Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Day, New Month, New Year

Welcome to 2009 and from our perspective little has changed.

We're still living in paradise, the weather is a constantly hot 30-32 C and we continue to live a life of dreams. Here's hoping you all get what you want for this new year and may you all achieve peace, prosperity and happiness.

A Kingdom For One

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Stressed? You're Not Alone

The credit crunch has added half an hour to the amount of time we spend worrying every day, with the average Briton now fretting for two hours and 15 minutes daily, according to a poll.

Researchers found the cost of living and energy prices overtook personal health as the biggest concerns this year.

Also in the top 10 worries in a survey were financial outgoings and income, debt, recession, unemployment, crime, pensions and relationships.

In total, women will spend an average of seven years and 10 days stressing, while men will worry for five years, eight months and 23 days.

A fifth of us have been drowning our sorrows in drink, double the figure from last year, and one in six is too preoccupied to have sex, according to the survey by ReallyWorried.com

And Exactly Where Your Money Went

ADMIN COMMITTEE - £4,404

Lisbon: European conference on information technology £4,404

COMMUNITIES/LOCAL GOVT - £4,777

Netherlands: Inquiry into the supply of rented housing £4,777

CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS - £59,775

Berlin: Inquiry into party funding £4,941. Canada and the USA: Inquiry into party funding £52,525.

Lisbon: EU Presidency Conference £2,309

CULTURE, MEDIA & SPORT - £76,185

Berlin: Conference £1,050.

Athens: Fact-finding on 2012 Olympics £11,356.

Ottawa, Vancouver, Seattle: Fact-finding for 2012 Olympics and tourism £63,188. Brussels: Conference £591

DEFENCE - £167,582

Riga: Conference £793.

Paris: Inquiry into future of Nato £1,191.

Madrid: Inquiry into future of Nato £3,448. Berlin, Germany: Inquiry into the future of Nato £2,865.

Rome: Inquiry into future of Nato £3,134.

Prague: Inquiry into future of Nato £4,293.

Copenhagen: Inquiry into future of Nato £3,651.

The Hague: Inquiry into future of Nato £2,750.

Brussels: Inquiry into future of Nato £5,647.

India and Afghanistan: Inquiry into UK operations £24,918.

Berlin: Conference £1,856

Warsaw: Inquiry into future of Nato £4,083.

Washington DC, Ottawa: Inquiry into the future of Nato £50,247.

Iraq and Kuwait: Inquiry into UK operations £22,973.

Paris, Toulouse: Defence Conference £745. Lisbon: Conference £1,823.

Tbilisi, Ankara: Inquiry into future of Nato £33,165

EDUCATION AND SKILLS - £93,983

Sydney, Canberra: Inquiries into higher education and post-16 skills £46,782.

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing: Inquiry into higher education £47,201

ENVIRONMENT - £11,128

Washington: Climate change meeting £7,355.

Brussels: EU emissions meeting £3,773

ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS - £14,339

Stuttgart, Freiburg: Inquiry into climate change £13,729.

Fontainebleau: Protect Our Forests conference £610

EUROPEAN SCRUTINY - £58,733

Helsinki: Conference £3,843

Berlin: Conference £12,630

Berlin: Visit £2,183

Florence, Rome: 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome £2,678

Berlin: Meeting £3,518

Lisbon, Gibraltar: Visit £17,782

Lisbon: Meeting £2,042

Estoril: Meeting £4,635

Brussels: Meeting £1,234

Brussels: Meeting £5,839

Brussels: Meeting £1 ,115

Brussels: Meeting £1,234

HEALTH - £64,676

Nashville, Ottawa: Inquiries into electronic patient record system £54,585

Paris, Amiens: Inquiries into electronic patient record system £10,091

HOME AFFAIRS - £78,654

Kiev: Conference £1,741

Warsaw: Inquiry into home affairs at European Union level £13,137

Berlin: Symposium on criminal procedures £1,093

Lisbon: Conference £1,908

Washington DC: Surveillance inquiry £55,000

Brussels: Inquiry into home affairs at European Union level £5,775

HUMAN RIGHTS - £6,211

Copenhagen, Malmo: Inquiry into the rights of older people £4,755

Strasbourg, Geneva: Inquiry into human rights issues £1,456

INT'L DEVELOPMENT - £128,291

Ethiopia: Water sanitation inquiry £32,840

Cape Town: Conference £7,144

Berlin: Conference £2,098

Vietnam, Thailand: Human rights inquiries £39,867

Sweden: Visit £2,786

Lisbon: Conference £2,483

Afghanistan: Development assistance in insecure environments £35,000

Brussels: Inquiry into development and trade policies £6,073

N IRELAND AFFAIRS - £10,402

Dublin: Inquiry into tourism £6,291

Dublin: Inquiry into Irish prison service £4,111

PROCEDURE - £6,974

Berlin: Inquiry into public relations £6,974

PUBLIC ACCOUNTS - £8,043

Paris: 200th anniversary of French NAO £383

Copenhagen: Visit overseas audit institutions £6,738

Lisbon: EU scrutiny £922

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION - £32,596

Washington DC: Inquiry into lobbying £32,596

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY - £41,722

Paris: Inquiry into space policy £3,772

Boston, Washington: Inquiry into investigating the oceans £30,883

Lisbon: Oceans inquiry £6,498.

Geneva: Inquiry into research council institutes £569

TRADE AND INDUSTRY - £77,702

Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo: Inquiry into trade with Brazil £45,949

Vilnius: Inquiry into Europe moving east £7,254

Budapest: Moving east inquiry £10,718

Bratislava: Moving east inquiry £8,596

Brussels: Conference £349

Brussels: Meeting £4,836

TRANSPORT - £11,270

Stockholm: Inquiry into local transport bill £11,270

TREASURY - £50,356

Dublin: Inquiry into unclaimed assets in the financial system £7,111

Berlin: Conference £1,866

Ottawa, Washington DC: Inquiry into Bank of England's monetary policy £38,484

Paris: Seminar £1,106

Lisbon: Conference £1,789

WELSH AFFAIRS - £43,389

Czech Republic, Poland: Inquiry into globalisation £15,261

China: Inquiry into globalisation £28,000

Strasbourg: Seminar £128

WORK AND PENSIONS - £108,495

New Zealand: Inquiry into employment £45,034

Paris: Conference £1,494

California: Inquiry into benefits simplification £61,967

Rockin' All Over the World

An investigation has found the taxpayer is funding the journeys of dozens of committee members abroad each month, many from groups concerned with domestic policy. In total, MPs have received £1.4 million of free trips in a year, flying first class, staying in five-star hotels and getting a daily cash allowance.

Destinations between last April and this included New Zealand, China, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and America. Details obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) show:

● The education and skills committee went to Australia, Hong Kong and China to investigate higher education, at a cost of almost £100 000.
● The health committee spent more than £50 000 visiting Nashville, Tennessee, to look at IT systems.
● Members of the science and technology committee took a £30 000 trip to Boston and Washington while "investigating the oceans". Their report made one mention of being in Boston.
● The home affairs committee went to Warsaw to look into "home affairs at European Union level".
● MPs on the culture, media and sport committee toured Canadian and American cities, including Vancouver and Seattle, "fact finding for 2012". The destinations have not hosted the summer Olympics.
● The Welsh affairs committee sent a delegation to China to look into "globalisation".
For each trip, MPs had travel and hotel bills paid and were given an allowance to spend each day on meals and travel. The allowance is based on rates issued by the Foreign Office.

There is no need to provide receipts for the money spent, or to return unspent allowances.

Ten MPs from the work and pensions committee travelled to Los Angeles and Sacramento in California for a week in June, at a cost of £61 967. They flew Virgin first class plus transfers for £46 000 and spent three nights in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Beverly Hills. The committee, there to look at the American benefits system, were given £65 a day spending money - despite being provided with lunch and dinner by the British Consulate General.

Overall, select committees spent £1 418 280 on overseas trips during the last session.

A Commons spokesbot denied the amounts were excessive and said it was sometimes necessary to pay for interpreters, security or extra transport, which increased the cost.

Righty ho...

Ever Wondered About a Bierkeller at the Oktoberfest?

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Happy Birthday

To the Euro, which first arrived on 1st January, 1999.

When it was launched just 11 countries were on board, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Notes and coins were added on 1st January, 2002, and the original 11 have been joined by Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Slovenia, with Slovakia slated to join tomorrow.

Isn't about time the UK did too? It's going to be one for one pretty soon anyway and some are even predicting the pound is going to be worth even less next month.

Seeing as Popeye's in the News

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Vital Office Equipment

It's been revealed that Government departments have spent more than £320 000 of taxpayers' money on flat screen televisions, DVD players and stereo equipment over the past three years.

Apparently this has been justified on the grounds that it was necessary to "meet standards set by other businesses."

Really? I don't see how.

2009 and the Top Five Cop Outs

In no particular order, a short list of ready made, unsubstantiated excuses that councils, town halls and politicians will use to explain any kind of action they see fit to pass:

- Health & Safety
- Terrorism
- Global Economy
- Binge Drinking
- Green/Environmental

Lifestyle Product Development Manager

Any idea what one of these does? They go around the world testing swimming pool flumes.

One lucky chap is paid to travel around the world in order to test holiday resort swimming pool slides for First Choice, and so far he has clocked up 27 000 miles, visiting the company's nine holiday villages in the Costa Del Sol, Lanzarote, Majorca, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Algarve, Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Next year he will have to make the effort to visit new splash resorts in Greece, Turkey, Florida, Jamaica and Ibiza.

OK, now that has got to be a cool job, but I still prefer my choice...

And Speaking of New Year's Eve

If you're out and about in the UK tonight looking to see 2009 in with a bang (and many aren't bothering due to the economic situation, instead preferring to stay in and save a few pennies), you'll be well advised to wrap up warmly. Forecasters are predicting it's going to the coldest New Year's Eve since 1990, even colder than Iceland.

Either way, whatever you're doing, we hope you stay warm, safe and have a super time. See you in 2009. :0)

That's Amore

Venice hopes to remind the world of its reputation as the world's most romantic city (and there was me thinking it was Paris) by organising a mass "kissathon" in which up to 70 000 revellers are expected to exchange kisses in St Mark's Square at midnight on New Year's Eve, tonight.

Which is quite ironic seeing as the city has banned amongst many other normal things, snogging in public. If you're thinking about attending, don't forget your wellies, just in case.

Know What I Mean, 'Arry?

It takes more than a family connection to make it in the big world of politics, as Caroline Kennedy has just found out. Apparently her interview with the New York Times was so appallingly bad, she not just bombed but imploded.

In one sequence, lasting 2 minutes and 27 seconds, she used the phrase “you know” no fewer than 30 times. The paper released a full transcript of her interview where it was calculated she used the space filler phrase a staggering 144 times in 8 500 words.

Apparently there is a clip on YouTube featuring her cringing appearance but I haven't plucked enough courage to have a look at it.

Accountability

A local authority is making history by bringing action against a former employee under the Local Government Act 1999 with the council aiming to recover more than £750 000, following the termination of the chief executive's post.

The woman spent 18 of the 36 months that she was employed by the borough council as its £75 000-a-year managing director off work suffering from stress, but they claim that she“misrepresented and misstated” her fitness for employment on an application form.

Judging by her track record, I'm sure there won't be many ex-colleagues in her camp rooting for her. Upon her appointment as chief executive she sacked five long-serving officials and filed 25 official complaints against a council leader. Whilst only one was upheld she then pursued a legal claim against him but lost and was ordered to pay £96 100 in costs.

She was suspended on full pay in June 2004 for undisclosed reasons.

That makes a change; I wonder how it will turn out?

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Popeye Goes Public

Elzie Segar, the Illinois artist who created Popeye, his love interest Olive Oyl and nemesis Bluto, died aged 43 in 1938 and an EU law that protects the rights of authors for 70 years after their death is about to end.

Which means that on Thursday, 1st January 2009, the copyright expiry will allow anyone to print and sell Popeye posters, T-shirts and even create new comic strips, without the need for authorisation or to make royalty payments.

However, a caution. While the copyright is about to expire inside the EU, the character is protected in the US until 2024, as work is covered for 95 years after its initial copyright.

I Can't Believe This

The top five Dibble forces had a detection rate ranging from 36% to 42% and the national average is just 28%.

I'm sorry but this is acceptable? Someone is having a laugh.

Heard the Latest?

Some "experts" are insisting that cars be fitted with speed-limiters and by doing so it will save 29% of traffic accidents and reduce carbon emissions to boot.

Let them- as a bike rider that would be hilarious. They could never do that to motorcycles as any braking when leaning into a corner will sit the bike up and cause accidents. Ha, ha, see if we care!

Isn't this all getting a bit silly? Perhaps we should introduce a little blurk walking in front of the car waving a red flag? That would not only prevent accidents but also reduce the level of unemployment...

Time's Up For Myopic Oldies

Who drive with flat caps, gloves and bottle thick specs at 27.9 mph on all roads, irrespective of speed limits.

Drivers will soon have to declare every 10 years whether they are medically able to get behind the wheel, according to proposals to be set out early in the new year.

For the first time, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will issue a series of minimum physical and mental requirements motorists must fulfil including eyesight performance and reaction times. Naturally tests, costing up to £80, will be offered to drivers to check whether they are fit to drive, but they will not be compulsory.

But anyone who chooses not to take the tests but declares themselves able to take to the roads will be committing a criminal offence if they fail to meet the established standards.

Can't say I disagree on this, I just wonder why it's taken so long to come around. Full sp at TTel.

Good For Her

A hospital trust is facing questions after a man died having waited more than six hours to be seen in an accident and emergency department. He had already been referred to A & E by his doctor who had diagnosed him and requested immediate admission after a suspected viral infection failed to clear with antibiotics.

However, he faced a reported six-hour wait before he was assessed again by which time his condition had further deteriorated. He was eventually admitted and transferred a week later to another hospital in West London but died last Saturday.

His wife is understandably upset and is demanding answers:

“Why wait three hours for a triage when a doctor had already done it and put it in writing what was going on?”

Predictably the hospital responded by stalling, saying that its emergency ward was experiencing long waits because of a high number of admissions, adding:

"The trust is saddened to hear of the man's death. Due to patient confidentiality we are unable to discuss any details."

No where near good enough and I hope wifey gets the response she deserves.

Thailand Visas

It's always with a little trepidation that one hands over one's passport, but to gain a visa, one has to trust the travel agent and the guys at Banana Travel are solid. As promised, a one day turnaround sees us with shiny stickers in well worn passports enabling us to enter the Kingdom of Thailand before 30th March 2009 and we'll then have sixty days to enjoy this splendid country.

First stop after collecting bruv and sis-in-law is the beach for three weeks, probably at Koh Chang. What's the weather like in the UK?

Cheap It Isn't

However, using Air Asia at their shop is not as cheap as self service on line. We asked for flights from KL to Bangkok and they wanted well over RM 100 compared to the on-line price. We politely declined and have now booked our flights back to Thailand today ourselves. *yay*

Air Asia

We tackled the last part of our self made jig saw puzzle when we visited the AA shop to rearrange our flights from the 10th to the 4th.

Great service- enter, take a ticket and a seat and when one of the guys is free, you get their undivided attention in solving your concern. Or, if it is as busy as today (public holiday yesterday) they also have two pcs for free use to book on line.

Anyway, we swapped our flights over, paid the admin fee and all is now good. Singapore here we come. :o)

All the Way

Only one in 1 400 pencils will be used down to a nubbin, which is defined by the International Pencil Producers Association (IPPA) as any pencil shorter than two inches in length.

What Do You Call a Travelling Belgian?

A: Lost.

OK, that is not quite true but they are not renowned for their wandering efforts and over the years we have been on the move, we have only encountered one couple (Trogir in Croatia) who were on their honeymoon. Until yesterday.

We were down by the harbour to change our train travel times and bumped into another charming couple who had arrived from the mainland in Penang to spend a day in Georgetown. They looked a bit lost but we took them into the centre of town on a mini tour of the place and bid them a pleasant day. Which is the only thing one can have here, this place is fantastic and we will be sad to leave on Monday.

However, we are already making plans to return in June 2009 for another two months and are very much looking forward to that already.

Farewell Georgetown; we've had an amazing time and staying at the Bayview has only enhanced that experience.

Media Tart

Some of you will know that I had a couple of letters printed in the national English written papers when we stayed in Greece and being the attention seeker that I am, I thought I'd have a crack at the Malaysian press and see if I could get in there.

At the hotel, we get the New Strait Times, and a couple of days ago, I fired off my effort. Can you believe they printed it yesterday? Here it is:

TRAFFIC CONCERNS: Malaysian motorists lack etiquette

By : karTER, Penang Email to friend Print article



CAN someone please enlighten me as to what the rule of thumb is for pedestrians hoping to cross the road at traffic lights?

Throughout our extensive travels, we have been led to believe that once a set of lights turns red and the little green man comes on, it is safe to scurry across.

It seems that this universally accepted etiquette is not necessarily adhered to in Malay-sia, as we have, on many occasions, encountered drivers who seem to believe they are above standard traffic laws and plough through regardless; usually with a handphone jammed to one ear and a cigarette in the other hand. Naturally, this only encourages the motorcyclists to follow suit with the "if they can do it, so can we" attitude.

I'm not really complaining, having survived the traffic in Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City. It's just that if someone can give us a clue, we may just have a fighting chance to last our tour of Asia a bit longer.

They must be desperate...

Newcastle Not For Sale

Exactly what the title says, Toon owner, Mike Ashley has withdrawn his offer to sell and one can only hope that the fans will now get off his back and realise Keegan is not quite the hero they thought he was.

Good luck to the guy.

Monday, 29 December 2008

One Over the Cuckoo

The American Psychiatry Association estimates that 75% of people have at least one untreated mental illness.

Their current president clearly has more than his fair share.

Bedtime Stories

Just watched this Disney offering with Adam Sadler and a few other faces. Perfect family fun, some real laugh out loud moments and nice and easy to watch without effort.

Sadler has to babysit his niece and nephew, whilst working at a big hotel. He finds out that telling his charges a bedtime tale makes the story happen the following day. Worth a quid at the pictures, but perhaps not an option in the UK...

Yes, Yes, I Know

Spurs got beaten by the team at the bottom of the league with WBA scoring two and Newcastle got stuffed 1-5. What's your point?

Got Your Coat?

And a couple of thick jumpers will be handy too. The UK is due for extra cold weather for at least the next couple of weeks, thanks to a Siberian blast of freezing weather. Still, they reckon it will remain largely dry and it could be worse:

— The winter of 1647-48 was probably the coldest since daily temperature records began to be kept in the 17th century. John Evelyn, the diarist, records a journey by coach and horses from the City of London to Lambeth along the frozen Thames
— In London, where the most extensive records were kept, snow fell for 39 consecutive days in the winter of 1739-40
— Much of Britain was under snow from December to March, 1962-63
— In February 1947 snow fell on the British Isles on all but two days of the month, with more snow and gales in March, and drifts 3m (9ft) deep in the Chilterns
— Severe flooding followed the thaw of 1947 as the frozen ground was unable to absorb the water

Where is BLiar Hiding?

What with the renewed hostilities between Israel and Gaza, a handy time to look back at the time line of conflict, courtesy of TTel:

* 2006 Jan: Islamist group Hamas wins the Palestinian parliamentary election in January 2006. Fatah refuse to handover power and tensions between the factions rise.

* 2006 Feb: Tit for tat exchanges intensify between Palestinian militants in Gaza firing rockets and Israeli forces using artillery and airstrikes.

* 2006 Jun: Palestinian militants from Gaza tunnel under perimeter fence into Gaza and capture Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit. He remains a prisoner.

* 2006 Jun: Israel launches operation Summer Rains to try to free Shalit, attacking targets in Gaza from the air and then launching relatively small ground offensive.

* 2006 Jul: Attention shifts from Gaza to Lebanon after Hizbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers and Israel responded with its full military might. At least 1,100 people in Lebanon and 157 Israelis are killed in 34 days of fighting.

* 2006 Nov: Israel launches operation Autumn Clouds sending ground troops in to Gaza to try to deal with militants firing rockets.

* 2006 Dec: Fatah-Hamas fighting intensifies. Three brothers, aged 3, 6 and 9, are killed by masked gunmen aiming to kill their father, a Fatah security officer.

* 2007 Mar: BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston kidnapped as Fatah- Hamas tension leads to breakdown in law and order.

*2007 Jun: After months of skirmishes, Hamas ousts Fatah in a bloody battle for power. Fatah gunmen flee to Israel.

* 2007 Jul: Alan Johnston is freed. Hamas takes the credit.

* 2007 Nov: Peace talks restarted with Israel and moderate Palestinians represented by Fatah under Annapolis process. Hamas is sidelined from talks.

* 2008 Sep: Annapolis process stalls and Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, forced to stand down early over a corruption scandal.

* 2008 Jun: With Egyptian mediation, Hamas and Israel agree to a six- month ceasefire in Gaza with militants saying they will stop firing rockets while Israel says it will stop offensive operations.

* 2008 Nov: Israel breaks ceasefire by sending ground troops into Gaza. Rocket fire resumes sparking exchanges.

* 2008 Dec 19: Attempts to renew ceasefire fail amid mutual recriminations.

* 2008 Dec 27: Israel launches operation Cast Lead attacking buildings and facilities connected to Hamas.

Carry on Littering

Thousands of motorists who litter Britain's roads every day are escaping penalty because of a bureaucratic blunder.

An extension of powers to help local councils to track down and fine motorists who throw rubbish from their vehicles has been put on hold after the changes in legislation needed were made to the wrong law.

A trial in London, which would have paved the way for a national policy, has been abandoned as a result. It would have enabled local councils to use evidence collected from closed-circuit television footage and by traffic wardens to fine littering motorists.

But changes to the Environmental Protection Act, which were required to give councils extra powers, were made to an outdated version of the legislation and so the Bill could not pass through Parliament.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said yesterday that, as a result, a loophole remained open and motorists could drop litter with impunity.

They can't even get this right, can they?


Local authorities spend up to £600 million each year clearing up litter. Westminster City Council clears up 20 000 tonnes of street litter a year.

Silly Season For Plod

The Rozzers have been grumbling that they are having their tea breaks interrupted with unnecessary 999 calls over Christmas, which included:
  • a woman to complain she was unable to get through to Strictly Come Dancing to vote in the final
  • a priest ringing police because staff in WH Smith would not let him use their bog
  • a man telephoning to complain that staff at a pizzeria had put mushrooms on his order when he had not asked for them
  • a caller using the emergency line to find out his mobile phone number

Linda Lursadi who was appearing in Snow White, also rang to complain that she was stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 asking Dibble if she could use the hard shoulder to avoid the traffic jams and get to the panto on time.

She was given suitable advice about "calling 999 only in emergencies and about using the hard shoulder only in emergencies."

Good.

Nearly Forgot

Isn't it marvellous that the less I have to remember, the more I forget? Doing the sum square of bugger all, all day, you'd imagine that it would be easy to remember any dates or appointments. I've just realised we bought tickets to go the cinema last week and we're off in an hour.

Just enough time to check the headlines.

As We Were There

Whilst rushing around to change our travel plans, we also managed to book our Thailand visas through the rather excellent Banana Travels. Passports and visas should be back with us tomorrow and we then have up to three months to enter the country. Once validated on arrival we can then stay for two whole months (or I should say 60 days) which we intend to start on 23rd January as Shaz & Dave have just confirmed their flights to Bangkok for three weeks from then.

We will then be spending that time on the beach and once they leave us we will return to Bangkok and the wonderful Imm Fusion. It'll be great going back.

No Early Bird Today

Sorry chaps, but we won't be spending much time on the Blog today; we've dropped a bit of a bollock.

On arrival in Malaysia we thought we had three months here, but on checking passports last night, we realised we in fact have 90 days. It's close, but no cigar- 90 days is less than three months and so we're out of time.

Having already booked ALL of our outgoing passages (read flight down to KL, train to Sing) and our accommodation, we now have to re-book everything for next week now.

See you soon. Hopefully.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

And Of Course

It just had to be a Bank Holiday here, didn't it?

Still, after much faffing about, we make progress. We've changed our train times to leave next Monday (5th January) and will now only stay a week in Singapore. The hotel has also rearranged the dates, which is jolly nice of them.

The Bayview has been advised we are leaving a few days earlier as well and will be offering us a refund for the overpayment, which just leaves amending the flight to KL tomorrow (the travel agent was closed) and we're good to go. Early. :-(

My God, NnnnooooOOO

I should have had an inclining when the dreaded flairs came back into "fashion". Instead I chose to ignore the obvious danger signs and continued in my blissful state of ignorance, until I read this today.

Disco fever is back!

Haven't we suffered enough with such "musical" dross as Pap Idol and I'm an Empty-Headed Mime Dancer? It's a cruel, cruel world. :-(

The Nearly Real Deal

19% of all newspaper articles contain at least one factual error.

Based on that factual, a four fifths of what you have read on this Blog must be legit. As much as that? I am astounded.

Surfing the Web

A small tip to make things bigger. Press and <+> together and any page you are browsing on the web will increase in font size. Repeat until you're happy.

Conversely, and <-> will reduce/decrease font size.

Handy if your bins are not close to hand and you can't tear yourself away from the shite on here.

Travel Snippets From 2008

Some odd, some amusing, some already mentioned on here previously- here's what happened to travellers this year:

Luckily it wasn't his BlackBerry or he would have dived in head-first

Word to the wise: If you drop your cell phone into the toilet of a French high-speed TGV train, don't try to fish it out. In October, a passenger tried to do just that and accidentally triggered the flushing mechanism, sucking his arm down the toilet, the BBC reported. The train had to be halted for two hours as firefighters cut through the train's sewage pipes. The passenger was last seen being carried off the train, the toilet still attached to his arm.

Bringing dignity back to baldness, one head at a time

In September, Air New Zealand announced it would pay 70 bald men to have advertisements temporarily tattooed onto the backs of their heads.
The plan was for the men to stand in line at airports and promote a new system for reducing check-in waiting times, according to the Associated Press.
The follicly challenged men were to be paid $1,000 New Zealand dollars (about US $525 ) apiece, and the airline assured them the tattoos would fade away after two weeks.

He's got a learner's permit, so what's the problem?

A pilot with the Turkish airline Anadolujet was fired in September after he left the cockpit to use the bathroom and left the controls of the Boeing 737 in the hands of a 15-year-old boy, the British newspaper the Mirror reported.
Perhaps the pilot had forgotten that in 1994, 70 people died after an Aeroflot pilot let his son fly the plane and the boy accidentally turned off the autopilot.

Call Samuel L. Jackson - I smell a movie deal

There's an unaccounted-for snake on an Air India passenger jet.
In September, the Hindustan Times reported, a maintenance crew discovered the snake coiled up under a seat after a flight from Srinagar to Delhi, and were unable to catch it as it slithered around the plane. The snake crawled into an air vent and was never found, even after searchers unscrewed panels inside the fuselage, opened all the doors and fumigated the plain.
Reports that the snake was a venomous cobra were denied by Air India.

Jetways are so economy class

After a flight from New York to Georgetown, Guyana, in July, a first-class passenger got angry at seeing economy passengers being allowed to exit before him - so he opened an emergency door and slid down the chute.
The man appeared to be intoxicated, the Associated Press reported, perhaps unnecessarily.

At least one business cares about its customers

Nobody likes those new airline fees for checking luggage, but at least the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal Nevada brothel near Carson City, is doing something about it: It's reimbursing its fly-in customers for the fee.
"As long as the airlines keep sticking it to the consumer, we feel obligated to help," Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, told Travel Weekly.

Yours to keep, with our compliments

An arriving passenger at Japan's Narita International Airport found a little surprise in his luggage when he got home: 5 ounces of marijuana, courtesy of the customs staff.
As the BBC reported, a customs officer hid the package in the side pocket of a randomly chosen suitcase as part of a test of airport security. But drug-sniffing dogs couldn't find the cannabis, and the officer couldn't remember which bag he put it in.
Japan has extremely strict drug laws, with jail sentences for the possession of even small quantities of marijuana.

Next up on eBay: Wolf Blitzer's beard

A baggage screener at Newark Liberty Airport was arrested in October after he allegedly stole a CNN video camera and tried to sell it on eBay. Investigators placed the winning bid and recovered the camera at the suspect's home.
He was charged with pilfering more than 100 items from luggage, the Associated Press reported, including cameras, laptops, cell phones, GPS devices and MP3 players.

They were cheering with embarrassment

Visitors to the Croatian town of Slavonski Brod got an eyeful in November when hackers broke into the tourist board's computer and replaced the tourist tips on a giant video screen in the town center with pornographic movies.
"This incident shocked a lot of people and made our visitors feel very uncomfortable," said Deputy Mayor Zeijka Kristof.
Actually, reported the British newspaper the Daily Times, the crowd that had gathered around the video screen was cheering.

Crete residents aren't wild about word 'cretin,' either

Three residents of the Greek island of Lesbos asked a court in June to prevent a Greek gay rights organization from referring to homosexual women as "lesbians." They argued that this insults their heritage, the Associated Press reported, because Lesbos residents have traditionally been called "Lesbians."

Please make sure to disengage your brain before switching on the satellite navigation system

A driver crashed an 11-foot, 8-inch-high charter bus carrying two dozen high school softball players into a 9-foot-high pedestrian bridge in Seattle's Washington Park in April because he had been keeping his eye on his GPS navigation system and missed the posted warnings.
Five days later, authorities had to pull a taxi minibus out of the River Nar in King's Lynn, England, because the driver was obediently following errant directions from his GPS unit.

Come for the windsurfing, stay for the waterboarding

Who says conditions at Guantanamo Bay are harsh? In May, it was revealed that the U.S. military maintains a luxury resort there for its own use, with air-conditioned suites, surfing, a golf course and a bowling alley, London's Daily Mail reported. There's even a gift shop where you can buy T-shirts that read, "The Taliban Towers at Guantanamo Bay, the Caribbean's Newest 5-star Resort."

And it's only 2 miles from SFO to Brisbane

Sydney, Australia, routinely lands at or near the top of the list of the world's favorite travel destinations. But tourist numbers aren't quite what they should be, because would-be visitors keep flying to the wrong Sydney.
In January, a 21-year-old German traveler who thought he was flying to Sydney, Australia, to visit his girlfriend ended up instead in Sidney, Montana, after misspelling the destination when booking his ticket online.
The wayward traveler, who had only a thin jacket to ward off the winter chill - he'd been expecting summer weather in Australia - was stuck for three days in the Billings airport before he could buy a ticket to Australia with money his parents and friends sent from Germany.
It was, according to Reuters, the second time in two years a German tourist had made this mistake.

And in September, a sculptor from Buenos Aires who thought she was on her way to the land down under stepped off a plane instead in Sydney, Nova Scotia.
"She was taking pictures out the airplane window and said to herself, 'Something is not right,'" a woman the sculptor met on the flight told the Cape Breton Post.
Making the best of the situation, the sculptor decided to spend her vacation in Nova Scotia.

The same thing happened in August 2002 to a couple from London, the paper reported, adding that Sidney, British Columbia, has also received its share of Australia-bound tourists.

Listen for planes colliding and you'll be fine

Let no one deny that St. Mary's Airport, on the Isle of Scilly off the southwest coast of England, is an equal opportunity employer. In July, the Plymouth Herald reported, the airport advertised an opening for an air traffic controller and noted that the application was available in Braille.
And, yes, the island's name is pronounced "silly."

You have to wonder how this guy made it to 64

This item came in too late for last year's report, so we're including it here as a public service:
Airport security rules about bringing liquids aboard airplanes nearly killed a 64-year-old German man last December. Screeners at the Nuremberg airport found a quart of vodka in his bag and told him he would either have to pour it out or pay to have his carry-on checked as luggage. But the man chose a third option: He unscrewed the cap and chugged the entire bottle on the spot, prompting a trip to the emergency room with near-fatal alcohol poisoning.

How about a full-body search for the happy couple?

A Canadian man intent on surprising his high school sweetheart with a wedding proposal in a romantic setting had to pop the question instead at an airport security checkpoint.
Aaron Tkachuk had planned to propose aboard a Caribbean cruise, but an alert X-ray screener at the Prince George airport in British Columbia noticed a small box in the toe of one of his packed socks and insisted on having a closer look, the Associated Press reported. Out came a white gold, diamond and ruby ring, and Tkachuk was forced to propose on the spot.
His girlfriend said yes.

Somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, Osama bin Laden is very disappointed

In May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded a $382,000 anti-terrorism grant to a bus service that shuttles gamblers from Colorado Springs to nearby mountain-town casinos, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.
The money is to be used for GPS systems and for training drivers, which the paper quoted a bus company official as consisted of teaching them "to be aware of their surroundings, of what's unusual and the people on board."

But you did remember the gummi bears, right?

An Israeli family jetted off from Ben Gurion Airport to a vacation in Paris in August - and accidentally left their 4-year-old daughter behind in the gift shop.
The parents, who were sitting in different parts of the airplane, did manage to bring four of their five children with them. Each parent assumed the fifth was with the other, according to the BBC.

And you thought the cloying smell of Cinnabons in the food court was annoying

No need to worry about bears infesting the Juneau airport. In September, a canister of anti-bear spray - a supercharged version of the pepper spray that can be used to fend off assailants - accidentally discharged in the airport, and quickly spread through the ventilation system. One person was hospitalized, and the airport had to close for an hour and a half before maintenance staff could flush the spray out of the ventilation ducts.

We're going to have to count that as a snack and charge you $15

A Ryanair flight from Budapest to Dublin had to make an emergency landing in Frankfurt in August after mushroom soup leaked from an overhead bin onto the head of a man who was severely allergic to mushrooms, the BBC reported.

No secondhand smoke, but a contact high is just fine

The Netherlands banned smoking in bars and restaurants in July, with one notable exception: marijuana is still OK. Patrons can still smoke it in Amsterdam's "coffee shops," where they can buy up to 5 grams a day to smoke on the premises, according to London's Daily Telegraph.

Is that enough leg room for you, buddy?

A passenger sued JetBlue Airways in May for $2 million after the captain ordered him out of his seat and told him to stand up or go "hang out in the bathroom" for the duration of the New York-to-Los Angeles flight, the Associated Press reported. The man had a gift ticket, and an off-duty JetBlue employee who had originally agreed to sit in the cockpit jump seat changed her mind and wanted the man's seat.

Calvin & Hobbes

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On how the economy really works...


Countdown to the New Season

12th January will see the "new look" Countdown return to your TV screens on C4, but it will not feature either Carol Vorderman nor the last presenter, Des O'Connor. Vorderman rightfully told the programme to get stuffed after being asked to take 90% pay cut, whilst the ageing warbler wanted to concentrate on his "music" career.

Jeff Stelling a Sky Sports host will be the new figure head (a step forward for him? I wouldn't have thought so...) and following a screen test of over 1 000 hopeful IQ chicks, Oxford graduate Rachel Riley bags the burd's berth.

A couple things worthy of note; Riley hails from Sarfend, Essex, our old hometown and she seems to be struggling a tad in her new role. Reports suggest that she may not be quite as quick-fire on the mental arithmetic as her predecessor, Carol, but it's still early days.

Either way, while any programme may never be as good as the original crew, we wish them well.

Aha

1 Egypt 2 Hungary 3 Czech Republic 4 Korea 5 China 6 Phillipines 7 Albania 8 Maldives 9 Lithuania 10 Greenland

I didn't do too well either...

"New" Countries

There plenty of countries that are known by one name yet refer to themselves as an entirely different word. Recently we noticed Mumbai and Bombay and Myanmar and Burma in the news and they are the more common ones. Have a guess at some of the more obscure ones, with answers next post:

1 Misr
2 Magyarorszag
3Cesko
4 Han’guk
5 Zhongguo
6 Pilipinas
7 Shqiperia
8 Dhivehi Raajje
9 Lietuva
10 Kalaallit Nunaat

Mnemonics

Some old, some new:

May I have a large container of coffee = Count the letters to recall pi to seven places

Kings play chess on fat girls’ stomachs = Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species

My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas = Order of the planets

Bless my dear Aunt Sally = Order of solving arithmetical equations (Brackets, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction)

You go brown before potting black = Order of snooker balls

EU Tube Going Down the Tubes

Following on from yesterday's revelation that the EU wastes around 2€ billion on pointless propaganda every year, it now appears that its own EU Tube website featuring more of its own PR videos is a monumental failure as well. After 18 months, viewing figures are just a few dozen.

That is hardly surprising with such blockbusters as an EU Tube video entitled Controlling the Use of Chemicals in Europe (watched 56 times) and another film, Better Rights for Temporary Workers (attracting 70).

They'd have shot the horse many months ago.

EU Tube is funded out of a 207 € million (£196 million) communication budget from Brussels, which so far has attracted 7 391 subscribers. The community has a population of 500m.

The website is one of dozens of examples of EU marketing documented in a 160-page dossier compiled by Open Europe, the eurosceptic think tank.

The report claims the EU is spending 2.4 € billion a year on lobbying, press officers, advertising and other types of “propaganda” including scholarships. It also says the EU sends out more than 1 million promotional brochures, balloons and pens each year.

More examples of waste? Sure:

— An event for young people on the Isle of Wight, justified on the grounds that students there might have below-average contact with their European peers: “This can make them seem insular and antiEuropean.”
— A film featuring young people waving EU flags to the tune of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in support of the Young European Federalists.
— Funding of 7 € million to enhance public awareness of the common agricultural policy.

A Eurospokesbot said that the commission “did not recognise” the 2.4 € billion figure. Of course not; that would be far too embarrassing, wouldn't it?

Details pilfed from TTimes.

Holy Real, It's Spackman

This has to be one of the funniest articles in TTimes this year. Hilarious.

For Mr Invisible, the first and last blow to his burgeoning career as a superhero was an unexpected punch that flattened his nose.

“After months of designing my costume, getting my street moves just right, it was my first week out as a Real Life Superhero – and probably my last. This tiny, tiny girl did not like me trying to calm down her screaming boyfriend. She blindsided me, I’m still bruised. It’s dangerous out there,” said the deflated would-be crime fighter last week.

Mr Invisible is cheered that at least his grey one-piece “invisibility suit” works, proven when a drunk urinated on him in an alley. But he is weary of lurking in dark, down-town Los Angeles after dark.

The 29-year-old graduate is “refocusing” on his day job as an insurance salesman. His farewell appearance will be at a New Year’s Eve party.

Mr Invisible may be living up to his name but his spray-painted “supershoes” will quickly be filled by another Real Life Superhero eager to save America from itself. There are, according to the recently launched World Superhero Registry, more than 200 men and a few women who are willing to dress up as comic book heroes and patrol the urban streets in search of, if not super-villains, then pickpockets and bullies.

They may look wacky, but the superhero community was born in the embers of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when ordinary people wanted to do something short of enlisting. They were boosted by a glut of Hollywood superhero movies.

In recent weeks, prompted by heady buzz words such as “active citizenry” during the Barack Obama campaign, the pace of enrolment has speeded up. Up to 20 new “Reals”, as they call themselves, have materialised in the past month.

The Real rules are simple. They must stand for unambiguous and unsponsored good. They must create their own Spandex and rubber costumes without infringing Marvel or DC Comics copyrights, but match them with exotic names – Green Scorpion in Arizona, Terrifica in New York, Mr Xtreme in San Diego and Mr Silent in Indianapolis.

They must shun guns or knives to avoid being arrested as vigilantes, even if their nemeses may be armed. Their best weapon is not muscle but the internet – an essential tool in their war on crime is a homepage stating the message of doom for super-villains.

This is more than bravado, say veterans. It may help as evidence after a Real has been arrested or even committed to a mental health hospital for evaluation. That happened to Mr Invisible’s equally short-lived predecessor, Black Owl, who last summer had to be sprung from a psychiatric ward by his teenage daughter who told doctors: “Dad forgot for a moment, when faced with police, just for a moment, that he did not have real superpowers. He could not just fly away.”

“This is a more serious business than it looks,” said Citizen Prime, whose $4,000 (£2,700) costume disguises an Arizona businessman and father of a toddler who thinks his cape, mask and stun-gun are cool.

Prime patrols some of the most dangerous streets in Phoenix but, like most Reals, is reluctant to speak about the villains he has dispatched with a blow from his martial arts-honed forearm. He does admit helping a motorist change a flat tyre.

“Kids love the costume, so I seek to keep them out of the gangs today rather than take them on tomorrow,” said Prime who, at 41, regards himself as on the mature wing of the Real community.

He is worried about lunatics and hotheads. He says he would never act like the Black Monday Society in Salt Lake City who interrupt drug deals in public parks and face off against armed thugs.

Utah police officers say they appreciate Ghost, a 33-year-old concrete worker, and his colourfully costumed cohorts Insignis, Oni, Ha! and Silver Dragon. But other police departments recall that America’s most feared gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, were also born as idealistic “community defenders”.

It can be dangerous. Master Legend of Florida, who arms himself with a pepper-spraying cannon powered by cans of antiperspirant, was attacked by a man with a hammer.
There is a high burn-out rate. Terrifica, a 5ft 9in redcaped superheroine, who would manhandle drunken girls away from heavy-handed dates in nocturnal New York, spoke about how she despised her “weak, needy and dumped” alter-ego Sarah.


Artemis of San Diego reported on his blog that he had heard a woman screaming outside his home but by the time he had dressed up in his costume the police were already there. Kevlex, 47, who runs the Superhero Registry, says he patrols more in winter than summer in Arizona, when his Kevlar and Spandex kit itches. But the deadliest kryptonite against a superhero is boredom.

“I was out every night, 8pm until 2am, hanging about all the bad corners and nothing happened, nada, zip,” recalled Mr Invisible. “It was raining: even the drug dealers were at home. And often cops are just too good at their jobs.”

Utterly brilliant. :oD

More Streamlining

Again, in a further attempt to speed up the Blog download, we have adjusted the page so it will only display the last 25 posts. If we've guffed on further, simply click on Older Posts at the foot of the page and more of our shite outpourings can be discovered. :o)

Providence and the Butler

Anyone a fan of Jeeves and Wooster, the main characters in the books by PG Wodehouse? Great books and also well produced for the TV series starring Fry & Laurie as butler and aristocrat.

It seems that they were not Wodehouse's first attempt at a similar style of creation and a missing manuscript, lost since 1910 has been discovered. The Sunday Times has reproduced the story in full at Providence and the Butler, which centres around master and servant, the 12th Earl of Drexdale and Keeling, his butler, who has worked at Drexdale Castle since before anyone can remember.

The earl, whose father was a cabinet minister of honoured memory, spends far too much of his time on the racecourse for Keeling’s liking, but one day, the earl sends his butler to London to “keep an eye” on his son, worried he is about to marry beneath himself after falling for a Texan circus artiste, albeit a “deucedly good-looking” one.

Keeling disobeys orders but, like Jeeves, he knows his master’s interests better than the master himself — and wins an artful victory.

Already sounds like a winner to me.

The Figures Don't Lie

Usually, and these don't make pleasant reading: Last year, according to the Oxford Economics's (OE) calculations, Britain was better off on average than other G6 countries; the top world economies (United States, Germany, Japan, France and Italy).

National income (gross domestic product {GDP}) per head last year, expressed in dollars, was $45 970 in Britain, $45 830 in America, $40 925 in France, $40 405 in Germany, $35 586 in Italy and $34 244 in Japan. This reflected not only the strength of the pound but also that Britain had enjoyed a run of growth stretching back to the early 1990s and which last year exceeded 3%.

This year, however, Britain with a GDP per head of $43 859 (the pound buys fewer dollars), has been overtaken by America ($46 993), France ($45 088) and Germany ($44 245). Only Italy ($39 641) and Japan ($38 692) still remain behind.

Worse is to come because of the recession and the sliding pound. The managing director of OE said:

“UK GDP per capita in 2009 will be 24% lower than in America and will be over 15% lower than in Japan, Germany and France. It will even be 7% lower than GDP per capita in Italy, where economic performance has been very poor over the past decade."

Happy New Year, everyone. :-(

Boomerang Kids

Research among young adults between 16 and 29 shows that each year 4% of those who have moved out of the family home return to live with their parents. This is more than double the percentage of "boomerang" children in France, Ireland, Greece and Portugal, which come next in the rankings.

Clearly the over-priced property prices in the UK will be part of the cause of this, but I think it is also the mindset. Most countries do not have this inbuilt need to own where they live and the culture of renting a place for decades is quite the norm.

Maybe this needs to filter through and people need not be ashamed to admit to renting as opposed to buying?

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Book Covers

2008 has been the year that has seen non-fiction hardback sales dominated by celebrity memoirs. The best sellers:

Top hardbacks of 2008

Paul O’Grady – At My Mother’s Knee (Sales: 594 810)
Dawn French – Dear Fatty (514 115)
Julie Walters – That’s Another Story (413 520)
Michael Parkinson – Parky (391 850)
Jeremy Clarkson – For Crying Out Loud (292 700)
Alan Carr – Look Who It Is! (232 580)
Katie Price – Jordan: Pushed to the Limit (229 285)
Cliff Richard – My Life, My Way (172 540)
Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding – The Mighty Book of Boosh (138 580)
Fern Britton – Fern (125 965)

The industry considers a book to be a reasonable success if it has shifted 100 000 copies.

How's That For Timing?

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For My Next Trick

How to get a raw egg, still in its shell, into an empty milk bottle.

Soak the egg in vinegar for two days to soften the shell and heat the bottle in boiling water.

Place egg on top of bottle: as the bottle cools, the air inside it contracts and the egg will be sucked in.

Hey presto. :o)

5 x And

Legit sentence: "When you drew that fish-and-chips sign, you should have put a hyphen between 'fish' and 'and' and 'and' and 'chips.'"

Burds on the Beer

Way back in November 2005, licensing laws were relaxed and we began what has affectionately been termed a 24 hour drinking culture; although in reality many would be hard pressed to find a traditional pub open much longer than the usual 23:00, much less three or four in the morning.

The idea was simple and reasonable- to try and get Brits used to being able to have a beer, wine or a shot at any hour they chose and thus prevent this so called "power drinking" that occurred fifteen minutes before kicking out time. That, and to make Britain a little more European in its approach to alcohol and just maybe respect it a little more.

It doesn't seem to have worked.

In 2004/05, the last year before round-the-clock drinking was introduced, 11 020 on the spot fines were issued to pissed up burds for offences such as being drunk in the street, shouting abuse or damaging property.

This year, the number of £80 penalties handed out has risen three fold to 37 100...

Oh well, when the Government returns to restricted licencing hours, we'll only have ourselves to blame, won't we?

Chill Time

One in eight Russians say they practise falling asleep.

With or without the aid of Vodka?

Sweet Revenge

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More From Waste Watch

At TTel:

A bid to spruce up part of Exeter has been described as "an incredible waste of public money" after council officials ordered a £172,000 public art project including a £73,000 glass and metal sculpture and £14,000 on artists and poets fees.

Exeter City Council said the cost included installation of the artwork, in the city's Heavitree area, an illuminated arch, an interpretation panel and paving with a poem carved in it.

Martyn Beckett, editor of the monthly Heavitree News and a member of the Heavitree Sculpture Focus Group, said: "It is unnecessarily grandiose and we would have been quite happy with an improvement scheme that cost half as much. It is an incredible waste of public money which needn't have happened if the council had consulted properly in the first place."

Artist Michael Fairfax was paid £10,000 for his work on the project, while poet Ralph Hoyte got £4,000. There is also an oak tree and a grille complete with lettering.

John Rigby, director of economy and development for Exeter City Council, said the investment would provide a significant boost to the area.

"The request from traders was to dramatically change what Heavitree Fore Street looks like," he said.

"We have created a distinctive look to the place and it will contain a number of features that are of local interest, and that are artistic, visually attractive and thought-provoking. Surely that is what we want."

He added: "Public art is often controversial because it is a subjective thing."

More than £300,000 of public money has been spent redecorating the Northern Ireland Assembly building at Stormont since the return of devolved government 18 months ago.

The expenditure includes £126,000 on 54 separate purchases of desks, chairs and bookcases, including one lot of 12 mahogany desks and bookcases that cost £6,800. The remainder was spent on painting and decorating, including over £1,000 for a French polish on the doors leading into the Ministerial office.


A further £140,000 was spent painting external window frames, according to figures supplied following a Freedom of Information request.

Mark Wallace, the campaign director of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said the sum was "a disgraceful amount to spend feathering politicians' nests".

He added: "Ordinary taxpayers need money in their pockets to survive this recession and there is no way it should be squandered on giving parliament buildings a makeover."

A spokeswoman for the Assembly said such expenditure was "subject to rigorous and strict value for money tests" and reflected the historic nature of the listed building.

A council has agreed to conduct an inquiry after a project to convert an old railway shed into a visitor centre finished two years late and ran almost three times over budget.

Staffordshire Moorlands District Council has been refurbishing the building near the village of Hulme End since 2004 to an original budget of £149,000 but the scheme has finally been completed at a cost of at least £400,000.

Local resident Roger Cannon said: "The district council said only two weeks ago that money was tight and it could not afford to freeze council tax for residents next year, yet it can waste more than £300,000 on a shed. This is council taxpayers' hard-earned money being wasted."

Councillor Andrew Hart, portfolio holder of regeneration and tourism, said a "project review" would be carried out to find out if any failings could have been avoided.


He added: "There came a point where it would have cost more public money to scrap the project because we would have been forced to pay back the grant money given by the government and the European Union. The scheme was started several years ago and we have had to make the best of a bad job."

And Some Photies





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Can't take any credit for any of these photos; we forgot our camera so I went pilfing off the net. Good though, aren't they?

Khoo Clan House

This afternoon we spent some time looking around the Khoo Kongsi, which is a spectacular clan house located a short walk from our hotel. Here's the gen, taken from Khoo Kongsi Online:

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, or Khoo Kongsi for short, is one of the most distinctive Chinese clan associations in Malaysia. It is well known worldwide for its extensive lineage that can be traced back 650 years, as well as its closely-knit and defensive congregation of buildings and a magnificent clanhouse.

Surprisingly, famous as it is, its location appears to be unknown to many Penangites. It is situated at the southwest of Georgetown, and its pivotal building, Leong San Tong, is hidden amidst the crowded gridiron of terrace houses and shophouses. To make it to Leong San Tong, which is perhaps the most majestic clanhouse in South East Asia, you will need to tread through an alley between two rows of 19th century terrace houses and bypass the opera stage, before you see it stand majestically on the granite square.

Khoo Kongsi, together with Cheah, Yeoh, Lim and Tan Kongsi, were known as the Five Big Clans (Goh Tai Seh) that formed the backbone of the Hokkien community in early Penang. Since mid-19th century, having identified their respective bases, these kongsi rooted themselves in an area stretching from Chulia Street Ghaut in Georgetown to the lower part of Beach Street in the south. With the respective clanhouses as the nuclei, these kongsi demarcated their territories with their own terrace houses on three or four sides of the perimeters. This adjoining, closely-knit and defensive model settlement, like a clan village in the colonial city, is a rare form of congregation practised among migrant communities.

For the past 200 years, from the emigration from Sin Kang Village in China to the formation of Khoo Kongsi in Penang, the Khoo clan has gone through some phases of social changes.

From the late 18th century to 1850, the Khoos migrated from Sin Kang Village in China to Penang and involved themselves in trades and other careers. They formed a closely-knit community, took care of each other and gathered on the 5th day of the 5th Moon every year to celebrate the birthday of Tua Sai Yah. In 1835, they founded the Ee Kok Tong as an early form of clan association.

The period between 1850 and the early 20th century saw the strongest kinship in the Khoo clan which comprised of the Sinkeh (new immigrants) and the local-born 2nd and 3rd generation clansmen. The vast and stable population of the Khoos settled down in the Weld Quay area and around Tua Cheng Hang (Cannon Street) where they bought a plot of land on which the clanhouse, Leong San Tong, was built. The ancestral and deity worship, the compilation of The Genealogy of the Sin Kang Khoo and Chan Clans as well as the founding of the Sin Kang clan school showed their firm commitment to replicate a clan community in the British colony of Penang.

In the late 19th century, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi established connections with the other kongsi in Penang, and the clansmen also participated actively in the local organisations and religious activities. They became an important social influence in the local community. During the 1880s, the Khoos had also extended their economic and political influences beyond Penang to Sumatra, Southern Thailand and other areas in the vicinity of Penang.

From the early 20th century to the end of World War II, like any other kongsi in the early years of the 20th century, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi established good relationship with the British colonial government and some of the clansmen sent their children to English schools. As a result of this, a new group of English-educated or "Baba" leaders established themselves in Khoo Kongsi. These leaders observed an eclecticism of the Western and traditional Chinese clan aspirations. The clanhouse, Leong San Tong, was a good reflection of this eclecticism.

In the 1920s, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi's purchase of Thean Teik Estate was the largest property investment in Penang. Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi encouraged non-clansmen to cultivate the land, and some of the clansmen had also moved in from the Kongsi's enclave in George Town. During the Japanese occupation, many clansmen moved away from the kongsi enclave to hideouts in the suburbs. After the war, many Kongsi's houses that were left behind by the clansmen were rented to non-Khoo tenants.

In 1955, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi became a registered organisation. In 1976, it was registered as Trustees of Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (Penang) Registered and had its investments managed by a board of trustees formed by representatives of the See Tua Kak, making it identical to a modern family corporation. In order to enjoy the benefits which Khoo Kongsi offered, each of the clansmen had to register with the kongsi, although no membership fee was required. Today, however, the authority of the "patriarch" (Keh Teoh) or the traditional rules of the clan are no longer feasible among the clansmen.

At the same time of inheriting the traditional clan system, Khoo Kongsi is adjusting itself to modern society.

Today, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi is a historic site as well as a tourist enclave which attracts hundreds of tourists daily. The basement of Leong San Tong was converted into a museum, and the 24 shophouses around the courtyard will undergo renovation cum restoration. The future outlook of the Khoo Kongsi's enclave as a clan community is changing and will continue to change.

Time Flies

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A store display in Virginia, USA on 26th December, getting ready for St Valentine's Day. The UK can beat that, Woolworth's are having their closing down sale for Easter Eggs today...

Just a Second

A Peruvian woman called Virgen Maria, who is married to a carpenter, has named her son Jesus Emanuel after giving birth on Christmas Day.

They should write a book on this one; it could be a best seller.

Headline from the BBC.

Good Riddance

A new national poll suggests that three out of four Americans feel President Bush's departure from office is coming not a moment too soon. 75% of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp survey said they're glad Bush is going; only 23% indicated they'll miss him.

I know which camp I throw down my sleeping bag.

Almost Forgot







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Some photos of our Christmas Eve party at the Red Market which provided us with superb food, good music and quite excellent entertainment. More photos on Flickr, right now.


What's in a Name? Plenty For Some

A record 46 000 people changed their names by deed poll this year. Some of the more imaginative ones include:
  • Happy Adjustable Spanners (the guy lost a bet :o))
  • Luscious Lemons
  • General Ninja Ant
  • Aron Mufasa Columbo Fonzerelli Ball In A Cup Boogie Woogie Brown
  • Mr Tintin Captain Haddock Confused Brewer
  • N'Tom TheHayemaker Haywardyouliketocomebacktomine
  • McLovin

If it makes them happy, good for them.

**Update**

I've since found out more on this and can now offer further reasons for the chosen names:

Aron Mufasa Columbo Fonzerelli Ball In A Cup Boogie Woogie Brown: Formerly Aron William James Brown, 25, a cinema projectionist from Derby. He chose Mufasa from the Lion King, Columbo after the TV detective and Fonzerelli from The Fonz character in Happy Days. He picked Ball In A Cup because he is obsessed with the game and Boogie Woogie as he 'felt I needed to inject a bit of humour into my name'.

N'Tom The Hayemaker Haywardyouliketocomebacktomine: Formerly Tom Hayward. The 19-year-old computer games design student from Market Harborough, Leicestershire, changed his name after a night out clubbing and forgot about it. He was shell-shocked to receive a letter confirming his new name. Since then he has grown used to it.

General Ninja Ant: Formerly Anthony Richard Giles Bailey, a 42-year-old environmental campaigner from Southend-on-Sea. Picked General because he didn't want to be plain old Mr any more and Ninja because he is a martial arts expert. Ant is an abbreviation of his first name.

Tintin Captain Haddock Confused Brewer: Formerly Chris Brewer, 25, a stockbroker from Leeds. Tintin is his nickname because of his receding hairline. Captain Haddock is another Tintin reference and also because he is a keen Grimsby Town fan and their mascot is a haddock. Confused is a private joke. He says: I got in trouble with the police on a lads' night out recently and they wouldn't believe me when I told them my name.'

Happy Adjustable Spanners: Formerly Daniel Westfallen, 27, from Hornchurch, Essex. Decided to change his name for a bet on a drunken night out. All of his friends put names into a hat and Happy Spanners came out. His boss then picked Adjustable as a middle name.

How Brilliant Are We?

Once more demonstrating that the EU is woefully out of touch, it's been revealed that its annual spending on PR exercises is two billion Euro* (so almost the same in sterling now). Yes, that's per year. And what do we get for our dosh? Such gems as a publication, entitled How the European Union works, which describes the EU as "a remarkable success story" and another English-language "information" pamphlet claimed the EU "is delivering a better life for everyone" and described the single market as "a winning formula."

Their self publicity campaign doesn't appear to be working though, only recently Euro-MPs found that only 2% of Britons are aware that European elections are taking place next year.

More at TTel.

*To put that into perspective, that is a budget that is bigger than Coca-Cola's total worldwide advertising account.

Red Spells Danger

Way back on Thursday, 11th December 2008, we posted up Hang On, Are You Sure? about how Aussie teachers should not mark homework in red ink in case it upset the kids.

Today, sixteen days later, TTel catches up with:


Marking in red ink banned in case it upsets schoolchildren

Hundreds of schools have banned their teachers from marking in red ink in case it upsets the children.

There are no set guidelines in this country on marking, and schools are free to formulate their own individual policies. So far...

...but this is why I can use red ink and not give a stuff.

Yellow or Blue?

Can you believe that someone has died because of a Post-It note?

According to the National Obituary (USNO), in 1988, an American man unknowingly allergic to two different ingredients in the adhesive suffered a paper cut and mysteriously died less than two days later.

I wonder which colour it was?

Brucie

I like Bruce Forsyth and I find it amazing that this guy, who has been in the entertainment business for decades (over 50 years) remains un-knighted. Rumour has that once again, he will remain "sir-less" this year and it demonstrates the ridiculous system employed to honour deserving causes.

However, help is at hand as internet campaigns are showing support and pressure is mounting to rectify this travesty. Thousands of people have joined Facebook groups devoted to the "Strictly Come Dancing"* presenter, including one called Give Bruce Forsyth a Knighthood, which has more than 14 000 members. There is even a campaign which has even reached the Downing Street website, where more than 4 600 people have signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to honour the 80 year old entertainer.

Good luck to them; I hope they succeed.


*and The Generation Game, The Price is Right, Play Your Cards Right...Bruce Forsyth has however been awarded an OBE and CBE.

I've Never Understood

Why estate agents are so disliked by so many people.

They are in the business to sell your house, should you choose to employ an agent, and they then market it in such a manner until your gaff gets sold. You also need to choose another home, so again, you may wish to turn to another estate agent.

For their services, they charge you a fee, just as anyone in any business does and what you pay is entirely down to your negotiating skills. What's the problem?

I am aware that some agents will distort the truth, but again, this is common in all aspects of life, whether padding out your CV, telling your wife she doesn't have a fat arse and of course, politicians earn their living by lying through their teeth.

Anyway, I'm a fan of theirs (apart from Hair & Son, but that is another tale for a rainy day) and it saddens me that 32 000 people have lost their jobs in the current economic climate. Around 4 000 estate agency offices (approximately one in four) have closed, leading to the loss of jobs not just for the sales agents themselves, but also valuers, negotiators, weekend viewing staff, administrators and mortgage advisers.

:-(

Anyone There?

An aircraft had to stay circling a southern Philippines airport before landing, because air traffic controllers still in a Christmas holiday mood arrived late for work.

The Philippine Airlines flight from Manila was unable to land at Zamboanga City airport on time because there were no traffic controllers to answer its request to approach the runway.

Can't imagine that being much fun.

I Name This Ship

Were you aware that the cork from a champagne bottle exits at around 50 mph? To avoid taking someone's eye out, always ensure the bottle is chilled (the cork flies out more slowly) and use a towel over the top. Best of all, grip the cork and twist the bottle to ensure there are no mishaps.

Pointless post, I know; who can afford champagne in this recession?

More Interfering

Not content with sticking its beak into everyone's lives and acting as Nanny Bodyguard, the government now wants to regulate the internet.

"Cinema-style" age ratings could be allotted to websites under new plans to restrict access to unacceptable material, or there may be the possibility to require ISPs to offer a service that gives access only to websites suitable for children.

Surely that is something for the parents to decide, and why, as a childless adult, will I have to become inconvenienced for the sake of other people's kids? They chose to have the little darlings, let them look after them and not cast off their burdens on others.

Fuller story at TTel.

Another Wasted Opportunity

Once more Spurs bollocks it up and gain a dull 0-0 draw at home to Fulham. A meagre point is not enough and we are edging back into the relegation fray.

The honeymoon period is well and truly over for the fugly blurk and now we'll see just how good he is. We have an opportunity to buy a player or two next week and I truly hope new signings will help, as we are simply not good enough- yet.

We now sit in 16th (20) spot, equal on points with Middlesbrough and Stoke who are in the drop zone. Poor.

Newcastle fared little better, going down 2-1 at Wigan. However, they can afford to drop points as they are in 12th place and looking far healthier.

As for Southend, they beat Northampton at Roots Hall and with three points, are now in 12th (24) place. Congrats to them and keep the wins coming.

Missed It Part Deux

Aye, the Flickr slide show featuring a choice photo of some of the more memorable places we've been to is back. The Blog was looking far too word heavy and we needed to break it up a little.

Having tested it with Firefox, I can honestly say it loads without problem and scrolls sweetly and without hitch. IE7 on the other hand remains a pig. See how you get on, whilst you drool over the exotic piccies that flash past you. :o)

However, we've taken off the "montage" Flickr badge that sat near the bottom to try and make it easier to load and not make you too jealous...

Lucky Number Seven

There are no naturally occurring flowers with seven petals.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Happy Holidays

What is all this nonsense? It is Christmas, so just call it the way it is.

Israel Isidore Baline

Who?

Irving Berlin- that is his real name. He wrote the classic 1940 Christmas choon, "White Christmas" which has been covered many times but rarely bettered the version by Bing Crosby in the film Holiday Inn.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records it is the best-selling single of all-time.