Sunday, 28 March 2010

Loser Eats Win

It's a sad but honest fact that some people don't deserve to win things in life. Sure, I know that sounds a little harsh. But it's true. Classic example?

Ryanair Scratch-card Guy.

Flying on Ryanair from Poland to the East Midlands last month, our loser decided he would purchase one of the inflight scratch-card tickets. Somehow, somewhere in the deepest illogical corner of the universe, chances gave him a winning ticket. He won €10,000.

What happened next is somewhat extraordinary (and has become a classic example of why losers shouldn't win).

I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in that aircraft cabin. However all I have to go on are snippets from the newspaper article, and this is my own re-enactment of what reportedly happened:

Passenger (to Steward) : "Excuse me, I've won €10,000 on my scratch card."
Steward (delighted) : "Wow! Congratulations sir! ( To rest of plane) We have a winner here, folks!"
Passenger: "So, good, can I have my money please?"
Steward : "My good man, you'll have to wait till we land; then you can claim your prize from the scratchcard company."
Passenger: "What?! No! I want my money this minute! How dare you keep it from me!"
Steward (grin fading) : "Uh, but Sir, we don't have that kind of money knocking about the aircraft. It's in a safe place, with the scratch card company...."
Passenger: "It's my money! You swine!"
Steward: "Look, Sir, you can claim it when you land, you will get your money..."
Passenger (standing) : "This is an outrage! You thieves! You liars! You toy with my emotions! I shall not be a pawn in your ridiculous game!" (Stuffs ticket in mouth) Steward: "Woah! Uh! Wait, Sir, you don't want to do that. Just sit down, and..."
 Passenger (wide-eyed, mouth full of ticket) : "MMPPPH!" (Swallows ticket)
 Steward (eyes wide): "But...!" Passenger : "I will never fly your airline again, you crazy man!"

Ryanair donated the money to charity.

Losers should not be winners. It completely puts the entire universal balance out of order. Yet, this is what happens. Foolish people win money, get angry and eat their ticket. Nice sane people with big mortgages and rising debts don't get three matching symbols, and have to eat baked beans.

 The only consolation anyone has from this is knowing that charity gained.

Well that, and also imagining what that chap's wife must have done when she found out.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Plane Ridiculous

An airport worker is "traumatised" after her colleague used one of the new 'naked' body scanners on her while making lewd comments. Needless to say this is disgusting behaviour and I hope the louse gets fired. Yet this only fuels my abhorrence for these scanners and their ability to see through people's clothing. It's like something from the sci-fi fantasy of a horny adolescent geek.
If airport staff are traumatised by someone ogling their naked form, then has anybody considered that passengers will feel equally distressed by undergoing such indecency? I already anticipate having my dignity stripped away whenever I fly. Instructed to take off layers of clothing, and my shoes, to pass through security, I am then - semi-clad and barefoot - given a full body rub-down by a strange woman whose name I don't even know.

All this to go on holiday, eh?

I don't like these scanners, and if the day comes where I am forced to walk through one, I would rather opt for a pat-down and bag search... although if do take that option I risk being denied boarding. Taking off my shoes is one thing, but being seen naked by strangers to make sure I am not concealing explosives is the final straw for me. Frankly, I'd rather travel by train if only it were always a viable option. (This is a good move for environmentalists, it must be said).

Airline representatives can bleat on all they want about these naked images not being kept, or looked at for too long, but the fact remains - people I don't know get to see my private parts, and nobody can guarantee that lewd thoughts don't cross their minds, even for a second. This is the sort of treatment criminals get when being shuffled between prisons, and the general population does not deserve it.

Up until the introduction of the scanners, I thought airlines had gone bonkers enough. Let's consider the liquid restrictions on carry-on baggage. Passengers are forbidden to take liquids onboard of more than 100ml per item. (Unless, of course, you purchase them after you've cleared security. This prevents you from bringing on anything expensive that you could be buying from Duty Free instead. Hats off, this is smart business). The thing that really intrigues me, however, is the logic behind these restrictions on liquids.
A group of nutcase extremists once attempted to blow up a flight by packing some liquid explosives in their carry-on luggage. Their plan was to gather their materials together and construct the bomb on board the aircraft. Apparently they had two kinds of liquid explosives - one carried inside batteries (which, by the way, you are still allowed to take in your hand luggage), and the other carried inside 500ml drink bottles. Fortunately these human stains were caught before they could go through with it.

Following this near-miss, it seems a few chaps on a committee were feeling the pressure. So they got together and decided that from now on, passengers would only be permitted to carry containers of liquids no larger than 100ml, which they would present to security in a clear plastic bag. I do not fathom that they believed this would prevent such a threat from happening again. It wouldn't.

When I travel I can take at least six 100ml containers with me whilst keeping within security guidelines. Is 600ml of liquid in separate containers safer than 500ml of liquid in one bottle? Certainly it allows airport staff to keep an eye on things (other than our private parts, of course) but realistically, if extremists wanted to harm us again, this is not going to stop them. They can buy bottles of water once they clear security, decant their 100ml bottles of liquid into them, keep calm and carry on. (Sure I don't know the first thing about explosives, but I hear these terrorists are pretty persistent).

Similar confusing logic applies to the restrictions on hand baggage. Personally, I refuse to pay exorbitant amounts to check in a suitcase these days, and have now mastered the art of travelling with hand baggage only. I measure my baggage before I travel to ensure I am within the size restrictions. Weight might be another matter, although I find if I carry my bag on my shoulder, and act like it weighs nothing, nobody checks.

This is where it really gets ridiculous.

If you do get your bag weighed, and it's over the weight limit, you have to pay for it to go into the hold. Unless, of course, you take out some of your clothing items, and put them on. This is fine. It's also fine if you give some of your items to your travelling companion, if their bag is under the limit.

I cannot be the first person to realise that you are STILL TAKING THE SAME WEIGHT ONBOARD? All the rapped-knuckle-logic being spouted by the fluoro-clad airport staff about the importance of weight restrictions is ludicrous. It's fantasy. If my bag is 5kg overweight, and I take out 5kg of clothing and wear it on the flight, (where I will then take it off and put it back in my bag before I am seated), it makes no difference to anyone. Except the airline, who look like they are in control of the situation, should a situation ever occur.

(I don't blame the general airport staff - I have worked for major airlines in my time, and one of the reasons I left the business was because I didn't like spouting nonsense to passengers, when I knew it didn't make sense. I think it's safe to say most staff don't agree with, or even understand, half of what they are told to enforce).

This feels too much like a case of needing to be seen to take preventative measures, rather than taking measures that are actually preventative. Such measures probably don’t exist, short of banning everyone from flying. Taking religion's route of using fear and guilt to control the masses, these rules appear to be in place for no other reason than to make us feel like we're being protected. Yet at what cost? Where does the attempt to control our safety actually end?
Gone are the days of going on holiday and enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Now we are tagged, stripped, patted-down, searched, scanned, fined, and our good shampoo confiscated before we even get there.

Do I feel safe? I really couldn't say yes.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sew Cool

I have always loved the idea of making my own clothes. When I was in high school there was a girl I was friends with who simply oozed coolness from every pore. She also had a little sister who was equally cool - so much so, I invited her to join my band, in hope it would increase our cool credentials. (It did not, but this just says everything about our band).

The thing about the Cool Sisters is that they had a mother who could sew, and who would make, at her daughters' regular bidding, all sorts of eclectic digs. I was intrigued - the coolest thing I owned was a pair of charity shop denim, high-waisted flares. (I know. Not actually cool. But I loved them).

Of course, the reason this seemed so radical was because making your own clothes was no longer common practice. Times had changed, and sewing was no longer the most practical way to clothe a family. The rise of readily-available acrylic clothing provided a more practical option and sewing had begun to die out.

My own mother didn't sew. She was an excellent knitter, but who could bear to see a child destroy weeks of hard work with one tree-climb? So I knew I couldn't ask my mother to make me something to trump my flares, even though I am sure she thought they were hideous. (They were).

On the other hand her mother - my grandmother - was an incredible seamstress, making most of my dolls clothes, and many of my own. I had always assumed this talent was a product of her generation; a life-long skill she had practiced since she was a girl. However I recently learned that my grandmother didn't learn how to sew until she had children - when she realised the practical and economic benefits of making her own baby clothes.

I still admire the thriftiness of my grandmother's generation. When times were tight, everything was used.  Clothes were made to last, mended, and handed down, and there was little waste. Obviously times have changed, and we dispose of far too much. Clothes are bought uber-cheap and then thrown away when they fall apart after a few wears. We could learn how to repair them ourselves... or better yet, make our own clothes. There would be less waste, less cost, and less environmental impact.  Outfits would be more unique, and made to fit. There are so many benefits, yet the majority of girls today have no idea how to use a sewing machine. I was one of them.

So I decided I would learn to sew, and bring the skill back into the family line.  I took a one-day beginners course at The Make Lounge where I learned how to use a sewing machine, and create a simple stitch. I came out with a fully-formed cushion I made myself  - one which I would have happily bought in a shop. Few things feel so satisfying as having made something yourself, and now I am hooked. A friend of mine kindly loaned me her sewing machine, and now I am going to practice. I want to get to a point where I can make a variety of different things; clothes which fit well, and with fabrics I choose myself.

Making your own clothes doesn't mean you also have to have a nose piercing and a worm farm... for a while this was in the realm of hippies, but before them vintage ladies were making beautiful dresses. Coco Chanel was a seamstress before she was a designer.

I have found an excellent book to get me started - "One Piece of Fabric" by ethical designer Lena Santana. So far I've not put it into practice, but the designs are gorgeous, the instructions simple, and I am pretty optimistic that I can make myself  a sundress in time for summer. (Or at least a cushion cover).

Feeling Lucky, Punk?

According to Oxford scientists, the chances of winning the UK National Lottery  is 1 in 13,983,816.  And to really drum home just how improbable this is, they add that the chances of dying between Friday and Monday is 1100 times more than that of winning the lottery.

So why do we play it?

Because, dear friend, there is always someone who wins it. Someone who plays the same numbers every week but never won anything, (except back in '02 when they won £47 and went out for tea). You see these people in the paper: a kind, middle-aged, working-class couple from a small town, riddled with repayments on their washing machine, who will now be able to take nice holidays, and - says the husband - buy that sports car he's always wanted. It's cute, and they're deserving people, and the photo of them grinning and waving a bottle of champagne (the wife always with her hair done and best lippy on - because now she's worth it) is the all too familiar reminder that someone has got to win it.

"And why not meeeeeee?" we all think, although we scoff and roll our eyes when we buy our ticket, and then put it in our wallet and try to forget about it. But you know it's there. I know it's there. And for that short time until the draw is made, we have a small atom of hope that maybe, just maybe, this time it will be US in the paper, spillling champagne everywhere. Every time we joke about "when I win the lottery", we're only half kidding... a part of us still believes there's a chance we might win the jackpot, and all our stress and troubles will miraculously melt away.

Of course, it doesn't happen, and we check the results, and immediately screw up our ticket in disgust. Disgust at our ridiculous dreams and for really thinking that we were ever going to win this. Don't people realise the chances of winning is 1 in 13,983,816?! I am more likely to DIE this week than become a millionaire! Dammit - HOW COULD I BE SO FOOLISH??!!

Still. I've got MY ticket. Have you?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

What's All Your Furniture Pointed At?

I don't have a television.
But you can stop with the sympathetic expressions... this is a personal choice. (Yes, really).
The thing is, it never ceases to amaze me just how much we rely on our TV for entertainment, even when there is nothing there to entertain us. I mean, out of the ridiculous abundance of available shows, how many are really worth watching?

Come Dine With Me... Britain's Got Talent... Britain's Got Talent in the Jungle... I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here... I'm a Celebrity Come Dine with Me... Z-List Celebrities Eating Dinner... Celebrity Big Brother... Dancing on Ice... Dancing with the Stars...Celebrity Dancing on Ice... Dances with Wolves on Ice....

(I can't help but feel the decline of television came with the rise of the "reality TV" show. This, of course, came at the same time as the rise of "celebrity" and now it seems the two are so inextricably married, that if you are on TV for more than 5 minutes, you are entitled to paparazzi. Why? Because everyone is sitting at home staring at their TV screen, so if you're on it, you're famous. You don't actually have to do anything).

How many of you turn the TV on before you think about what else you might like to do with your evening? And how many of you channel-surf before settling on the 'least bad' programme on? (Be honest, you don't really want to be watching re-runs of The World's Fattest Pets do you?)

I'm not against television; merely our reliance on it and the overbearing presence of it in our homes and lives. Rather than being an appliance that we go to when we're in the mood to watch something - much like you would pick up a book - most people switch it on automatically, like a lightbulb. It has become a necessity.

Like Joey from Friends said, "You don't own a TV? Then what's all your furniture pointed at?"

People have actually congratulated me on doing away with it - but not as if I have given up smoking, (which would be a more apt comparison...) but as if I have joined a convent.
"Wow... good on you! I could never do that, but I think it's great that you're making that kind of sacrifice."

No I haven't joined a convent, but bless you for your concern. I really love a great TV show - if only there were more of them! -  and there are particular shows that I can't get enough of. Since I don't have a TV I watch them online, or DVD, and this way I can watch them whenever the mood strikes, not because the TV is on and there is sound and pictures coming out of it. (Also, this way my furniture can point at other furniture, which is much better for socialising.)

So alright, what do I watch that's so damn great?
The latest entertainment marvel I'm hooked on is Modern Family.  Now HERE is a show which has it all; it's sitcom, it's mockumentary, it's satire, it's sensitive, it's insensitive, it's heart-warming, it's hilarious... there is no bad guy, there is just one (forgive me for saying it) dysfunctional family, and each character is as likeable as each other. It's unusual. Not since Friends has a show got it so right, but unlike Friends, each episode is individual - a glimpse into a day in the life - and you don't have to follow dramatic "will they? won't they?" relationships and incestuous hook-ups. The most ironic thing of all is that Modern Family feels more like reality than anything I've ever seen on "reality TV" shows.

Watch it here (and give me your verdict:)

I Love You, Google Chrome

I've never thought much about the web browser I use. A long time ago I used Firefox at work; I didn't see the big deal (but then, why would I?) On another occasion, upon the tragic death of my previous laptop, once last resuscitation attempt was tried by installing Linux, and the web browser Opera. I found the entire experience so ghastly that I turned off the machine's life support once and for all.

Apart from this I've not really paid much attention to the browser I use. That is, until my web-savvy little brother discovered I was still using Internet Explorer. His exact words were, "Internet Explorer is to web developers what Hitler was to the Jews." That's a pretty strong statement from the kid you used to share a Commodore 64 with.

Putting this up for a second opinion on Twitter, I was surprised at the level of venomous abhorrence for this household browser. One Tweeter promptly agreed, saying that, "repeatedly slamming your tits in a door is better than IE." As if this wasn't enough pain to consider, another added, "having hot pins stuck under your finger nails and your toes hit with hammers is better than Internet Explorer."

Alright, no more self-harming, I get the picture!

My sibling's instruction was to get myself in tune with Google Chrome immediately. Which I did, because I know that if I want to keep bossing him around for the rest of my life I need to do what he says too once in a while. (And OK, also because he's a web genius and I know he knows what he's talking about). Frankly, the speed and ease of the Google Chrome installation is a tiny preview of things to come. Not only is the layout simple but the speed is impressive. I feel that every time I click a button, a thousand imaginary servants are racing to do my bidding. For the first time I realised just how clunky and unreliable Internet Explorer was. Constant issues with "(not responding)" errors, and, despite the plethora of tabs and buttons and toolbars, I could never find anything I was looking for. (What ARE all those toolbars for, anyway, Microsoft?)

So if you're a believer in the ethos "less is more", and you're tired of the lethargic pace of Internet Explorer, go for Google Chrome.
Or you could try hitting your toes with a hammer, because I hear that's good too.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Designs of the Year 2010

I've always loved the London Design Museum. It's an intriguing white box on the edge of the river, and houses far too many fascinating exhibtions to name. Although one I have been back to each year is the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year exhibition.

Overall my favourite design was Sugru - a mouldable waterproof silicone which can be used to repair or change just about anything. The concept behind it is to "hack things better". In other words, to improve things which are shoddily made, customise them, or fix broken objects so they can continue to be used.

On display was a plethora of household examples - the rubber was moulded into the inside of a shoe to fix the sole which was coming away. It matched the shoe and was seamlessly invisible. Another was Sugru was moulded around the handle of wrench, for better grip, and used to fix together the pieces of a broken vase. One is left wondering; is there anything that Sugru can't do?

Aside the fact that it's clever, what it does is provide a means for repairing and improving items we use every day, instead of throwing them away and replacing them. I LOVE this. We've all become far too materialistic and generally treat everything as disposable. Using something like Sugru is another way to recycle, and extend the life of the things we own. Now THAT is clever.