Archive for January 2007

The Prestonians

January 31, 2007

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As a happy consolation for feeling off-colour on Friday, Mrs H and I had the pleasure of going abroad for the weekend. So, after a hastily-consumed tea, we loaded up the car and headed off to England’s Green, Unpleasant Land (as I used to think the song went).

Such a nice weekend, all told. The Clark Jnrs were on predictably excellent form. On the Saturday, we enjoyed a morning at Formby. This is a little stretch of coastline just to the North of Liverpool, where, if you are prepared to tramp through the nearby forest, you might happen across a red squirrel or two.

There were hordes of children who thought that the best way to entice said beasts into the open would be to tear after them, screaming at the top of their lungs, whilst pelting them with National Trust-endorsed nuts. Consequently, decent sightings were few and far between.

From forest to beach, where we had a shot of Mr Clark Jnr’s new kite. Smashing stuff. On perusing the instructions, Clark Jnr noted that the kite was not to be crashed into the ground (so, once it’s up, it has to stay up forever). Sadly, the rule was broken many, many times that afternoon, often in hilarious, life-endangering style.

The evening was rounded off nicely with a surprise trip to The Tamarind Tree, where we enjoyed a fanastic meal. I ventured for the Lamb Paneer, which taught me that, despite everything I thought I knew, cheese and curry is a winning combination.

Odds and Sods

January 30, 2007

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On Friday, I wasn’t feeling very well. As a matter of course, I am willing to take sick days at the drop of a hat. However, in this particular instance, Ps (the total pain resulting from taking a sick day and having to rearrange the next six weeks to accommodate Friday’s patients) was decidedly greater than Pa (the estimated total pain incurred by attending work). In pseudocode terms, if Ps>Pa then goto work.

I was optimistic about how Friday might pan out. I had seven patients booked in, but attendance is usually quite patchy, so I was expecting to see about four. This, I thought, I would just about manage. As it turned out, I hit the full house for the first time in a year.

This got me thinking about what we refer to as ‘Sod’s Law’, which seems to cover such notions as ‘anything that can go wrong, will’; and ‘bad fortune will be tailored to the individual’. I started wondering whether Sod was a real person, and if so, how his name came to be thus associated. Hoping to find some interesting snippets about him, I cast myself upon Wikipedia, who identify him only as a hypothetical ‘unlucky sod’. Bit disappointing, that.

They did, however, provide some examples of Sod’s Law. My favourite was the fact that Adolph Coors III (the heir to the Coors beer empire) was actually allergic to beer. The irony.

An oft-cited manifestation of Sod’s Law is that dropped, buttered toast will always fall butter-side-down, in order to maximise mess. It would be interesting (I think) to spread a layer of butter onto the back of a cat (which, as we all know, will always land on its feet when dropped). Would the innate self-protective reflex trump Sod’s Law or vice-versa, or would the dropped cat simply hover in mid-air?

Incidently, I think it’s very unlikely that Sod’s law represents a real phenomenon. Drop some buttered toast a few thousand times, if you’re curious. We are, however, adept at over-estimating the frequency of certain events, particularly those that seem to reflect ‘co-incidence’. In reality, co-incidences represent chance events whose co-occurence happens to bear a certain memorable significance. These sort of scenarios will arise all the time through statistical chance.

So – don’t blame the ‘unlucky sod’ for your (perceived) bad luck. He’s got enough to cope with as it is.

Arresting Stuff?

January 29, 2007

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I recently read a book called You Can Get Arrested For That. It was originally intended as a Christmas present for my dad, but I ending up keeping it for myself. What I hadn’t realised was that the back cover alluded to certain intimate practices that I suspected he wouldn’t want to read about. So I thought I’d buy him something else, and avoid the toe-curling embarrassment altogether.

The book is about two Cornish lads trying to break a series of bizarre laws during a road trip around America. They drew their inspiration from a website, on which scores of these unusual decrees are recorded. This website, despite a ramshackle appearance and navigation system, is well worth a passing glance.

At the risk of shattering your illusions, it isn’t only our Transatlantic cousins who have to abide by ridiculous laws. May I share a couple of examples from our own shores?

Since 1313, MPs are not allowed to don armor in Parliament.
London Hackney Carriages (taxis) must carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats.
Any person found breaking a boiled egg at the sharp end will be sentenced to 24 hours in the village stocks (enacted by Edward VI).
Chelsea Pensioners may not be impersonated.
A bed may not be hung out of a window.
It is illegal for a lady to eat chocolates on a public conveyance.
Any boy under the age of 10 may not see a naked manequin.

All very odd. There was another entry that caught my eye for another reason.

Those wishing to purchase a television must also buy a license.

Isn’t it interesting that a law we consider to be part of our way of life should qualify as a ‘dumb law’ and thus make us an international laughing stock? Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty to laugh at the Americans. What to us is rather strange may, to them, be utterly sensible.

As a postscript, the book itself was rather disappointing. The actual accounts of law-breaking served only to provide sporadic punctuation for a repetitive, Trans-American pub crawl. Those interested in such exploits, are, I’m sure, more than capable of organising their own drinking expeditions without having to read about other people’s. The author’s own admission that the book would be put to better use as toilet paper is, at least, honest.

Chasing One’s Tail

January 28, 2007

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We went to see The Pursuit of Happyness the other day. We had to go in the middle of the day, since Mrs H is still not well enough to maintain wakefulness through evening showings, the poor thing.

Don’t read on if you don’t want me to spoil it for you.

I really liked this film. It is the (seemingly true) story of one Chris Gardner (Will Smith), a struggling salesman who, in the face of financial meltdown, undergoes a competitive internship in the the hope of securing a happier life as a stockbroker. It was inspiring stuff.

The title refers to a exerpt from the United States Declaration of Independence. This was thrown together in 1776, after British settlers in America decided that (all things considered) George III was a bit of a rogue, and they were better off on their own. According to the document, The Pursuit of Happiness was one of the ‘unalienable rights’ endowed by the Creator to all mankind.

In the film, Gardner alludes to the notion that true happiness is elusive, and that, in reality, the pursuit is all we can hope for. I thought that this was an interesting perspective, which sadly crumbled when it turned out that, in fact, true happiness was readily attainable. You just have to be a stockbroker to get it.

For me, the film cut off slightly abruptly. I would have been interested to see whether his new life heralded the true happiness Gardner was expecting. I wanted to see whether this happy-go-lucky gentleman would find true fulfillment amongst the guffawing, convertible-driving fops, especially now that his marriage lay in tatters.

Call me a bore, but I wonder whether a safer bet would have been just to get a paid job, no matter how menial, in order to maintain a roof over his son’s head? I concede that this scenario would make a rubbish film, but I am left with a nagging feeling that Gardner’s pursuit of happiness was really just greedy and selfish.

According to Richard Layard, there is a relationship between wealth and happiness, but it only applies to incomes less than about $10,000. After this point, there is a plateau; in other words, after you have enough for the essentials, extra money does not bring about extra happiness. There are a range of fascinating reasons proposed, including the notion of diminishing returns: once we have lots of money, we get used to it and therefore want more. One rarely hears of a tycoon who decides that, at last, they finally have enough money and that they do not intend to accumulate any more.

Perhaps we’re all so consumed with the pursuit that we take for granted what we have. As one wag put it, ‘now and then, it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy’.

Or, as someone else once said:

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income … Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 5: 10,20

Falling a Bit Short

January 27, 2007

Greetings, all.

Do you recall me getting a haircut a wee while ago? Admittedly, it was something of a departure for me.

Worryingly, since getting it cut short, I discover that Buddhist Monks favour a similar style as a way of symbolically rejecting the aesthetic values of the world around them. Which, if I’m right, means that in order to make a point, they voluntarily opt for a bad haircut. Which looks like mine.

I can assure my readership that no such noble motive spurred the most recent chop. It was merely an attempt to pre-empt nature, which was just itching to take its course.

That said, I’ve rather got used to it, and might keep it like this. Sadly, it turns out that the short haircut is not the low-maintenance option I thought. Groom-time is cut to nil, but it requires cutting more often. Perhaps I should cut it myself. That’d be good for laughs. Other people’s, I mean.

But back to the aesthetic snag. Mrs H, on whom we can always depend for an honest account of things, seems to think that it ‘doesn’t look very good’. Happily, I no longer have need to rely on the subjective impressions of a single person, when there is a whole internet community out there.

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Who, evidently, agree.

The statistical breakdown made for particularly bleak viewing this time round, with a modal rating of 1 out of 10.

Now, where’s the number for that monastery?

Absolutely No Help

January 26, 2007

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Technology, eh? I know it’s very smart, but why is it always trying to muscle in on our lives? It appears that, whatever we do, some hi-tech brand of help is never far away, and invariably wants a piece of the action.

Nowadays, I cannot even type a letter without some obsequious animated paperclip fawning all over me. I am always given the option to “just type the letter without help”, but clicking it seems a bit rude, somehow. Perhaps we are hard-wired to be very polite when offered help. You can almost hear the petulant ‘tut’ as your would-be assistant mopes back into the bowels of the computer. Still, he needs to be told.

The last time I typed a letter, I included in it the address of the person about whom I was writing, and was intrigued by the appearance of a little information icon by their address. Thinking I had unwittingly typed in an address with particular significance to Microsoft (maybe Bill Gates once lived there, or something) I clicked on it. Microsoft Office then offered to give me directions to the address, in the event that I should wish to abandon my letter and pay the person a visit instead (not likely). Fascinated, I thought I’d call its bluff and give it a click, upon which the whole system gave an audible cough and keeled over. Ha!

Technology promises so much, but each development in technological intelligence seems to be accompanied by a certain deterioration of our own.

It would be churlish not to mention Satellite Navigation Systems here. These are everywhere, as are the cautionary tales of what can happen when their suggestions are allowed to replace common sense. Only this morning, I read of a lady who, in dilligently following the instructions of her Sat Nav, found herself driving for some distance along an active railway line. Oops.

We mustn’t switch off our brains as we switch on our gadgets. Otherwise we’ll all end up like this next poor chap. The Weirton Daily Times ran a story a couple of years back, about an unfortunate Oklahoma chump who, thinking he would test the capabilities of the cruise control feature in his new Winnebago, set his crusing speed to 70mph and ‘calmly left the driver’s seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee’. Luckily (for him) Winnebago were found to be to blame for the inevitable carnage, since they hadn’t warned him of the likely outcome of such a course of action.

Of course, they had recognised the limitations of the technology, but had (mistakenly, as it turned out) assumed that others would too.

I say just stick to the pedals. Press down equals go fast. Simple. And just write your letters with a pen. And learn to read a paper map. All this artificial assistance just complicates things.

My Evil Twin is a Chicken

January 25, 2007

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Briefly, I had a (mildly) disturbing experience the other day. I was looking for ideas for some nosh to throw together for Mrs H, and stumbled across the following blog. For a moment, I thought I’d accidently entered the comforting, cool blue bosom of The Hutchison Monologues. Almost instantly, I realised that, if this were the case, dreadful chicken-related events were afoot.

Happening across a blog which uses the same theme as your own is quite strange. It is almost akin to those stories of people getting into the wrong car, and driving for some distance before they realise that there is something not quite right about the vehicle they’re in.

In this case, something so familiar (the Sapphire theme) had been made into something so, so wrong. For chickens, anyway.