Notepad on Life

December 19, 2016

French at a bus stop – a nation transformed

Filed under: Culture,music — - @ 12:29 pm
Tags: , ,

Whether or not climate change is the culprit, it was the type of English winter evening that I have come to despise. No crisp, cleansing cold, just a disheartening mild wetness; creepy drizzle making persistent inroads down the back of my neck, forcing me into the haven of the bus shelter.

The woman already in there could have been talking to a friend or partner. I caught the word “acheter“, so maybe the subject was Christmas shopping. All that mattered, however, was that she was speaking into her mobile phone in animated French, and the longer she did so, the more transformed our location became, like when you catch part of a song you haven’t heard in years, and your environment is suddenly tinged by memories.

The rain gradually took on a romantic aspect. Reflected office lights twinkled in a thousand tiny pools on the road and sullen Nature was lifted by human charm. Someone lighting up a Gauloise at this point would have been  favourably received.

What if you could extrapolate that cameo, I wondered, walking through the city bus station, half-an-hour later: replace the tinny Christmas jingles on the PA with a bit of what follows. Would its denizens find their mood softening without really knowing why? Would they smile at strangers and pass the time of day? Would love fill the air instead of the all-pervading stench of dope?

Play some of this and envisage your own local bus station as you do so. Has to be worth a try at least.

Smart motorways need education before electronics

Filed under: Motoring — - @ 11:44 am
Tags: ,



Pic courtesy of Patrick Hoesly

Just heard a Spotify ad for something called ‘smart motorways‘. It only entered my consciousness late in the clip but it sounded like something to do with picking your spot to park when your car is in trouble. Apparently there are ‘refuge areas’ for such contingencies now, just in case the hard shoulder may be needed to defuse congestion.

I had to smile. It reminded me of those ‘Green’ campaigns where the little guy – often in the form of school children – is busy jumping through all sorts of hoops to minimise his carbon footprint, while world leaders and their entourages continue to fly great big jumbo jets to their climate change summits, even in this age of video conferencing.

I’m sure the smart motorway concept will already have guzzled down millions in funding. Sadly, I’m equally certain that in all the man hours involved, not once will the elephant in this particular room have been acknowledged.

I use motorways extensively each month and I believe one particular form of ‘smartness’ would cut traffic snarl-ups considerably in this country, given that many traffic queues – as I learnt several years ago – are prompted by a simple wave effect . Something causes a few cars to slow down momentarily and the delay ripples through the traffic behind them until that initial slowing translates into several minutes of standstill further down the road. If you’ve ever found traffic moving normally after a 10-minute crawl, with no sign of any accident, and wondered what the hell the problem had been, chances are  it was that.

And a prime cause of this knock-on effect? Lorry drivers who decide to overtake a lorry in front even though five or six cars are clearly approaching in the overtaking lane. Lorry pulls out and takes a minute to crawl past the one in front, and so the wave begins.

I’m prepared to cut the culprits an inch of slack here, in that I have no doubt some of them work to punishing deadlines set by bosses sat in comfy offices, rejoicing in their new tracking software. If an HGV driver simply has to get by a slowcoach in front and the traffic from behind is relentless, then he can be excused. Too often, though, when conditions are far more forgiving, I see overtaking manoeuvres that could easily have been postponed briefly until a decent gap opened up in the traffic behind.

You want to make our motorways smarter, start by getting the haulage industry into school.

December 18, 2016

Corrie McKeague – might you know anything…?

Filed under: crime,News — - @ 11:04 am
Tags: , ,

Doing the rounds on Facebook:


“This photo, if you knew already, would need no words. For those of you who don’t, [the top picture shows] Nicola Urquhart. She’s a police officer from Dunfermline, Scotland. What she was doing today was look for her son. A clue as to where he is, or, more likely, his body. Corrie McKeague is his name. He’s the RAF serviceman I’ve shared posts about. My previous posts probably didn’t evoke much emotion. But, look at this one, please.

“This mum is searching forest undergrowth for her child. Her baby boy. Though an adult, he’s her baby still. He will always be her baby. He’s been gone 11 weeks now. It’s almost Xmas. He disappeared at the end of September. An innocuous night out. He walked into an area behind shops, out of view of CCTV, and has not been seen since. He couldn’t leave on foot without being seen. So, theories racing around, a vehicle was used. Either voluntarily or not, Corrie is no longer in that area he was last seen. His phone last received signal in an area north west of the town. His RAF base a completely different direction.

“This mum is searching…anywhere, everywhere, for her boy. Her beautiful son, who’s been serving our country. This photo, is why I’ve been sharing posts, asking everyone to join, share and donate. There’s a man of 23 out there. Somewhere. He should be at home now in Scotland on service leave for Xmas, but he’s not- he’s missing. His mum is exhausted, cold, desperate. She needs you. Everyone. Join the group, share the posts, and donate a quid if you can. Police resources are limited due to government cuts. SULSAR, the Suffolk area search and rescue, have been looking for Corrie for weeks. They led today.

“Look again, at the photo. Nicola. A mum, police officer, woman. Searching for her baby. Please help. Someone might see a post you share and have the answer to this mystery. Scenario we want is he’s safe and well but been held. Or he’s hurt but okay. Failing that, and, after this time, more realistically, he’s been knocked down and been left somewhere in the Bury St Edmonds area of Suffolk. There are different theories; different degrees of criminality. The worst we can all imagine. It doesn’t need to be said.

“Look at this photo. Corrie is her boy, on a night out who’s disappeared. It could be one of us parents looking for our child instead. You’d want everyone to help in ANY way. A tweet. A share. A pound.

“This photo could be you.”

💙 #FindCorrie

December 11, 2016

Dejected by Christmas, ejected from cricket

Filed under: Christmas,Consumer,Sport — - @ 11:12 pm
Tags: ,

A week in which I learnt of a shopping centre that is now offering hypnotism for shoppers overcome by the terrifying ordeal that is Christmas, and that players of cricket – once “a sphere of wholesome discipline”* – have finally reached the point where they are no better than footballers.

This thing we call Society: we’re all satisfied that it’s still moving forwards, yes…?


Christmas worship – it’s a jungle out there…

Filed under: Christmas,Church — - @ 9:25 pm


Intriguing and slightly ominous parentheses when I scanned the Christmas dates in the church notices this morning.

Sat 24 Dec: 11.30 Midnight Mass (NB incense will be used)

Made it sound like tear-gas…

[pic courtesy of Thomas Hawk, via Flickr]

December 6, 2016

Muslims redefine Christmas, in a good way…

Filed under: Christmas,food — - @ 11:01 pm
Tags: , ,

I’m swift to criticise the more belligerent adherents of their faith, so it’s only fair I flag up this great story from Sidcup…

‘A Muslim-owned restaurant in London is offering a three-course meal to homeless and elderly people on Christmas Day so that “no one eats alone”.’

The restaurant, Shish, can be found here and I’m probably not the only person who’d be minded to buy a meal there sometime soon, were it not so far away. May their more local paying customers be plentiful over the Christmas period, to reward this fine gesture.

December 4, 2016

Dear Amazon – a way out of this crapstorm…

Filed under: business,Consumer — - @ 1:48 pm

20982664928_d04c87d2a7_mAs one of journalism’s  hardy annuals – working conditions at Amazon – makes its latest re-appearance, it would be easy to sit back and hurl mud at a nice big, juicy target.

No such knee-jerk opportunism here, though. In a bid to be fair to all sides, I simply suggest that adding the following delivery options to the Amazon order form would empower the customer, suggest a company that takes criticism on board and allow all of us to stay true to whatever level of compassion we possess. Sorted.


In light of media reports on Amazon’s expectations of its staff, please execute my order in accordance with the following instructions:  

blank-square More power to you. I’m only disappointed there was no mention of whips and electrodes to speed things along. I’d like my delivery yesterday, because as you suits are always saying, there’s no such word as “can’t”, right?

blank-square I’m not saying the super-fast service isn’t great but, well, I have a conscience, you know. This stuff doesn’t sit well with my Amnesty membership. Just get it to me within five working days and we can all stay friends.

blank-square On the-clock bowel movements? Seriously? I nearly choked on my spliff. This is way too heavy, man, so I’m reaching out to my brothers and sisters at the coal face. Fifteen days will be cool. Now please; y’all just breeeaathe and smell the freakin’ roses.

blank-square I am [delete as appropriate] (a) a trade union leader, (b) heavily into old-timey mail-order shopping, or (c) of the opinion that companies worth £200bn have some wiggle-room when it comes to chilling the hell out. I allow 28 days for delivery. 

[pic courtesy of Damian Gadal]

December 2, 2016

Sarah Olney – equally damned by word and silence

Filed under: politics,Uncategorized — - @ 6:47 pm
Tags: , ,

I’m sure the new MP for Richmond Park will be among those who claim the Government lacks clarity on the terms of Brexit. Unfortunately, it would appear that she is not much better herself.

Even before Sarah Olney fell at the first hurdle of her political career, monstered into fleeing  an interview on Talk Radio (struggling MPs used to at least be capable of waffling for England when interrogated into a corner but nowadays even that seems beyond them) her comments in this piece by the Mirror pile one contradiction upon another.

My thoughts in bold…

Westminster’s newest MP has said she will vote to “override the referendum”

So no Brexit at all, then?

Lib Dem Sarah Olney said she would “absolutely” resist Brexit in its current form.

Ah, so it could still be on?

She made clear her opposition to ‘Hard Brexit’ in on the campaign trail, confirming she would vote against triggering Article 50

Er…vote against regardless, or vote against until the terms of departure are right?

She insisted she did not want a re-run of the referendum itself…

Right. So you respect the will of the majority?

According to the Press Association, Ms Olney told Sky News overnight: “It does look now as if we can have a vote in Parliament that might override the referendum.”

Override is a strong word. So you don’t respect the will of the majority?

Asked if she would actively resist Brexit as an MP, she said: “Absolutely. Now I’ve been given this mandate.”

Riiight. Sorry to be picky but is that resist absolutely absolutely, or just until the terms are palatable? And how does last night’s mandate stack up against the June 23rd mandate, incidentally?

“What we really want, once it’s clear what terms we are going to leave the EU under, what it means for free trade, what it means for freedom of movement; once we’re clear about all of those terms, to put that to the people in another vote so that they get a clear choice between the actual terms of leave and remain.”

Oh lordy…And this squares with ‘override’ how, exactly?

A sidebar to the Mirror article asks Who is Sarah Olney, how did she win the Richmond Park by-election and how did Zac Goldsmith lose? Two of those questions are probably taxing quite a few of us by now.

Today’s Public Service Announcement – why do dentists scarper during x-rays?

Filed under: Health — - @ 3:27 pm
Tags: ,

3462884640_9797d135f5_mI’ve reached the point in my life where a they-know-best mentality is no longer enough. If questions arise, more likely than not they get asked.

So after maybe two decades of occasional dental x-rays -an odd piece of theatre in which plates are stuffed in my cheeks, the x-ray machine moved alongside my head and everyone then briskly exits the room, leaving me alone to ponder whom the mug is here – I finally raise the matter with my dentist upon her return.

It turns out that the issue is dosage. You and I can cope with the odd zap every year or two but soaking x-rays up several times a day, five days a week wouldn’t bode well for dentists and their support staff and so they make themselves scarce while the machine does its thing.

So now my only outstanding question in this context is one I will never dare ask. “What inspired you to become a dentist?”

Just in case the answer is ever “Marathon Man“.

[Pic courtesy of Steve Snodgrass]

May 29, 2016

Life-on-a-plate mindset hard to swallow

Filed under: Education — - @ 11:50 pm
Tags: , , ,

One thought always reins me in whenever I feel a rant at the young coming on.

I was young once.

Just as these supposed ‘end times’ will one day be ‘the good old days’ for our children, so I am now the rantee turned ranter, an ex-young fool now despairing of young fools, who in turn will one day despair of those who follow them.

Humbling as this reflection may be, I suspect it has an equally recurrent flipside. As the wheel turns, each generation it flings into middle age will, I fancy, think its situation to be unique, insisting that “We were never this bad at their age…”

If so, then it’s now my turn, but no matter how timeless a trap I may be falling into, it is impossible to remained silent in the face of goings-on at America’s Oberlin College. (Which I comment upon here because, if it starts in America, chances are it’s headed Britain’s way.)

Hell, we might have grumbled about homework, exams, job interviews and the other steps up life’s ladder 40 years ago, but we could grudgingly see the point to them. Those who actively sought to dismantle the ladder were isolated oddballs. Today, they have become mainstream.

Today, if they have Oberlin College as part of their address, they want it to be social activism first, education second. Abolish all grades below C and replace examinations with chats with a professor, they demand, to take account of how this whole ‘learning’ thing is really beginning to mess with their change-the-world objectives.

“The students say that between their activism work and their heavy course load, finding success within the usual grading parameters is increasingly difficult. ‘A lot of us worked alongside community members in Cleveland who were protesting,’ Megan Bautista, a co-liaison in Oberlin’s student government, said, referring to the protests surrounding the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer in 2014. ‘But we needed to organize on campus as well — it wasn’t sustainable to keep driving 40 minutes away. A lot of us started suffering academically.'”

Certain truisms to which even their radical predecessors would at least nod, now seem to completely pass people by. The idea that you’re at college first and foremost to learn, for example (and see how America holds you to that, kids, should Bernie Sanders’ dream of free education for all ever come to pass). Or that part of that learning process involves focus and prioritising, waking up to the fact that our actions have consequences and that no-one can have or do it all.

If you’re not meeting the demands of your college, it calls for re-appraisal by you, not for some convenient sleight of hand in the college’s grading process. And if you don’t know it well enough to write it down, don’t kid yourself that you’ll express it any better with the eyes of some professor unamused by such indulgence burning holes in your forehead.

The world will still need saving when you graduate. You may be surprised how much more you can achieve in that regard when you’re based in an office or laboratory instead of behind a fast-food counter.

Of course, if that generational cycle continues to do its thing, the snowflakes of Oberlin College will one day seem paragons of diligence and realism compared to those who follow them. But they must excuse me if I’m finding that a little hard to visualise right now.

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