How many of these players do you think would get into the England team?' It was quite rude of the Czechs, I thought, to deny Waddle the chance of an immediate answer the whole nation was waiting to hear with bated breath, by scoring the only goal of the game. Normally, Alan Green is the master of commentators but this was, to lapse into cliche mode, 'quite disappointing'

ITV's approach to the Championships appears nonchalent. The commercial channel have decided, even before the tournament began, not to cover the final which beggars the question why bother with the group games? But bother they did with the Portugal-Turkey game and, keeping with a theme that will last for the next three weeks, host Matt Smith asked why England couldn't play the same way as Portugal did. Possibly because England aren't as good I would imagine.

I'm sure someone somewhere is conducting an England reference count which may well hit double figures after todays games, both of which are being covered by the BBC. Particularly as this afternoon's offering involves Croatia - who knocked England out at the qualifying stage. How long into today's coverage until we see the film of Steve McClaren under his umbrella at a sodden Wembley?

Humility. A sense of proportion. Realism. Intelligent and insightful. The gift of balanced self-awareness. Quick to show due deference to others' greater achievements. Traits which, like the England football team, won't be with the English commentators at Euro 2008...

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Beggars Belief

The above story of how a twenty-two year old woman in Lincoln left her two year old boy alone in her flat for the weekend while she went to be with her boyfriend quite simply beggars belief to any right minded person.

How anyone can do such a thing is beyond me. I do wonder why some people have children if caring for them, looking after them and raising them to be a respectable human being is too much of an effort. My daughter Laura is also aged twenty-two and she has two lovely children, Jack aged three years and Hannah aged ten months. Jack and Hannah never go short of love and attention and if Laura needs some 'me' time - as we all do occasionally - she knows her mother and her old Dad are there to look after the wee scamps.

Reading of child neglect chills me to the bone as it will most people and particularly those who have children of their own. There is no cry worse than that of a child. What that little boy in Lincoln must have gone through, especially at night when it was dark and he was on his own, frightened, dirty and hungry, can only be imagined. The fact that his mother is out on bail and awaits sentence after the judge receives background reports perhaps tells us much about the British justice system.

No background report in the world can justify what she did.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Thoughts for the Day

1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

2. If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve its full potential, that word would be "meetings."

3. There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."

4. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

5. You should not confuse your career with your life.

6. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

7. Never lick a steak knife.

8. The most destructive force in the universe is gossip.

9. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.

10. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

11. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.

12. A person, who is nice to you, but rude to a waiter, is not a nice person.

13. Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.

14. Thought for the day: Men are like fine wine. They start out as grapes, but it's women who stomp the crap out of them until they turn into something acceptable to have dinner with.

Thanks to June in Seattle