Inherited Scooby-Doo Fanaticism

August 28, 2006

My friend Simon and his family were over from Ghana.  They came back after an afternoon shopping expedition to Streatham.  Two-year-old Mya was wearing brightly-coloured Scooby-Doo sandals and was keen for me to admire them (see photo).  “Scooby-Doo!” she said and then ran off laughing.  The shoes squeaked loudly like dogs’ toys with each step.  “Uncle Mark!” she shouted as she ran, squeaking, back into the room.  For the sake of my sanity, I made a mental note not to get her excited whilst she was wearing those sandals.

Mya's Scooby-Doo sandals

I was agog at the extent of Mya’s enthusiasm, because her Australian half-brother who is seven years her senior is also a big Scooby fan.  Christmas 2004 in Ghana had seen us all watching a 24-hour Scoobathon with young William.  Then I realised that there must be a Scooby-Doo Fan gene — and Simon is obviously a carrier.

See also In Praise of Scooby-Doo’s Mystery Machine

The Design Museum, London — Review

August 26, 2006

I was hoping for an education in the contribution of good design to the ease of modern living.  What I got for my £7 was what design gurus would hail as landmarks or classics – chairs not designed for humans to sit in, and an aeroplane that wasn’t even designed to fly.  The Design Museum is so up itself as to be almost inaccessible to ordinary members of the public.  Indeed, the other visitors were mostly themselves design victims – their spiky haircuts and angular black-framed glasses made them dead ringers for the two much-ridiculed luvvies of the It’s Grim Up North London cartoon in Private Eye.

It’s little wonder that James Dyson resigned as chairman of the museum’s board of trustees after a few months, saying that it had become a ‘style showcase’, when it should be ‘upholding its mission to encourage serious design of the manufactured object’.

If you’re in London and you want to see stylish contemporary design with functionality in mind, my advice is to stick to the top end of Tottenham Court Road.  You’ll find Habitat and Purves & Purves don’t charge admission, the seating’s very comfortable and they’re not full of nerds.

This article was originally developed for Britain’s Most Disappointing Tourist Attractions in the G2 section of The Guardian.

Galileo Wrong, Church Right, Admit Scientists

August 19, 2006

This week’s downgrading of Pluto from its status as a planet was only a foretaste of today’s shocking revelation that astronomers have finally admitted that the universe outside of planet Earth is actually fake.

“Copernicus and Galileo were actually well-known hoaxers,” admitted Prof. Lowell of the Institute of Historical Astronomy — the only scientist willing to talk to Mark Speed’s Wizarre Borld last night.  “Of course, when the church authorities placed him under house arrest, conspiracy theorists seized on this as proof that he was right.  It all just snowballed from there.  Scientists — and particularly astronomers — realised they were onto a good thing.  There were grants, university chairs, then Nobel Laureates.  It was greed.  We kept having to feed the public’s imagination with ever-more weird and wonderful facts.  Our theories got ever more elaborate — eventually we ended up inventing preposterous things like ‘dark matter’ to try to make our theories work.”

Galileo - bit of a joker

Galileo – ‘Bit of a joker’

In fact, the ancient theories with their over-complicated movements of the planets were correct: everything does in fact revolve around the Earth.  After the astronomers admitted their hoax, NASA came clean about the structure of the heavens.  “It’s all crystal spheres, each one inside the other,” admitted a spokesman.  “The Russians were never in any danger of hitting the innermost sphere with Sputnik in 1957 because it was in a very shallow orbit.  But we did begin to suspect something was up with the first manned missions when some of the crew reported seeing what they thought were reflections.  You have to remember that this was at the height of the Cold War and neither side could blink first, although each side knew that the other must know the truth.  The Russians were the first to send a spacecraft round the back of the Moon.  It came perilously close to breaking the sphere which the Moon is attached to — if the craft had been any larger then they might have cracked it.  Both sides then worked together to produce fake photographs of the other side of the Moon.  There’s a reason you can only ever see that one side of the Moon that faces us — it’s stuck to its own crystal sphere.”

Copernican and Galilean theories had apparently proved that the complex movements performed by the planets could best be explained by the Earth and the other planets orbiting the Sun.  Scientists now concede that each of the planets is planted on its own crystal sphere, revolving around the Earth in an erratic manner.  “The only thing the ancients got wrong were the distances,” said a NASA spokesman.  “The Moon is quarter of a million miles away, the stars are just over three million miles away and the furthest crystal sphere containing the galaxies is about five million miles from the Earth’s surface.  In order to send probes to other planets we’ve had to use hi-tech glass-cutting equipment.  It’s only a matter of time before we reach the outermost sphere.  Who knows what we’ll find lies beyond that?”

Moon landing Moon landings ‘Not fake’

NASA was keen to point out that the lunar landings by the Apollo teams were real.  “Oh, we sent them there alright,” said the spokesman.  “But the whole one-sixth gravity is bullshit.  The guys would have fallen off under the Earth’s gravity but for the centrifugal force keeping them in place.  For the sake of the nation’s morale we couldn’t reveal that the whole triumphant space programme was only a partial success, so we had to continue to pump more federal dollars into it.  It was great for this country’s technological development, and provided employment to many highly qualified scientists and engineers.”

This publication understands that the stable nature of the spheres has been a boon for telecommunications and satellite navigation.  “It’s easy,” said a spokesman from the European Space Agency.  “You just have to get a rocket up there and then stick the satellites onto the inside of the sphere.  It’s a piece of cake.”

See also: Earth ‘Not Really A Planet’, Say Scientists and Lost Moon Shot Tapes Found

‘Mistake’ as European Probe Crashes into Moon, Admit Scientists

Passengers Found On Flight — Shock

August 17, 2006

A transatlantic flight from Heathrow was diverted today in a dramatic security scare.  “Somehow some passengers were able to get on board in spite of all the security measures and queues,” said an airline spokesman.  “Shocked cabin staff followed the correct procedure and ordered the plane to turn back.  Passengers are becoming harder to outwit — buying tickets, ditching hand baggage and subjecting themselves to body searches. But we will not let these people succeed.”

Harry Potter Better Known Than Parents

August 16, 2006

According to shock research just published by Bozgy International, 87% of American children could identify the boy-wizard Harry Potter — but just 50% could correctly identify both of their parents.  “Shift work and long hours are partly to blame,” announced Prof. Paula Fibber of the Institute of Fatuous Studies, which commissioned the research.  “However, we discovered that the real problem was that the children simply found their parents uninteresting.  It wasn’t just Harry Potter who beat parents in terms of recognition.  We found that pretty much every fictional character — including Mickey Mouse, Scooby-Doo, Family Guy and the entire cast of Friends and Seinfeld — had higher recognition than parents.  This is a damning indictment of modern American parents, who fail to capture their children’s imaginations.  95% of kids correctly identified that milk came from cows, but just 32% identified that it was their parents provided basic shelter, as well as luxuries like TV.”

In a parallel survey, only 11% of Britons could correctly identify Tony Blair as Prime Minister, with 93% saying that they would prefer Harry Potter to be Premier.  “We think this may be due to that British trait of being easily embarrassed,” said Prof. Fibber.  “What rational person would admit to having Tony Blair as their leader?”

Earth ‘Not Really A Planet’ Say Scientists

August 15, 2006

The world of astronomy was thrown into turmoil yesterday as some scientists attending a conference proposed that the Earth be stripped of its classification as a planet.

“It has little in common with other planets within the solar system,” remarked one delegate.  “There are oceans of water and a stable atmosphere, making it suitable for organic life.  By contrast all the other planets in the solar system are either cold enough to freeze gases like carbon dioxide and methane, or are so hot that lead would melt on their surfaces.  All of them are quite sterile.”

“Earth is very unspectacular,” said Dr Alfred Goring of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.  “Other planets have interesting features like rings, giant red spots, spectacular volcanoes and dense, superheated atmospheres.  Classifying Earth as a planet makes astronomy seem boring and discourages young people from taking up the subject.  Even our Moon is boring — it’s in a stable orbit and always faces the same way towards Earth.  Other planets’ moons like Titan, Io and Europa are actually far more exciting than the Earth.  It’s quite embarrassing.”

In response, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have offered to help retain Earth’s status as a planet.  “Our peaceful pursuit of civilian nuclear capability will guarantee that the surface of the Earth is reduced to a lifeless nuclear desert,” they said in a joint statement.  “Not only will it be as hostile to life as the other planets, but the extreme radioactivity will be a unique and exciting feature.”

Lost Moon Shot Tapes Found

August 14, 2006

NASA revealed today that it has spent five years searching for the original videos of the Apollo 11 landing in 1969, which went missing sometime in the 1970s.

The original footage was beamed down to monitoring stations on Earth and taped.  However, the only way to relay live images of the landing to the 600 million television viewers was to aim a camera at the screen showing the feed from the satellite link.  The result was the famously blurry image of Neil Armstrong taking his first tentative step onto the lunar surface.  However, the master tapes of the high quality download were sent to the office of public records and went missing when they were returned to NASA.

However, publicity from today’s revelation has resulted in the rediscovery of the tapes in a pornography shop in London’s seedy Soho district.  “We found the masters tucked away in one of our ‘speciality’ collections,” said the store’s owner, who didn’t want to be named.  “This spaced-out hippy came in talking about moon shots, and something about anus, penis and probes.  He was out of money for drugs so we did him a deal.  The images looked pretty specialist, even for the 70s — a bunch of guys bouncing around in what looked like freaked-out rubberwear — and they were only black and white.  So we just stowed them.”

Mark Speed’s Wizarre Borld secured the tapes for posterity (£20 each, or three for £50) carrying them back to the editorial offices in a plain brown wrapper.  We can exclusively reveal that the tapes didn’t just contain the masters of the Moon Shot.  Also included were tapes of a Venus probe and plans for an unmanned mission to Uranus.

Further to this exclusive revelation, we can reveal that NASA has discovered that its archives contain the master tapes of Deep Throat, Debbie Does Dallas and Behind the Green Door.  “We thought these were broadcasts from extraterrestrial civilisations that had been picked up by the monitoring stations,” said a drooling, half-blind NASA archivist.

Terrorism Latest — Government Clamps Down on Cocktail Bars

August 12, 2006

Police raided premises in several areas of London last night.  “Intelligence indicated that people at these addresses were mixing dangerous hydrocarbon liquids,” said a spokesperson for Scotland Yard.  “Our investigations are focusing on the notorious postcodes of SW1, W1 and E1.  The suspects conformed to the usual racial stereotype: they were mostly in their early twenties and mainly white in origin.  All were born in Britain.”

“What is particularly sick about these places of worship is that the young people are drawn in by so-called ‘happy hours’,” said the spokesperson.  “Young people are targeted particularly hard on Friday and Saturday nights, when they are likely to be feeling lonely and perhaps exhausted after a week at work, making them more vulnerable to peer pressure.  Once in the premises, it’s very easy for these people to come under the influence.  They are made to feel part of a crowd and brainwashed with loud music.  They are encouraged to mix volatile liquids, with potentially explosive results.  The contents of these ‘drinks’ can be made to taste sweet in order to avoid detection, whereas conventional drinks often have a bitter taste.”

An Unsettling Quiet on the London Underground

August 10, 2006

It was eerily quiet on the Tube home tonight, and I had a seat on each of the three trains I took — this was at the rush-hour peak.  The Northern Line platform at Bank was emptied of the usual, heaving crowds I’ve been contending with ever since the Waterloo and City Line was closed for maintenance.  Normally one can barely squeeze down it, but this evening one could have sprinted because there wasn’t even a full line of passengers at the edge.  Perhaps people heard the news this morning and stayed at home, remembering the long walks home last summer on the 7th and 21st of July — afternoons where thousands of strangers walked together, bound by sadness.  I know many of us are simply waiting for the next attack on London’s soft underbelly… and somewhere there’s a group of misguided youths, dreaming of ‘glorious’ martyrdom.

Threat Level on London Underground Critical

August 10, 2006

Today’s foiled terrorist attack on transatlantic flights, saw the UK move to a ‘Critical’ terror alert state.  London Underground, also managed to move its alert state to Critical — down from the Lethal state it has been operating at over the last few weeks.  “The fresher weather finally brought temperatures down below 120F on the Tube’s deep lines,” said a company spokesidiot.  “Customers are no longer facing imminent death when travelling on the system — at least not by being boiled alive.  By making the commute so unpleasant for millions of hard-working members of the public, we have managed to reduce the waiting time to get on platforms to a maximum of an hour during peak hours, with trains sometimes as frequent as one every 30 minutes.”

See previous story on nuclear waste being stored on London Underground trains.

The Curious Case of the Unhappy Ghanaian

August 9, 2006

I had my friends from Ghana staying with me, in what is becoming a July tradition.  Their two children Mya Ekua (2) and Chris Kofi (11 months) were a joy, but a handful.  Shannon had been able to guide me — a 40-year-old bachelor — into buying the right gifts for them on my trip to the States.

Simon and Efua didn’t want the chocolate I’d brought back for them, but I had something she wasn’t expecting.  We’re both fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and I had planned a little surprise for her weeks in advance.  I opened up an Amazon box, telling her I had something I knew she’d love.  I took out a copy of the latest novel in the series: Blue Shoes and Happiness.  “There you are,” I said, triumphantly.

“What’s this?”

“It’s the latest in the series about Mma Ramotswe.”

“It can’t be.  I’ve read them all,” she insisted, holding the weighty hardback.

“It is.  It’s the latest one,” I said.  I looked at Simon, who looked embarrassed by his wife’s incredulity.  “He was contractually obliged to write two more after Cheerful Ladies.”

“There are no more books on Mma Ramotswe.  This is something else.”

“But can’t you see from the cover?  It’s by Alexander McCall Smith.  Read the back cover.”

“Have you read it?” asked Simon, perhaps to break the awkwardness.

“No.  I’ve been too occupied with reading for my novel.  I’ll get it when it’s out in paperback.”

“Oh,” said Efua finally, reading the cover.  “Thank you.”  Then she turned to me.  “You didn’t ask my question on the radio!”

“You didn’t get it to me in time, so I had make one up.”  Harriett Gilbert, my course director on the MA, has a couple of BBC World radio shows.  In World Book Club earlier this year, she interviewed Alexander McCall Smith.  I had promised her a question from a Ghanaian, knowing Efua would love it.  “I emailed you a number of times and I copied Simon so I knew you’d get them.”

“Why didn’t you get her to ask my question?” I found her aggression difficult to read, and out of character.

“You emailed me after the show was recorded.”

“But I emailed you the question.  You should have got her to ask it,” she said, irritated.

“But the show had been recorded by the time I got it.  That’s why I had to make up a question on the day.  I emailed you several times and you never replied.  It had been recorded by the time I got your question.”

Simon saw my discomfort: he was uncomfortable himself.  “She had her hands full with the kids when she heard it.  She was really pleased to hear her name read out on the radio.  It was a lovely thing to have done.”

I explained the bizarre business of the book and the question to Shannon the next day: I couldn’t understand Efua’s behaviour.  “How old’s Chris?” she asked.

“Eleven months.”

She laughed.  “Less than a year.  Her hormones are everywhere — she’s just not herself.  And just you wait until fatherhood, mister.”

Bugged Into Hypocrisy

August 7, 2006

There’s always a certain relief to getting home, no matter how good one’s vacation.  After all, I had been gone nearly four weeks.  There was a pile of mail in the hall, but not as much as I’d feared.  Despite the jetlag, I had stopped at the shops for milk and vegetables on my way back from the station.  First things first: a cup of tea.

The kitchen was swarming with ants.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of them.  They were going to and from the back door in a neat line, supporting a steady stream of winged ants headed in the direction of the door only — off to colonise and plague other householders.  Except that the door was airtight and the ants had plastered it with their glistening black bodies and shimmering wings.

This swarm happens on the same July day every year.  Last year it happened whilst I was at work.  Friends arriving from Ghana opened the front door to find the hallway floor a writhing black carpet of ants.  On that occasion, they bought insecticide and sprayed it liberally over the intruders — something I disapproved of strongly.

I reached for my trusty Dyson and vacuumed up every ant in sight.  It was then apparent that they were coming from under my dishwasher.  I pulled the machine out from under the unit and found discarded egg husks and serried ranks of insects waiting to venture out.  A couple of passes with the vacuum and they were gone.

I went out for a run to shake the jetlag off.  When I came back, more ants had emerged.  I vacuumed them up and saw that they’d mined a long hole in the grout between the tiles and the wall.  I rummaged around in my cupboard for the insecticide my friends had bought last year.  With a heavy heart, I shook the can and sprayed it liberally down into the nest.

The Beast of Orchard Lane (Part II)

August 4, 2006

Read The Beast of Orchard Lane (Part I) before continuing. 

I was determined that the Beast would not close down my main running route from the house.  But it was also the last day of my stay.  “Can you take Skip with you?” asked Shannon.  “He’s driving me nuts.”

“Sure,” I said.  I knew that Skip spent time with the dogs down Orchard Lane, so I thought he must know the Beast.  He strained at his leash as we headed down the drive and onto Orchard Lane, which was littered with dog turds.  We passed the Beast’s territory without incident, but Skip whined a little as we ran past the house of another loud dog that I’d faced down successfully a few days before encountering the Beast.  He had always whined as we passed this dog’s patch.  I wondered whether that meant that he was actually part of the Beast’s pack.

We ran down to Forestville, the neighbourhood dogs barking behind their fences.  Skip didn’t respond to any of them, trotting obediently beside me.  Then we began the climb up Orchard Lane.  We reached the point where the tarmac runs out.  The coast was clear.

Then there was yap up to my left and as I ran on I saw a driveway leading up to a house.  The yap was from a pathetic little long-haired mutt, but with it was the Beast, its eyeballs practically popping out of its head.  The two dogs bounded down the drive towards me.  Skip glanced to his left and… completely ignored them.  They stopped in their tracks.  I was free to run on — I had faced down and tamed yet another dog.

But as Skip and I ran into the cutting there was a crashing in the undergrowth as the Beast ran to catch up with us.  It was above head height as it began its dreadful barking.  But not one of the Forestville dogs had ever crossed even an unfenced property boundary.  And I reasoned that, if Skip hadn’t responded to the Beast, then surely I had nothing to fear.

It burst out of the bushes twenty yards ahead and ran, barking, down the path towards us.  Skip trotted on beside me.  With four miles under our feet in ninety-degree heat, was he simply too tired to respond?  Would there be fur flying, and had I made things worse by bringing him?  The Beast made a jump at me but I kept my pace as it sidestepped.  “Bad dog!” I shouted.  It ran up behind me and jumped again, falling short.  I yelled some obscenities and the Beast gave up its chase earlier than last time.  But was it because it realised I wasn’t a threat, or because I’d had Skip with me?  We ran up the drive to the house.  “Thanks for nothing,” I said to Skip, letting him off his leash.

“How’d it go?” asked Shannon.

“The Beast completely ignored Skip, and the little bastard ignored him too.  I’m taking a fucking gun next time.  Greg’ll lend me his Glock, won’t he?”

“Oh, my God.  You’re becoming an American!”

Riding Shotgun

August 3, 2006

“Shotgun!” shouted Zoe as we headed for the SUV.  I looked at her, mystified.  “Whoever shouts ‘shotgun’ first gets to sit in the front seat,” she explained.

“Okay, you won fair and square,” I said.  Delighted, she skipped to the car and clambered into the front.  I sat in the back and fastened my seatbelt.

Shannon came out with her mandatory cup of coffee and got into the driver’s seat.  “What the hell are you doing in there whilst Mark’s in the back?”

“I said ‘shotgun’ first, so I get to sit here.”

“It’s adults only in the front seat, so Mark goes in the front seat.  Come on, get back there.”

Zoe did as she was told and joined me on the back seat.  “Go on, you have the front seat now,” she said.

“It’s adults-only in the front seat, Zoe,” I said.  “Do you really think I’m an adult?”

“No,” she replied without hesitating.  I held up my hand and she gave me a ‘five’, laughing.

Shannon glared back at me through her sunglasses.  “You,” she said.  “You’re impossible.”

Thames Water Claims Leaks ‘Beneficial to Environment’

August 2, 2006

In a surprise announcement last night, Thames Water claimed that chronic leaks resulting in a loss of 894 million litres of water per day were part of a planned environmental care programme.

“Thousands of trees are dying out all over London due to the drought,” said a spokesperson.  “With six million trees in the Greater London area, 894 million litres of leaking water works out at 149 litres of water per tree per day.  That’s just 33 gallons.  A mature oak can easily respirate 200 gallons per day.  If anything, we should be making these leaks worse.”

Thames Water’s latest announcement comes off the back of an earlier claim that, since water from leaking pipes goes back into the groundwater from which Thames takes some of its supply, the leaks are somehow not a problem.  “We’re thinking of asking London Underground to turn up the heat in the tunnels,” added the spokesperson.  “All that perspiration going deep into the earth can only be a good thing for groundwater levels.”

STOP PRESS:  In a surprise move, Thames Water has announced that it is to dynamite large tracts of London’s Victorian sewage system.  “Sewage is great fertiliser,” said the spokesperson.  “This will be hugely beneficial to the environment.  And it will save us a huge amount on the costs of restoration.”