DBTG who… gets a tan

Last week one of the girls in my office came back from holiday.  She had been away for a week, in Cyprus I think.  That bit isn’t hugely important.  What is relevant to this story is that she is now VERY tanned.  Before she left her complexion was “generic white person colour”, but she has come back with skin which I can only describe as being the colour of a roast chicken.  You know, a deep, golden brown, crispy to the touch (not a perfect analogy, I’ll admit).  What really baffled (though didn’t surprise) me was everyone’s reaction:

“OH MY GAWD, you’re so lovely and tanned.  Aren’t you lucky.  I’m well jell of you tannage babes.”

(that sort of crap).  Needless to say, I am not a fan. 

Time for some full disclosure: I am a very white sort of person (both in terms of skin tone and stereotypical behaviour, I suppose).  I don’t tan.  I have two options.  The first is to sit in the shade when the sun comes out, or preferably indoors, or alternatively, I can allow my skin to burn to a lobster pink.  There is a third option, involving sun cream, but I really hate that stuff.  It smells and is really greasy (even the expensive stuff that isn’t supposed to be), and if it’s hot outside (and it will be), my prolific brow sweat redirects a lot of the stuff into my eyes, which also sucks.  If I do get burnt, it fades/peels (depending on severity) after about 3 days and my skin returns to seenaghost white by the end of the week. 

I may as well be upfront about all this, even though you will now assume that this post is simply a nasty case of sour grapes.  Truth be told, there may well be an element of that, but it doesn’t make what I am about to say anything less than completely true: I think tanning is really stupid.

60 years ago, doctors recommended people try smoking cigarettes to treat anxiety & promote weight loss (so I am told).  Similar tales are told about alcohol and things like coca-cola.  These days, the drinks are still tolerated in most societies, but I think everybody, deep down, knows that there is a point where alcohol stops being fun, and coca-cola will rot your teeth if you drink it all the time.  It is rare that anyone will preach total abstinence, but we all know the risks and try and get along despite them.

Smoking is another matter.  I look at my friends and colleagues, and the number of smokers is really very small.  It may be that my peer group is smarter than the national average, but even so.  There was a time when my dad’s accountancy firm had to paint the walls yellow because everyone smoked and it was the only way to hide the nicotine stains.  Those days are gone, as people are starting to understand the health risks and really appreciate what they mean.

And here is the thing.  I genuinely believe that in my lifetime I will see a day when people think similarly about getting a sun tan.  My earlier comparison of tanned skin to cooked chicken wasn’t quite as lame as I made out – getting a tan (or sun burn) is damage to skin cells caused by UV radiation.  Getting sunburnt hurts for a reason.  You are damaging your skin and exposing yourself to the risk of getting cancer.  I really hope that one day we will look back on current tanning trends and say “what were they thinking?!”, just like we do now when considering the doctors who prescribed cigarettes.

There are some counter-arguments that are worth addressing.  First of all, yes, as far as I know, the human body needs exposure to sunlight to absorb/make (i don’t know which) vitamin D.  This is important (ie: essential) and you can’t do it if you’re wearing sunscreen or a big hat.  So yes, you do need some sun exposure.  But I read about how much you need according to the NHS, and it’s 10-15 minutes, 4 or 5 times a week.  Less than 1 hour a week.  I personally would struggle to spend less than this much time outside, so please don’t argue that tanning is anything to do with vitamin D.  If you walk from your office to the station every day, you probably get plenty already. 

Second of all (and this one surprised me actually), people with dark skin are not immune to getting cancer, or getting burnt.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “African American people” (their words) have a natural SPF of about 13.4, vs 3.4 for white people.  But if you spend all day outside, you can and will outlast your natural SPF and do damage.

I know this all sounds very preachy, and it is.  But I also think that is has some merit.  Clearly this little blog is hardly the place to start a huge publicity campaign – this is just something I got to thinking about.  And now maybe you are too?


Don’t be that guy who… abandons his blog

Once again, I am that guy.  In case you didn’t know (care), I was away for a couple of weeks on holiday in America.  It was a lot of fun, but the blog clearly suffered – no updates for over a month?!  You were well into the territory where you wonder if maybe he’s given up on blogging.  Well have no fear (disappointment), I’m back up and running.

Today’s blog will be about my holiday, and thoughts in general on Amercia.  It will be marginally better than sitting through a slideshow of my photos.  On the basis that I’m not known for original formats (and if it’s good enough for fucking buzzfeed), I will continue with the numbered/bulleted list trope that seems to have recently infested my blog:

Good things –

  • Regardless of what any American will tell you , the roads in the USA are really good. Which I suppose makes sense when you consider the amount of driving they do.  Some of the roads (I was told) hadn’t actually been surfaced with the final top layer because the local council ran out of money, and yet they are still manifestly smoother and nicer to drive than basically all of the roads in the UK.  Also, you Americans don’t know what expensive petrol is (it’s like expensive gas) (joke alert!).  I filled our hire car’s tank at a cost of $40 (about £25).  I genuinely don’t remember the last time a tank of gas (actually a liquid vapour anyway, no?) cost less than the notes in my wallet, so that was a refreshing improvement.  Also, you can turn right on a red light, which makes a lot of sense, and they have countdowns which tell you when the lights are about to change, which is also rather helpful.  In short, America is actually a place where driving can be a pleasant experience.
  • Navigating in the USA is pretty easy.  Well, it certainly is if the satnav you have works (ours didn’t).  But even if you have to resort to paper maps, the way that most cities are set out in blocks makes everything very straightforward once you figure out what’s going on.  I have real trouble with street names in the UK (“you know ravenscar avenue, yeah?” why would I?), so knowing that 5th street is between 4th and 6th is a treat.
  • California is a great place.  Everywhere that we visited was clean, naturally beautiful, and made me consider briefly whether I should be moving to live here permanently (answer: not quite, but close).  We did drive through quite a few smaller communities not geared up for tourists, and while it was obvious that not everyone lives in luxury, it still seemed generally pleasant.  Note, we did not go anywhere near Los Angeles, which would arguably have influenced this opinion significantly.
  • EVERYBODY is super polite.  America’s well-known policy of paying waiters/waitresses in tips, rather than a fixed (secure) salary has some notable downsides (and don’t think I support it exactly), but as a consumer it is a fantastic concept.  If you get into the mindset that every time you are rude to a customer you will probably lose half an hour’s wages, it appears that you can quickly become genuinely happy to be serving them (or at least really good at pretending to be).  And if you’re polite to me, it puts me in a good frame of mind, and I’m much more likely to be polite in return.  It creates a circlejerk of nice behaviour, and that’s fine by me.  But even people not working on commission are capable of smiling.  Like the driver of a free bus who should, by rights, be sick of idiot tourists (me) not understanding how the stop request bell works.  I am quite sure that bus drivers in London have a secret sweepstake about how far they can make people run after them, and still refuse to let them on.  In America, you can wave at a bus across the street, and I guarantee it will wait for you.
  • America has great animals.  I will now interrupt the numbering system to announce that following the trip, I have decided to change my 3 favourite animals (this section sponsored by Milgram):

3. The sea otters.  Happy chaps

2. The freaking BEAR we saw in Yosemite national park.  He would actually have got the top spot except that the 4 people who saw him all inexpicably lacked the presence of mind to actually take a photo

1. The marmot.  He neatly combined the idea that maybe I could reach out and stroke his back, with the thought that if that turned out to be wrong, he could easily sever my finger.

Image This guy.

Now the not so good things –

  • The above good things can quickly fall apart when you really don’t want them to.  For example, when we arrived in San Fransisco, I walked to the local newsagent to buy the public transport tickets that we needed to get around the city over the next few days.  I was told, politely enough, that they were sold out, but if I walked 2 blocks thattaway, the next newsagent would have some for sure.  Nope.  The next place didn’t, but if I walked… etc.  After being told this maybe 3 times, I realised that maybe they just didn’t give a shit.  Also, I had now walked 8 blocks away from our hotel, and I was migrating out of the nicer neighbourhood into a place called the Tenderloin.  The name brings up thoughts of a pig’s vagina, and in that regard its quite an apt name.  It was the sot of place I didn’t really want to go to.  In the end, I actually felt reasonably safe, (in America, police protection will always be afforded to the white man), but it would have been better not to have to do it in the first place.  Also, I got a bit lost on the way back, and when I went to the front desk of the poshest, whitest hotel I could find (know thyself), I was politely told that no, they would not be providing me with directional assistance at that time (fuck you, The Wyndham San Francisco!).  But I did steal a map from them when I left, so I officially had the last laugh (and found my way back).  That wasn’t a great afternoon.
  • Las Vegas is weird.  It is not my sort of place, frankly.  If you leave Las Vegas in any direction, you quickly find yourself in really, genuinely beautiful wilderness.  The desert isn’t some featureless wasteland, its stunning landscapes that are frequently used as film sets, and contain awesome wildlife and stuff.  But the city itself is something else.  Some day, America will find itself in a less prosperous position that it is currently in, and when that happens, I truly believe that Las Vegas will be used as a case study into why.  They built a city in the middle of a desert, drained the nearby water sources to keep their front lawn looking lush, and they use electricity just to blast powerful beams of light into the sky just to incentivise you to gamble.  Admittedly the electricity is mostly hydroelectric, but still, they surely could have found a better use for it?  And the gambling.  When the casino you are in can afford to deck the public toilets out in Italian marble, you don’t have to wonder for very long as to whether the house usually wins or not.  And yet people still wander in, empty their pockets and wander back out.  It’s interesting, and some parts are great, but it isn’t the bit where streetvendors flick prostitute calling cards at you…
  • Immigration is not so great.  We entered the US through Canada (because we flew via Toronto) and it was relatively ok.  But still awful on an absolute scale.  I don’t want to rant about this at length (again), so I will gloss over the fact that I got swabbed for traces of drugs TWICE on the way in (behaviour which would surely be illegal anywhere else).  However, I cannot ignore the following exchange between a tourist and immigration officer while queueing for the body scan machine:

“sir, don’t even think about it!”

“pardon me?”

“sir, I know what you’re thinking, and i’m warning you, don’t try it.”

“i didn’t say anything?”

“sir, I could tell that you were thinking it”

“i’m just standing here.”

“i’m telling you NOT to leave this queue”

After maybe 30 seconds, I turned around to exchange a silent “wtf” glance with the guy in sympathy, and he was gone!  Not in another queue, not anywhere in sight.  I think I saw a guy arrested for thought crimes, and if that doesn’t terrify you, you need to think a bit harder about it.

  • Walking in America is not as easy as driving.  I decided to hike a short trail in Yosemite to see one of the giant sequoias.  Helen decided to wait for me at the bottom.  A sign at the head of the trail said “tree – 0.6 miles”.  I didn’t have a compass or even a map (because I dropped it), but I am quite good at walking and navigating on the fly, plus the path was very clearly marked.  After maybe 5 minutes, I checked my watch, because obviously if I walk in one direction for too long, I had missed the tree, and probably got lost to boot.  11 minutes after that, I come across a sign saying “tree – 0.4 miles”, which suggested I was walking at less than 1 mile an hour.  About 9 months ago, I walked 50 miles in 14 hours, including rests, so I dispute that claim, especially seeing as it took me another 3 minutes to complete the final 0.4 miles, suggesting I then ramped it up to a much more ambitious 8 miles an hour for the final stretch.  America, your signs are bollocks!
  • Despite what you might hear, there aren’t many fat people in America (the bits we saw).  Admittedly, you do sometimes see a pink blob parking in a disabled bay, but generally people are not flabby.  However, they are mostly big.  The gyms were busy, but full of people pumping iron.  Never mind that they’d collapse trying to walk 0.6 miles, ‘fit’ in America means muscular.

Now, I don’t want to end on a list of bad things, so I will close with a final good point – the food.  Portions have shrunk (or I have grown) since I was last in the USA, but that didn’t really matter, because I was generally getting double breakfast.  I ate a lot of Helen’s food because she was suffering quite badly from morning sickness.  Which means that, yes, my wife is pregnant and in February 2014 I will become a father!

Good times.

p.s., this is the tree that I hiked to see – known as the faithful couple, it’s two trees growing together /metaphorImage

DBTG who… goes on a cruise

Earlier this week, I found myself reading this article, where the well-meaning folks at “The Week” conjured up 7 reasons to never ever EVER (ever!) go on a cruise.  While I can appreciate their sentiment, it seems to me that they’ve made a couple of errors:

  1. The internet does not need another website attempting to be humorous through the medium of numbered lists.  Here at DBTG, I take great pride in being the original hate blog ever to exist on the web, and I urge “The Week” (seriously, it’s a dumb name, I can’t write it without inverted commas cos it looks like I’m talking about the actual week) to find a way to spew drivel in a non-derivative fashion.
  2. The “The Week” (see? Stupid) article lists 7 things that could go wrong on a cruise.  Things like getting ill or sinking, which frankly are just as big a risk on a canoe, perhaps even bigger if you will accept the anecdotal evidence that I have capsized multiple canoes but never been the least bit involved in a cruise tragedy.  Regardless, you only need to mention 1 reason: Cruises suck.

For the sake of really building up a thick layer of sarcasm in this post, lest The “The Week’s” lawyers decide to get a bit cease-and-desisty with me, I will address the problem I have with cruises using a list of poorly thought out, unresearched reasons.  I have identified a rich vein of irony that could be tapped if I can pad the list out to seven entries, but I’m kind of making this up as I go along so we’ll just have to wait and see if I hit it:

  1. If there is one thing that I really hate about the world it is OTHER PEOPLE.  I may have mentioned this before in passing, but I really don’t like sharing experiences with the rest of the human population.  They may be (mostly) decent people, but I am not particularly keen on tolerating their quirks and foibles.  If I’m on a normal holiday, and some ass is braying loudly on the adjacent pool lounger, I can get up and move away, and hopefully never see him again.  On a cruise, I can guarantee that he will be there at every turn – never mind the 5,000 other people on the ship, he will find you and piss you off.  And that’s a problem because:
  2. There’s no escape.  Here’s a neat idea, let’s take all the fun of going on holiday and combine it with the misery of being in prison.  Now some people will tell you that prison is an easy ride these days, but I think it takes a particularly belligerent lack of imagination to believe that sharing a room and a 14 inch tv with a knife-crime artist (and you better believe he picks what you get to watch), while dining out on a food budget of about 30p per inmate, would be a laugh a minute.  It sounds like utter crap to me.  So why then do we put ourselves through similar scenarios on cruises?  If the food sucks, tough shit.  If donkey-man is still following you, unlucky!  Once the ship leaves port, you are well and truly stuck on it.  You’d better hope you don’t get really ill, or a family member dies back home (which, when you think about it, are good things to hope for anyway), because the ship won’t be turning around for your benefit.  There was a video that kind of went viral a few years back showing a really badly ill woman being transferred off a cruise ship by some sort of pulley system.  Everyone thought it was really funny when she was (inevitably) dropped in the sea, until they heard that she went on to die.  That’s what awaits you if you get ill on a cruise ship.
  3. The whole thing is an exercise in extorting more money out of you.  You want a room with a balcony, right? Sure you do; everybody wants that.  Except it will cost you £2k extra or some shit.  Why do you even need a balcony on your floating prison cell? The only thing you do in your hotel room is sleep (plus one other thing, ladies), and that isn’t aided in any way by the presence of a balcony.  Also, you know that those balcony railings will attract that really aggressive sub-set of seagulls, just waiting to steal your chips.  Not to mention the fact that, while the food, delicious and salty, is free you have to pay for drinks.  And I am prepared to wager that the prices in the middle of the ocean are not that competitive.  Don’t like them, what can you do?  Any drink you try to bring aboard will be confiscated by the captain and locked up in the brig, probably.
  4. You have to obey the man.  I don’t mean having a lifeguard yelling at you for heavy petting in the pool, that can happen anywhere.  But on a cruise ship, you have to give up your alcohol, and generally do what you’re told at all times.  In the first few days, you will get locked in your cabin while the crew pretends to fight off pirates.  Ostensibly, this will be so everyone is prepared in an emergency, but really it is just done to make you fearful and compliant.  Knowing that you can get properly imprisoned and that the captain will break out the guns at the first sight of black people wouldn’t make me feel safe.  Then there’s the dress code.  I have a BIG problem with dress codes.  I wear a tie to work, because they pay me and I’ll do a lot worse than that in order to keep my job.  But when I’m paying you, don’t think you can make me dress up for your amusement.  If I have to write a cheque just to be here in the first place, that should make you my bitch, not the other way around, so I really resent having to put on a dinner jacket just to get some food.
  5. The entertainment is actually going to be quite crap.  I went to the Wikipedia page for the Oasis of the Seas, the biggest (and therefore best?) cruise ship in the world.  Can you guess what the first amenity listed was? A zipline.  HOLY SHIT! Stop everything.  It seems like this blog is barking up the wrong tree after all.  NOT! (sarcasm alert!)  We know it wasn’t a quirk of alphabetisation that brought it to the front of the queue, so I am forced to assume that this really is the ship’s primary attraction.  No one likes ziplines.  Not even children.  You are either afraid of heights, in which case you will be scared shitless, or not, in which case it’s just marginally faster than taking the stairs.  Also, you will have to wear a harness and hard hat, and open-toed shoes will be forbidden, so any semblance of risk has been completely removed from the situation.  Indiana Jones would tackle a zipline with a rolled up teatowel (and he would almost certainly be chased down it by a bear), which makes the endeavour interesting at least.  Finally, you know it won’t be operational 3 days out of 5 due to “high winds”.  I’m quite sure this means the guy who operates it is hungover to fuck, again.
  6. You get to visit loads of places and spend a seriously limited amount of time there.  Ever done a city break?  You probably have, if I know my audience.  How long did you spend in Vienna? Was it more than 5 hours?  If so, a cruise isn’t for you.  You are released from your prison ship into the docks (always the most salubrious part of any city) and told that if you aren’t back by lunchtime, the ship leaves without you (if only!).  This is just enough time to find somewhere that will serve you a reasonably-priced drink and get back to the ship, which really raises the question: why bother?  You’re hardly going to lap up all of Vienna’s culture in this stopover (also, it’s 300 miles inland, but shut up).
  7. Damn it, I was so close.  I know you’re disappointed, but trust me, not nearly as much as I am.  I set myself a target here, a fairly reachable one at that, and have fallen woefully short.  If I sat down and really worked at it, I could probably come up with a seventh reason, but why bother?  Instead, I will take a cue from the “The Week’s” article, and just say: Pirates.

Fuck you, the “The Week”.

DBTG who… likes gardening

Ah yes, gardening.  I have a garden outside my house, full of plants which need tending to.  Although I very much enjoy being in the garden, this feeling is reversed when I have to work in order to make it nice. 

The garden I am now the owner of is, for the first time in my life, big enough and nice enough to actually make you want to spend time in it.  This is possibly slightly uncharitable towards my last home, which had a 3 metre square yard in which my wife laid an extremely good-looking patio (I was indoors studying for an exam since you ask), but the point is that the new place is an altogether different scale and prospect.  The old place was very nice, but somewhat limited by size.  I have come a long way since the student house where we had to remove foot-tall wild grass by threshing it enthusiastically with a stick we found (and then throwing the stick across the road by mistake when “enthusiastic threshing” was combined with Steve’s less than adequate ability to grip things).  I am now at the point where I feel the need to buy a pair of the green trousers favoured by gardeners (why? What are they hiding from?), and drink warm beer straight from a can and declare it “refreshing” while surveying the fruits of real horticultural endeavours.

The problem here is that I’m an “indoor-sports” kind of guy.  That doesn’t mean gay (as far as I know), in case you’re wondering, it just means I am more comfortable inside.  I have small, girlish hands from years wielding nothing more serious than a computer mouse and my skin has been weakened from nearly a decade of treatment under office strip lighting.  And actually, I am surprised that so many people consider indoor chores to be “women’s work”.  This view strikes me as ignorant, as well as factually incorrect, and crucially missing a chance to do something easier than working outdoors.

Take vacuum cleaning, for example.  Here is a task which requires you to operate a machine, with a large motor (like a car).  You are required to steer it around obstacles without hitting them (like a car).  It comes with an instruction manual that you will not read before you start using it (like a car), and if your house has stairs in it, will require heavy lifting (um).  Anyway, the same bigots who consider this women’s work will also surely concede that all of the above evidence suggests that the proper operator has a Y chromosome, no?

By the way, ladies: you are right, we don’t read manuals most of the time.  It isn’t because we are arrogant wankers who think we’re smarter than James Dyson.  It is because we like to experiment, and when presented with a new toy with buttons to press, there’s no fun in learning about them from a book – it’s much better to press a few and see what happens.  It doesn’t matter if we get it wrong, that’s half the fun.  The hoover isn’t going to combust if we press the “filter eject” button by mistake.  It’s why chemistry lessons were more fun than English.  Did your English teacher ever cause structural damage to the languages department building with a failed subjunctive? Didn’t think so. 

So while hoovering has been conclusively proven to be man’s work, why then can I not get to grips with the lawnmower, which is basically a glorified grass vacuum cleaner?  The answer to this question may be that the mower hates me, ever since I filled the petrol tank with engine oil (see, manuals are for chumps!).  That would go some way to explaining why it spits pebbles at my ankles when I run over them (one can only imagine why the previous owners put a moat of loose stones around the edge of the lawn), or why the bastard weighs 90 kg and has to be stored at the top of 3 (loose) steps. 

As a side note, one day when you have a lawn than needs mowing, you will find yourself briefly compelled to buy a Flymo.  Your wife (who will certainly be there at this stage) will point out how clever it is with the immortal lines “it doesn’t need wheels”.  She is half-correct.  It does need wheels, it just doesn’t have them.  Yes, fine, I know that it floats around like a hovercraft while you are cutting the lawn, but how do you get it back in the shed?  You are faced with the choice of turning the shed floor into woodchip, or lugging the thing around in your arms, like an over-developed, angry, bright orange baby.  Beware.

And the lawnmower is the only fun piece of kit in the garden, apart from the hose (note to self: spray more people with the hose).  Everything else is down-on-your-knees dirty, rusty and horrid stuff.  You spend the day hunched over a flowerbed hacking away with a giant pair of comedy scissors and a stupid fork, getting mud under your fingernails and a weird halo of sunburn where your old t-shirt doesn’t cover the back of your neck properly.  It isn’t fun, is what I’m saying.  And that isn’t even the worst bit – gardening is REALLY difficult.

I don’t mean that lifting heavy items and digging around in the ground is difficult (although it is), but gardening requires a level of knowledge and expertise that the average person is not endowed with.  My wife will sometimes encourage me to go outside and dig up some weeds.  I can dig up plants, but I am fucked if I know whether any of them are weeds.  I asked my Mother-in-Law how one was supposed to spot a weed, and she coyly remarked that “a weed is just a plant in the wrong place.”  Great advice, except that all the plants in my garden are growing in the ground or possibly a plant pot, which strikes me as the PERFECT place for a plant.  And yet some are still undesirable.  I suggested we adopt a survival of the fittest type of competition in the garden, where we leave the plants to fight it out amongst themselves for dominance (and then pitch it to ITV as the gripping new reality show), but my wife told me this wasn’t how it worked, and besides, it sounded suspiciously like a scheme concocted to escape gardening duty (correct).

So I can’t spot a weed in a flowerbed.  The awful thing is that once you dig them up, they’re done.  If you later find out that the plant should have been left in the ground, you can’t just put it back, these things are far too fragile for that.  And plants are expensive btw.  To this end, I often find myself paralysed with fear, and diagnosed with being lazy (incorrect).

What makes gardening so damn difficult is that it is ridiculously unscientific.  I come from a chemistry background, an environment where you add X to Y and create Z.  If you add X to Y with a bit of extra Y in the mix, the whole thing explodes and removes your face.  So it pays to be precise.  Then you go out to the garden, and the opposite seems to apply.  This plant needs some water.  Too little and it will die of thirst, too much and it will drown.  So how much is the right amount?  Some.  That’s it.  You just get a feel for the right treatment.  You need to plant this in a hole that is big/small.  Not 6.5cm in diameter, that would be much too useful information, just, I don’t know, the size of a small child’s fist? Something like that maybe?  Can you imagine the outcome if the guy making your paracetamol tablets was this relaxed about the production method?  There’d be a lot of people with continuing headaches, and just as many accidental overdoses. 

But what kills me is that (for other people), this approach WORKS.  If I add exactly 0.48 litres of water to a plant pot, the inhabitant will still die from a slug infestation or something, but if Alan Titchmarsh throws a handful of seeds at a wall with his eyes clpsed, somehow some of them will stick and grow into something amazing and beautiful and I will hate him even more than I already do.


Final note:  just in case my wife ever reads this (and frankly even if she doesn’t), I’d like to make a few things clear:

  1. Yes she did lay a patio without much help from me at all.  I was inside buried under some books.  I would have loved to swap places with her, but then neither job would have got done.
  2. She has never suggested we buy a flymo (thank GOD!)
  3. She does occasionally “encourage” me to do some gardening.  As annoying as this is, it does need doing, and I don’t have any exams left to get me out of it. And sitting on the sofa while she works seems awfully cheap.

DBTG who… enjoys air travel

Inspired by this news story, I have returned to what is arguably my favourite thing to moan about.  It has to be said that writing a blog about air travel (posted under my real name no less!) which is going to probably use a few watchwords that are of interest to certain law enforcement agencies is probably not a brilliant idea.  Even less so when you have a holiday booked in the foreseeable future.  But oh well, if I do end up detained for the crime of attempted blogging, it will at least be an experience to remember…

Back to Mr. Al Kwawahir, a man who boarded a flight from Saudi Arabia to Detroit carrying a pressure cooker.  If you are living in a bubble, this was a device used to store/carry/make the bombs used in the Boston Marathon attack last month, and as a result, set off a few alarm bells with customs officials.  This isn’t the full story, unfortunately (for Mr. Al Kwawahir).

The man in question (I was going to say “our friend”, but that seemed a bit self-implicating given he is currently being detained and customs officials don’t get jokes) was guilty of 3 things:

  1. Carrying a pressure cooker
  2. Having a passport which had a page removed
  3. having the name Mr. Al Kwawahir and not Mr. Roberts

 Give me a break on number 3, ok?  If you think that racial profiling doesn’t take place in this setting, you are more naive than Mr. Al Kwawahir.  The British Metropolitan Police ran Operation Trident which specifically targeted black youths in London, as that demographic were understood more likely to be involved in gun crime, and that was basically considered ok.  If they can get away with that, what makes you think anyone will worry about the racial profiling of Arab men on aeroplanes?

Conspiracy theory speculation aside, the second point is arguably the one that is actually a thing.  The guy said he has no idea how the page came to be missing, which sounds unlikely to me, because I can’t imagine anything happening to my passport without me knowing about it.  In fact, only my wife would know where to find it, and I can’t imagine she would be the culprit here.  However, I am also struggling to imagine a nefarious reason for removing a page from a passport.  To my knowledge, if you are considered a dangerous criminal, the police don’t stamp the word “MENACE” on a single page of your passport and hand it back to you, safe in the knowledge that you can now not travel abroad.  If you don’t want someone to use a passport, just don’t give it back to them, or at least put them on some international blacklist or something. Or, I don’t know, put them in Guantanamo?

In my mind, there are numerous potential reasons for cutting a page out of a passport.  All of them rather foolish, but none particularly malicious.  Perhaps a friend of his drew a penis shape in it on a recent stag do, or (more likely), he visited a country like Israel, Iran or Cuba, whose passport stamp can easily get you detained/fined when travelling to another country (particularly the USA).  Visiting these countries isn’t a crime (or maybe it is, but it shouldn’t be), but apparently it is totally fine to assume that anyone who has ever been to Cuba is some sort of monster and shouldn’t be allowed back into the US.  If I was half-asleep when entering Cuba, and somehow got stamped by mistake, I would be worrying about how I would pay the $5,000 fine that will be issued next time I go to the US.  Of course, removing the page seems like a pretty stupid step to take, but that rather fits in with the profile created by the rest of the story anyway.

Speaking of stupid steps, I am genuinely at a total loss trying to understand why anyone would try and take a pressure cooker on a flight to the United States.  There is no other country in the world where I would expect it would be easier to get hold of a consumer good such as this, so I really don’t see why you wouldn’t just buy one when you get there.  And that applies regardless of your motives: If I am extremely charitable towards the security services who arrested this man and assume that his plan was indeed to manufacture a Boston pressure cooker bomb, it still remains to be understood why he didn’t just buy an American one?

I assume there wasn’t any C4 (or whatever explosive was actually in the Boston bombs) in the man’s luggage, because surely it would have been mentioned if there was, so if he was a bomber he was already aware he’d need to acquire certain crucial elements to his plot after his arrival in Detroit.  Why not go the whole hog and buy the cooker at Walmart or something while you’re at it?  If anything, this helps convince me that he wasn’t a terrorist, just an idiot.  Maybe he had a spare cooker, and neither he nor his nephew could afford to buy a new one?  Even so, it must have cost a fair bit to get the cooker (which I assume counted as “excess baggage”) on to the plane.  Maybe he didn’t think of that either.  Or maybe he had done the sums and this is one of those weird scenarios where the stupid option is actually the right one? Whatever, transporting cookware across international borders surely isn’t a crime, otherwise the German-made Bosch cooker in your kitchen is going to cause you some problems.

The thing that really kills me about this story is that in the wide world a lot of people will be reading it and thinking “Thank GOD they stopped that bastard!”  Yes, it is probably a viewpoint borne out of casual xenophobia, but more importantly they are happy to suspend everyone’s rights (such as the right to transport cookers), including their own, in order to feel safe.

I once had a water bottle confiscated from me at airport security.  It was actually empty (apart from air, smartass), but just having it in my hand luggage was forbidden.  So it was binned.  This annoyed me a bit more than it should, because the bottle was an unusual size and shape (purchased in America, coincidentally) and fit perfectly into the side pocket of my rucksack.  I almost made a fuss, except I had already learnt not to do that in airports.  I once muttered (MUTTERED!) under my breath in a security queue that the draconian measures were themselves a threat to democracy, and found myself on the receiving end of a very thorough, “random” search when I got to the front.  That was not a coincidence, and it was terrifying.

So instead of making a fuss, guess what I did instead?  I went through security (silently) and purchased a brand new water bottle from a shop on the international side!  I get that people are concerned about liquid explosives, but my empty water bottle clearly didn’t have anything in it.  Any act I could have committed with this bottle could also be done with the replacement I purchased (once I had drunk the contents), which surely proves that the rule makes no sense.  We don’t understand why the rule is there, but we accept it because it makes us feel safe (and because questioning it singles you out quite a bit).

I should enjoy air travel.  You get your own seat and tv set and are instructed to sit still and watch movies for 8 hours while a smartly-dressed lady in sensible shoes serves you drinks.  That sounds great, but it isn’t because someone has just scanned my laptop and shoes (again, why? If i’m hiding something, it isn’t in my shoes, it’s somewhere a lot more personal) and it leaves me feeling just a tiny bit violated.  I don’t get why it is done and the official reasons given don’t stack up, and that just makes me feel uncomfortable, because I don’t understand the real rationale and I would really like to.

DBTG who… calls for a referendum

A couple of days ago, the queen delivered a speech about the sort of things the UK government were going to be doing over the next few months. Who knew that the queen did summer speeches now?  Not me, for sure.  I don’t remember them from my childhood, but maybe I just didn’t care then either  I assume that only the most ardent royalists actually listened to it, or cared what she had to say, because the response in the news and amongst people I talk to has been fairly muted.

It must suck having to give a speech that David Cameron (or more likely someone working for him) has written.  Being queen is probably quite weird like that.  In some respects you are the most powerful person in the country, but then something like this appears on the schedule and you get treated like a cheap acoustic guitar, pulled out of the bag by the arsehole who wants everyone to listen to him while he sings round a campfire.  I guess this is mitigated by having a load of palaces and chauffeured limos, and small dogs, but you’re asked to sell yourself out completely in exchange.  And instead of being asked, you have to do it because of who your dad was.  Would I trade?  I actually don’t know.  Anyway, I’m meandering off topic here…

The topic was referendums, because crucially (apparently) the queen’s speech lacked a reference to a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU.  Personally, I think that’s a great thing to not discuss.  I don’t agree with a lot of what DC puts in (or omits from) other people’s speeches, but this is certainly something we don’t need to talk about. 

You see, here is the problem with referendums in general: MOST PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS.  If we were to have a vote on European membership, most people would be voting on the basis of one or more of the following:

–          Wanting to keep the queen’s face on coins and banknotes

–          Wanting to reduce the red tape that EU BUEROCRATS IN BRUSSELS (!) have wound us up in

–          Getting rid of ridiculous “elf and safety” (funny, no? No.) laws

–          Hating French people, just so much


And that’s it.  No consideration of the billion pound impact of such a decision, no understanding of the relevance of the European Union to our entire economy, just simple, common garden xenophobia. 

Here’s the thing – I work in finance, I read financial news everyday and have studied some economics.  I am probably better qualified than 99% of the population to make such a decision, and yet I don’t actually feel like I am properly equipped to do so.  That is why politicians (should) exist: I vote for someone who is intelligent and trustworthy to make difficult decisions from an informed position on my behalf. 

The same is true for the Scottish independence issue (which has kind of gone away for a bit now).  It boils down to the same problem – stupid people who hate anyone who lives somewhere else.  I actually don’t care about the outcome of this one, as I don’t think it will affect me that much either way (although I really don’t want to have to look at Alex Salmond’s smug face on any newspaper front pages), but I would still rather the decision was taken by the people whose job it is to do so.

Does health and safety even come from the EU? I’m not convinced at all.  I do understand the issue people have with it, by the way.  It is very demeaning being told not to climb a ladder carrying 4 pots of paint and a loaded gun, and I once received an official warning at my first job for throwing a balled up piece of paper at someone (seriously), but it does have its uses.  The reason we are given lessons in bending over to pick things up is that people hurt their backs doing that sort of thing all the time, and because in general MOST PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS who benefit from being protected from their own poor decision-making abilities.

So fine, least funny blog post EVER. I apologise for not being amusing, but I feel very strongly about this issue.  Normal service will shortly resume (maybe).

DBTG who… moans about wrestling

You know wrestling? Steel chairs and spandex? Had to rename themselves to WWE after a court case with a wildlife charity? Wrestling.  I will now attempt to read your mind: the first thing you think about while trying to criticise wrestling is that it’s fake. If you’re the particularly condescending type, you probably would instead say “You do know it’s fake, don’t you?” Yes, yes I do.

Just for the record, I don’t watch wrestling, or take any interest in it.  I probably haven’t done so for over 10 years.  But that is more to do with the fact that I’m a busy guy, and I don’t feel like paying for Sky TV.  If I did have Sky, and nothing to do on a Saturday morning, who knows? But whatever.  The reason I don’t watch it is nothing to do with its fakery.

Of course we all know it is fake.  Everybody knows that.  I don’t really see why that is seen as a criticism?  Star Wars is fake, as is Coronation Street and Made in Chelsea.  Yup, if you think about it even for a brief second, you will realise that Made in Chelsea is obviously fake, and this will become more and more obvious the longer you think about it.  Seriously, you think that they just mic-ed up a load of posh people and follow them around with multiple cameras, hoping that something would happen (which, I am led to believe is the premise of the show)?  What were the odds that this strategy would end up with a watchable TV show? 

Anyway, back on course, what is wrong with a TV show that isn’t real (and never really purports to be, if you’re being totally honest with yourself)?  Most TV is escapism – our lives aren’t filled with drama, which is probably a good thing, but we still like to have the chance to imagine a life lived at 90mph.  More importantly, who watches a show where a man knocks his opponent unconscious with a trash can lid, before pile-driving him into a concrete floor covered in drawing pins, and then seals his body in a coffin and buries it in the local cemetery (I have no idea, but that story sounds plenty plausible), and thinks “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be better if it were real?”  Really?  Would it be better for Saturday morning TV to be devoted to actual attempted murder, in a room with 20,000 teenagers presumably complicit in the act, while another million teenagers (it’s always teenagers) watch the action unfold in their living rooms?  That would be better?  As far as I can tell, it’s much more normal to watch a film about a serial killer than watch an actual serial killer going about his business. 

By the way, I get that it still hurts.  I get that those guys get injuries and scars.  But so do stunt men and rugby players.  The point is, they get hurt by accident (or at a level they have deemed acceptable) while providing entertainment.  The injuries are a risk in all of the above, but it isn’t the intention to cause damage to the other wrestler.

And that, neatly enough, is why I hate boxing.  Fuck boxing, and fuck MMA, and any other fucking sport where the intention is to put the other guy in hospital.  We (rightly) go on about how barbaric it is to watch bullfighting or go fox-hunting, but it’s ok if it’s a human being on the line?  Why?  I’m sure he signed a waiver or something, but that really isn’t the point.  I don’t understand how you can mock a fake fight but get excited by watching 2 people actually beat the crap out of each other.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating here.  The purpose in boxing (and other “sports” of this nature) is to knock your opponent unconscious.  You can win without the KO, but it goes down in your stats as a lesser win.  The goal is to leave your opponent in a state where he belongs in a hospital.  MMA is even worse, because once your opponent is on the floor with blood coming out of his ears, you are still entitled to pummel his head into the mat until the referee wrestles you off the poor guy (this I have gathered from watching half of one fight). 

Please don’t tell me that it isn’t about watching blood be spilt (or brains being damaged).  There are plenty of sporting variations where a fight is staged in such a way that the rules or equipment (or both) are in place to prevent the likelihood of serious injury.  Take fencing as an example.  People waving swords around at each other should be lethal, but as far as I know, getting a poke in the eye would be considered a tragic accident.  Same with Olympic boxing.  Headguards and short fight times mean that there is a pretty slim chance of landing a devastating blow, and the competitors are all amateurs, which at least means that they aren’t gambling their health for a big payoff (yet).  I am mostly fine with these variations, but don’t tell me that the heavyweight, pay-per-view multi-million dollar boxing event is all about you marvelling at someone’s footwork or technique.  It is about watching two people beat each other to a pulp, and to early onset Alzheimer’s.

And by the way, I was recently told that the boxing gloves worn in the ring are indeed a form of safety equipment.  But, unlike I had assumed, they are actually there to protect the fighters hands, not their opponents head.  Apparently, you can really hurt yourself repeatedly punching a guy in the face, so much so that you need some protective equipment in order to do so.  That is so wondrously, enduringly idiotic that I’m not even going to finish this blog properly.  I’m just going to cut it here, and let you think about this last point and what it means.