The Great Firewall of China

I would like to say a big hello to the Chinese people, anyone in China, and especially to any journalists, bloggers and webmasters working in China.

I’m wondering – if a whole load of blogs gang up for a big ‘say hello to China’ campaign, would we be blocked in China?

Hello China! Salutations! *smiley face*


A word from our sponsor (sponsor of madness…)

One of my neighbours would like me to pass this message to you:


(Dear Neighbour, you will appreciate I’ve had to make your message suitable for my fair readers).

He made this important announcement from outside his house at 5.28 this morning, rousing me – and many others, I suspect – from our slumber.

However, from the way this message was delivered to the world, I felt that my neighbour would wish for it to be spread as far as possible.


News Puff

I am a proponent of Life-Long Learning, and here is what I have learnt from the BBC News website in the last 5 minutes

Story: Veteran UK politician John Prescott thinks no one has the ‘right skills’ to replace the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Conclusion: Surely this is A Good Thing?

Story: New Terminator film - director says ‘We release, like everyone else, misinformation campaigns.’

Conclusion: Like everyone else? No misinformation here, Sir. If the Terminator director is correct, then Wholesome Socks stands ready to take over as the world’s only trustworthy information source.

Supermarket anthropology

Deepening the intrigue, Tesco now has ‘ushers’ trying to herd shoppers into particular check-out queues. Competing ‘ushers’ attempt to move shoppers away from those check-outs to queue elsewhere.

I see the whole thing as a challenge.

You’re pushing your trolley along the line of check-outs. Maybe you’ve not decided if you’re ready to leave yet – got everything you came in for? Running through that shopping list in your head. Oh my, I’ve forgotten the dog food… what’s this? I have to line up here, pay, and leave now?

Or you’re busy scanning your environment for possible threats. Am I going to bump into anyone I know who I really don’t want to bump into? (Possibly applies more especially to me than most people). This is when you’re most vulnerable to the ‘ushers’.

Or you’ve got all your shopping and you’re deciding which check-out to use. Do I really want to be served by the flirtatious / truculent / surly / annoying –looking check-out worker?

Well, tough cookies! It’s not your choice!

I find that the ushers bug me more when I’m shopping alone. So there is only one rational explanation for what the check-out ushers are doing:

One usher is trying to match possible dating partners by observing who is waiting in a queue and looking for likely candidates for friendship and maybe more, before directing this person to join them in the queue.

The opposing usher’s objective is to either sabotage these potential matches, or create alternative, malicious pairings, for their own sadistic amusement.

It’s the only plausible explanation.

My advice: Head down, fierce expression on, and don’t take any prisoners when ramming through with your trolley.


There’s fun to be had without even going beyond your local supermarket.

For example, I believe Tesco is planning to increase the speed (and therefore excitement level) of their travelators (not sure if travelator is the right word, I mean those moving-ramps to take you up a level without carrying a trolley on the stairs, then convey you safely back to earth).

The automated warning system which tells you to ‘Please push your trolley firmly at the end of the conveyor’ is sounding more adamant, almost panicky, and is now spoken by both male and female voices.

What happens if you don’t push your trolley firmly at the end of the conveyor?

Female recording: ‘Please push your trolley firm…’ *sound of crunching metal, food blasted into the air and screaming shoppers* ‘…oh there goes another one, PLEASE push your trolley firmly at the end of the conveyor!’

Male recording: ‘These people take the biscuit. Tell you what, fancy a drink later on? Please push your trolley…’

And so on. Currently the travelators crawl at a snail's pace (moment of speculative pedantry: can snails have a 'pace', surely you need legs to 'pace'?). I would ratchet their speed up to a fair sprint. The people of this nation deserve excitement.

As a child I was wary of escalators because I believed if I wasn’t quick enough to jump off at the end, I would be dragged, nay – sucked! – into the inner workings and basically end up as a 2-dimensional person going round and round and round.

I haven’t yet seen any evidence to contradict my childhood theory.


British women delay flight over Germany

Two drunken fools have tried to open a plane door at 30,000 feet.

I’d like to make two comments.

Firstly, should alcohol be served on flights? It’s a catalyst for trouble and seems to cause bother in the same way as terrorism (albeit to a lesser extent). Terrorism is the reason given for the ban on carrying so much as a tiny screwdriver (for adjusting the screws in glasses) which came from a Christmas cracker (such a screwdriver was confiscated from a friend I was flying with once). Yes, I know most people can drink alcohol without trying to jump out of jets, but so can most people carry a screwdriver or knife without trying to hi-jack the flight.

Following on from the ban on knives, scissors and all such sharp objects, why is it that you can still, after the airport security searches, then buy glass bottles (of booze) in the duty-free shops, which could easily be smashed and used as weapons on a flight? (And a lot more dangerous than the little screwdriver, I would think).

Could the answer be something to do with money?


Electric fan

Warm weather has led me to borrow an old electric fan from my parents. This fan has been in the garage for years and we weren’t sure if it still worked. No fear. My mother had the answer. She advised me thus:

‘If it gives you any sparks when you plug it in, just put it in some water for a bit’.

As I’ve said before, the elderly can be malicious devils. But we must still honour our inheritance mothers and fathers.

Knock, knock

The towering, elderly gentleman loomed at the front room window. He said something to an unseen companion. I’m no lip reader, but I think it was ‘Who dares disturb me in my lair?’ Hands out of pockets, hands back in pockets, hands out of pockets, one hand in pocket, one hand out – that should do it, I thought – not too formal, not too casual. As the gentleman took in my squirming, contemptible sight he sucked air in through his teeth, as though to say ‘ah, I’ll make short work of you, my son!’

The door opened, the gentleman now holding a sturdy walking stick – but it wasn’t to help with walking.

I thought, do I start now or wait until I’m spoken to? He answered by lifting his head questioningly.

‘Erm, I’m terribly sorry for this inconvenience, but I seem to have kicked a football into your back garden, and I wondered if you could perhaps…’

For better or for worse, that is how I talk.

‘…I hope you haven’t damaged the fence again because that cost me eighteen-hundred pounds to repair! I’m fed up with it! We just found the fence in splinters one morning. Eighteen-hundred pounds.'


'...And your music, it drives my wife to distraction! I hope you won’t be holding another party anytime soon. Noise at all hours.’

The gentleman had not quite finished. I could tell.

‘…Where have you parked today? Could you not park too close to our drive, it makes it terribly hard getting out, judging the distance. And at my age you'll know how it is.'

‘Ah, sorry, I’ll pass all of that on, you see, I don’t actually live next door, I’m just visiting and I’ve… well… I’ve kicked a football into your back garden…’

‘Oh, right-oh, I’ll throw it back over.’

I felt about 10 years old. The elderly are a capricious and yet kindly sort.

New clothes offer for Dutch MP

Not exactly Europe’s biggest political crisis but I thought I’d report (with thanks to Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad) the story of Dutch MP Hans Spekman whose clothing choice has led to him being known as ‘the man in pyjamas’. Spekman goes to work in the Dutch parliament wearing baggy jumpers which have been described as ‘cut-up burkhas’. Colleagues who felt this attire to be unfitting for a parliamentary representative have offered to buy Spekman a suit, but his response to criticism is ‘first look in the mirror and mind your own business’.

I am sympathetic to Spekman’s position. There are all kinds of things we don’t like about other people’s appearances, but that alone doesn’t mean they should change.

Clothing is just part of fashion, all fashion is, by definition, ephemeral. Ergo we all die anyway.

Furthermore, if aliens invade the planet and it is Spekman who defeats them, then he will be a hero. I imagine other MPs will then start wearing baggy jumpers themselves. We could even have a complete reversal of the jumper vs. suit situation. So just leave him alone!

Aviation enthusiasts only

Yesterday I saw a Sea King helicopter, a little MASH-style helicopter (don’t know its name) and a Harrier jump jet fighter (those ones that can fly sideways), all chugging down the motorway on lorries. And my little anoraky heart was pleased. (But I draw the line at trains, you know. I saw hundreds of trains yesterday but I have no idea what sort they were and I’m not about to find out).

John Rah

So I go to the library where a media student asks the librarian for a book about ‘genre’, and the librarian decides it will probably be in the biography section. And I follow them over there to see what happens next, but they look a bit suspicious so I leave.

Eco Worrier

I notice that Waterstone’s the bookseller is now offering Eco Points.

When you read that, did you first think of

(a) Umberto Eco, and wonder how you could be awarded points related to him?
(b) Something about saving plastic bags?

I thought (a) but it helped me realise I’m perhaps spending too much time with books. I left the store immediately.



I write these words with a pen
The pen is long
The pen is strong
They say that the pen is mightier than the sword
Or is that fraud?
With which would you prefer to be gored?


School 51

No one really talked about what happened to Mr Stanton.

He couldn’t miss the tell-tale sign of playground trouble. A triumphant cheer made the teacher look up from the essay he was red-penning. I imagine Stanton had been daydreaming – that is what I remember most about him - for some time already. From his first floor classroom, the children swarming together perhaps reminded the teacher of iron filings rushing towards a magnet – just as mindless, just as unstoppable.

In Stanton’s day they’d have chanted ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ while verbal sparring took its course. Maybe it could even have been settled in the boxing ring. Now youth couldn’t wait to land the first blows. The teacher started cranking the window open. Stupid school window, don’t jam now! He leaned out the window, his wagging finger poised to direct words of reprimand to the baying crowd... and then Stanton's gaze was drawn upwards, and we shall never know if what happened next was real, or just a beautiful moment of inspiration.

‘Up there!’ yelled Mr Stanton, ‘just above the trees!’ he pointed frantically. I was standing in a classroom on the other side of the playground, and the building obscured the object of his attention.

Stupid school door, don’t jam now! If only one of the brutes had helped force it open for me – but the children were too busy warring.

Through the smeared glass I could still see the old teacher, no longer pointing, but with both arms outstretched to embrace the sky in welcome.

‘Will one of you tell me what’s happening?’ I bellowed, but my plea was drowned by the cacophony of ecstatic war cries.

As I charged at the door I can’t be sure what my inspired colleague was shouting into the heavens, but it sounded like ‘They’ve come! They’ve come! They’ve come!’

The children fought on.

University of Wholesome Socks, end of term examinations

‘In 1980 Led Zeppelin was dismembered’ (A 21 Year Old Female, July 2008). Discuss the quotation with reference to the deconstructionist theories of Jacques Derrida. (10 marks)


You probably think this post is about you

A colleague had a prominent vein in his forehead that I always thought looked like the River Thames. This vein had a u-shaped bit that especially recalled the Isle of Dogs (like in the EastEnders credits), then it widened out into a kind of estuary. But now I’ve noticed the shape of the vein is changing. I’m wondering if it’s going to become another river. I dare not consult the Geography department about this but I’ll keep watching and see what emerges.

Anti-social neighbours

Some joker across the street is cooking so much garlic I can smell it in here, and since I started typing this I think they’ve started peeling some giant onion, and it’s hurting my eyes. At least I have this blog to tell the world!

A Sinistral Mystery

He wrote. She looked.

She looked confused. Like seeing an M.C. Escher illusion for the first time. (Those drawings of impossible staircases and the drawing of two hands which are drawing each other).

She thought.

Asked, ‘are you left handed?’

But not like that. Asked it with a sing-song tone, like a radio jingle.

‘ARE you leFT HAAANDddddded?’

(They’re children, by the way).

He wrote.

What did he write?

Ode to a Computer in Summer

The Memory-Machine!
It turns and churns!
We don't know for what it yearns
It's no 'has-been'
We could not glean
Why it eats the CDs it burns


Dutch Prime Minister now a gnome

The Dutch Prime Minister has been turned into a garden gnome. A Dutch news website reports that Amsterdam student Jitse Schuurmans has made the gnomes of Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende (whose appearance has frequently been likened to Harry Potter) and right-wing politician Geert Wilders by way of protest against government policies such as the ban on smoking in pubs.

'The Universal Smoker's Church of God' is a more practical protest against Holland's public smoking ban. The AD newspaper reports that Dutch pub landlords are citing the Holy Trinity of 'smoke, fire and ash' in their newly founded smoker's religion, which they hope will allow them to circumvent the ban.

Perhaps more alarming for Dutch bloggers was the suggestion on the BNR radio station last night (and I hope it isn't true!) that weblogs may in future be required to register with the government. Luckily I haven't been able to find any further reference to the idea.

Sports Day polemic

Thousands of schools across the country will be holding their annual Sports Day this week. Hundreds of thousands of school children – including children who are academically inclined or perhaps have little ability or interest in sport - will be marched out to damp playing fields where they will be required to spectate and marvel at the athletic prowess of their sporting peers.

This is not necessarily A Bad Thing, but I feel that the school calendar still has space urgently needing to be filled.

I am hoping to arrange a Thoughts Day, when hundreds of thousands of children – including those inclined towards physical activity, or who perhaps have little ability or interest in academic work – will be ushered into dry, dusty libraries and required to spend the afternoon watching their intellectually gifted peers thinking.

Dr Cecile Laborde suggests internet closure

The internet should be closed down for one day each week, to encourage people to participate in valuable activities they may otherwise avoid if they spend too much time online.

This idea was today suggested by Cecile Laborde speaking on the BBC World Service's 'The Forum'.

When pushed to say which day the Internet would be switched off, Dr Laborde pipped for Wednesday, but she clearly wasn't sure. Friday, Saturday and Sunday have all been taken by religions already - so perhaps an 'ordinary' weekday should be chosen.

But I think this leads to another question - what are the days of the week 'for', and what do they really 'mean', if anything? Is there a distinction between weekday and weekend? Maybe there is some group for whom internet use on Wednesdays is critical?

As for the original idea, I'm not convinced but I find it interesting.


The Wholesome Sox

No, this website is not dedicated to an American football ... I mean basketball ... no! ...I mean baseball team. You see, I know nothing about sport.

Plastic surgery

I can well remember the first time I was offered plastic surgery. I must have been about 8. She was about 10. We were both precocious, but I suspect that she was more likely to follow a medical career than I.

‘Do you want this chair in your face?’ she said. ‘Do you want plastic surgery?’

‘What’s that?’ I was innocent.

‘I can stick this chair through your head and smash your brains! Or between your legs, do you want that?’

She’s probably a GP by now.

The second time it was suggested that I have plastic surgery was about a decade later. (I escaped the chair incident mostly unscathed). A fellow student suggested it would ‘help’.

A third offering should be due.

And so the memory-machine churns and turns.

Shopping at Tesco

I went shopping at Tesco. The young man at the check-out started scanning my stuff and looked up at me, hope in his face, and he asked:

'Do you know... how long do you have to wait before you start getting Clubcard points?'

'Oh, well, immediately I suppose. But it can can be a couple of months before you get the vouchers in the post.'

The check-out operator wasn't fully satisfied. 'Well, 'cos I've been waiting ages.'

'Hmm,' I thought, and offered 'well, you do have to be patient. It took about 5 months before I even got my Clubcard!'

The check-out man shock his head slowly, making a slow whistling sound as though to say 'that sucks, man,' or words to that effect. Then another hopeful expression.

'And if you buy more fruit juice, do you get more Clubcard points?' he suggested.

'Erm, maybe.'

Another thing about Tesco: recently they had a robot doing the public announcements.

But I don't mind.

Loud shouting man

Man annoyed. Skin of purple, fists clenched and he looks ready to lift off like a rocket.

He shouts louder than I’ve ever heard anyone shouting, ‘WHEN I ASK YOU…’ and he stops. It shot out like a bullet, the piece of tissue. The piece of tissue that shot out of his nose. Like a bullet it shot out.

Then it unfolds. Like a space capsule on re-entry, parachute opening, floating back to Earth.

We watch. Me, the man, the kids.

The man picks up the tissue fragment and puts it in the bin.


The tissue had apparently been so firmly lodged he was completely unaware of its existence. Totally in a flap and yet totally unflappable.

This is something I witnessed this week and wanted to share.

I can't even trust myself

‘Your shin bones are 1/40th as thick as the width of your leg.’ Last night I dreamt someone said these exact words to me. I have never thought about the subject before, but I have since discovered the statement to be incorrect.

Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so

Which of our planet's time zones is the most populated? I wondered if, at any given moment, it was some particular 'time of day' for any significant proportion of the world's population.

I've been scouring the internet for an answer, and it appears that GMT+8 is believed to be home to about 25% of the world's population. So at the moment of writing it is 4.45pm for a quarter of the world.

This appears to be largely due to the presence of China in the GMT+8 zone, and China maintains just one time zone from west to east. (I find that a fascinating fact in itself, considering that China is massive).

GMT-2 apparently only covers water, presumably making its population zero.


Life, birth and...

It’s an orgy of death over at the BBC News website this evening.

Trainee doctors now have an ultra-realistic ‘dummy patient’ capable of simulating a range of real physical maladies, such as failing blood pressure, heart attacks, and passing wind. A trainer using the dummy told BBC News ‘some of the students are a bit wary when they first meet the simulators because they are so realistic.’ My goodness, so what are these doctors going to be like when they meet a real patient?

At the other end of the life-death process, if one of your ancestors was inconsiderate enough to have themselves buried where someone later wanted to put a building, they can now end up being displayed at the Wellcome Trust. (Seriously, though, I’m fascinated by this sort of thing).

The first video clip made me smile – the osteologist talks about the skeleton as though it were a Crufts winner.

Don't Look Now

I’m attending a casting session for film extras. They’re asking for people who look like me (no, not because they look like me exactly) and it sounds like more fun than staying home. The film is supposed to be a large-scale production and I understand that extras aren’t allowed to have a camera anywhere near the set. I was once an extra and runner (general dogsbody) for a very low-budget film which sank without a trace, not like the Titanic, but perhaps like a boy-scout raft on a pond. Maybe divers will find the wreck one day, but they won’t bother raising it or telling anyone. In an industry where lack of publicity is not A Good Thing, I would have thought the occasional leaked photo of a star in unflattering circumstances would be doing the publicists’ job for them. I don’t think they sit in their boardroom meetings saying things like ‘The budget for this picture is going to be the biggest ever, we're pouring $500,000 into this movie. And here’s the twist: we must keep it absolutely secret – noone must know about the movie!’ But I could be wrong.

University of Wholesome Socks - summer examinations

‘Disappearing, vanishing, and becoming invisible are all basically the same’ (A 21 Year-Old Female, July 2008) Do you agree? You are invited to make reference to the film ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ in your answer. (10 marks)

You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

Teacher shouting at unruly pupils, overheard by me: "Oi! No running! This is Sports Day!"


A long walk off a short pier?

House advert tells me that apparently 'Our man was impressed with this 3 bedroom semi-detached property' - so far, so good - 'nearest station is only a great distance....' Confused.



Readers are asked to accept my apologies for time running backwards in this blog (see last 2 posts). I hope the disturbance is temporary. Good night.


I said 'latitudes' in the last post, but really I should've said 'longitudes'. Thank-you.


Good morning world, welcome to another day (and good night to my colleagues living at other latitudes). This blog is still in testing, and I hope it will be totally wonderful when I get my act together.


Not to be read

Please excuse me while I cobble some posts together. I haven't worked out exactly what I'm doing here yet, just need to post some content to help me see how the template works.
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