If you are at all interested in Charles Dickens, have a listen to Dickens' Women which was broadcast on BBC Radio 7 on Monday (it will remain available for four days). This a recording of Miriam Margolyes' one-woman show on the female characters in his books and relates them to his own personal experience of women. She provides some fascinating insights.
The electrical bits of my Epiphone Les Paul '57 Goldtop have been a tad dogy for some time so our Phil volunteered to fix it. He's acquired some Di Marzio pick ups, new potentiometers and genuine Gibson wire, new switches and input socket and re-wired the whole shebang. He's also put on a new nut. Here we see him mid-repair. I'm a bit out of practice these days, but maybe this will get me back in the groove again.
[Phil is not the tidiest worker, but he gets the job done and is available for commissions. Leave a comment and we'll get back to you!]
The Xorg Collective has recently returned from its winter expedition to the Peak District, spending a few days in a converted farm building. A splendid time was had by all, including a posh brunch at Chatsworth, a walk through Chee Dale in the ice and snow, and an overnight stay in a snooty country club. Here's a slideshow of the snow and ice along the river Wye.
The UK Government is cutting University funding by £398 million in 2010/2011. This is because the continuing recession requires us to reduce public spending. I can see the logic in that but I wonder if those savings could be found elsewhere. Like the war in Afghanistan for instance, which costs the UK £10.2 million per day. So, we could reinstate University funding or fight the war for 39 days. Which would you choose?
The war in Afghanistan is no longer a 'war on terror' or about making the world safer (if it ever was) - it is a continuation of the Afghans' civil war that has been going on for 35 years or so. The Soviet Union tried to stabilise it and failed, and now the NATO coalition is failing. In his letter of resignation, Matthew P Hoh of the US State Department sets out quite clearly what the current situation is and gives his view that the Pashtuns who are fighting don't so much support the Taliban as oppose the occupying coalition troops. As Mr Hoh points out, if the strategy is to prevent Al Quaeda from regrouping, then troops should also be sent to Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen etc. The benefits to the UK in terms of security, never mind economically, are arguable at best. But the benefits to the UK of higher education are more quantifiable, both economically and socially. Why else would the UK Government have a target of 50% of school leavers entering higher education?
Abebooks have updated their stock list of literary oddities, amongst which are such intriguing titles as The Romance of Proctology, Fart Proudly, 50 Sad Chairs, and How To Be Pope. I am tempted to invest, however, in Ductigami so that I can truly amaze my friends at parties.
On the subject of 'added gravy', the Daily Telegraph is continuing its relentless pursuit of MPs who have had their noses too deeply in the trough. Here's a gallery of some of the more bizarre expenses claims. It's remarkable how they'll claim for the most piffling things such as 99p for some Mr Muscle. Members of the House of Lords also claim expenses - I am relieved to see that Jeffrey Archer didn't claim in 2008/2009. And that he didn't attend the House in 2008/2009 either.
Suspicious shenanigans at the World Pie Eating Contest. It seems that the make of pie was changed for this year's contest, catching veteran pie-eaters unaware. They had been practising with traditional soft Wigan pies but found themselves confronted with hard-crust Adlington pies on the day of the contest. Investigations reveal that the change of pie was necessary because the original baker 'Wigan Pies' closed down earlier this year but the fact that the new baker is a southerner from Watford, although located in Adlington, only serves to encourage conspracy theories.
(Dieticians will be glad to know that contestants are judged not on how many pies they can eat in a given time but on how quickly they can eat one pie 12 cm in diameter, without added gravy.)
I don't have a lot of time for His Royal Highness The Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Great Master and First and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Member of the Order of Merit, Knight of the Order of Australia, Companion of the Queen's Service Order, Honorary Member of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, Chief Grand Commander of the Order of Logohu, Member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, Canadian Forces Decoration, Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty. Bit of a buffoon on occasion.
But from time to time he does get things right. For example, the Prince's Trust is a good idea and he's doing what he can for the rainforest. But a particular success in my book is the beer produced via his trading arm Duchy Originals. Lovely full-bodied flavour; fruity, spicy and strong. Recommended!
I don't know how you are doing for potholes, boys and girls, but we got a lot of 'em. The local Powers That Be seem to take the view that potholes should be left to get really bad before anything is done about them. And then a really cheap repair takes place, undertaken by some apathetic sub-contractor. The road on which we live has been riddled with potholes for several years - some were so deep and ancient that they had grass growing inside them. Repairs were done some months ago but, inexplicably, rather than resurface the road a patchwork of repairs has been done, leaving some holes unfilled. Ho Hum. Any road up, the Xorg Collective has fallen victim to one or other of these lurking hazards and we have had to replace a buckled wheel and damaged tyre at the cost of £191.96. Harumph. El Presidente will be writing to the authorities in no uncertain terms to claim reimbursement. The Treasury raised £3.387 billion from Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) in 2008/2009 on cars registered since 2001. Maybe more of it should be spent on mending the roads rather than MPs expenses!
Our Mary's friend Louise has given her a balloon modelling kit. Great fun so far, and Mary has mastered the art of producing balloonish dogs and balloonish swans. The elephant has proved to be more tricky, however.
...but sick as a parrot. About three weeks ago I developed a dry, hacking cough which wouldn't go away. It seemed to get better for a day or two, then re-emerged. In the last few days it has become most aggressive and violent, making me somewhat unwell. The cause could be viral or bacterial but in any case my trachea is inflamed, I am now tanked up with anti-biotics etc and groaning. All this coughing sure does take it out of you. Still, cheer up! Mustn't grumble! Could be worse!
Over at The Smithsonian, an article about ten apocalypses that didn't happen. Very ironic in view of the Copenhagen conference on climate change. I like the comment in the tenth scenario about the possibility of the Large Hadron Collider creating a black hole which will swallow us up: "In an infinite universe, even things of low probability must occur (actually infinitely often). However, by that same standard," Jagannathan adds, "Quantum physics dictates that it is theoretically possible to turn on your kitchen faucet and have a dragon pop out." And that explains why physicists (with the possible exception of those who are dragon-phobic) are not terribly worried.
The Royal Bank of Scotland is reported to be pressing ahead with its plan to pay £1.5 billion in bonuses. Meanwhile, Corus is 'mothballing' its steel plants on Tesside making 1,700 people redundant, not to mention the consequent losses to the local economy. Apparently, the Teesside plants have lost £130 million in six months. Now then, just supposing: instead of paying those bonuses to the idiots who caused the recession which has caused the orders for steel to dry up, why not use the money to keep the steel plants ticking over until such time as the economy recovers and orders for steel pick up again? A back of the cheque book calculation shows that there's enough money there to cover Corus' losses for five and a half years...
A significant advantage would be that all those people would stay in employment and be paying taxes rather than claiming benefit. No bankers would lose their jobs. Surplus steel could be used to rebuild the bridges lost in Cumbria during the recent floods. And, I don't know if this might set a precedent (he said ironically), but a bank would actually be investing in manufacturing industry rather than merely gambling and/or ripping off its customers.
The Board of the Royal Bank of Scotland have warned the Government that if the size of bonuses is capped then they risk an exodus of staff to their competitors. They have also threatened to resign en masse if the Government imposes such a cap. Goodbye, chaps! They're the flipping idiots who got the bank into such a mess in the first place and should all have been sacked months ago! I'll do their job for half the money and, be fair, I couldn't make a worse hash of it if I tried. Moreover, there is no evidence that their competitiors would want to hire them in any case, even if they have the vacancies. Duh!
The UK Government is increasing the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 9,500. A correspondent writing to The Independent quotes Gordon Brown as saying each serviceman costs £392,000 per year. So in addition to the 235 UK servicemens' lives (so far), the war is costing the UK over £10.2 million per day. Presumably, the other coalition members are spending a similar amount; total coalition troop losses are 1,464. Meanwhile, the UK has given £1.079 billion in overseas aid to Afghanistan since 2001 which is about £370,000 per day.
A lot of that money will no doubt have been spent with companies based in the countries comprising the coalition forces, so some will eventually (if Adam Smith was right) trickle back into our economy. A lot will simply vanish through corruption and/or bad accounting. But it is anybody's guess whether any of it will make life better for many Aghanistanis or even make any difference in the so-called 'war on terror'. Whether or not the strategy of fighting the 'war on terror' in Afghanistan is worthwhile or even winnable is a separate argument, but I was just wondering what else the UK could be spending that £10.5 million a day on.
When I worked for the Government on urban regeneration, before investing any money in major projects we always had to consider the 'opportunity cost' of doing so compared with spending the money elsewhere. For example, £4 million on a road bridge in Middlesbrough - would that bring a better return than spending £4 million setting up a wild life reserve; or decontaminating the site of a blast furnace; or clearing an old canal. We would agonise endlessly on such matters, and the hardest part was always persuading The Treasury to agree to spend anything at all. But if we'd had £10.5 million to spend per day! Caramba! The UK's urban regeneration problems would have been fixed in the wink of an eye - we wouldn't have been able to think up projects fast enough! The Tees Barrage cost £50 million and we had to have an Act of Parliament passed to get it built - that's just five days expenditure in Afghanistan!
Eric Krasno from Soulive doing a funkfifized version of Hendrix's Manic Depression. Adam Deitch of John Scofield fame on drums. Members of the Wilde family should note that the idea when doing covers is to add to the song, not diminish it.
Pop music became awful in the 1980s and a typical example was Kim Wilde's version of You Keep Me Hanging On. Whereas in 1967 Vanilla Fudge did something creative with it by turning it into a heavy rock song on a par with the original, Wilde's version was just a synth-pop imitation of the song, devoid of feel and, moreover, featuring that dreadful synthesized drum sound of the 80s. Yecch. Makes me shudder even thinking about it. It's like a bipolar shadow of the original. The Supremes hated Wilde's version, but I guess the writers were pleased as it meant more cash in the bank. I suppose, however, we should not have been surprised that Ms Wilde should commit this heinous offence given that her father Marty Wilde made his mark as a pop singer in the late 50s/early 60s doing pale imitations of American rock'n'roll hits such as Teenager in Love.
Note: Legend has it that Vanilla Fudge did their recording in one take, straight to tape.
I was listening to You Keep Me Hanging On on the BBC Radio 2 programme Pick of the Pops (it is still available to 'Listen Again' for 4 days). Apart from a few exceptions (e.g. Val Doonican and The Seekers), it struck me what good records there were around at the end of 1966/early 1967. Good Vibrations, Gimme Some Lovin', Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa (sad song), What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, I Feel Free, Mustang Sally, Hey Joe and many more. Unlike the present time, when four out of the top ten singles have been brought about by Simon Cowell, and the rest of the Top 40 ain't much cop either. The youth of today have my sympathies considering the trash they are being presented with. It's no wonder recorded music sales are declining!