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Archive for June 2007



Smoking Ban

Posted on Sunday 1st July 2007 at 00:00
I write this the day after a third terrorist attack in Britain this week. Fortunately there has been no loss of life and only very minor damage so far, but nonetheless the Nation's terror alert status has been upped to Critical, and our new PM has asked us all to remain vigilant in case of future attempted attacks.

Today Gordon Brown confirmed that the authorities believe the attacks to have come from Al-Qaeda, in their latest attempt to wage war on the West. But I have my own theories about that. It seems to me that if this were the work of regular terrorists, they'd have chosen slightly more significant dates on which to carry out their attacks.

After all, if this spate of violence was in response to Gordon Brown coming to power, surely the attacks would have been on the day that he came to power, ie the 27th June, not the 29th. You can't tell me that the terrorists were caught by surprise at the change of leader and needed a day or two to prepare. If so they must have been the only ones caught out, as the rest of us heard the announcement weeks ago.

The other suggestion has been that it is a response to the second anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings. But, call me a bit funny in the head if you will, when you decide to celebrate an anniversary, don't you usually do so on the correct day? As far as I know, the only people who don't follow this time honoured tradition are the sorts of men who forget their own wedding anniversaries. Is it possible that the terrorists are simply a collection of bad husbands?

Well, perhaps, but I have a better idea. The attacks in London and Glasgow have nothing to do with either Brown or 7/7. They are actually a form of political commentary on the other great event taking place this weekend. That's right, the smoking ban. All this time MI5 and the police have been profiling Islamic extremists and have completely forgotten about that other group of angry people willing to break the law or even kill people to satisfy their obsessions.

Really it has been staring us all in the face. Smokers are angry people. Not only have they been driven out of every bar, club, restaurant, office block and other place of work, but on the very day they are told to 'take it outside', it is pissing it down with rain. If I was a crazed psychopath, bent on destroying myself and everyone around me whilst irritated beyond all belief by the cold turkey symptoms of suddenly being starved of nicotine for the first time since I was 5 years old, I'd be pretty well ready to go to extreme lengths to satisfy my addiction.

Already the BBC is reporting that some pubs are defying the new laws. I can't help but wonder; if they are prepared to go to such extreme measures as lighting up when they shouldn't, who's to say they wouldn't take the next logical step and try and blow people up. And so to the terror attacks. The two car bombs that were discovered in London, full of petrol and gas cylinders and nails, whilst incredibly alarming, were not designed to go off. Instead they were merely commenting on the dangers faced by smokers who have to resort now to smoking in their cars.

As for the burning jeep that smashed into the terminal building at Glasgow airport, what could be more obvious than the message they were trying to convey with their Molotov Cocktails? ?We want to light up!?

For all you or I know, they probably aimed their vehicle and the No Smoking sign on the terminal door.

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Diary Of A Hangover

Posted on Saturday 30th June 2007 at 00:00
At 6:00 this morning I had an idea for a blog post entitled Diary of a Hangover in which I intended to describe in detail the various stages and related sensations that this particular ailment can be broken down into.

Unfortunately though, at the time I was unable to make detailed written notes on the subject, as I was just about to die. When I got up 5 hours later, I was vaguely pleased to learn that I might just pull through, but less pleased to learn that my feverously made mental notes had been lost when a tidal wave of nausea smashed into my brain and scattered the paperwork of my mind all over the office inside my throbbing head.

It's been a fairly delicate day, one way and another. Though I didn't for a second consider staying in bed and feeling sorry for myself, I did have to be rather careful when trying to move/eat/drink/stand up/look at bright lights. All I've actually been able to recall from my original hangover notes is that a crow cawing at around quarter past six sounded louder than if a high speed train had decided to accelerate rapidly whilst parked next to my ear drum. Or maybe in my ear. I think in is most likely.

Either way, it hurt quite a bit, and I was feeling too poorly to even put a pillow over my head and growl. My only saving grace the whole morning was that those Transco Bastards with their sodding pneumatic drill didn't show up again and make more holes in the pavement outside our house, as was their entertainment of choice at 8:30 on Wednesday morning. Wankers.

How can 'Wankers? not be in the Microsoft Word dictionary? Or sodding come to that. Sod is allowed. Wank is not. Most odd.

Around lunch time I decided that fresh air would do me some good. Since I wasn't convinced that I could yet pass a breathalyser test, I decided to walk the 5 miles into town, through the rain. It has always struck me as a most pleasant walk, even if it is rather a long way to go just for a spot of lunch.

Whilst I was in town, I bought myself some indigestion tablets as an experiment. For all my adult life and most of my teenage years, I've suffered from what I now recognise as acid indigestion. It is my theory that part of why I have put on so much weight is that I've been eating masses in order to relieve the symptoms of the condition, even when I haven't actually been hungry. I'm hoping that now I might be able to work on the old portion control, but we shall see.

I've only taken one dose so far, but in fairness I've not been in any pain since. According to the packet, if I take a dose every time I get the acid, I should be on the mend within 7 days. I certainly hope so anyway, as it is a most uncomfortable thing to have every two hours.

The hangover seems to have gone now. Fortunately I've only been left slightly more tired than usual, since my normal regime of antisocial waking hours meant that even though I didn't get in til nearly 3am, I still went to bed at my usual time.

Someone please shoot me.

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Sitting In A Coffee Shop

Posted on Wednesday 27th June 2007 at 00:00
I am sat in Starbucks, hiding in the corner of a room packed full of young people. Given that it is outside the university term, I am forced to assume that these are 6th formers, who, having finished their exams for the year, have happened upon this coffee shop as a popular place of retreat. I have nothing against 6th formers as a rule but I'm a tad peeved to find them here as their presence has cost me a comfy arm chair.

The reason for writing this here, far from being any divine source for inspiration is that I wish to test the practicality of my new mobile handset. This, my third step into the world of smart phones, is a new breed of device, adapted for the increased typing demands placed on modern phones with the aid of a slide out mini keyboard or "thumb board" as I believe they are now called.

Despite the whole board not being much bigger than my thumbs, it is surprisingly easy to use and, the QWERTY keyboard layout is incredibly logically arranged whilst still being well adapted to the body of the phone.

One of the most useful advances over my previous handset is the inclusion of a mobile version of Microsoft Office Word, which will allow me to transfer this document to my desktop for safe keeping when I get home.

Oh thank God, a sofa at last! I don't think my arsenic could have taken another second on that hard wooden chair.

I could use the phone's Wi-Fi connection to post this blog from where I am, but I won't. Forking out for a pricey handset is one thing, but buying access to the local hotspot is something else entirely. I am nothing if not mean :-)

I think the largest group of students are reading a play. How very cool and studentesque. Makes me wish I was still studying a creative subject. Damn you Business and Law! *shakes fist at boring degree*

It is really hard to get a good idea of paragraph lengths on a screen that is a very different size from that of a PC or laptop. The students have all just left and suddenly it is really quiet. Although this is what I wanted when I came in, I miss them now.

I should probably finish here. If I don't get back to my car within the next 20 min I might not be able to afford the cost of the car park!

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Sponsorship

Posted on Tuesday 26th June 2007 at 00:00
BANG BANG BANG goes the front door, each knock coming in rapid succession.





Oh great thinketh I, Another moron who hasn't noticed that we have a door bell!





I've half a mind not to answer the door to anyone who won't request my attention in the proper way, but I'm expecting a package to be delivered - a new smartphone - and I don't want it to be taken away again. I lumber off the bed and step out into the hall. Upon opening the door I discover the culprit to be a small girl, presumably one of the neighbour's children, with a piece of paper and a pen in her hand.





Given that there is no package to be seen, I assume she isn't here to deliver my phone, and I have to fight to hide the disappointment from my face.





'Will you sponsor me for sports day? she asks in a voice so quiet that I'm left wondering if the sight of a fat man who hasn't shaved or combed his hair in three days is the most frightening thing the child has ever seen.





'Sure? I reply instinctively, before realising that sponsorship amounts will have increased faster than pocket money since I was her age, and that that one word of agreement may have just cost me a tenner. I wonder briefly whether or not I could get away with changing my mind and telling her to shove off, but instead I take the sheet from her and scan down the amounts column. It seems the kid has already terrorised half the street, and I'm glad to see that no one has been foolish enough to dish out more than '2 so far.





The going rate is apparently only a quid, which suits me just fine. Having filled in the form I ask her if she wants the money then and there. She grins at me and I retreat into my room for the change.





'There you go. Good luck', I mutter awkwardly, realising for the first time that not only and I too old to be considered 'cool? by the kids on our street, I'm probably old enough to conceivably be this girl's dad.





Five minutes later the door is beaten into submission once more. I gingerly glace out of the window to see half a dozen kids lined up with identical sheets of paper. Clearly the girl has spread the word that there's a gullible prat home whom they should milk for all he's worth. I look at my collection of loose change, do the maths and decide not to answer the door.

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Evilpedia

Posted on Monday 25th June 2007 at 00:00
Today I write to you from the comfort of my bed, where I am currently sitting, propped up with pillows and with my laptop firmly placed on my lap. In recent times this has become my favourite place from which to blog; ever since I got the wireless network up and running.

It may therefore surprise you to learn that last Sunday, at the time that I had planned to be sat here writing to you, I was instead over at my desk, on the main computer with my eyes firmly glued to a website, where I remained for over 4 hours.

The website in question was Wikipedia.

For those of you who haven't yet heard of it, Wikipedia has recently been heralded in the media as one of the great success stories of Web 2.0. It is essentially a user generated encyclopaedia, and, owing to the vast number of users who contribute to it, you can use the site to find an article on almost anything there is to know.

Although there are some questions over its reliability as a research tool, owing to the lack of an editorial process, it has generally been accepted as a more than adequate resource for the casual user, and consequently ranks very highly in Google searches for the topics it covers.

But, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a dark side to Wikipedia. A side that no one talks about. A side that hasn't been given even one inch of newspaper column coverage. A side so incredibly evil that some would argue it is reason enough to remove it from the internet altogether!

And what is this dark side you may ask? Put simply; Wikipedia is more addictive than all the mind altering substances in the greater London area put together! That's right. All over the country, people are opening up their browsers, wishing to relieve a slight curiosity and completely unaware of what is lurking round the corner, waiting to suck them in.

In my case, I'd just been watching a short article on the Beeb about London Underground Tube stations that have been closed down over the years and are just sitting there, gathering dust in the darkness as trains pass by, never ever stopping. This had caught my interest rather and I decided to postpone my blogging activities for that day just long enough that I might explore the subject in more detail on Wiki.

This was at around half past 12 on a Sunday afternoon. The next thing I remember is looking up and finding that it was nearly 5 o clock. Somehow I'd spent my entire afternoon going from page to page, trying to learn everything I could on the subjects that interested me, but simply finding yet more intriguing topics on every page I looked at.

This is sadly not an isolated incident. In fact it happens every time I venture anywhere near the site. Just last night I read a story on the BBC about changes to licensing restrictions on the sorts of animals that can be used in the making of kilts in Scotland. There was some brief mention of lynxes, and I was surprised as I didn't think they lived in Scotland, so I had a little look on Evilpedia.

Somehow I got from Lynxes to Leopards, Leopards to Panthers, Panthers to Big Cats, Big Cats to Cats and Cats to The Cat from Red Dwarf, and before I knew it I had gone from a brief look into an endangered wild cat to reading all about the various continuity errors between the different seasons of one of my favourite Sit-Coms ever.

I honestly don't know how it happened, only that that's an evening of my life I'll never get back.

Beware my friends! Curiosity is a dangerous thing on the internet. In fact curiosity killed the cat, whether it be the wild lynx or a character played by Danny John-Jules I really couldn't say.

Perhaps I should look that one up...

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Irritating Emails

Posted on Monday 25th June 2007 at 00:00
In this modern and utility stocked 21st Century world, we often tend to take for granted all those little luxuries that make our lives smoother and without which we'd be forced to return to life in the middle ages. I know this, because I am currently writing to you from the year 1138AD, where I am rediscovering what life was like before email was invented.

Actually, that is a lie. It is very definitely the year 2007, and the only thing medieval here (apart from The Landlord's taste in wallpapers) is the fact that I really don't have email access. Well, not entirely anyway. For the last few weeks I've been becoming increasingly aware that my emails weren't exactly living up to their promises of lightening fast delivery that had been such a selling point in the 90s. In fact, with an average delay between someone emailing me and the arrival of the email in my inbox being around 10 days, I had discovered the first ever email system to be less reliable than the second class post.

Needless to say I was a bit annoyed about this problem, and after bitching to my provider about it for some time and getting fobbed off with stories about spam filters, they eventually agreed to transfer my account on to a new, faster server (which by the way has been their solution to every single problem I have had since I signed up with them over three years ago).

This is the process that has completly blocked access to my email account. In fact, I've not received a single email since 2am this morning. Apparently it'll take a full 24 hours for the issue to be sorted out, and in the mean time, all I've got for company is a little message that pops up in outlook every 60 seconds or so, telling me that the IMAP server dropped the connection.

Thing is, for all they know, I could be using this account for business purposes. I might be running a whole company from my web space, with crucial orders coming in every few minutes, not just hosting a blog where even the user comment notification messages are few and far between.

Of course, all I'm really after (besides my daily Peanuts comic strip and Word of the Day email) is notification that the new smartphone I ordered off the net-m-jiggy thing on Saturday has been dispatched and will be with me tomorrow morning.

Now, I will be forced to sit under the letterbox and wait for the postman like people used to in the time of the dinosaurs!

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Badly Scripted Blog Winds Up In Casulty

Posted on Sunday 24th June 2007 at 00:00
As those of you who have looked at my site in the last couple of hours will know, earlier this afternoon, I made a bit of a cock up.

Actually, that is an understatement. I totally screwed up the database for the blog in the most spectacular way possible. It all began when I tried to make some adjustments to the delayed posting script. This script is designed so that I can submit blog posts in advance and specify a day in the future on which I wish them to be posted onto the blog. The idea is that if I know I'm not going to be free on a particular day, I can write a post before hand and set it to go live on the day I'm busy in order to keep a steady flow of posts coming.

The trouble was that the posts were being date stamped when I submitted them instead of when they went live, which was looking rather messy, especially for posts that I wrote several days in advance. So, I wanted the script to adjust the time and date to read the current time and date as and when it made the posts live.

Simple enough job really, just a small bit of additional code to insert into the script. Bingo! I saved the script and executed it to check it worked. Unfortunately for me, when I wrote the script in the first place, I was, shall we say, a touch sloppy with my coding. Normally if I'm writing a script that can edit the database, I put in a number of fail safe features designed to stop it overwriting anything it shouldn't, but on this occasion I'd left them out to save time.


The result was that when I ran the script I changed the date of every single post I'd ever written to today's date. Oh. My. Bloody. God. Quite a lot of my blog scripts rely on those dates being correct; not least things like the archive feature, which checks the posting date on each post in order to construct that list with the months and the number of posts in each month. All that box now said was 'June 2007 (208)', which was very bad indeed.

At this point, I almost burst into tears, because database edits cannot be reversed.


I did, as it transpired, have a back up of the database, but it was a month old, and didn't contain any of my June posts, or their comments or anything like that. Still, it was better than nothing, so I backed up the database again, and then prepared to merge the two back ups.


For those who don't know, when you get a database to back itself up, it dumps every word, letter, number and symbol into a single text file, without any structure or line breaks. This text file is vast, and for the most part completely incomprehensible. It contains every post, every comment, every date and time, every picture, every user name and every......every thing that has ever been put into my site.


Finding where the old file ended and where the new one needed to be added wasn't too difficult. Discovering that all 208 records in the file needed to be updated to include an extra column I'd added since the month old back up was carried out, did prove to be rather tricky. As in two-hours-spent-scrolling-through-text-and-replacing-certain-speech-marks-and-commas tricky.


Needless to say, it has not been the best afternoon of my life, and as soon as I have posted this entry, I shall be writing a series of new scripts that back up my database several times over... just in case ;)

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Bizzare Blogging

Posted on Wednesday 20th June 2007 at 00:00
Is there a pattern to how often people blog and when they do so? Last week, I found myself with a curious number of days off on my hands, and consequently I spent rather a lot of time on the internet. After a little while, it became apparent to me that not very many people on my RSS feed were blogging at the moment.

I'm used to being able to check my feed every couple of hours and finding that at least one person has said something. Often, the passing of blog posts has been a fairly accurate way to mark the passing of time, with certain people posting at certain times on certain days. Yet, as day after day of my free time progressed, not a single person was updating their blogs.

I came to suppose that my RSS feed had somehow broken. It was clearly not checking properly, as otherwise it'd be finding all these fantastic posts that I knew were being written. So along I went to each of the sites in turn to check. No, not a single new post between them. In fact, some which normally will update at least every other day hadn't written anything for a full week! I was most perplexed and disappointed.

What could they all be doing? I wondered. Is it a bank holiday weekend? Is there some major sporting event going on? What could possibly have dragged all these people away from their computers like this?

No answers came and I was forced to keep guessing. Yesterday I switched on my computer to find that half my blogroll had updated. Today I switched it on to find the other half had. So, why is it that the tendency to blog, among people who have very little else to do with each other, seems to go in peaks and troughs like this? Does one person see an updated blog and feel that they should post something too?

I only wonder, because I seem to be following the same patterns. For nearly four whole days I sat around with no one else blogging and no ideas of my own, and then suddenly, I come up with about half a dozen all at once, the best of which I'm trying to get written up this morning before work. Is there some great cosmic force in the universe that only gives out inspiration when it feels like it, and we are slaves who respond?

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Toothpaste Trouble

Posted on Tuesday 19th June 2007 at 00:00
I'm standing in the toiletries aisle of the supermarket. My eyes scan along the shelves, first down one side and then the other. At last I locate the toothpaste, cunningly positioned right next to where I'm standing. There are quite a few different types, and I find myself feeling rather intimidated as I go to pick up the first one. The box is brightly coloured and the friendly writing on the side informs me that it contains Platinum Whitening Fluoride. Oh Good think I, I'll be able to flash my shiny white teeth at all the ladies I meet.

I put it in my basket and am just turning to leave, when I spot another toothpaste. This one claims to have Advanced Cavity Protection. Ah ha says the great brain, We need protection from cavities, and the more advanced the better! I drop the new toothpaste into the basket next to the other one and, now satisfied that I have both whitening and cavity protection, I start to move along the aisle.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a third toothpaste, this one claiming to offer me tartar control. Well, I don't think we can really do without good tartar control can we? I plonk it, too, into my basket, along with a fourth that will give me minty fresh breath for 12 hours, guaranteed.

The old lady buying a toothbrush a few feet away looks at my basket and makes a quiet tutting noise, as if to say 'Damn amateur shopper. Doesn't even know which toothpaste to buy!? I also look at my basket, and feel ashamed. I replace all of the toothpastes and instead pick up the one my mother always buys, before leaving the aisle as fast as I can.

Fast forward nearly three years and I still cannot tell you which is the best toothpaste to get. There are so many types, each claiming to do different things and I don't know which is the most important. Mouth wash is even worse. Every single flavour of Listerine claims to help clean a different part of your mouth.

Why? Why would anyone want clean gums but not cavity protection? Or tartar removal but not fresh breath? It's like being asked to choose between a car with wheels but no engine and a car with an engine but no wheels. You think by now someone would have come up with an all round product that will do all of these things and not force you to brush your teeth 18 times a day with different pastes, just to be sure your dentist won't be taken ill when they next look inside your mouth.

If anyone ever does, I reckon they'll become a millionaire.

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Idiots Drive 4x4s

Posted on Sunday 17th June 2007 at 00:00
If there is one thing that really annoys me when I'm on the road, it is people who think that they can overtake me whilst remaining in the same lane.

Earlier I went for a drive for the first time since last Wednesday. There wasn't any particular reason for this absence from the road, save the fact that I'd not had any work or other engagements in that time which should have caused me to need to leave the house. The only reason for mentioning this is that I normally driver every day or every other day, and so the long period without driving was unusual and thus altered my perceptions upon taking control of my vehicle once more.

I enjoyed that drive. I was heading for the cinema at Longwell Green, which for me means a few miles spent on the faster part of the Ring road. Faster still on a late Sunday afternoon, when the roads are fairly clear and one can take full advantage of the duel carriageway speed limits. My car only has a 1.25L engine, but nonetheless it felt powerful, refined, controlled. As I came off each roundabout and accelerated from 30 to 70, I marvelled at how smoothly the car handled and how forcefully it leapt forward with even the smallest nudge of my foot on the accelerator pedal.

Although I'm pretty sure I wasn't speeding, I arrived at the cinema earlier than expected; sadly a common feature of an enjoyable drive. After the film I returned to my car and set off on my return journey. Once more, I found myself feeling powerful and masterful as I fed the wheel into exactly the line around each roundabout that I was after. As I indicated off the roundabout I increased the revs to around 3,500 rpm before shifting up into 4th gear.

I'd just executed a smooth and precise change into 5th, of a variety that even Michael Schumacher would have admired, when I glanced in my rear view mirror and discovered a 4x4 sat right on my tail. It had come up behind me after the roundabout and was now threatening to swap bumpers. I was most annoyed, especially as I was already doing 70, and was just muttering something rude about the driver under my breath when I spot the vehicle moving to the outside of the lane.

Had I been in the left hand lane this wouldn't have been a problem in the slightest, but I was already in the overtaking lane and passing Sunday drivers by the dozen. There were no more lanes for this guy to move into. Having manoeuvred his monstrosity over until his driver side wheels were in danger of running onto the grass, he then proceeds to accelerate rapidly, coming towards me like he was going to run me off the road!

Luckily at the very same instant a chance gap opened up in the other lane and I was able to pull over nice and quickly, just in time to see the bloke speed off into the distance. Fortunately I'd been paying attention and had had a little forewarning of what he might be trying to do. But he didn't know that. There was no way he could have possibly known that I was watching him. Supposing I hadn't been? Supposing at the very moment he decided to charge me, I'd been fiddling with my radio or turning up the heating or something? Supposing I had had no idea he was even there? He'd have come up behind me and either gone straight into my boot or else slap bang into the central reservation.

What a prat!

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Thursday Thoughts

Posted on Thursday 14th June 2007 at 00:00
Why can I not come up with anything to blog about? I've been sitting here for over 12 hours doing virtually nothing and have yet to think of a single post. I'm sure just the other day I had a hundred good ideas, and neither the time nor the paper on which to note them down for later usage. Oh how I hate the way in which my brain fails me when I most need it.

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I need biscuits. Biscuits, and some sort of cool beverage with which to wash them down.

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The problem with chocolate digestives is that they always have an end, as well as a beginning. No sooner do I pick one up and begin the task of munching my way through its dreamy chocolateness than the whole thing has come to a rather crumby end. If only they could invent a digestive that simply kept going forever and ever, I should be a very happy man.

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Why does one spend a whole day procrastinating in order to avoid a job that could at the most only take half a day to complete? I've managed to waste an entire day of freedom from work or any other commitments by sitting at the computer playing flash games and wondering why people don't blog more often, all because I couldn't bring myself to get to work on two hours of modifications to a website I maintain. It is an awfully silly situation when you think about it. Now I am too tired to continue and shall be forced to waste tomorrow morning on it instead.

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I have washing in the machine that I need to get out and hang up soon if I am to have anything to wear tomorrow. For some reason though, the prospect of having to lift my arms in physical labour fills me with a horror and dread that I just can't overcome after about half past 9 in the evening. Even the smallest hint of tiredness and I find myself going from being merely unusually inactive for a man of my years to the laziest man in all England.

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Earlier in the day I went to the trouble of adding wireless capabilities onto the existing wired network in the house, so that I'd be able to use my laptop whilst sitting on my bed or in the lounge or something, in order to give me a little variety when posting. For some reason though, I seem to be writing this whilst sat at my desk still.

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I can't seem to decide whether I'm hot or cold. Normally I choose one and stick with it until the end of the day, but this evening I've been taking my jumper off and putting it back on more times than the BBC News website slips in a story about male genitalia in a month.

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When I'm tired I should go to bed. This is a lesson I should have learnt after 21 years of existence, but apparently have not...

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A Very Happy Birthday

Posted on Tuesday 12th June 2007 at 00:00
Well folks, as many of you know, Sunday was my 21st birthday, and after a wait of nearly two whole days, I've finally got time to tell you about it. Unlike most 21 year olds, getting drunk was never in my plans. That was my 18th and 19th, and in more recent years, much of the appeal has gone out of it. That's not to suggest that I won't be getting drunk. In fact, I have a date written in my diary for the end of the month when I'll be going out with the guys from work, having a meal and then getting more than a little sloshed in a club somewhere in downtown Bristol.

Sunday though was a day for family. After abandoning family celebrations in previous years in order to go down the pub with friends, I was beginning to feel increasingly guilty that the people who were actually responsible for my birth were playing a smaller and smaller part in its anniversary, a problem that increases with every year that I spend less and less time under their roof. This year though, I made up for it by spending the whole day with my immediates, and it was great.

Presents were an AM affair, opened in their entirety before the clock had reached half past 10, in order to facilitate our speedy departure from the house. I received a number of gifts from the family, some big and some small, but all bought in incredible taste, and with a keen judgement of my own character and style that even I don't possess. The chief present, if one had to choose was a Tom-Tom SatNav system. I'm sure you know the thing I mean. It is a small electronic device with a touch sensitive screen that you put in your car and it shows you a map of where you are going, complete with relevant and timely directions that it'll bark at you in a regional accent of your choosing.

They are a firm favourite among those who can't navigate whilst diving, on account of their simplicity of use, but are becoming increasingly popular among those who, like myself, have an excellent head for directions, but who wish to benefit from the many extra features that can prove invaluable in tricky situations. These include being able to quickly locate nearby petrol stations, and provide alternative routes when you hit road works or traffic. If you want they'll even connect to your mobile phone and use its internet connection to download local traffic information and adjust your route accordingly. For anyone who drives a lot, or even gets lost walking from the railway station to a meeting place, these little hand held friends might just be the best thing since sliced bread.

Also of particular note, among the usual collection of DVDs and books and such like, was an adventure pack for thrill seekers. The idea is that you buy this pack for someone and then they get a choice out of four or five adventure activities to do. The pack contains information on all of them and allows you to go ahead and book which ever you choose. My choice is between white water rafting, ice wall climbing, snow boarding, bungee jumping and indoor skydiving. It is going to be a hard choice I tell you!

A short while later we set off (sat nav in hand) for the parents? boat, on which we sailed up river to a near by pub. The weather was fantastic and I used the time to try and take some nice photos. One thing blogging has taught me is that there are a lot of people out there who take really nice photos on seemly average digital cameras, and this has left me annoyed at my own shitty achievements, especially since my camera is quite reasonable and was not at all cheap. For this reason I am determined to lean how to do it properly and have been reading lots of guides to digital photography.

Sleeping in the Sun


I took around 70 experimental photos throughout the day and some of them turned out fairly well. Since then I've been looking at post production methods of neatening up photos and these are some of the results.

We reached the pub at about 2pm and felt compelled to stop for a drink and some crisps. By this point it was pretty warm and refreshments were definitely the order of the day. I took the time to take a few more photos, without the hindrance of the boat's movement.

View From a River


Soon though it was time to move on once again and we moored for lunch a short distance below the next lock. Lunch itself was a BBQ, for which I'd chosen a wide range of food specially the day before. We used a double size disposable BBQ pack which was so large that we were able to cook almost all the food at once.

The parents have expanded their collection of collapsible chairs since I was last on board, and now there were enough for us all to sit in relative comfort on the bank and eat and chat to our hearts content. The sky had clouded over slightly by this point; a welcome relief from the hot sun that was beating down upon us, and I decided to experiment with the change in light to see how it suited my camera.

Towpath to Nowhere


By the time we'd finished it was nearly 5 o clock, and high time we were departing on our homeward journey. As is often the case on these trips, the return seemed quicker than the outward, and not least because I was at the helm. We returned to our berth at around 7, packed up quickly and headed home for Smoked Salmon and Champaign, a tradition on birthdays.

From a blogging point of view, the other very notable present of the day was the one I received from Amazon the other week, which I could finally open today. I'm extremely grateful to a very generous reader for their most wonderful gift, and I'd like to assure them that it will be much enjoyed (and probably blogged about) over the next few weeks.

I leave you now with one last picture, which I took during a short break between locks on the upstream journey.

Empty Field

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As Promised…

Posted on Monday 11th June 2007 at 00:00
Melba's Bathroom


10 points to anyone who can see what might be wrong with this particular bathroom door arrangement in a Twin room. Just to clarify, the bit on the left with a towel at the bottom is the shower.

.....and yes, there is a gap between the doors that doesn't entirely disappear when they are closed.

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Location: Leicester

Posted on Sunday 10th June 2007 at 00:00
This is the post that I wrote last Thursday, whilst I was without the internet access I'd expected to find at the B&B I stayed in on the night before the conference. Finally it makes it into its rightful place on the blog.

And so dear readership, you find me sat on a small bed in a small room up in the roof of a small B&B about 10 minutes walk from Leicester city centre. Tomorrow is the blogging conference I wrote about a short while ago, and I must say I'm quite excited. Obviously, by the time you read this, the conference will either be happening or will have happened, depending on when I can get net access, but in the interests of keeping a sensible chronology on the whole thing, I feel duty bound to inform you that it is currently 23:44 on Thursday 7th June 2007.

I had intended to write this post as a mini showcase of all the technology available to me whilst travelling, and the various different ways in which I'll be using it to remain connected to the rest of the world during my time here. Unfortunately though that has been royally buggered up by the lack of the internet access in every room that the B&B promises on its website. Because of this, I've not been able to so much as check my emails since I left Bristol, and my cunning reserve plan to turn my mobile into a modem for the laptop and use GPRS to connect has been scuppered by a lack of the necessary drivers. Thanks for that Mr Gates!

The journey here was fairly uneventful on account of nothing happening, and so I won't bore you with it, except to say that at one point I thought I'd had a blow out, only to discover that actually it was just a really poor road surface. Other than that we made good time, covering the 170 miles in just over 2 and a half hours.

The afternoon was spent wondering round the shops and again has little of interest to report but at 6pm we found ourselves in a pub with some rather interesting MA students who are researching the concepts of new media on the internet. New media encompasses blogging among many things and is a radical look at how the internet will work as a medium in the future.

A meal and long chat later and my head is still buzzing with it all. Sadly for me I've got to get up at half 6 to be at the conference on time, so I'm going to have to put the brain to sleep now. I leave you with a photo of the loo in my twin room...

...Or rather I don't because the photo in question remains on another camera, but I will post it when I get hold of it. In the mean time it just remains for me to inform you that I have completed my last post, in which I detailed the conference as it was happening, so if you've not read to the end of that, you may wish to do so now.

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Women, Business and Blogging 2007

Posted on Friday 8th June 2007 at 00:00
Well, this is my 200th post and what better way to celebrate than by reporting live from the Women, Business and Blogging Conference 2007 in Leicester! Right now we are part way through the welcome session, and not surprisingly, everyone is sat here with laptops, taking advantage of the wireless network that has been kindly laid on for us.

Throughout the day I shall be regularly updating this post, trying to let you know what is happening at every opportunity. I won't have a lot of time to write here though, so please forgive any spelling mistakes I make, as I might not have time to correct them all!

The hosts of the conference have kindly thought to issue each of us with a list of delegates, complete with email addresses and blog URLs, which should make networking a lot easier. More later...

13:19 - So it is lunch time and I'm back to writing the blog. The morning was absolutely amazing. The first speaker was Meg Pickard, who gave a well delivered talk on the nature of blogging. Very inspiring. I'm sitting on the next table along from her now as I type this. Freaky huh? I wrote about two sides of notes as she spoke. If I get time I might write up what she was saying later, but the gist was that the rules of who provides content and who consumes it has changed since the arrival of the blog. Now it is users interacting with each other on platforms like YouTube and blogger that provide the content within various contexts.

Meg


Next was Eileen Brown from Microsoft. She talked about how Microsoft had asked her to write a blog and how she is able to keep her work professional. She doesn't use it as a PR exercise for the company, but by being open with its customers and allowing its workers to be open with their blogs, the company has developed a more human face.

Eileen


The last session in the morning was small groups working out questions to ask a panel later. Our group was very enthusiastic and covered many different topics that I may talk about later, overrunning by a full 15 minutes without realising. More later...

The Next Day - So here we are back home, a full day after the conference. Well rested I am and ready to reflect on the conference in a little more detail, now that I have the time. In the afternoon - immediately after I'd finished the last update in fact - we returned to the main lecture theatre and prepared for Jory Des Jardins to give the final key note speech. Unfortunately my laptop battery had given up the ghost by now, and I was fortunate to find the only mains outlet in the whole room, hidden away at the back and off to one side. Of the three, this is the talk I had the most difficulty connecting with at first. It all seemed very America orientated and was of a rallying nature. At some points I wondered whether I was hearing a talk outlining the role of women in the blogosphere or a self help guide for members of some new age American Suffragette movement.

Once I cut through all of that though, I found the underlying message to be rather interesting. Jory was right to be excited by the role of women on the US blog scene. They are already making up a huge part of the millions and millions of active blogs to be found State-side, and what is more, they make up an even bigger percentage of the over all consumer spending figures, a fact which won't surprise anyone with a girl who likes to shop.

This means that female bloggers have enormous sway over marketing departments and companies, all of whom are practically begging bloggers to provide good reviews of their products. The lovely ladies of the web seem to have done quite well out of the stupid sods, acquiring anything from free lipsticks to test, to free cars to keep, if only they can mention the product in question briefly on their blog. Let's face it, if I were given a free car, I think I'd blog about it!

Jory


After the talk came a question and answer session, where the three key noters were sat down at the front and asked some of the questions that we'd prepared before lunch during the small group sessions. It would have been really nice to have a whole day just for this part, as the answers were really interesting. Eileen talked about how search engines tend to prefer newer search results, which means if you are being searched for by a potential employer, it is fairly unlikely that they will immediately find an old post you'd rather leave buried. Obviously someone looking for that sort of thing will be able to find it, but that is a different matter entirely.

Question


Following the Q&A session was half an hour of coffee and networking. This break allowed me time to pack up my laptop and its assortment of cables carefully once everyone else had left the room. I was still there when Meg came up to me, having worked out who I am online, and we spent five or ten minutes chatting about the conference and some of the topics that had been brought up. It seems that in order to allow a degree of consistency in the rate that she posts, Meg, and presumably others, often has a number of posts on the go at any one time, in various stages of development which can be pulled together and posted at short notice, in order to fill in gaps in the inspiration.

Apparently it is also possible on some blogs to use cronjobs to create time delayed posts, that you can write when you have time and which will then appear at times which you have prearranged. I can imagine this to have many uses when one is on holiday, or will be away from the computer for sometime. I can't deny that the idea has captured my imagination, and I'm therefore compelled to add such a feature to my site this very evening, in order to cater for the awful irregularity of my posting in recent weeks.

At the end of the conference, we broke off into small groups again, in order to brain storm specific ideas about blogging. Myself and a few people I knew joined a session on voices, and how they can be used within your blog. The group seemed to be a good mix of people, and hopefully we were able to encourage the few non-bloggers in the room to take up this brilliant hobby.

So, that was that, and I am now safely back home. But what about you? Did anyone here also go? If so, what did you think? I'd love to hear what you made of the day in the comments section :)

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Notes

Posted on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 00:00
Unusual Notes


This is a scan of a sketch I saw being made at the Women, Business and Blogging Conference during the Key Note Speech by Meg Pickard. The artist was an acquaintance of mine and so I asked her if I could take a photo of the image, which is apparently a complete set of notes for what Meg was saying, if you can read it.

Seeing my obvious enthusiasm for the piece she said that I could have it instead, and at the end of the day gave me her booklet. There are one or two other images that might be interesting in there, so perhaps I'll scan them in later.

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The Evening Shift

Posted on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 00:00
I walk through the doorway from the office to the bar. The shutters are down, which surprises me. I had expected the shift to be fully under way by this point, with a large and noisy crowd shouting for service. I remember hearing earlier that business had been slow during the day. Perhaps they have decided to close early? Perhaps my evening shift is over even before it has begun?

There are five of my colleagues standing there ready; four regulars and a Supervisor. It quickly becomes apparent that we haven't yet opened for the shift and are about to find out how busy it is going to be.

'It all hangs on how many people are on the other side when I open the shutters? says The Supervisor. 'We may have to send some of you home early.?

The bar is quite long and consequently the shutters are divided into four sections, in order to make the job of raising and lowering them easier. The first section is duly raised and six of us stare out into the room. Six hundred faces stare back. Fortunately for us, after a moment or two they all turn away in unison and go back to watching England V Brazil on the big screen.

The remaining shutters are raised and the posts that separate them removed and we are ready to begin. It takes a few minutes for the crowd watching the football to realise that we are open, but soon they begin to arrive in droves, and the end of term Drink the Bar Dry event has begun. When I signed up to work DtBD the day before, I'd done so on the assumption that most students have usually left by the beginning of June, and that as a result, this would be a reasonably quite evening. My assumption was wrong.

I find myself being shouted at by a dozen people immediately in front of me, all vying for my attention whilst pushing each other to get prime position along the bar. The row of faces is at least three people deep along the whole of the length of the bar, and beyond them I can see a room packed more tightly than a Piccadilly tube train in rush hour.

Fortunately I have worked on this bar twice before and so know my way around the pumps and bottles fairly easily, but there are a fair few things I don't know, and to make matters worse, one of my colleagues has never worked on a bar before, and another has only limited English skills. When I get asked for a Snakebite with Black I'm a little confused to say the least and resolve to ask The Supervisor.

'Half of cider, half of lager with a shot of blackcurrant squash? she informs me. Useful knowledge to hold on to, since I find myself making at least a score of these before the night is out. 'Cider with Black? is also a common request, along with the usual voddie and cokes, voddie and lemonades, voddie lemonade and limes, doubles of everything, Archers and lemonades, Malibu and cokes and about a million pints of every draught we can offer them.

Unfortunately, the variable nature of our normal sales means that only one tap for each beer has been connected to a barrel and no one has bothered to find the missing nozzle for one of the lemonade pumps. So, when one customer asks for 10 pints of Blackthorn and another asks for two Snakebites, there tend to be queues for the one and only pump that will do the job. From time to time it becomes acceptable to steal any pints that have been pulled, regardless of whether they were intended for your customer or some else's.

A prudent person has taken the decision to use plastic glasses rather than glass ones, and we go through hundreds of them. Seemingly every five minutes I have to pop back into the office, where the boxes of cups are being kept, and bring out another stack of thirty. The drinks keep on flowing, the tills and drip trays keep on filling up and we continue to run around like maniacs trying to get through as many customers as possible.

At one point a bloke comes up to me with blood dripping from his knuckles and asks for some plasters. I give him three and he seems happy. I get back to serving, trying to choose between the bullish blokes who demand in a loud voice that I serve them next, and the pretty girls who flutter their eye lashes at me with the ease of many drunken nights of practice. A dodgy barrel of lager causes a ripple of anger across the bar, and we have to take it off sale until the barrel can be replaced again. The guy with the bleeding knuckles returns and I issue him with more plasters.

After three and a half hours, I am instructed to take a break by The Supervisor. It seems that having been in work for 13 and a half hours by this point, I've outworked everyone else and deserve the first break. I get a few envious looks from my fellows and I grab myself a lemonade and depart out back to take stock of myself.

My sleeves are sticky and smell of booze from the wide variety of drinks that have been slopped over them. My hands are stained from the different shades of beer and alcopops that cling to them. I sip my lemonade and wonder if my feet have ever ached so much. The lemonade doesn't appear to have any sugar in. I go back onto the bar to tell The Supervisor and get a barrage of abuse from disappointed customers who expect me to serve them. The Supervisor is nowhere to be seen, so I leave a message and retreat to the back office.

A TV is on and on it is Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. The guest is Gordon Ramsay and it seems that Ross feels he needs some cooking lessons. The Supervisor comes in and I check to see if she got my message. She didn't. By the time I go back to work Ross and Ramsay are both attempting to eat fried maggots.

Five minutes back behind the bar and I feel like I never sat down. My mouth is dry as a bone and my legs are threatening to drop off if I try to walk another step. I ignore them. It seems stupid to be thirsty when you are pouring scores of drinks an hour, but I guess that's a metaphor for the service industry.

Towards the end of the evening I start seeing people I actually know. Some I meet quite often but some I've not been in touch with for ages, and it is good to catch up briefly. They all ask me the same question: 'How come you are working when you could be on the other side of the bar with everyone else?? It seems like a good question, and one which I'm not altogether sure I can answer with absolute conviction. The point hits home when I've served them their drinks and they leave; off to have fun whilst I remain stuck behind the bar.

At 1:45am I notice that the queue is beginning to thin out slightly and by the time we call last orders a quarter of an hour later, there is no one left complaining that they are thirsty. The shutters come down and we breathe a collective sigh of relief. It is all over after 6 hours of solid customers. Almost all the drinks in the place have gone, and once we've finished clearing up the bar we will be able to leave as well.

Not so. Just as we are finishing the sweeping, wiping, emptying and restocking of the bar, The Supervisor appears hands us a bin liner each, and sends us out into the room to have a tidy up. What greets us is as scene of total devastation. Spread over the floor, the tables and chairs, the pool tables, the patio outside and the steps down towards the car park is a thick layer of hundreds, perhaps thousands of plastic cups, bottles, plates of food, cigarette butts and crisp packets.

By the time I sign out at the end of my shift, the clock in the office reads 03:15.

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The Comings And Goings Of Cash

Posted on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 00:00
The lady orders a cappuccino and hands over a '2 coin.

I place the coin, all alone, in the appropriate slot in the till, and close the draw, having handed her the change.

Sometime later a man orders a latte and hands over a '5 note. I place the note in the appropriate part of the draw and as change, I give a 5p, a 20p, a 50p, a '1 and the '2 coin that I had taken from the lady a short while before.

I look up at her now, sitting there drinking her cappuccino, and I wonder if she realises that the coin that she was carrying in her purse a few minutes ago is now in the pocket of the man walking past her table.

This got me thinking about the extraordinary journey that our currency takes throughout its lifetime. All those transactions, all those tills and purses, pockets and sweaty palms. The number of times we count the coins in our possession before we surrender them and the number of times they get counted in the till, bagged up and put into a safe, taken out and counted again, put back in the till and given out as change to another customer.

Coins and notes must each travel hundreds of miles a year. Maybe even hundreds of miles a month or week or day. If you think of the guy who takes '10 out of the cash machine in Bristol Temple Meads railway station just before catching the 08:30 First Great Western Service for London Paddington, you've got a journey right there. When he arrives at Paddington at 10:00 he is quite thirsty and so pops into the caf? for a coffee, which he pays for with the '10 note.

The lady in the queue behind him buys a cup of tea and a slice of cake, but only has a '20 note in her purse. Apologising to the girl behind the till, she hands over the twenty and receives the '10 note in her change. She is in London for the day with her daughter, and after she has had her tea and they've shared the cake, they travel to Covent Garden via the Bakerloo and Central lines for a spot of shopping. Later they lunch in the Garrick Arms, just off Leicester Square, and the Lady hands over her '10 note.

At 14:25, a bloke in a suit pops into the same pub for a late lunch with some work colleagues and pays on card. He asks for '10 cash back and, yep, you've guessed it, he is given our favourite note. After lunch he takes the tube to London Euston and boards a Virgin Express train to Birmingham International, where he gets a connection to the Airport. Before boarding his flight he spends his '10 on an evening newspaper in WH Smiths.

An hour later, an arrival at the airport requires change for '50 that the bureau de change gave her for her Euros. The cash draw of the till is fairly full by this point in the day and the cashier obliges her. The passenger than travels from the airport to the railway station and catches a train to Bristol Temple Meads. Here she buys a waffle from the stand in the station underpass, which is just shutting up for the night.

And so you can see how on a typical day a single note or coin can travel all over the place, just by changing hands a few times.

If we consider electronic money, the journey can be even more crazy. For example, if I were to log onto Amazon now and buy a book by Stephen Fry, the money would go from me to Amazon. They would then send some of it off to their supplier, who in turn would pass on a proportion to the publishing house. At the end of the month, Fry would receive a royalties cheque from his publisher, a little bit of which would be my money. He then visits a cash machine and takes it out before meeting up with his good friend Hugh Laurie for lunch. Hugh pays for the meal and Stephen pays him back for his share. Hugh then discovers that he has rather a lot of money in his wallet, and so deposits some of it into his bank account, including the money that I paid Stephen Fry.

Later that day, Mrs. Laurie is browsing the web and comes across The World of Yaxlich. She notices his request for Pants Aid, and, understanding the need for pants, uses her and Hugh's joint bank account to donate some money to the cause. Yaxlich then goes out and buys some more pants, and suddenly the money I paid Amazon for a book by Stephen Fry has gone to making sure that Yaxlich has clean underpants to wear.

And you know what? I'm going to wash my hands every time I handle money from now on. Clearly that stuff is more dangerous than bar peanuts!

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Kids

Posted on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 00:00
I stand in the changing room dripping all over the floor. I've just swum 1,600 metres; a full mile, give or take and am pleased with myself. Just as I open up my locker I hear a voice behind me cutting through the noise of the crowded room.

'You bloody idiot!? It's the voice of a man who is clearly not best pleased. I hope he isn't speaking to me and pause before turning to look.

'You stupid boy, you've put your hands in the toilet again! How many times have I told you not to put your hands down the toilet?!? Having not put my hands down the toilet recently, I'm pretty sure he isn't speaking to me. On inspection I find the torrent of abuse is being directed at a little boy of about 4. As he speaks the man lifts the kid up to a nearby sink, quickly applies soap to the kid's hands and jerks them under the hot tap.

I know from experience that the water from that tap is scolding and the boy cries out in pain before bursting into tears. His father drags him off to the changing area whilst bellowing at the child not to be so bloody disgusting and to stop ruining things every time they go out.

Once he is sure that the entire room has heard him he starts on his other charge, a 10 year old who it seems has made the mistake of being on the same planet as his brother at the time the incident happened.

'Why the hell didn't you stop him? If you'd being paying attention and watching him instead of day dreaming this would never have happened! It's all your fault!? 10 year old stands there, looking sorry for himself and taking each of his father's verbal blows like a car wreck.

They are just across from me and I hate the man. He clearly has no idea how to look after his kids at all. I suspect he may be the divorced father, forced to see his kids once a week and annoyed to be wasting his bank holiday doing so. I doubt it even occurs to him that it was he who should have been paying attention to 4 year old and making sure he kept his hands out of the toilet, not the wretched youth.

As I leave the changing room, I feel sorry for those kids. All they wanted was to do what most kids do and spend a day off from school having fun on the water slides. Now their father is in a bad mood and they are going to have to put up with him for the rest of the afternoon. I depart with a heavy heart.

Later I am in the cinema watching Pirates of the Caribbean, when I discover I am sat within ear shot of a family with several children. Much to my amusement, at the interval I overhear one cheeky child say to her father 'Give me a chocolate elephant or I'm calling ChildLine!? Towards the end of the film, Kiera Knightly asks Orlando Bloom if he is ok after he has just been stabbed. The child a couple of seats down retorts in an indiscreet whisper 'Oh course he's not ok... twat!?

I'm driven to wonder if this is the same kid who, whilst watching Spiderman 3 in Basingstoke the other week, saw Kirsten Dunst snog James Franco and uttered the following killer line in a voice of mock shock that one would not expect from a little girl:

'Huh, the slut!?

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