Posts Tagged ‘thoughts

26
Jan
09

Have you got bird flu? Here are the symptoms

There I was, all smugly bored about bird flu, looking forward to panicking about something new and exciting, like the credit crunch, and what happens? Six new cases of bird flu have been confirmed in China and suddenly we’re all watching the skies again.

For the past two years, the papers have been filled to the brim with stories about bird flu which, we were told, would single-handedly wipe out half the population, like the Black Death with wings, feathers and really horrible, scaly feet.

Suddenly, birds were our enemies. We used to marvel at the timeless grace of a flock of swans sweeping across the sky but overnight they became the advance guard of the Armageddon.

If you found a dead bird, the only decent thing to do was to shoot yourself in the head to avoid infecting your children, pausing only to set all your clothes and belongings on fire to prevent the virus spreading.

Then, of course, nothing happened, other than the death of one swan in a Scottish village. By Christmas 2007, we’d even put away the staff shotgun which we used during lunch hours and tea breaks to pick off passing birds we didn’t like the look of.

I don’t mean to sound like a cynical old goat, but I have to confess that I was beginning to believe that the whole thing had been blown out of all proportion. I mean, how many times can Britain come to the brink of catastrophic destruction and escape unscathed? This is the UK, not Die Hard 2.

Just when I’d let my defences down, made myself a cup of tea and was preparing to have a nice afternoon panicking about global warming, the news broke that an outbreak of bird flu had been confirmed in the far east (by which I mean the orient, not Norfolk).

If you ask me, we should have been better prepared: birds have been showing signs of insurgence for years.

Seagulls, for example, started acting up in 2004. Thanks to rising obesity levels – particularly amongst those who holiday in our less salubrious coastal resorts – there was no longer a constant supply of fish and chip leftovers for the gulls to polish off. Unwilling to spend days at sea hunting for fish which wouldn’t come in batter or with a side-serving of mushy peas, they headed for the bright lights and burger bars of the cities.

But the greedy gulls didn’t stop at ransacking bins. Soon they started concentrating on the diner, rather than the dinner.

In London, Brighton and Scotland gulls attacked people in the street, swooping at 40mph, their cruel beaks filled with the scent of what cannibals  refer to as long pig. In Wales, they even managed to kill a man – we can’t say Hitchcock didn’t warn us.

Peter Rock, Britain’s leading gull expert (as opposed to all those other gull charlatans) has warned the gull population will be “monstrous” by 2014 and that soon we will all be living indoors and hiding in the shadows to avoid becoming the latest victim of a fly-by killing.

I paraphrase only slightly.

“If they swoop, it’s death,” Mr Rock reassured us all, “in order to shoot the lot, you’d need an army”.

I know where you live

I know where you live

There are only five years to go until seagulls outnumber humans and we are all answering to our feathered masters, although to be fair, half of us will have died after contracting bird flu, so it’s not as bad as it could have been.

While I expect all of you have already assembled a well-stocked “bird flu pantry”, crammed with bottled water, tinned tuna and gold bars (for when civil unrest causes the collapse of all banks, as opposed to the recession), it is important that we are all able to recognize the signs of bird flu in humans.

They are, handily, pretty much the same symptoms you’d expect to have for every other common illness.

Look out for a high fever, chest congestion, nausea, fatigue and aching in the joints. And if you suddenly have an irresistible urge to empty your bowels over a freshly-washed windscreen, don’t hesitate: dial 999.

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22
Jan
09

PE knickers and the newest way to skive school – get so fat you can’t fit under a desk

School children have come up with a cunning new way to skive lessons – they’re becoming too fat to fit under their desks.

According to a policy commission on the future of education, standard school furniture is based on measurements made in the 1960s when children were smaller and thinner. New research suggests that the average height of children has increased at the rate of 1cm a decade, with the majority of growth in the lower leg, and that the prevalence of obesity among pupils has risen from around five per cent in 1985 to 15 per cent in 2008.

Positively anorexic in comparison to schoolchildren in 2009

Positively anorexic in comparison to schoolchildren in 2009

I’m not sure about you, but when I read those figures I’m not worrying about school furniture, I’m worrying about 1,000 years hence, when all our children will have lower legs that are a full metre longer than they are today.

They’ll look like grasshoppers. Finding them a pair of trousers or some wellies that fit will be even more of a nightmare than it is now.

Additionally, if the obesity crisis continues rising at its current pace, those spindly lower legs aren’t going to be of any use whatsoever – the first time children stand up they’ll buckle under their own gigantic weight and need to be wheeled around on giant skateboards for life. Thank God I’ll be dead by then.

According to studies, unless schools start ‘going large’ with their school furniture orders, children’s schoolwork could suffer as back pain distracts their attention and causes absence from school.

We may not have had an over-sized obesity problem at my high school, but we did have more than our fair share of those freakish early-developers who reach puberty at six and look like 45-year-olds by the time they’re 12, and they managed to fit under the desks.

As for myself, I certainly wasn’t overweight at school, although I may have been slightly under-height for my weight.

But even at my lowest height, ahem, I could still fit under a school desk and have room for a copy of Jackie magazine to read during geography, particularly when we were learning about the import and export trade in Nigeria (a subject as relevant to my life then as it is now, ie not at all).

Maintaining a healthy weight in those days meant not being so fat that your thighs persistently rubbed against the chewing gum left on the bottom of the desk by its previous occupant. These days it means being slender enough not to require being washed with a rag on a stick.

Namby-pamby excuses about desks and bad backs would have been met with hollow laughter and a month of lunchtime detentions in the lair of the terrifying bearded maths teacher whose hatred of young people was considered a bonus, rather than an impediment, to his teaching career.

It practically took the production of a death certificate to get you out of PE lessons, let alone ordinary lessons, and even if you had that, you’d still be expected to carry the netball bibs, keep score and apply pressure to wounds when required.

Forget about small desks and chairs causing backache, the PE knickers at my school in the late 1980s caused the kind of injuries to one’s self esteem from which many, including me, never truly recovered.
Even the good-looking twig-legged girls struggled in those monstrosities, so for those of us who had nice personalities and arses so large they had their own gravitational pull and corresponding solar system, the knickers were an appallingly unsubtle form of torture.

Quite why fostering team spirit amongst people that, on the whole, you probably wouldn’t spit on if they were on fire was considered edifying is anyone’s guess.

More to the point, why that fostering had to be done while wearing a huge pair of pants made from  an exotic blend of manmade fibres – one stray spark during hockey practice and the entire school could have been blown sky-high – also remains at issue.

Skiving PE, unless you were a future Oscar winner, was difficult, but avoiding communal showering was attainable with that classic Get Out Of Jail Free card – your period (unless you were a boy, when it was less likely to work unless you were dealing with one of the foreign student teachers).

There were many girls in my class who appeared to defy biology and have their period every single week of the month in order to evade the showers, but it was when it came to  swimming that the menstrual situation got really out of hand.

In the end, we needed a letter from our parents to prove the painters were in – teachers rightly feared a situation where only one student ended up in the pool, the pregnant one from the fourth year who realised the period excuse was out of bounds for at least nine months.

Come to think of it, even she could get behind a school desk. Just how big are kids these days? Should I be saving up for a winch for when my children hit puberty?

I think all this trouble began when they got rid of the nit nurses.

21
Jan
09

Five most repulsive Valentine’s Day gifts from The 99p Shop

Money can’t buy you love – never has this phrase been so apt than when browsing the Valentine’s Day section at The 99p Shop. There, not only can money not buy you love, it probably can’t even buy you anything more than a withering glare and your marching orders.

I am not a rampant materialist. If money is too tight to mention, be inventive. Cut your loved one’s morning toast into heart shapes. Run them a bath. Give them the Findus Crispy Pancake that hasn’t exploded in the oven. Carve their initials into your flesh with a plastic set square. Just don’t get them one of these:

1) The Friendship Vase. Perhaps you’ve only just snared the object of your affection and don’t want to frighten them off by delivering a bouquet of roses made from your own hair and teeth, maybe you want to give a gift that says: ‘I want to make it clear that I haven’t committed to you yet’ or maybe you just don’t give a damn. Whatever the reason, nothing shows a special friend just how much they mean to you like a 99p vase holding a lurid blue plastic flower, except perhaps a fist in the face.

The vase that says...back off

The vase that says...back off

2) Yellow, purple and pink nylon knickers. Who says you can’t get sexy lingerie for 99p? I do. If you get a woman into these knickers, refrain from all heavy petting if you are within 25ft of a naked flame, are wearing a shell suit or have had a pacemaker fitted.

Also known as 'the firelighters'

This is not my arm. I am the woman in black

3) Kiss Here Posing Pouch (pube-free crotch not included): will only work if you administer a shot of Rophypnol 20 minutes before you slip into them, and then it’s still only a 50:50 chance of success. Even the catatonic have standards.

Contents may vary

Contents may vary

4) Bonsai garden: the art of bonsai is one that requires hours of study and dedication, an eye for detail and a delicate, deft touch. Alternatively, you could forget all that shit and get yourself a plastic bonsai tree for less than a quid – and who’ll tell the difference, apart from absolutely everybody? Included in the price is a mystic figure, who blows ancient wisdom from his preposterously large anus.

Morph had been comfort eating again

Morph had been comfort eating again

5) Inflatable Boob Pillow: Perfect for the partner who continually puts you down about the size of your breasts, for any fans of BBC3’s Grown Ups/Clone/Coming of Age (who will consider this an ‘intellectual’ gag in comparison) or as a bridging gift when you can’t quite afford to give her the boob job you’ve coerced her into agreeing to.

We're leading separate lives

We're leading separate lives

The worst Valentine’s Day present I ever received was glandular fever. But that’s another story. What’s the least romantic gift you’ve ever been given? The best answer doesn’t get the bonsai garden in the post.

19
Jan
09

Competition: Give me your tips on how to be utterly and completely miserable and win a prize!

Today is officially the most depressing day of the year – you probably haven’t noticed, because as far as all of us who don’t have birthdays in January are concerned, the entire month is packed with a grim succession of unrelentingly depressing, bleak days during which our only entertainment is limited to wringing out our shirts when they become overly-sodden with bitter tears.

I have long thought that there is a compelling argument for us all to go into hibernation on January 1 and not come out until Pancake Day. And, incidentally, that Pancake Day should be moved to June.

I see no way that today can be my most depressing day of the year – for a start, I’m not at work, secondly I’m not planning to leave the house all day, thirdly I just found £5 in a coat I haven’t worn for months. In fact the most depressing thing about today might well be the realisation that my worst day of the year is yet to come.

It might be tomorrow. It might be the next day. Considering my company is downsizing in March, it might be backdated until Spring.

If only misery could be scheduled into your diary for when you’ve got enough spare time to wallow in self-pity, rather than it biting you on the arse when you’ve got a million and one other things to do. Just what is our preoccupation with being happy all the time, anyway? Surely one cannot truly appreciate the sun without having experienced the rain?

With this cheery, positive thought in mind, I’m thinking of planning a truly terrible day so that when genuinely miserable things do happen, they’ll seem like a walk in the park by comparison.

If you’re keen to follow suit (and why wouldn’t you be? Who doesn’t enjoy a hell of their own making? What do you mean you didn’t spend half your teenage years in a darkened bedroom listening to The Cure and writing poetry?) I’ve compiled a handy, cut-out-and-keep fast-track guide to guaranteed desolation. I know: I spoil you lot.

1) Go into a mobile phone shop and ask for something really simple, like a mobile phone. Set the timer on your watch and observe as an hour of your life drains away while a teenager called Glenn drones on about contracts, talk-time, ‘free’ text messages which you pay through the nose for and then, inexplicably, gives you £15 of your own money back as ‘cashback’ when he could have just deducted £15 off the bill in the first place. Leave with a phone which cost you three times more than you intended to pay.

2) Take your children shopping to the supermarket. Enter into as many pointless rows about what you will and won’t buy as possible.
Try and include the phrase: “I don’t care what (insert name of child’s friend) x’s mother lets them eat” regularly. Leave in a cloud of shame as your offspring sob pitifully – and loudly – at the lack of Dairylea Lunchables and/or 2ft Lindt chocolate Easter bunnies in your trolley.

3) Decide that today is the day that you will get on top of your finances and sort out all that paperwork you’ve been avoiding for months. Read through all your old bank statements, circling all the purchases you made which were an utter waste of money and which brought you only spiritual hollowness and financial penury. Realise that you have spent £514 at Thresher in six weeks. Realise that your car insurance direct debit has mysteriously disappeared and that you have been driving illegally for the past nine months. Realise that your financial future involves queuing up at soup kitchens and carrying your bed in an Asda carrier bag. Spill tea over several vital documents. Go back to Thresher.

4) Clean the oven. Make sure you start less than 30 minutes before you have to go out and that you wear something white.

5) Try and get a cat in a cat basket. You may want to pick your day to be truly miserable on the basis of when you next need to take your cat to the vet. If you don’t have a cat, borrow the least friendly one you can find. For full effect, ensure that you forget to lock the cat flap and that you are wearing something flimsy and sleeveless as you attempt to force a formidably large cat into a formidably small basket.

6) Google all the hobbies, pastimes and vices which make your life worth living and realise that everything you do is killing you, in a really horrific way. Do not allow yourself the luxury of marvelling that you’ve made it to your grand old age without succumbing to heart disease/cancer or a whole host of stress-related illnesses – they’re in the post.

All together now, stop being so bloody chirpy and join me in a mission to reclaim misery for ourselves. And there’s a prize* for whoever comes up with their own top tips for being utterly desolate – put the meths down, wipe away the tears and leave me your comments.

* Terms and conditions apply and will be made up on the spot by me when I find a winner.

16
Jan
09

footage of the Hudson River crash – the fact that there isn’t any is probably a bigger story

Chesley B Sullenberger III – such a good name, his family chose it three times.

Mr Sullenberger heroically managed to land the Airbus he was captaining into the River Hudson saving the lives of 155 people, although he did fly into a flock of geese in the first place, so the sainthood’s on ice until we ascertain whether or not the geese were part of a suicide flock intent on ascending to heaven to claim their 72 virgins.

Incredible as those pictures of the passengers standing on the wings of the aircraft waiting to be rescued were, we all have to admit that it would have been far more incredible to actually watch footage of the plane descending into the river. I can’t remember the last major disaster which wasn’t captured by someone on their mobile phone – I’ve almost got to the point where I don’t believe something has actually happened until I watch it unfold on a poor quality piece of video narrated by someone shouting ‘oh my GOD!’ over and over again.

I thought 9/11 illustrated to us just how many people spend time aimlessly videoing the sky on the off-chance that something unbelievable might happen. Not yesterday afternoon, though, clearly. Not on a busy stretch of water a stone’s throw from the Statue of Liberty, one of the most photographed and videoed landmarks IN THE WORLD.

There’s nothing for it, Mr Sullenberger is just going to have to do it again. This time while we’re actually watching.

15
Jan
09

My implant hell, or how I spent £7,000 in the name of vanity*

Finally, the wait is over.

After two and a half years of monthly dental treatment, financed by the sale of three kidneys (one each from me and the kids) and a second mortgage, my teeth are now complete.

I now have Tom Cruise’s stature AND his smile, and now must only find myself a Hollywood wife, a Nazi costume and an unshakeable belief that an galactic overlord came to earth 75 million years ago and infected us all with alien juice to complete the metamorphosis.

Despite my anally-retentive dental routine, three years ago I realised that something was rotten in the state of Denmark, namely a tooth towards the back of my mouth which throbbed so insistently that in some ways it became a surrogate wristwatch, marking out the seconds, minutes and hours in which I could neither sleep, eat or speak.

I knew my infected tooth needed immediate attention, but just to make sure my self-diagnosis was correct, I waited another six months to be on the safe side – there’s no point rushing into these things.

By the time I crawled to the dentist, my drug habit dwarfed Pete Doherty’s and my tooth had taken on a life of its own; one that involved causing me as much agony as possible – a bit like Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms album stuck on repeat.

Having finally been forced by those around me to go to the dentist and undergone an appointment where I had ignobly burst into tears and had to be sent home to calm down like an over-emotional schoolgirl, I was finally treated and felt the true glory of a life without pain – right up until the moment I paid the bill.

From then on, it was downhill all the way. My calcium-leeching children had sucked all the goodness from my bones in the womb, leaving practically every tooth as precariously wobbly and unreliable as Britney Spears beside the punch bowl at a playschool barbecue.

The dentist broke it to me gently (at first with pliers and then with a bandsaw) and told me that to sort out my teeth I was going to have to have numerous treatments over several years which would include deep root canal, bone regeneration, surgery, extraction, antibiotics and implants.

I was so shocked that I didn’t even ask why I needed breast surgery. It seemed like the least of my worries.

My plan to have the troublesome tooth treated and then skulk away to my lair, tail between legs and floss between teeth until a check-up that I’d agreed to attend without any real intention of ever doing so, evaporated to dust.

Suddenly, I was spending more time with my dentist than I did with my friends and loved ones, which was a blessing in disguise for my friends and loved ones, because for quite some time, all I could bang on about was my teeth.

In a bid to bring my mouth up to 21st century standards, or even 18th century standards, I have spent around £7,000, with £4,000 of that spent on just four teeth (two implants, two porcelain veneers) – muggers from now on will ignore my wallet (emptied by dentists) and head straight for my gnashers.

I may be in debt for the rest of my life, but at least I can eat an apple. If it’s mashed up. And eaten through a straw.

I think the highlight of my treatment was the removal of an infected tooth without anaesthetic (you can’t anaesthetise infected tissue, as I found out after I’d been strapped to Sweeney Todd’s chair and watched him swallow the key to the door) in a scene reminiscent of the kind of back-street dentistry which went on in Dickens’ day. All that was missing was a match girl freezing to death in the corner and a rat the size of a Jack Russell looking on dispassionately as I stoically bore the pain in the only way I knew how; by screaming like a toddler in a shoe shop.

But it hasn’t all been bad. Very often it’s been bloody awful.

Along the way there’s been blood, sweat, tears, laughter (albeit ironic laughter when my dentist asked me if I was planning any holidays and I told him that I thought this year I’d stick to just paying for his instead) pain, infections and financial ruin. Mainly just the tears, the blood and the bankruptcy, to be honest, but to focus on the positive, I now have enough titanium rods in my mouth to audition for a role as a villain in James Bond.

With hindsight, I am glad that I had the work done and I’m sure that when they’re old enough for me to explain the situation to them, the children will understand why Christmas stopped for them in 2005.

Look on the bright side, I’ll tell them. I had my teeth done on the NHS – if I’d gone private you wouldn’t have any vital organs left.

* Maybe I should have qualified – when I said ‘implants’ I meant teeth, not tits. Sorry if I mislead you. I’m not sorry. But you knew that.

14
Jan
09

Forget sat nav: my primary school promised me I’d have a hover car by the year 2000. The liars.

I fear for future generations, I really do.

They’ll already be hampered with giant thumbs thanks to the genetic legacy handed down to them by forefathers who spent 23 out of every 24 hours texting and now they’re destined to drive aimlessly over cliffs because no one in the world will be able to read a map thanks to in-car satellite navigation systems.

A recent report revealed that UK drivers trust their sat-nav systems more than they trust their own eyes; just allow a few seconds for that sentence to sink into your brain before you take to your bed and weep for a week over the lost innocence of maps.

In the past, sat-nav owners have driven into the River Avon and to the edge of a 100-foot drop because their tracking gizmos told them to. An ambulance crew transferring a patient 12 miles from Ilford to Brentwood drove 200 miles in the wrong direction because they were following directions from their sat-nav system.

At some point, surely, you’d think they might have noticed that the half hour journey was taking around four hours longer than usual. But no – it’s this kind of blind obedience that helped Hitler get a foothold in Germany.

The real irony is that the youth of today (my descent into the world of the bitter old goat continues apace – next I’ll be berating the charts for not having any songs with lyrics) absolutely hate being told what to do, yet they’re all queuing up like lemmings to buy a box which tells them what to do ALL THE TIME.

It doesn’t even convert into a TV when it’s not barking orders at you.

If it’s not telling you what to do, it’s telling you just how depressing the road ahead will be; roadworks, traffic jams, accidents, hairpin bends, hurricanes, plagues of locusts – they all lie ahead.

Frankly, I’d rather not know. Being stuck in a motionless line of traffic is the only chance I get to have some of this “me” time I’m always being told about in glossy magazines.

This week, while out and about in my car, two drivers allowed their vehicles to roll backwards into mine while fiddling with their sat-nav.

One had the good grace to wave at me apologetically, the other simply drove away, probably because his sat-nav told him to.

Personally, I like living on the razor’s edge and relying only on a road atlas bought from a Jet garage in 1988 as a means to convey me from one location to another. Isn’t part of the joy of a family day trip the prospect of spending at least a quarter of the journey aimlessly winging it and lying to the children about knowing precisely where you are?

Admittedly, this policy has led to some spectacular “short cuts” through Wales on the way from Norwich to King’s Lynn, but at least I was the master of my own destiny and to my credit, I didn’t end up in a river or dangling from the edge of a cliff.

By the time my children have cars (which, by the way, will be never unless they arrange a police and paramedic escort for every journey they undertake) they won’t need to drive at all, they’ll just get in a car, telepathically relate where they want to go to some kind of gigantic brain on the dashboard and then sit back while the on-board robot serves them moon pills and space juice and drives them straight into the nearest reservoir.

Showing my kids a map and asking them if they could use it to get from a to b will be like giving you or I a mangle, a bar of soap and a tin bucket and asking us to spend the entire day scrubbing the family’s smalls.

They’ll have braying computers built into their toilets to remind them to wipe their bums and wash their hands and a microchip in their forehead telling them when to breathe.

Before sat-nav salesmen grab their green biros to point out to me that their systems are marvellous and I’m the kind of technophobe who makes the sign of a cross if anyone uses so much as a microwave oven in my eyeshot, let me point out that new research proves that I’m right.

Computer Which? a magazine for fearsomely clever boffins who don’t fly into a panic if people start talking to them about jpegs and motherboards commissioned a survey to see just how reliable sat-nav systems are.

The research revealed that an £8 road atlas beat a high-tech satellite navigation system on a simple 70 mile journey, despite the latter costing more than 28 times the price of the book.

Granted, the AA book didn’t look quite as good mounted on the dashboard, but it worked, although to be fair, the survey did note “you need a level-headed passenger with map-reading skills” which cancels out a great deal of hollow-skulled halfwits to whom maps are like flat pack instruction manuals written in Sanskrit.

In a manner of speaking, sat-nav systems are a perfect example of Darwinism – if you blindly drive your car into a ford or to the edge of a cliff because a jumped-up calculator tells you to then you’re proving the theory that only the fittest deserve to survive.




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