If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday 31 December 2012


Lovely word, 'passion '.  Depending on the context, it can mean head-over-heels in romantic love, or blank-eyed and drooling with sheer lust, or even committed with a life-shaping intensity to an object or activity that is more important than life itself.  That's ignoring the religious meaning, of course, of the transcendental and redemptive power of sacrifice.  All pretty major stuff, I'm sure you will agree.

Which is why I get either annoyed or depressed (depending on my mood) when I see the word used as a marketing tool - "Passionate About Sandwiches" and the like.  As with much in the world of worthless corporate bullshit, once you are tuned in you see it everywhere.  I thought I had seen the bottom of the pit when I read the CV of an aspiring employee to learn that he or she was "passionate about developing social marketing tools in a business context", but I was wrong.  Deeply wrong.

We have a rest room at work with a sink, kettle and fridge.  In the absence of proper lockers, it's where I dump my bike gear when I am at work.  After a wet ride in, I can take over most of the room by draping my kit over every available surface, but normally I put the suit on a hanger and suspend it from a window sill - as you do.  Recently I have shared my windowsill with a jacket.

It's a corporate jacket, one of those supplied to 'guest-facing' staff to ensure that we present a coherent customer image, part of a suit which (from the size) has been issued to a diminutive female employee.  She probably leaves it in work, and travels to and from the workplace in something warm, weatherproof and, above all, not corporate.  It is the cheapest, nastiest piece of junk tailoring I have ever seen.  It is shapeless, thin and tacky, with a high nylon content.  So far, so unremarkable, but then I chanced to see the label on the inside.

Thus is the demeaning of a fine English word complete.  It's also a use of the word 'tailoring' of which I was previously unaware.

Anyway, it's the last day of the year and the first day of the rest of our lives, so we had better get on with it.  A Happy New Year to everyone who reads this blog.  I wish you and your loved ones peace and prosperity in 2013, while fully aware that this is merely an optative statement and has no transformative power over anyone's actual life.

Have a good one, and think of me at midnight when it all kicks off.

Seriously, all the best.

Friday 28 December 2012

Christmas Break

I was working over Christmas, and will be working over the New Year, so the next few days are my Christmas Break.  I am going to spend a bit of time with D1 and D2, eat well, fall over a bit and generally have some fun time.  Back in a few days.

I hope you all had a most excellent Christmas and wish you all the very best for a prosperous and liberated New Year.  In 2013, may the skies be blue, the air warm, the roads dry and clean, and the traffic light.


Thursday 27 December 2012

The missing egg-slicer scandal

I work in the Tourism/Leisure business, and this piece was passed around recently, to an accompaniment of sighs and knowing shakes of the head.  I'm pretty sure it is a spoof, like the familiar 'insurance claim form' howlers, but it made me laugh - mainly because in my experience it is all too believeable.

From Thomas Cook Holidays - listing some of the guests' complaints during the season.

1. "I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts."

2. "It's lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during 'siesta' time - this should be banned

3. "On my holiday to Goa in India , I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food at all."

4. "We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels."

5. A tourist at a top African game lodge over looking a water hole, who spotted a visibly aroused elephant, complained that the sight of this rampant beast ruined his honeymoon by making him feel "inadequate".

6. A woman threatened to call police after claiming that she'd been locked in by staff. When in fact, she had mistaken the "do not disturb" sign on the back of the door as a warning to remain in the room.

7. "The beach was too sandy."

8. "We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white."

9. A guest at a Novotel in Australia complained his soup was too thick and strong. He was inadvertently slurping the gravy at the time.

10. "Topless sunbathing on the beach should be banned. The holiday was ruined as my husband spent all day looking at other women."

11. "We bought 'Ray-Ban' sunglasses for five Euros (£3.50) from a street trader, only to find out they were fake."

12. "No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled."

13. "There was no egg slicer in the apartment..."

14. "We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish..."

15. "The roads were uneven.."

16. "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England it only took the Americans three hours to get home."

17. "I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends' three-bedroom apartment and ours was significantly smaller."

18. "The brochure stated: 'No hairdressers at the accommodation'. We're trainee hairdressers - will we be OK staying here?"

19. "There are too many Spanish people.. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners.."

20. "We had to queue outside with no air conditioning."

21.. "It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel."

22. "I was bitten by a mosquito - no-one said they could bite."

23. "My fiancé and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Out of the blue

I wouldn't ride a motorbike if I didn't think that I had the risks under reasonable control.  Part of my personal 'safety training' is to analyse every unforeseen or unexpected event to see if anything can be learned from it, and to put any lessons learned into practice in the future.  I do this with my own riding, but I also examine accounts of things that happen to other people, which is a kind of risk-free learning.

I don't like the term 'accident'.  Too often people refer to an event as an accident, when in fact there is a clear cause.  The word 'accident' implies that the event was unforeseeable, and that nothing could be done to prevent it (and therefore, crucially, no-one is to blame), where this is rarely the case.  When you break an event down into immediate causes (car pulls out), proximate causes (rider going too fast to take avoiding action) and ultimate causes (poor training, careless attitude, inadequate maintenance), you can nearly always find something that someone did wrong, and which, done right, could have prevented the 'accident'.  It's just a question of how far you are prepared to look.  Of course, as a rider you cannot control the road users around you.  You can't heal the functionally-blind Prius driver, or sober up the sales rep on his way back from a team-building weekend.  But you can anticipate their presence, and ride accordingly.  In other words, any accident should, in theory, be avoidable by a well-trained, experienced, patient and mature rider.  (I said in theory, and I am making digital contact with many tree-derived objects as I write this.)

And then something like this happens.
At least two people have been killed and another 11 injured after a plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Burma, officials say.
The Air Bagan plane was carrying more than 60 passengers. Two Britons are believed to be among those hurt.
It was on its way from the city of Rangoon to Heho airport in Shan state when it crash-landed about 3km (two miles) from the runway.
Reports say a fire in one of the engines may have caused the accident.
Burmese government officials have confirmed a passenger was found dead inside the plane.
A motorcyclist near Heho airport was also killed when the Fokker jet made its emergency landing in thick fog in a rice field.

What to say?  One minute you are riding along on your 125 beside your family's rice field, and the next minute you are hit by an sodding aircraft.  I am prepared to admit that this is one of those occasions when the rider was simply a helpless victim.

And, without wishing to make light of a sad story, what's the betting his last words were, like so many others have been, "Bloody hell, what's that Fokker doing?"

Monday 24 December 2012

Appropriate Seasonal Felicitations

I have copped a bad shift pattern over Christmas and New Year - 7 pm to 7 am, 23rd to 26th inclusive and 31st to 3rd inclusive.  Not too bad, really - lots of sympathy from colleagues, some of whom are female and attractive, a guarantee of a good break next year if I play the guilt thing right with my manager, and four clear days in the middle where I get to see daughters 1 and 2. Oh, and enhanced pay for working three Bank Holidays, which should get me a tank of fuel for the BMW with enough left over for two Mars Bars and a pint of milk.  I think it's time-and-a-half.  My employer's generosity is boundless.

I'm happy enough, and I hope you are.

Enjoy the break - if you get one - and behave yourselves.  All our very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

From Richard, Anna, Rescue Cat, Dagmar the BMW, Noname the XT, and the Spirit of Bonkers Dog.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Not a new problem ...

Am I as old as that?

Hmm.  Just had a seriously depressing moment as I realise that my age can now be measured in fractions of a century.  Thank you, BBC:
Half a century ago the UK was in the grip of a brutal winter. How did they cope then and how does it compare with now?
The terrible winter of 1962-3 has become a sort of legend, second only to the even worse winter of 1947.  I remember the winter of 63, but not that of 47, I hasten to add.  I was nine years old and can remember it well.  I used to walk to school (only a mile or so) and the snow was about two feet deep in my road.  It had a hard crust on top, and if you were careful you could walk on that, but if you broke through the surface, the snow was crotch-deep (for a small boy) and very uncomfortable.  As in the article, on more than one occasion I went to school on my sledge.  My Mum worked in the same area as my school, so a ready packhorse was available.  I didn't even have to push.

Happy memories.  Life went on, trains moved, things were delivered, shops were open, people got on with their lives.  Two specific memories that are still with me: one was my Dad putting a small paraffin greenhouse heater under the engine of the car every night so that it would start in the morning, and the other was waking up to find that the water in the glass by my bedside had frozen solid in the night.  The house was very cold (no central heating or double glazing then) but my bed had plenty of blankets and there was always a lovely open fire downstairs.  I don't remember suffering at all.

But 'half a century ago' ... centuries, that's history and stuff, isn't it?
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