Posted on December 22, 2009 in Personal by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish3 Comments »

swordfish-mugI was quite saddened to see the news recently that SAAB are likely to disappear as a major car maker. Of course, they have not been the SAAB of old since they joined the General Motors stable but I still have very fond memories of my old 99. It was one of the best second-hand cars I ever owned – a real pleasure to drive and lot of fun. When I bought it, the roof had some minor damage from some sort of chemical spillage that had eaten into the paint but I got it for a good price and took it to a specialist for a respray. The guy was a big SAAB fan. I asked if the chemical damage was likely to continue to eat away at the roof. He gave me a withering look and opened up the bonnet. “Feel that” he said, indicating the thickness of the bonnet. I put the edge between my fingers and had to agree that this was indeed a fairly solid chunk of metal. He seemed pleased and then said: “There’s more metal in that bonnet than in a whole Ford Fiesta”! And he might well have been right.

“Microsoft has reached agreement with European Union anti-trust regulators to allow European users a choice of web browsers. The accord ends 10 years of dispute between the two sides.” That’s what it said on the BBC news website last week. Who exactly are these guys? Did we elect them? I don’t think so. But we have paid out of our taxes to fund this petty and ill-conceived war – first over the bundling of the Media Player In Windows and then later the bundling of Internet Explorer. And guess what? I am, whether I like it or not , a European – and for as long as I can remember now I have had a choice of web browser. It’s not rocket science. I really do not need some puffed up creep full of his self-imposed sense of importance to tell me that I can download Firefox any tme I want to. Or Opera. Or Chromium. Or Safari. I have never been forced to use either Microsoft’s Media Player or Internet Explorer. And nor have any other Europeans. And how come Apple are not being hounded by these idiots? Do they not bundle Quick Time and Safari in exactly the same way?

On a personal note, I recently discovered – or perhaps a better word would be realised – that I was wasting a lot of shampoo and conditioner washing where my hair used to be but no longer is. The hairline has moved a couple of inches or so backwards but my method of hair washing had not kept up with the times.

Posted on December 17, 2009 in Modern Times by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish7 Comments »

ape-with-clipboardHere we are at the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his seminal work ‘On The Origin of Species‘ and if, in the darkness of night, there are scrabbling and shuffling noises to be heard echoing around Westminster Abbey then that will be him, turning in his grave, struggling to get out so he can shout out something politically incorrect.

I recall Darwin did not much like the term ’survival of the fittest’ which is – let’s face it – a bit of a ‘News of the World‘ type spin on his preferred term ‘natural selection’ but if he did manage to claw his way out of his grave, clambering over Isaac Newton on his way out, then it might well be his term of choice.

What he should notice, after a little bit of research and good old fashioned observation, is that evolution – in terms of the homo sapien anyway – has quite possibly started to go backwards.

Call it what you like, evolution has rolled along nicely and undisturbed for many millions of years doing it’s thing. A little change here, a small improvement there. Wings for that one. Opposable thumbs for this one. Binocular vision over here. Improved sense of smell for the one with the long nose. And it will continue to roll along as well. We can’t actually stop it and nor should we. But we can make the huge mistake of messing with it. And when people discover they can do something there is always some bozo who goes ahead and does it.

And one of the bozos in this case is the one who came up with the idea of the Health and Safety Executive – a body whose sole aims are to remove all of the fun and the risk out of life. Natural Selection doesn’t mean people born with disease or disability are left to die before they can reproduce although let’s be totally honest here and recognise that this was once the case and still is outside of us humans. Natural Selection means that the idiot who doesn’t use a ladder properly, falls off and dies is removed from the gene pool to the betterment of us all. These days he probably can’t even buy the ladder in the first place without a three week training course and an NVQ in ladder usage. And should he borrow a ladder from someone else the H&S men will slap a fine on him and send him for corrective therapy.

Evolution basically works by promoting the good bits, the clever bits, the enhanced bits and letting the bad bits and the useless bits fall by the wayside. And the ones who have got those good bits get to pass them on like a family heirloom. And those with the bad bits fall off ladders. But other bozos, including those who came up with the life-stifling theory of Political Correctness, have decreed that we all have to be equal. Or all the same. As I have said many times before, this means we all have to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. So those with good bits that are really worthy of evolutions attention have to have those good bits repressed. It’s happening all around us. They get forced to go to Comprehensive Schools. They get turned down for jobs because one of the candidates was clearly more stupid than they were or comes from an ethnic minority and can’t speak the language buy hey – positive discrimination is on their side.

We are in the process of screwing evolution up big time. People survive disease and disability that would have once – and not so long ago – taken them out of the gene pool. Being clever, intelligent and inventive is almost frowned upon. Being competitive is OK as long as you restrict it to buying lottery tickets. And taking risks or having fun is outlawed.

And before we realise it, we’ll all be growing more body hair and starting to suffer from a strong urge to climb trees.

Posted on December 11, 2009 in Personal by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish3 Comments »

gum-sculptureI have ranted on before about the curse of chewing gum being casually and selfishly discarded on pavements.

But I had never really considered post-chewed gum as a sculpture medium.

So both my OH and I – and maybe Sid the dog – were somewhat surprised and amused to find this little art piece attached to a lamppost recently.

Posted on December 10, 2009 in Life in England by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish5 Comments »

o2-arenaBy coincidence, on the day that one of my small handful of readers left a comment describing the Millennium Dome as an ‘Upturned Tupperware Dish’ I was planning to write about it in this, my next post. And that is because, now called the O2 Arena, I had just been there for the very first time.

Back in what were affectionately known as the ‘Swinging Sixties’ I spent a lot of my time in London having been raised at the nice end of the Central Line. Weekends were often spent travelling up to various points due west of Holborn and during those years, and my first two working years in Fleet Street, I grew to both love the city and to loathe it. Loved it for it’s vibrant undercurrents, it’s endless choices, it’s history – loathed it for it’s grubbiness, it’s decay and it’s overcrowded streets. London was a city that could charm one moment and appal the next and since those days trips to London have been more or less limited to necessity and have been planned as an incisive strike. Get in fast, do what is needed and no more, get out again as quickly as possible.

And then Mrs Swordfish bought me a delightful birthday present of tickets to see Eddie Izzard at the O2 Arena and we decided to stay a couple of nights in Leicester Square, take the Thames Clipper from Waterloo to Greenwich instead of using the tube and pay a visit to Harrods for some shopping.

And it was great. Well on the whole it was great. I did forget the rule that says if they describe a hotel as ’boutique’ and charge you £300 a night then you really do end up with a room that is crowded when there is more than one person in it. I mean you couldn’t have swung a cat in this room because the cat wouldn’t have been able to get in. But apart from that it was great. And to my great surprise, London – or at least that part of London – seems to have re-invented and re-invigorated itself. It’s looking really pretty good.

So – back to the O2 Arena. I too was one of those who grumbled at the building of the dome. It seemed to me ill-conceived and – as history shows – indeed it was. But what a truly magnificent structure it is. Stunningly beautiful as you edge around the bend in the river and you catch the first sight of it dominating the landscape, all lit up against the night sky. Same goes for the London Eye. paddingtonA long, long time ago we could have built something like this and then there seemed to be a long period spanning a large part of the twentieth century where we lost our way. The old ‘Centre Point’ building was about as good as it got! It’s good to see that we have that vision back and have the will to undertake such projects.

And finally, we nipped in to St. Pancras Station to look at the renovations and were pleasantly surprised by what a great job has been done. Sadly, our train home meant using Kings Cross next door – a grim reminder of the ugly, dirty and neglected marriage of Victorian grandeur with mid to late twentieth century budget building.

Oh – and Eddie Izzard was great fun.

Posted on December 6, 2009 in Life in England by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish5 Comments »

segwayYes it’s a Segway. Or – to give it it’s full title, a Segway Personal Transporter. A relatively common sight in many US cities and, I am told, European ones as well. Unless you happen to live in England that is, where I doubt very many people have seen one at all.

Probably, like me, you noticed the launch back in 2001, the hype surrounding the first video clips of it in use and, if I recall correctly, pictures of George Bush using one. And then, as far as us Brits go… nothing. I suspect most of us old enough to remember probably placed it in the same category as the Sinclair C5 and promptly forgot about it again. If you still don’t know what I am talking about then wikipedia as always, offers a quick memory refresh.

I have to admit that I had forgotten all about them. But that changed back in October when, encouraged by my son who had tried one, Mrs Swordfish and I booked a Segway tour of Washington DC and for me at least it was an instant ‘poop poop’1 moment. I was in love with a machine.

With a top speed of around 12 miles an hour and a range of about 24 miles per battery charge, the Segway is truly a remarkable ‘vehicle’, perfect for those quick, short trips where you know you shouldn’t take your car but always do. They are amazingly easy to master and control and are incredibly manoeuvrable. And they are, simply, great fun!

And they are also illegal.

Our beloved government – the ones who promote using public transport over the car, who want us all to be ‘greener’ and care about the environment, who steal more cash from us for driving higher CO2 emission vehicles in the thinly veiled fight against global warming – invoked the Highway Act of 1835 – yes you read that correctly – confining the Segway to private land use only.

The 1835 Highway Act – to put it simply – bans wheeled vehicles from public pavements. In 1835 this meant a horse and cart. The Segway is not allowed on public roads because it is neither a car or a motorbike and therefore can not be taxed or have a license plate. And in a country where the building of cycle pathways has actually been pretty good you can’t use a Segway because it is motorised.

The 1835 Highway Act did not, of course, envisage the rise of the automobile or the motor bike. It did not envisage the bicycle either. Curiously, all three date from about 1885 a full 50 years after the Act arrived on the statute books. Steam powered vehicles might have been a small problem but in 1835 I doubt many people had seen one and Traction Engines were not really developed until around 1850-1860. Invoking such an archaic law in the year 2002 is ludicrous, short-sighted and beyond belief. If I didn’t know better I would suspect the ulterior motive of tax revenue. Nah… couldn’t be.

There is an active but sadly ill-supported campaign to get the humble Segway legalised in the UK – even if only on cycle pathways. This would simply require a small change to legislation such as happened for the ’scooters’ used by the handicapped that are allowed to go just about anywhere their owners want them to go. Well cycle ways, pavements, and minor roads at least.

I implore anyone reading this – whether you like the idea of the Segway or not – to sign the petition at the campaign website. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Do it because we have had enough of stupid, archaic laws being used to strip away our freedoms. Do it because technology like the Segway needs to be championed if we are ever to move beyond petrol driven vehicles.

But most of all – please do it because I want one.

(1 In case you don’t know, ‘poop poop’ comes from Kenneth Graham’s children’s novel The Wind in the Willows and was the sound made by the first motor car seen by Mr Toad (the horn of course) who was instantly bewitched and sat, on the side of the road in a daze intoning the mantra ‘poop poop’.)