Monday, 25 August 2008

Summer is officially over

When I was a kid, Summer lasted forever. The Summer holidays were six long, hot weeks (it hardly ever rained during the holidays) of playing cricket and generally trying not to get into trouble with friends. Then, as I got older, the holidays, although longer in time (9 weeks when I was at secondary school) seemed shorter.

Not only that, but when there were events during the holidays, Olympics, World Cup, Commonwealth Games etc, they seemed to last the whole of the holidays, although I know that they only lasted the two weeks that they still do.

I think that the first event that I was aware of was the 1976 Montreal Olympics when I was 9. I vaguely remember the 1972 Olympics, but only the scenes when the Israeli athletes were being killed and the 1974 World Cup Final, but Montreal was the first one that I remember from start to finish.

So why is Summer over? Well, firstly, yesterday was the closing ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Like the opening ceremony, I thought that this was very good. And then they let Britain do their 8 minute spot to promote the 2012 Olympics. I loved the fact that the commentators described it as 'quirky', where as I thought it looked tacky. And then it was on the news today that in amongst the collage during the film was a picture of Myra Hindley. Maybe they could have asked Gary Glitter to join Jimmy Page rather than 'megastar' (wtf!) Leona Lewis.

The British team have done extremely well, and the medal tally was the highest in about 100 years. Well done to all the athletes. Can they repeat this in four years? Who knows. The problem is that in the build up to the next Olympics, plus all the ones for the next 200 years, the press will have a field day referring to these games, as they do with 1966 in the build up to every World Cup. If/when the team don't do as well, they will have a field day slagging them off as they always do.

The second reason that Summer is over is that my kids have gone back to their mother. They were here for nearly three weeks and I think that they've enjoyed themselves, I know that I have. Now it’s back to every other weekend, for a maximum of three days, until the Christmas holidays. One thing that did amuse me was that I had to have some email communication with my ex. I nearly spat coffee on the keyboard at the content. Her email was full of what I call 'therapy speak'.

Now I'd always known that she was not the most stable of people (apparently, that's all my fault), and I also knew, from the kids, that she was undergoing some pretty heavy duty 'therapy' (again, apparently, it’s all my fault), but reading her emails, the only thing missing at the end of each sentence was the phrase 'm'kay' (if you're not sure what I mean, listen to the Counsellor in South Park).

The third reason that Summer is over is that today is a Bank Holiday. It is the last Bank Holiday until Boxing Day, which is the middle of Winter. There was a petition sent to the Government to have the Monday nearest to November 11th made a bank Holiday, but as yet nothing has come of it. I actually think that nothing will as there is nothing that the Government will gain from doing so, and we all know that politicians are purely in it for whatever they can get.

And the last reason that Summer is over is that in two days, Hannah is back at school. Admittedly, she is going back earlier than normal as this is her first day of secondary school, but she's going back having only had five weeks holiday. Mind you, if the Summers now were like they were when I was a kid, she'd be less happy, but with all the rain I think she's looking forward to getting back to school.

So that's it, Autumn's here, and before long it'll be Winter. Better go and dig out my thermals.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Culture and History

I think that we are very lucky living here in Britain, as we are surrounded by both of the above. OK, none of the seven wonders of the world are here, and there are an awful lot of more cultural and historic sites elsewhere in the world, but I still think that we're lucky. At least we're luckier than the Australians, New Zealanders, Americans and all the rest of the 'new' countries whose histories are not as old as ours.

And, in Kent and Sussex, I think that we have more than our fair share. Most of these sites are very ably looked after and preserved for posterity by two superb organisations, English Heritage and The National Trust.

So, where am I going with this. Well, I have been a member of both organisations since the time that I was married. In fact, we had family membership, and I have carried that on since I got rid of her. This has been great during the time that the kids have been here.

Obviously I needed to find something to keep the kids out of trouble and trips abroad were out of the question without passports, so we have been visiting some of the historic houses that are local to us.

The first place that we visited was Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill. This is a fascinating place with both the house and the gardens open to the public, and the kids are of an age to understand who Churchill was and what an impact he had on Britain, as well as the rest of the world, in both the World Wars.

A few days later, we visited Down House, which was Charles Darwin's family home. Again, absolutely fascinating, and the kids were able to appreciate the controversy that Darwin caused at the time of his Theory of Evolution first coming to light. Both of the kids are church going 'Christians' and I suppose their mother could be said to be 'Born Again' (I think that she thinks that being a 'Christian' means that she can lie to judges, the police, social services etc with impunity). There was also an interesting documentary about Darwin just a few days after we'd been to Down, where even the kids could not believe that there was a teacher of science at a well-known British grammar school who refused to acknowledge that the earth was older than 6,000 years because that's how old it is in the bible. But at least he wasn't as bad as the American loonies, who in the past have prosecuted teachers for teaching evolution.

The third place that we visited was Batemans, which was the home of the Kipling family. I think that the main thing that struck all of us was that of the four places that we visited, it was the least 'homely'. We all agreed that it felt uncomfortable and very unlived in. I know that the death of John, his son, during the First World War affected Kipling very deeply, and that may be why the family home is so unhomely.

The fact that Batemans scored so low was more of a surprise considering that the last place we visited was Quebec House, which was the childhood home of Major General James Wolfe, victor at Quebec, and also was the property that had gone longest since it was last used as a family home.

In the last fortnight we have been to four places, and obviously we've been to others prior to that, and in Kent and Sussex alone, there are 58 English Heritage and National Trust properties, so we'll always have opportunities during holidays and at weekends.

When we haven't been out and about, the kids and I have been watching the Olympics. This is the first one that they've really appreciated, as they were 6 and 9 during Athens. But their interest has also been grabbed by the fact that Britain has done so well, in fact their best performance since the London games of 1908.

However, it looks unlikely that this feat will be repeated when London again hosts the next games in 2012. Already, there has been talk that the budget will be nowhere near that of the Beijing games (which in the current climate is not such a bad thing), but there also seems to be less support for certain sports.

There has been lots of talk of support for the 'Formula 1' sports. My understanding of this is that the sports where the athletes/participants were likely to or are winning medals will get financial support to the detriment of those that aren't. Surely, though, the events that are not medal-winning never will be without support in the first place.

Putting on my cynical head, I wondered if some of this was a political move. The bid was made and awarded at a time when Britain had a Labour Government. At the moment, we still have a Labour Government, but it is all going horribly tits-up for them. Between now and the 2012 games there has to be a General Election and if recent by-election results are anything to go by, we are more likely to have George W Bush as President than we are to have a Labour Prime Minister.

So, could it be that this lack of funding to the Games in general and to certain sports in particular is a way of the present Government ensuring that the next Government is left with the disaster of the 2012 Olympics being underfunded and the participants being less successful than this year and making political gain out of it.

Personally, I think that we have been lucky in these Games to have been so successful, and that we have also seen the best of British, summed up beautifully by 20 year old Daniel Adwe. He didn't win any medals, he came 21st in the Decathlon. But, as he was being interviewed, he raised his arms and said 'I'm an Olympian'. And that's how it should be, and what the Olympic ideal was at the very beginning of the modern Olympics, that the participating was more important than the winning of medals.

Now the worst of British, which has been dragging on for much of the week, Paul Gadd aka Gary Glitter.

For those who don't know, this guy was a well-known 'Glam' Rocker in the 1970's who had all sorts of sob stories going on about his personal life and bankruptcy etc. Then in 1997 he took a computer to be repaired and the hard-drive was found to have child pornography on it. In 1999 he was sentenced and spent two months in prison, leaving the country on his release. He seems to have then moved from country to country until the country where he was staying found out who he is and kicked him out.

He was then arrested, in 2005, in Vietnam, where he had applied to live permanently, and charged with molesting two girls aged 10 and 11. Had he been charged and convicted of raping them, he'd have faced a firing squad (no loss there). As it was, he was sentenced to three years.

Bizarrely, the BBC were allowed to interview him in jail in 2006, where he claimed that he'd been set up as he was unaware that the 'age of consent ' in Vietnam was 18 (suggesting that his victims were over the age of 16, the British age of Consent rather than the 10/11 they actually were) and he also conveniently avoided any mention of his previous conviction.

So, on 19th August, this sexual predator was released and deported by the Vietnamese. He was supposed to return to the UK, but refused to get on a connecting flight and eventually flew to Hong Kong where, surprise surprise, he was refused entry and sent back to Thailand.

Finally, we have now got this creature back in the UK, where he's claiming that his Vietnamese conviction was a 'travesty' and is apparently unhappy that he has to sign the child sex offenders register.

I think that there was a simple way that all of this could have been avoided. All it needed was for someone from the embassy to visit Gadd when he was in the airport in Hong Kong and hide 5kg of heroin in his luggage before he flew back to Thailand..........

Monday, 18 August 2008

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Is the world going mad?

I went over to the local supermarket today and was really surprised by the newspaper headlines stating that Russia was about to nuke Poland. Now, my geography is not the best, but I was sure that Poland was nowhere near Georgia, I was unaware that they were involved in that conflict and anyway, the news last night was reporting that a ceasefire had been agreed. However, on closer inspection I discovered that it was nothing to do with Russia's Georgian holiday. It’s all to do with the former Soviet satellite state, Poland, joining NATO and having US missiles on its territory.

It seems that the Russians are a little unhappy with this as it makes them feel threatened. Or do they feel threatened because they are concerned that if they invade another country in the way that they have with Georgia, there is now a potential military response nearby.

It has been said on various news programmes today that it looks as if the Cold War is back, and with all the rhetoric that is being used, it does. Although the 'Warsaw Pact' broke up in the early 1990s with the coming down of the Berlin Wall, it seems that democracy has not infected all Russians, particularly those in power.

Is it possible that the Russians are concerned about internal security, particularly the fact that the South Ossetians may want unification with the (Russian) North Ossetians, or is it, as some believe, that the Russians are using this to send veiled threats to the former Warsaw Pact nations to say that if they look to the West, rather than the East, they (the Russians) will not be happy.

But what do they expect. Bear in mind that the Warsaw Pact countries were puppet states of the Russians/Soviet Union. Poland, for example, was invaded from the East by the Soviets at the same time that they were fighting the Germans in the West in 1939. And as for Ukraine (another of the countries that has annoyed Russia by wanting to join NATO), look at what happened when the Soviet Army re-occupied the country after it had been under German control during World War 2. At the end of the War, there was no democratically elected Government in an of the Warsaw Pact countries, they were all appointed by the Soviets.

The biggest problem is that Russia is using the playground bully tactics that it has used since the days of the Tsars, which in this day and age tend not to work. Perhaps they think that as most of the 'old' NATO countries are too busy in the warmer, sandier climes, they can get away with it. Maybe they will, as the USA appears to be going soft, or at least some of its publishers are.

It was also in the news last week that an author has been told by her publishers that they are not going to publish her latest book, about Muhammad's wife, because it may upset Muslims. So much for the Americans' freedom of speech. It seems to me ridiculous that people are so worried about upsetting people of any religion. We live in a world that, to a large extent, has freedom of thought and expression. This means that if I wish to believe that the Supreme Being is a one-eyed, six-eared purple munchkin, I can. But it also means that anyone who disagrees with me can do so with impunity.

A good example is the Catholic Church, which was unhappy about the Da Vinci Code, but they put forward their objections in a civilised manner (after all, they abolished the Inquisition in 1834). Did it stop the publishers from distributing the book? Or the film makers from releasing the film? No. But then the Catholic Church wasn't likely to send suicide bombers to the offices of the publishers in the way that the extremists of the 'Religion of Peace' would.

Maybe that's what Russia should do. If it became the Islamic Republic of Russistan, no-one would annoy it!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008


It’s been revealed that there has been a certain amount of fakery in the (spectacular to watch) opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. No! Really?

Listening to the news reports suggests that nothing like this has ever happened before and that all previous Olympics have been completely above board, both as a spectacle and as a showroom for world sportsmanship.

So, what are the crimes that the Chinese have committed. Firstly, as the Chinese national flag was brought into the stadium, a very cute 9-year-old girl sang an anthem. It has now been revealed that she was in fact miming. And not only was she miming, but she was also miming to the voice of another little girl. And why was the the 7-year-old not singing in person? The Chinese reason is that they felt that although she had a great voice, she did not 'portray the image that they wished to portray', which I think is Beijing 2008-speak for 'we think that she's a minger'. Maybe someone from Amy Winehouse's management company could take a leaf out of the Chinese book.

Crime No.2. The firework footprints that 'walked' from Tiananmen Square to the birds nest stadium. It now transpires that, other than the one directly above the stadium, the rest were generated by computer graphics. I would ask how much less the cost of computer graphics were compared with the cost of real fireworks in a country where their population is relatively poor.

I would also ask why has this come as such a surprise to so many people? When the modern Olympics were founded in the 1890s, the ideal of the three major 'players', Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Evangelis Zappas and Dr William Penny Brookes was that all the countries of the world should become closer through sport in a hope that future conflicts would no longer arise.

Sadly, they were very misguided, and the Olympics, from 1908 onwards, in my opinion, has turned into an international political pissing contest, the participants being used purely as political pawns by their governments (1936 Berlin, 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles being just three examples).

However, it did give the Russians the opportunity to invade Georgia (for any natives of Tennessee that are reading this, it’s not THAT Georgia). Now I am aware that the situation there is complicated and I am also aware that the Georgians are far from blameless in all this, and I am aware that this has been on-going for some time. But I still think it rather cynical that the Russians chose to invade when most of the world's attention is focused on Beijing.

President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia made comparisons between this invasion and the annexation of the Sudetenland by the Nazis. However, he could have made more modern comparisons such as the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but at that point Georgia was part of the Soviet Union....

On a lighter note, here at Villaramble things have been relatively peaceful. Julie and Hannah are away in the Isle of Wight for a week, which has left me with time to devote to my kids.

Unfortunately, as I said last time, because of the passport situation, there is no possibility of a trip abroad, so what we have done is dug out the National Trust and English heritage books and decided to have day trips to various locations nearby. But we have the fall back of when the weather is really bad (this is summer in the UK) then the kids have models to make.

Drew had received, for birthdays and Christmases, various model aircraft kits, and he has taken the opportunity to complete/make some of these. By the time Julie gets back, his room will probably look like a busy WW2 airfield!

But the girls didn't want to be left out, so last week we went out and bought them a couple of model car kits, which Maggie has been completing with guidance from her big brother.

Finally, following on from my last entry, I have now received some of the photos from the barbecue at Barry's. But, the pictures aren't from Barry, oh no, James, having flown back to New Zealand and recovered from his jet lag, took the time to email me the pictures. Admittedly, Barry too has been in contact.
"Dear Mr sarcastic, owing to problems with my steam driven pooter I am unable to e mail the photos. I will, however, download to disc and post to you. So stick that on your blog."
Still nothing received. I guess I'll just have to keep waiting.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Some things just don't change

That can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Part 1 is the good thing.

This post was delayed a bit as I was up in Derbyshire (not Nottingham) meeting up with a couple of friends. The plan was that the post was illustrated with pictures, which I thought would 'enhance' the experience. However, I went into mong mode and left my camera at home. But, both Barry and James had cameras and promised to email me pictures.

So, four days later, still no pictures. I suppose that James might have a bit of an excuse as he flew back to New Zealand on Tuesday.

I met James and Barry in 2003. I was supposed to be going to a warm sandy place at the time, but for various reasons, I didn't and found myself stationed in a barracks on the outskirts of Nottingham. Both of them were already there.

On my first evening I went for a drink in the mess, where these two were already. It’s strange to think that at that point James was a tee-total vegetarian, and was sat with his glass of squash. Barry was Duty Officer and therefore not supposed to be drinking, so had arranged with James that if the Adjutant appeared, they would just swap drinks. The Adj wasn't fooled for a minute.

And by the time James and I did go to that warm sandy place, all pretence at being a hippy was gone and James was well and truly a burger eating scotch drinker!

But, in the five months that we were in the barracks, we spent the majority of our time with aching ribs because we laughed so much, and I think that both James and myself were quite sad to leave in the November.

In the five years since then, James and I had visited Barry (who was still stationed there) on several occasions and our visits always culminated in copious amounts of alcohol being consumed and thousands of 'rounds' of air rifle ammunition being fired. However, that all changed in 2006 when James married his Fairy Sparkle and they emigrated to New Zealand. In fact, we weren't expecting to see James for a while, but he and Carol became parents, and the Grandparents insisted that they visit (Check out the Farmers Palmer in my blog list).

Then, in June of this year Barry's contract finished and he moved into a house in Derbyshire and this was the first visit that we'd all had.

The first thing to say was that, having looked at some of the old photos, it was obvious that all three of us were much lardier, one of our number has a lot less hair and another's was far more 'bouffant'. And of course James and I didn't laugh at all when we found out that Barry had his own hairdryer to maintain the 'bouffancy'.

Other than that, it was still pretty much the same. Lots of alcohol, a great barbecue and the air rifles/ pistols were broken out and anything became fair game, including a gnome that had survived five years on the roof outside Barry's room at the barracks. I think that the neighbour left at the end of the evening somewhat bemused.

Sadly, I too had to leave early the following morning, complete with my aching ribs, to head back to Kent in time for my kids to be dropped off by their mother. Now we come to Some things just don't change (Part 2)

I made it (just) only to discover that they were running slightly late, but that was not a problem. What was a problem was that I had planned to take the kids on a series of day trips whilst they were staying with me, including some to Europe. However, my ex-wife has always decided to be as awkward as possible, and despite the fact that we are divorced, continues to try and run (or should that be ruin) my life.

There had been much discussion about my taking the kids abroad. She was demanding that she had all the details of time, place etc. This is because two years ago, she absconded with two of the kids and had to be tracked down by Police and Social Services. As a result of this, she is convinced that everyone is as psychologically unstable as her and will do the same. But, because I wanted to talk to the kids first to find out where they wanted to go, I was unable to tell her. So the kids arrived without passports but with instructions that I would have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get them. I can no longer be bothered to play her rather pathetic and childish games, but unfortunately that means that the kids will miss out. She meanwhile, is unhappy that it is down to her that the kids can't go abroad, and seems to be insinuating that I tell them it is down to me. Truly deluded, but nothing that a long spell of ECT wouldn't cure.

So that's the good and the bad (and the ugly?). In the meantime, myself and the kids will carry on as normal, and they can enjoy the break.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Exaggeration, boredom, paranoia and annoyance

No, it’s not the name of some boring, arty film, but it is what I've experienced over the last month, to the extent that I think I may be turning into a grumpy old man.

It was Mark Twain that said 'The report of my death was an exaggeration', but it is a quote that I've used several times this week.

Obviously, I'm off sick at the moment, but I have gone into the hospital a couple of times this week. And this is where I've heard the exaggerated rumours.

Apparently, I was rushed to London and surgery was performed straight away, as I was so ill; I have leaking heart valves and am at death's door; I arrested twice and am in intensive care; I discharged myself and am pretending that there's nothing wrong in the hope that it will 'go away'; I have heart and lung failure; and my personal favourite, I'm dead.

When I was told about the latter, I did tell my colleagues to carry it on, start a collection, and then, when I'm fully fit, we could have a department night out on the proceeds. Apparently, we can't do that. Pity
There is a saying about the tabloid press, or is it all press, that they will never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and I think that this is the case in hospitals. People aren't sure what the truth is, so they make it up, and because hospitals are hotbeds of gossip, it will spread like wildfire.

I have proof of this from years ago. At the time I was working in a really small hospital (five wards, an ITU and a rehab centre). I was on nights, it was very quiet and I was bored. So myself and one of the other guys that was also working decided we would make up a rumour and see how long it took to spread around the whole hospital. I don't remember what the rumour was, but we were visited by someone from another ward and told them the rumour.

One hour and seven minutes later, we were visited by someone from another ward who said 'Have you heard about...' When we phoned around, the entire hospital had heard and were really disappointed that we'd made up the story.

Which brings me onto the second thing, boredom.

I'm used to being reasonably active. And now I'm not. Being off and not having to do anything sounds good, but it’s not. Yes, initially, it’s good to be able to sit around and catch up on the DVDs and books that I've been meaning to watch and read, but you can only do that for so long. And there is only so much 'tidying' you can do.

The other problem is that when I was off the other week, I put on a fair bit of weight, which I need to lose before having my surgery. However, going to the gym is out of the question, and walking the two miles a day that I'm supposed to walk won't work that well, so there's the risk that because I can't exercise in the way that I'd like, I could end up putting on more weight.

As for the paranoia, it’s insidious in the way it has struck. We all experience aches and pains, either when sitting still or through activity. We also all experience palpitations at various times, for whatever reason.

Four weeks ago, I wouldn't have given any of this a second thought, because it happens. However, in the last three weeks, I have become acutely aware of every single palpitation, as well as 'twinges'. Is that twinge in my chest because I've overstretched when trying to get a plate out of the cupboard, or is it cardiac in origin?

All this is probably made worse by the boredom and the fact that I can't exercise as I would like, which would reduce the 'twinges'. So the combination of the last two is really pissing me off.

The good news is that this weekend I am going to Nottingham to meet up with some friends that I haven't seen for a while, so that will take my mind off everything, and when I get back on Monday, I have my kids for three weeks, so they'll keep me busy.

Mind you, I think that they already thought that I was a grumpy old man.......