Thursday, March 31, 2005

Strange news on Thursday

A bizarre piece of internet crime spotting here at The Guardian. It does raise questions about whether the use of webcams might lead to the reporting of dodgy behaviour. The thing that intrigues me is why somebody in the middle of Australia was watching this anyway. He's only had broadband for 2 weeks; how might you enjoy this novelty? Downloading video clips of the new Dr Who series? Watching something naughty? Nope, this chap wanted to watch a webcam on Exmouth seafront. Now, I don't mean to suggest that Exmouth is anything other than gripping, but I live in the same country and even I couldn't be arsed looking at that.

It also raises issues as to how other cultures might view the crimes seen remotely. In this case, Australia and England probably have similar laws, but I wonder how things might be interpreted between different cultures? Imagine the conversations...

Websurfer: I want to report a crime. There's a group of guys outside a polling station with machine guns, beating up some poor bloke!
Zimbabwean PC: that's just Mr Mugabe's helpful assistants, giving our citizens some helpful advice as they're casting their vote. You'll see, they'll even help him inside, to make sure he fills in the ballot paper correctly.

Websurfer: Please help! There's a bloke in a red rugby shirt, with something green pinned to it, being set upon by a gang of men! They're killing him, it's really vicious! Go and help him. It's on a webcam in the town centre.
Chester PC: Ah, now that would be within the city walls, then sir. And it's after dark. I bet that green thing on the rugby shirt is a leek. No problem sir, it's perfectly legal to kill a Welshman within the Chester city walls after dark.

There are a lot of references to this law on the web, but I can't find a definitive academic reference that proves this (before anybody whose wife has run off with a Welshman sends them anonymous tickets for a visit to Chester Zoo).Although I think the zoo closes well before nightfall, so you would have to have some other ruse to delay them, like hanging a fake banner outside the train station saying that all the trains had been cancelled. And trusting that they wouldn't realise that if the trains had really been cancelled, they would have used the electronic information boards inside the station to announce this, rather than creating a message from a piece of old sheet and some permanent markers. Or maybe you could secretly rig up some very powerful lights around Chester Zoo to mimic daylight, and fool everybody there into thinking it was much earlier than it actually was, and then plunge them into darkness. Anyway.

Websurfer: There's a crowd of people charging down the street fleeing a herd of bulls which has got loose, call the emergency services!
Pamplona PC: What is the problem, senor (no, I don't know how to do that thingy over the n, and I'm not going to learn now)?

Iraq websurfer: There is a scene of chaos before me: baying crowds, violence, women stripped until they are wearing almost nothing, violence casually applied, windows smashed and looting. Where are the forces of law and order?
PC: Yes, sir, a Saturday night in Croydon. Exactly what was your point?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Urgent appeal

We've all been a part of Live Aid, we've all given to Oxfam, especially after the tsunami, we've all emailed Tony through Make Poverty History, (if you haven't, get on there and do it, even though he didn't give a toss about what most of us thought about the war in Iraq), but there is one burning cause to which we have been oblivious. Please, if you do one worthwhile thing today, help save Toby. Bright eyes, burning like fire....ooh-oo, doo doo doo de doo...

Oh, come on, have a sense of humour!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Boat race

Yesterday we went to the Boat Race. We walked there from our house, a distance of about 12 miles along the towpath (as part of our holiday training), and watched the start at Putney. As the Scotsman said, it's the only sporting event where nobody knows the names of any of the athletes; nobody could tell you who won the last three races; nobody sees the whole event, just the fifteen seconds when the boats are going past their particular vantage point; and nobody cares much who wins anyway. It's an excuse to meet friends and go to the pub. We have two good friends who we sometimes go with, one who went to Oxford, and one who went to Cambridge. I used to vaguely support Oxford, as they gave me a conditional place to read English, which I missed by one A level grade, so had to study at London instead. I'm not really bothered one way or the other now.

Once we saw the start, we dashed into this pub to see the finish, but it was too crowded to get a drink, so we went to The Coat and Badge for a much needed beer. We then went to catch the bus back to Richmond, walking up Putney High Street in the rain. One rather drunk chap had nicked a pub garden parasol as an umbrella!

Oxford won, by the way.

Friday, March 25, 2005


I like to think that I'm quite an artistic person, but one thing that I've never got the hang of is photography. Some people are able to find exactly the right moment to capture, exactly the right angle. My definition of a good photo is one where I didn't get my finger in it, or didn't have to swat a wasp at the last minute. I'm talking about when I'm taking the photo, obviously. If I'm in the photo, there's nothing wrong with my finger, or all ten, being on show; I don't have deformed fingers which I have to hide. The wasp swatting, however, works both ways, tending to result in a very blurry photo if I'm taking it, and an unattractive pose if I'm actually in it. Anyway.

I was absolutely blown away by this photoblog featuring New York Street scenes. This guy is incredibly talented. I love this, and this.

If you want an interesting UK photography site then Derelict London is good.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Strange news on Thursday

A trifle belatedly today, as we are having friends round for lunch tomorrow and I have been cooking. And bloody AOL just crashed and I lost the post I had almost finished.

You may or may not know that it is illegal to kill and eat swans. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the famous composer, has had a spot of bother after finding a dead swan outside his home on Orkney.

Now, the strangest thing about this is not that he used some of the carcass for food, but that he wanted to save the wings as part of a nativity play costume. Now, admittedly, they mainly consist of feathers, but there is also muscle, and bone. Surely they would start to smell a bit before Christmas? Or was he going to freeze them until the big day, and create the only theatrical costume with a use-by date?

I have a certain respect for him; most people, if they found a dead bird outside their home, would just think "yuck", but he sees the opportunity for a tasty snack and a bit of fancy dress. Nothing if not resourceful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

An unusual murder

Upper and Lower Quinton are quaint, peaceful villages in Warwickshire, on the very North East fringes of The Cotswolds. They are also the setting for one of the strangest murders of the twentieth century, which remains unsolved to this day.

The villages nestle beneath Meon Hill, close to the ancient Rollright Stones. Meon Hill has a strange history. There had long been legends of black dogs haunting the hill, a common English superstition (it was often said that people saw phantom black dogs prior to their deaths), and it was an ancient site. In 1875 John Hayward, a local man, had murdered Ann Turner, a woman he believed to be a witch, by impaling her on the ground with a hayfork and then slashing her throat, and cutting the sign of the cross in her body, a traditional way of killing witches and stripping them of their power.

On St Valentines Day 1945, a 74 year old labourer, Charles Walton, was cutting hedges at Fir Farm on Meon Hill. The old age pension had been introduced by this time, but Charles still liked to work; he had no real need, having been left a considerable sum of money in his wife's will 18 years earlier. He was known for his special and unusually empathetic ways with animals, and knowledge of ancient country lore, and seems to have been a well liked person. As darkness fell, his niece, Edie, with whom he lived, became concerned. She called on her neighbour, and they set off to the farm. The farmer claimed to have noticed a figure working in the distance earlier in the day, but had not actually spoken to Charles.

They found the body soon after, with the throat slashed and a cross carved into the flesh. The body had been pinned to the ground with a hayfork. The most famous policeman of the day, Inspector Fabian of Scotland Yard, was sent to investigate.

All 500 inhabitants of the village were interviewed, with few leads. Fabian suspected that, in fact, there was a wall of silence, a conspiracy within the village. A prisoner of war was arrested, but it soon became clear that this Italian gentleman regularly escaped from the nearby camp and let himself back in, in order to kill the odd rabbit for the pot. Fabian investigated thoroughly, but never uncovered the truth about what had happened to Charles Walton. There were two interesting lines of enquiry.

According to a book from 1929, Folklore, Old Customs and Superstitions in Shakespeareland, written by J. Harvey Bloom, a man called Charles Walton died there in 1885 after seeing a ghost. Although in another version of the tale on a website, it was a plough boy by the name of Charles Walton who saw a black dog nine days running on Meon Hill, once with a headless woman. There are rumours that a large black dog was found hanging by the neck on Meon Hill after the murder, and another run over by a police car. Was this some strange, supernatural event? Was the ploughboy the same Charles Walton, who would have been 14 in 1885?

However, Charles Walton's bank account was checked after the murder and the £297 which he had been left by his wife was missing; this was a large sum of money by 1945 standards, and Walton's rent for the cottage, which he shared with his niece who worked for a local factory, was 36 old pence a week. Given that he spent little, was in receipt of a pension, and still worked, this was mysterious. There are rumours that he had leant money to a local farmer, or had funded a black market operation during the war. Had somebody committed a grubby little financially motivated killing, and sought to throw police off the scent by dressing it up as something more fanciful?

This account shows that the villagers are still reluctant to talk; it also has some wonderful photos of Walton's cottage and Meon Hill. This account gives a little more detail into the witchcraft angle.

Goodbye to a good blog

Sad news, blogfans. Wrapstar over at Call Centre Confidential is hanging up his headset and moving onto pastures new.Maybe he'll blog in a new incarnation. If you haven't found this blog yet, it's worth having a read; very funny stuff. I know it encouraged a lot of people to start blogging.

Should have blogged by now

I should have blogged by now, but we were both a bit knackered after the effort of attending a wedding near Glasgow and driving up and back in 3 days. I was meaning to last night, but events got the better of me. I was flushing our toilet when the handle suddenly felt loose and there was a strange clunking noise within the cistern. I opened it and peered in forlornly, hoping I wouldn't have to call some overpriced git of a plumber. After a bit of poking about I managed to re-attach something and get it working again. I then smelled burning and found out that the chilli I had been cooking was welded to the bottom of the pan. I was in a very bad mood by this point, not helped by the fact that I then had to go online and do my shopping at Tesco. The first few times you do it you think it's great; no queuing, no chavs feeding chocolate to their fat, dough faced brats to get them to stop whining. Then it just becomes another chore and you realise that sitting at a desk endlessly clicking on porridge and soup isn't great fun either.

Anyway, I can finally sit down and write a proper post tonight.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Strange news on Thursday

OK, so it's a day early, but we're off to a wedding in Scotland tomorrow so I won't be able to post for a few days. You may have seen the new Marmite ad on TV recently. I was struck by this article. Now if your child was scared by this ad would your response be:

a. Explain to your child that it isn't real, give them a cuddle, and shrug your shoulders. Kids get scared by the strangest things (I have friends with a toddler who's scared of the hoover), they'll probably laugh at it this time next week.

b. Decide that you really shouldn't be parking your kids in front of the TV all day; if you limit them to an hour, say, and then do something more constructive with them the rest of the time, they'll be unlucky to come across the ad.

c. Sympathise with them, but try not to make a big fuss over it, just distract them quickly with something else. There are kids all over the world who are hungry, orphaned, homeless, dying of AIDS, or abused, so if their biggest problem is being a bit freaked by a Marmite ad, it doesn't do to make an issue over it.

d. Be glad that they've got the imagination to be scared by things. In The States, the film censors asked the views of a child psychologist about the film Jaws, and asked whether it would give children nightmares. The psychologist asked why they thought it was a bad thing if children had nightmares. It's a natural part of growing up, and if you determinedly shield them from everything they don't like on TV, they'll be unable to cope in really scary situations when they're a bit older, like a pet being run over, or their first day of school, or sneakily watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre at their mate's house. But you're a bit annoyed that they might be put off something cheap and rich in vitamins, which makes a relatively healthy sandwich when you really can't be arsed to do anything else.

e. Tell them that the Marmite blob is real, it lives in the cupboard, and if they EVER put plasticine in the cat's fur again, or belt their brother over the head with a toy lorry, or leave a solitary green vegetable on their plate, it will come out and rip their face off (yes, yes, I'm joking).

d. Become so concerned about this issue that you write to Ofcom, an official body regulating television in the UK, and arrange for several adults to waste public money by sitting in a room watching an ad for yeast spread and deciding exactly how scary it is.

I don't have kids of my own, by the way, so I'd be interested in any feedback.

Yet again, I've been pipped at the post by a fellow blogger when it comes to the strangest story in the press. And yet again, it's from The Guardian, and involves bizarre research into animal behaviour. I leave you with this very funny post from Little Red Boat. You couldn't make it up.

OK, off until Sunday now!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Holiday plans

Well, this past couple of weeks we have been getting excited about our annual holiday. Now, normally we love to travel, especially in India and South East Asia. However, this year we're doing something a little bit different. We are going to walk The Coast to Coast Path. This is a walk which starts at St Bees Head (on the West coast of England, near The Lake District, for those of you dropping in from other countries), crossing the whole country for 190 miles, and ending at Robin Hoods Bay in Yorkshire. There is a map of the route here, on the web page of The Sherpa Van Project, who will take your bags from various hostels and B and Bs along the way and drop them off at the next stop for you. they also operate a minibus service so that you can leave your car at Kirkby Stephen, half way along the route, get a bus to the start, and then a bus back to your car at the end.

With this in mind we started walking in earnest this weekend, starting off with a circuit of Richmond park (about 8 miles). This isn't quite the sort of distance that we'll be doing on the hike; it will be between 12 and 20 miles a day, but we've got until August to build up. To be fair, the Scotsman had done a 12 mile run with his friend a few hours earlier, so he is probably a bit closer to the necessary fitness levels. Of course, after all that activity we had to replenish our liquid levels, which we very responsibly did, in a pub in Richmond while watching the rugby. Come to think of it, we did a very good job of replenishing our liquid levels...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Strange news on Thursday

OK, to continue the grand old week long tradition of posting the strangest stories of the week on a Thursday, I found a tale of the cursing stone of Carlisle in The Times. Is a millennium celebration artwork which reproduces an ancient curse responsible for foot and mouth, disastrous flooding, and the relegation of the local football team? Or is it down to poor discipline, a lack of scoring opportunities and a weak midfield? To update this, the local council voted this week to keep the stone. There is a picture of it here. If you want to read the curse, it makes for interesting reading.

However, the really interesting story of the week I found in a comment at the famous Scary Duck. From The Guardian no less, a gay necrophiliac duck. By the way, if anybody has arrived here by typing "gay necrophiliac duck" into a search need to get out more.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Guess what I'm going to see?

On Thursday 31st of March I'm going to see Shane with Frank Skinner. Well, OK, not with Frank Skinner in the sense that we're on a date or anything, I'll be with The Scotsman, but he'll be in it. I didn't see the first series, so it will be quite an experience to see what it's like. We are only 30 minutes walk from Teddington Studios, and it's free, so we should go more often. Ok, I'm now going to knuckle down to write some of my novel!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The most famous Scottish painting is French

The National Gallery of Scotland is a wonderful place. The most famous picture by far is a picture of The Reverend Robert Walker Skating On Duddingston Loch. This image here is so ingrained in Scottish culture that the wonderful lines of the painting are incorporated into the new Scottish Parliament building. The Scotsman and myself went to Edinburgh a couple of years ago. He lived just outside Edinburgh in East Linton as a child, then moved to Driffield in Yorkshire at 12. Anyway, the whole point of this post is that people in Scotland were choking over their marmalade yesterday when they saw this! It looks as if the painting is French!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Strange news on Thursday

I've decided that every Thursday I will blog the strangest news story of the last seven days. To start with, here's a strange canine tale

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Starting my novel again

I've decided to start my novel again. I got about 25,000 words down about 2 years ago, but it's all wrong, just wrong. I'm going to give the plot a supernatural twist, rather than just creating a straightforward mystery, and I'm aiming to write 750 words 4 times a week (this post is about 150 words, to give you an idea). That's 3000 words a week, so it will result in the first draft of a 120,000 word novel in 10 months, although, of course, I don't know how long it will be yet, but 120,000 is roughly 330 pages, so it could well be quite a bit shorter. I reckon 2 hours on Monday night, 2 hours on Tuesday night, 2 hours on Friday night and 2 hours on Saturday morning will give me plenty of time, and I can move these slots to other days according to other commitments. It's only 8 hours a week.

Next major post concerns a strange murder in a small village!