Saturday, 31 October 2009

Bloody Halloween!

(This is one of the few times that I will blow my top on this blog)

Someone is making a killing here. Whether it is pumpkin conglomerates in Illinois or plastic toy factories in Southern China, the emergence of Halloween as a reason to spend your hard earned cash on a completely baseless festival is worrying. Just like Mother's/Father's day or Valentine's, an obscure European festival has been hijacked turned into something far more than it should have been.

Shops are filled with gaudy toys (real tatty crap) and other trinkets, little kids knock on your door demanding cash (work you feral buggers) and nigger kids decide to throw eggs at anything they can (I hope you starve one day).

Halloween is s**t! Really, I have never seen something so trite, even worse than these other 'holidays' which at least has the veneer of love (expressed in by an overpriced rose or a lousy card). Halloween has no positive attributes whatsoever. From the amount of food that is thrown out (how many of those pumpkins were used to actually make food rather than grotty masks) to the sheer tenacity of raising a generation of children who think it is perfectly normal to knock on doors and beg for money (work-shy little b******s).

The whole 'event' is a pile of crap that is the final p**s take in the FTSE100's quest for my hard earned money. I do not want to spend my free time having to chase away someone else's children off my property, nor do I want to have to clean up the filth left by those egg throwing hooligans. I certainly do not need to buy, every year fake devil's tridents or awful witch's hats. And I like to eat my eggs, cooked and on a plate. I do not like seeing foxes roam around the city at 3am licking yolk off the pavements.

Halloween actually has a fascinating history that has been completely lost in the flood of cash registers. It exists as there is a need for companies around the UK to pick up the nation's spending. Unlike other countries there is no Thanksgiving (N. America), Diwali (India and surrounding area) or Mid-Autumn Festival (most of East Asia). After summer, there is a lull in what we as a nation spend, as people try to save up for Christmas and are really trying to get over the annihilation that the summer holiday has done to most family's wallets. Especially as there are no public holidays between the end of summer and the Xmas period, there is a need for companies to keep making money. Hence Halloween, the most trumped up holiday since Valentine Day's cheap attempt to kick start consumer spending after the Christmas binge.

The whole thing makes me sick. Now pass me the hollowed out pumpkin mask, I need a place to puke up...

Friday, 30 October 2009

London Diary (3)

Text Messages. SMS. Mobile phones. Whatever, she never liked them. Despite the fact they had their uses, she never liked sending texts out as a rule. They were sloppy, like e-mails, but only shorter. The never got to the point and they still required a follow up call afterwards.

'Damn,' she thought, 'why did I send "him" the mass text?'

It was only a mass SMS to all the contacts in her phone to tell them of her new number. She was not happy at the turn of events. There was a reply. From 'him'. She didn't mean to contact 'him', but that is the problem with mobile phones, you never get round to updating and deleting the numbers of people you don't really want to contact anymore.

She sent a reply far too quickly, and then regretted it. 'Damn' she thought, but secretly inside of her, she was happy. It was contact, of a sort. And despite the fact that 'he' had not contacted her for months, she was pleased to hear from 'him'. But she was still wary. She knew of 'his' games and more to the point, 'his' whims.

'Damn, why did I reply so quickly to "his" text?'

Beep-beep.

Another text message from him. She looked at her phone. 'Sod it,' she thought, 'let "him" wait.'

She sank slowly back into bed and smiled. It was a petty revenge, but it was a nice to think that 'he' was waiting for a reply. And with that thought, she drifted slowly to sleep.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Bicycle Diaries (Autumn/Winter '09)



Earlier this Autumn, I told about the repairs I had to do to my bike. Well, I had to do a lot more recently. On Saturday I was biking away when 'pop' went my rear wheel. It was going for a while anyhow, and it finally went. Luckily I got into work on time but it meant I was without a bike for three days - and so I faced the torture of public transport for that time.

Now, I have spent a pretty penny on this bicycle, but considering that I have got a good 13 months out of it, I am happy to do so. New rear tyre, inner tubing, wheel, chain and casstte. Hopefully the repairs I have made will last another year and the workmanship seems good. The bike looks a bit funky, half of it is old, half of it brand new, but it feels great to ride. And considering the mileage I get out of it, if it lasts two months without any incident, then I would have easily made up what I would have spent on petrol.

The economics of transport...

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

'Baby on Board'

It is not often that public transport makes you smile.

But yesterday, I read that a woman had given birth on a bus last week! Apparently, baby 'Dennis' is the first child to have been born on London's buses! Congratulations to all concerned and most importantly, thank goodness the baby was born without any complications and that both mother and child are doing well. I think the driver did a sterling job. London may be a harsh city, but there is still a lot of compassion left in this town...

Article - click to read!

The video of mother and baby, both looking very healthy!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

My Sassy Girl - the coolest love story ever?

I love Korean films. Fact, they are so warped, that they will entice and intoxicate the nearest viewer. One film I have recently seen, is the 2001 hit, My Sassy Girl. A fantastic film, that will make you laugh, will make you sigh and might even make you cry. Man, I am a big softy...

Plus, with some of the coolest moments in film, this is one movie I could watch again and again. And to think this is an eight year old film! All right, you want to see a cool part of the film, then click here and move the cursor to the one minute mark. Start playing and watch the rest of the vid, it will crack you up!

The film has been remade twice. Once by the American's and another by the Indian's. Both kind of flopped. I have seen the Indian version, and it is simply not as good as the original, although the story is virtually identical. I don't know why, but I think that the combination of a director who really loved the story and great acting made 'My Sassy Girl' one of Korea' biggest hits.

But to all those regular travellers on public transport - beware of who you pick up...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Smile

It is something that I have not done often recently. That is a shame. There is no reason no to smile, I am healthy, not bankrupt and the sun is shining. Yet, I am not smiling. Especially Saturday, I believe I spent the whole day not smiling. Lost in a cloud of my own thoughts. And yet, I should get smiling again. I will do. I promise. But today is not a day for grinning innately..

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Cinematic

Earlier this week I stopped off in town for the day ad did something that I have not done for a long time. Spent a day at the movies. The London Film Festival was in town so for lunch I watched on of its offerings, then headed to the Prince Charles for a late matinee before sauntering off to Trafalgar Square for a late night show in the open. The last of these, the freebie was the best one of the lot, the other two films being...'interesting'...but not really entertaining.

But it was the outdoor film that I really liked. It took a look at London's transport from 1896 right up until the present day and it was fascinating to see how much and how little has changed in London over the past 100 years or so. And the Square was crowded with people, all trying to get a glimpse of what London had to offer. A lot of the time, I think the Festival in London can make some great choices, and this is one of them. Long may the freebie screenings in the Square continue, and thank goodness the weather held!

Friday, 23 October 2009

London Diary (2)

'M' had enough, so he switched off his phone. Enough of the lies, enough of the sulking around in the background. All he wanted was something normal, without any hang-ups, but as always he realised, there was always hang-ups involved, no matter how simple you try to make it. And that was the problem, no matter how well adjusted a person might seem, there was always something beneath the surface, that glossy outlook on the world that when scratched would unleash the complexities of the soul.

A cup of coffee was needed, hell if he had not been tee-total all of these years, a drink would have sufficed. After that accident, he realised he needed help. 'M' managed to turn his life around, but why couldn't she? Was it really that hard to see the self destructive path that he had set herself on? The kettle boiled, and he quickly poured a cup. He despised coffee, but it was 'something' to put down his throat. The hot liquid burnt his lips, but somehow that no longer mattered anymore...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Anniversaries

Yesterday marked eight years. Eight years, I cannot believe that this length of time has passed. Sometimes you do not realise that time is passing by so fast, and for me, I was just a friend, I sometimes forgot. But for your parents, the pain must have been unbearable. Eight years, everyday remembering the gap where you once were in their lives. I hate to say this, but if I had not met your father the other day at the shops, I would not have realised the significance of October 21st, such is my own, now so-called busy life. But yesterday was eight years since you passed away and I remember that dreadful day in the hospital. How time has flown for me, but how time has stood still for others.

We all die, that is a fact. Sometimes, the best of us are taken away at a young age, sometimes he most unworthy lead a long and fruitful life. Life is an unfair struggle. I do not know what happens in the afterlife, but I hope there is no reincarnation, as I would not want to come back to this Earth. Unfortunately, at a young age, I have experienced loss and now, a few years later, the loss still feels to raw to talk about properly. Maybe one day I will begin to deal with it properly. But for now, a wave of bitterness still passes over me everytime I think about October 21st.

Wherever you are, rest in peace.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A cup of chai

One of the infinite pleasures of travelling through India is the tea. I love tea, fact. None of this cappuccino crap or bucket sized cups of expresso that seem to swill down the throats of westerners, but a lovely cup of tea will refresh me anytime of the day. I'll drink it anyhow or anyway, but if I have a preference, it is for my tea to be unsweetened, and if it is a black tea, then for it to have just a dash of milk, although I will also happily drink black tea without the moo juice.

However, in India, tea is very much of the spiced, sweetened and milky variety. And you know what, I love it! Wherever I go for Rs2 or Rs3 a Chai Wallah will serve up his own special brew. I do not need to be scared of dirty water or milk as everything is boiled to achieve the perfect brew. In the morning, it kick starts my day, in the heat of the sun, it cools and refreshes me, and if I need a quick pick-me-up before I head on board a long bus journey, it is a cup of tea that will refresh beyond belief. Thank goodness for this little miracle on India's roads. And when it is served in a clay cup, you can have the extra satisfaction of throwing your finished cup to the ground - the ultimate in biodegradability! Masters of Chai, long may you continue to refresh the nation!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The rich get richer...

Money is good. There, I have said it. Just in case many of you think I am some mini-socialist on a computer, I am not I am a damn capitalist pig. I like capitalism, I like the way it, over other forms of monetary policy, gives the most freedom to the individual and reduces government dictates into your life. But I hate government managed capitalism. In the sense that during the good times, government keeps out and during the bad times, they prop up the system.

The whole point of getting capitalism to work is that the bad companies, the individuals who are incompetent are made to go bankrupt and loose their ability to con and swindle the public (I may like capitalism, but I am under no illusions to what its purpose is), while the good companies can continue to screw the public for what they are prepared to pay.

Good governments save up the tax receipts in the good times, so that in periods of slumps, they can manage the fall out, keep essential services running and keep the tax rate stable so that companies that are surviving, do not have the horrible shock of rising taxes during a recovery.

California has completely failed in this. Look closely, as what is happening over there, will be happening in the UK after May next year. At the moment, there is a lot of posturing due to the upcoming election. Once that is over, all hell will break loose and this 'phoney recession' that we are living through will suddenly bottom out.

If our politicians had any guts, they would have let those banks hit the wall. But there would have been a regulatory process in place to ensure that governments could have taken over the running of the essential services such as transfer of wage payments, withdrawals & deposits and debt repayments. Instead, the 'light touch' economy of the UK is hopelessly inadequate at doing anything much other than skimming taxes from business and enjoying long lunches in The City with the boys in suits.

And so these banks continue to survive, with the same people who f**ked about with our money, now screwing about with our taxes. Those long lunches are still going on, and the rich, well, they are getting richer.

The average house price in London is £260,000 (about $420,000). The average London wage per year is £26,000. Sensible lending gives a guide of three to four times the annual wage for the handing out of a mortgage to ensure affordability and guaranteed repayments. For an average worker he must take out a mortgage TEN times his salary in order to buy the average house in London.

I hate to be blunt, but house prices will not be coming down anytime soon. And let us be honest, if I wanted to live an 'average life', I would have to slave in a fantastically paid job to be able to afford just an average dwelling. I am very happy to see the fruits of success, but something tells me, there is still a huge lopsidedness in the economy of the UK. After all, why are house prices so high in London? Did we find oil, is there a gold rush, was some new technology invented that made Tower Hamlets the new Silicon Valley?

No. House prices went up because, firstly, there are a lot more singletons in London (either marrying later or divorces), thereby driving up demand. Secondly, people are living longer, which means there are more elderly people who remain in their house. Thirdly, the population has gone up, both through births and migration (internally, EU and beyond the EU). Fourthly, the Green Belt, a hackneyed 70 year old piece of planning means that London cannot expand naturally to cope with its population. All of this has lead house prices to be higher. But TEN times higher than the average wage? Surely, the income of people would have kept a check on demand?

Oh yes, those banks. How else can people get a mortgage? Well, they go to their bank. Fill out a few forms. Chat, discuss over coffee/wine and then get the keys to their new abode. The renovate it according to the latest TV programme's style and wait to sell at a higher price. Except...well, there is only a finite amount of money in the bank.

At the moment, I am one of the 'lucky' ones. I did not rush to buy a house, and so I am debt free (although, not exactly living 'well', I am living within my means). However, there are a lot of people who are struggling right now to live. And that is with interest rates at a record low. They will increase in the future, no currency can continue to take a battering like Sterling has in recent months. And then what?

There will be a lot of repossessions. A lot of people made homeless. Yet, somewhere, somehow, those crooked banks that have supplied the mortgages in the first place will get their cash back. They are the ones who helped to inflate house prices to ten times the average wage, since, after all, without a mortgage, you cannot afford to buy that property. And so, while there will be the destitute and the homeless, barely covered by the state, someone will be in that winebar on Friday night, sipping champagne with friends and thinking how smart they are.

It's nice when you have a government subsidy backing you up, isn't it?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Goldtop takes over the World!



It is quite simple. Goldtop is evil...



Our first comic book installment from our latest HD short, 'Jay and Kay Save the World!'

Goldtop!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Royal Mail, RIP?

For those in the UK, the big news is that the workers of Royal Mail are planning a nationwide strike this week. This has actually been quite a nasty little dispute with plenty of drama unfolding over the Autumn.

Now, I am in two minds over this strike. Already, because of the local wildcat strikes, a lot of my letters have not got to their final destination, forcing me to register and redeliver them. Annoying, and expensive. I do not mind them getting to the destination late, I just think it sucks that they do not turn up at all.

However, the postal workers represent one of the last truly national industries left in the UK. The Royal Mail is one of the few symbols left of British pride. And it is managed by a bunch of muppets.

I have worked for the Royal Mail as a Christmas casual. Yeah, the permanent staff will eye them with suspicion, believing that you are there to undermine their position. But the bulk of casuals are there to scrape some cash for Christmas, and only a few actually 'graduate' to the coveted position of a real postman. I was one of those casuals, and I remember being so broke at one point that I had to walk home in the snow, as it was a few days before I was paid. Cold memories!

But yeah, the management are idiots. I remember standing in line for an hour so they could sign me onto their list. Although I was getting paid to stand there, as I had turned up on time, because they had to verify that I turned up, I was effectively doing nothing. There is also a lot of harassment of the casual staff, with permission needed to go to the toilets and other really petty issues. I do not know what it is like with the permanent staff, but there was always a union rep on the floor. A bit of 1970's lunnacy methinks.

So do I have an opinion on this strike. Well yeah. In a way. Royal Mail does need modernising, it is a simple fact that they are carrying less letters. At the same time, with the huge explosion in parcel delivery due to online shopping, Royal Mail has really cocked that up. Come on, you essentially have a monopoly on the UK's postal system, HOW can you be loosing money?

But also the workers do have to fight for their rights. We are quite happy to give billions away to bankers who are now turning a handsome profit, but as a nation we seem loathe to support the ordinary man on the street if they dare to rise above the parapet and shout 'enough is enough'.

We have seen it happen before in the UK during the 1980's, how an industry is fiddled by government and its public service remit then utterly destroyed until it is there to serve shareholders, leaving the customer with crap. Water companies, bus services and airports are great examples of utilities that have been privatised and utterly beaten into the ground, providing surly service for a high cost. Living in London, I have to put up with Thames Water's overcharging for stuff that falls from the sky (in bucketloads), grumpy bus drivers who are worked into the ground (doing what a generation ago was the job of two people - conductor and driver) and the lunacy that is Heathrow (or the awful, falling to pieces Gatwick).

(Conversely phone companies and airlines have actually worked quite well from a consumer point of view as competition has been easily introduced).

The only place I see the government taking Royal Mail is to the knackers yard to be broken up and sold off to their buddies in The City for a tidy profit. In that way I do support the staff of Royal Mail, as if they do not fight for their jobs, then no one else will. Unfortunately, there is only one was that this is going to end. Badly, for all concerned.

Royal Mail: Born 1660. Died 2009. Killed by a bankrupt and utterly corrupted government. R.I.P.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The laws of blogging by Charlie...

LAW 1: The amount written on this blog is inversely proportional to the amount written beyond.

(In other words, the more I write here, the less I am writing outside this electronic portal)


LAW 2: Never get too personal.

(Absolutely. While this blog can sometimes get fiery, I never reveal too much. My personal and family life is strictly off limits)


LAW 3: No religion.

(I do not want the hassle. My personal beliefs remain my own)


LAW 4: Quality rather than quantity.

(I try, but as this is a nearly daily blog, that can get tricky)


LAW 5: Plan the blog posts.

(I would say about 50% of my blogs are planned, the rest is off the top of my head. The amount of planing can vary from a simple idea brewing in my head, to a full scale draft and research)


LAW 6: Simplify but do not patronise.

(That helps me with my scripts too)


LAW 7: Have fun!

Friday, 16 October 2009

London Diary (1)

October 16th, 2009...it was another bright and beautiful day in London town, the last remnants of a barbecue Autumn, swinging into view. The air was alive with the tingling sensation of something a little bit more than just tet-a-tet and yet, something was amiss from the usual bravado of "D's" day. For some reason, as she looked out over the plains of suburbia, she felt that something was missing. Not from her life, she had a full belly, shelter and a job that paid well. But something was missing. Was it a broach, a pen, or that letter in the post? Nevertheless, despite the seemingly mundane issue of what was missing, the bugging feeling could not be dismissed so easily by "D" who retained a seemingly aloof quality to her normal daily routine...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Meanwhile, back in the UK...

So what happened while I was away. Well, um, that's a good question, as I did not check out the news while abroad. Well, a few thing. Firstly, my green button has returned! Who says that no one reads this blog...(me?)...it really is the little things that make me smile. Oh, and talking about my seer saying, the news that Boris is going to raise TfL's fare rises and cut bus services reminds me of the good old days of the 1990's...and finally, well, there really is no finally, I'm too pooped to blog anymore....two hours sleep, I think I am back to normal!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Crossings over the Hugli River 1 - The Howrah Bridge

(Until January 2010, my monthly series of Crossings on the River Thames will temporarily be on hold. There is a good reason for this...)

Kolkata, a name seeped with intrigue and fear. The big bad city of the Bengal, a seemingly overcrowded den of inequity with beggars on every corner and filth floating in the streets. Yes, while it is a dirty place and yes while there is plenty of poverty, do not underestimate the beauty of this city. It is a rough gem on the Ganges Delta and a thriving metropolis. With an enviable colonial heritage, its streets and passageways are filled with gems to the eye. And of all of these structures, what else is more impressive than the famed Howrah Bridge also known as the Rabindra Setu.



Famed throughout the world as a landmark of Kolkata, it is rightly so. While wandering through the maze of Kolkata's backstreets, it is easy to spot this structure a fair way off, such is its size. Rising as it does above the Hugli river, the Howrah Bridge dominates the riverside skyline. Since India's independence, more crossings have been built over the Hugli, but they still cannot match the style of the Howrah's impressive profile.



Over the Holy Ganges I went, into Howrah. And wow, what a mass of humanity that was using the bridge! Cars and buses thundered over the structure and I was joined by thousands of people on foot, crossing the sacred waters below. This bridge was one of those reasons why I came to Kolkata. To see this famed place, and possibly India's busiest crossing point. If you want to see a slice of a nation, this is it. Rich and poor alike, many stopped to take in the views of the river and the city on either side of the river. I was not just merely crossing a river, but I was crossing history. Below me, the waters have taken the souls of millions to their final resting place. And with each passing vehicle, the bridge shook a little. A little hair raising, but this bridge has been standing for more than sixty years. It can take the knocks.



I will cross many rivers in my lifetime, and I have already been on structures far bigger than the Howrah Bridge. But none of them have held the fascination quite as much as this lynchpin in Kolkata's infrastructure. Maybe it is the seemingly chaotic way in which people mass onto the bridge. Maybe it is because I have crossed the Ganges on foot rather than in a vehicle. But I think it is just the fact that it is such a beautiful piece of engineering. It should not be standing considering the soft mud beneath it, but it does. And today, it takes on the modern world. It is almost a metaphor for the nation itself. Despite the knocks and the bruises it has taken, despite the chaos and the mayhem that is India, it still stands and thrives. If the world has not realised it yet, then maybe it is time to wake up. The future is already here. And it is not China...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Back from India! (2)

I'm back and I wish I was still in India, traveling and seeing, particularly the magical North East. Yes, I know it is the second time in a year, and I really should be fed up of the country by now, but how can I be? Until you visit India, until you witness the 1 in 6 of humanity going about their daily business in a chaos that shouldn't work, but strangely does, do you realise that we, as humans, are a lot tougher, more resilient and far more fun than we give ourselves credit for.

Now yes, India is a filthy place, especially once you leave the hills. The sights of beggars, the wealth disparity and the sheer incompetence of those running the country want to make you weep in frustration. And the geography of the country with one end at the freezing cold Himalaya and the other at the boiling hot Indian Ocean means that the weather at any one point in India is usually f**ked. But let me repeat again, just in case you did not hear it the last time round:

I love India.

I set myself five challenges to do in India on this holiday and that was:

1) To meet the Khasis.
2) Hop on a train.
3) Cross a bamboo bridge.
4) Catch a flick
5) And eat well.

And did I? Well, that will be revealed in the first half November (with spoilers beforehand). After all, I cannot be too hasty in my writings, can I. Well...

Oh, I had such a fantastic time!

I don't often do this but here is a vanity shot, the only photo I took of myself while traveling this year:



That's a smile on me. An all too rare event here in the UK, but something that is always evident in India, wherever you go, no matter what people are doing, they are always smiling. And so where did I go to this time round? Well, I started off in beautiful Meghalaya. I don't know what will happen to me after I die, but if I am destined for heaven, I think I will probably stop off in Meghalaya on the way, such is the beauty of the landscape in this corner of India. Next was Darjeeling, with the briefest of jaunts into Sikkim. Finally, there was Kolkata, home to 15 million people spread along the banks of the Hoogli river. India's third city, and the first time I had visited one of India's big 6. What a magical place, a collision of frantic energy from the mass of humanity that lies here. Three very different places, all in a small knot within the north east of the country. But a place to which I hope to return to in the very near future...