Sunday, September 30, 2012


We know we will never suffer a Mars attack as, thanks to rover, we can see the planet harbours no life. But, once again the big question, what are the chances of life in some form or other existing elsewhere? Well, technology has advanced so much in the last few years, and that includes astronomy, our knowledge has expanded at the rate of knots and, I would imagine, will go ever faster until the day comes when we will know for certain about alien existence. Our world is very small. Our world is miniscule, our world is a drop in a vast ocean. Where does it rate in the scheme of things? A new study suggests that every star in the night sky is host to 1.6 planets. (Don’t ask me how you get .6 of a planet because I don’t know) but this implies there are some – wait for it because this is staggering, take a deep breath – there are some 10 billion earth-sized planets in our galaxy. Ten billion! How does a hitch-hiker get around that?
Using a technique called gravitational microlensing, an international team found a handful of exoplanets that imply the existence of billions more. Gravitational microlensing is a method that uses the gravity of a far-flung star to amplify the light from even more distant stars that have planets. While the number of actual events and detected planets was low, the team was able to estimate how many such exoplanets must exist.
Researchers from more than 20 international institutes and universities have worked on this. “Just the recent 15 years have seen the count of known planets beyond the Solar System rising from none to about 700, but we can expect hundreds of billions to exist in the Milky Way alone,” said co-author Dr Martin Dominik, from the University of St Andrews. Astronomers used a number of relatively small telescopes that make up the Microlensing Network for the detection of small terrestrial exoplanets to look for the rare event of one star passing directly in front of another as seen from Earth.
The team witnessed 40 of these microlensing events, and in three instances spotted the effects of planets circling the more distant stars. While the number of actual events and detected planets was low, the team was able to estimate how many such exoplanets must exist.
Gravitational microlensing can find planets of all sizes and distances. It can currently spot a planet as small as Mercury, orbiting at a similar distance to its host star, or as far away as Saturn.
Obviously infinity is a reality and the question I have to ask is where in the human mindset does god come into all this? And what price astrology?


Friday, September 28, 2012

To be or not to be - a Catholic

Following after the popcorn and dental floss stories here is another. Cecilia Gimenez: The woman who ruined a prized Jesus Christ fresco in Spain, her do-it-yourself restoration in a church leaving the 19th Century fresco of Christ described as “resembling a hairy monkey in a very ill-fitting tunic,” but she is now demanding royalties after her botched restoration became a hit with tourists.
“Everybody who came into the church could see I was painting,” the eighty odd years old said. Her lawyers, say any economic compensation would go to charities. (?)  Thousands of people have since visited the church near Zaragoza and Ryanair, jumping on an obvious bandwagon, is now even offering deals to the north-eastern Spanish city, encouraging tourists to see the fresco in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borja. Ms Gimenez said with the best intentions she had decided to restore the work by Elias Garcia Martinez because of its deterioration due to moisture. She claimed to have had the permission of the parish priest to carry out the job. “How could you do something like that without permission? He knew it!” she was quoted as saying. But during the restoration, the delicate brush strokes of Elias Garcia Martinez were completely obliterated. The once-dignified portrait is now an abomination. Ms Gimenez appears to have realised she was out of her depth and contacted the city councillor in charge of cultural affairs. Cultural officials said she had the best intentions and hoped the piece could be properly restored.
Well, thinking of a couple of stories in the news makes me wonder if the church, various churches, is anything more than power and money. I think of the fundamentalist preachers in the states who coin a fortune by selling the idea of god to the deluded in need of comfort and now Germany's Roman Catholics are to be denied the right to Holy Communion or religious burial if they stop paying a special church tax. A German bishops' decree which has just come into force says anyone failing to pay the tax - an extra 8% of their income tax bill - will no longer be considered a Catholic. The bishops have been alarmed by the number of Catholics leaving the Church. I should think this will have more of them leaving. Catholics make up around 30% of Germany's population but the number of congregants leaving the church swelled to 181,000 in 2010, with the increase blamed on revelations of sexual abuse by German priests.
If the religious tax is not forthcoming, Catholics will no longer be allowed to receive sacraments, except before death, or work in the church and its schools or hospitals. Without a “sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children.
And while on the subject of sexual abuse the Roman Catholic Church in the Australian state of Victoria has confirmed that more than 600 children have been sexually abused by its priests since the 1930s. The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, described the figures as "horrific and shameful". Campaigners say the true number of abuse victims could be up to 10,000. Abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests has been a major issue in Australia recent years. During a visit in July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met some of the victims and made a public apology for the abuse.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Continuing with our thoughts on how silly this world is becoming. Before now we’ve had a good laugh on all the stupid judgments  made in courts of law both in America and the UK as far as compensation is concerned which has led to everyone walking on eggshells just in case but even then something is likely to take one by surprise. I think in particular of the woman been awarded massive compensation because she thought that as her Winnebago was automatic she could go back and make herself a cup of coffee while the vehicle drove itself. Not only was she awarded a hefty sum but the company had to provide her with another vehicle and explain in its instruction manual that automatic does not mean it drives itself. Then there was the lady who burnt her mouth in MacDonald’s because her coffee was too hot, another hefty payout, and the lady who tripped over an infant in a furniture store, the judge not taking into account that it was her own infant. And now we have a $7000000 pay out, yes, folks, seven million dollars, in the case of the poisonous popcorn.
A US man has been awarded $7.2m (£4.4m) in damages after claiming he developed "popcorn lung" from inhaling the artificial butter in microwave popcorn. A Colorado jury agreed with Wayne Watson that a popcorn manufacturer should have had warning labels that the bag's fumes were dangerous to inhale. He developed respiratory problems in 2007, after regularly eating popcorn.
"Popcorn lung" is a form of irreversible disease that scars the lung and makes it difficult for air to flow out.
The verdict is the latest in a series of successful cases, including those by popcorn plant workers who became ill. The cases link diacetyl, an ingredient in the flavouring, to health problems. Mr. Watson had previously settled with flavourings company FONA International Inc., though we aren’t told how much he got from them; but add it to seven million dollars and more, that comes to one hellava lot of popcorn.
And for those of you who munch popcorn and sugary delights here is another juicy twenty-first century story to chew over.
Eleven inmates in a suburban New York jail have sued their prison for $500m (£300m) and access to dental floss, saying they are losing their teeth. In a civil rights lawsuit filed on 10 September, the inmates say they are suffering cavities and pain because they are unable to floss.
Deputy Correction Commissioner Justin Pruyne defended the ban, saying floss can potentially be used as a weapon. Santiago Gomez, the lead plaintiff, says other jails permit flossing.
The inmates at the Westchester county jail in Valhalla say without floss they develop cavities and bleeding gums, despite brushing their teeth three times a day. They also say they need constant dental work for temporary fillings because they are denied crowns and root canals.
Mr. Pruyne said staff were exploring if there were products "which would be appropriate in a custodial situation... maybe some sort of floss that breaks easily" but that "staff and inmate safety come first".
Are hundreds of thousands of inmates in prisons all over the world losing their teeth because they don’t have dental floss?
Mr. Ripley, you really can’t make it up.

Monday, September 24, 2012

An Actor's Finger.

The world gets sillier and sillier, more and more stupid. We drown in a veritable tsunami of trivia. “Actor Simon Russell Beale had to leave the stage during Wednesday's performance of Timon of Athens at London's National Theatre after falling and dislocating his finger. The star slipped during an intense scene in the second half of the play.” Whoa! Golly gosh! Oh, my word! This is headline news? This is going to set the world on fire? The soldiers in Afghanistan are going to be more worried about Mister Beale’s finger than they are about the Taliban? The Jihadists and terrorists are going to give up their murderous ways? The Japanese and Chinese are going to stop squabbling for a while over those little Pacific islands? The Israelis and Palestinians are going to come to some kind of accord. Fighting in Syria will come to a stop? The mega-rich will suddenly develop a social conscience and start being philanthropic? Politicians will become honest? Mexican drug gangs will stop knocking each other off at the rate of knots? In fact the supply of drugs will dry up altogether. Loggers will stop destroying the world’s remaining rain forests? Poachers will stop the slaughter of wild life, especially endangered species?  The problem of the world’s overpopulation will be solved and the Pope will come to his senses and agree contraception is a good thing? Fundamentalists and Creationists and flat earthers will suddenly see the light of day. Mitt will include a message of sympathy in a campaign speech; try to say it in Spanish and taste toes yet again. None of these things are as important as an actor breaking his finger on stage and his understudy having to go on after only five weeks rehearsal Po po po, poor fellow as a Greek would say. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s population hasn’t a clue as to who Mr. Beale is anyway. 
Speaking to the BBC, the understudy described the numbing moment he realised he had to take over from the play's star. "The audience gave me a tremendous welcome and I just got straight into it," he said.
Some of those who watched the play praised the cast's performance on Twitter.
"Just saw Timon @NationalTheatre - pertinent and excellent - Simon Russell Beale and Paul Dodds both cracking (and all the rest too)," wrote Bleeding Heart Films.
"Saw Simon Russell Beale break his finger on stage," added actress Kate Bancroft. "Well done to Paul Dodds for taking over in Act 4!"
God save us! It’s no wonder it’s called Twitter.
Beale resumed his role as Timon on Thursday night. "He had his fingers splinted at the hospital. It was his right hand so he has had to slightly amend his performance,"
Well well well, this is where I bite my cheek to stop from laughing. Who would ever have thought of something so dramatic actually happening in a theatre?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

God's messages

I’m back on the religious bit once more so, if you’re fed up with it,  not again I hear you say, now is the time to cop out, switch off, retire, retreat, go make a cup of tea because there is something to be said, not just about one of them, but all three major religions.
Let’s start with Islam. The whole of the Middle East and further afield is evidently a mass of rioting faithful because evidently they believe a short rather bad amateur film seen on the internet and purportedly about the life of the prophet is insulting to Islam. The film was evidently made by some Coptic Christians based in America, which is a wonderful excuse for the hate America mobs (as if they needed an excuse) to create merry mayhem and indeed, at least one American diplomat has died. The film was evidently sponsored by that well-known fundamentalist Christian idiot the Rev. Jones who once nearly caused world war three by threatening to burn copies of the Koran. The Egyptian government has issued warrants for the arrest of all those involved and obviously is hoping America will extradite them in which case they will be tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. So what is new? We hear that the Coptic Christians in Egypt are apt to have a very bad time of it but to make this film seems to me a lesson in abject folly.
So, as the Rev. Jones is behind it, what other nasty shenanigans have bigoted American fundamentalists been up to?
Well, in Cameroon a man is (or has been) sentenced to three years in prison for sending a note to another man saying I love you. Uganda extends the penalty for homosexuality to life. They have dropped the death penalty clause, realising I suppose that if carried out this would put them beyond the pale. In fact, South Africa apart, it would seem that to be gay in any other African country is to risk everything in life worth living for, including love. Now we know that Africans are conservative and traditionalists but what is behind all this? Well, surprise, surprise, but no surprise really, it seems those fundamentalist so-called Christians are at it again, swarming into Africa and preaching hatred as is their wont. As they have been fighting a losing battle with the acceptance of gays in more civilised parts of the world (Russia excluded) they obviously feel Africa is a new frontier where they stand a better chance of having their God’s message received and acted on.
And finally to Judaism.
With hoodies covering their faces and cans of spray paint in hand, they may look like average teenage vandals out for a night of mayhem. But on the streets of Arab East Jerusalem, some young Jewish people are up to more than just graffiti. They are part of what has become known as "price-tag gangs" and they are risking their safety to send a very political message. Price-tagging is the term they use for a range of acts, from vandalism to arson attacks and religious desecration. They carry out these crimes as an act of revenge. Primarily, they are warning their own government that there is a price to pay for any attempt to give what they believe is Jewish land to the Palestinians as part of the fragile peace process. The price-tag gangs come from the hilltops of the West Bank, Arab territory that has been occupied by Israel since the war of 1967.
Israeli homes built on occupied land are illegal according to international law but Israel regards the West Bank as territory whose final status is yet to be determined and has built 120 settlements here - around 300,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.
But there are also 100 small outposts scattered on strategic hilltops some of which are illegal under Israeli law because they are built on private Palestinian land. For the hilltop youth - price tagging is their calling card and they have sworn to sacrifice all to prevent this land being given to the Palestinians.  Moriah Goldberg is one of them. The 20-year-old was captured on CCTV in February in a Palestinian village. She slashed open sacks of building materials, cars were sprayed with graffiti saying "revenge" and insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Moriah, who is under house arrest in the ultra nationalist Israeli settlement of Tapuach, in the West Bank, did not deny her actions.
"A 'price tag' means that when the government of Israel decides to evict a settlement, an outpost, even the smallest wooden shack in the land of Israel - it has a price. Maybe it will make them think twice before they do it again." The Israeli government's move to label some of the price-taggers' behaviour as acts of terrorism does not faze her.
But where, you ask, does religion actually come into this? Well, heed well the words of Miss Moriah Goldberg because they are what every religious fanatic of whatever persuasion spouts. "Faithless Jews who don't fear God can call me a terrorist if they want. I don't care what they say about me. I only care what God thinks. I act for him and him alone."
Wow! A latter day Mosesette! How did God tell her what he wants? Did he text her? Did he send her an e-mail? Did she hear his voice come down from the clouds? Did he whisper in her ear? Did she have a vision? How did God communicate his wishes to her and above all why did he choose Miss Goldberg?
Amid the price-tagging and tension over Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, peace talks with the Palestinians are frozen. Regardless of what happens to the peace process the government knows it has to tackle the enemy within before Jewish militancy in the name of God yet spirals out of control. You can do and say anything if you know he is on your side.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


This is not meant to be maudlin or morbid or an indulgence in sentimentality. Think of it rather as a meditation. After my Blog about Merrill’s deterioration we received a number of sympathetic messages amongst which was one from our friend Ray Bluett in Tasmania. When his own dog died he tells us, evidently his vet quoted an old comforting saying by an anonymous writer the last line of which is “we walked together for a little while,” and, reading it, I couldn’t help but feel that sentiment summons up so succinctly the beginning and ending, the all of our existence. I read somewhere once that when you reach the ripe old age of seventy or more (probably more as we seem to be living longer and longer – some of us that is) if you have six friends remaining from forty years ago consider yourself lucky. Well I must be lucky as I can think of at least ten still with us, still walking together, but how many many are no longer with us. They walked their while with us and are gone: family, relations, friends, old lovers, pets no longer with us, some unfortunately dying very young.  All we have are the memories of the time we walked together. Of course it is not only those who have died; some friends just disappear into the blue and one can’t help wondering why. Maybe it’s just the natural way of things, everything eventually coming to its inevitable end. Even a relationship that lasts for say fifty or sixty years or more is but a nanosecond in the great scheme of things.
My mother, apart from the occasional aria like “Softly Awakes My heart” from “Samson and Delilah” loved to sing those sentimental old Victorian ballads that I remember to this day. Such a one is “I’ll walk beside you.”

I'll walk beside you through the world today
While dreams and songs and flowers bless your way
I'll look into your eyes and hold your hand
I'll walk beside you through the golden land.

I'll walk beside you through the world tonight
Beneath the starry skies ablaze with light
Within your soul love's tender words I'll hide
I'll walk beside you through the eventide.

I'll walk beside you through the passing years
through days of cloud and sunshine, joys and tears
And when the great call comes, the sunset gleams
I'll walk beside you to the land of dreams.

Another was…

Once in the dear dead days beyond recall
When on the world the mists began to fall,
Out of the dreams that rose in happy throng
Lo to our hearts love sung an old sweet song
And in the dusk where fell the firelight gleam,
Softly it wove itself into our dream.

Just a song at when the lights are low,
And the flick’ ring shadows,
Softly come and go,
Though the heart be weary,
Sad the day and long
Still to us at twilight comes love’s old song,
Comes love’s old sweet song.

Our dad’s party piece whenever he was asked to sing was “Somewhere a voice is calling.”

They might have been Victorian but they have still been sung by modern artistes including Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and I guess when my time comes people will hear my voice calling and remember I walked beside them for a little while.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


It never ceases to amaze as to just how gullible humans can be and I am not referring here to all the religious claptrap that’s been bandied about for generations but on a more simple level, the April Fool kind of caper. Remember how many years ago Orson Welles radio programme “War of the Worlds” from the H.G.Wells story created such widespread panic in the United States. Well Aliens are forever on people’s minds and in the news and maybe one day some will actually come to light. There is a hilarious quirky Tim Burton film made in 1996 called “Mars Attack” starring Jack Nicholson, Glen Close, Pierce Brosnan among others in which the seemingly indestructible Martians are finally defeated by very loud terrible pop noise. I wonder if anyone was taken in by that one. Hopefully not it I great fun ands so bizarre.
I remember an April fool’s joke many years ago put out by the BBC showing spaghetti growing on trees and for one fleeting second I think I wondered about it so who knows how many people were taken in by it?
But what started this off was a news item from America (where else?) concerning mermaids.
There is no evidence that mermaids exist, a US government scientific agency has said.
Fantastic news. The National Ocean Service a division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) made the unusual declaration in response to public inquiries following a TV show on the mythical creatures. It is thought some viewers may have mistaken the programme for a documentary. “No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found,” the service wrote in an online post. Aquatic humanoids huh?
Images and tales of mermaids - half-human, half-fish - appear in mythology and art from across the world and through history, from Homer's Odyssey to the oral lore of the Australian aboriginals. The article was written from publicly available sources because “we don't have a mermaid science programme”, National Ocean Service spokeswoman Carol Kavanagh said, adding that at least two people had written to the agency asking about the creatures.
The inquiries followed the broadcast of “Mermaids, The Body Found,” on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet network. The Discovery Channel has acknowledged the programme was a work of fiction but its wink-and-nod format apparently led some viewers to believe it was a science education show.
But in fact believe it or not, mermaids have existed. At the University of Lincoln, staff and students have been examining the mummy of what is known as the Buxton mermaid. Her hair is human and the tail is definitely fish.
Anita Hollinshead, a conservation and restoration masters student, came across the mermaid while working at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
“We think that it came from the mid-19th Century,” she said. “She may have come from Japan or the Far East. A lot of these kinds of mermaid came from that area and were made by fishermen and they sold them to supplement their income as sort of fake mermaids. Sometimes people bought them thinking they were the real thing. They were very popular side-show attractions, particularly in London in the mid-19th Century.” X-ray examinations have shown the mermaid's upper body is built upon a wooden and wire structure. There is evidently also a merman but how do you tell the difference? Is he really equipped with the necessary? A question I can’t answer.



Sunday, September 16, 2012


It’s quite amazing what communications come to one via the internet. What for example do you make of this?
Headed ‘To Mr. Glyn Jones a request for two hand written autographs.’
Dear Mr. Jones,
Will You be kind enough to make a precious gift of 2 hand-written ( not
printed ) autographs ( one for ALEXANDER and one another for my brother
VLADIMIR )? We shall be glad to receive Your original autographs sometime.
Thank You very much in advance ! We shall feel highly honoured.
We wish You all the good lucks and all the best always and everywhere ! Let
the successes and the joy of life accompany You in all Your deeds !

Well, apart from the not so good English, the address is genuine and the request is genuine but the whole thing, according to the research Douglas has done, is evidently some sort of scam. Note the signatures need to be hand written, not printed. Reminds me of Bond’s shaken not stirred. We can’t really fathom out how it is supposed to work. Presumably money is involved somewhere down the line but what possible use can my signature be in the Ukraine? Evidently anyone who has a website is fair game, even someone as unimportant as me. I, being flattered by the request, might have responded but naturally the communication was immediately deleted. I still do get the occasional fan letter from Doctor Who fans wanting an autograph but these are usually accompanied by a photograph they’ve taken off the telly and sometimes even include  postage stamps which aren’t much use from Greece but a nice thought.

Getting old, coming to the end, is no joke. Our lovely Merrill, she who wrote the Christmas letters and who over twelve years has given us so much pleasure, is now completely incapacitated. Her legs are simply useless and she cannot stand up on her own let alone walk. She has to be carried everywhere, and held up even to eat her dinner or shit and piss. I say it like that, shit and piss, because I hate poncey words like “evacuate her bowels” Her back legs went first but now it is all four and it has happened so fast. It breaks my heart to see her lying wherever she is put down, she must be so frustrated because she is as alert as ever. If she were a human she would be bed ridden but a bed ridden patient could at least have books or the telly or something to keep them amused. We are making as much fuss of her as we can but, looking at her watching us, one cannot help but wonder what is going on in that little canine brain. Does she know she is reaching the end? Can she sense it somehow? Or is she just frustrated at being so completely incapacitated?
A friend suggest steroids might help but when she was taken to the vet (Merrill that is not the friend) he dismissed that idea, not because it wasn’t a good suggestion but because of side effects on the liver and kidneys. In fact he took tests and the liver showed a marked tendency towards problems so he suggested half a Depon a day which is what she has though she hates taking it even in food.
Now we have to ask ourselves, is she in pain? We don’t believe so. Does she have any quality of life? Well at the moment we think maybe she still has although her condition must be similar to locked-in syndrome and I fear soon, if nature doesn’t get there first, we will have to make that decision we would rather put off forever.

Friday, September 14, 2012

More alive than dead

A fascinating story on the news: a woman in India who has for twenty-four years fought to prove she is alive. Asharfi Devi was declared dead in 1988.  She was married at the age of 12, became a mother at 19, was deserted by her husband at 23 and was declared dead at the age of 40.
Now 64, her efforts to prove she is still alive finally paid off  when a village council in May of this year ruled that she was indeed alive.
Asharfi Devi's parents married her to a local farmer, Ram Janam Singh, of Barun village in Rohtas district of the northern state of Bihar in 1960. In rural India, weddings are almost never registered and Asharfi Devi doesn't have any documents to prove her marriage, but she vaguely recalls that she was around 12 when she married. What she remembers well though is her delight at being dressed in the bright red bridal sari and the loud Hindi film songs blaring from a loudspeaker perched atop a tree trunk outside her parents' thatched house.
Her happiness, however, was short-lived. Soon after her wedding, she discovered that she was her husband's second wife - Ram Janam Singh was a widower whose first wife had died sometime before his second marriage. At 19, Asharfi Devi became the mother of a baby girl. But, by now, she says, her husband had started abusing her physically and mentally.” Four years after my daughter was born, my husband deserted us so we went to live with my parents," she says. As time passed, Asharfi Devi married off her daughter Bimla Devi to a vegetable vendor, Anil Kumar Singh, while living at her parent's house. Her father and brother paid for the wedding.
Asharfi Devi says her husband declared her dead to prevent any claim on his property Her world fell apart when she found out that he had procured a fake certificate of her death from the Sasaram district municipal council and also taken another wife - his third. The death certificate was issued on 30 December 1988.
"At the age of 40 I was declared dead, officially," says a distraught Asharfi Devi. She then began her long fight to prove that she was alive. She approached the police, the politicians and even the courts. "I knocked on every door, from police to the court, but no-one could prove officially that I was alive, despite being convinced that I was alive. I was crestfallen," she says. To continue her battle to prove that she was alive, she moved in with her daughter and son-in-law into a hut in the village, barely half a kilometre from her husband's home. She says she was threatened by her husband and his new wife.
She now lives with her daughter and son-in-law
"He was transferring all his property in the name of his third wife after proving me officially dead," Asharfi Devi says. "He even had me sent to jail after implicating me in a false theft case in 1993-94," she says.

In desperation, she filed a petition before the village council last year, claiming that she was alive.
For eight months, the council examined all the evidence and in May, it invited Asharfi Devi, her husband and family members, villagers, local police, administration officials and journalists for the judgement day.
"After examining all the facts and evidences, the village council delivered justice to Asharfi Devi by proclaiming that she was alive," The order has brought her some relief: "Now I have papers to prove my existence. I am not dead."
But Asharfi Devi's husband, Ram Janam Singh, continues to deny her existence.
"Asharfi Devi died in 1988," he says. "I don't know why this woman is claiming to be my wife. Ask her, what can I say?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


In a previous Blog I wrote about the worry eighty percent of British mothers have about the future of their offspring and, coincidentally, later in the book reviews in The Sunday Times culture section I read about – “A society in trauma.” That was the headline.
And it isn’t about Greece or the UK or any other European country it’s about – China! It’s all very well wealthy Chinese buying up property overseas and indulging in toys like executive jets, how is it really with the country? Well, according to “The End Of The Chinese Dream – Why Chinese fear the future” by Gerard Lemos obviously all is not well and I hope the reviewer Frank Dikotter won’t mind my quoting him in part.
“Invited to lecture at a university in Chongqing between 2006 and 2010 Gerard Lemos obtained permission to erect “wish trees” in several neighbourhoods in Chongqing and Beijing. He then sampled the cards people attached to the branches, gaining access to the innermost concerns of hundreds of displaced farmers and factory workers. Rather than finding the industrious and increasingly prosperous workforce that is so often shown on state television. Lemos discovered a traumatised society in which most people are left to fend for themselves. Millions of poor farmers, forced to leave the countryside, face the prospect of unemployment, the absence of basic healthcare and lack of any state pension. Many of the elderly are financially dependent on their children. But China (like everywhere else I suppose) is an aging society and the one-child policy places a huge burden on the single children who have to provide for their relatives. Education is compulsory but not free. It can absorb one third of a family’s income as local officials discover ever more ways of gouging money from parents, ranging from fees to cover building repairs to stipends for teachers in public schools.
In the cities a university education is the highest ambition, but even here despair is the norm. Up to a third of graduates (about 2 million young people each year) cannot find a job. So desperate are they for work that when a local government in Shandong advertised for people willing to shovel excrement, five graduates were chosen out of 400 applicants.
Of 191 nations listed by the World Health organisation in an equality report in 2000 China was 188. Regular health scandals too, from contaminated milk to eggs with poisoned yolks have undermined people’s confidence in the food they eat.
As much of the world seems starry-eyed when it comes to the apparently inevitable “rise of China” Lemos shows that the country’s ordinary people are deeply pessimistic.”
We come up against that selfsame problem I keep on about, the ever increasing population that is going to increase ever faster. It’s like a snowball rolling down the mountain; it gets larger and larger and is impossible to stop. What is the answer? Who knows?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fruit in season.

Just eaten the first prickly pear of the season. Delicious. I’ve more than likely written about prickly pears before but nevertheless here I go again. Apart from buying Chris a bottle of prickly pear liqueur in Italy some years back I never thought of the fruit as anything other than edible but in fact I read, like most fruits, there are all sorts of things you can get up to both with the fruit and its juice so guess, as there are so many this year, the plant has grown simply enormous, and most of them will end up on the ground, maybe we should try a few recipes.
As it is a cactus what does one call it apart from a plant? It’s not a tree, it’s not a bush and it can hardly be called a shrub. There are evidently a number of species, about 200 in all, and in one American state they are protected, goodness only knows why when you can’t stop the damn things from growing and multiplying. I did get rid of two some years ago and this one really should be cut back heavily but that creates yet another problem – how to get rid of the cuttings they are so large and you can’t burn them they‘re so wet. If you leave one lying on the ground it will sneakily push out some roots and a new plant will grow. Tenacious buggers is what they are and, if it weren’t for the fact that I love prickly pears, I would be tempted to get an Albanian in to get shot of it completely.  In Australia they call it the most invasive weed ever (never thought of calling it a weed and in  NSW the Prickly-pear Destruction Commission was formed in 1924, continuing right through until it was disbanded 31 December 1987 - some 63 years later. In Queensland they tried getting rid of them with the cactoblastis caterpillar with some success.
There has been medical interest in the Prickly Pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the Prickly Pear pulp lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol while leaving "good" cholesterol levels unchanged. Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lower diabetics' need for insulin. Both fruits and pads (so that is what the leaves are called, pads of paddles: logical) of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibres that help keep blood sugar stable.
Of coursed the prickly pear has been food in South America for a great many years and in Mexican folk medicine its pulp and juice have been used to treat numerous maladies, such as wounds and inflammations of the digestive and urinary tracts. It is also the basis of alcoholic drinks. The cochineal scale insect that feeds on it is used for cochineal dye and the gel-like sap might be useful as a hair conditioner. Some    species also produce the mind-altering drug mescaline and I reckon that’s enough about prickly pears for this time.
The pomegranates are almost ripe and fresh lychees are in the greengrocers. Of course they’re expensive, 7 euro a kilo as opposed say to oranges 10kilos for 5euro. I remember even in South Africa as a boy how expensive lychees were and were bought sparingly. Pity. I love them. My mother would drive us down to the South Beach in Durban where we would sit in the car and eat lychees. And still on the subject of fruit, friends have a mango tree in their garden. It is still quite small, only about five foot tall but it is fruiting. The fruit is small, half the size of what one knows as a mango, but we have tasted some and they are delicious. If I had known one could grow a mango here I most certainly would have done so but I read it takes eight years for one to fruit so doubt I’ll be around to enjoy it. However Douglas has dried out some pips and intends planting them. Bananas and avocados grow on Crete. Maybe we could try lychees at the same time.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


According to an article in the paper (you can’t believe everything you read in the papers but I think this one is probably true) eighty percent of British mothers are fearful for their children’s future. It is not really surprising. They are worried their kids might never find jobs, never be able to afford a house of their own but have to live in rented accommodation for the rest of their lives. With so many countries economies gone haywire and prices spiralling out of existence they have every reason to be afraid. The unemployment rate in the EU is evidently the highest it has ever been. The unemployment rate has been fairly high since the year dot but the situation can only worsen. Why? Once upon a time not so very long ago there was an industrial revolution which produced a phenomenon called the Luddite. The Luddites went around smashing up machines because they thought, in fact they knew, their livelihoods were in danger and such of course was the case. A machine, industrial or agricultural, could suddenly do the work of six or more which meant six or more were no longer employed. In Yorkshire for example hand weavers immediately became redundant as the dark satanic mills took over their lives.
Now, in living memory, there has been another revolution, an electronic one and the amazing computer growing in power every day has taken the place of machinery in denying the workforce work. If the computer can do the job of six or more, of twelve, of eighteen, of twenty-four, or more, all these people are made redundant. Well, the computers, unlike machinery are here to stay. They can’t be smashed. But with some industries in decline and some gone forever what exacerbates the problem even more is the ever growing population. As more and more young people reach working age so more and more are simply going to be unable to find work. And being well educated without being qualified in a specific profession, medicine, dentistry, engineering etcetera, isn’t going to help. It seems these days everybody wants to go to university, everybody wants to attain a degree but it seems to me that academe is letting them down by offering ridiculous course that in the great wide world amount to nothing. It also seems that many of these graduates, gifted though they may be, simply cannot find work and it can only get worse. So the mothers of Great Britain and everywhere else for that matter have every reason to worry.
Then, as fewer and fewer people work in an ever increasing population and more and more go on the dole, never to become tax payers, what happens then? Can the country or the remaining tax payers sustain the expense of keeping more and more people idle?
Forget jihad, forget terrorism, the frustrated unemployed, unemployable young are without doubt the world’s biggest problem and it can only get worse.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blue Moon

I never knew what was meant by ‘once in a blue moon.’ Well, yes, I know what it means but why in a “blue moon?” What is a blue moon? Well, now having just had one in August I have found out. Evidently a blue moon is the second full moon to appear in a month and evidently happens on an average only every two and a half years and it is called a blue moon. You might of course have known this; I didn’t. When I was a kid there was a popular song written by Rodgers and Hart – ‘Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.’ I remember it still. It became a classic and I am sure there are artistes still singing it today. Strange, when so many are forgotten, how certain songs from one’s long distant past linger on in the memory. They must be associated with some place, experience, or emotion of the time perhaps. ‘This is a lovely way, to spend an evening, can’t think of anything else, I rather do.’ Now why should that be so fresh in my memory? I have even used it in my South African novel ‘Angel.’ Others include’ ‘Red Sails In The Sunset,’ and ‘Lovely To Look At,’ and ‘Long ago and far way, I dreamt a dream one day and now that dream is here beside me.’ Obviously I was heavily into romantic ballads.
But back to the blue moon: the internet is awash with information about blue moon. Evidently more than our twelve months (month comes from moon evidently) there are eleven extra days and these mount up until every two or three years there is an extra full moon. The term "blue moon" comes from folklore. Different traditions and conventions place the extra "blue" full moon at different times in the year. In the Hindu calendar, this extra month is called 'Adhik masa (extra month. In calculating the dates for Lent and Easter, the Clergy identify the Lent Moon. It is thought that historically when the moon's timing was too early, they named an earlier moon as a "betrayer moon" (belewe moon), thus the Lent moon came at its expected time.[2]
The earliest recorded English usage of the term "blue moon" was in a 1524 pamphlet violently attacking the English clergy,[4] entitled "Rede Me and Be Not Wrothe (Read me and be not angry) if they say the moon is belewe [blue]  We must believe that it is true." Evidently the meaning of belewe in Middle English could mean both “blue” and "betray" and the clergy referred to the phenomenon as a “betrayer’s moon.”[2] The most literal meaning of blue moon is when the moon (not necessarily a full moon) appears to a casual observer to be unusually bluish, which is a rare event. The effect can be caused by smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere, as has happened after forest fires and after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, which caused the moon to appear blue for nearly two years. Other less potent volcanos have also turned the moon blue.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Maine Farmers' Almanac listed blue moon dates for farmers. These correspond to the third full moon in a quarter of the year when there were four full moons (normally a quarter year has three full moons.) Full moon names are given to each moon in a season: For example, the first moon of summer is called the early summer moon, the second is called the midsummer moon, and the last is called the late summer moon. Logical I suppose. When a season has four moons the third is called the blue moon so that the last can continue to be called the late moon.
The next time New Year’s Eve falls on a Blue Moon (as occurred on 2009 December 31) will be 2028. At that time there will be a total lunar eclipse but I for one won’t be around to see it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

E.Ps Go Home

There are any number of countries I am very happy not to be living in and Vietnam is the latest to be added to the list. All governments make mistakes. Criticizing leaders for these shortcomings or mistakes shouldn't land someone a 20-year prison sentence. -- Like a former Vietnamese police officer did by a Blog -- Ta Phong Tan criticized her government's policies in a peaceful and respectful manner. In a series of Blogs she opposed government overspending, advocated for rural citizens, and warned about the danger of too close a relationship with China. In short, she expressed her views as a concerned citizen. For that she faces up to 20 years in jail. The ability to express your thoughts is a fundamental right of all people, not an offense worthy of a lengthy prison sentence, but then living in a communist country it doesn’t do to be a dissident even in a small way.
Not necessarily a communist country only but an ex-communist state like Russia which under Putin seems to be reverting to its bad old ways. I’m quite sure my Blogs would have got me into deepest doodoo in any of these places and others besides.
So the expats hoping to sell their houses and abandon what they believe to be a sinking ship; what will they find when they return to the UK? Apart from the floodtide of foreigners, many living off Britain’s generous benefits especially those with large families – “You’ve got eleven kids? Oh, dear! I’m not surprised you came to the UK. Now where can we put you? I know, there’s a nice four story house in Mayfair worth a couple of million quid, you can have that all found.”  Nigerian woman flies into Britain and has a caesarean at a cost of £10000 to the NHS and flies out again more than likely without even a thank you. But you, Mr. and Mrs. Expat, I don’t somehow think you will find social security being quite so generous. You are after all British, you carry a British passport, you were born and bred there and paid your taxes and national insurance all your life but unfortunately you are not a member of an ethnic minority in this colourful multi society so there’s not much we can do for you except let you continue to have your meagre pension which, with inflation, loses its value year after year.
And, that apart, what else will you find taking place since you went away. Well here are some nice juicy little stories in the news about the state of the country that you may or may not enjoy as you prepare your departure. If you are a smoker there will be no more cheap cigarettes. A pack will cost you £7.50 so you best give it up, and no more cheap booze either. No more dining out and having a full delicious meal with drinks at around 12euro a head. Don’t expect to pay peanuts for your water supply as you have done here and here you have got used to your domestic rates being part of your electricity bill so you don’t really notice them that much. You will get a shock at what you might have to pay in good old Blighty. Don’t expect to get away with free television. Here there is a small amount added to the electricity bill as well for the government channels but nothing like the amount the Beeb will require from you.
Rubbish collection –A problem on Crete because it is a smallish island, particularly in the season when the population is augmented by thousands of holiday makers but here we have two collections a week (used to be three) but now it’s two and they will take away any and everything expect extra large items like old fridge’s etcetera for which you can make a special arrangement. But what is rubbish collection like in England now – well, that’s a whole different story, innit? To start with collection is fortnightly, you have different bins and god help you if you use the wrong one, you’re liable to quite a hefty fine and dustmen seem to be a law unto themselves. In Stockport recently they refused to empty black bins insisting they are not allowed to if the lids are open by as much as a quarter of an inch. A spokesman for the local council said that waste had to ‘fit comfortably within the wheeled container’ to be collected. So there you are – no collection for another fortnight which means the waste is sitting there and growing for a whole month, presumably now being held in plastic bags. Is this what the residents pay exorbitant rates for? Evidently it is because, if the lid isn’t on properly, rubbish can spill out and injure the poor workman which brings us neatly to elf and safety. A golf course has banned golf buggies and cafes refuse to heat baby food, the little darlings could burn their mouths I suppose. A woman was banned from wearing flip flops in the office (if she had two left feet she would be banned from wearing flop flops tee-hee!) because they did not have enclosed toes and a supported back. A school tree house had to be located outside school grounds because of health and safety fears. What difference its location made is beyond me but there you are. If the child is going to fall out of the tree it will fall out wherever the bloody tree is situated. Maybe outside the grounds the school can disclaim any responsibility even if it is still a school tree house. Another council stopped a teacher taking pupils to an allotment. Allotments, like erupting volcanoes, are very dangerous places. The list is practically endless and this, my dears, is one of the aspects of modern Britain you will be going back to. And let us not mention the millions councils are taking in parking fines and they want more. The best of British luck as they say.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


At a splendid birthday bash the other evening (26 guests) at a delightful restaurant famous for its jube-jube tree, I never knew jube-jubes actually existed or grew on trees, the talk naturally got around to the crisis. Judging by the food that was being served you certainly wouldn’t know a crisis existed and two English girls dining on their own were invited to join us. They declined with thanks as they had already ordered and started their meal but one of our lot got talking to them and it turned out they were on holiday for a couple more days and couldn’t wait for their next visit. They went on about how beautiful the island is and more importantly how warm, hospitable friendly and generous are the Cretans. Sure there are bad apples, there always are. It would be very strange if there weren’t but, on the whole, visitors don’t tend to be ripped off despite reading at least one letter in Athens News every week someone’s tale of woe of it happening to them, and the British press has a lot to answer for in their lies and ignorant denigration of Greece that has devastated the tourist industry.
It would seem there is hardly a country that isn’t undergoing some degree if financial crisis: Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, US of A and the UK isn’t exactly far behind but then it appears to me that when it comes to spending (or overspending) no one is ready and able to say, okay, this is the line, don’t cross it and so-called savings are inevitably made in the wrong direction. For example maybe cutting back on the armed forces is logical if Britain isn’t going to go to war at the drop of a hat but cutting back on the police is plainly ridiculous and dangerous. Not that they seem to be up to much cop these days (unintended pun) with all the paperwork they have to do and all the elf and safety precautions they have to take and the possibility of criminals screaming of their yuman rights and trying to sue left right and centre. So how is it in Britain these days? I ask the question because one of the rumours circulating at the dinner party was that 80% of panicking ex-pats have put their houses on the market and are ready to return to the country they blithely abandoned when the going here was so good. It is very foolish if true. One, it isn’t a seller’s market even before being flooded with unwanted houses, and even if they manage to sell at a much reduced price, what will that get them in England?
I hate to sound snobbish or ‘told you so’ but a great many of these ex-pats coming out here seeking the good life have never made any attempt to integrate or contribute to Greek society. Some of them, letting their homes for holidays, have the money paid in sterling into a British bank which doesn’t do anything for the Greek economy even though the holiday makers themselves obviously spend money whilst here. But they see bad times ahead and have decided to make a run for it, the days of sand, sea, cheap booze and cheap cigarettes are over. For some reason we nicknamed them the Dagenham Brigade because despite their age their whole mentality is chav.