As a teenager, I used to enjoy reading horror stories and watching horror films. I read everything by James Herbert, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Shaun Hutson, Graham Masterton and a number of other authors of the genre. Films like The Exorcist, The Day of the Living Dead and the Nightmare On Elm Street movies were must see stuff. Even now, as a responsible and ageing adult, I’ll still get some entertainment value from a good horror novel.
As a youngster (a label long since out grown), I rarely had nightmares about what I read or viewed - that was until I watched a film by Barry Hines called “Threads”. This film was about a nuclear strike on Sheffield. The film was so horribly realistic that from that point on I became very nervous about nuclear weapons and indeed nuclear power too. Horror films are often, if unintentionally, comedic “Threads” on the other hand was too realistic. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend watching it – but not with your kids!
Why write about this subject now? Well I have been paying close attention to developments in Fukushima, Japan and today on the BBC there is more grim news about the radiation problems at the site – i.e. they continue to get worse. The average Japanese citizen must be permanently worried about the consequences. I’d hate to be living with my family in that part of the world right now and I genuinely feel for parents with children out there that have no choice.
The BBC also published a story a couple of days ago about the Government in the UK looking into storing nuclear waste deep in the Cumbrian hills. Then there was news about North Korea and the fears about rocket testing taking place and nuclear capabilities advancing in that country.
Nuclear power is commercially valuable and widely advocated and the reality is that it is great until it goes wrong! When it goes wrong though it is catastrophic! And it’s also a fact that it does go wrong – examples include Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and most recently Fukushima.
Nuclear power incidents have occurred because of unanticipated events or human failure. In most circumstances they were preventable and shouldn’t have happened but that’s not much comfort after the event. The Chernobyl disaster was a catalogue of stupid human/corporate decision making and poor communication and very similar in some regards to the Union Carbide catastrophe in Bhopal (although that was a poison gas release as opposed to radiation). Neither event would have occurred under normal operational conditions for the plants.
Fukushima was different in that the meltdown was effectively triggered by an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami (not a system or human failure – although they came later). These events weren’t accounted for/understood in terms of the structure of the plant and its resilience. And therein lies the key – you cannot make nuclear power truly safe if the foe of the piece is the planet. The planet can unleash forces way beyond our resistance!
The fact is that Japan will recover quickly from the majority of the effects of the quake and tsunami but the problem with radiation is that it has a half-life and could remain a problem for much of the next century. In the wake of Fukushima, Japan has shut down all its nuclear power plants and there is much debate about whether or not they will ever re-open. But even if they stay shut, another problem with nuclear power is that decommissioning the power plants is fraught with risk and danger too!
If you think for a moment about burying nuclear waste in the Cumbrian hills, can anyone state beyond doubt that there is no possibility of seismic shift or other natural phenomenon? I hope that governments around the world learn from Fukushima – nuclear power is just not safe enough and on that basis future power generation plans really should look elsewhere for inspiration.
And I for one don’t mind a windmill in my back yard!
I watched Sport Relief on Friday night last week and found myself getting a bit cross. What made me angry were the scenes of suffering across Africa but more specifically the fact that I feel I have been watching similar scenes throughout my life. It doesn’t seem to matter what the developing world does to support Africa, it is never enough. The £52+ million raised by Sport Relief is truly awesome, especially given the state of the UK economy, but I know that next time we see Children In Need or Comic Relief, the scenes will be the same.
Africa is a huge continent containing numerous countries and it seems sadly inevitable that there will always be tribal differences here, a famine there, a civil war somewhere else, and endemic government corruption everywhere.
Whilst the world cannot and should not just write off the countries and leave them to suffer, I can’t help but think that all our efforts do is address some symptoms and not the root cause of the problems. This has of course been said by many before me so it isn’t exactly original thought.
What is the solution though? I don’t know but I have been giving the subject some thought.
In recent history, there is some evidence of successful transformations of countries and the reunification of Germany is an interesting case. West Germany effectively absorbed East Germany, which in some respects was a bit like it taking on a third world country. The integration took place and over a relatively short time the reunited Germany then went on to became the most powerful economy in Europe.
Now before you worry about where this post is going, I am not proposing that Germany annexes any African countries, because there’s obviously some slightly less recent history that would ruffle far too many feathers. This is an interesting thought though – could Africa be helped by the involvement of foreign governments that are already very good at effective resource management – the Japanese are masters?
Should each African country have a sponsor/mentor or a partner country that takes on an agreed management
role? Maybe that’s all a bit too commonwealth!
Maybe companies could be encouraged to sponsor countries – let’s face it, some companies are valued higher than entire countries. Toyota is a brilliantly run company, perhaps it could help sort out Somalia. The Volkswagen Group is very well managed too; perhaps it could help manage Angola! There could even be some brand tie in potential – the legendary Apple could work with South Africa, home of the Granny Smith! If banks sponsored beleaguered African nations maybe we wouldn’t hate them so much for profiteering and paying outrageous bonuses. Just think if Stephen Hester and RBS helped manage the Congo rather than just be a corporate partner of Sport Relief – we might feel he had earned his bonus.
Maybe bonkers ideas I accept but the reality is that chucking money at poverty in Africa is not making the difference. There has to be a better way!
I watched John Bishop’s endurance race and I can state without hesitation that the man is heroic. He pushed himself to the point of collapse for the charity and I respect him massively for the effort and commitment. The money raised thanks to his selflessness was significant and he can justifiably feel pride in his achievements. I would say the same for Eddie Izzard and David Walliams too - these characters are all inspirational!
Next year though, we will have all the same images on our screens, my family will be watching the TV and crying
again and I’ll be wanting to turn the telly off. And that just feels a bit depressing!
I am currently driving a 61 plate Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSi and I must admit that I am pretty pleased with it. The 1.2 litre engine is turbo assisted and that means that it has reasonable acceleration for something with such a small power plant.
The car I had before this was an 11 plate Seat Ibiza 1.4 Copa and the Fabia beats it hands down in terms of performance and is actually a much more satisfying car overall. The Skoda’s fuel economy is good too and it has proved to be a practical and sensible run around.
The only thing that has really frustrated me is the front electric windows. When you unlock the car, you have to press the unlock button on the key fob, once for the driver’s door and twice for all the doors and the boot (in theory that is). For some unfathomable reason though I often find myself repeatedly pressing the unlock button to release the rear door locks only to find that they remain locked and the front windows have decided to lower themselves instead. What on earth is going on there?
You then have to open the driver’s door and put the key back in the ignition and engage it in order for the window switches to work so that you can then wind the windows back up in order to re-close the door, lock it and run away. Using Skoda’s own tag line, is this “simply clever”? No I beg to differ - "simply annoying" at least with regards to the electric windows!
This morning, in a moment of frustration, I found myself standing at my boot and shouting at my car – “why do you ………….do that you…………..car?” The dots represent expletives that I am embarrassed to admit I may have resorted to (a means of adding creative expression you understand as opposed to pure vulgarity). Jeremy Clarkson, or maybe even John Cleese (remember the Fawlty Towers sketch when Basil attacked his red Austin 1100 Countryman with a tree branch?) would have been proud!
The bloody windows have dropped in the snow and tipped the wet, white stuff all over the front seats. The windows have dropped and I have then locked the car and wandered away without even realising they are part down and I’ve driven off wondering why there’s more wind noise than normal. And of course in central Milton Keynes today, I verbally abused my motor – much to the amusement of one or two passers-by!
I am sure that Skoda “designed in” this feature as opposed to making some kind of electronic mistake. The thing is that I can’t think for the life of me what on earth the purpose is. Do you know dear reader? Maybe it’s a pet friendly feature or something?
There is of course an option available to me, although it really is the last resort. I could get the owner’s book out of the glove-box and read the relevant section. It would take me less time than this blog entry has taken to write too but somehow I suspect that the illumination couldn’t possibly be so satisfying.
Am I ranting?
OK, I’ll stop now. Thanks for indulging me!
I had an interesting debate with my mum yesterday on the topic of this post. Last week saw media interest heightened in gay marriage – the Government being keen to see further enhanced rights/equality for gay couples and widely consulting on the subject.
To set the scene; yesterday was mother’s day and that saw my wife and I load the kids into the car and take them to see my parents. After lunch I was sat with my mum and she asked about my website. She then read my post about the right to die and then challenged some of my viewpoints. We then engaged in some lively conversation before agreeing that the post at least fulfilled its objective of stimulating debate (even if some of our views differed).
I mentioned that I had thought about gay marriage as a topic for a piece – although to be honest, prior to that point, I had decided not to write about the subject. I ended up having such an interesting conversation with my mum that I changed my mind and decided to write after all.
I have this fairly straightforward opinion that gay marriages should be allowed – I don’t understand what all the fuss is about because if two people love each other and want to make the commitment then why does it matter what sex they are. Live and let live I say! I’ll admit that I have no real religious persuasion and that makes it easier for me to have this simple perspective.
My mum was strongly of the opinion that marriage was essentially a holy communion and that the church couldn’t be expected to countenance an approach that would be at odds with the preaching of the bible. I then pointed out that people don’t have to get married in church – and for the record I didn’t, although my sister did! It must be said though that the Government is politically bright enough not to be entertaining the concept of forcing churches to marry same sex couples!
That lead to an interesting debate about whether a civil partnership was enough and was anything more really necessary. As I am not a legal eagle, I don’t really appreciate what the differences are between the states of marriage and civil partnership – that made it hard to progress with that line of enquiry.
In the end the conversation with my mum didn’t really reach a conclusion because the kids were bouncing around and we ended up getting distracted. Still, I better appreciate why the subject has polarised opinions.
It was nice to have some intellectual discussion with my mum, we don't make the time to do that very often and maybe we should try a bit harder to do so more regularly!
This weekend I watched a documentary that I enjoyed so much, I want to spread the word and give you the chance to experience it too. The film, produced by Martin Scorsese, is called ‘Living in the material world’ and is all about George Harrison.
The documentary is 3 1/2 hours long and made in two parts – it was originally aired in the UK as an Arena special in November 2011. I watched the programme in its entirety on BBC4 on Friday night (whilst Mrs B. just slept next to me on the sofa) and am pleased to report that it is ‘live’ on the BBC iPlayer so you can (and really should) watch it too.
The programme was made using archive footage recorded throughout George’s life and gave a fascinating insight into the life of a truly inspirational character. Although a fan of the Beatles and the Travelling Wilburys; I had no idea just how diverse Harrison’s interests were.
A plethora of celebrities (Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Eric Idle, Tom Petty, Jackie Stewart, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar etc.), who knew George well appeared throughout the film and a common theme soon became apparent. Although inspirational characters themselves; all were inspired by George and held him in great affection. Some found it visibly hard to talk about him without being overcome by emotion and that spoke volumes about his impact upon them.
George was interesting, different, spiritual, driven, undeniably cool and entertaining too and it’s a real shame that his life was cut short by cancer (58 was too young to go). One thing is true however; he crammed enough into his 58 years to put the rest of us to shame!
Make the time to watch ‘Living in the material world’ – you won’t regret the decision.
I usually write about things that have triggered some creative urge and often that’s something relatively light or humorous. Today though I am going to write about something much more thought provoking and heavyweight! This week I have been taking an interest in the news about Tony Nicklinson’s campaign to get the law changed with regards to a person’s right to die. It’s a really emotive subject and a difficult one for the law, the medical profession and indeed the church.
Tony Nicklinson has been cleared to take his case to the High Court, which will at least get the subject matter heard and will guarantee further public debate. His biggest legal hurdle is that his condition means he is incapable of being assisted to die (which is also illegal in the UK); he will have to rely on someone to kill him – something that would then be considered as murder for the law as it currently stands.
I don’t pretend for one moment to be adequately experienced enough or qualified to debate the law, medical ethics or for that matter religion but I have reflected on assisted death before.
Last year Sir Terry Pratchett (a truly brilliant author in my opinion) presented a poignant documentary on assisted suicide. He suffers with early onset Alzheimer’s which is untreatable, debilitating and progressive and is very open, honest and vocal about his desire to determine the nature and timing of his own death. Sir Terry’s biggest concerns are loss of faculties versus the timing of the loss – he doesn’t want to go too early but if he leaves it too late: he’ll not be considered competent to make the decision at all.
Sir Terry accompanied a gentleman called Peter Smedley to Dignitas in Switzerland to share the last days of his life with him and his wife. Peter Smedley was an amazing character; he was bright educated, successful, determined and completely rational in his decision making and actions. Unfortunately he was suffering from motor neurone disease and it had progressed significantly; as a result, Peter was determined to end his life with dignity and not become an impossible burden on his wife. Watching him making his choice, sign his paperwork and then follow through on his decision was extremely moving and I for one felt he was brave, courageous and inspiring.
The media debate that followed in the aftermath of the programme was frenzied and polarised. My view at the time was simple and it was that people should have the right to make these decisions for themselves and that the law needed to find a way to accommodate them! In my opinion it just felt all wrong that Peter had to leave his home/wider family and fund the trip to Switzerland in order to die on a Swiss industrial estate. Terry Pratchett has stated that he wants to die at home in his own garden and who on earth is entitled to challenge him for that?
I completely understand that changing the law is far from easy and that the vulnerable need protecting but if there aren’t some compromises then individuals either need to commit suicide, which isn’t easy for them; be assisted and find that their supporters are subject to legal action or fund an expensive trip to Switzerland.
Given the serious nature of this subject, I am keen that neither I, nor this article, appear crass. I appreciate that when people make the decision to commit suicide they are often not thinking in a logical or normal way but bear with me for a moment. If I was to kill myself, I’d want to do it in such a way as to not make some God awful mess for someone else to clean up or leave others traumatised that had to find and deal with my dead body. It would be far better to involve my loved ones in my decision making process and say all the goodbyes properly and then make an exit with an appropriate concoction so that to all intents and purposes I’d just nodded off.
If the law in the UK did get changed then inevitably there would be a significant bureaucratic process prior to individual getting approval to die (that process would undoubtedly involve counselling and psychological and competency assessments etc.). It’s possible that kind of process might even save the lives of some of those who might have just resorted to something rash otherwise.
I have known two people who committed suicide (both bloody) and I have also known four people who have died by wasting away through cancer. For those that couldn’t go on and for those whose bodies just gave up on them, I can’t help but think that the option to administer their own exits in a less painful and upsetting way for everyone concerned could have been important to them. For those that committed suicide, even if they went through a review process and still made the same decision, their families would have at least had some opportunity to prepare themselves for their losses. Whilst aggressive illnesses are horrible, at least those suffering know they have a limited amount of time left to say their goodbyes, make their peace and get their affairs in order.
I hope that Tony Nicklinson’s efforts pay dividends because he is a brave man not only to challenge the law of the land but also to allow the media to intrude into his difficult life and broadcast details of it to the world. Bizarrely, if he’s successful, it will be the death of him but at least he’d go out on a high and would have left his mark on history. Tony Nicklinson – you have my respect!
With regards to the law, it should allow adults to make grown up decisions. This is simplistic I know but, it’s not against the law to smoke or join the armed forces but both those things could be the death of you. Think of a soldier, he/she can make the decision to join up and get shot at (or shoot and kill others) in Afghanistan for example but if he/she gets horribly wounded he/she is not entitled to get help to end their own life if they so choose! That just doesn’t feel right! What do you think?
Yesterday morning I was watching the BBC news and there was an interview with Francisco Diego. The feature was on the planets because at the moment there is a rare opportunity to see five of them in the sky across the course of the night – in addition to the moon, there's Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Saturn visible. That’s see with the naked eye – not with a telescope (something I don’t own)!
In recent times, I have become aware of the growing interest in astronomy, thanks to Brian Cox and more easily accessible/affordable hardware. I’ll admit that I was inspired by the feature and vowed to find my binoculars and look for myself. I even promised the kids that they could stay up later and see too (although that was a mistake – I have been a parent long enough to know the dangers of building expectations)!
Typically though last night was cloudy and it’s fair to say that the whole star gazing thing was an anticlimax. Does that mean I was "star crossed" or just "cross about the stars" or rather lack of them? The kids were disappointed too but the upside for them was that they negotiated on the stay up later option and the childrens' TV stayed on later into the evening. Damn!
Hopefully tonight will be more rewarding. I haven't mentioned it to the kids this time though. School tomorrow!
A milestone achievement of sorts today – admittedly in a bit of a sad kind of a way but hey there’s nothing wrong in celebrating the small successes/wins! Let’s face it, sometimes those are the only wins you have.
I just Googled my name and was rather pleased to find my website was the first match shown. Today, at least in the world according to Google, I am the top Adrian Baldwin! Because I also finished ahead of my own LinkedIn profile – that meant I was in position one and three in terms of returned results. How cool is that?
Since publishing my site, it has gradually grown in size and in doing so has gently moved me up the search engine rankings – at least for my own name. Alright I’ll admit that isn’t exactly a huge achievement - my name isn’t John Smith or David Jones or something else in much more common usage but nonetheless there’s a Dave Gorman kind of satisfaction to be had in coming first.
Tomorrow I’ll try to be less shallow!
Today I achieved perfection! Oh yes it’s true, in fact technically I achieved it twice! And dear reader, before you worry that this is going to be a tale about bedroom prowess, worry NOT; I make no such claim! This is instead a tale about a game, not the game of life, but the wonderful, exciting, tension building game of Perfection.
The story began this morning following on from the Baldwin’s family breakfast at the local Weatherspoons hostelry. I had a few errands to do in town and on my way back to the car I stuck my head into the Red Cross charity shop. There on the floor, by the till, was the game, boxed and complete in all its vintage glory. I just had to have it and for the lowly cost of £2 it was mine – yes you read that correctly – just two of my English pounds. A veritable bargain and perfection achieved for the first time.
Now just in case you are not familiar with the game; here’s some insight. Launched in 1975 by Action GT, the game features a sprung board that is pushed down into place. The board contains 25 holes into which the player must fit 25 individually shaped yellow pieces. These pieces must be inserted against the clock – a wind up countdown clock that entitles the competitor to a maximum of one minute’s exertion. The clock ticks down noisily and when the minute is up, the sprung board is released and BOOM the pieces are flung out with no regard at all for the effort that was expended in placing them. Honestly, the noise is like an explosion and it makes you jump! Brilliant!
Perfection arrived at the Baldwin house and the family gathered around to pit their wits against the machine! My eight year old son went first and scored a credible 16 before his pieces were ejected. I went next and managed 18 (good but no cigar). My four year old had a go too although she wanted help. Even between us we couldn’t beat the clock. The challenge was laid! Even my wife, usually dismissive of ‘vintage tat’ (her words, not mine) was hooked and feeling lucky! When she too failed, there was a comedy moment when she blamed our daughter for putting her off (she’s so competitive).
When it was time for my next attempt, I sat at the table, took some deep breaths, wound the clock and pushed the deck down. There is an on/off switch that holds the clock when wound until you’re ready to start. I flicked the switch to ‘ON’ and I was off. I had to be nimble fingered so as not to fluff up the placement of the shapes; the clock was ticking and the success count was rising and the hope was coursing through my veins. Yes, yes, yes! More and then more and then more pieces slotted into place and I could feel the elation building. Nearly, nearly, nearly! The tension building, oh the delicious tension! I was down to the last few pieces and time was running out; these were grabbed and hastily thrust into position. It’s happening, oh God!
The last piece went in, the clock was switched off and YES I had succeeded! The release of tension arrived as waves of pleasure washed over me and the ecstatic celebration could start. I’ll admit that I whooped and hollered and proclaimed my achievement loudly. I had just achieved Perfection (for the second time today) and felt good, real good – Adrian you’re so moneysupermarket and you don’t even know it! The day was going to be a good one!
The fact is that the game has proved to be a winner. My son had one of his mates around this afternoon and both of them were engaged with the game. Today its presence in the Baldwin house has meant less television, less electronic gaming, more family engagement and more fun. Two quid very well spent in my opinion. I spent £2.10 on the Guardian this morning and whilst reading it will provide some entertainment value; by Monday that will be neatly folded up in our kitchen ready to line our waste food bin. Whilst I don’t normal begrudge the money, and indeed the Guardian is my paper of choice; today it felt like a waste of money in comparison to the game. The paper’s life expectancy is short - Perfection on the other hand has a long, engaging and fulfilled life ahead of it.
If you have been inspired by what you’ve read then you’d better get logged in to your ebay account and get bidding so that you too can experience the pleasure. I bet you have to spend more though!
Oh and I just have to add another paragraph. I passed this scribbling over to Mrs B. to review prior to uploading it to the site. She said “by the way, I completed it before you”. I may have mentioned that she is competitive – failure is quite clearly not an option. She just did it quietly and celebrated not at all. I didn’t even know she’d done it – and that’s hilarious!
I was driving on the M1 the other day and was bemused to find the electronic gantry signs preaching social behaviour standards to the passing motorist. The subject of the sermon was litter and the message was something along the lines of “bin your litter; everyone else does” which was a little odd because that statement begs the response "why should I if someone else will do it for me?" Anyway that's an aside; the gantry sign lead to my wife and I having an amusing conversation about other messages that could be broadcast to the British driving public.
Maybe the gantry signs could start reminding passers-by about the ten commandments or maybe a motoring variation on a theme – thou shalt not covert thy neighbour’s car; thou shalt not TWOC; thou shalt not use thy mobile phone whilst driving; thou shalt not drive whilst uninsured; a road rage incident for a rage road incident etc.
I’ll admit that watching people chucking their litter out of their cars whilst on the move makes me angry and those that partake in that pastime are scrotes and deserve to be abused. However, I challenge the value of addressing the unacceptable behaviour with a gantry sign – in fact I’d guess that those inclined to litter would see the sign and just start rummaging in their vehicle for more refuse to liberate (probably while laughing inanely).
My view, for what it’s worth, is fine the offenders or find out where these people live and go and put litter in their homes/gardens or in their employer’s reception. Surely our society has so many cameras observing our lives that this has got to be a possibility?
Back to motorway signs, as a closet journalist and known tweeter, the idea of an important message having to be constrained to a handful of characters had me thinking. Here’s one that would work - ‘Pick your nose, no one else will’.
Where did that come from – well if the chap driving his grey Vauxhall Astra (that was sat to my right in the traffic) is reading – “rather you than me pal”!
Over and out!