Archive for the ‘General Blogginess’ Category

Missing, Presumed Dead: Revolution

Photo courtesy of the Society of Radiographers

I’m pretty pissed off. So pissed off that on Saturday I marched through London with 150,000 other folk who are angry at the way this country is being treated by the government. And now I’m even more pissed off that we were completely ignored by both the media and those in charge. Is because we didn’t smash shit up? Because there was a football match that day? Or is it because 150,000 people closing roads in central London and marching past Downing Street just isn’t a big deal? After all, back in 2003 approximately one million people marched through London to protest the Iraq war, and that still happened.

The facts are fairly clear: the NHS is being privatised, but apparently, not that many people care. In 2007 the American Filmmaker, Michael Moore, made a documentary investigating the state of insurance-led healthcare in the USA, and comparing it to the socialised medicine available in France, Canada, Cuba, and the UK. While the film isn’t exactly unbiased, as a Briton I find the concepts covered in it as alien as Alien. Concepts such as: people with unrelated pre-existing conditions (such as thrush) being denied health insurance cover for cancer; patients being bundled into taxis mid treatment and abandoned outside charitable hospitals miles away, confused, disorientated, and still wearing gowns and ID wristbands; patients with severe respiratory illnesses contracted whilst volunteering in the clear-up post-911 having to pay hundreds of dollars for an inhaler; insured patients having to pay for ambulance expenses because the emergency response hadn’t been pre-approved by their insurer.

Nah, scratch all that, those examples are disgusting, but they’re also quite extreme. Personally, I find it abhorrent that in a developed country, with such national pride and a history of incredible achievements its citizens are treated with such contempt. Michael Moore seemed shocked that our prescription costs were so cheap and could cover so much. He was surprised to find that the only thing stopping a patient from leaving the hospital was the state of their health, rather than their bank balance. He was confounded by the idea that the cashier’s desk in an NHS hospital serves to reimburse travel costs to poorer patients rather than to collect payment. I am shocked that this is not the case over the pond, and I am even more disturbed that we’re starting to copy them.

Leaflet announcing the launch of the NHS

Moore spoke to Tony Benn to ask about the history of the NHS, talking about the motivation behind it, and the love that the British people have for it. There was, however, one part which was especially poignant today, where he compared the NHS with democracy, saying that taking away our healthcare would be as ridiculous and incomprehensible as removing the vote:

Benn: “They wouldn’t accept the deterioration or destruction of the NHS.”
Moore: “If Thatcher or Blair had said ‘I’m going to dismantle National Healthcare’-“
Benn: “There’d have been a revolution.”

(See the full interview here)

Well where’s our bloody revolution? Seriously? The public reaction to the current dismantling of the NHS by the Conservatives has been, quite frankly, pathetic. Some people blame the media for the lack of coverage, but honestly I don’t buy that anymore. If there was a media blackout on the FA Cup, people would still find out the football results if they were interested; how can football be more interesting than your own health? There are even people working for the NHS who either don’t know or don’t care about the current threat to their employer; I know because I’ve spoken to them. I’ve had plenty of people ask me why I get so upset about this, and why I bother reading and writing about it. Well, I don’t know about you, but if I broke my arm tomorrow I couldn’t afford the bus fare to hospital, let alone the treatment.

People came up to us on Saturday’s march and (genuinely) asked what it was all in aid of (maybe they were illiterate, I dunno, we had plenty of banners). Back in March there were nationwide vigils and I went to one in Southampton and was disgusted with how few people turned up; I even grabbed the megaphone to express my disbelief.

Photo courtesy of Laur Evans


But honestly, what can we do? It seems that the only way to get media coverage is to destroy property, and that would be a wholly inappropriate response. I’ve tried telling people myself; I’ve blogged, tweeted, facebooked, accosted people in the street, written to my MP, attended events and rallies… what else can we do?

Answers on a postcard…

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Finding Manners on Freecycle

You may be familiar with online communities such as FreeCycle/Freegle; messageboards where people can post items that they no longer need, or requests for unwanted items. Boards are organised by geographical area, and you’ll find everything from 6 month old sofas, to second hand pants.

One thing the website seems to be quite short on, however, is manners. On the Portsmouth board there were frequent requests for expensive items such as iPads, iPhones, DSLR cameras, MacBooks, cars, motorbikes… all sorts. Two months after the iPhone 4 came out there was already a request for an “unwanted” one.

These requests are unrealistic and somewhat arrogantly greedy, but at least you can laugh at them and scroll down. Unfortunately, these kind of people also reply to offered ads, and here the sense of self entitlement really shines through.

I’ve “got rid of” a lot of stuff on Freecycle; a bed, a sofa, a sofabed, old computers, clothes, shoes, etc etc, and it can be hugely useful for shifting furniture fairly quickly. Nearly every message I’ve posted has had multiple replies, which is great, but I do wonder how these people interact in “the real world”.

We needed to get rid of an old bike, it’s not fubar but certainly needs some TLC to make it roadworthy, so I was surprised to receive 37 emails within an hour of posting:

Getting rid of an old bike which is no longer needed, it’s a Saracen, and the frame size is a men’s large.
It’s been well used, and could definitely do with some TLC, but it is currently rideable at least, so I expect with some WD40 and a bit of know-how it’ll have a fair few miles left in it.

No phone numbers, collection between 2pm-6pm today please.

Here are some of the most notable replies:

Yes plz to ur ad


Hello, I’ve not had much luck lately as my wife has just been diagnosed with cancer, so a new bike would be great, thanks.

Wow, pulling the c-card in the hope of getting a second hand bike. Classy. Also, I’d suggest that if this is true, your wife is having somewhat worse luck than you are. On two counts.

is it available

I don’t know, is it? Huh?

can i have the bike


hi do u still have this bike i need a bike as i lost mine thanx

You LOST a bike? Lost it? And you’re happy to freely admit this to a stranger in the hope that they’ll give you theirs?

yes pls

no thx

bike pls 077********

This is why I specified “no phone numbers” in the post, because people will just send you their mobile number and expect you to call them. Obviously this person was not only too busy to converse by email, but also too important to even read the sodding post in the first place.

I really need a bike, I’ll be there in 10 minutes

 Shit, really? Do you know where I live? How? I haven’t given you my address… 

Now I admit I have a tendency towards pedantry, but I don’t think I was being terribly unfair in rejecting these replies. If you’re asking someone to give you their property, for free, the least you can do is use a properly structured sentence. I’m still reeling from the “cancer” reply, that’s certainly a new one.

I’m tempted to link to this in my next Freecycle post, but as most people don’t bother reading beyond the subject line, I doubt it’ll be worth it.

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La Mer

Et il est un jour arrivé
Marteler le ciel
Et marteler la mer
Et la mer avait embrassé moi
Et la délivré moi de ma caille
Rien ne peut m’arrêter maintenant

Nine Inch Nails – La Mer


I was sat on Hayling Island beach on Wednesday, enjoying the sun, sand, sea, and the fact that there were no shrieking teenagers splashing each other nearby.

Next week I’m moving to London, and it occurred to me recently that apart from the time spent on army bases as an infant, I’ve never lived more than 10 miles from the sea. I’ve never really been one for sunbathing (even with factor 50 I burn within minutes) but as a child we used to go to Mudeford Quay to catch crabs, and going for a gallop along the sand has always been a favourite activity of mine.

I’ve lived in Portsmouth for 10 years now and I’ve really enjoyed the nautical nature of the city; the naval base has a massive influence on the place and back in my clubbing days it was always a laugh sharing the sticky floors of Route and Scandals with US navy folks in full mess dress (taking bets on how long they’d last on the sweaty dancefloor in their woollen uniforms was mean, but funny). And then walking home from the club in the middle of the night through fog so thick I could barely see my feet, jumping out of my skin every time the fog horn echoed through the streets…

I’ve made some fantastic friends while living here and had some incredible experiences; I know I’m going to miss this place, but in all honesty it’s time for a change. The atmosphere here has been gradually changing and I don’t think it’s for the better. Making the transition from employee to student made me realise just how much resentment there is towards Portsmouth Uni by the local residents.

In 2010 a giant fibreglass dinosaur was built on the common as part of an art project; it travelled 2,000 miles to get here and was meant to spend a few weeks in towns across the country, but about a week before it was due to leave for Colchester it caught fire and was completely obliterated.

Immediately local people started blaming “the students”, as they do for everything: windscreen smashed? Students. Wing mirror ripped off? Students. Piles of vomit on the pavement? Students. In fact, most of the antisocial behaviour that I’ve witnessed has been performed by idiots wearing blue football shirts, and I doubt that many students are also Pompey fans.

Anyway, it turned out the dinosaur burnt down because of dodgy electrics, but the ill will towards the city’s students had already peaked and the atmosphere had turned quite unpleasant. On top of the general physical and verbal abuse I’ve had to endure at the hands of local thugs over the years, I decided that it was probably time for a change. The decision has been helped by a number of other factors, the lack of employment opportunities in Portsmouth being a major one; neither my partner nor myself have been able to find work here, and neither of us went to uni in order to work in a call centre.

So now’s the time. And honestly, I’m going to miss this place, I’ve got some incredible memories to take away with me and I know it’ll be an emotional departure, so thanks Pompey.

And try not to let things get too messy, yeah?

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Question Time

Last night I had the pleasure of being in the audience on BBC Question Time with the man who is probably the nation’s favourite fantasy granddad, David Dimbleby. He appeared in his organic form, as Bio-Dimbleby, rather than his alter-ego The Dimblebot.

The program was being filmed at Portsmouth Grammar School, and in order to apply to be in the audience, I had to fill in a form with my political affiliations and opinions. When asked what political party I support, I listed the not-quite-yet-formed NHS Party, and when I received a call from one of the production team, we had a fairly long conversation about it.

Arriving at Portsmouth Grammar School, we had our bags and selves searched, and were ushered through to the canteen where tea and biscuits were being served. There were two large TVs in the room, showing the news, BBC at 6, ITV at 6.30, and Channel 4 at 7pm. I had emailed my first question the night before:

What do the panel think of these recent judgements made in relation to Twitter? Why are certain people being picked out to be made examples of, and does the panel think that it is fair for someone’s life to be ripped apart because of a tweet that should have probably just been ignored? I’ve received abuse based on my gender and appearance, but it hasn’t been taken seriously, is that because I’m not a celebrity or an airport, or is it more because the threats were obviously not serious?

Along with our tea and biscuits, we were also given a card to write a second question on, so I asked why the NHS reforms had been ignored by the BBC and other media, even though I knew it was hopeless.

Just as Channel 4 was showing footage of an elephant on the rampage in Ireland (!) Bio-Dimbleby appeared and a hush descended on the crowd.

He explained what to expect from the evening and the general format of the evening; while he was speaking, a noise which sounded like barking came from somewhere behind me. Dimbleby asked if there was a dog present, and then told us that he used to have an old Nokia which had a frog ringtone, and he then delighted us all with his frog impression! He also explained the editing process, saying that the show is streamed to Glasgow (I think) where the lawyers cut any potentially libellous content prior to broadcast. He said that they used to edit out any comments about the IRA being murderers, but they eventually stopped because the IRA don’t tend to sue for libel! He’s really funny, and it was almost like a stand-up set.

At about 7.15 we were taken through to the studio, where five people were picked from the audience to be the “panel” for the warm up debate. The purpose of this is to test the mics and the sound quality, as well as getting the audience fired up. So the subject was “Who is to blame for the obesity crisis?” and plenty of questions and comments were fired backwards and forwards. Most people were respectful and waited their turn to speak, but there was one guy in particular who apparently missed out on manners as a child, and kept dominating the conversation; he even interrupted the panel during the recording, which was a hugely prickish thing to do.

Interrupting Bald Man

Anyway, after the fake debate, the people whose questions had been chosen for the broadcast were briefed, and then the real panel came out and took their places. Whilst they were being set up with mics, myself and the girl to my left decided to do a spot of Dimbledancing, just for lols. Dimbleby then went over some ground rules etc, and made a comment about bad language, the monitoring of which he referred to as Countdown Tourrettes. His mic was a bit crackly so that was dealt with, but then even when it had been fixed, interrupting bald man still had to make a comment…

There was another fake debate, this time with the real panel, about whether national service could have stopped the riots. Alexei Sayle commented that national service should be compulsory, but that he thought he’d turned into a reactionary since arriving in Portsmouth. Some people seemed a bit miffed by that, which made it even funnier.

So then the recording started; I won’t go into detail because it was broadcast pretty much in its entirety (with the exception of a naughty word from Alexei) so if you’ve seen it, you know what happened. I wanted to ask questions on two of the points: I was hoping to ask my Twitter Trials question, and also when the subject of Kent Council building a new grammar school came up, I wanted to ask the panel whether they would prefer a new grammar school, or a new Steiner school. I know which I’d go for.

My favourite part of the whole evening was towards the end, when a student pastor (of all people) asked a question about the tax on pasties (I cannot believe that people view this as a more serious matter than the privatisation of the NHS). The panel talked shit about it for a while and then Dimbleby asked Alexei for his opinion, to which he replied that he really couldn’t care less; a reaction which was met with rapturous applause from those of us who can’t see what all the sodding fuss is about.

<3 Alexei Sayle

The camera was aimed in my direction quite a few times, on one occasion I was trying quite hard to not make elbow contact with either of my neighbours- very awkward.

But all in all a very enjoyable evening.



So you’ve probably already heard about the WorkFare furore, mostly surrounding Tesco’s recent advert for unpaid night work. I was quite horrified when I saw it, not necessarily because of the “slave labour” aspect that seemed to have angered a lot of people, but because of the ridiculousness of one of Britain’s biggest commercial companies receiving a government-subsidised workforce. Why should the taxpayer fork out for the wages of staff that Tesco don’t want to pay? I say “wages” whilst fully acknowledging the irony. Job Seekers Allowance + expenses isn’t exactly something a person could live on, a fact which would be cruelly highlighted by making them work alongside people on an actual salary. In fact, I honestly have no idea how anyone survives purely on JSA, I know I didn’t.

Back in 2009 I was made redundant after 6 years of working for the same company. I bloody loved that job, and I met some of my best friends (and some of the worst examples of humanity) whilst working there. It was my first proper job after moving to Portsmouth, and even though I was there to maintain the IT equipment I was given the job title of “marketing assistant” because the company’s owners were troglodytes who didn’t believe in technology and they certainly wouldn’t agree with paying someone a salary to mess around with it. My initial duties were to reboot the servers every time they failed, but that got boring very quickly so I elected to build a new network from scratch- a hugely satisfying task.

There were a lot of major changes to the company whilst I worked there, one of which involved being ditched by the parent which meant that I could finally attain the job title of “IT Support” without offending anyone. Other changes included facing liquidation a few times, and when the administrators swarmed in 2009 it was made final.

My fondest memory of that place was probably my 21st birthday. I was presented with a birthday cake, and then carried from my desk in the office through to the factory, and ceremoniously dumped (as was the tradition) into the test tank (a large tank of stale water); only a fool failed to bring a change of clothes to work on their birthday.

My oddest memories are from the final weeks when we were having to sneak in and out of the building via the fire escape to avoid the bailiff (who had been camping out at the front door) from serving notice to any one of us. Then there was the day they forced entry and changed the locks, so instead of going to work that morning, we all convened in the nearby supermarket car park for a crisis meeting. It snowed on my last day.

The ending of the company was quite messy, and because it was technically bankrupt I had to claim my final month’s salary from the government, via the administrators. I was also told that in order to claim my statutory redundancy pay of £1,349.36 I would have to go and register for JSA (for the first time in my life). Having never been “unemployed” before, this was a hugely alien concept, and I was quite nervous. I walked into the Job Centre, and before I made it through the second set of automatic doors I was almost knocked over by a very angry man who was too busy shouting abuse over his shoulder to look where he was going. I spoke to the receptionist, who was flanked by two security guards (none of whom seemed bothered by angry-man) and she gave me the forms I needed and told me where to wait.

When I eventually got to speak to an “advisor” she issued me with a log book (to enter all my job-seeking activities) and asked about my work experience and what I was looking for. When I told her I would do pretty much anything, she raised her eyebrows and said “Well I’ll put you down for IT roles, and if nothing comes up in 6 weeks, we’ll broaden the search a bit”. 6 weeks?! I didn’t want to spend 6 weeks wasting time when I could be earning money, so I asked her why I couldn’t do less specialised work whilst looking for my ideal job, and she told me that wasn’t how it worked.

I was livid.

I was even more livid when she told me I’d have to quit my college course as it meant I wasn’t “available to work”. At that point in time my highest qualifications were GCSEs, which meant that I was unable to apply for particular jobs, regardless of my experience, so in September 2008 I started an Access course, which is a sort of A-Level equivalent for people like me who might want to do a degree in the future. But apparently these 12 hours a week (9am-12pm Mon & Weds, plus 6pm-9pm Mon) were a huge barrier to my employability and all higher education would have to cease.

I found this completely abhorrent, especially bearing in mind I had just been told that I was to limit my job seeking to IT roles, and that they regarded “job seeking” as “looking through the Situations Vacant section of Thursday’s paper”. I had already fulfilled that week’s job seeking requirements by sending 7 job applications off before leaving home for the Job Centre appointment.

Needless to say, I didn’t quit my course.

All this pissing around for £60 a week, because apparently I didn’t qualify for housing or council tax benefit as I had only just lost my job. Sixty fucking quid. And 3 weeks in they cancelled it and I had to go through the application process all over again because I had the audacity to do 16.5 hours temp work! Didn’t make that mistake again.

Luckily for me I managed to find a fantastic IT support job (without the help of the Job Centre) just as my redundancy payment ran out, but my 8 weeks of unemployment taught me a lot about the “benefits” system in this country; the main lesson being that the only way to actually “benefit” is to play the system. I didn’t want to sign on in the first place but was forced to in order to claim my redundancy payment which amounted to just over one month’s wages. If I hadn’t been entitled to any redundancy payment, say, if I had only worked for the company for 18 months, then I have no idea how I would have coped on the £371.65 of JSA I claimed in total.

I’m not trying to sound like a victim at all; as I said, I managed to get a really great job in a lovely company and because it was so well timed, I didn’t go hungry or stupidly overdrawn, but that was no thanks to the Job Centre. I genuinely have no idea how normal people cope in these situations; and I really don’t know how I would have reacted if I had been told to quit my college course so that I could stack shelves in Tesco for £60 a week.


2012: The End.

No, not the apocalypse (do people actually believe that shit?).

This year will be the end of one way of life and the beginning of another, in theory.

If everything goes to plan, my final exam will be this Wednesday. The following day I’ll be celebrating the end of exams plus Portsmouth SitP’s first birthday (clicky for more info).

The next major milestone comes in March, which is when my dissertation is due in, and I am absolutely terrified. Shortly after is my final clinical placement, and hopefully the last time I’ll be working in a hospital without being paid.

And then that’s it. Finished. No more lectures, exams or presentations. No more staying up til 3am writing essays (I really can relate to Douglas Adams’ feelings on deadlines).

Apparently some people feel scared upon leaving academia; I wonder if this is because they haven’t worked before as I suppose that can be quite daunting. The scariest thing for me was starting the process. Giving up my job was the most unpleasant part of the whole affair, and I’m not just talking about losing a regular salary, although that was quite galling. There’s a certain safety in doing something you know you’re capable of, and you don’t tend to get that when you’re starting from scratch.

When I was learning how to use Linux for the first time, I did so at my own pace, and when it all got a bit much I’d retreat to the safety of Active Directory, something I could configure in my sleep (and frequently did so) which bumped my confidence back up.

There’s not been much in the way of safety or familiarity over the past 2 and a bit years; all of it (with the minor exception of the teeny bit of quantum physics in the first year) has been brand new to me, even down to certain aspects of essay writing (I put my name on the first essay I submitted, not knowing that this was an instant fail- oops!) so it’s been something of a journey.

The “working in a hospital” bit which comes next doesn’t worry me so much; from what I’ve seen, all newly quals start their first jobs like rabbits on a motorway, terrified about their first on-call or theatre case so I’m sure I’ll fit right in. The actual act of getting a job is pretty unnerving though. I had my first rejection last week for my “dream job” at King’s College Hospital. I didn’t expect to even be considered, but still. Sucks.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Back to revision.

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A Matter of Tolerance

This weekend was a fairly sociable one for me, usually I’m a miserable bitch who abhors any kind of social interaction, but I went out twice with two separate groups of people so it was definitely a change for me. But I’m not really blogging about my weekend.

The people who know me are probably well aware that I’m not terribly conventional when it comes to “fashion” (amongst other things). I don’t really care what the shops think I should wear, if I like something, and it’s cheap, I’ll buy it. I refuse to spend any large sums of money on clothes/shoes, in fact the most expensive thing in my wardrobe is actually in the boot of my car, and it’s my riding boots (about 70 quid). This means that I tend to buy charity shop stuff and modify it, and any “decent” clothes I fork out for will get worn to death.

I have a favourite colour and it’s quite obvious. Therefore most of the clothes I own (which aren’t t-shirts I’ve bought at gigs) are purple. I just like it, and I don’t think I can carry browns and greens as well as other people can. Plus I have literally no idea what goes with what, so if I stick to one colour scheme at least I can be fairly sure I’m not clashing.

I also actually don’t give a shit what people think about my fashion sense (to a degree, which I’ll get onto in a moment) so if I decide I’m going to go out wearing my New Rocks, a ballgown and a dressage hat, then you can expect to see me wearing my New Rocks, a ballgown and a dressage hat. Equally, I only “dress up” when I feel like it, so most of the time I will be slumming it in jeans and a gig t-shirt.

But why should you care what clothes I decide to wear when going out in public? No really, why the hell should anyone care about what someone’s wearing? Unless it’s actually offensive in its content (and I am very careful not to wear my Rob Zombie t-shirt when I’m around children or the elderly) then what right does anyone have to take issue with someone else’s attire? Sure, if you find someone’s clothing choice funny or whatever, then you and your mates can have a laugh about it, but do you really need to let that person know?

Well apparently the fashion police has its headquarters here in Portsmouth and everyone is an officer of the law. I regularly face abuse when walking around the city, mostly verbal, sometimes physical, and it always bemuses me.

On Friday, I went to the RadSoc (radiographers’ society) Christmas meal at Gunwharf Quays, a shopping and “entertainment” centre in the city. I parked in the underground car park and walked the 100 yards or so up the stairs and across the courtyard to get to the bar we met at. Walking across the car park a girl loudly exclaimed to her friend “is that a tranny?” making fairly sure I could hear her. I kept walking. On the escalator, some lads behind me were laughing loudly and one of them dared another to “go get it‘s phone number”. Walking across the courtyard some drunk arsehole made a beeline for me and stood directly in my path, getting quite close to my face, and asked if I was “looking for business” whilst his mates threw an empty cigarette packet at my head and attempted (but failed) to hit me with an empty beer can.

I just want to point out that none of this is new behaviour. I have experienced it before and I’m certain I will again. What made me feel compelled to comment was my experience on Saturday night. I had always assumed that this was just normal behaviour from the general public, but I was up in Manchester meeting with some of the guys I shared the house with in Nepal, and we went out in Canal Street. I have never been in to Manchester before and I have heard all sorts of stories about how rough it is and what a dangerous city it can be, so I was slightly apprehensive prior to my arrival, but it turned out to be fantastic. No one felt compelled to verbally or physically assault me, the atmosphere was friendly and fun-filled, and I didn’t fear for my safety once. It occurred to me that this should be the norm; people shouldn’t feel scared to walk around merely because of what they are wearing.

I genuinely worry that people who are less flippant than me are being abused in this way whilst walking around Portsmouth, and that they might not brush off these insults and projectiles quite so readily, but I have literally no idea what I can do about it other than leave ASAP.

It also pisses me off that the only place I feel safe is amongst drag queens. Those bitches look much better in heels than I do.


Boring 2011

The Boring Conference is a one-day event dedicated to the boring, the mundane, the obvious and the over-looked. Nothing interesting, worthwhile or important will be discussed at Boring.

(If you’d prefer not to read nearly 1,500 words of my drivel, but would like to know about Boring 2011, have a look at these.)

Yesterday I went up to London Village (Bethnal Green, in fact) for Boring 2011. I didn’t know there was a Boring 2010 until the day after it had been held, so I wasn’t going to miss out this time. Oh no.

I started off the day in the correct manner by inadvertently sitting near the most boring man on the train, who talked at his wife for the duration of the journey IN THE QUIET ZONE NO LESS about some business deal with “the Israelis” that had apparently come very close to falling through but in the end after a lot of blah and blah it was eventually finalised and that’s why he had to stay late at work on Friday. Sure. That’s why.

Why is it the more dull the conversation, the more compelling it is to eavesdrop? Is it because I can’t believe someone could be so vacuous and so I’m waiting expectantly for the exciting M Night Shyamamananamamalananan twist at the end? No. It’s because I’m nosy.

Another thing I should mention: wearing New Rocks and a dressage hat is a sure-fire way to get 4 seats to yourself when on public transport, but it’s also a successful strategy for having both insults and projectiles thrown at you on the walk to the train station at 8am on a Saturday. But I’m used to it now, and my skull was appropriately protected.

So I got to London and made my way to York Hall, a leisure centre which has been around since 1929 and with the exception of Boring 2011, is now a place where people can pay money to watch men hit each other until one of them gives up or loses consciousness.

The queue at 10.20am was impressive, so I joined it.

At 10.49 I finally gained access to the inside of the building and also the running order for the day.

Yeah, that’s right, I bought a ticket for an event called “Boring 2011″ with no prior knowledge of who would actually be there. I had heard rumours of Ince and Goldacre so was disappointed to see them missing, but I got over it pretty quick. Especially when I opened my free swag envelope and found Haribo and badges.

The host, James Ward, opened the event with a rather self-conscious intro, followed by his talk on the early years of Which? magazine. The first ever Which? magazine covered the subject of electric kettles, reviewing three models by GEC, Russell Hobbs and Swan. Adjusting the price to match today’s inflated costs, the most expensive one (the Swan) ends up 30 quid more expensive than the fanciest water-boiler on offer at Argos, leaving enough cash to buy 14 boxes of Yorkshire Teabags. One of the highlights of this talk was the description by Which? magazine of the frequent toppling of cereal boxes as “maddening” . That and the cameras on sandcastles (you had to be there).

Tim Steiner was next with a talk on hand dryers which was not only not boring but also quite funny. He discussed the evolution of hand dryer technology over the years, with photographs, as well as the single biggest issue surrounding hand dryer development: noise. He spent a few hours in an acoustic laboratory with his own personal Dyson Airblade (jealous? I know I am) and was upset by the noises produced. To me, this talk epitomised the entire event. Perfect.

Chris TT travels a lot and therefore experiences a lot of different toilets. He catalogues his favourites and any notable ones that he encounters, including the disturbing urinals at a Dundee metal club which are shaped like a lipstick-wearing mouth.

Matthew Crosby originally wanted to present a talk on hand dryers, but as the other guy actually owns an Airblade he lost out to him. So instead he told us all about his Nando’s live-tweeting and how it has affected his life. He said he felt like he was trapped in a chicken-based Bourne Identity as strangers would send him tweets about Nando’s, usually saying that they themselves were dining in one of the restaurants and were surprised not to see him there. On one such occasion, he was actually on his way to the Nando’s in question but upon receiving the tweet he changed his direction.

Galit Ferguson chronicled the reorganisation of Budgens in Crouch End. Perfect.

Jon Ronson (buy his books, he is excellent) was invited to look at Stanley Kubrick’s photograph collection after the director died. What he found was over 1,000 archive boxes, which were full of photographs, mostly taken by his nephew, Manuel Harlan. Photographs of everything from doorways to room interiors, with a 6m panorama of an entire road; an early form of street view created using a ladder, a camera, and a lot of time and patience. I bloody love Jon Ronson.

Ever considered cataloguing everything you eat and drink over the course of a year? Peter Burnett did. In fact, he did it twice because the first go didn’t take place over the course of a calendar year. He didn’t read the whole book to us, just some selected portions.

After lunch, it was maths time with Toby Dignum‘s lovingly presented talk on the square root of two. And occasionally his cat. Did you know that there was such controversy over \sqrt{2} that when Hippasus of Metapontum discovered that it couldn’t be expressed as a fraction, he was murdered? Awesome.

I’ve never seen the Hugh Grant film, About a Boy, but thanks to Leila Johnston I don’t need to. She has identified the key filming locations used, mapped them, and visited and photographed them. She explained that instead of being a romantic comedy, it is a French-style film about ennui. Very apt.

Future Portsmouth SitP speaker, Matt Parker spoke passionately and in great depth about barcodes, including the more fancy and modern QR codes. He demonstrated his party trick of being able to predict the last digit of a barcode when given the preceding digits, as well as explaining ASCII for those who were previously unaware.

Greg Stekelman (The Man Who Fell Asleep) proved his love for the London Underground, or more precisely, the Victoria Line. He detailed each line, with key facts, celebrity endorsements and personal anecdotes, and I was enthralled.

Helen Keen explained the connection between NASA, Nazis and Satanists (clue #1: the name) and told us that there were no boring shuttle flights. I believe her.

Will Barratt talked about the Loebner Prize  which is awarded to the most convincing computer generated conversation. He noted that the most convincing tends to also be the most defensive, paranoid, or boring.

Rhodri Marsden hates small talk. He’s rubbish at it. He tends to ask questions like “what’s Wigan like then?” or when asked about his recent adventures, he talks about having an anal blood blister lanced.

There was another break, after which Josie Long talked at length about her Alternative Reality Tour. I love Josie, but she did go on a bit, and it didn’t seem particularly relevant or well targeted and I noticed people nearby getting a bit tetchy.

Not quite as tetchy as during Mark Stevenson‘s talk though. He was absolutely fantastic at Portsmouth SitP recently, and is a lovely bloke, but yesterday’s effort didn’t really work, in my opinion. It was an incredibly aggressive and sweary piece about “why cynicism is boring” but it didn’t fit with the theme of the event, and apparently a few people even walked out. It’s a shame really.

Richard DeDominici made me laugh a lot. His talk was in the Pecha Kucha format and was about health and / or safety. Including the sharp edges at the holocaust memorial (very dangerous during icy weather) and the application of those bobbly strap-hangers they used to have on tube trains, to be used in Tokyo during earthquakes.

Felicity Ford treated us all to the sound of the coffee machine near her office. A machine whose noises are more pleasant than its coffee. She went on an audio odyssey, recording the vending machines of the British Isles, and she shared a small part of it with us.

Finally Adam Curtis delighted the audience with a story about his colleague, Andrew, who was cataloguing “the bits in between BBC TV programmes” going back 60 years. There was an amusing interlude featuring Michael Parkinson and Robert Redford, where Parky incorrectly states that the name “Lena” backwards spells “anal”.

Overall it was a brilliant day, but disappointingly, not at all boring.

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Middle of the night, joyful rantings!

… Which I shall probably delete when I wake up and re-read this.

EDIT: Nah, it’ll serve as a good reminder of why proof-reading is important, and why blogging at 2am is not the best idea.

So, I’ve just got home from yet another awesome Portsmouth Skeptics in the Pub. And when I say awesome… well. Bloody hell.

So I get to The Globe Inn (or the Fat Fox, I don’t think I noticed its name when I arrived) and start setting up the equipment with loads of time to spare. Loads. By pure luck I found a VGA cable long enough to reach the ceiling mounted projector, literally minutes before leaving my flat (I am totes organised, promise) so when I unpacked everything I asked the barman for the projector remote. He couldn’t find it. He also informed me that the projector hadn’t been working for months.


It was around about this moment when I noticed Mark Stevenson, tonight’s speaker, sat at the bar. “Oh hai, I run this shit, we have no projector and I think I’m going to cry” I thought. Then the barman casually mentioned that he had his own projector. With him. In the building. Mark offered him a blowjob, I offered him drinks. He accepted one and refused the other, you get to decide which was which.

So lovely barman brought out his BEAST of a projector. What a beauty! Huge bugger, HD ready with more inputs than a [insert filthy joke here] and the awesomest position and keystone adjuster I’ve ever seen. Yes? What of it?

Anyway, we hooked it up, I faffed with the PA and off we went!

Mark’s talk was excellent, but I already knew that, having seen him back in May at Winchester SitP. If you haven’t seen the talk then buy the book. Srsly. Buy the damn thing, it’s cheap and awesome, like all the best things and people are.

So the talk was excellent, I think I have adequately established that. The Q&A was very good, the usual calibre that I’ve come to expect from our wonderful crowd, plus some interesting unexpected ones too.

Anyway, the whole talk and the Q&A will no doubt be available at Skepticule for your listening pleasure. Prepare to be enlightened.

But the thing which you will never experience from the recording is the sheer awesomeness of the whole event. A bunch of people with similar interests yet interesting differences meet up in a pub and are entertained by someone with something intelligent, insightful and always interesting to say.

Yes I’ve said “interesting” about a million times but it’s the middle of the night and I’m still euphoric so bugger off.

So we meet in the pub, talk about awesome stuff, lovely people choose to come along and record the whole event, others take photographs, most just enjoy (and contribute to) the atmosphere, and it means that at least once a month I go home grinning like an idiot. Usually after being pretty much forcibly removed from the pub at closing time, as we’re still nattering about something terribly important like what comedians are like in their downtime or how fast you’d need to run in a circle in order to time travel.

Seriously, I’m actually euphoric right now. I apologise to the people I’m currently having Twitter “conversations” with as I doubt I’m being terribly articulate.

Anyway, I think I’ll leave it there. But seriously, if you’re in the Portsmouth area and want a fantastic way to spend a Thursday night, then come along. You’ll have to wait til January though.


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An -ism Rant

I’ve just started week four of six of my first clinical placement of year three. It’s kind of a big deal as it’s one of only two before I register with the Health Professions Council and become a real-life radiographer.

I was dreading this placement on the Isle of Wight as the last time I was there I didn’t get enough clinical experience, due to lack of opportunity and I had to do some recovery time over the summer. But this time round things are so much better; not only am I enjoying working in the department, but I feel that I’m making headway on my competency framework (it’s like a log-book of our experience).

So it’s not the hospital stuff that’s the problem, predictably, it’s the commute.

It’s only about 15 miles, but it’s been taking anywhere between one hour to two and a half, and the combination of the drive, hovercraft, and two buses can be really tough if they don’t all line up.

But it’s not even the journey as such that’s getting to me.

As a student, there are various offers and discounts available to me, but occasionally when I ask for them, I get a reaction which effectively says “WTF?” and I’ll admit that it gets pretty annoying. This happens a lot on the Isle of Wight buses, I’d say at least once a day, I’ll ask for a student ticket whilst showing my ID and I’ll still face disbelief and requests for further evidence. This is despite travelling with Jo, who is also a student, but a more “conventionally aged” one. She almost never has to show ID, even on occasions such as today when I was told I have to show ID every time I board a bus.

I don’t have a problem with showing ID at all, I usually show it before being asked, the problem I have is with the attitude and blatant ageism of the bus drivers. I’ve had them actually laugh in my face when I’ve asked for a student ticket, while the less “forward” drivers will merely ignore my request and try to charge me full price. Most of the time I’ll just roll my eyes at Jo and laugh it off, but to be honest, it’s really pissing me off. I only turned 28 last Friday, but it’s not even about that; age is completely irrelevant, it’s a STUDENT ticket, not a TEENAGE one.

Is the concept of a “mature” student too alien for people? Because amongst healthcare students, it’s fairly bloody common.

I have three more weeks of this; that’s 28 more chances for age-related humiliation, and I can’t guarantee that every one of my responses will be polite.

End of rant.


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