Friday, 29 July 2011

Scientific facts

Television was discovered in 1928 by serendipity, when Alexander Fleming left an agar plate unattended in the laboratory while taking leave. When he came back from his holiday he noticed that a ring of bacteria around the Televisium Notatum fungus had stopped listening to their radios.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Tree Surgeon

I suppose that some people might say I’m not a proper doctor.

Probably the same sort of people who say that a home economist isn’t a proper economist, table tennis isn’t proper tennis, and caterpillars aren’t actual pillars. But it hurts, nevertheless.

I mean, vets never get that sort of abuse. It’s never ‘Oh, you’re not a real medic because your patients have four legs’. Just because my patients are made of cellulose and don’t move doesn’t mean that I have it easy.

Admittedly, I don’t have to make any complicated ethical decisions – I just have to check whether my patient has a preservation order - and nobody minds if I leave my watch inside a patient. But aboriculture is a skill and art, just like neurosurgery. Or engineering. Or texting while walking.

I mean, every artist has his tools. Since mine is a chainsaw and I operate without anaesthetic, you’d think people would be relieved that I don’t work on humans!

What really gets to me is the small talk.

“So, what do you do?”

“I’m a tree surgeon”.

“Oh, and how did you get into the business?”

“I got the key out of my pocket, inserted it into the lock, turn-- ”

“So you failed medical school?”

I didn’t fail. The tutors and I reached an agreement that it would be mutually beneficial if I were to leave.

“So why were you thrown out?”

It was an easy mistake. Anyone could have made it.

“Did you kill someone?

No. I’ve never done that. Not knowingly.
I don’t want to go into the specifics of the incident, but suffice to say that it would be impossible to recreate without a monopoly dog, twelve rubber bands, a suspect radiologist and a rather elderly patient.

“As one door closes, another opens.”

You should complain to your landlord about that.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


403 Aries
Your attempt to create a sloth-cheetah hybrid will reach a disappointing conclusion as you create a creature that can travel at 60mph but chooses not to.

403 taurus
As you walk past a branch of John Lewis, you will entertain the notion of treating yourself to a nice pair of heels and a dress. You dismiss the idea on the principle that your wife might mind.

403 gemini
You will find the ‘General Enquiries’ counter to be sorely lacking, when they are unable to answer your questions ‘Does a General rank above or below a Brigadier?’, ‘When’s David Petraeus’ birthday?’ or ‘How many Generals does it take to change a lightbulb?’.

403 cancer
A trip to the estate agents will leave you wondering whether ‘wall-to-wall floors’ and being ‘just a stone’s throw away from a group of people throwing stones’ are really valid selling points.

403 leo
If you’re going to commit a crime, leave it until the end of the month when Saturn is in alignment with Jupiter, Orion is ascending and the Police Chief is on holiday.

403 virgo
Although you’re not generally a superstitious person, you’ve found yourself reading the horoscopes page. Seasoned cynic that you are, you're unimpressed, smugly thinking to yourself that these broad assumptions apply to such large proportions of the population that they’re working on percentages. Aren't you, Steve?

403 libra
Consumed by rage at TfL’s use of the tautology ‘personal belongings’ in tannoy announcements, you will storm up to the London Underground headquarters and shout ‘what other types of belongings are there?!’ to the bemusement of the security guard and admin staff.

403 scorpio
You will put £30, 000 of plain, unmarked bills in a black suitcase and leave it by the stone underneath the bridge at the prearranged location if you ever want to see your son again.

493 sagitarius
You will get in a fight with an electrical appliance. Although you will win, the victory will be hollow, tainted with the knowledge that you now need to buy a new toaster.

403 capricorn
You will come to the sudden realisation that you no longer play minesweeper or solitaire on the computer to waste time. The knowledge leaves you feeling a slight sense of loss, but no real desire to play them again.

403 aquarius
Towards the end of the month you will buy a ukulele so that you can pretend to be a giant playing an acoustic bass.

403 pisces
An accident involving a tube of araldite and a colt firearm will give you an entirely new outlook on the phrase ‘stick to your guns’.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Unsuccessful product launches

Jellyfish fingers
got off to a slippery start

The chain of Dutch mountain bike stores
faced an uphill struggle

The coathanger aerials
received a poor reception

and for the Drive-Thru brothels
it was touch and go.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A day in the office at News of the World

Although the offices are now closed, the final issue printed, and the presses stilled, I can reveal that someone left a Dictaphone running during one of the normal days of work. So here it is; a transcript of Monday morning at News of the World.

Journo: Good morning, Rebekah. Did you have a good weekend?

RB: I have never knowingly had a weekend. If, at any point, weekends did happen while I was at News of The world, I was not informed, and I certainly didn’t authorise payment. Although I have heard that weekends were widely-practiced on Fleet Street, particularly in the late 1990s.

Journo: Oh. I thought you said on Friday that you were going for a meal with the Camerons?

RB: I don’t know the name.

Journo: Really?

RB: Not at all. I did not know that ‘David Cameron’ worked for the British government until 2011, and I’m sure he would deny that he’s ever met me.

[the door swings open and Rupert and James Murdoch walk in]

Journo Good morning James, I’m glad that you’re here, actually, I needed to ask-

RM: This is the most humble day of my life -

JM: Sorry, what were you going to ask?

Journo: Well, after you left on Friday, I discovered that my copy of -

RM: This is the most humble day of my life -

JM: Sorry, just ignore him. Do go on.

Journo: So, as I was saying, when I was tidying up my office on Friday, I discovered that my thesaurus had been closed. Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily mind, but I had spent literally minutes sifting through the pages to find a good synonym for ‘scum’ (with fewer than three syllables so that our readers wouldn’t feel alienated). I left the office for a minute to answer the phone, and when I returned, all my hard work was lost.

JM: The closure of a book with 160- odd pages is something that is a grave thing.

Journo: Well, it’s not just that.
Obviously, after noticing the book was closed I tried to open it again. I promptly discovered that the pages were stuck together with superglue!

JM: I’m as surprised and shocked to learn that as you are.

Journo: Hmm. Do you know who glued the pages of my thesaurus together, Mr. Murdoch?

RM: This is not an excuse, but your thesaurus constitutes less than 1% of the books in this company.

Journo: So you did it?

RM: No. But I would be willing to make you a rather generous cash payment to make this whole mess go away. I think that, frankly, I’m the best person to clear this up.

Monday, 18 July 2011

This post contains a laminated cardboard cut-out of a nuclear submarine

It emerged this week that a Swiss Political Party has formed with the sole intention of banning Microsoft Powerpoint. I personally can’t see why... I mean, what’s not to like about sitting through a speaker reading out sentences that are typed up in 14 point black Times-new-roman on a slide behind him? < /heavy sarcasm> This got me thinking. If I were to create a political party, what policies would I implement?

I think it’s important to learn from the successes of the past. Go with what works. Nepotism. The problem isn’t that nepotism exists, it’s that too few people have contacts of any worth. So I guess what I’m suggesting is an enthusiastic drive to marry off the elite. But the elite are too few in number to have any really significant effect on the UK’s entire population. The only logical solution is to marry them off multiple times. Marry and divorce repeatedly. Cameron urged us to ‘hug a hoodie’ I’m suggesting ‘marry a marquis’. This would also boost the economy; with so many nuptial ceremonies the sales of tiny place cards, confetti and vicars should skyrocket.

The whole idea behind Trident is that it’s a clandestine nuclear weapon; no-one should know the location and it should never be used. I think the obvious question that presents itself is ‘Why don’t we just pretend to have bought it?’ Should the need ever arise to give the impression that Britain is armed we could make a lifesize laminated cardboard cut-out of a nuclear submarine. As long as we’re careful not to let the enemy encircle the ‘vessel’, I can see this as a viable approach. This policy of bluffing could be rolled out to other sectors – laminated cardboard cut-outs of schools (fine so long truancy rates don’t fall), laminated cardboard cut-outs of hospitals (especially feasible for the treatment of the blind or vision impaired) and laminated cardboard cut-outs of libraries (suitable so long as opening hours don’t increase and coincide with times in which the populace might not be at work).

It has become clear that the UK must seek alternative energy sources – I suggest harnessing the power currently generated, but not captured, by all bicycles in gyms. A coil of wire wrapped around the axle and magnets attached to the wheel should create a current. The covert installation dynamos would not have to be restricted to health clubs; energy could be generated when punters open the fold-down seats in the cinema or on the tube or walk through hand-powered revolving doors. (I secretly suspect that this is already the case).

Thursday, 14 July 2011

In which the author muses upon falling pianos, lacquered sea-sponges and toast.

I went to see Terence Malick's "The Tree of Life". The following is a transcript of my inner monologue.

I could be watching the Apprentice now.

Just enjoy the film. The Apprentice will be on iPlayer.

But I would rather be watching S’ralan-

Lord Sugar

Sorry, ‘Lord Sugar’ with Helen, Tom, Jim, Susie and Natasha.

I’ve always thought that Tom looks a bit like Tony Blair played by Andy Serkis.

Really? I thought it was more ‘Andy Serkis played by Tony Blair’.

Get back to the film!

But it’s just a non-linear show-reel of natural history. Look, there’s a sub-surface shot of a wave, a shiver of hammerhead sharks and a group of Moon Jellies. It’s like a ‘best of’ for the entire globe.

Now that’s what I call nature?

Something like that.

Look, it’s a dinosaur. Surely you can concentrate on that.

I used to love ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ when I was younger.

This is supposed to be a sophisticated film. Just try paying attention for a minute.

No! The dinosaurs are gone! Now what am I supposed to do?

Watch the film?

Okay, I’ll watch the film while *thinking* about dinosaurs. If I could have any dinosaur for a steed, which would I choose? I don’t think I could go for a diplodocus. People might think I was overcompensating for something.

It’d also be quite hard to find a parking space.

I hadn’t thought of that. Okay, what about an Eoraptor? They’re fast.

True, but at 2 foot long one might find it rather difficult to support your weight.

I could use lots of them. Like the Romans and logs. I’d ride in a sedan chair, and have hundreds continuously fed underneath the base.

Has anyone ever told you that you have a sick sense of humour?

Only the people that know me.

Okay, it’s a scene with people in now. Surely your attention can be captured by this. Look, a baby. Aww


Now this is cinema. Raw emotion, profound artistic statements -

Actors? Shots? There’s no coherent or engaging plotline. Although we’re informed there’s a death I have no desire to find out how it happened. [pause] I wonder how I’d like to die. It would have to be something with comic irony, say, crushed by a falling piano.

It’s a bit cliché.

You know how as the length of the fall increases the threshold for ‘mass of the object needed to inflict fatal wound’ drops? (Also known as “a coin dropped from the Eiffel Tower could kill”) Well, how about being crushed by a miniature piano dropped from an aircraft?

Well, I’ll grundgingly admit that it’s creative.

Or how about being stabbed with a sponge? Obviously it would have to be a sponge that was dried, possibly lacquered, and sharpened to a point...

When would *anyone* prepare such an item?

Perhaps in a prison. Inmates are very creative when it comes to making shivs.

I think that an inmate lacquering a sea-sponge may attract some attention. Besides, where would an inmate get a sea sponge from?

An aquarium.

What, you think that they could just say “I know that incarceration usually means confinement within a correctional institution, but do you think it’d be alright if I went to an aquarium today?” and be allowed to leave. Then, they would return with a sea sponge secreted about their person.

No, you’re right. That’s absurd.

Finally, you’re talking some sense.

If he got permission to go to the aquarium, he’d almost definitely return with a shark.

. In your hypothetical situation, what, may I ask, was the prisoner’s crime?

He was a short assassin. [pause] He shot someone in the knee.

I can see that you’ve really thought this through. Was the victim alright?

He’s doing quite well for himself, actually. He went on ‘Dragons’ Den and managed to get Debora Meaden to invest £50, 000 in the invention he came up with while convalescing in the ICU.

I have a feeling I’m going to regret asking this, but what did he invent?

An edible toaster. It’s quite clever, when you think about it – people only ever go to use a toaster when they’re hungry, and once they get there the Taster™ provides instant satiation.

So what’s it made of?


But in order for a toaster to work you need a filament, wiring, casing! Surely clients complain that it doesn’t work.

In all the test groups we ran no-one actually reached the stage of trying to make toast with it. They all ate it before that situation arose.

But- but- that’s preposterous! People must have complained about it’s single-use?

Not a single one. It would appear that the test groups were all a bit embarrassed, reluctant to admit that they’d eaten an entire toaster.

That’s absurd.

It’s planned obsolescence at its finest.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Signs that I would really like to smuggle into a Zoological park and stick by the enclosure of the appropriate animal..

Hardcore Prawn
Ungrateful Swine
Python Schmython
Vlad the Impala

and, at the entrance of the park, just below the opening hours
"Do not open if the seal is broken".

Saturday, 2 July 2011

94% of broadcasters bandy statistics

There is a 96% probability that this post was inspired by the current trend for rolling news coverage to back up 87% of assertions with statistics. (While there is an 84% chance that the preceding statistic was fabricated as a way of starting this post. In the words of Oscar Wilde “You can’t believe everything that you read on the internet.”)

It seems that it’s now impossible for televised debate to take place without absurd comparisons to underscore arguments. It’s not valid simply to discuss the impacts of industrial action – any contributor must be able to authoritatively assert that ‘Using the money that was lost during today’s industrial action, the government could have bought 52 dialysis machines, or a mass of rubber ducks equivalent to the weight of Eamonn Holmes’. It’s absurd, but goes completely unchallenged.

Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams do not bat an eyelid as an interviewee suggests that “If the London Underground were adapted to run on sixty thousand hamsters tethered to the front of each train instead of electricity, TfL could afford to rent one sixtieth of the Sydney Opera House”. Fiona Bruce and George Alagiah nod knowingly to each disjointed, incongruous factoid, as if to validate it. Juxtaposing two ideas does not make them relevant!

Taking things to their (il)logical conclusion, one might expect a report on pensions in five to ten years time to consist of commentators starting with clauses such as;“If no-one in the UK wore sunglasses on Tuesdays”, “If we all agreed to use a single hyphen rather than one of those extended double hyphens” or “If we imagine a penguin eating Weetabix” (which I personally think is a rather lovely mental image).

This sort of nonsensical comparison isn’t exclusive to the realm of current affairs. For years, physicists have been using the standard units of distance “the length of a blue whale”, “the height of a double-decker bus”, and the oft-cited “size of an Olympic swimming pool”. The units of weight (or, more accurately, mass, if there are physicists reading) don’t fare much better. An elephant. A bag of sugar. A fully-loaded 747.*

As the adage goes, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them**’. Accordingly, I’ve had a go at devising my own arbitrary units for the measurement of distance. There are two pencils in an owl, four owls in every shelf, and two shelves to an Ian Duncan Smith. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just seen a press-release stating that 89% of online audiences stop reading articles after 480 words. So I think I’ll stop writing.... now.

* That was a strange shopping list.

** As the adage goes after finding a thesaurus, ‘if you can’t vanquish them, co-operate with them’. As the adage goes after being fed through Google translate from Albanian to Finnish and back into English “If you can not win them to Hi’self". I digress.