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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 74. Buyers of "Celebrity" fragrances.

It seems that Posh and Becks have jumped on the same bandwagon as the likes of J-Ho J-Lo, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and brought out their own scent. Feel free to insert any jokes you see fit about it not being the first stinker Posh has released.

As the marketing hype swings into over-drive, queues are predicted as fashionistas and Chavs alike race to buy the most eagerly awaited fragrance since... well, the last one.

Sheer Twattery. And for once I can back up my vitriol with cold, hard logic - rather than just asking you to tolerate my misanthropy.

They are buying something they have never smelt and paying a premium for a fashion item that nobody knows they are wearing.

The scent has just been released - the people queuing have never smelt it. Furthermore, even when they splash it on to cover the fact they got up too late to have a shower, nobody they encounter will know either! Sure, somebody might ask them "whew, what's that smell?" to which they will proudly boast "Beckham's Jockstrap" - but consider this: I can say exactly the same thing when I wear some of the dodgy bottle of Jovan Musk my Uncle picked up cheap on his travels. And how would they ever know?

Thus these fools have fallen for the advertising industry's most cynical example of style over substance.

I say, the Emperor's new clothes are very smart aren't they?


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Things not to say...

...when donating unwanted clothes to a charity shop.

"If I'd known you were collecting for landmine victims, I wouldn't have binned all of those odd socks"

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Sunday Snigger

No. 4. Hairy

A teacher is giving a class to a group of children about how wonderful skin is. It covers our entire body; it keeps our blood inside and the rain outside; and helps us stay the right temperature and when it's broken, it fixes itself.

Trying to keep her charges interested, she decided to play a game.

"OK - hands up, who can think of something else that they would like to be covered in."

Immediately, Sally puts her hand up.
"I want to be covered in gold, cos then I can scrape some off and buy my daddy a Rolls Royce"
"Very imaginative. Who else has a good idea?"

Ashok puts her hand up.
"I want to be covered in Platimum, cos it's more expensive that Gold and I can scrape some off and buy daddy a Rolls Royce and Mummy a Porsche"
"OK, very good Ashok. Who's next."

Little Johnny raises his hand excitedly.
"I want to be covered in pubic hair"
"Errr... why?" stammers the teacher, flustered.
"Cos my sister only has a little triangle of it between her legs, and you should see some of the cars that have started appearing outside our house!"

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Purchasing Power Parity

Today's post, boys and girls, will be an economics lesson. Specifically Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) - or to put it simply, what it's like to live abroad.

When I got my contract through from Canada, I had a bit of a nasty shock. The exchange rate between the Canadian Dollar and the UK pound is about 2 dollars to the pound. Based on that, my pay in Canada is going to be 5 grand less than I started on as a Postdoc and about 9 grand less than what I would be earning today if I had carried on working. As you can imagine, I needed a bit of a sit down.

However, it isn't that simple. I will be earning Canadian wages, which I will then be spending in Canada, thus the exchange rate between the UK and Canada is largely irrelevant. The only time it will affect me, for better or worse, is during my first few weeks when I am living off my savings awaiting my first pay cheque (Good - my meager savings will stretch further); during holidays (Bad - getting a round in at christmas will be very expensive) and when I transfer money back to the UK (Bad - my student loan repayments etc will take up a much larger chunk of my wages relatively speaking than before).

Thus, the cost of living in Canada is the all important economic measure. PPP is the formal name for how much it costs, relatively speaking, to live in a country and it is usually expressed in US $ for convenience. There are a number of ways of measuring PPP. The best known is Time Magazine's "Big Mac Index", essentially "How much does a Big Mac cost in different countries?". A Big Mac was chosen because not only is it ubiquitous, it is a microcosm of a country's economy. To make one requires local resources, food, fuel, wages for staff and taxes at a range of points through out its production, sale and purchase. In recent years, the "Starbucks Skinny Latte Index" has also been used.

More formally the OECD calculates the cost of a "shopping basket" consisting of a wide-range of daily items and services, to generate its own measure of PPP.

In this case, it seems that the 2:1 exchange rate is far too much. By my maths, it's closer to about 1.4:1, thus my wages are about what they were when I started my Postdoc. To be honest, that's OK with me. I'm not a particularly materialistic person. My few vices are cheap and I don't have any really expensive hobbies. Furthermore, this opportunity is essential to getting my career back on track and trying a fresh start, both professionally and personally.

The only real kicker will be the loss of status in Canada. In the UK, I am treated as a full member of the University and entitled to the full range of benefits and privileges afforded everyone from cleaner to Professor. Pay is the only real difference. Not so in Canada. Postdocs are NOT members of staff. Rather we are self employed, independent contractors. This means no benefits, pension, sick pay, healthcare or vacation entitlement (although I can by agreement arrange 4 weeks "personal" time off). Most of the student and staff services are apparently off-limits or un-subsidised and I don't even get my tax deducted at source (I have to retain my own financial advisor to do so instead)!

The lack of a pension is worrying, I have already missed 12 months of my Uni pension and as I pass thirty I am becoming uncomfortably aware of how little pension provision I have. I will still have to pay into the Canadian State Pension however. What will happen to that money if and when I leave Canada I am unsure about. Ideally, I'd transfer it over to the UK into my university pension scheme, but I may simply end up having to claim a small Canadian pension upon retirement in addition to any UK pension that I am receiving. I'm going to have to get more advice on that.

In practise, I suspect that when I visit the personnel office on my first day they will furnish me with a helpful guide, and in the internet age most of what I need will be on the web (I have already done some preliminary sniffing around, and it seems that there are very few locked pages that I can't access, so even if they don't provide information for Postdocs, I can probably find it on the Research Assistant's page or the Teaching staff's page).

That all said, I'm still dead excited! I leave the sport centre on Friday and return to my parents next Thursday. Assuming that my work permit arrives in a timely manner (it is supposedly a rubber stamp affair, Postdocs are exempt from the immigration points scheme), I hope to fly out by the middle of September. I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 73. Illiterate Bank Clerks and Innumerate Posties

OK, this has been sitting on my "To Do" list for some time now, but this week has elbowed aside the planned Tuesday Twat.

Of all the jobs in the world, there are some that one assumes require at least the basic ability to differentiate between the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet and the 10 westernised Arabic numerals. Two examples that spring immediately to mind are Sign Writers (although the ability to spell is not apparently top of the list of requirements) and those performance artists that take all their clothes off and contort their bodies in such away that they can spell out the word "SALE", without achieving penetration.

Others would probably include Bank workers and Postal Delivery Operatives.

My Postie has trouble with both. I live in a large apartment building, separated into several blocks A-M with about 60 individual apartments in each block. I live in 60J. Why then do I regularly get mail for 27J or 32J? Why do I sometimes get mail for 45B (yesterday morning) or 25C? More importantly, given that several of these apartments are empty for the summer, how often does my mail go to another apartment? And could this explain the letter I received last week dated 11th of January? (It wasn't important thank god, hence me not realising it was missing).

Bank Workers seem to be little better. As you can imagine, I am up to my neck in paperwork preparing for my upcoming move to Canada. Top of the list is my application for a work permit. This requires the sending of a half dozen different forms and photocopied certificates etc etc to the Canadian High Commission. Most important it seems is the C$150 in fees. For reasons that escape me and probably have something to do with the war of 1812 (see, I've been reading up on my history!), unless I travel all the way to Grosvenor St in London clutching a fistfull of Canadian Loonies and Twoonies (that's a 1 dollar and 2 dollar coin respectively), I need a banker's draft.

What's one of those I hear you ask? Don't feel too bad about asking, because the 12 year old behind the desk in LLoyds-TSB asked that very same question. After putting me on to a woman old enough to be his grandmother (ie about forty), my details were duly copied down (correctly, I checked), the sum of £15 was extracted from my battered looking account on top of the $150 (~£70) and I was promised a phone call on Friday or, at the latest, Monday.

Friday passed. No Word.

Monday arrived. The envelope with all of my other details in it remained unsealed on my desk. I phoned them and was told it should "definately be there Tuesday".

Tuesday, a phone call! I trekked into the bank to pick it up. The woman behind the counter disappeared down to the vault. FIFTEEN minutes later, she arrived looking embarrassed.
"They've made a bit of a mistake with your name. That's why it wasn't here Friday. We sent it back to Head Office because it wasn't on our list. They then sent it back here again."
I looked at the draft. "Bit of a mistake" didn't begin to describe it.
At first, neither of us could work out how the hell they had got the name on the draft from the name on the order (which I double-checked on the carbon copy receipt was spelt correctly in the teller's very neat handwriting). Eventually I figured it out.

They had taken my (extremely common) first name, and misspelt it badly, before using it as my surname. They had then taken the first letter of my middle name and used it as my first initial and the first letter of my surname and used it as my second initial.

Feel free to keep on rereading that paragraph until it makes sense.

What kind of illiterate Fuckwits do LLoyds-TSB employ in their Head Office? Were they high? Having a psychotic episode? Or were they just trying to prove the CBI's claims that today's school leavers are shite?

Fortunately, they hadn't fucked up "The Receiver General For Canada" in the payee line and my garbled name doesn't appear anywhere on the cheque part of the draft, so the bank assures me that it won't be a problem. I will go fucking ballistic if it delays my application though!


Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Sunday Snigger

No. 3. Moral

A young man is due to get married. A week before the big day, he receives a call from his future mother-in-law, asking him to come over. When he gets there, a bottle of wine is open on the table and there are two glasses. He becomes uncomfortably aware that she is in very good shape for a woman of her years - and is dressed to best effect.

Pouring him a glass of wine, she sits down.
"Daniel, I cannot tell you how happy Brian and I are that you are marrying our Katie. You are a lovely young man, from a delightful family, with a good job and prospects. However, it will be your duty to keep our daughter happy and satisfied for the rest of her life. In ALL respects".
With that she stood up, retrieving both glasses and the remainder of the bottle, before heading to the stairs.
"I shall be in the master bedroom with both glasses of wine. I would ask you to follow me up and prove to me that you are man enough to keep my little girl happy."

The young man is racked with indecision. should he or shouldn't he?

Eventually, he makes his decision and heads out the front door. he has gone barely two steps before he is grabbed in a big hug by Katie's father.
"Welcome to the family my boy! Katie told us you were an honourable man. I know my wife can still turn heads after all of these years, but you still resisted temptation. I am delighted that you will be marrying our daughter."

And the moral of the story? Always leave your condoms in the car.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Those who can teach...

According to a story on the BBC website, many trainee teachers are flunking even basic literacy and numeracy tests.

The most telling quote in the article is this:
"The average age of teacher recruits these days is 30. So a lot of them will have come through school at a time when spelling and punctuation were thought to inhibit creativity."

I couldn't agree more. As a 29 year old, I fall well into this category as do many of my friends.
I had the great misfortune of attending school under the previous Conservative Government. This bunch of hapless fuckwits destroyed teaching in England and Wales (and in Scotland also, since despite the separate educational systems they implemented many of the same ideas and listened to the same "experts").

Despite being highly literate, my grammar teaching was almost non-existent. Although I have always read for pleasure, automatically shunning books that I "should" read, in favour of more enjoyable Science Fiction or Thriller titles, I nevertheless had pretty high standards and whilst my teachers bemoaned the lack of Jane Austin etc, they were satisified that Isaac Asimov was a suitable substitute.

I do not exagerate when I claim that my sole knowledge of grammar and its associated terminology comes from learning French. Beyond the the definition of a noun, I couldn't tell you what the terms adjective, verb or tense actually meant until I had to be taught them at the age of 14 for GCSE French. Similarly, many of the rules of punctuation had to be learnt the hard way. It probably hasn't escaped your notice that I am comma happy, scattering them far and wide in the hope that at least some land in the correct place.

I did learn how to use apostrophes correctly, but the semi-colon remains a mystery. My PhD supervisor covered every draft I gave him with red punctuation marks - and I freely admit that it would have been even worse without the aid of those little green squiggles that MS Word helpfully places underneath crap sentences. I know full well, that if I were to use Word to blog, the posts would be almost unrecognisable.

But perhaps it is my fault, and I am passing the blame for my own failings onto others?

I don't believe so. I have spoken to older teachers in their 50s (who taught my generation) and they admit that the government of the day (and especially Mr Baker, the then education secretary) discouraged them from using "old-fashioned" "boring" teaching methods such as formal grammar and punctuation exercises. The spelling test remained, although it was reward based with prizes as an incentive. I clearly remember my first French teacher taking a bemused class of 12 year olds through the differences between "doing words" and "describing words". Of course, we knew intuitively what the were, but had only a working grasp of their formal rules.

When I apologised to my PhD supervisor for the amount of red ink he expended on my thesis, his response was a resigned shrug
"It's entirely normal for someone your age. We have had meetings about it"

And here's the kicker, do you know what his advice was for future documents that I need to write?
"Run it by one of the foreign language students first, they can correct your grammar and punctuation."

And he was absolutely right. Says it all really doesn't it?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

This week, there will be no Tuesday Twat because...


Woo Hoo! At last! It's been 12 1/2 months since I finished my old job and I've spent the last 12 months working at a local Sport Centre, getting more and more depressed. I decided that I really liked this lab the moment I saw it. But the supervisor was going on holiday and wanted me to write a project proposal. So after almost 4 weeks of waiting by the phone and checking my email constantly, I've been offered a 12 month contract!

In about a month's time, I shall be getting on a jet plane and flying off to a new lab in Canada! I found out barely an hour ago and have been trying to find people to tell! Mum, Dad and little sis are away on their holidays. Fortunately, one of my oldest friends replied to my text message and so I've been able to share the news.

I am feeling slightly guilty. I just found out that my Nan's sister died, so I rang her to see if she was OK. Nana has been praying for this job ever since I got back from Canada, so having only just found out (less than 5 minutes before I called her), I couldn't resist telling her. Well, the gamble paid off and she told me that it had cheered her up immensly. So that's good.

Now I can start on my To Do list. First things first, there are a half dozen customers that need to be told to "Fuck Off". I think I'll do that first...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

About 4 feet too low...

Apparently, many women own 100 pair of shoes, often convinced that the correct pair of shoes can turn men's heads.

Sorry, not unless they are hanging off your boobs ladies.

The Sunday Snigger

2. Spelling Bee

A class of primary school children were just returning from breaktime. As they filed back in the teacher questioned them one at a time.
"Jennifer, what did you do at playtime?"
"I played Hula Hoop"
"Very Good! Can you spell Hoop?"
"Yes. H-O-O-P"
"Well done! You get extra gold stars!"

"Michael, what did you do at playtime?"
"I played football"
"Very Good! Can you spell Ball?"
"Yes. B-A-L-L"
"Well done! You get extra gold stars!"

"Abdullah, what did you do at playtime?"
"I didn't do anything."
"Oh, why's that?"
"Because I am foreign and nobody will play with me"
"Children, that is disgraceful! Abdullah, can you spell Racial Discrimination?"

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Naughty, Naughty, Rupert!

Looks like Rupert Murdoch has just moved to the back of the queue for that Knighthood. He'll have to make some serious donations to the Labour party to make up for this last cock-up.

It seems that the Royal Editor of one of his Sunday "Newspapers", The News of the Screws (That's the News of the World for non-AngloSaxons, "Screws" being a reference to the fact that it deals exclusively in tales of who is screwing who), has been arrested following a four month police investigation into alleged phone-tapping at Clarence House, the official residence of Prince Charles and his two sons.

The BBC is also gleefully reporting that the investigation is widening to include several celebrities and politicians. Is that the deafening stampede of lawyers I hear in the distance?

I'm sure the rat-faced muckraker will deny all knowledge, but this story has the potential to just run and run. The Screws' main rival the Mirror ain't going to let this one disappear, even if the Screws' weekday stable-mate The Sun has curiously neglected to mention it on their website yet.

This is going to be fun!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 72. Professional Letter Writers

Anybody who works in the service industry is aware of these people - folks with nothing more to do with themselves than write letters of complaint, over the most trivial of matters, perhaps in the hope that somebody loses their job.

I have nothing against writing letters of complaint per se - last week's Twat Award detailed my attempts to get compensation for being bumped off a flight to Canada - but when someone writes in about something utterly trivial and without merit, it really pisses me off.

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of incidents that have spurned a spurious letter.

The first was from a local Vicar (no, seriously). With it being the summer holidays, we have been doing badminton classes for kids. Heavily subsidised by the local authority, they cost the princely sum of £1 for one hour. Since these are introductory classes for young kids, much of the class is devoted to playing fun games to improve their fitness and co-ordination. The local Reverend had turned up with dumpy wife and 6 kids in tow and left them in the capable hands of our coach. He sat and watched through the window. After asking me, two coaches and at least one manager if he could bring his kids later - and being told that we don't actually do lessons at that time - he was in a decidedly ungodly mood. So imagine the histrionics when the coach finished the lesson 3 minutes early!

She explained that first of all, they always finish a couple of minutes early with the youngest kids because getting them off the court can be rather time-consuming. Second, she was going off the clock on the court which was 2 minutes faster than his watch (and she had started the lesson using that clock) and that third, she had finished the lesson with a game, which the children had completed a little quicker than anticipated, leaving her no time to start something new in the remaining 2 minutes.

Needless to say, the letter went straight to the head of sports at the council, signed "Reverend" and laments our lack of organisation, shoddy service, our only delivering half a lesson and the appalling attitude of the staff and coaches.

Fuck you Reverend.

The second was just Twattery.
I was covering a (rare) morning shift, when a man of about twenty and his little brother (about 10) were dropped off. They wanted to play a game of badminton and had duly booked a court. The price was £5. He handed me a £50 note.
"Have you not got anything smaller?" I asked,
Opening the till, I saw that we simply did not have that sort of change. Our start of day float is only £50 and we had barely taken £20 thus far. We would have lost all of our coins and smaller notes. That just isn't feasible with gangs of kids coming within the hour, all wanting to pay for their £1 lesson with £10 notes.
"Have you got a credit card?" I asked.
"Then I'm sorry, we can't accept a £50 note. We just don't have the change. You could always nip up the road to Tesco, and see if they'll change it".
"No. Let us on, we'll pay at a later date."
That I can't do. I don't know who he is and won't be on a day shift to grab him if he does return.

The duty manager was summoned, but agreed with me. Little known fact - we are not obliged to give more than £20 worth of change. Why did he have a £50 note any way? Cashpoints don't give them, and unless you are withdrawing huge amounts of money out, the bank doesn't routinely give them out.

Anyway, he wasn't satisfied. Hence another letter will be written. Dumbshit didn't ask my name though, so it probably won't find its way back to me. Ultimately though, we offered him option of going to Tesco whilst we held his court and we couldn't do any better than that. If he had turned up sans wallet, he wouldn't have expected to get on for free, so why should he expect any different if he is foolish to turn up with a £50 note?


Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Sunday Snigger

No 1. Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

A young man goes to confession.
"Forgive me Father for I have sinned, I spent the night with a girl of loose morals"
The Priest shakes his head sadly,
"I'm very ashamed of you, Tommy. Who was the young lady?"
"I'm sorry Father, I promised not to tell"
"Now, come on boy. The young lady needs to be here confessing her sins as well. Was it Katy O'Malley?"
"No, Father. I'm a gentleman and I won't give her name"
"The young lady is on the path to the devil, you must tell me her name. Was it Clara Murphy?"
"As a matter of honour Father, I cannot break my silence"
"Was it Finoula O'Brien?"
"I cannot tell, Father"
"How about Fiona Finnegan?"
"My lips are sealed"
Eventually, the priest gave up, crafted a suitable penance and let the boy go.
On the way out of the confessional, the boy was stopped by a friend waiting to go in.
"What did he give you?"
"10 Hail Marys, 6 Our Fathers and 4 hot leads."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ladies! Your help please!

So what is wrong with this exchange? What mistake did I make?

Attractive Blonde Coach: "I'm in the mood to cook tonight"

Me: "What a coincidence! I'm in the mood for being cooked for"

Attractive Blonde Coach: "Piss Off!"

WTF? Women - I'll never understand them!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 71. Canadian Affair and Thomas Cook Airlines.

Well, after the debacle I had in getting to Canada and the fact that I missed a job interview, you didn't think I was going to let them get off scott-free did you?

Anyways, it seems that it isn't illegal to bump you off a flight (why?) - however since 2004, there has been an EU regulation regarding just what rights passengers have in these situations. And despite their legal obligations to do so, the bastards won't advertise them. So here are those rights, copied directly from EU Regulation 261/2004:
(PDF available at The Civil Aviation Authority )

Article 14

Obligation to inform passengers of their rights

1. The operating air carrier shall ensure that at check-in a
clearly legible notice containing the following text is displayed
in a manner clearly visible to passengers: ‘If you are denied
boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least
two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the
text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation
and assistance
I spent an hour staring at that check-in desk, 2 days in a row - I can promise you that no such sign was visible.

2. An operating air carrier denying boarding or cancelling a
flight shall provide each passenger affected with a written
notice setting out the rules for compensation and assistance in
line with this Regulation. It shall also provide each passenger
affected by a delay of at least two hours with an equivalent
notice. The contact details of the national designated body
referred to in Article 16 shall also be given to the passenger in
written form.
They offered me taxi fare - and got rid of me ASAP. I was in too much of a state to think to ask.
Article 7

Right to compensation
Note: this is in addition to their obligation to actually get me to my destination

1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall
receive compensation amounting to:
(a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1 500 kilometres or less;
(b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than
1 500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1 500
and 3 500 kilometres;
(c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).
In determining the distance, the basis shall be the last destination
at which the denial of boarding or cancellation will delay
the passenger's arrival after the scheduled time.
The last I checked, Canada was about 3,500 miles. Kerching! 600 Euros please!
2. When passengers are offered re-routing to their final
destination on an alternative flight pursuant to Article 8, the
arrival time of which does not exceed the scheduled arrival
time of the flight originally booked
(a) by two hours, in respect of all flights of 1 500 kilometres
or less; or
(b) by three hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of
more than 1 500 kilometres and for all other flights
between 1 500 and 3 500 kilometres; or
(c) by four hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a)
or (b),
the operating air carrier may reduce the compensation
provided for in paragraph 1 by 50 %.
I was delayed by over a day, so no getting out of it - the full 600 please!
3. The compensation referred to in paragraph 1 shall be
paid in cash, by electronic bank transfer, bank orders or bank
cheques or, with the signed agreement of the passenger, in
travel vouchers and/or other services.
A cheque payable to SaneScientist if you would be so kind.
I've written an appropriate letter and run it by a lawyer friend. General consensus is that it's a slam dunk and I have them bang to rights. Any silly buggery and I complain directly to the Air Transport Users Council and file a claim in the small claims court.




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