OMG, horror in Asia

I was going to write a ferreting-about examination of active/passive voice; try to work out something that’s been in my head for most of the day.

But the sheer horror of what’s been happening in India, Bangladesh and Nepal makes anything else seem selfish beyond description.

Twenty million people displaced by floods, with (at the current time) over 200 deaths.

20,000,000 people.

It puts our recent water problems in perspective.

If I were religious I suppose I’d pray.

My thoughts are turned towards Asia this afternoon.

Source.

B.

Improving with age

My funny bone is on active rather than passive mode today.

BBC Radio 2’s daily competition to find the network’s most narrow-minded listener (the Jeremy Kyle Vine show) yielded some comedy gold.

I’d link to the segment concerned but the sound file will vanish in 24 hours, so I’ll just have to try and recapture the moment.

The topic of the phone-in was ‘middle lane hoggers’.

Nothing to do with a genus of politically-centrist porcines.

This was all about that rare all-too-common breed of motorist that refuses to move to the left-hand lane.

When the phone-in started I expected the segment to be a one-sided tirade against (and I’m generalising and using my overactive imagination here) ‘doddery old fools who shouldn’t be in charge of a pencil let alone controlling a machine capable of killing people at speeds approaching 100mph’.

That’s what I expected.

But…

Jeremy Kyle Vine received a call from a self-confessed middle lane hogger.

No, really!

Stop tittering at the back.

The driver in question was, he admitted, in his 60s.

He also said that in his opinion he’s a safer driver now than he was in his 20s.

What does that say for how he drove forty years ago was my first thought.

My second was, what does that say for the driving test of forty years ago.

But our hero, the middle lane hogger, was robust in his defence of middle lane hogdom.

He quoted a section from the Highway Code stating that the left-hand lane is for slow traffic, the middle lane is for normal traffic and the right-hand lane is for overtaking.

The trouble is that the Highway Code has been extensively rewritten since the early 1970s.

It now states that the middle and the right-hand lane are both overtaking lanes.

The Highway Code also adds that traffic should use the left-hand lane when not overtaking.

But our middle lane hogger refused to accept this updated piece of wisdom.

Refused to take it on board even when told that the Highways Agency is going to target middle lane hoggers.

Anyway, the segment made me laugh.

Back to the point.

Earlier I listened (via BBC Radio 7s ‘Listen Again’ facility) to a very young episode of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.

I’ve been listening to ISIHAC for three decades (off and on).

I used to listen as a schoolboy.

Paul (Ethel) Harrington and I used to spend hours trying to fathom the rules to Mornington Crescent.

We admired the wit of the teams and Humph’s deft comedy touch at the radiophonic tiller.

It was pure entertainment for one’s sense of humour.

It was also a memory best left undisturbed.

The 1974 episode I listened to was, by comparison with today’s fayre, staid.

Boring.

Unfunny.

Embarassing.

It made me realise just how much tighter the modern version is.

The timing is sharper.

Yet the teams are more relaxed.

More…

Irreverent.

And in the case of Humph’s stewardship – dirtier.

I believe that the late Willie Rushton, founding member of ISIHAC would be proud of the way the show has developed.

Speaking as a loyal listener, I know I am.

Anyway, some more comedy.

Tired Dad brings an amusing view of what went through the mind of a delegate attending a branding meeting.

(I particularly like the credit/loan advert being transposed over the facilitator’s dialogue)

B.

Sitting in judgment

I’m so excited!

Tomorrow I get to go over Leamington way to do something nerdy:

Fence judging at the 2008 British Riding Club Horse Trials Championship.

I’ll load the car with a gazillion sandwiches (sliced chicken-flavoured quorn and Branston pickle, I’ve very simple tastes) and bottles of drinks.

I’ll take my iPod (in case I want to listen to something during the breaks).

A couple of books (in case I want to read something during the yada yada).

My digital voice recorder (just in case writing inspiration strikes at some time)…

… and spend the day watching and judging a part of the cross-country section of the Horse Trials championship.

Brilliant.

I hope whatever you choose to do tomorrow is as fun.

B.

Published again…

I’ve neglected writing news lately.

Bit odd, for a blog on a writer’s website.

But fingers in pies etc.

So the news…

Words Magazine have very kindly published one of my shorts.

Nice.

Frankly I feel embarrassed and a little self-conscious.

It sits in the company of work of some excellent authors.

But it’s nice to see it there.

Words Magazine is available at www.wordsmag.com and you need to pay money to read it.

Or you can read my short stories on my main website and try to guess which one they’ve chosen.

Words Magazine have made a couple of nice edits, one in particular is visually stunning.

I’ve decided not to steal their edits though.

🙂

And I have an idea.

It’s a germ of a longish short story based on a kind of cultural parallax as seen through underground events in 21st Century society.

Sounds a bit deep when I see it like that.

But in my head it’s punchy and not a little bit scary.

It’s based on events that recently occurred to me in London.

And I think in format it’s a radio play.

I’m going to work out a synopsis and see if I can get BBC Radio Drama interested.

Stay tuned.

B.

Comedy gold

Big Brother 8.

The half-way housemates game.

In their boxes.

Shanessa pops up and says ‘I’m free!’

Dressed in a cow’s suit.

With a cow’s head on.

We laughed.

And then the cow slumped and put her head in her hands.

We laughed more.

Comedy gold.

B.

Misunderstanding statistics the BBC way

We’re screwed.

The battle between the continual advance of technology and mankind’s equally continual ability to misunderstand data continues.

But the latter edges ahead in the domination table.

We fail to appreciate the complexity of questions we ask.

We fail to comprehend the responses.

Yet we continue to construct flawed questionnaires.

And misrepresent the findings.

This story on the BBC website emphasises just how doomed to a world of misunderstanding we are.

The headline is:
Many Asians do not feel British.

Straight away my brain wants to know whether these Asians were born in Britain or not (i.e. it is possible to come from another country and live in the UK without giving up one’s nationality).

So that’s a black mark to the BBC straight away – for a badly constructed tabloid headline.

As we read the story we are told ‘38% of UK residents of south Asian origin felt only slightly or not at all British.’

So now the story has narrowed, has transformed to become ‘UK residents of south Asian origin’ and not the wider meaning of the description: ‘Asians’?

Surely this a different meaning entirely?

A second black mark to the BBC then – this time for misrepresenting their poll.

But as I ponder this misrepresentation I can’t help wondering how many ‘UK residents of English origin’ would term themselves British?

Or Welsh origin?

Or Scottish origin?

Or Irish?

But the BBC survey doesn’t give us any comparative data.

So that’s another (third) black mark to the BBC – failing to provide comparative data.

Beginning to feel wary of the BBC’s reporting of what is, after all, their own survey (and against my better judgement) I click on the link and download the survey results.

The survey questioned 500 people of (south) Asian background (but the survey authors don’t tell us what the specific criteria is that determines being ‘of (south) Asian background’).

Or ‘of Asian background’ in general.

That’s another (fourth) black mark to the BBC – lack of transparency of the sampling criteria.

Anyway.

The survey.

Don’t click on the link in the news item.

Don’t do a statistical analysis of the BBC’s own survey data.

No really.

Don’t.

Because you’ll find that the BBC’s own survey data is wrong.

I could give you examples (I was nerdy enough to break down the percentage of responses and number of respondents to Table 7 then sum the returns to try to get back to the quoted sample of 500. I bet you a large Pimms that if you did that you wouldn’t get back to the 500 that you should!).

No, seriously.

Don’t.

Because it proves the survey is wrong.

And while you’re not recompiling the survey responses please don’t ask yourself what about the other British subjects of other Asian nationalities (e.g. there are more British subjects of Chinese extraction than of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi combined.  And what about our cousins from Malaysia?).

So then a quick flick forward to Table 8:
Q.8 Generally speaking, to what extent do you think that white British people treat you as British?

Hmm€¦

But the BBC news item reported the wording to this question as:
‘… nearly half believed white people do not treat them as British.’

So whereas the question asked ‘white British’, the BBC have reported it as ‘white’.

So some distortion there.

Another black mark to the BBC.

How many is that?

I can’t remember.

I’m starting to lose the will to live.

Crack on.

Getting tired of the BBC’s manipulation I fast forward to Table 11:

Table 11
Q.11 Do you think, as an Asian, that you have more opportunities, the same number of opportunities, or fewer opportunities in the UK compared to the opportunities you would have in South Asia?

What does ‘opportunities’ mean?

Opportunities to do what?

Own a BMW?

Get divorced?

Stand for election?

Opportunities for women to become a member of the clergy?

Is this a cultural question?

A financial question?

A political question?

Or – best of all – an equal opportunities question?

For surely, these questions and their responses must be weighted to males, females, gays, lesbians, able-bodied and disabled to have a tangible value?

Yes?

Sigh.

Look, I know that the BBC is our national broadcaster but there’s something very wrong here.

That the BBC commissioned this survey is one thing.

Laudable perhaps, but flawed because the parameters can not have been adequately set at the point of specification.

That the survey output is so badly flawed it is risible, this is another thing entirely.

That no-one in the BBC has comprehended the magnitude of the wrongness of the survey is inexcusable.

That the BBC news department has published this survey is just plain stupidly wrong.

Yes, I know I’m probably the man who put ‘anal’ into ‘analytical’ but come on.

As a piece of statistical work this really isn’t good enough.

Is it?

Look!

I’ve found someone else who feels similarly.

Chloé says:

I’d like these kids to realize that maths and statistics (and science in general) are not only about calculations, but also about properly asking the right question, cleanly checking that conditions are verified before applying formulas, and drawing conclusions from the numerical results they obtain.

Which is the reason why they are asked about analysis, interpretations and other horrible things that require to actually write this highly suspicious things called, oh, yes, I remember now, words.

And by that I don’t mean tossing words together in a grammatically dubious sentence, hoping that nobody will notice that the beginning contradicts the end – and both of them contradict the middle -, nor that they don’t have the faintest idea what the difference between hypothesis, condition, proof, example and conclusion is.

See?

It’s not just me!

B.

Combined Training

Brilliant.

The Lovely S and I got out of bed more or less on time.

We did the usual stuff then left the house more or less on time.

We arrived at the yard on time.

I loaded the lorry.

Groomed a surprisingly mud-less Vin.

Put him in, gave him a haynet to munch on and we…

Left the yard early (shock horror!).

It didn’t rain (more shock horror!).

Arrived at Allenshill way ahead of schedule (so much shock horror that it defies description!).

Had a cup of tea from the excellent refreshment stand.

Watched a small group of horses working-in.

Walked the show jumping course.

Walked around to the dressage arena and watched three tests.

Got very confused because the first test we saw wasn’t the one I’d learnt!

Realised that that test belonged to an earlier ‘dressage only’ class.

Watched the first Prelim 18 competitor.

Watched the second, just to cement the test well and truly in my head.

Got confused all over again!

The second competitor rode a movement that I hadn’t learnt!

Dashed back to the lorry to check that I had learned the correct movements after all.

I had.

Yay!

Got Vin out of the lorry, ran a body brush over him, tacked up.

Put my show jacket on, slipped the smart silk on to my hat.

Put on my riding boots and gloves.

Mounted up and walked in to the warm-up arena.

And began working in.

Vinnie (bless) was brilliant; laid back, supple, obedient.

Until, about 10 minutes away from our test…

I asked for a right-lead canter.

And he blew up.

Minor rocking horse action accompanied by a couple of bucks.

One of the other working-in combinations were so spooked by Vin spooking that the rider fell off!

I didn’t.

We got called forward and rode in to the arena.

I felt we executed our dressage test pretty damn well.

With one exception.

The second canter – right lead.

Yep, he had an issue with it again and let me know, again.

I asked three times for the correct canter lead and three times he told me where to go.

In the end I ignored the unasked-for counter canter and just resolved to finish the test.

Back at the lorry we swapped tack (jumping saddle for dressage saddle).

And began working in: canter-work in a forward jumping position.

Then rode in to the jumping arena and popped the practice fences a couple of times.

Announced we were ready and…

Went for it.

Vinnie jumped like a star (even if the star in question had a resemblance to a stag on speed).

No stops, no poles down, no crookedness, no hesitation, (in fact lots of quickness of the almost too variety).

I don’t know where we finished in the placings.

We had to leave Allenshill as soon as we’d jumped â- a prior commitment with Harry Potter.

But I do know that Vin was a total star.

We raised our Prelim 18 points by a further 20 on our last Prelim 18 outing – brilliant improvement.

I also know that today’s competition filled both of us with confidence and elevated our partnership to a new level of trust and understanding.

I just hope that the whole thing wasn’t too boring for The Lovely S who accompanied us.
Brennig.

Sixteen hands between your legs

It is a tradition (in my world anyway) to give one’s horse a gentle hack around the immediate countryside on the day before a competition.

You know, give your horse the opportunity to:
* Experience some gentle fun as he saunters through the village
* Frighten the living daylights out of motorists who, for some reason, find it incomprehensible that they might encounter a horse as they bomb through country lanes at stupidly ridiculous speeds in stupidly inappropriate vehicles
* Gawp at the flood damage
* Snigger at the things hanging on washing lines of remote cottages (oh yes he does, honest!)
* Spook, spin, starfish, get bug-eyed and startled by such horse-threatening unusual items as:
Grass
Trees
Birds (but I’ll admit that one in particular was an immensely large woodpigeon)
Cows (b*st*rds)
Cyclists (other b*st*rds)

Yet the aforementioned horse will remain completely calm when:
* asked to trot underneath two scary railway bridges
* a huge tractor goes past towing a long trailer carrying a combine harvester’s blades. Or (a few minutes later)
* we are passed by what (even to me) looks like the world’s largest combine harvester (it’s so large that we have to get off the lane!)

Horses, you see…

Very complex.

Anyway, to get back to my theme…

All these things are for the horse.

A hack – for the seriously competitive owner/rider – is a rare opportunity to:
* unwind a little
* ride for idle pleasure rather than for the pleasure of competing or preparing to compete
* receive some excellent mental therapy (horses are brilliant listeners, you should try it some time!)
* admire the wonderful English countryside
* do some wide-ranging thinking
* make some unlikely plans
* hatch a short story plot development that’s been incubating for a little while
* examine the newly-built barn conversions and wonder when, precisely, the brand new residents will realise they’re living in the middle of a working farm which also hosts a three-month-long shoot.

Hey ho.

Today was no exception.

Once we had returned to the yard I untacked, groomed, treated and turned out Big Vin.

Then I groomed and treated Beech.

Then set to the biggest tack-cleaning operation I’ve done in many moons:
Broke down Vin’s bridle
Broke down the jumping saddle
Broke down the dressage saddle
Then wet-cleaned
Then saddle-soaped
Then oiled
Then reassembled everything
And had a hot chocolate.

In amongst all of this hearty fun young Laura arrived.

Fresh-faced and not-very-tanned from her week in Gran Canaria.

We chatted.

She showed me some snaps.

And her tattoo (henna paint-job, it’ll be gone in a couple of weeks).

And some video clips.

Then I amazed her with my sole piece of trivia about the Canary Islands.

Then she went and amazed her mum with my sole piece of trivia about the Canary Islands.

See what an effect I have on people?

It’s a good job I wasn’t bullsh*tt*ng her!

I left the yard at 13.20, arrived back at the house at 13.40 via a quick stop at Morrisons.

As soon as I got in I vegged out.

Flumped on the couch and did…

I don’t know what.

Time passed.

Oh yeah.

I sent a text to one of the girls at the yard saying she could borrow my horsebox next weekend.

And I did some email stuff.

And…

Then it was 17.00 and time for me to go and fetch The Lovely S.

And now it’s nearly 18.30.

I’ve still got to clean and polish my leather riding boots, but apart from that I’m ready for tomorrow.

Now then.

Just got to sort out tea.

Brennig.

How to cut your motoring bills

Driver?

Car owner?

Want to reduce your motoring overheads?

Let me help you.

I guarantee that by following my four easy steps you can cut the cost of your motoring bill by a minimum of £205.

Probably more!

Step 1: Sell your car

Step 2: Take that money to a neighbouring country (because they drive on the same side of the road, The Republic of Ireland might be best. But if you fancy a challenge go to Spain where cars are significantly cheaper than the UK).

Step 3: Buy a newish, low mileage used car.

Step 4: Drive it back to this country.

Hey presto!

No more road tax.

As the law stands you have six months before you need to declare the vehicle.

That’s six months of tax-free motoring.

But hey, suppose you forgot to declare it?

And…

Suppose you forgot to insure it?

Gosh.

That would be inexpensive motoring, wouldn’t it?

Now let’s not be mistaken about something.

The reason for this little rant is because I’ve just learned:

* local authorities don’t chase up parking fines where the vehicle that incurred the fine is a foreign-registered vehicle.

and…

* the DVLA have no means of checking that any foreign-registered vehicle on British roads is taxed in its home country.

and…

* the police have no means of checking that any foreign-registered vehicle on British roads is insured (how easy would it be for someone with a rudimentary knowledge of a foreign language and PC or Mac skills to knock up a dummy certificate?).

This is the 21st Century and we don’t have what seems to me to be rudimentary communications channels with all other countries in the Eurozone?

Bonkers.

Brennig.