Monday, October 23, 2006


Watching Lawrence of Arabia many people particularly remember the scene where Peter O'Toole rides back into the worst desert in the world, rescues the poor Arab who fell off his camel (they never explain how he failed to wake up when he hit the ground!), and rides back to the astonishment of his Arab friends. Very entertaining since most of us have never been lost in a desert or so thirsty that we were about to die. Most of us.

Kids do crazy things. Some of the crazy things we did as kids make me wonder how I ever made it to adulthood. Particularly, we liked to “play” in the man-made limestone caves left behind after mining operations had moved on to another, newer part of the mine. Check out:

For some reason this was a popular past-time in the summer. Probably because it was very cool in the mine – compared to the 90 degrees plus outside. So, off we would go. We weren't completely stupid – just mostly, so we would take acetylene lamps for light. Once you were in the mine they were essential as there was no light. I mean no light as in no “hand in front of your face” light! The lamps were essential, but had only a limited life-span. The key point was that mining operations were still going on. Therefore, large trucks were constantly going through the mine and loading up with limestone before making their way back. It was imperative that the truck divers did not see you. Even though we were stupid – we knew we weren't supposed to be playing in a mine. The danger, as we foolishly perceived it, was that we would be “discovered” in the mine by the workers and get into trouble.

Of course, we were too clever for this. Timing our entrance to the mine so that we would be well inside before the next truck appeared was not difficult. They ran in about ten minute cycles. Having got in we were free to wander around the disused portion of the mine with only the rumble of the distant trucks to disturb the tranquility. For some unknown reason we did not even see this as particularly dangerous. Our only concern was not to get caught by the mine workers. It was easy to get lost. After you left the well- traveled road the trucks used, the rest of the mine looked exactly like every other part. Good thing we had our lights as after wandering about for a while we would eventually get bored and want to get out. The key was being able to establish by hearing alone the direction the trucks were coming from. Then we could follow the sound to the road and make our way out of the mine in the gap between trucks. Challenging, but not too difficult.

Inevitably, one day we got well and truly lost. And, as luck would have it, we were short of the calcium carbide pellets essential to power the acetylene lamps. When the lights failed we would have to wander about in the pitch dark until we could locate the trucks by hearing only. If we did get close enough, we would see their headlights – if not we were stuck. I don't think we panicked. We should have, but we didn't. Some confusion was caused when some thought the sound of the trucks was coming from the left – and others from the right. It took a long time but (as you may well guess otherwise I would not be writing this now!) eventually we spotted a truck, homed in on its headlamps and found the road. Still dodging the trucks at ten minute intervals we made it to the entrance and got out. Maybe by then we were scared enough to realise the stupidity of our actions.

What I remember most is being thirsty. Very thirsty. More thirsty than I have ever been. We walked down the road looking for somewhere to get a drink. Any drink. Eventually we found a small store and bought an RC Cola with the only money we had. Never has a drink tasted so good – even though we had to share it and were still very thirsty when it was gone.

I don't think we ever went back into the mine. Evolutionarily speaking we were winners. I'm sure some kids have died in very similar circumstances. The Arabian camel rescue courtesy of T.E. Lawrence still makes me cringe.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


What are those cows up to?

An old man of Swaffham is in hospital after being trampled by a herd of cattle. The herd was apparently spooked by the sound of gunfire and bolted in the direction of the 87 year old who couldn't get out of the way. He has not been named.

This is no joking matter, but I fear not many 87 year-olds could outrun a load of fairly pacey cows. I wish the un-named victim well and hope he makes a speedy recovery.

I must confess, I have some experience with cattle. See my blog of 16 March at if you are not convinced.

I mention this because it is amazing how many young people have no experience of farm animals or any concept of their how the animals live or the part they play in providing us with food and other useful products. Ask most children where beefburgers come from and they will say, “Macdonalds”. It is only in the last 50 – 100 years that most societies in the Western World have divorced themselves from the rearing and subsequent slaughter of the domesticated animals which so deliciously provide us with Sunday lunch. One unplanned consequence of this has been the total ignorance of a majority of the population as to how food, in particular meat, is produced.

Many children are frightened of cattle. This is not surprising when you stop to think about it. Most children only see cattle standing in fields – large fields. Large cattle. They are big. They look stupid. Therefore, they may be dangerous. It's a bit like seeing an unknown, large and stupid man in the pub. He's probably a jovial giant, but most of us steer (pardon the pun) clear just to be on the safe side. So, a child's “fear” of cows is not entirely unjustified – given today's divorce from the natural world.

I am reminded of George Orwell's comment about how he got the idea for Animal Farm. George, who was living on a farm in Oxfordshire at the time, saw a a small lad leading an enormous cart horse along a cart path. He speculated that if only the horse was aware of its size and power the lad would have no chance of controlling it. The rest, as they say, is history – though Orwell's real genius was in making the horse the stupidest animal on the farm – despite what horse-lovers choose to believe, this is manifestly true.

Most people in the 1930's would have recognised that cows and horses are not inherently dangerous because they have been thoroughly domesticated. They are large animals and if they should, for example, fall on you or step on you it would hurt. Fortunately, they do not “attack” humans by choice. Why should they? Because we feed and protect them their numbers are vastly inflated over what evolution and Mother Nature intended. In evolutionary terms the cows are winning. The price they pay is many of their genus are slaughtered to provide us with food. Still, there are millions more of them than would normally be expected to survive in the wild.

The idea that cattle might take umbrage at this “travesty” is, of course, suicidally nonsensical. They may as well complain to their MP about the quality of their feed.

That's why Mr 87 year old-timer being trampled by a herd of rampaging cows is news – just as man bites dog is bound to make the papers. This does not diminish his pain and suffering, but it does support the mistaken idea in many children's brains that cows and other farm animals are dangerous. This is silly. Children should be educated by having, if possible, opportunities to visit farms and abattoirs to form an opinion of their own. Bet we'd get a lot more veggies!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Veiled Threat?

Muslim - British Relations

Most of our politicians are missing the point in the debate about Islamic dress codes. As more and more prominent figures jump on an (apparently) anti-Islamic bandwagon, more and more seem to be taking a mistaken and possibly dangerous view. By refusing to put the debate into a proper historical context, leaders are mis-leading the British public, of Christian, Muslim or other faiths.

What's missing? Any analysis of Muslim integration into society must take into account the experiences of previous generations of immigrants. This is not being done. A useful contrast would be Afro-Caribbean immigration in the 1950's and 60's. Blacks who came to do the jobs whites wouldn't in the 60's soon ended up in ghettos. They replaced the earlier immigrants (Jews, Eastern Europeans) as the residents of our inner cities. Those original immigrants kept their colourful language, their culture and their sense of being outsiders. Their children and their children's children have not. Young black people in Britain today have many problems to overcome. They suffer from poor housing, poor educational opportunities and racism. They are still mostly ghetto-ized in our largest cities. They have, quite rightly, kept some of the elements of their native culture.

Yet, there is no debate regarding black hoodies. Are they a separatist movement? Should schools ban black idioms in speech? Should young blacks be forced into accepting main-steam British culture and be made to abandon their cultural heritage? Emphatically no!

There is no real debate on the above. Quite rightly. Because, most sensible people recognise that it is quite possible to integrate into society while retaining and celebrating elements of your original culture. Quite right. Young blacks in Britain may be of a different skin colour, have different speech patterns and noisily celebrate their cultural differences – what they don't do is retreat into a facsimile of their parents culture and refuse to interact with the rest of us.

Some young Muslims, apparently, do. Instead of looking for areas of common heritage, some young Muslims (who, by now, should be fully integrated into society) are going out of their way to emphasize their differences – instead of celebrating their common values.

This is very dangerous. At a time when differences should be becoming less important, some Muslims seem intent on making sure they remain. The outward, and very visible sign, of this is the “retreat” into Muslim dress by second or third generation Muslim Britons. At the very time you would expect young Muslims to be celebrating their integration into main-steam British society and values, the very opposite seems to be happening.

The debate is not about the right to dress however you wish. That is not the question. The debate should be about why you would want to dress in a way that sets yourself apart from the rest of the citizens. I expect to see white, British, non-Muslim women (say TV reporters) dressing appropriately if they are reporting from a Muslim country. This shows respect for the Muslim culture.

We could use some reciprocal respect from Muslim women in the UK. They have a perfect right to dress as they wish. They should wish to dress as others in their country do. If they don't – we should find out why? Fast.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dr Pepper, Macdonalds and Rugby

Missed Opportunities

In life I have missed out on so many opportunities it makes me want to cry!

I like Dr Pepper. Always have. Given a choice I would choose a Dr Pepper over any soft drink. Always did. When I first moved to England there was no Dr Pepper. None. None, as in rarer than an aromatic anal digestive discharge. I was not amused. I wrote to the Dr Pepper Co. of Dallas, Texas in 1976 and politely asked if they had any plans to export my favourite drink to the UK. Their response? Not on your nelly.

What I should have done, of course, was borrow millions from a trusting bank in order to bankroll the importation of Dr Pepper. I would be living in a large house today and worrying about how to minimise my children's exposure to crippling inheritance taxes.

Within fifteen years Dr Pepper was available in every store and petrol station and was selling in the millions. I never even got a belated thank you from the Dr Pepper moguls for pointing them in the direction of vast profits.

The ubiquitous “Super-Size-Me” fast food chain that is Macdonalds is a similar story. In the early 70's fast food in Britain consisted of fish and chips and Wimpy. Both may still be with us but have been transformed by the might of corporate burger greed.

Wimpy was very odd. It was possible to get take-away burgers and chips – but they were exorbitantly expensive and distinctly unappetising. Mostly you sat in a very unwelcoming, small “greasy-spoon” and ate your choice of burger (there were only two choices as I remember, Wimpy or Wimpy with onions) from a plate with a knife and fork.

I distinctly remember suggesting that (surely) you could sell fast food hamburgers in the UK. I was laughed at. Ridiculed. Patient English “wise-achers” gave me pitying explanations (as if I were a small child in need of redemption) that it would be impossible to get the English to eat without a knife and fork. Could not be done. More chance of Maggie Thatcher being found in flagrante delicto with “Red” Ken Livingstone in the back of a Hillman Imp.

Stupidly I listened and the rest, as they say, is history. History would have judged me to be far-sighted, and (incidentally) very rich, had I sold the family silver and bought a Macdonalds franchise.

It is against this background that I read in the Sunday paper about a plan to make rugby both popular and competitive in the U.S.A. Some wise and rich man, whose name escapes me, has decided to set up a professional rugby league in the U.S. For players, he proposes to recruit some of the thousands of college American football players who have no chance of making it in the NFL.

Needless to say, I had this idea first! And, just like the others, did nothing about it. There is a pool of very fit, very fast, very athletic, and very large players in America just waiting to be tapped in to. College footballers could easily pick up the skills required to adapt to the rugby code. Current plan is to bolster the U.S. Eagles Rugby Union team. Perhaps a better plan would be to tackle Rugby League first. The learning curve is less and the sport calls for all-rounders rather than props who can scrummage and line-out jumpers who can soar. From there it would be a short step to Rugby Union.

This would have the added benefit of redeeming my long-lost faith in the importation of world-beating products from America. The Rugby League world would be conquered in less than five years. Max for Union? Less than ten.

You heard it here first!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Neanderthal Cojones

Scientists researching the DNA of another human species (if indeed it was one) Homo Neanderthalensis – or Neanderthal Man as he is better known – are in danger of muddying the already murky waters of human evolution.

Countless reports from reputable scientists tell us that there is no trace of Neanderthal DNA in the genome of modern humans. Anyone with an IQ three points higher than whale manure should be able to see that this must be nonsense. If you think modern man wouldn't jump on a Neanderthal woman - check out the city centre any Saturday night!

From the Sunday Times:

The jaw (of a Neanderthal), discovered at Kent’s Cavern, a complex of caves near Torquay, in 1927, was assumed to be that of a modern human. Initial radio-carbon dating suggested it was about 31,000 years old, putting it among the first modern humans to arrive in Britain.

However, new evidence suggests the jaw is at least 4,000 years older than that — and that it could be that of a Neanderthal. Archeologists say the fossil could yield vital information on how early humans spread across Britain and Europe in that period.

Fine. Except that this report makes no logical sense. The scientists (and I use the term loosely) would have us believe that they have had a specimen, which they were sure was a modern human, hanging around since 1927 – but have now seen the error of their ways and have “discovered” that it's really older and from a Neanderthal. Since they couldn't even get this simple bit of identification correct, why must we believe that there was no interbreeding between early modern man and Neanderthals? Just look around you. There are plenty of Neanderthal-types wandering the streets of our fair cities today. Many of them get arrested for public order offenses on a Saturday night. I used to work with an Irishman who was a modern Neanderthal – short, stocky, large nose, bulky arms and legs. Nobody is going to convince me that no Neanderthal DNA made it to modern times

From the same article:

Its aim is to draw up a chronological sequence for the arrival and spread of humans in Britain. It has made some spectacular finds, including evidence that dated the arrival of early humans in Britain to 700,000 years ago, 200,000 years earlier than had been thought. It also found that massive changes in climate drove human inhabitants out of Britain many times over.

Massive climate change? Heard that one before? Check out my blog of 12 September, Sandstone and Woolly Mammoths!

Sorry, I digress.

So, if the scientists can not readily identify such an obvious thing as DNA from another, albeit human, species; why are we so eager to send people to prison, or worse, on the basis of DNA evidence? Case after case of people being convicted using nothing but their own (purported) DNA for evidence litters the legal system. It's a modern litany. The Cold Case Scenario rules! People are going to jail all the time with nothing but “expert” DNA evidence to thank for their conviction. It's a travesty. What's worse, it's sloppy science. The problems which may arise from trying to extract Neanderthal DNA are exactly the same as extracting and processing modern DNA. That bit, unfortunately, you never hear about. Picking up a scrap of clothing from a murder victim 40 years ago and extracting a DNA sample is functionally the same as getting the sample from a long-deceased human – be he Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon. The only difference is the time scale.

People should not be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence alone. Let's stop it now, before it's you doing 20 to life.