Happy Hangovers All!

In this midweek no mans land – neither Christmas nor New Year, most of us are not at work. We wait in limbo until the next celebration – as if we need any more food… But we are always ready for a drink. And hot of the presses comes a new product designed to deal with the hangover before you’ve even got one.

A herbal patch that claims to counter the horrors of a hangover while a person is still drinking is being launched in Britain. The skin patch, about the same size as a nicotine patch, was launched in America last year. It is now available online in Britain.

The patch contains four ingredients: milk thistle, artichoke, green tea and vitamin C, all of which are said to have some effect on hangovers.

The product, called Sober X whose manufucturers advise “You put it on before you start drinking and you feel better the next day. But we do not claim this is a complete cure.”

“No doubt the majority of adults will be suffering from a hangover this New Year’s Day, so we’re delighted to be launching in Britain,” they said.

A brilliant idea and I felt it my duty to bring it to my readers attention. However, for every good idea, there is always some misery who takes the opposite view. Don Shenker, the director of policy and services at Alcohol Concern, said the best way to deal with a hangover was to avoid one.

“Not drinking too much is the best thing to do,” he said. “Herbal or chemical remedies are not going to help the damage the body suffers from excessive drinking. There is only one message: drinking excessively is bad for you.”

Not exactly ground breaking stuff Don.

Happy Hangovers to all!

The Book of Parentese – Chapter 7

Particularly relevant at Christmas!

Complaints and Lamentations

1. O my children, you are disobedient. For when I tell you what you must do, you argue and dispute hotly even to the littlest detail; and when I do not accede, you cry out, and hit and kick.
2. Yes, and even sometime do you spit, and shout “stupid-head” and other blasphemies, and hit and kick the wall and the skirting board thereof when you are sent to the corner.
3. And though the law teaches that no one shall be sent to the corner for more minutes than he has years of age, yet I would leave you there all day, so mighty am I in anger.
4. But upon being sent to the corner you ask straight-away, “Can I come out?” and I reply, “No, you may not come out.” And again you ask, and again I give the same reply. But when you ask again a third time, then you may come out.
5. Hear me, O my children, for the bills they kill me. I pay and pay again, even to the twelfth time in a year, and yet again they mount higher than before.
6. For I will come to you at the first of the month and at the fifteenth of the month with the bills and a great whining and moan.
7. And when the month of taxes comes, I will decry the wrong and unfairness of it, and mourn and rend my receipts.
8. And you shall remember that I am that I am before, after, and until you are eighteen.
9. Hear me then, and avoid me in my wrath, O children of me.

Merry Christmas

Well, it’s been quite a year. We’ve moved continents, schools and houses. Shipped cars, furniture and dogs. Rallied in England, Scotland and France. Travelled here, there and everywhere. And it’s time for a rest.

I may post the odd post over Christmas, but I’m taking a break at home with inlaws and outlaws. A spot of shooting, a few fine wines and ale; a mince pie or three and a drop of good armagnac. A blast around the countryside in an old car or two, if the weather holds, a walk and a good pub lunch if it doesn’t.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year to all.

Asbo Madness – the introduction

In adjusting to life in England we’ve had to update ourselves on the culture and become acquainted with new practices introduced in the 20 or so years we were away.

One of the least pleasant – and sadly indicative of the decline in standards in the UK – has been the introduction of the Anti Social Behaviour Order, or ASBO.

To an outsider, such a practice is probably hard to comprehend. From an Asian perspective it is mind boggling.

Asbo’s were introduced in England and Wales as part of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, but the subject only reached tipping point this year when the tally of Britons with anti-social behaviour orders passed the 5,000 mark.

This is not surprising, since according to the Government’s own findings, there are 66,000 “anti-social acts” committed every day and, compared with criminal cases, Asbo’s are child’s play for the authorities: they require only the word of a policeman or anonymously written complaints, cost an average of £5,000 each to the state (mainly staffing and legal expenses), and incredibly 98.5 per cent of all applications are accepted (of the 2,497 applications up to April last year, only 42 were refused by magistrates).

Which is disturbing when one considers that breaching the terms of an Asbo can land an individual up to five years in jail, as it has done for more than 1,000 people already. And the number of fresh cases is more than doubling every year, at a rate so Malthusian that if the current annual increase of 250 per cent continues, by some point in about March 2016 everyone in the UK will have one.

When will the Government realize that this relentless control by law, rather than leading by example and encouraging some social responsibility simply does not work? It creates taxpayer funded jobs, but fixes nothing. I’ll get straight off the soap-box and provide you with an example. More over the next few weeks:

Asbo the Community

Last week the sleepy West Lothian community of Mid Calder made its mark by becoming the setting of a new type of policing. Sick of teenage gangs drunk on cheap wine making life hell for its residents, Mid Calder became the first place in Britain to issue a village-wide crackdown on anti-social behaviour, allowing police to disperse any young person found outdoors: if they refuse, the teens face the threat of an anti-social behaviour order and up to five years in jail.
Anyone read 1984?

Keith Duckworth Engineer 1933 – 2005

Keith Duckworth, who died on Sunday aged 72, was the outstanding racing engine designer of his generation.

Cosworth Engineering, the company he founded with his fellow engineer Mike Costin in 1958, produced a staggeringly successful series of Ford-based and Ford-sponsored engines. From 1960 to 1983 it not only won a record 155 World Championship-qualifying Grand Prix races but dominated international Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula Junior. It won the Le Mans 24-hour sports car race, and added multiple victories in American Indianapolis-style speedway racing.

A new 3-litre Formula 1 class was planned for 1966, and Colin Chapman of Lotus asked his former employee if he felt ready to tackle a Grand Prix engine design. Chapman talked Ford into footing the bill, and their sponsorship famously became “the best £100,000 Ford ever spent”.

Duckworth produced first a Ford-based four-cylinder 1600cc Formula 2 engine, from which he developed the three-litre V8 Cosworth-Ford DFV unit. Used by Jim Clark’s new Lotus 49, it won the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix upon its debut. Looking at the new car, one rival engine designer admitted: “We knew then the game was up.” Overnight, Duckworth’s design had set entirely new standards in Formula 1 power and ingenuity.

An outspoken and direct man, when sent for training as a navigator, Duckworth made waves by contradicting his astro-navigation tutor. “I don’t compromise easily,” he later admitted. “I simply won’t accept theories that are wrong. I can spot bullshit at 100 yards, and I have to say so.”

He was an inspirational figure and a dynamic teacher. “Duckworthisms” became renowned throughout the racing and engineering worlds. These included: “It is better to be un-informed than ill-informed”; “a genius can make for a penny what a good engineer can only make for 10p”; and “very few straight answers are ever possible: the decisive man is a simple-minded man”. He based job interviews on the principle that “young fools go on to become old fools”.

Along with men such as Colin Chapman and John Cooper, Keith Duckworth and his Cosworth brand have been synonymous with performance for over 40 years – a legacy that looks set to continue.

The Winter Solstice

For a returning expat I knew the weather was going to be the hardest part about being in the UK. I was only partly right. The lack of daylight in winter is the real killer. On bright sunny days it is wonderful – but for such a short time. The sun never gets close to the yard arm – never mind over it – and before you realize it, its’ dark. The sun sets before 4 pm.

I know the payback is summer and the long evenings, but somehow, in the depths of winter, you tend to forget. And it’s a long time until the days are meaningfully longer – although as today is the Winter Solstice, from tomorrow they do start to lengthen.

So, I looked into the Solstice to find a bit more about it’s global significance……

No one’s really sure how long ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began celebrating it as a turning point – the day that marks the return of the sun. The Mesopotamians were first, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year.

Many, many cultures around the world perform solstice ceremonies. At their root: an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with nighlong vigil or careful celebration.

An utterly astounding array of ancient cultures built their greatest architectures – tombs, temples, cairns and sacred observatories — so that they aligned with the solstices and equinoxes. Many of us know that Stonehenge in our home county of Wiltshire is a perfect marker of both solstices.

But not so many people are familiar with Newgrange, a beautiful megalithic site in Ireland. This huge circular stone structure is estimated to be 5,000 years old, older by centuries than Stonehenge, older even than the pyramids at Giza. It was built to receive a shaft of sunlight deep into its central chamber at dawn on winter solstice.

The light illuminates a stone basin below intricate carvings — spirals, eye shapes, solar discs. Although not much is known about how Newgrange was used by its builders, marking the solstice was obviously of tremendous spiritual import to them.

Maeshowe, on the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, shares a similar trait, admitting the winter solstice setting sun. It is hailed as “one of the greatest architectural achievements of the prehistoric peoples of Scotland.”

Hundreds of other megalithic structures throughout Europe are oriented to the solstices and the equinoxes. The blossoming field of ‘archaeoastronomy’ (no, I’d never heard of it either) studies such sacred sites in the Americas, Asia, Indonesia, and the Middle East.

Recent research into the medieval Great Zimbabwe in sub-Saharan Africa (also known as the “African Stonehenge”) indicates a similar purpose. In North America, one of the most famous such sites is the Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, built a thousand years ago by the Chacoans, ancestors of the Pueblo people. Even cultures that followed a moon-based calendar seemed to understand the importance of these sun-facing seasonal turning points.

In a book, The Sun in the Church reveals that many medieval Catholic churches were also built as solar observatories. The church, once again reinforcing the close ties between religious celebration and seasonal passages, needed astronomy to predict the date of Easter. And so observatories were built into cathedrals and churches throughout Europe.

Typically, a small hole in the roof admitted a beam of sunlight, which would trace a path along the floor. The path, called the meridian line, was often marked by inlays and zodiacal motifs. The position at noon throughout the year, including the extremes of the solstices, was also carefully marked.

Christmas was transplanted onto winter solstice some 1,600 years ago, centuries before the English language emerged from its Germanic roots. Is that why we came to express these two ideas in words that sound so similar? In this linguistic puzzle:

The rebirth of the sun.
The birth of the Son.

You may have heard of apple wassailing, the medieval winter festival custom of blessing the apple trees with songs, dances, decorations and a drink of cider to ensure their fertility. Thats another, more obscure tradition that most certainly predates Christmas, and was probably once a solstice ritual, because it is so linked to the themes of nature’s rebirth and fertility

In Romania, there’s a traditional Christmas confection called a turta. It is made of many layers of pastry dough, filled with melted sugar or honey, ground walnuts, or hemp seed.
In this tradition, with the making of the cake families enact a lovely little ceremony to assure the fruitfulness of their orchard come spring. When the wife is in the midst of kneading the dough, she follows her husband into the wintry garden. The man goes from barren tree to tree, threatening to cut each one down. Each time, the wife urges that he spare the tree by saying:

“Oh no, I am sure that this tree will be as heavy with fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough this day.”

Winter solstice was overlaid with Christmas, and the observance of Christmas spread throughout the globe. Along the way, we lost some of the deep connection of our celebrations to a fundamental seasonal, hemispheric event – the only truly seasonal celebration in most of the Christian west is now Thanksgiving, which plays a far more significant role in American culture that in English. Perhaps this recalls the difficulties the pilgrims had in surviving in the New World?

Winter solstice celebrations are clearly not just an invention of the ancient Europeans. They are truly global.
Native Americans had winter solstice rites. The sun images at right are from rock paintings of the Chumash, who occupied coastal California for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. Solstices were tremendously important to them, and the winter solstice celebration lasted several days.

In Iran, there is the observance of Yalda, in which families kept vigil through the night and fires burned brightly to help the sun (and Goodness) battle darkness (thought evil).

Winter solstice celebrations are also part of the cultural heritage of Pakistan and Tibet. And in China, even though the calendar is based on the moon, the day of winter solstice is called Dong Zhi, “The Arrival of Winter.” The cold of winter made an excellent excuse for a feast, so that’s how the Chinese observed it, with Ju Dong, “doing the winter.” (Point of note here: the Chinese being eminently pragmatic, celebrate anything and everything with a dinner. And its’ a deeply held tradition that if you are the token foreigner, you get to pay)

And what of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs around this time every year? Is it related to other celebrations of the season?

The placement of Hanukkah is tied to both the lunar and solar calendars. It begins on the 25th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the Winter Solstice. It commemorates an historic event — the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the temple at Jerusalem. But the form of this celebration, a Festival of Lights (with candles at the heart of the ritual), makes Hanukkah wonderfully compatible with other celebrations at this time of year. As a symbolic celebration of growing light and as a commemoration of spiritual rebirth, it also seems closely related to other observances.

In many cultures, customs practiced at Christmas go back to pre-Christian times. Many involve divination – foretelling the future at a magic time: the season turning of solstice.

In Russia, there’s a Christmas divination that involves candles. A girl would sit in a darkened room, with two lighted candles and two mirrors, pointed so that one reflects the candlelight into the other. The viewer would seek the seventh reflection, then look until her future would be seen.

The early Germans built a stone altar to Hertha, or Bertha, goddess of domesticity and the home, during winter solstice. With a fire of fir boughs stoked on the altar, Hertha was able to descend through the smoke and guide those who were wise in Saga lore to foretell the fortunes of those at the feast.

In Spain, there’s an old custom that is a holdover from Roman days. The urn of fate is a large bowl containing slips of paper on which are written all the names of those at a family get-together. The slips of paper are drawn out two at a time. Those whose names are so joined are to be devoted friends for the year. Apparently, there’s often a little ‘enronning’ to help matchmaking along, as well.

In Scandinavia, some families place all their shoes together, as this will cause them to live in harmony throughout the year.

And in many, many cultures, it’s considered bad luck for a fire or a candle to go out on Christmas Day.
So, I’ll be tending the fire all day on Sunday…. And given the forecast of a possible white Christmas I’ll be staying safe and warm in doors with mulled wine and a mince pie to ward of the hoards of kids who are staying with us…. Happy Solstice!

London Motorists Action Group

Seems I am not alone in resenting the actions of our ‘leaders’ in government and local authority when it comes to raiding the poor motorists wallet.

Quite the opposiste. A new organisation, the London Motorists Action Group, has been formed to represent the honest motorist, ripped off by Nanny or her agents. Their aims:

LMAG aims to STOP the tax farming abuse by London Councils and Transport for London.

We aim to EMPOWER London motorists in their fight against parking enforcement

And the website is:


There’s some useful information here, including some dreadful stories of overcharging and downright dishonesty in what LMAG calls ‘tax farming’, or Nanny authorised stealth taxation. Or, in some cases, plain fraud.

Many of us are being taken for a ride.

And not on a new bendy bus either.

Rebatable Benefit

Jacques Chirac may have stopped short of gloating about Britain’s surrender of part of the European Union rebate, but his extravagant praise for Tony Blair was the last thing the prime minister will have wanted to hear.

The French president went on television and radio from the Elysée to applaud Mr Blair’s “courage, initiative and responsibility” in making the concessions that led to agreement in Saturday’s small hours.

Mr Chirac said it was a “good deal” in which “an ambitious Europe showed solidarity with each other, rallied around this budget and made a political point”.

Call me an old cynic but I think we’ve been shafted. Well done Prime Minister.

The demise of the machines

When you call your bank does it drive you crazy that you can never seem to find a person?

When all you want to do is find out what time the shop closes but you can’t until you’ve entered your account number, passcode, mothers maiden name and inside leg measurement and been on hold for 3 days?

We all know why service providers have all gone electronic. It’s all about saving money and absolutely sod all to do with providing a service. Irony anyone?

Well, all this is about to change: log on to http://www.paulenglish.com/ivr/

This american has set up a site with the ‘cheat sheets’ for a host of major companies and will be providing a UK version in the near future. The tips he provides help you to beat the system and get through to a person. For example, when calling American Airlines, press 00, then say ‘agent’

If you know any, do provide them to him and we can start waging our own battle to bring back people for us to talk to. You never know, it might take off and be a new marketing ploy….. actually I’ve heard that it already has in some areas. The return of customer service.


Heaven and Hell

In 2050 A.D. Bill Gates died in a car accident. He found himself in Purgatory being sized up by God…

“Well, Bill, I’m really confused on this call. I’m not sure whether to send you to Heaven or Hell. After all, you enormously helped society by putting a computer in almost every home in the world and yet you created that ghastly Windows 95. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. In your case, I’m going to let you decide where you want to go!”

Bill replied, “Well, thanks, God. What’s the difference between the two?”

God said, “I’m willing to let you visit both places briefly if it will help you make a decision.”

“Fine, but where should I go first?”

God said, “I’m going to leave that up to you.”

Bill said, “OK, then, let’s try Hell first.”

So Bill went to Hell. It was a beautiful, clean, sandy beach with clear waters. There were thousands of beautiful women running around, playing in the water, laughing and frolicking about. The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect. Bill was very pleased.

“This is great!” he told God. “If this is Hell, I REALLY want to see Heaven!”

“Fine,” said God and off they went. Heaven was a high place in the clouds,with angels drifting about playing harps and singing. It was nice but not as enticing as Hell.

Bill thought for a quick minute and rendered his decision. “Hmm, I think I prefer Hell” he told God.

“Fine,” retorted God, “as you desire.”

So Bill Gates went to Hell.

Two weeks later, God decided to check up on the late billionaire to see how he was doing in Hell. When God arrived in Hell, he found Bill shackled to a wall, screaming amongst the hot flames in a dark cave. He was being burned and tortured by demons.

“How’s everything going, Bill?” God asked.

Bill responded, his voice full of anguish and disappointment, “This is awful, this is not what I expected. I can’t believe this happened. What happened to that other place with the beaches and the beautiful women playing in the water?”

God smiled and said, “That was the screen saver.”