Sunday, 29 April 2007

Familial Bonds

Sleepy Edinburgh in the morning looking down Princes Street

I went to Dunfermline on Friday evening for a good ‘ol fashioned home cooked family meal at a friend’s place. I noticed there was a lot of new housing hastily being constructed in the suburbs, leapfrogging out from the city in frenzy. I saw evil Tesco had already staked its territory. The average house price in the UK is now £180,000, yet what I am seeing – county Fife - is still the cheapest place in the whole country.

Anyway, what a great chap…and his three adorable children, the youngest being a two-year old wee lass who took a liking to me, and like children that age, danced (literally) on the threshold between being shy and being intensely curious.

There is a natural unadulterated joy and directness that children have we lose as cynical adults. I’m usually okay with kids. She proudly showed me her magnetic doodle drawing board and I deftly drew a simple stick figure with a grinning bubble-head. She giggled and immediately named that as her brother. She copied me but drew one with a bigger bubble-head with lopsided Picasso eyes and nose. That was her eldest brother apparently. She erased that and then drew another one with an even more deformed features and massive head. That’s mum I was informed. No prizes for guessing who had the biggest head in the next drawing.

After a gut-bursting meal and an encore worthy artery-clogging dessert, we chatted about how the UK was going down the loo (a favourite topic of mine of late). After a perfunctory football game with the boys in the backyard, we sleepily drove in the orange-pink hued sunset towards Edinburgh to pick up a piece of IKEA furniture from Olga, a former landlady of my mate, with the shimmering soul calypso of Kevin Lyttle reverberating into the cool evening air from the car stereo.

Olga’s mum, house sitting for her daughter, was a sharp-witted (she guessed my profession straight away) quirky old widow who has been husbandless for 26 years after losing him suddenly to sub-arachnoid haemorrhage. One day he woke up with a God-awful headache, got up to the sink saying he was going to be sick and then popped his clogs just like that. She never re-married. ‘Life goes on’ she quipped as she took a phone call from her grandniece calling from Vancouver. She also has a grandnephew in South Africa and unusually they both keep in touch with her every week. She felt blessed she remarked. She still has a zest for life despite recently fracturing several bones from a road traffic accident…of all things when standing in a mobile communal library that got rammed by another vehicle. It’s funny how some people just tell you their smallest personal details so casually. Such is life but I definitely agree about the family bit. I keep in touch with my folks and sister weekly. I also speak to those regularly whom I care very much.

We wended our way down the bustling streets and passed the cobbled Royal Mile. The ghostly-neon lit magnificent Edinburgh castle stood silently over the city like an ageless sentinel. It still amazes me how safe and parochial downtown Edinburgh felt for a capital city. Maybe it’s a tad far to drunkenly crawl around on all fours but the centre is certainly walkable. George Street was packed with the usual revellers venue-hopping and laughing merrily into the clear moonlit night. Another friend, Lisa, remarked to me recently how money wasn’t really the most important thing in life and that human relations are. I agree (although what with the housing bubble, having a nice financial cushion is highly desirable atm - mwahahahahaha). She’s moving on to her next job next week and wants us to keep in touch and for me to stay over anytime. I’d like to pop back to Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival later in the summer so I’ll pencil that into the diary as a perfect excuse to drop by.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Back in the day when I was deluded enough to buy CDs from high street stores, the first time I came across the subversive guerrilla artist Banksy was when I got hold of Blur's Think Tank (2003). Over the years this anonymous urban artist have raised my eyebrow (yes, I can do that unibrow raise) and a smile with his antics....such as the Disney Guantanamo sculpture stunt (*fist in air*)

or the time he inserted his own CD remixes into America's "It Girl" Paris Hilton's album with titles such as "Why am I Famous?", "What Have I Done?" and "What Am I For?" (*yessssssssssss*)

....or the time he satirised the illegal Israeli West Bank wall from the Palestinian side with mocking idyllic scenes of life on the other side (*happy dance*)

and many more.

Maybe his anti-war stance chimes with me. But the simple truth is he makes me laugh. And in a good way.

I noticed him, or more accurately, his art work, yet again in the news in the past week. First, about the deliberate (or accidental?) paint over of one of his iconic pieces (or graffiti) by workers of Transport for London. To the howling cries of critics and supporters of Banksy, the TfL responded tartly, "We recognise that there are those who view Banksy's work as legitiamte art, but sadly our graffiti removal teams are staffed by professional cleaners, not professional art critics." Ouch.

Maybe the TfL should reconsider. Just a few days later, "Space Girl and Bird" sold for the ridiculous price of £288,000. Imagine how many TfL workers' saleries you can pay with that, eh?

It's clear he has hit a resonant note with a body of souls who appreciate his art work enough to feel passionate about it. In that sense I view he has succeeded as an artist. It's my personal theory that what makes a piece (or pieces) of art "great" (be it in whatever medium) is that it represents a harmonious confluence and collage of its constituents that is able to convey an intuitive unspoken truth appropriate for an audience in a particular place and time. Thus it's only made "great" when enough recipients are "touched" by it and deem it as such, regardless of what the artist may have wanted to convey even. What is great art to someone is literally a pile of elephant shite to another.

Check out more of Bristolian Banksy's art work at his website here.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre

Copyright: Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

When I first heard of the shooting spree that resulted in 32 people dead and scores injured at Virginia Tech (via the Internet of course) my first thought was “Not again”. And my immediate second thought was, “There is unfortunately going to be more.”

23-year old Cho Seung Hui, from all accounts available in the media, appeared to be a social misfit and outcast with a chronic history of disturbing mental behaviour that had unnerved family members and other people he had come across in his life. He was a socially isolated individual permanently withdrawn into a fantasy psychological shell with poor coping skills that needed professional help but such analyses are always 20/20 clear in hindsight. Whilst it’s easy to heap blame on, and label him as a nutjob who acted alone, could he also be seen as a social alarm bell…a symptom of the ills of a much larger problem? Is he a one-off or are there more like him out there? With 220 school shootings in six years (and such mass school shootings are but a small percentage of this frightening total of firearm related deaths in the USA), I would be hard-pressed to be convinced it’s the former.

In a gun-loving society that allows for easy access of firearms to irresponsible individuals, it is hardly surprising that mass murders such as these keep punctuating the news with disturbing frequency.

Americans often tout their “right of the people to keep and bear Arms”. Fine – there is nothing right or wrong with that Right (I would even support that Right) except people tend to forget that is just one half of a maxim. For with Rights come Responsibilities. If one consistently is unable to demonstrate responsibilities for said rights, why let any Tom, Dick and Harry easy access to multiple weapons of mass destruction? If pundits claim that is not entirely true, should communication between different government agencies be reviewed which would have prevented such individuals ease of access to firearms?

Switzerland, another gun loving culture, do not have the same rates of murder with firearms as the USA, and even celebrate firearms as a wholesome community activity. The difference is one of attitude. Switzerland as a nation has demonstrated its Responsibility with its Right. The USA however continually fail at demonstrating said Responsibility with said Right. And until that can be achieved as a nation (which requires a national change in attitude that I don’t realistically see happening too soon), the quickest way of achieving results would be to toughen legislation that allows for easy access to firearms – a mammoth task indeed.

Still focusing on the theme of “prevention”, the other debate would be how to spot such troubled individuals before such tragedies occur (near impossible as too many false positives would be generated). Nevertheless, some form of national and local guidelines of management of troubled individuals as a group in general, commensurate to their problems, needs to be reviewed by politicians, academics and health care professionals alike so that clear lines of responsibility and appropriate actions may help all concerned. Also, contingency planning with review of established emergency plans and communication systems on campuses needs to be done to minimise future casualties. And if anything is implemented, such measures will need to be reviewed and audited to see if it actually works.

Boy, is there a lot of potential work ahead.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Links Market 2007 - The Longest Fair In Europe

I cruised by to see what the fuss was about as Kirkcaldians would proudly point to the fact that the Links Market has a 700 plus year history (officially having started in 1304). And that it is the longest street fair in Europe that runs for six days around the time of Easter and signals the start of the Showman’s year in Scotland.

Like most British traditions that stem from the pre-Google age, it had mutated beyond original recognition. It is now more akin to a tacky seaside funfair where families can amble about in a disinterested fashion, teenagers congregate collectively to mooch, smooch and drink hooch, enthralled kids can siphon parents’ wages into showmans’ jangling pockets and where antediluvian tartan wrapped pensioners in pushed wheelchairs can have a colourful day out in the bracing cold.

The police were out in force, the paramedics were on stand-by and the public toilets were provided for to ensure the proletarians play faired (pun intended). All one had to do was just waddle up and down the length of scary rides and screaming people and absent-mindedly decide, whilst struggling to fit the candy floss into your gob without getting the sticky sugar all over your annoyed visage, which attractions were worth your time.

The city lad within me found the whole experience rather under-whelming. But sufficient numbers of 21st century British crowds still seem to enjoy bathing in the radiance of the quaint and kitsch so at the end of the day, people-watching turned out to be the most amusing thing of all…

Seagull’s eye view of the Links Market

The average age of clientele must have hovered around the teens

It amazes me how useless tacky goods still wow the crowds

Get stuffed!

…round round baby round round…

The crowd pleasing British addition to authentic Chinese cuisine basically boils down to chips + any sauce!

Staple hearty funfair British grub robust enough to induce lockjaw

The vominator dry spins your insides for a mere £5…or more…if it catapults your loose change all the way to Dysart

Loose dentures, condom packets and Mercedes Benz car keys constantly whistled above the unsuspecting heads of the crowds below

The life and soul of the party attracted an avid array of ankle biters

…whilst Rastas get no love…awwwwww…

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

House of Lying Backstabbers

Zhang Yimou delivers his most intense martial artistry to date in Curse of the Golden Flower as audience's retinas are wushu'd to submission by a kaleidoscopic explosion of garish technicolour. One's fatigued ocular muscles, unable to drink in the fountain of opulent palatial detail, welcomes the few scenes of the drab monochrome world beyond the scheming palace walls. This in-your-face schizophrenic display of opulent LSD colours serves as a useful counterpoint and contrast to the dark, tragic Shakespearean theme that plagues this imperial family set during China's Tang dynasty. I haven't seen such a dysfunctional royal family on celluloid since the Tenenbaums (at least The Queen is based on REALITY...mwahahah). The Tenenbaums were quirky cute. This is incestuous tragic.

In the Red corner we have Chow Yun-Fat's artful-goatee-stroking emperor determined to slowly poison his reigning consort with a black Persian mushroom. In the Gold corner, perhaps already mentally unhinged by said fungi, Gong Li's bitchtastic scheming Queen, attended to by a sea of corsetted A-cup courtiers, conspires to usurp the throne with the help of son number two. In the remaining myriad corners of this ever enlarging rainbow coloured polygon, we have the three princes where their combined naivety, natures and nurture prove to be their own Achilles' heel in their undoing when caught up in the scheming ping-pong match of their parents' machinations.

The histrionic operatic denouement takes place at the Festival of the Chrysanthemum as the smug competitors attempts to outdo one another's ruses with their delivery of psychological pain of acupuncture accuracy, or less surgically, with a shock-and-awe array of CGI terra-cotta like armies streaming across the palace grounds or improbable black masked assassins that drop out of the night sky at convenient points to dispose of second rate characters once they served the overcooked plot's purpose.

Students of Shakespeare will recognise shades of Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello embroidered within the film's fabric so don't be surprised by the ending. Yimou's last two similarly themed martial arts films have operated on a delicate balance of emblematic colours and tales of intrigue which somehow delivered with Hero and to a lesser extent, the House of Flying Daggers, but this final act of the trilogy is his weakest in its bombastic plot and dubious logic.

Visually the film is a feast of Chinese banquet proportions but the MSG loaded story makes one emerge from the cinema with a lingering taste of a take away.

Sunday, 15 April 2007


I get given fragrances left, right and centre and it will take me eons to work through them all. One notable favourite of mine at present is that of Venezuelan fashion designer Caroline Herrera’s 212 which was given to me by my sister some years ago. I have only now come round to using it regularly after first taking it to Delhi for a friend’s wedding in 2003, partly because the packaging appealed to me (I’m the type that packs one hour before leaving so I had no time to faff around with glass containers for a long haul flight).

When I last met my mum she commented how wonderful I smelled (hmmmmm) and now women at work are commenting how great I smell (even greater hmmmmmmmmmmm) so maybe there is something to it. In fact my mum loved it so much she recently got another 212 for me at Duty Free (gerrrr-rate, now I will get round to using that one in 2012).

The packaging is clever and literally ties in with the message the product wants to convey – sensuality and magnetism. It’s a smooth, solid, palm sized, silver burnished metallic cylinder with the logo in blue glass (that’s fun to shine a light into - heh) that’s unleashed by removing a magnetic cap with a sexy click – no need to flip a 19th century cap or any annoying 20th century unscrewing. I love it!

The fragrance seems quite overpowering at first with a citric tang of bergamot, mandarin and green leaf suffusing your olfactory nerve. But after this energetic introduction, the spicy cardamom, flower petals and pepper takes over sensually. The base note consists of sandalwood, vanilla, bois de gaiac, musk and amber that lingers as some sub-conscious seductive tug for well over an hour (well, I imagine it does…bwahahaha).

The website has the usual macromedia advertising pretentiousness overlain with catwalk sashay music but it’s very simple to navigate and full of snazzy black and white photos of New York and personalities – Americans are very, very good at this display of confident, flamboyant self-assurance. I don’t normally recommend fragrances but this is the only one I have used that has generated the most positive reaction from others.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Seals, Supplies and Sporrans

Copyright: AP Photo/ IFAW, Stewart Cook, HO, March 25, 2006

Walking in town tonight I saw yet another striding Scot in kilt with a beautiful swinging sporran in front, no doubt merrily heading off to a night of fun and festivities. I love how the Scottish people have their own pride in their rich culture but I also feel that some traditions are not justified.

As international condemnation against Canada hits the media again regarding an increase in quota allowed for the seal hunt this spring, few realise in the UK that Britain is the largest importer of seal furs, and that Scotland in particular is a big consumer of said furs – for the making of that most Scottish of garments, the sporran.

I find most of the arguments supporting the culling of seal pups spurious. Typical points:

1) Seals look cute so they get media coverage.

Yes. So?

2) Why care so much about seals when other animals are slaughtered for food too?

First of all, why link other issues to a discussion (killing seals for totally non-essential fashion accessories vs. killing for food) and by framing such a question assumes that others do not care about the welfare of other animals is a credible “defence”? It is a weak argument to assume that it is simply a cuteness factor (no doubt the cuteness factor does generate media coverage, but like I said, so? Does that suddenly invalidate the totally different point of unnecessary cruelty?). Seals do not spread diseases to humans. Nor are they reared specifically for food consumption. Thus I find it pointless to see unrelated points raised about the killing of cockroaches or the slaughter of sheep.

Secondly, how does the fact that other wrongs committed justify another wrong committed as being acceptable?

3) It is a source of livelihood and income for remote populations in Newfoundland. It is a traditional way of life in Newfoundland.

Firstly, what do they do for the rest of the year?

Secondly, such an argument would be the very anti-thesis for economic change – because you know, it’s a “way of life” so we should therefore continue it forever. In which case lets bring back the slave trade since it was a “way of life” for centuries and a livelihood for many.

4) Eskimos are deprived of their sole trade.

Oh yes, what the hell were they relying on for millennia before the sporran market came about?

I have no qualms about the Innuit killing seals for their own livelihood. They have for many generations killed enough to survive on; no more, no less. Not only is the animal completely dead before it is skinned, the entire animal is not left as a bloody carcass on the ice once it is skinned as every part is used for food and clothing. The fur trade however is driven purely by greed and vanity. No comparison.

5) There are too many seals.

Yes, nature is unable to cope and needs the help of humans for ecological balance.

Yes, the fact that perhaps there may be too many humans instead means that we should start an annual clubbing to death ritual of a few million people perhaps?

Whilst pro-hunters are keen to point out that the seal population has since tripled from the 1970s, the same pundits don’t point out that the population was reduced by two thirds between the 1950s and 1970s – from seal hunting. And now with the increase in global temperatures, more seal pups die due to a lack of ice before the hunting season even begin.

The fact is a lot of the source of ecological imbalance in nature traces back to humans. Culling may be necessary if that is the line of argument but why choose a violent method of dispatch by battering to death helpless pups when other factors that give rise to the increase in seal numbers are not addressed?

The Canadian government issued figures of “landed catch” is often misinterpreted in the media as total number of seals killed. That number is obtained from those seals “landed” at seal processing facilities and does not include those killed in Greenland or those seals that were wounded and escaped (“struck and lost”) or those killed accidentally in fishing nets.

The scientific journal Marine Mammal Science estimated that in 1998 the total number of seals killed was somewhere between 406, 258 to 548, 903 – more than the allowed cull.

6) The seals are depleting the cod stock.

Oh yes, the fact that the primary problem is humans over-fishing cod and destroying the natural predators of seals means we should get all uppity when seals bite into our food-chain! I mean, how dare the seals touch OUR fish!

Is cod the only fish and food that humans subsist on?

7) It is not a violent cull. It is a well-organized controlled harvest conducted in a generally humane fashion.

Clubbing is “not violent”? If a human being was clubbed or hapapiked (a device resembling a heavy ice pick) to death then it can be classed as a humane killing? And how “general” is this “humane” aspect when a helpless baby seal is clubbed several times to death and there is evidence that some are skinned alive?

According to the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) 79% of the sealers do not check to see if an animal is dead before skinning it. In 40% of the kills a sealer had to strike the seal a second time, presumably because it was still conscious after the first blow or shot. 42% of killed seals examined were found to have minimal or no fractures, suggesting a high probability that these seals were conscious when skinned.

8) Seals are predatory carnivores, fight each other to death, crush their own infants inadvertently, and pups starve to death when their mothers get eaten by killer whales etc. So killing them with a club to the head is kinder. So lets not get all emotional about seals.

Yes we all know nature is “cruel”. Let nature be. How does that therefore justify humans adding unnecessary barbaric cruelty to satisfy a non-essential need?

At the same time, it is ludicrous for bleeding hearts to simply blame Canada. Supply and demand means the British Isles are also complicit in the fur trade continuing.The seal fur sporran trade fuels the supply. Stop the demand by refusing to buy sporrans made of seal fur. Sporrans do not have to be made from seal pup fur. Is that really a huge sacrifice for the Scottish people to make?

Anti-sealing organizations:

Pro-sealing organizations:

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced, 23rd March 2007, the launch of a new website to counter "misinformation about the sealing industry that is put in the public domain by international animal rights organizations."

High North Alliance

The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission

A pro-sealing article by Boris Johnson (!) when he was the editor of the Spectator.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Baby It's You

I have given up alcohol for nigh on 14 years but the fertile creative minds behind advertisements in the alcohol industry have given us many classic and memorable ads (Guinness have produced consistently high quality ads over the years IMHO). It’s almost exactly a year since the release of one of my favourite ads which I had a chance to see again tonight – Peroni Nastro Azzurro’s La Dolce Vita . Ma ma mia! Linking Italian style and class to their product, UK’s number-one premium Italian lager paid homage to the maestro Fellini by re-creating iconic scenes from the film. The full five minute version can be seen at the Peroni website which also includes a ten minute podcast of the star of the original film, Anita Ekberg.

To me it’s a perfect fusion of stunning black and white photography, subtle lighting, ‘60s couture fashion, a slow kinetic poetry and the awesome use of the popular 1961 top ten hit of the Shirelles, "Baby it’s you", here sung by Maria Antonio. This beautiful classic was reverentially covered by the Beatles in 1963 with Lennon on lead vocals but he admitted in a ‘70s interview rightfully that the original was still the better version.

But to pull off this montage of Italian style, it had to be all convincingly tied up by a breathtaking blonde and in that director Ian Cassie of The Bank did find his mesmerizing muse. Like her admirer visually entranced by her, the audience is invited into the magic moment of seeing her elegantly step off the plane, twirl, bathe and bask in the admiration of the paparazzi. Peroni went so far as to get permission from the Italian government to film in the Trevi Fountain – which hasn’t been done since Fellini in 1959! Bellissimo!!!

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Political Football - The British Hostage Crisis

Courtesy BBC news

Perusing the papers coming home from work on the train, it was interesting to read the inevitable analyses of the British hostage crises that had dominated the local media of late. Oh, and for the FIRST time EVAR, the train was FIVE MINUTES EARLY on arrival at Aberdeen. Well done Virgin trains!

On one level, this was always going to be propaganda war played on cue by both sides but on that benchmark alone it was a clear 1-0 victory for Iran.

It’s largely irrelevant whose claims one chooses to believe regarding encroachment of territorial waters – what is more important and clear was that the Iranians had planned and was determined to see through the capture of British personnel to serve their immediate strategic needs. And in this they succeeded.

The context is that Iran and the USA are in negotiations, through official and unofficial channels, on the future status of Iraq, with Iran being constantly blitzed by rumours that the Americans could be launching a military offensive in the near future. And then there is also the on-going nuclear dispute.

Whilst the western media were quick to paint the Iranians black for instigating this hostage crisis, the status and treatment of five Iranian officials held illegally and captured in a US military raid in northern Iraq since 11th January remains unknown. Sean McCormack, the US State Department spokesman stated “there’s no inclination to let them go” and the Americans have yet to give an answer to Iran regarding consular access to the five.

The creation of a hostage situation involving British personnel thus served several purposes. It demonstrated to their negotiating opposites that the Iranians still had some cards to play by throwing down the element of unpredictability and its ability to cause greater mischief entirely at their own choosing. The Americans barely need reminding of their own protracted hostage crisis with Iran in 1979 that resulted in Jimmy Carter losing his presidential office.

It helped in this particular situation that the hostages weren’t American. This meant US involvement in the subsequent dispute, if any, would be much lower key. The Iranians knew, no matter how indignant the British may get, their bite would ultimately be toothless as they do not have the potential military muscle, like the US, to do anything. This hostage act thus boldly signalled to both the Americans and British that the Iranians were not afraid of a military strike since diplomacy would always going to be the preferred route of resolution. This has the parallel advantage of strengthening the current Iranian regime in the eyes of its own people by simultaneously demonstrating the effeteness of America and Britain despite the presence of their huge military machine at their doorstep.

And after the opaque Iranian government milked the ‘bad cop’ role for all it’s worth, the true powers-to-be let President Ahmadinejad play the ‘good cop’ role by announcing a sudden magnanimous release of the hostages and showering them with ‘gifts’. Definitions aside, the Iranians thus demonstrated to the western world how a civilized nation state handles and treat hostages. Despite accusations of propaganda wiles and psychological torture meted out by the Iranians to the British hostages, it was clear their ordeal paled in comparison as to how Iraqi and Iranian detainees were and are treated by the western powers. The images seared on our collective consciousness that circulated around the world from Abu Ghraib will not be forgotten for a long time yet.

The ineffectiveness of the British government has thus been laid bare for all to see.

It was clear to all that the Iranians always held all the cards from start to finish.

There is no doubt the British military had made a tactical error that inevitably resulted in a political crisis simply by making their own personnel needlessly vulnerable. As such, the military hierarchy will swiftly need to review their operational capabilities and rules of engagement. They must minimise the vulnerability of our own troops in an already unpopular war – not only were the British personnel heavily out-gunned and were left completely vulnerable without back-up air and naval support operating in a war zone near the waters of a nation state threatened with imminent attack by the USA…the Brits had little training in conduct under capture…and above all, the presence of a young mother, 26 year old Faye Turney, in a crew so close to the front lines which handed the Iranians an immense propaganda advantage.

Both the western powers of USA and Britain, and the Iranian regime are cunning players in this complex political cat-and-mouse game. As usual, the biggest losers are the ordinary people of Iraq trapped in an unholy war, and on a much lesser intensity, the ordinary soldiers doing their duty serving the bidding of their political masters in a vast war of propaganda. To claim that only one side is supporting terrorism is to be purposefully and selectively blind and thus unwittingly fuel the cycles of conflict.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Individual Squirrel Account

Of late I have been acting like a squirrel. In addition to devouring a lot of nuts (damn, those roasted monkey nuts are surprisingly addictive!), I have been scurrying around and stashing away my hard earned moolah in anticipation for some perceived future winter of discontent. As is my custom to leave things to the last minute to the nth degree, I have just sorted out squirreling away my maximum ISA allowance for the tax year....that ended yesterday! Woohoo!

ISAs are promoted by the UK government as an investment with tax advantages to encourage its own people to save - there is no UK income tax or capital gains tax to pay on any growth.

First, that is assuming people even know or care about it.

Secondly, that is assuming if people have the money to save.

But to be honest, I rapidly lose interest once the discussion spirals into maxis and minis. This means it has become an annual ritual for me to tap the brains of IFAs to suss out what is on the market at the fag end of a tax year. I inevitably end up having the profile of an adventurous investor and will then make a decidely decisive decision after a careful perusal over several meetings. Ya ha.

With the smug satisfaction of knowing I just got away with another one of life's arbitrary deadlines, I recently found out, as I ambled past his house, that the author of the 'Wealth of Nations' (1776) and the new face of the Bank of England £20 note, Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a resident of Kirkcaldy, the proud little town where I have the pleasure of meeting many of it's inhabitants on a daily front line basis.

From Wealth of Nations to ISAs, Adam Smith's promotion of capitalism still seems to hold significant sway in many parts of the world centuries later. The Scottish people have a strong history of academic excellence and a proud tradition whose influence all over the world seems amazingly disproportionate to the size of the population.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

I Heart British Rail

Once again, we apologise for the delay. This is due to a multi-storey gargantuan reptile wandering randomly causing widespread carnage and wanton destruction. An ASBO will be issued to the offending creature to prevent such future recurrences.

I take the train to work. One thing I can absolutely depend on is its tardiness. The only thing I can't depend on is how tardy it would be. Yesterday the delay was 20 minutes; last week it was one hour. The last 5 explanations I personally heard proffered for delays were:

1) There is a slow carriage ahead
2) We are currently waiting for a free platform
3) There is a problem with the tracks
4) There is a speed restriction
5) There is a signal failure
6) Sometimes there is no explanation at all. It's just normal to be late.

Last week on the sardine packed tardy carriage, I bumped into David and Claire returning home prematurely from work when I was on my merry way to work. Claire felt that the state of British Rail had improved considerably of late, as we sat in the totally stationary stifling carriage. I think my expression was somewhere between dead and pan. But yes, on reflection I think she was correct. Not so long ago British trains were seemingly delayed because of "leaves on the track"...."I don't know what the problem is, I'll just have a look" (SC on Virgin Cross Country service at Oxford, early Nov 1996)..."Deranged female on line" (SC of Leeds - King's Cross train, North of Finsbury Park, circa 1994)..."Children surfing on the side of trains"..."Waiting for the other driver" (Birmingham New Street 1994, when HSTs needed 2 drivers)..."Train is delayed due to Madonna" (at Liverpool Street, 1995 (Great Eastern decided to hold the last train of the evening to allow concert-goers to return from Wembley).

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Guilty Pleasure

Okay, okay, I admit it. I sneaked into another showing of 300 at Aberdeen after last week’s pre-party performance in Edinburgh. Despite the fact that the men’s tits were larger than the women’s, the film was bloody quotable and it appealed to the 13 year old boys within all of us. Let’s see…. barbaric beheadings. Homeric honour. Leprous lesbians. Mutant monsters. Nubile nipples. Treacherous troglodyte. Video-game violence. This isn’t an accurate National Geographic history lesson.

It’s also not simply a David and Goliath film. It’s more primal than that. The audience is treated to wave after ejaculate wave of countless barbaric hoards trying to penetrate the narrow vaginal pass to deflower virginal Greece whilst like a good Dutch Cap, the small group of elite Spartan hoplites repulsed the ineffectual spermatozoon soldiers at the vulval Hot Gates. Sigmund would have approved.

It was also educational. We learned, for example, that life in Sparta was hard for women. If they weren’t thrown off precipices as babies, they lived on one as adolescents with lascivious old Sith Lords or got rammed by Persian traitors, even if you’re the Queen. PLUS they had to give birth to Spartan men. Whereas men only had to fight off wolves with oversized toothpicks. AND SHOUT A LOT. BUT THE SPARTAN SHOUTING MUST BE QUOTABLE IN A PUB!!!11111111 To wit: “SPARTANS!!! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty, for tonight we DINE in HELL!!!” You see, try that when you order your pub lunch in a pre-football gathering and it won’t go amiss. Just don’t dress like a Spartan unless it’s a stag night.

One advice: Don’t spoil it by trying to over-analyse and extrapolate such a primal story to current events in the Middle East. Enjoy it for the Saturday night stupidity that it is and save the cerebral political pontificating on a sober Sunday afternoon with other serious minded souls who ‘don’t get it’.