Adams was right

Anyone who’s come to this blog expecting me to be endorsing the views of the Sinn Féin leader (as if!), I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

No, the heading actually refers to the late Douglas Adams, author of the best-selling book, TV series, radio series and posthumously released film The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well as a number of other less well-known works, including a brief stint as a script writer on Doctor Who in the late 1970s – when thanks to an ingenious piece of casting (take a bow Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks) the Doctor was a tall thin wide-eye, toothy-grinned maverick with a crazy mop of curly hair and a long scarf – not the floppy haired 16-year old indie boy twat that he is today.

In the light of the current financial crisis affecting Ireland (or more specifically the 26 counties of it lying south and west of the border) and a number of other small eurozone countries the following extract form THHGTTG carries a great deal of currency (pun intended), especially the section I’ve italicised.

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this, at a distance of roughly ninety million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet, whose ape descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

[Remember this was the late ‘70s when digital watches were at the cutting edge of technology and modern style in much the same way as the i-pad is today].

This planet has, or had, a problem, which was this. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small, green pieces of paper, which is odd, because on the whole, it wasn’t the small, green pieces of paper which were unhappy. And so the problem remained, and lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans. And then one day, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl, sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realised what it was that had been going wrong all this time and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no-one would have to get nailed to anything. Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass and so the idea was lost forever.”

Classic stuff.


Oil company forced to Shell out millions


Shell Oil has agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $15.5 million with the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria after a legal battle lasting almost 14 years.  In agreeing to this settlement Shell is effectively admitting guilt for  human rights abuses, including complicity in the murder of Ogoni activist the writer Ken Sara Wiwa.  This landmark victory sends out a powerful message to big multi-nationals with no regard for human rights or the environment who think they can run rough-shod over anyone who gets in the way of their blood-money making activities.

Experimental Short Term Vegetarianism Part 2


Return of the giant hogweed -"Botanical creature stirs seeking revenge..."

Return of the giant hogweed -"Botanical creature stirs seeking revenge..."

 My short-lived experiment with vegetarianism came to an end quite some time ago.

I nevertheless made the effort to try and understand the mind-set of a vegetarian.

I can see for instance why one might treat the idea of eating red meat with revulsion.  One can develop an attachment to a mammal, particularly if its raised from an early age. Cattle and pigs especially can be friendly creatures. In fields, they will often come up to the gate to greet you. Sheep on the other hand stare at you passively and zombie-like, then continue to graze as if oblivious to their own existence.  And leaving aside the welfare the animal in question, there is also the welfare of one’s arteries and heart at stake here.  No pun intended.

Fish, however is a different story.  To my knowledge it’s impossible for a human to have any emotional bond with a fish. OK, there are ethical reasons, such as principled opposition to overfishing, but if one boycotts certain threatened species this problem is solved in one fell swoop.  The health reason argument here is a no-brainer. OK, then lead and mercury contaminants in polluted seas enterig the food chain is a valid point, but think of the essential omega 3 oils and various vitamins, etc you get from oily fish like mackerel and herring.

Despite all this, I certainly eat less meat than I used to. Ironically though I am making a conscious effort to eat more fish.  I’ve even started to use vegetarian mincemeat substitute for spaghetti bolognese. It’s nowhere near as good as the real thing of course, and lacks in taste, but at least it’s filling. I’ve also got into salads more.

So while I would admit that vegetarianism can be quite a noble pursuit in the interests of health and ethical concerns my problem is that roast lamb or beef, good quality ham or bacon just tastes too damn delicious to give up.

In order to be a committed vegetarian it probably helps immensely if you don’t like meat in the first place.

So while I could never envisage becoming a full time vegetarian (unless for health reasons I was forced to), I still feel it does no harm to reduce one’s meat consumption to a minimum.

A Fang-tastic time in Transylvania…

Autumnal woodland in the Carpathian Mountains

Autumnal woodland in the Carpathian Mountains...but all those long bus journeys were a bloody pain in the neck. Cue eerie, deathly silence punctuated by the swoosh of tumble weeds in the whistling wind and the distant clanging of a funeral bell…then the shouts of "get off!" just before the bottles start to fly...I’ll get my coat.

When in Rome…except this is Romania.  A statue of Romulus and Remus with friendly wolf in Sighiosoara, one of many such monuments dotted across the country, where Romanians pay tribute to their Latin heritage.wolf1
Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes, the sadistic Transylvanian aristocrat who was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula


Right: Statue of Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes, the sadistic Wallachian aristocrat who provided the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.


Below: Romanian fishmongers are brutally honest about the quality of their merchandise.  Yes, “crap” really is the Romanian for carp

Below: Amazing transformations will take place when you swim in this pool…


Below: Communist era apartment blocks in Clujcluj1

Below: the medieval old town square in Brasov, a legacy of the Saxon occupation of Transylvania – or Siebenburgen (Seven Towns) to give it its German name


Below: Memorial to the struggle against communism (1944-89)in Brasovmemorial

cluj21 Above: Orthodox cathedral, Cluj

Below: the cross at Bran Castle

crossbranBelow: The legacy of Ceaucescu – one of many abandoned factories scattered throughout the Romanian countrysidefactory

catAbove: Since finding a cat that looks like Hitler in Sarajevo in 2006, it’s been my ambition to trawl Eastern Europe for other felines resembling European dictators.  Admittedly the above specimen from the Carpathian mountains looks nothing like Ceacescu, Stalin or Tito, but I like the picture nevertheless

A Reasoned and Considered Rant against Big Corporate Brands and Globalisation

The anti-globalisation movement hasn’t had the best public image, with the stereotype of the dreadlock-adorned, dayglo-wearing lentil and organic rice-eating new age type with multiple piercings and henna tattoos. But in the age of global economic meltdown and credit crunches, such beliefs are becoming more mainstream.

Opposition to the dominance of big corporate brands over small businesses and traditional cottage industries shouldn’t by any means be in the exclusive interests of dreadlock-adorned, dayglo-wearing lentil and organic rice-eating new age types, nor even of the political left. We should all be concerned.

Do we want the traditional earthy pub like the Blue Tiger, the Frog and Fuck, the Puke of Pork – with their real ales beloved of bearded chunky sweater wearing CAMRA types, the old guy in the corner who reminisces about the old times to anyone who’ll listen to him, the barstool bore who knows the solution to all the world’s problems but will only tell you if you buy him a pint, the amateur Casanova who, despite rapidly expanding beer belly and thinning hairline tries (however unsuccessfully) to chat up the well-endowed barmaid – to be replaced by shallow, characterless chains like Whateverspoons or All Bar None frequented by pin-striped city types crying into their Pimms or trendy designer lagers, (a bottle of which costs the equivalent of the government bail-out of the said banks) after being made redundant by Deutsche Wank and blowing their million pound pay-offs on coke and hookers.

Imagine your local town centre being taken over by Starfucks, Boots, Specsavers, McDonalds, O’Neills (the plastic Paddy Irish pub chain that is, not the popular Irish sportswear manufacturer), WH Smiths et al. Or has this already happened?

It’s a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the comedian and Socialist Workers party supporter Mark Steel in his latest book “What’s It All About”:


“Now you could go to a shopping centre in Croydon, Penzance, Lincoln or Dundee, and guarantee there’d be a Body Shop, Clinton Cards, Going Places Travel, HMV, Waterstones, fake Irish pub, Wetherspoons, Pizza Hut with a little glass screw-top jar of Parmesan cheese, JJB Sports, Burger King, a bloke in a green pullover trying to recruit you into the AA and a bunch of Peruvians playing ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ on the poxy panpipes”.


Go to an independent café rather than Starfucks or Costa Coffe (Costa Fortune more like) and you invariably get more generous portions often of superior quality and value for money. Who wants to go to Caffe Grande Cazzo sponsored by Figlio di Putana casual wear and pay £5.50 for a prosciutto and mozarella pannini (basically a glorified ham and cheese toastie) or £3.00 for a thimble full of espresso which you can down in one go and it barely fill a cavity in your tooth?

An Americano used to be what Clint Eastwood in a poncho was called by the Mexican bandits in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, but now it’s a fucking coffee.  And I thought moccachinos were what Italian American Indians wore on their feet.

You couldn’t make it up.

Experimental Short Term Vegetarianism

Triffids - very much non-vegetarian vegetables

Triffids - very much non-vegetarian vegetables

Over the last few weeks I’ve been dabbling with semi-vegetariansim (“semi” that is I still eat fish). It’s partially for health reasons and partially as a challenge to see how long I can go without meat. If nothing else it’s also a useful excercise in self-discipline. I don’t think I could ever give up meat permanently though, unless forced to under strict doctor’s orders. The thought of never again having roast lamb and mint sauce or chicken as part of a Sunday roast or forgoing the Christmas turkey and ham would fill me with dread. But recently I’ve been forsaking the usual lunchtime ham in my sandwiches for hummus and red peppers or cheddar with onion relish, tomatoes and red onion. Instead of beef or bacon in my pasta sauces I’ve been using celery, aubergines, courgettes carrots and peppers. While it hasn’t been terribly difficult to avoid meat, the food does come across a tad blander without it. I’m not into the meat substitute products like bean burgers or quorn mince though as for all you know what kind of chemicals and crap are in them, you’re probably just as safe eating proper meat. If you’re going veggie you might as well eat real vegetables.

With all the recent scares stories about BSE, battery hens, meat pumped full of hormones and mercury levels in tuna, it’s not surprising that many people have gone down the vegetarian route. But if we knew where the meat came from and could follow its route from bull to beef, pig to bacon knowing it had been reared in natural conditions and free of additives there wouldn’t be a problem. That is if you’re abstaining for health reasons. Then on the far side are those militant vegetaran types who believe it’s unethical to farm animals in the first place. A bizarre position to take when you consider the idea of cattle, sheep and pigs running wild around the country.

The krynoid's out for revenge on Dr Who for eating that lettuce and cucumber salad

The krynoid

John Cleese was supposed to have said something along the lines of “If God didn’t want us to eat animals he wouldn’t have made them out of meat”. He’s got a point. But for the time being I’ll suppress my carnivorous desires. After all Christmas isn’t too long to wait for that turkey drumstick or succulent slices of ham spiced with cloves and honey.

The perils of vegetarianism…the krynoid’s out for revenge on Doctor Who and Sarah for eating that cucumber and lettuce salad…

“Water they like?” OR “How l’eau can you g’eau?”

During my lunch break a few days I was quenching my thirst with water from a Volvic bottle.  It was actually tap water with which I had filled the used plastic bottle with after the real Volvic (filtered through layers of volcanic rock apparently) had run out.  I didn’t have the luxury of a newspaper or any other reading material to hand, so to keep my mind occupied I read the label on the bottle to get a look at the mineral composition of its original contents.  Nothing particularly spectacular or amazing – 13.5 mg/litre of chlorides, 11.5 of calcium, 6.3 of nitrates etc – but further down I noticed the following:

“Bottle intended exclusively for the use of Volvic Natural Mineral Water, do not refill”

And all this time I had refilled the bottle several times over a period of many months totally ignorant of Volvic’s non-refill policy.  Eau Neau!  On the very same bottle Volvic were patting themselves on the back by proudly and loudly announcing that for every 1litre purchased they would donate 10 litres of drinking water through their well-creation programmes in Ghana, Malawi and Zambia.  So this is a company which claims to care so much about the thirsty children of Africa’s parched interior, yet they don’t want you to re-use their bottles.  Very environmentally friendly and conscientious indeed when you consider the grossly unnecessary waste caused by thrown-away plastic.  I have ignored this ridiculous policy of course and intend to go on doing so by refilling my bottle as many times as I like.

So in the highly unlikely event that anyone from Volvic in Puy de Dôme is reading this – my question to you is – “what are you going to do about it?“ or  “qu’est-ce vous allez faire?”