Archive for March, 2013

Pumpkins and Pompeii

I watched that crap TV show about the end of Pompeii last night.

Jeez, it was shit.

Took an hour to say what could have been said in 10 mins. Endless repeats, belaboured non-points, selling ancient news (Pompeiians killed by pyroclastic flow) as ‘new discoveries’ and breathy build-ups to rubbish ‘climaxes’.

Truly the BBC thinks we’re all fucking idiots these days.

pumpkin in pompeiiThe only bit I enjoyed – and I really, really enjoyed this – was one of the reconstruction scenes where a young Roman boy is seen carrying a pumpkin… a vegetable that would not be brought back to Europe from the New World until the early 16th century.

What makes it even juicier and funnier is the obvious care taken by the show researchers to get the right seasonal vegetable into the reconstruction. They knew Vesuvius erupted on August 24th, so they clearly chose something that they thought would be appropriate for an end of summer harvest.

You can imagine the conversation at the production company:

Young metrosexual researcher: “What vegetables get harvested in late August? Anyone know?”

(Slightly) older townee: “Er, dunno. French beans? Potatoes?”

Young metrosexual researcher: “Nah, don’t think so. Arthur off Eastenders dug his up in the autumn. I remember cos it was pissing with rain in the show.”

(Slightly) older townee: “All right, then: Pumpkins. I know that’s right cos they’re always eating them in autumn in America. Had some pumpkin pie on holiday in Boston once.”

Young metrosexual researcher: “Thanks. At least if we use the right vegetable we won’t get tons of pedantic crap about the wrong season from reactionary cocks in Tunbridge Wells.”

[If you have access to BBC iPlayer and want to see it for yourself, it’s at 05:35 mins here]

Posted on 28th March 2013
Under: Cucurbits, Rants | 7 Comments »

Newspaper weather reports: linkbaity bullshit

I am pissed off with reading crap about the weather.

To take but one example, today, from the hundreds I read every year: this shit from the Daily Telegraph (a ‘respectable’ UK newspaper that, like many newspapers these days, is dying on its feet).

Nobody, in fact, is ‘predicting a heatwave’. Here is the UK meteorological office’s 3-month weather outlook (the basis for the DT story) and nowhere does it say anything about a coming heatwave. It only points out that if this weather pattern were replicated later in the year, with the high pressure a little further south, it would bring hot weather. Not that it will bring hot weather – not any time soon, not even ‘at the end of spring’.

The DT’s bollocks got picked up by the Independent today, another tottering UK newspaper. The scientific and meteorological ignorance and/or wilful fact-twisting, by the writers of both pieces, is staggering.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Weather reports are usually written by newbies and youngsters (my US readers would call them ‘cub reporters’). They haven’t a clue about getting facts right, so they just write nonsense without ever realising that they betray their ignorance with every sentence
  • Most are artsy, humanities grads who know fuck all about maths, science or statistics – and it shows
  • “It’s only the weather”. It’s not an important issue, so nobody thinks it matters to be accurate. Editors shamelessly ham up the stories for maximum linkbait appeal
  • Free-to-read online newspapers are increasingly desperate for traffic. It’s all they’ve got to sell ads against. As their readers desert them, and they get more desperate (and many are now very desperate indeed) their attempts to gain eyeballs by any means become more and more unethical and mendacious. Anything will do, if it might get somebody to click (picture galleries with each pic on a separate URL, utterly misleading ‘headlines’ etc etc)

This infuriates me every day. I CARE about weather. As a gardener, it matters very much to me. But I’m fed an endless diet of sensationalist shit and outright lies masquerading as serious weather reporting.

It also saddens me, because it’s a daily reminder of the parlous state of the western world’s news media. There is no money in news publishing any more, so there are fewer and fewer trustworthy folks doing it. Sure, there’s lots of reporting and ‘news’. But more and more of it is tendentious, unprofessional, dishonest, biassed, paid-for or just downright bad. Finding accurate, reliable, unpartisan reporting – even on something as uncontentious as the weather – is getting rather difficult.

Having said that, nobody seems to care. Which is perhaps the scariest part of all.

PS The Guardian’s at it this morning (Tues 26th) – suggesting that the Met Office is predicting that this weather will continue until the end of April. Of course it isn’t, and it won’t.

Posted on 25th March 2013
Under: Rants | 2 Comments »

Spring cancelled

There is no gardening going on, as you may have inferred. Reason: It is still winter (even though it’s spring).

Here in the UK, the Gods appear to have cancelled spring. We have snow, floods and below-zero temperatures. March has in fact been colder than both December and January, which is quite an achievement. It hasn’t been this cold since 1962.

But hey, records are there to be broken. If it’s a stinker of a spring, it’s just the inevitable suite to a stinker of a summer and a shitty autumn. Of late, we have not had good luck with the weather.

The thing to remember, though, is that This Shit Happens. From 1310-1330, northern Europe suffered appalling weather. Millions starved. By 1325, the population was 25% smaller than 1310 – and all before the Black Death had killed a soul. According to contemporaries, it just rained and rained and rained. For 20 years. Unremittingly.

Let’s hope history’s not repeating itself.

One bright thought: This time last year it hadn’t rained for months and the UK authorities were imposing hosepipe bans. All I can say to that is: Ha ha, ha ha, ha bloody ha ha.

Posted on 23rd March 2013
Under: Rain, Rants | 2 Comments »

Your freedom is under threat. Do something about it.

Welcome to the new United Kingdom, a country that the Index on Press Censorship has described as having “abandoned [the] democratic principle” of a free press. Here is the full quote:

“In spite of David Cameron’s claims, there can be no doubt that what has been established is statutory underpinning of the press regulator. This introduces a layer of political control that is extremely undesirable.”

Britain’s festering, dying freedoms

If you live in the UK, you probably think you live in a free country. I’m afraid you’re deluded. Here are two powerful reasons why:

  • Defamation Law. For many years, this has kept lids on very dirty pots.  Robert Maxwell’s crimes went unreported in his lifetime because he used this legislation so aggressively. There are countless unpleasant truths known to broadcasters and journalists today that can’t be published for fear of expensive litigation. Defamation law may be slightly liberalised shortly – if Lord Puttnam’s absurd amends can be ditched – but it won’t change much.
  • Privacy law. This actually falls under the Human Rights Act (although privacy issues are also involved in the Data Protection Act and older Law of Confidence). Perversely, existing legislation prevents the press from publishing many things most of us would feel we ought to know, but is frequently too weak to protect us from public and private sector misuse of our data.

These are the most censorious laws in the free world. So anti-free speech, in fact, that the USA enacted a law to protect its citizens from them.

They are soon to be joined by the most powerful state-regulated press watchdog in the free world. It will have the power to levy fines up to £1 million for breaches of its code and prevent its ‘members’ (who will be paying for all of it) publishing things in the first place. It will also operate an arbitration service for people wishing to bring claims. This will hand out cash in damages – and will be free for users (but paid for by the regulated publishers).

Any publisher who fails to belong to the new regulator will face exemplary damages (for which read VAST sums) if they lose civil actions in court. This is almost certainly against European law (ironically, the Human Rights Act), but it’s being forced through against legal advice.

A vicious assault on YOUR freedom of speech

You may well feel this is condign. You watched the Leveson Inquiry, you heard the evidence. You saw how disgracefully many UK popular papers behaved. Like most people (including me), you were revolted by it. Like me, you probably feel the popular press has lost all authority to lead any campaign against this new regulation.

But here’s the thing: whatever your dislike for the tabloid and/or Murdoch press, this proposed press regulation is a vicious and sustained assault on some of the most fundamental British liberties that we all take for granted. It will chill freedom of expression for everyone trying to expose wrongdoing, criminality, hypocrisy and dishonesty.

And it was all cooked up at 2am by a couple of politicians and some luvvies from Hacked Off.

This is no way to decide essential issues of constitutional freedom. If you doubt that, don’t take my word for it. Ask Ian Hislop, or the editor of the Spectator – both thoughtful people unafraid to stand apart from both the mainstream press and the establishment.

What can you do about it?

Write to your MP. Now, today. By all means tell him/her how much you hate journalists, the press, the tabloids… whatever. Tell him/her what a bunch of immoral bastards they/we are. You’d be right, and I’d agree.

But make it clear, also, that the issue of freedom of speech – for everyone and anyone – is too important to be coloured by rage against criminal behaviour (which is what all the phone hacking and other harassments aired at Leveson were, BTW) that strictly has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It’s too important to be cooked up by a handful of luvvie actors, their lawyers and politicians in their pyjamas at 2am.

Please don’t be the person who stood by and said nothing while a small pillar of your freedom was chipped away in front of your very eyes. Think of your children and the state you want them to be living in.

Posted on 20th March 2013
Under: Rants | Comments Off

Scorzonera: weird vegetable

ScorzoneraJust to prove that I HAVE done something at the plot: here’s a vegetable I actually harvested.

OK, so it’s pretty weird. If you’ve never grown or eaten Scorzonera, I’ll forgive you for thinking I put five large dog turds in this box. They don’t look very appetising.

And, in truth, they’re not. The taste is… forgettable.

But here’s the thing: they’re astonishingly easy to grow (sow and forget), they’re ready to eat in winter when there’s not much else, and you don’t have to harvest and store them: they sit happily in the ground until you’re ready for ‘em. Moreover, if you leave them to seed they have the most beautiful flowers.

They’re a bit of a bugger to cook. They have a disgusting, sticky, resinous layer under their skin which is impossible to get off your hands if you peel them raw. Like beetroot, they should be cooked in their skins, then peeled.

Having said all that, they’re nice in a strong cheese sauce.

But then, what isn’t?

Posted on 10th March 2013
Under: Roots | 5 Comments »

On becoming an old git

The worst delusion of advancing age is a growing conviction that you have valuable life experience. “I know a lot of shit,” you tell yourself. “Kids should listen to me. My thoughts are worth hearing.”

Which is, of course, bollocks.

To pick a random example: Marriage.

Anyone married to the same person for more than about three years knows that marriage is bloody difficult. Endless negotiation, constant compromise… it’s like brokering a non-stop, all-hours Israeli-Palestinian peace summit. One slip – a missed PTA meeting, a glance at the au pair’s tits – and you’re on the slippery slope to MacDonald’s Dad-dom. It’s relentless.

As with any tricky challenge, you inevitably pick up tips over the years. Some are marriage savers (“Forget the plumber, forget the dry cleaning, forget the upcoming Apocalypse, but don’t forget her FUCKING birthday”). Others, more subtle, are hardly less valuable (£100 worth of flowers isn’t as effective as £1.50 worth presented in a vase – no matter how cheap – which you bought specially. This will get you out of anything. Really).

You inevitably feel that this hard-won combat experience should be passed on. Trouble is, nobody who needs it (ie anyone younger than you) gives the tiniest fuck. They don’t want your brilliant tips and sage advice. a) They think you’re an old cock (they’re right), and b) they have no perspective whatsoever on the fragility and ephemerality of life. They have all the time in the world and they’re bulletproof.

The saddest bit is the clear and certain memory of being exactly the same at their age. Truly the generations are strangers unto each other.

Or whatever.

Posted on 6th March 2013
Under: Rants | 8 Comments »

The ultimate sin

I did something heinous and heretical today: I paid somebody to dig over part of my allotment. Had lunch with a friend yesterday and confessed. He was aghast.

“Er, but this is your hobby… right?”

I could only agree.

“You do it for pleasure?”

I nodded.

“And now you’re paying somebody to do something you would normally enjoy?”

He sipped his drink and considered this for a minute.

“So when are you going to start paying this guy to shag your wife?”

The logic was, and is, ineluctable. It is absurd. I am paying a man to live my life. Worst of all, it feels like the right thing to do.

Why? Because I work my arse off all the time and I spent the winter supervising a building project. There’s been no time to do a damn thing I wanted.

This is how I rationalise it anyway. It’s still shit.

Posted on 2nd March 2013
Under: Rants | 5 Comments »