Friday, 31 December 2010

Bah Gum It Were A Bit Parky!

Herewith, edited highlights of the Xorg Collective's outward bound weekend in Wonderful Waberthwaite.

Bah Christmas Carol

It's that time of year so the broadcast media are trotting out the usual favourites and old cliches which is fair enough, I suppose. But it seems that this year they've gone overboard on Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'. As well as straight renderings of the story on BBC Radio (with Michael Gough) and on TV (with Patrick Stewart),  amongst others, and readings of the original text on BBC School radio, we've had a plethora of 're-imaginings'. Catherine Tate, Dr Who, Marley Was Dead, More or Less (a statistics programme!), I'm Sorry I Haven't a Christmas Carol, Blackadder, The Muppets and many more have all had a bash at it. You'd think these creative types would get together earlier in the year and trade schedules so that they don't all end up doing the same thing and boring the pants off old curmudgeons like myself.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Bra Burning

I could have put my bra in the "freedom trash can" but I burnt it instead.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Invincible Teabag v. Missing Sock Syndrome

You are probably familiar with the Missing Sock Syndrome which, no matter how careful and methodical you are, causes odd socks to disappear when processed through the washing machine and tumble dryer. It's an inescapable part of life - socks have their own reality which occasionally departs from ours. But imagine my surprise when, after unloading the tumble dryer,  instead of losing socks we had gained two fully intact teabags!
Enquiries are ongoing but the suspicion is that our Phil is the root cause of the phenomenon. He has been known to grab teabags on his way out to work and stuff them in his pocket, for later use. It seems the teabags somewhow escaped from Phil's pantaloons during the washing/drying process and proceeded to flavour everything with green tea and lemon. Considering that in this load of washing we did not lose any socks, perhaps we have accidentally hit upon the secret of restraining sock reality...

Saturday, 25 December 2010

John Cage As Slow aS Possible

You've probably heard of John Cage because of the recent campaign to get his composition  4'33"  to the top of the charts and forestall the latest Simon Cowell monstrosity from being number one at Xmas. I have no idea how that campaign went, nor do I care who is number one on the charts or whether Simon Cowell lives or dies. But we need more people like John Cage.
Another of Cage's projects is the ORGAN2/ASLSP As Slow aS Possible taking place at the church of St. Burchardi in Halberstadt. An organ is being gradually constructed and occasionally changing notes - the project is not scheduled to finish for 639 years and 2010 was notable because in July the note changed. (See also The John Cage Trust Blog.)
Let's hope nobody decides to have another war and drops a bomb on Halberstadt meanwhile.

The Ethnicity of Social Decline

Years ago, I was at school with a chap named Paul Vallely who is now a writer and occasional broadcaster. He has written in The Independent about the success or otherwise of multi-culturalism in Luton. It seems that the people there mostly have a positive outlook but that there is an underlying wariness about problems being exaggerated and distorted by extremists and the media. But his article highlights the rapid social change there has been in the last forty years or so, which I think is probably reflected throughout the UK. In any case, Paul is clear about where reponsibility for the current social decline lies:
  • 'The globalisation of economics has been driven by a distinctly Anglo-Saxon form of capitalism. The individualism which flourished with the affluence of the 1960s after a decade of postwar austerity had nothing to do with ethnic minorities. The decline of forms of social solidarity including the family, trade unions and the church are greater among the white than minority communities. The ethic of materialism which has undermined notions of society and the common good – and turned us from citizens into consumers – has been led by whites. So was the rise of secular scientific rationalism. So was the Thatcherite elevation of the free market above traditional values in conservatism. So is the tabloid culture of sex, fear, greed and speed evidenced in everything from the Sun to the loathsome Jeremy Clarkson.'
He's got a point there. Discuss.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Five Go Wild in Waberthwaite

Members of the Xorg Collective have just returned from a weekend works outing to Waberthwaite. (It used to be in Cumberland but is now apparently part of a postal district associated with Ravenglass). Here's the Ordnance Survey map. We stayed at Stonefold Cottage, a converted barn on Grange farm which lies between Waberthwaite Fell and Stainton Fell.
As it happened, we chose the weekend when the British Isles were gripped by heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures which meant that once we had driven to Stonefold Cottage, we couldn't drive out as we wouldn't have been able to drive back again up the snow-covered hill. So we were confined to the immediate area, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by sheep, and our pencilled in plans for excursions to Coniston, Ravenglass, Jennings' Brewery, Sca Fell and so forth came to nothing. Our Associate Director, Christian, is not easily deterred however and he was up at the crack of dawn to walk up Waberthwaite Fell during Saturday morning's blizzard. The rest of us braved a walk for a couple of hours later in the day until sunset. On Sunday there was no wind or further snow but bright sunshine, so we tackled nearby Stainton Fell and reached Stainton Tower. (See photo; El Presidente remained back at base camp in the warm). We stopped off at Coniston Water on our way back south, where the view across the lake was stunning; completely windless at minus 7 degrees Celsius, causing water vapour to hover over the smooth water.
8 out of 10 for the cottage - points deducted for the lack of an open fire and the rate at which the electricity meter gobbled up the £1 coins. Half a point added back in for the hospitable welcome from the proprietor who set the table for afternoon tea and provided mince pies and cakes. Many thanks to our Deputy Chief Assistant Leader for organising the trip.

Our Guest Speaker for Tonight: Sylvester Stallone

Motion Typography: Rocky Balboa Inspirational Speech from Kyle Kargov on Vimeo.

Lurgi (cont'd p.194)

Further groans. I've had this cold/flu virus doodad thingy for over two weeks now. It's a persistent little bugger of a virus; initially it's pretty much as you'd expect with the usual symptoms and a couple of days collapsed in bed. But it just won't go away - you start to feel a bit better, then it comes back and hits you again. Yesterday, I thought aha at last I'm getting over it, then this morning here I am half-dead after a coughing and sneezing episode of Biblical proportions.
The virus seems to be working its way around the neighbourhood with varying degrees of severity; conversations yesterday revealed two more victims. There has, however, been a positive side to the experience namely the soothing drink prescribed by my mother-in-law (olive oil, honey, whisky in equal measures whisked together) which quietens the symptoms at bedtime. Replace the whisky with dark rum for a more warming variation.
Ho hum.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart, aka Don Van Vliet, died last week. I have been a fan  of his stuff for ages, ever since I heard his first album 'Safe as Milk' - a friend had bought it on import from the USA after John Peel played a couple of tracks on the radio. Then came 'Strictly Personal' and 'Trout Mask Replica' which I reckoned were masterpieces but most people couldn't deal with. I remember being really excited about 'Trout Mask Replica' when it was released and playing it to a group of friends who all looked askance at me and questioned my sanity. Beefheart was one of those people who you either loved or just couldn't figure out. A synthesis of blues, jazz, rock, poetry, primitivism and something hitherto unkown from who knows where. And he was nuts.
You can see some of his paintings at Bill Lowe Gallery and get a complete biography, discography, photos etc at The Captain Beefheart Radio Station. Listen to some of his stuff at YouTube. The other two essential albums you should buy are 'Clear Spot' and 'Bat Chain Puller'.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Well Done, Sherlock!

You've heard of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Blue Peter Badge. The Oscars, BAFTAs, KCGB, MBE, Medal of Honour and the CDM (Cadbury's Dairy Milk). We here at Xorg Inter-Galactic, however, occasionally make a special award to those amongst us who make a startling contribution to the breadth of human knowledge and experience by pointing out The Bleeding Obvious. Today's lucky recipient of the Well Done, Sherlock! Award is this sorry-looking individual, Sir Philip Hamilton, the Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). He has helpfully pointed out that the directors of RBS failed in their fiduciary duty, leading to the collapse of the bank and consequent bail-out by the taxpayer. No kidding, Sir Phil! Erm, I think we'd spotted that one!
Of course, this comes to us via Wikileaks and not officially, and no action is being taken against the idiots concerned who have happily pocketed their bonuses and left the ship.

Short Stories

Attention all those of a literary bent. The Guardian is currently running a series featuring authors reading a favourite short story. You can download them individually as mp3 files or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes. The podcast is the simplest way as it happens automatically once you've subscribed. There is to be twelve altogether in the run-up to Yuletide, and we've reached number four already so get yer skates on.

Monday, 13 December 2010


Groan. I've been laid low for the past few days with some kind of cold/flu or generally winterish type of grottyness. Condition improving, thanks to proprietary drugs and inhalation of menthol and eucalyptus, but also to a patent home remedy supplied by my mother-in-law:
  • Mix together one tablespoon each of olive oil, honey and whisky. Beat with a fork until well amalgamated and drink in a couple of gulps. Spiffing! The olive oil and honey ease the throat and the whisky anaesthetises the consciousness, thereby overcoming the symptoms and aiding sleep.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tuition Fees

I doubt if many Liberal Democrats are looking this way but I thought they may wish to consider the following:
We are told that the essential justification for raising tuition fees is that the nation's finances are in a parlous state and so payment from central government funds to universities have to be cut by 40% in order to meet the Governments four-year plan for fixing the structural deficit. Consequently, tuition fees have to rise to make up the shortfall. The cut to universites and the increase in fees are to be introduced in September 2012 which will be year 3 in the plan. It is a matter of conjecture how well the economy will have recovered by then but the Government otherwise tell us that the private sector will be doing its thing and getting us back on track so maybe such a drastic cut won't be necessary after all. But in any case, students in September 2012 will be borrowing the money to pay the fees from the government and not paying anything back until some years later and even then repayment will be gradual. So isn't the government, in cash flow terms, still spending the same as it would have had the cut not been implemented? The difference is merely one of accounting practice, enabling the Government to take that expenditure off its books in terms of current revenue even though in years 3 and 4 of the plan they have actually spent what would have been spent anyway without the cuts.
But meanwhile, of course, it is a step forward in Conservative ideological terms i.e. the privatisation of education.

European Cup

Here are Spurs in an earlier incarnation beating Dukla Prague to make it into the semi-final of the European Cup in 1962. Spurs lost to Benfica, the eventual cup winners, in the semi-final after some controversial refereeing decisions which were probably the result of poor eyesight. Note that although the game was played in the snow, the players are not wearing snoods, gloves or tights. (Click on the picture to be taken to the Pathe newsreel. Sorry, but you get an advert before the clip).


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

FIFA: The Stink Just Gets Stinkier and Stinkier

Vladimir Putin is a sly devil and no mistake. The Independent reports that Vyacheslav Koloskov of the Russian bid team for the 2018 World Cup has revealed that Putin had direct talks in the weeks before the FIFA meeting with at least a third of the executive; that would be seven members (and votes). The same number that coincidentally went back on promises to vote for the England bid. Bit of a giveaway, that.
Putin subsequently went all snotty about David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham assisting with the England presentation.
Meanwhile, Jack Warner complains about the British media having insulted the FIFA executive by publishing allegations of skullduggery and this having led to members not voting for the England bid. Erm, I think we've established that there has been skullduggery, Jack! (Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck etc etc).
Now, if only Wikileaks can get hold of the paperwork...

They're Out To Get You

The Powers That Be are certainly upset with yer man Julian Assange of Wikileaks:
  • A trumped up set of sexual assault charges;
  • A concerted hacking attack on the Wikileaks website;
  • One ISP after another drops Wikileaks;
  • PayPal and a Swiss bank freeze Assange's and Wikileaks' accounts;
  • The Magistrates in London refuse bail.
What if he'd done something really serious, like bring the international banking system to the brink of collapse or start a war in Iraq for no good reason? I expect he'd really be in trouble then!
Of course the irony is that Wikileaks haven't told us anything we either didn't know already or had at least suspected was going on. And 3 million people already had access to the information anyway so it wouldn't have been difficult for an 'enemy' to get hold of it, if they hadn't already. Maybe The Powers That Be, whether it's the USA National Security Agency, MI6 or whoever, could be better employed spending taxpayers time and money elsewhere?

Saturday, 4 December 2010


There's an interesting report in The Independent explaining how and why England's bid for the 2018 World Cup was rejected in such a humiliating fashion. First, Sepp Blatter stuck the knife in and secondly, a number of Executive members went back on their promises to vote for England. The guilty men are:
Chung Moon Joon (South Korea), Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus), Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast), Jack Warner (Trinidad), Chuck Blazer (USA), Senes Erzik (Turkey), and Rafael Salguero (Guatemala).
So with the two votes England did get (from England and Cameroon) that should have been nine votes which would have brought England into the second round of voting. What we don't know is who the treacherous voters did actually vote for but I suspect it was Russia. We can also speculate on whether the Russian fix went in before or after the presentations i.e.  were the bastards lying all along. No doubt David Cameron is used to being lied to, and David Beckham has been around the block a couple of times so he won't be surprised. But I think this will have been an education for Prince William.

I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine

When it comes to epic productions there never was anyone better than Phil Spector, the Master of Darkness. But he also had a gift for writing and arranging. This song was co-written by The Dark Lord with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry and it perfectly conjures up the heartbreak, self-pity and depression brought on by the collapse of a teenage romance. Listen closely; there's about seven blokes playing drums, at least two basses, a couple of pianos in another room, an orchestra hyped up, half a dozen backing vocals, and it's all bounced down on to two tracks. The tune in the chorus is a killer and as for the lyrics, I rest my case:
Ooooh baby,
Ooooh baby,
I wish I never saw the sunshine,
I wish I never saw the sunshine,
An' if I never saw the sunshine baby,
Then maybe I wouldn't mind the rain.
Ooooh this pain,

And I know there would not be,
This cloud that's over me,
Everywhere I go.
The bit that gets me is about 45 seconds in, just before the first chorus when Ronnie Spector sings "Oooooh baby..." Gulp! And then the coda at the end..

Thursday, 2 December 2010

We Wuz Robbed!

FIFA's decision to award the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 is most peculiar. Although football is well established in Russia, their facilities are not up to scratch and neither is the infrastructure. Moreover, racism is rife in Russia, the rule of law is questionable and corruption is pretty much an everyday part  of life. Qatar hasn't got any football stadiums - well, OK, maybe it's got one - and 96% of its territory is sand. The temperature during summer, in the shade, is routinely 50 degrees celsius. Can you (or anyone in the FIFA executive) name any Qatari football clubs or players? And if FIFA's aim was to spread football and the World Cup to 'new frontiers' why encourage countries like England and USA to apply?
The Americans have a saying 'If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck.' So we must conclude that this whole episode had been a fix from start to finish and England, Spain, Australia, USA etc never had a chance. You were wasting your time and money lads; it was all a set-up. That's why Putin didn't bother canvassing - he knew it was in the bag. That's why Qatar did its presentation in Arabic - they knew it was in the bag. The tragedy is, of course, that it leaves us feeling very cynical indeed about FIFA and the bent old bottom-feeders who administrate football at the highest level.

A Spot of Bad Weather

Here we go again. In the winter, the weather turns cold and there is snow in varying amounts in various places and general chaos ensues; schools are closed, transport is disrupted and gross Domestic Product (GDP) drops by 2%. And The Ministry of Alarm and Despondency (MAD) is caught unawares yet again.
Now then, this might just be a function of a faulty memory or the rosy glow of youth remembered but, as I recall it, it always got cold and snowed during winter in the North East where I grew up but I don't remember school closures or transport chaos, or even anyone being surprised by it. Even during the winter of 1963 which went on for ages. Of course, as a youth one enjoyed the snow and ignored any inconvenience caused by it - I was always fortunate enough to have a warm house to return to despite not having central heating. We had a fire.
Any road up, I think part of the reason we get so hysterical about it these days may be because there is now a lot more transport to get disrupted than there used to be. Forty or fifty years ago, not everybody had a car, there weren't so many roads, and people didn't usually drive to work anyway or make very long journeys to work. People lived and worked locally and got the bus or the train - of which there were more, and they were cheaper to use. Teaching and other school staff also tended to live near to their schools and so could get to work more easily. Whereas a journey of 10 miles was considered quite unusual in 1963, it's fairly routine now. So there's more potential these days for disruption. Even so, having 7,000 schools closed today seems a bit much; that's almost a third of all schools!

Chickenshed Theatre

Our Phil is officiating as sound engineer for Chickenshed's current show Badjelly's Bad Christmas, an adaptation of Spike Milligan's various stuff.  Fun for all the family and so forth; tickets on sale now. Mary Ward of Chickenshed and Jane Milligan, Spike's daughter, can be heard on yesterday's edtion of BBC Radio 4's Midweek via the BBC iPlayer.
Two performances done, fifty eight to go!