Thursday, 30 April 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go

HM Revenue & Customs is to spend £1 billion on enforcement and compliance this year to cut tax avoidance and evasion by £2.4 billion, Britain's most senior tax collector said last night.

Less than a week after the Chancellor proposed a rise in income tax to 50 per cent for the highest earners, the Revenue said that it would spend a quarter of its £4 billion budget on catching tax-dodgers. Lesley Strathie, who took over as the HMRC's chief executive and permanent secretary five months ago, said that the organisation would relentlessly pursue those who bent or broke the rules.

The clampdown comes after a change of tack by the Revenue's prosecutors last year. In its “litigation and settlement review” the Revenue promised to take more people to court to recover tax instead of cutting deals in out-of-court settlements. With companies and individuals prepared to defend themselves in court, such a strategy has proved expensive.

More on this at TTimes.

Ten Innovations Inspired by Star Trek

As per TTimes:

NEC mobile

1 The flip-top mobile phone
For a generation that grew up flicking imaginary communicators and saying “Beam me up, Scotty”, the now near-ubiquitous flip-top mobile phone was the answer to our prayers.

2 The sound of automatic doors

The first electrically operated sliding automatic doors were fitted in Texas in 1960. They ran on noisy rubber wheels. Fifty years later, all of the world’s sliding doors open with a swooooosh. Where do you suppose that idea came from?

3. Flat-screen TVs, touch-screen computers, video-conferencing

We laughed when we saw them. Television sets could never be that small, computers could never be that responsive. In 2009, we’re all fighting over the latest half-inch thick Sony and Samsung LCDs, then wondering how we plug our iPhones into them. Business types, meanwhile, are conducting transglobal negotiations in much the same manner as Kirk did with the Klingons.

Enterprise shuttle

4. The first space shuttle
Nasa called its first space shuttle (above) the Enterprise, following a letter-writing campaign by fans in 1976. The ship was used in test flights but was never truly spaceworthy.

5. The transporter beam
Although the original owes its existence to the show’s minuscule budget, that hasn’t stopped real scientists from trying to make one. In 2007, a new record was set for quantum teleportation, when data was beamed 89 miles from the island of La Palma to Tenerife.

6. The tricorder
Dr McCoy’s original all-in-one medical diagnostic tool was designed by one of the unsung heroes of Star Trek, Wah Ming Chang, who also came up with the look for the Communicator. Although no such thing yet exists, we take heart from the fact that every single PDA on the planet looks like a Tricorder, and from this news article, which claims that PDAs can now be made to work as full-on medical scanners.

Jet injector

7. The Hypospray
You try and tell me that there’s no Star Trek influence in the final design of jet injectors, the special hypodermics used for mass immunisation programmes. Go on, try.

8. Warp drive
On the face of it, this is one of Star Trek’s most unlikely technologies. However, it does have roots in quantum physics, in which components of an atom do hop from place to place without, seemingly, touching a point in between (see the excellent book Quantum by Manjit Kumar for details). Yes, I know. It puzzled Einstein, too. And it seems to have defeated NASA, whose six-year Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program was cancelled in 2002. Unless, of course, they succeeded. And fell through into a parallel universe.

9. The phaser
Yep, it’s the US military again, and they've got a big laser gun.

If you have more classic tastes, then you can take apart your PlayStation 3 and turn a plastic toy phaser into the real thing.

10. The cloaking device
According to a 2007 report at Networkworld.com, Purdue University engineers have created something that looks like a spiky hairbrush that has the ability to “bend” light around any object being cloaked. We are told to expect an invisible tank by 2012. Above is how we imagine it will look in the dark.

Student UB 40s

Only one in five final-year university students expects to have secured a job by time they graduate this summer. Figures based on face-to-face interviews with 16 357 final-year students show that only 15% had a definite job offer in March this year, compared with 20% last year.

What with the actual cost of obtaining one's degree and the amount of debt one can accumulate, it's a wonder anyone even wants to go to college. If I had my time again, I certainly wouldn't bother. More at TTimes.

Pure Evil

Following his recent visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau, McBroon wrote in the visitors’ book:

“What we have seen this afternoon is a harrowing testament to the murder of so many who suffered the extremes of terror. What has happened here is a shared human story, a perpetual reminder of all the darkness of which the world is capable, but also a story of what the world can endure and survive.

In this place of darkness, I reaffirm my belief that we all have a duty, each and every one of us, not to stand by but to stand up against discrimination and prejudice. As we remember the worst of our past, we must each commit ourselves to serve the best of our future.”

Well done that chap. We went in 2006 and it still rates as one of the most harrowing experiences (along with the S-21/Khymer Rouge Killing Fields in Phnom Penh) of my life. He may well (hopefully) lose the next election, but I do like him as a man. I remain in doubt about Cameron though and hope he can sway my doubts.

Footie This Weekend

Tottenham v West Brom @ 15:00

Southend v Cheltenham @ 15:00

Arminia Bielefeld v VfB Stuttgart @ 14:30

Liverpool v Newcastle @ 13:30 (Sunday)

What do we think then? I reckon some major upsets in that Spurs will go down to WBA by 1-2, with the losing goal in the last 2 minutes. This will make it really interesting downstairs and I don't care because at least Spurs aren't' involved with a relegation skirmish anymore.

Southend to win 2-0 but that is all irrelevant too.

Bielefeld to lose to Stuttgart (4th {20}0 by at least three and seal their relegation fate unless we get some friendly results. No chance then.

And finally I reckon N'castle will beat Liverpool away to the Scousers in an awful game to stop their title bid and hand it on a plate to Man Utd.

Let's hope I am wrong on some of the predictions. I want Arminia to stay up. :-(

Give Me All Your Money

According to the National Association for Computing Safety, the most successful form of phishing is fake e-mails from banks.

In my experience Hotmail in even worse, with constant messages asking for passwords to confirm the account is still active. Yeah, like dur. Does anyone ever send out their passwords so readily?

Good Old Imm

As already mentioned, we love it here and it's almost like returning home. The area has enough to occupy us if we don't fancy going into town, there are two huge supermarkets on our doorstep, we are members of two DVD hire clubs and the Sky Train is literally seconds away from us.

We also have a night market that doubles up as our local beer watering hole with live music, we have street food hawkers everywhere and we have a choice of food halls with good food and very cheap prices.

As well as getting a tin of Coke from the vending machine for a reasonable 3o pence and also having washing and drying machines to hand for our laundry, did you know we also have a pool here? Check out the slide show and you'll catch a quick glimpse of it, but it is very nicely laid out, with a Moroccan feel to it, with plants and day beds spread around the area.

It's also very popular with magazine shoots who pitch up at least once a week to take wedding pictures and the like.

Best of all? We live here. :o)

Heads Up

Anyone outside the Eurozone with a Nationwide Flex account? Today is the last day you can withdraw cash from an ATM for free. As of tomorrow, they join the rest of the middle of the road no face banks and charge per withdrawal.

"Introductory" offer of I believe 0.85% for May, rising to a whole 1% starting in June. I've probably got those figures wrong, but seeing as we don't have much choice, I've not been overly bothered in mugging up on the finer points.

New Toy

On our journeys, we sometimes lack evening entertainment on the TV. All places we stay in have televisions, but not all have a decent cable or satellite options, or more specifically, English (or German) speaking channels.

We also travel with only our mini HP netbook, which has no optical drive and so cannot use that as a DVD player, which sometimes leaves us stuck for options.
Yes, of course we can go out, but that is expensive and we’re not always in the mood. We can also read a book, but not all the time. There are naturally other options too, but this is a family board and all that…

DVDs in Asia are inexpensive mainly because they are knock offs. We are also a member of hire places and so watching a movie is a top way to chill with minimal effort and cost. Which is why we’ve been on the look out for a travel DVD payer that is small, lightweight and can easily be carried around, but we don‘t want a screen with it as it makes it expensive- they have those everywhere and can be bought for THB 5-10 000.

Yesterday we found exactly what we wanted. It’s the size of a DVD and about twice as thick as a boxed filum. It comes with all the cables to hook it up to the TV and it even has a remote control unit. The Philip’s player looks solid but is lightweight and cost a rather keen THB 1000, or around a score in your English currency. I’ll connect it up later and see how it goes but if it’s as good as we think, it’s going to be a brilliant investment. Photos to follow.

** Update **

Since the signal has been down again (now fully sorted out...) I've tested the player out and can say it not only does exactly what we need, it's even better than expected. Twenty quid for a fully functional DVD player? Bargain.

Wahey

One of the big malls (all right, there’s all big, this one is called Central World) is hosting an international motorcycle show this weekend.

I don’t expect it to be the same as we’re used to in England at the Ally Pally or the NEC, but it will still be fun and it’s free to get in anyway. I reckon we’ll have heavy concentration on the scooter and 125-150 cc range, plus Harley Davidson and a bonus of Triumph (although it will be the custom/cruiser styles, I’m sure) making an experience and I for one hope to attend one of the three days.

Happy Shopper Part 2

Watching a DVD (“Burn After Reading”- utterly brilliant Coen brothers film with George Clooney and Brad Pitt amongst the faces) the previous night, we got into it and at around the hour mark, it froze and would not play on. We tried all sorts and eventually gave up, suspecting it could possibly be the hotel’s player that was at fault but hoping it was the movie.

We returned it yesterday, explained the circumstances and without any attitude or suspicion they happily changed the disk for another copy, which we eventually got working on the rather tired in room player.

Again, is that the kind of service you’d expect from the spotty yoof on their mobile up the local shop, being spoken to in a foreign language? Didn’t think so.

Happy Shopper Part 1

I bought a pair of flappers on our previous visit before we embarked on our China part of the tour and found them to be quite excellent. Moulded in a one piece resin of some sort, they are lightweight, comfortable, grip well and can be cleaned of grime by running under the tap. Drying takes minutes and you can put them on again and be straight off.

I went back to the same shop and wanted another pair, same design but the other colour scheme (same, same, but different, right?) and asked the guy for the black & silver pair. Duly received, paid and I was rather chuffed (all the other sports shops were charging at least THB 500 on top for the adidas range) and eventually got back to our hotel to compare the new with the old, as I wasn’t wearing them that day.

Oh, slight problem; I already had the black & silver style and it was the blue and gold I should have chosen. D'oh. I’d also lobbed the box and receipt whilst I was waiting for the train.

I went back yesterday and explained the situation, wearing my original pair with the new set in a bag. When they understood my error, they laughed and happily exchanged them without hassle, quibble or third degree. Not something I suspect works quite so easily in the UK.

Good Grief

It's shooting past as we see another one down.

Tomorrow sees the dawn of yet another month, as we start May 2009. That makes a total of 37 straight months on the road and we not only continue to enjoy ourselves immensely, but have no intention of discontinuing our chosen lifestyle.

I appreciate many don’t find it very orthodox, usual or fancy trying it for themselves, but it is for us, at any rate, the only way to live and enjoy life.

Ouch!

I’m not sure what I’ve done, but it feels like I’ve broken a rib.
I know I haven’t as I’ve not had any kind of accident which would result in such damage and nor do I know what it feels like to break a rib, as I’ve never duffed one (yet), but pain is sure what I am feeling at the moment.

I’ve obviously pulled something (excessive shopping bags?) but I can’t turn or move side to side without excruciating agony (so sleeping was not fun yesterday) and can barely sit or stand up right at the moment. Hopefully this is the worst it will get and I’m on the road to mending, but I may have to indulge in some natural painkillers later tonight at the local night market.

As I barely got any kip and the internet was down, I had ample opportunity to get past 400 pages of Bourne’s latest yarn. Sorry, it is bloody dire and should never have made it to print. What the estate of Robert Ludlum were thinking in authorising such a steaming dung pile is beyond me and I suspect they didn’t get past the dollar signs either.

I will finish it, hopefully before it finishes me, and I will no doubt enjoy reviewing it on here to offer you all ample reason to avoid it like Mammia Mia.

Still Not Right

Our wi-fi signal is still more hit than miss today, as it has been since we’ve arrived. Today it’s dropping every few minutes and taking an age to link up again. We’ll carry on regardless until normal hours, but I am surprised as the Imm Hotel usually has quite excellent service.

I've just been reassured all is now well again, so time to upload our Blue Peters.

It’s not the Size, It’s What You DO with It

When women were asked what their top three wishes would be their answers were: health/longevity for self (79.4%); health/longevity for family and or friends (64.7%); improved body figure (43%).

14.4% indicated they would wish for "better endowed partners"

Same, Same

But different, is a phrase you will hear a lot around these parts. And it is one we can adequately describe yesterday as. Same shops, more shopping, (although mainly of the window variety) and another 5-6 hours "lost". Bangkok is a shop-o-holic's dream. :o)

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Oh, And Another Slight Makeover

A new slide show of some of the places ("Hot Spots") we've stayed at over the last three odd years. The countries may not immediately be apparent where they are, but you check out the full set at Flickr II if you get stuck.

Only twenty pictures can be displayed at any one time, so a couple (and soon to be more as we continue our travels) will be missing, including our kick off point, Bielefeld. What with them being close to relegation and not even getting on here, no wonder people don't believe the place exists.

And Farang Is?

Essentially, us. It's what the Thai people refer to Caucasians as and we heard it started with a bastardisation of the French word/name "Frank". Here's more of the lowdown from Into Asia:

Even if you can speak no other words of Thai, most European and American visitors to Thailand will quickly become familiar with the Thai word farang (often mispronounced (even by Thais) as falang - farang with a slightly trilled 'r' is the correct pronunciation.) It's basically used to describe caucasians, though African-Americans will sometimes also be known as farang or as farang dam ('black farang'). Farang is also the Thai word for the guava fruit, so you can expect to hear farang eating farang 'jokes' if you happen to purchase any.

Other Asians are generally known by their country of origin (e.g. kon jeen - "Chinese people", kon yee-bpun - "Japanese people"), while people from the Indian Subcontinent are often known as kairk (which translates as "guest"). Kairk is used to describe even fluent Thai speakers of Indian descent who have been living in Thailand for generations and consider themselves as Thai - obviously being referred to as a 'guest' in these circumstances, while not particularly offensive, is not exactly complimentary either.

Some people get very offended at being called farang, but whether it's an insult should or not really depends on the context. A few Thais who are uncomfortable with using it will say kon dtahng bpra-tayt ('people from other countries') instead, but this is still pretty rare. Farang is basically a neutral word, but people who respect you (or who should respect you) will not use it - if you hear a work colleague, for example, refer to you as farang they probably mean it as an insult while a taxi driver or market vendor doing the same is unlikely to mean any offense at all.

And from Wiki:

A popular theory of the word's origin derives it from farangset, the Thai pronunciation of français, the French word for 'French' or 'Frenchman'. France was one of the first European nations to establish cultural ties with Thailand in the 17th century, so to Thais at that time, 'white man' and 'Frenchman' were synonymous. However, the Portuguese, Dutch and others arrived long before the French, which makes that origin unlikely. A few others have suggested that in the Ayutthaya period, land was given to the Portuguese merchants to conduct their businesses at their "Baan Farang" (Guava Village).[citation needed]

Another common etymology, which explains why many other Southern Asian and Southeast Asian languages use the word, has to do with the French but in a more indirect way, saying that it derives from the earlier Persian word farangi, 'foreigners'. This in turn comes from the word Frank via the Arabic word firinjia, which was used refer to the Franks, a West Germanic tribe that became the biggest political power in Western Europe during the early Middle Ages and from which France derives it's name. France was later the first European nation that helped the Ghajar Kings modernize the Iranian government, in particular with the establishment of customs. Long before English, and until about the 1960s, French was the foreign language of choice for educated Iranians. The abundance of French words in the Persian language attests to this fact.[citation needed]

By another account the word comes through Arabic ("Afrandj"), and there are quite a few articles about this. One of the most detailed treatments of the subject is by Rashid al-din Fazl Allâh[2].

Farang is closely related to the Khmer word barang.

In Tamil, the word that refers to Europeans (most specifically to the British) is parangiar, presumably because Tamil does not have the "F" sound. Many South Asian and Southeast Asian languages, including Hindi-Urdu also use this word to denote foreigners. In Malaysia however, the term "mat salleh" or "orang putih (white person)" is commonly used to denote foreigners of Caucasian descent whereas many of the Southeast Asian Chinese who speak the Min Nan language, use the term ang mo, meaning red hair.

Return Trip

On the Sky Train is never as much fun or as pleasant as going out. Where we get on, we have the pick of the seats (end of the line) and so the journey is comfortable and just beginning, so the anticipation and enthusiasm is high.

On the way back you're knackered, loaded down with bags (hopefully) and it is usually right in the middle of rush hour, so you never get a seat. You are guaranteed to be boxed in by people who don't move along the carriage and so play sardines with strangers, all vying for the same grab rail whilst you juggle numerous packages and baggage.

I squished in yesterday and grabbed on wherever possible and then noticed this rather unpleasant odour behind me. A mixture of BO with fried food and stale beer/tobacco, which whilst the carriage is air conditioned, it still ponked to high heaven. Luckily I was unable to turn my head to find the source of the stink but I became aware the smell was partly down to the person filling his face with some kind of ghastly food stuff.

You are not allowed to eat on the trains. I had a quiet bet with myself that he was a Farang.

Just then a mobile killed the clickety click of the smooth ride and the awful ting played some kind of trendy tune/sound bite.

"Allo, mate. On the tray-en and is farking full. Just eaten me tea and I'll be with you shortly. Ere, the farkin line's gorn and bleedin' died on me, woss gahn on? Bloody useless foreign lines"

After the next stop and a quick game of musical, standing chairs, stood this overweight oaf of a "man", with greasy hair (at least what was left of it, his comb-over wasn't going to even fool Stevie Wonder), wearing a bent pair of knock off sunglasses, one hand hanging onto the grab-rail and the other holding a bag of his stinky scoff.

Sweat stained shirt, skewiff tie, creased trousers and shabby shoes completed the disrespectful arse's look and it made me cringe to think he was a Brit. Luckily he got off soon after the last half of the journey became far more pleasant.

Now Why is That?

On the Sky Train yesterday I happened to glance at the network map and it's all laid out smartly and it's easy to follow. The city is quartered into sections and depending on the direction of the four lines, they take the prefix N-north, E- east, etcetera.

We're On Nut which also happens to be the end of the line on the east side of Bangkok and our station reference is E9; the ninth station on the eastern track and all stations count down towards Central (0) which is Siam.

Along the way you can get off at stations for other directions, but Central/Siam is the most popular as there is an intersection there and it has all the shops and malls. In buckets.

Anyhoo, there I was studying the map and waiting to get to Central, when I noticed two anomalies. East and North all numbered in correct sequence (we go from 9-0 and all stations in between and the journey takes about 15-20 minutes at a cost of ~80p) but West and South are missing a number each- 6 and 4 respectively I seem to recall.

Now outside of proving that I am an anorak and pick up on all sorts of useless shite, why? Why don't they number all the way through as they have everywhere else?

Cor. New. Shiny

Now that we are able to access all websites again in Thailand, we've upgraded our flag slide show and taken it off the foot of the page. It's just above our "Cool Places" which makes more sense and now people who can't read can also enjoy our Blog...

It's also about time I updated our ticker tape messages (again at the foot of the Blog) too and with the power of the edit button, that is now cleared off the list of things to do.

Just What I Have Always Wanted to Know

One in 200 mosquitoes carries malaria.

A Mere Week To Go

I can't believe that we only have just one further week before we have to leave once more.

Luckily we are off to meet old pals in Phuket, but we just love Bangkok far too much and will be a bit sad to move on. Still, if all goes to plan, we will be back in September for two whole months and hopefully Christmas too.

And we are also squeezing in a final five nights before we fly out to Malaysia and Georgetown, but that was a close call. We had already booked our onwards flights from BKK to Penang and when we looked at our passport, having been given our free 30 day stay allowance in Thailand, it is bang on the exact day we have our flights.

We've (I) done that before, miscalculated our departure by a day or so and it cost us a few quid to sort out and a whole load of unnecessary hassle. Anything to do with numbers I manage to make a mess of.

More Manual Dexterity

Not just content to count cash like Darling on speed (but with 100% accuracy and no spin) they are equally super fast at bagging up little sauce packets.

If you pop put to any of the street food hawkers or food halls attached to any of the department stores and supermarkets, you will see small cellophane bags, slightly larger than matchboxes, which are rigidly inflated and half full of delicious (and you know they are going to be evil on the chilli front) sauces to go with your takeaway scoff.

I was mesmerised as one wifey was tipping in piping hot sauce into this titchie bag without spilling a drop and then folding the open end down like a concertina and wrapping an elastic band around the seal to ensure it would take Houdini to open that bastard up again. Effortless skills and they make it look so simple. A good test for any Generation Game show.

And why hasn't Brucie still not received his Knighthood? Boooo...

Booty?

Oh yes, and then some. Utilising their all year round sales (no matter what the prices say, if you show any interest in an item and indicate this to a shop assistant, they will glide up and whisper "20% discount for tourist today only, sir") I ended up with a haul to make any burd proud.

3 x Ts, 1 x flappers and 1 x shorts, all heavily reduced and exactly what I was after. You'll know doubt become familiar with the new karTER wardrobe as the year progresses and we do some more photo shoots at new locations.

One thing I did not purchase though was the ultimate in luggage for the space conscious and modern day, hand baggage traveller. It was the latest, state of the art compact "two-into-one" trolley rucksack which was absolutely the pooch's pods and carried a similar price tag: THB 15 000 (less 20% discount). Much as wifey loves me, even I would have been sent to Coventry at spoofing up £300 on a bag- and it wasn't even leather. *drool*

Watching the Detectives

Another breath of fresh air is that one can wander into a store and not pick up a dedicated, personal shopper who will trail you around the aisles as if you're a potential shop lifter. We had this everywhere in China and of course, they mean well, they are terribly sweet and all they want to do is help, but it is majorly off putting.

It's like hovering in front of you when all you want to do is read the menu and they insist on turning the pages for you, whilst explaining their "specials" on each page. Hang on pet, I don't know this menu off by heart and actually want to read for myself what you have to offer.

Here in Bangkok, they smile, say "hello" and let you get on with it. No fuss, no bother and certainly no feeling of you're being tailed by an incompetent private eye. Sweet.

The Snowman

Cryptic title to introduce this post, which is all about walking in the air (go on and listen to the song, it's the intro line) and that is entirely what one does in Bangkok. The only road we have to cross is the one directly outside our hotel for us to access our local Sky Train station (On Nut) which is a mere 20 seconds away.

Having made it across safely, you will not encounter anymore roads, avenues, streets, boulevards or traffic of any kind until you come back to base. Every single shopping mall is linked directly to the train stations and one also can access any complex via walkways above ground level, away from the snarled up, every present road traffic.

It's all geared towards making the perfect day out without even having to think about cars or bikes trying to mow you down as you wander aimlessly from one Aladdin's cave to another.

Now I Get It

As you may have noticed, we didn't get a chance to come back to the Blog yesterday as we got back late. Can you believe we spent nearly six hours walking around Magic Land where the shops and malls entice you further into their webs and encourage you to buy shit you don't even need. And speaking of webs, here's the link; I've discovered the true origin of the money spider.

It's the cashiers here, mainly burds, who are so fast, efficient and dexterous, that it seems like they have at least eight pairs of hands when they are counting out your change. They are so particular that each return is recounted at least three times (up and down, front and back) at a speed that is so swift it becomes a blur, before your Trinkgeld is proffered back to you. Incredible to watch and they can all do this with their eyes closed.

Padded Cell

There are 5.27 mouse pad for every mouse in use in the North America and Europe.

That's a lot of cheese.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Up to Date

I think that's your lot on the recent bits that we've encountered and so we'll leave it there for now. Another trip to the bank and then into town on the Sky Train to check out the shops and see what "essentials" we need- I'm sure I need a couple of new Ts.

May check through the news headlines later, but for the moment, enjoy the P & Q.

Wood for the Trees

Five trees make an orchard.

So how many in a wood then?

Menage a Trois?

More like an own goal with half a point for trying?

We said hello to our local last night and most of the staff seem to have moved on, with our regular Tiger burd missing and a new one in her place. Equally as sweet, half as thin again (think Pippa doll versus Barbie) but with just as lovely a smile as her predecessor, we eased into our first real beer after China's weaker session brews.

Later on, the table behind us was taken by a blurk (young American kid) and two local lovelies, and he was doing his best to land one, other or both of them as his night cap. Clearly not so expert on the beer as some, he was slurring and using some choice lines (which you can get away with if English isn't your first choice language) to achieve his ambition. It quickly became obvious to your scooping eavesdroppers that one of the burds wasn't going to play and was so obviously steering him at her pal.

He seemed quite happy with this, as one in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? But one should really keep off the stronger stuff until one gets a chance to check out the goods with a keen eye. His dessert for the evening was going to be quite a surprise for the shit faced, amorous suitor (and as "She" by Elvis Costello comes on; now that's timing) because "she" was packing meat and two veg.

Unlucky pal, it'll make a great bar tale on your Blog one day. :oD

Not Much Better at the Toon

A dull 0-0 split the points at St James' Park last night and N'castle remain in 18th (20) in the last relegation spot (exactly as Bielefeld), three points behind next place and safety. It's really not good enough and one would expect them to have taken the win, especially at home against average opposition.

Can't even Shearer instill any pride and confidence in his team? Heaven help them if that's the case.

It's going to get worse too. Liverpool next week and then a real punch up at the six pointer derby with Middlesbrough the week after. M'brough happen to be a place behind the Magpies, equal on points. Now that is going to be some match- particularly as wifey is a Toonie and her mum is a M'brough fan.

I may go to Australia for that weekend.

Dire in Deutschland

As suspected and hoped for, Bielefeld managed to grab a point away to Gladbach, but against the odds, Cottbus who were in a relegation spot below both teams decided to beat Wolfsburg (the Bundesliga leaders no less), 0-2 and they now go above Bielefeld.

This means my club is in the third and final relegation spot and if we can't get out before the end of the season, we're going down. I feel quite sick at the thought; it would be a disaster for us. :-(

Floating Fatties

Lots in the news about a fat tax for over large fliers and how it can be implemented. Once more we at ktelontour have the solution. Forget scales, BMIs and tape measures, our idea is much simpler and can be checked well before one gets to the airport for many passengers.

Anyone selling air tickets will be issued with a safety belt (the kind the air burds use in the intro demo when you first get on) and the person of questionable proportions buying the ticket will be asked to put it on. It will have a maximum circumference and if anyone can't close it securely without turning blue has to cough double bubble.

How cleffer are we?

A Natural Grilling

A fun thing we like to do is "storm watch" from the bedroom window. OK, perhaps not fun, but interesting and you get to see some quite unusual things. Like our neighbour.

There is a flat/shack opposite our room which has the standard corrugated roof. Towards the end, at the base of the slope, there is a metal grill, about six foot square? Looking out at the pouring rain, we noticed that the cascades were dropping directly into the room below and the occupant was shampooing his hair under the water fall. How's that for a natural shower?

Clever.

Cor, Now THAT'S a Thunder Storm

First day back and it was a scorcher with temperatures well into the mid thirties.

We'd been chatting to the wonderful staff here and they all said it's been too hot, even for them, over the last few weeks. By lunch time though the storm had started and it didn't stop for several hours with the most amazing lightning streaks illuminating the sky and enough thunder claps to keep even the most ardent of Motörhead fans happy.

We seem to have seen nothing but rain over the last few weeks, notably Guilin being the wettest city we've passed through for quite a while, but at least here it's warm rain. It makes a pleasant change.

Peace, Man

"Toyota" is a conjugation of the Japanese word for "War Machine."

Bangkok Airways

Unfortunately we couldn't get Air Asia flights from Guilin to Bangkok (only to Kuala Lumpur), so we tried Bangkok Airways, a (cheaper, less frills) subsidiary of Thailand Airways. Marvellous.

On taking our seats, the stewardess immediately identified wifey as requesting a vegetarian meal, er, hang on, a freebie meal on a flight...and next moment, a screen dropped out of the over head compartment to begin our in flight move, er hang on, a freebie... We've been using AA for so long that we'd forgotten what "normal" flights offer as standard and it was like flying premier class fr us.

I'd still pick AA any day though. Their service is just as good, the seats and planes are very plush and so what if you don't get some scoff or a filum? It saves us a fortune and on flights of less than 3-4 hours, it's hardly noticeable.



For anyone wanting to know, sweet and sour fish with rice and green cabbage and the Walt Disney's "Bedtime Stories" (in English) where they cut the ending off as the credits ran. Luckily we'd seen it before.

Passport Control & Customs

Absolutely no problem at all and we had our paperwork scrutinised and stamped out without hitch. Ditto passing through security- nay bother; that's one advantage of tramping around in shorts, a T and flappers. Where am I going to hide anything apart from my modesty?

Our timing was good too. We'd just checked in and started to stand in line at passport control when a double coach load arrived and chaos ensued with everyone fighting for themselves to get seen to. That is one thing our Chinese chums haven't quite got the hang of yet. Queuing.

Full at the Inn

At Guilin Airport, don't expect much apart from a big hall, some seats and some ratty souvenir stalls. One outdated and overly expensive cafeteria, selling Pot Noodles and tea and that's your lot. It took me a good half an hour to even find a clock that was hidden out of the way.

Wifey needed to take a leak and the Ladies invited her past the Gents. As she went by, she couldn't help but notice that both trap doors to the stalls were closed and one chap was calmly pissing into the sink, without a care in the world and within full view of the open door.

That's confidence for you; that's China. :o)

Guilin

We were trying to think up ways to describe the feeling of living there and the closest we came up with was that it's like living in a pinball machine.

Bright, flashing neon at night, busy, busy, busy all the time and so many clicks, buzzes, sirens, horns, alarms and white noise background sounds that it's a pretty accurate description.

We can't wait to go back; it was great.

Getting Out of Guilin

Couldn't have been simpler. The last day was kind to us weather wise and we had a warm and sunny day to kill off the six odd hours before our decadent taxi ride to the airport. It flew by as we window shopped, got treated to watching the snot Olympics (the burds are sure up for equality on the old hack and spit discipline) and took one final meal at the fabbo Rosemary Cafe.

Back at the hotel we had just collected our bags, when the taxi driver took us to his wheels, a big spacious people carrier and so we had loads of leg room and comfort to watch the outside world whirl past us.

Some parts of the road were simply atrocious and to have used the bus would have been an entertaining experience. As it was, so was the cab ride as ours tended to have the skills of a blind driver but the bravery of a Kamikaze pilot. Nothing and no one was safe as he aimed his stuttering caravan through gaps I wouldn't take a motorbike through. Still, despite him not realising he had a first gear, usually essential for a smooth take off from stand still, he did a fine job and this back seat driver nearly turned to God.

A good fifty minutes, a distance of some 40 miles and a bill for £8. In the UK, from Leigh on Sea to Stansted Airport, a similar stretch, it would have cost you a minimum £60.

I hate bastard taxi drivers the world over, but he was cool and we made it in plentry of time.

Round Eyes

Another observation we had in China is that all their mannequins are of a western style and not Oriental in the least. Can't imagine why, when they are so petite and fine featured as a race and the traditional clothes they wear just don't suit the standard western frame.

I suppose it's more for the kids.

Tinkling the Ivories

On the average piano, the E-above-middle-C key is hit more often than any other key.

Thanks to my ever loving parents (you'll thank us for this later; at 44 I am still getting my grundies in a grind over this) the only thing I'd hit a piano is with a sledge hammer. Repeatedly.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Technical Difficulties

Sorry folks, the hotel router's jammed due to a tremendous electrical thunderstorm and we're without connection for vasts amount of time throughout today. If anyone was concerned (yeah, right), don't be. We landed safely in Thailand last night around midnight and we're back at the Imm, our second home and just loving it.

As we're off line for today, we're going to go and check on the night market to ensure the Tiger and Singha towers have been stored correctly during our absence and make sure all is well there. I'm sure it is, but seeing is believing.

We should be back with you tomorrow with tales of daring do, all going well with the wi-fi and head. :o)

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Banking on the Mortgage

Earlier this year, we passed on the story of a couple who, despite having faithfully repaid every monthly installment of their mortgage, were ordered by their bank to repay the entire outstanding amount, some £220k+, within a month. At last, someone not only employing common sense but going against the bully boy banks. From TTimes:

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has been ordered to drop repossession proceedings against a family after watchdogs branded its actions “unfair” and “unreasonable”.

NatWest, part of the RBS group which is 70% owned by the taxpayer after its multi-billion-pound bailout, had demanded the couple repay their entire mortgage (£226 000) within 30 days or face repossession. This was despite the couple’s insistence that they had not missed any payments.

Since Which?, the consumer group stepped in, the suspended proceedings pending an adjudication by the ombudsman. In a ruling early last week, the Financial Ombudsman Service said it was “not satisfied” by RBS’s order to repay the mortgage without giving an explanation. It said the bank had not treated the couple “fairly or reasonably”.

NatWest was ordered to abandon the repossession and pay a sum in compensation. Which? said:

“NatWest’s behaviour in this instance has been particularly outrageous. We are worried that this isn’t an isolated case.”

Let's hope not, but I suspect they are right in their concern. Hopefully this ruling will make the banks re-think their strategy and they can stop hounding innocent victims.

*Oi, Monsieur- C'est Mon Derriere Plus Grande Dans Mon Jeans?

The typical French woman is slim and thinks that she is fat. The typical British woman is plump but is convinced that she is thin.

A French survey has charted wide discrepancies in the average weight of men and women in different European countries. The survey also finds that attitudes to weight – especially women's attitudes – vary enormously from one country to another. French women – whether the politician Rachida Dati, singer Vanessa Paradis or the simple mademoiselle dans la rue – are the thinnest in the EU but worry about their weight more than women in any other country. Britain has, on average, the most comfortably sized women in the EU but British women are also, on the whole, comfortable with their size (second only to the Danes). In other words, the actress Audrey Tautou thinks she looks like Susan Boyle and Susan Boyle thinks that she looks like Audrey Tautou.

A worldwide bestseller by Mireille Guiliano in 2004 was entitled French Women Don't Get Fat. It should perhaps be renamed French Women May Not Get Fat But They Think They Do.

The author of the study, Thibaut de Saint Pol, says that his research suggests that average national weight is not just a question of diet or exercise or genetics. It is strongly influenced by cultural differences and national attitudes to what constitutes an acceptably slender, or attractive, or – in the case of men – powerful body. In some social groups, in some countries, such as Greece, he points out, male fatness is still regarded as a symbol of power or strength.

French women are thin partly because they come under intense pressure from French men, but also from other French women, to stay thin. "What people consider to be the ideal weight in France is lower than in other countries," M. Saint Pol said. "If a French person who feels fat were to go to the United States, he or she probably wouldn't feel fat any more."

M. Saint Pol's study is published in this month's edition of Populations et Société, the newsletter of the French demographic institute, INED. The weight comparisons are based on adult body-mass index (BMI), the measure recommended by the World Health Organisation. To discover your BMI, you divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. A BMI below 18.5 is dangerously "underweight". The range 18.5 to 25 is ideal. Between 25 and 30 is "overweight". Above 30 is "obese".

French women tip the scales at 23.2, the slimmest in the EU. British women have, on average, a BMI of 26.2, just into the "overweight" range.

The survey suggests, unsurprisingly, that men across the EU are less concerned with their weight than women. Only French and Dutch men are, on average, within the ideal weight band. All the rest are overweight, with British men tipping the scales as the third plumpest, behind the Greeks and Finns.

Mireille Guiliano argues in her book that French women are slender not because they eat less but because they eat better and because they live busy, active lives.

French women have tended, traditionally, to drink less and not to eat fast foods. All of this is changing, however. Guiliano has herself admitted that her description of French womanhood is true mostly of the urban or suburban middle classes and above. A visit to any rural supermarket in France will reveal outsize male and female figures to rival those in Britain or the US. French surveys also suggest that binge-drinking and fast-food eating are rising sharply, among both young men and women. Either cultural attitudes to body weight are shifting in France or the burden of guilt is rising.

In my experience, all burds think they are huffty size, whether it's true or not and they all seem to be on a perpetual diet. A pity that they can't be a little more like blurks who accept themselves to be what they are without too much analysis or angst.

Taken from the Guardian.


*Sorry, my French n'est pas bon- apologies to any passing French speakers...

X-Files

Of the 19 confirmed cases of spontaneous human combustion, 13 of the victims drank a beverage containing an artificial sweetener within an hour of their deaths.

Spooky.

Deja Vu

Haven't we seen this before? Spurs take the lead against Man Utd and then toss away all their hard work by allowing them to come straight back with a thumping scoreline. I seem to recall we were 3-0 up at the Lane at half time (2001?) and ended up losing 3-5.

Yesterday was another such game. 0-2 up and then we lose 5-2.

As ever we have our wise and linguistic manager blaming all and sundry, particularly the ref for a dubious penalty decision, but what about the other four goals, 'Arry? A good lesson to be learned, because our league position is false and we are fortunate not to be in a relegation dog fight. We are a smoke and mirrors team and papering over the cracks will not disguise this fact. The smoke has evaporated and the mirror has cracked.

I also read that we are trying to buy another forward. We have a reasonable front line already, with plenty in reserve, so stop wasting time here and sort out the defence. That's where most of our woes lie- particularly with our Brazilian keeper. Gomez is shite, no two ways about it.

Southend only managed a 1-1 draw yesterday, but the most important game of the weekend is later today as Bielefeld visit München G'bach. We have to win otherwise we go down. Great, just great.

Peers Past the Curtain

Last day in Guilin, and it's dry and supposedly going to hit 24 C. A good way to leave and makes for a happy way to spend our last few hours in this splendid city. Bangkok bound and we're heading home. *yay*

It's Getting Better

Bourne is improving. Over the next 50 pages the writing has become more fluid, the story is settling and Van Lustbader has only referred to "cadre" a mere three times. He still uses some awful cliches and a rather basic style, but it's more readable.

I mentioned this to wifey who has already read it and she begun to snicker. Apparently I have the best to come; the plot will soon begin to question even the hardiest of fans and it quickly gets very silly indeed. Deep joy.

Here's an Idea

Dear Fellow Guests

I really do appreciate that you're a large group of exuberant school boys on a big adventure to the City. I am aware the fancy coach you came on is undoubtedly quite brilliant and that the hotel is really fancy and modern. I can see how all of this would make you very excited and eager to get the most out of your holiday.

As the hotel is so upmarket, it has lots of facilities that you can play with. Like door bells and telephones. One can ring the bell to gain the occupant's attention without the need to bray on the door. This allows one to act in a grown up manner and respect others who may be trying to get to sleep past 01:00.

It is just as easy to call directly from the privacy of your own room to your pal up the corridor to compare notes on the quality of the restaurant and the extras you've found in your bedroom. This conveniently negates the necessity to have long, drawn out and loud conversations directly in front of our door. At 06:30.

Much obliged to you all I'm sure, respectfully yours

ktelontour

As you may have gathered, we had a large party of business men arrive last night and they seem rather in awe of their surroundings. Don't Chinese people ever sleep? Oh well, it's moving day- I never get a decent night's kip anyway. :o)

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Copy Kats

It's well known that the Chinese tend to "borrow" names, labels and logos and then "subtly"change them. Here are a few to enjoy:











Click any to Enlarge

Bud-wei-ser

Looking for something to do 10th May? Why not trot over to Germany for the second annual international toad song contest. Fire-bellied toads from Denmark, Germany, Latvia and Sweden will croak it out for the coveted prize, won last time by Sweden "in the glorious tradition of ABBA," says the nature protection society in Schleswig-Holstein state. The competitors, usually between four to seven centimetres (1.5 to 2.7 inches) in length, sound like "church bells underwater" when they break out in song, the society said.

If you can't make it, don't fret. The competition is telecast on the Internet and it does have a serious side also, it raises awareness about the plight of amphibians in Schleswig-Holstein where around half of the state's 15 species are endangered.

Transfer to the Airport

We've checked out options to get us to the airport tomorrow and felt that the bus was too involved. We need to change at least once and it will take over an hour, all in, to get there. With luggage and having walked about town for most of the afternoon, we thought we'd treat ourselves and take a taxi. We can do decadent occasionally too.

Our hotel has arranged a cab for a most reasonable RMB 80 (~£8) for the 45 minute drive, which is RMB 20 cheaper than we were advised by the local Tourist Information Centre (TIC). And the best thing is that we have already paid the hotel and so can't get tucked by the robbing get behind the wheel. Love it.

What's Gone Wrong?

Our last, full day in Guilin and it's been glorious. Bright, sunny and warm, with no sight of cloud or rain. I hope it stay like this for tomorrow. We've got about six hours to kill as we leave the hotel at midday and our taxi to the airport arrives at 18:00.

Yeah, it's going to piddle down all day, isn't it?

More Brilliant Ideas

Hot on the heels (OK, it was a long while ago) of our utterly excellent idea to prevent the escalation of knife crimes in the UK last year, (ban all knives and only allow the use of chopsticks) comes another stroke of genius.

To help sort out the fatties in the UK and the arrest prospect of the country drowning into the Channel Sea under the excess weight, AND provide a solution to the country's increasing power problem, ktelontour have once again come up with the answer. :o)

All buildings must switch off their escalators, thereby making everyone do a bit of exercise, save electricity and also help people save money. If they can't climb up further than the second floor, they can't get tempted to spend their dosh.

Neat, eh?

Woe is Us

Theatres, galleries and orchestras will be able to apply for emergency support from a £40 million rescue fund as part of a cultural “new deal” being launched by the Arts Council.

Erm, why?

Everyone is finding things difficult at the moment and yet they don't have the option of running around with the begging bowl out. If the arts are struggling, I suggest they can dig into their own pockets. Sell off one or two of their obscenely expensive paintings, display a copy and use the wedge to bail themselves out.

Or let them drown.

More snivelling whinge at TTimes.

Cost Per 100 Cals

From Yahoo, a dish-by-dish look at some popular menu items from fast food joints and their total cost per 100 calories- from the most expensive to the cheapest:

Photograph courtesy of McDonald's

1. Premium Southwest Salad With Grilled Chicken

McDonald's
Cost per 100 calories: $1.47
Calories: 360
Calories from fat: 29%

McDonald's answered the call of health-conscious consumers by adding salads to its menu in 2003. No one can deny that it's a healthier option than, say, a Quarter Pounder with cheese, but it will cost you. Once we added some Newman's Own low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing (another 40 calories and three grams of fat) for a little extra taste, this salad became the costliest per calorie dish on our menu.

2. Mandarin Chicken Salad

Wendy's
Cost per 100 calories: 96 cents
Calories: 540
Calories from fat: 43%

In the 1980s, Wendy's was asking "Where's the beef?" These days, the chain is a lot less meat-focused. Wendy's now offers four varieties of salads and five varieties of chicken sandwiches (it also offers fish fillet sandwiches during Lent). Of course, burgers still reign supreme: There are currently 12 different types of hamburgers on the menu.

Photograph courtesy of KFC

3. Large Popcorn Chicken

KFC
Cost per 100 calories: 94 cents
Calories: 550
Calories from fat: 58%

Typically chicken is considered the cheaper meat. The average retail price for chicken is $1.75 a pound, 56% less than the average price of a pound of beef, according to the National Beef Cattlemen's Association. But if you want KFC's bite-sized popcorn chicken with the Colonel's 11 secret herbs and spices, be prepared to pay up. This is the most expensive per calorie item on our list that isn't a salad.

4. Steak Gordita Baja

Taco Bell
Cost per 100 calories: 90 cents
Calories: 320
Calories from fat: 47%

Jack Russo, an analyst at financial-services firm Edward Jones, says Taco Bell is considered one of the industry's leaders when it comes to menu innovation. The Gordita — a soft taco made using flatbread rather than a tortilla — may very well be proof of that. Since it first debuted in 1998, the Gordita has helped boost sales at the chain significantly, he says.

Photograph by Brian Chirls

5. Low-Fat Footlong Turkey Sandwich

Subway
Cost per 100 calories: 89 cents
Calories: 560
Calories from fat: 14%

Since the ads featuring Jared Fogle (who lost 245 pounds purely by eating Subway sandwiches) first launched in 2000, Subway's sales have more than tripled to almost $13 billion. A Subway spokesman says that while several factors contributed to that growth, Jared's weight-loss campaign played a significant role. Unfortunately for waist-conscious consumers, the low-fat sandwich comes at a premium per-calorie price compared to our other menu items.

6. Croissan'wich

Burger King
Cost per 100 calories: 75 cents
Calories: 330
Calories from fat: 44%

Breakfast has been driving the fast food industry. "That's where all the growth has been," says Steve Solomon, president of FSInsights, a menu development company. In February, Burger King's CEO said that breakfast made up 15% of its sales. This rival to the Egg McMuffin made its debut in 1984.

Photograph courtesy of McDonald's

7. Big Mac

McDonald's
Cost per 100 calories: 74 cents
Calories: 540
Calories from fat: 48%

Since its debut in 1968, the Big Mac has been McDonald's flagship burger. More than 550 million are sold world-wide every year, according to the company. Compared to its double-decker rival, the Double Whopper, the Big Mac is pricier on a per-calorie basis.

8. Pepperoni Personal Pan Pizza

Pizza Hut
Cost per 100 calories: 68 cents
Calories: 660
Calories from fat: 42%

On a per 100 calorie basis, the six-inch pepperoni personal pan pizza lands in the middle of our roundup, but you can actually save yourself 20% (per 100 calories) by ordering the large pepperoni pan pizza and eating a slice. Doing so will also trim about 43% off the total calories.

Photograph courtesy of KFC

9. Toasted Wrap With Tender Roast Filet

KFC
Cost per 100 calories: 64 cents
Calories: 310
Calories from fat: 42%

KFC was slow on the uptake when it came to catering to the health-conscious crowd. It just started offering its grilled chicken lineup earlier this year — a move that probably should have made about five years ago, says Edward Jones' Russo. "It's what the consumer clearly wants today," he says.

10. Medium French Fries

McDonald's
Cost per 100 calories: 58 cents
Calories: 380
Calories from fat: 26%

Before 1949, McDonald's didn't offer French fries; burgers came with a side of potato chips instead. In fact, it wasn't until the 1960s — when potato farmer J.R. Simplot pioneered the first frozen French fry — that these fast food staples started becoming the popular McDonald's side dish they are today.

Photograph courtesy of Dairy Queen

11. Butterfinger Blizzard

Dairy Queen
Cost per 100 calories: 49 cents
Calories: 990
Calories from fat: 31%

Surprisingly, the Butterfinger Blizzard — a vanilla-flavored milkshake with bits of Butterfinger candy bars chopped up in it — has one of the lowest percentage of calories from fat in the foods we looked at (that may be because it's not made with real milk). In fact, the percentage is impressively close to what nutritionists generally recommend for a healthy diet — 30% of one's daily calories can come from fat. But that doesn't mean you should be going on an all-Blizzard diet. One of these large-size concoctions is a full 990 calories — nearly half your recommended daily intake.

12. Double Whopper With Cheese

Burger King
Cost per 100 calories: 49 cents
Calories: 1010
Calories from fat: 59%

The average person spends around $247 on beef a year, up from $48 in 2001. That amount of cash could buy you 49 Double Whoppers with cheese. And you'd get a pretty good return on your investment: The Double Whopper's cost per 100 calories is about two-thirds of what the Big Mac costs.

Photograph by Thomas E. Weber

13. Fiesta Taco Salad

Taco Bell
Cost per 100 calories: 48 cents
Calories: 840
Calories from fat: 47%

The Fiesta Taco Salad is the only salad on Taco Bell's menu, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's the healthiest item. In fact, the salad has the highest calories and fat content of any single item on the menu. Its 840 calories and 45 grams of fat are equal to four Crunchy Taco Supremes, three MexiMelts, or two Spicy Chicken Burritos.

14. Cheeseburger Slyder

White Castle
Cost per 100 calories: 41 cents
Calories: 170
Calories from fat: 47%

At 41 cents per 100 calories, White Castle's snack-sized cheeseburger bested every other sandwich in our survey when it came to cost per calorie. In 1930, White Castle conducted a study (it later dubbed it the "Craveology" study) that monitored the health of a student who lived on nothing but the Slyders and water for 13 weeks. According to the company, the student maintained good health. Barbara Baron, a New York registered dietician, says you probably don't want to follow suit. "I wouldn't advise anyone to eat only one food item for 13 weeks," she says.

Photograph by Brian Chirls

15. 32-Ounce Coca-Cola

Subway
Cost per 100 calories: 38 cents
Calories: 330
Calories from fat: 0

Here it is, the cheapest per calorie item in our survey of fast food land: the large Coca-Cola. Beloved by many, but eyed by some as a major contributor to the obesity problems in this country. Our brains process calories from liquids differently than those from solid food, so we don't feel full and are more likely to overeat, says Karen Ansel, a spokeswoman for the New York State Dietetic Association. If you really need to have your soda with your meal, order a Diet Coke.

False Advertsing in Canada

Click to Enlarge, but that's all you're Getting I'm Afraid


It seemed the perfect way to promote the outdoor life that Canada has to offer: blue skies, clear water and a girl laughing as she runs through sand dunes. Officials in Alberta thought that it was just the thing for a £14 million rebranding exercise to counter controversy over oil extraction but they weren’t smiling yesterday after a sailing enthusiast revealed that the landlocked province had borrowed the scene from Beadnell Bay, Northumberland, 5 000 miles away.

While the Alberta government admitted that it had “screwed up”, it insisted that there had been “no attempt to make people think that the place pictured was Alberta”. The location represented Albertans’ interest in the world around them, they said. Alberta’s public affairs bureau, did her best to explain away the artistic licence:

“This slide represents Albertans’ concern for the future of the world.”

The director of media relations for Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister added:

“There’s no attempt to mislead. That picture fitted the mood and tone of what we were trying to do. Children are a symbol of the future. They symbolise that Albertans are a worldly people.”

A spokesburd for Northumberland Tourism replied with:

“We think it's quite funny- a landlocked province in Canada presenting an image of itself as an island. But Northumberland Tourism is actually really thrilled that a picture of a beach in our area is being used for the Alberta campaign. We see it as promoting the beauty of the North of England, which is often neglected. I hope that when people in Alberta realise where the beach is, they’ll come to visit.”

Alberta and Northumberland - a tale of two places:

* Alberta is one of only two Canadian provinces with no maritime coast.
* Northumberland has spectacular stretches of unspoiled coastline.
* Alberta contains most of Canada's oil refinery capacity and has extensive ranching.
* Northumberland's main industries are tourism and agriculture.
* Alberta has a population of 3.6 million and covers 661,848 square kilometres.
* Northumberland has 310,000 inhabitants and an area of 5,013 sq km.
* Alberta's highest point is 3,747 metres at the summit of Mount Columbia, in the Rocky Mountains.
* Northumberland's highest point is 815m in the Cheviot Hills.
* Alberta's Lake Claire covers an area of 1,346 sq km.
* Northumberland's biggest lake is Kielder, with a surface area of 11 sq km.
* Alberta's temperatures range from minus 54 degrees C in winter to 40 degrees C in summer.
* Bamburgh's temperatures range yesterday was 7 to 13 degrees C.

The Bourne Betrayal

Bruv-in-law left me the above titled book and having finished off Fast Food Nation (good, if a little detailed on some points) I grabbed this eagerly to see how Van Lustbader took up the challenge of resurrecting Ludlum's tough guy spy.

Oh dearie me.

I've only picked off just over a hundred pages but this guy is simplistic to say the least. It's like a join the dots, take straight out of the box, middle of the road yarn for the average school boy, full of cliche, highly improbable scenarios (the visit to the shrink not just being utterly predictable, but also preposterous) which make a mockery of the originals taut and well written prose. It's (so far) tenuous, disjointed and erratic; smacking of scribblings by someone just going through the motions- for cash.

I'd have thought someone of VL's lineage in the literary world would be capable of writing better than this. It's quite puerile and lazy. For example, he uses the word "cadre" (a military unit or a group of experienced professionals at the core of a military organisation who are able to train new recruits and expand the operations of the unit) and that is quite a specialist word. He uses it in its correct text, but then repeats it at least seven times in 52 pages. Inexcusable.

Is he unable of thinking of other alternatives? I can, and I can barely dribble a few paragraphs on a daily Blog.

I shall of course persist with it to the bitter end (I have only once been beaten by a book, some snot of a paperback by a hack of a writer I am happily unable to recall the name of right now. Ken Follet rings a distant bell? Aye, The Tempest- utter bollocks and I threw it away in disgust) and will see if it improves. Let's hope so.

Top Trumps and Scales

The average Canadian weighs more than the average American.

Weighs more what? Apples? Bags of sugar? Packets of fish fingers?

Honest and Direct

Another fine piece in TTimes by Joanna Lumley on the shameful treatment of the Gurkhas:

Via a single-page document published on the internet, the Government delivered a wicked blow to loyal and brave British Army Gurkha veterans.

The bond between the British people and the Gurkhas is paid in the blood of 50,000 of them who died for our freedom. The Gurkhas stood by this country through its darkest hours; now, those Gurkhas call on every Briton in their own hour of need.

The British people are not fair-weather friends. The Government has miscalculated the depth of support from the public. The new policy is deliberately designed to exclude nearly every Gurkha who retired before 1997. Gurkha Riflemen were limited to a maximum of 15 years’ service in the Brigade, yet the new immigration policy requires that a Gurkha must have served for 20 years before he can live here.

Ministers now say that Gurkhas can live here if they have family in Britain — but Gurkhas’ families were previously excluded from Britain. They also say that they can live here if they have served in Britain (not in war zones) continuously for three years — yet Gurkhas toured Britain for only two years and their stay here was broken by tours of duties in war zones.

Also, the new policy says that men who served many decades ago and who are now chronically ill must prove that their illness is solely the result of their military service. Finally, only Gurkhas who have received the highest bravery medals can settle in Britain, ignoring all those Gurkhas who dodged bullets and bombs and saved the lives of British soldiers (like my father).

Why couldn’t the Government just say that all Gurkhas are welcome, no matter when they served? The minister says that he is afraid of setting precedents, but who are the other soldier migrants who the minister feels would “flood” our country?

This all comes down to money — and it is ironic that, after destroying the country’s finances, the Government is now saying that the Gurkhas should be excluded because it might cost us too much.

I ask the British people to mobilise behind our campaign. Tell your MP how you feel. Go to our website at www.GurkhaJustice.org.uk.

Well said, fabbo burd.

An Inch is a Mile

Alistair Darling’s claim that Britain would climb out of recession by the end of the year was in shreds yesterday after official figures showed that the recession was biting far deeper than he had predicted.

Two days after the Chancellor told MPs that he expected the economy would have contracted by 1.6 per cent in the first three months of the year, figures released by the Office for National Statistics revealed that it had shrunk by 1.9 per cent — a difference equivalent to almost £1 billion*.

Britain’s economy is now shrinking at the fastest pace in 30 years. The drop in the last quarter is the worst since 1979 and is the first time that the economy has shrunk by more than 1 per cent in two successive quarters since records began in 1948.

More at TTimes.


*Actual figure is £924 million, give or take.

Not So Fabulous

Campaigners, including Joanna Lumley, have called new Government policy to allow Gurkhas to live in in England a "sham" as thousands fail to meet criteria to stay. From TTel:

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the changes would allow around 4,300 more former Gurkhas to settle here out of the 36,000 who served in the British Army before July 1997.

But supporters of the Gurkhas' campaign attacked the new criteria as "unattainable", with Lumley saying she felt "ashamed" of the Government.

Ragprasad Purja, 43, served with the Gurkhas for 17 years.

He said: "It is the saddest day for the Gurkhas and the saddest day for the British Government. I cannot believe that this Government made such a decision. I was proud of my service but now I am very sad."

Mr Purja, who was discharged after 1997, said he would continue campaigning for the former Gurkha soldiers who have been refused permission to settle in the UK.

"It's not justice, so we'll keep on fighting," he said.

Mr Woolas set out the new eligibility criteria in a written ministerial statement.

Gurkhas and their families will be allowed to settle in Britain if they meet one of these five criteria:

:: Three years continuous residence in the UK during or after their service;

:: Close family in the UK;

:: A level 1-3 bravery award (including the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross);

:: Service of 20 years or more in the Gurkha brigade;

:: Or a chronic or long-term medical condition caused by, or aggravated by, service in the brigade.

In addition Gurkhas will normally be allowed to settle in the UK if they meet two or more of the following criteria:

:: They were previously awarded a UK MoD disability pension but no longer have a chronic medical condition;

:: A mention in dispatches;

:: Service of 10 years or a campaign medal for active service in the brigade.

Mr Woolas said: "This guidance honours the service, commitment and gallantry of those who served with the Gurkhas brigade.

"In fact, because of rules brought in by the Government, we have already welcomed around 6,000 Gurkhas and family members to Britain.

"Now, another 10,000 Gurkhas and family members will be able to benefit from our revised guidance."

But lawyers for the Gurkhas argued that fewer than 100 people, largely officers, would be able to meet the new requirements and vowed to return to the courts.

David Enright, of Howe and Co solicitors, said: "They have set criteria that are unattainable. They require a Gurkha to serve for 20 years but a rifleman is only permitted to serve for 15 years.

"It's a sham and an absolute disgrace. It's far more restrictive than the old policy."

Lumley, a long-time supporter of the campaign, said: "The Gurkhas cannot meet these new criteria. It makes me ashamed of our Government.

"We will fight on. We don't stop. This has been a setback but that is all."

Immigration rules introduced in 2004 allowed serving Gurkhas with at least four years' service to settle in the UK but they did not apply to Gurkhas discharged from the British Army before July 1 1997.

The Government announcement followed a High Court ruling last year that immigration guidelines on older veterans were unlawful and in need of urgent review.

The Gurkha brigade was formed following the partition of India in 1947 but Nepalese Gurkha soldiers have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years.

More than 200,000 Gurkhas fought for the Allies during the First and Second World Wars, with 43,000 giving their lives. There are currently around 3,500 serving Gurkhas.

Disgusting behaviour from our British Government. Why am I not surprised?

Another article on this is at TTimes.

Chinese Tills

Most shops and local businesses don't have them; usually only supermarkets. Even bars and department stores do without.

They prefer to keep all their cash in a drawer under the counter and all the readies are dumped in willy nilly, making looking for change a lengthy process. Usually the drawer is kept locked but it doesn't really offer much in the way of security and you can forget about a receipt unless you hang onto the handwritten list.

I'm not sure if this because tills can be expensive items or if people don't trust electronic gadgets, but that's the way it is and it looks like staying this way for many a year to come.

Stop That Immediately

Pubs and smokers go together like sardines and a tin. It's utterly ridiculous that one is not allowed to light up in a bar in most European countries and typical of the do gooders who insist that people are not able to decide to go to a non-smoking venue.

Why ban it nationally instead of allowing publicans to decide if they want to run a smoking or non-smoking local? Freedom of choice is a fast eroding privilege and it's getting worse. But once more I digress.

A lot of Asian countries are a lot less bothered about sticking their beaks in and punters can cough a lung up almost anywhere. I wish them well, but one thing that I won't applaud them for is when they take their fag into the bog. They are usually small enclosed spaces and to pollute the limited air supply is selfish and disgusting for the next one in. Either finish the snout and then go, or if you really have the bladder of a peanut, leave it in the ashtray and then go.

Besides, how do you wash your hands?

Who's Getting Beaten By Whom Today

Man Utd v Tottenham @ 17:30

No guesses who will come second here. Man Utd at home to Spurs? I just hope we can keep the goals down to single figures. The Reds 3, Stutteringham 0.

Oldham v Southend @ 15:00

Southend in 8th (24) play Oldham in 10th (24) with not much at stake. Even less than an outside chance of getting into the play offs, the Blues can just play and enjoy and hopefully pick up all three points, away from home. The Shrimpers to win 1-3.

Borussia M'gladbach v Arminia Bielefeld @ 16:00 (Tomorrow)

This is a killer game for my mob. Gladbach are one place behind the Bielefelders by a solitary point, and both are in real danger of getting relegated. If we lose this we will be doomed and then no one will really know that Bielefeld exists. A must win for us but I fear not and hope we can possibly scrape a draw. Big sweaty palms already. :-( 1-1 if start praying now. At best.

Newcastle v Portsmouth @ 20:00 (Monday)

The Black & Whites are in 19th (20) with 30 points. P'mouth are only just better off in 14th (20) with 37 points. Like Bielefeld, a game Newcastle must win to stand any chance of beating the drop. At home, with the God Shearer at the helm, I can't see how they won't and predict a nervy but comfortable win. Toon 2, P'mouth 1.

Long Running Gag

Click to Enlarge


If you trawl through our Archives, we once explained that my home town/place of birth, Bielefeld, is the centre of a German joke. Naturally, being a Kraut crack, it's blindingly funny and suggests that the city doesn't exist. Yip, that's the whole gag, no German will admit to knowing the place and suggest it is a mythical town.

Anyway, the above cartoon made me smile and we have parents telling their son that they are now in the witness protection programme and they have to move to somewhere where they can never be traced, to a place no one knows exists. Little Tobias only has one question...

Those crazy Germans, eh? :o)