30 July 2006

Sunshine & Jazz on a Rainy & Summer's Day

The Jazz & Blues Festival has an annual free Jazz on a Summer's Day party in Princes Street Gardens today and for the first time ever we decided to go down. Four hours of a variety of jazz musicians performing, from people charging £15 a ticket to see their shows to the combined Edinburgh School's Band. We went down with a picnic rug and a variety of clothes as one moment it was sweatily hot, the next the fear of rain. This year they gave out free Starbucks coffees from around the world and Muller's new luxury yoghurt, Amore, which was very tasty and very creamy. My advice for next year is to take folding chairs which, as you can see from these pictures, lots of people did this year. A lovely day out provided you remember to put suncream on!

29 July 2006

One Week Left – Can They Fix It In Time?

We wandered out today to the Mardi Gras in the Grassmarket. This is the part of the Jazz Festival where they transform the Grassmarket into New Orleans for the afternoon; fortunately it didn't rain otherwise we'd have been awash with poor taste jokes. It wasn't that great to be fair, they really need to close off the entire Grassmarket, road included, in order to provide enough space for all the visitors. If you want to see what I mean take a look here. Anyway, we wandered around one of our old stomping grounds we took a sneak peak at the Royal Mile as in seven days time it will be absolutely mobbed by tourists and performers and everyman and his dog. I was quite surprised to see that the Royal Mile is currently a building site! Most of the old cobbles have been replaced by tarmac – I hope they will be restored after the Festival. It's strange the way roadworks happen around the Royal Mile. They dig down and alter the foundations and then fill it all in temporarily for the Festival, dig it back up in September and then have to finish for Hogmanay! See for yourself and guess whether they can tidy it all up in the next seven days.

24 July 2006

The Edinburgh Evening News is Written By Boy Racers

Shocking revelation isn't it? That's the only way I could possibly explain today's lead story: "Overtaking ban plan for bypass solo motorists. LONE motorists face being banned from the fast lane of the city bypass under council plans to introduce car-sharing lanes." Where exactly can I find this "fast lane"? My understanding of the Highway Code, specifically section 238, is that you are to drive in the left hand lane at all times unless you are over-taking other drivers. There is no such thing as a slow land or fast lane and in fact that shows such total disregard for safety and the rules of the road, I was told my my driving instructor (who actually trains other driving instructors), that is you mention the "fast lane" you will fail your test instantly on the grounds of being un-safe. All this within a week of the dramatic revelation that its sister paper, The Scotsman, is in fact a tabloid and no longer a broadsheet.

23 July 2006

Ruining Wine by Excess Heat is Not a Lofty Idea

Hmmm, I think I'm safe now. Last week I was up in the loft after my Death Slide giving a good friend a tour (yes, of my loft). It was a very warm day, in fact we all go a little too red as we didn't have any suncream on (stupid people!). I read my thermometre and to my shock at waist level it was 34°ree;C in my loft; at head height it was over 38! This had potential dire consequences - I have *many* bottles of wine in my loft and I don't really want them to cook! We grabbed all the wine racks and bottles and brought them down as quickly as we good and stored them in a shielded cupboard that will be sitting at a constant 20°ree;C. Having had a look at the Wine Doctor's advice on the ideal temperature to store wine I was shocked to find it was between 10°ree;C and 13°ree;C. That is of course for laying down good wines for some time, all the wines I have a modern style wines that need to be drunk within five years of sale (really!). I opened the oldest bottle I had, a Hardy's Crest from 2002. It's a very nice three grape red that comes out the year after, so this one is at least three years old meaning I've had it for about a year and it's been on supermarket shelves for another two. A quick sniff of the cork to pretend I know what I'm doing and oh, cough, splutter, that cork stinks of vinegar! A quick taste of the wine and it's not right. I'm not a huge fan of red wine but even I can tell this is wrong. I decanted it rapidly to improve the taste and it was far more drinkable however going down it has a strange chemically taste. I think it's officially knackered and I'm petrified as to how many other wines I will lose. Neil came around the next day on a matter of urgency to help me open as many bottles as necessary. We tried a white wine which is apparently more susceptible to the heat. Everything is fine there. Fortunately I have another Hardy's Crest, this time from 2004. The cork smells okay which is a big relief and a quick taste later and yes, that's what it should taste like! The 2002 bottle hasn't been cooked it's has simply reacted with the cork that has contained a nasty fungus and it has produced 1,2,4-trichloroanisole. When will they ever learn and just just screw caps or even artificial corks :-( On the plus side my wine is safe, all I have to do now is drink it before the five year deadline!

19 July 2006

RBS Cancels Hogmanay; Suggests It Should Get a Loan Instead

The Royal Bank of Scotland, yes the same one recently hammered by BBC One's Panorama when it ran the story of *two* debt-related suicides of discrete RBS customers, has scrapped yet more of the free donations it gives away. This time the unlucky victim is the once-mighty, now weak enough to be blown over by a big bad wolf, Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party. RBS paid £300k each year to sponsor the event for the past six years, and less than one month after the organisers took the bold and unbelievably late decision to sell alcohol during the event, RBS pulls out. It was once mighty and had half a million revellers partying the night away but the past few years it has been little more than a damp squib. Only 100,000 tickets go out now and each year the area gets smaller and smaller. Two years ago they introduced an "admin charge" of £1.50 per "free" ticket and you had to go and collect the tickets - they weren't even posted out! I wonder how they are now going to cover their costs of £300,000 so 100,000 people can get free tickets? If only there was some around charging for the tickets themselves as they must stay free. Mind you, the cost of admin staff has shot up recently, I wouldn't be surprised if they had to raise the admin fee they "reluctantly" levy to I don't know, a fiver a head. Hmmm, that would mean there would be 50p per person spare, that's £50k - I've just had a brilliant money making idea! I'm off before Edinburgh Council beat me to it!

18 July 2006

Official - The Scotsman is a Tabloid, No Longer a Broadsheet!

I can exclusively reveal that, several months after switching to its more compact format, i.e. tabloid, The Scotsman newspaper has completed the transition to tabloid. On the front cover of today's paper it has run the story about George Muppet Bush and his ridiculous conversation with a live mike on and duly censored the word "shit". No shock there as you want to protect little boys from that sort of language when they go in their local newsagents to complete their under-age cigarette purchases and legally buy their soft core porn mags, e.g. Loaded and Maxim. Inside on page four it repeated the headline but kept the three asterisks. This means it thinks that the normal reader will be offended by the word 'shit' and/or too stupid to work out what 's***' actually means. About 14 years ago a talented writer by the name of Phillip Gillespie once wrote a comparison between broadsheets and tabloids. Why? Because his English teacher told him to. One of the key conclusions he came to was that the broadsheets respected their audience and did not patronise them. The Mirror in fact used the word "s***" when quoting someone yet inside The Guardian the happily quoted "pissed" in full in a normal piece related to the entertainment industry. Nobody flinched, no children broke out in a rash of copy cat incidents and no old ladies died of shock. I therefore give you conclusive proof that The Scotsman is now the Scottish equivalent of the Daily Mail or Express - quite far removed from the broadsheet that it once was.

17 July 2006

I Never Will Understand Humans Especially In The Summer...

This weekend I got slight sunburn by being out in the sun (and also being raised 100 feet plus in the air!), yet two of my colleagues were out of the UK on holiday. I also know of two other lots of people who have gone abroad to get lovely summer weather. Sorry did I type that right? During the hottest two months of the year in the UK, people leave the UK in search of warmer weather? Why not holiday in May and September when it is decidedly cooler and enjoy what good British summer weather we have? In fact more fool anyone heading to the south of Spain as it is hotter here than there! It is projected to hit 34°C in Liverpool tomorrow and then the same in Edinburgh on Wednesday - the highest the south of Spain is predicted to hit is a measly 27°C. A very famous Vulcan (you know, someone from the planet between Mercury and the Sun) once said "I never will understand humans" and I concur.

15 July 2006

Faster Than a Flying Monkey ... It's Daredevil Phill!

I've oft thought that alongside genius comes insanity. That could be the only explanation why a young member of Mensa (lapsed admittedly) would want to jump off a crane raised *over* 100 feet in the air. Ah, I've though of a better one! To raise £250 for the British Heart Foundation. Now for the short version: The organisers screwed up and never filled in the appropriate forms to let this take place in Princes Street so the moved it to Johnston Terrace. To make up for the fact JT goes uphill they will raise the crane even higher - ??? nobody asked them to make it even higher and I fail to see how that's making it up to anyone! We got the harnesses strapped around us and the guy fitting me said, "Have we got an extra-extra large?". He couldn't find one and so said, "Ah I'm sure you'll be fine". WTF! I want you to put *your* life on the fact that I'm certain to be okay! The group before me came down from the wobbly basket and there was a girl still in there - she just couldn't jump from the basket. We went up and a very brave guy called James wanted to go first. I jump in after him and grabbed the next spot. As we were hiked up the basket toppled badly over on our side, not surprising as there were five of us on the right and only one instructor on the left. After that scare we were up in the air and give the in-depth training, "Walk near the ledge, crouch down and then jump". Gulp. I get as low as possible as I'm quite tall, everyone else had to stand on tip-toes to get hooked up to the wire. James went flying down first and all of the sudden it's my turn to step forward. Weeeeeeeeeeeee! This is cool and not as adrenaline inducing as I first feared. Grab back on to the rope as I'm about to hit two guys who are going to try to stop me. Now all I have to do is not get hit on the head as I get un-strapped and climb down the ladder to a hero's welcome.

14 July 2006

Ed Film Festival Melts on opening day non-shocker?

Is anyone else getting a strange sense of deja vu? Yes, the Film Festival booking line opening today and melted as did their website (although you couldn't get the bestest deals online). I went down to Lothian Road to queue up for a good 45 minutes but only moved a quarter of the queue – if that! One nice touch however was they sent staff out to hand out chocolates and free bottles of water. A really nice thought especially due to the hot weather, but couldn't those staff be used to sell more tickets and get the queue down? [Only joking, it's the old supermarket complaint about staff on the shop floor when the checkouts are getting hammered. I know because I was on the receiving end of the hassle for a few years]

13 July 2006

I Am No Longer A Number - I Am A Free Man!

My company has started pushing me harder with this time-sheet nonsense; they want more detailed information to charge my time back. The whole thing is a stupid idea but what's worse is they made me implement it and roll it out to everyone else so I get the blame :-( Everyone has been given numbers to protect their privacy and I've been assigned the number six. Until now I've just been passing them random figures in protest. The Finance Manager keeps phoning me up asking me for more information. I've told them they won't get it, but they've tried to threaten me. It all came to a head today when I stormed into my boss's office and told him definitively "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own. I resign".

As a side note, five years ago when I quit Sainsbury's I wrote "Having worked here for five years it shouldn't requi re  significant effort to understand this message". I have a further story to tell regarding my current position but it has to wait a few more days yet...

10 July 2006

I Bust All My Own Myths...

I was going to get a t-shirt printed for this weekend's Death Slide with "I do all my own stunts" printed on it, a la Adam Savage. Instead I think I will get one with "I bust all my own myths" instead...

So Phill, what meat based myth do we have this week? Well Phill, this week we are looking at the myth of food poisoning from under-cooked meat. Is that really a myth, I thought everyone knew it was true? Well you'd think so but the Food Standards Agency spend millions each year warning people about the dangers of barbecued meat that is charred on the outside but still rare on the inside. Okay then, how are we going to test this myth? First off I thought we'd have a barbecue with three of the most common meats used: beef mince, pork sausages and chicken (thighs and breast). We'll assemble six people and to keep that authentic barbecue feel we'll provide oodles of alcohol too. One person will be the pork and beef control in that she will only eat chicken, four will eat all of the meats available and one impatient bugger will be the chicken control by only eating one port sausage and several beef mince products. Hold on Phill, don't we need a control that eats none of that? That's correct Phill, although there are only six people at the barbecue so that would leave around six billion people as the control.

Okay, what did our experiments tell us? The beef and pork control was fine, as were the four that ate everything. It was our impatient chicken control that suffered. It seems that if you cook food long enough it's safe to eat on a barbecue, even chicken. If however you dive for the first pork sausage and first beef burger that isn't 100% cooked in the middle you'll end up regurgitating your dinner at several discrete times during the night and having really painful stomach cramps the following day. I would say that would be myth confirmed wouldn't you Phill? Definitely a very painful myth confirmed.

4 July 2006

AIDS - The New Way to Stay Strong!

Do you know what the abbreviated version of the pronoun Adrian is (as in Adrian Edmonson)? It's Ade. Are you aware of the heavy metal and US approach of adding a 'z' to a word to make it plural and cool? Think Bluez or even Gunz. Finally how do you pronounce Des? The same as Dez. Having deduced all that there is only one conclusion to make as how an English speaker would pronounce 'adez' - AIDS. Now imagine if you will that a new fruit juice was being launched , what do you think would be the last name in the world you would call it? Let me introduce Adez - A brand new way to stay strong! *Somebody* in the marketing department must surely have said to them "erm, you know it's a homonym of AIDS don't you?". Just think back to America Dad, episode 14 entitled "Finances with Wolves" (and if you haven't seen it shame on you, go rent it or buy it now!). A sign above a kiosk reading "AIDS HOTCAKES". The assistant says to the stereotypical Irishman "why's no one buying your cakes Mr. Aids?". "Because I'm Irish" he replies.

LLoyds TSB Should Be Of Interest To No One

You can see the adverts everywhere now, such as this one near Haymarket. "Don't get caught out by your bank" and "We pay interest from the day you put the cheque in your account". Hmm. Only a maximum of £1000 in cheques per month. Double hmmm. 0.1% interest - WTF? That's two whole percentage points *less* than that rate of inflation! I'm actually losing money by having my account with you (if I was stupid enough to do). Rule Number C (not in numerical order): If it is advertised on a thirty foot billboard then it's not going to be very good, it'll be a cheap marketing ploy. Avoid any bank that pays less than 2% interest on your current account or you are losing money. Try somewhere like the ethically guided Co-operative Bank (including Smile) or even HSBC's First Direct amongst others.

3 July 2006

Shall We Go to the The-a-tre Darling? Splendid.

I've decided to add a few "plays" to my schedule for this year's Festival, in addition to the usual line up of good comedy and shocking bad films blatantly lied about by the Film Festival website. Don't forget Stewart Lee's Talk Radio is highly rated and is quite comical, hence the reason it is listed in my original comedy posting. First off we have True West starring none other than last year's Stage Best Actor, Phil Nichol. This will be the third time I'll be seeing him in the Festival! The play is Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard's dark and savage story of sibling rivalry. It also stars Tom Stade and stand up Dave Johns. (I Am) Nobody's Lunch is a docu-musical about trusting the media, the government and even ourselves. This borderline cabaret show has been getting great reviews from the US (where the piece is set) as it asks funny and troubling questions about how much we really know in our information age. I'm going to conclude with the Alan Rickman's harrowing production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie. Based on the real life diaries of a 23 year old American woman who left her comfortable life to stand between a bulldozer and a Palestinian home. It was a total sell-out during its recent West End season and was cancelled by the New York Theatre for fear of inciting violence.

2 July 2006

A-hum ha, a-hum ha ... dum de dum! The Unit Hits UK Screens!

The Unit, an excellent show about the uber-secret Special Forces unit Delta Force, has been picked up by Bravo for screening in the UK this Autumn. The show is based on the book Inside Delta Force written by the special unit's former Command Sergeant Major Eric L. Haney and is created by Pulitser Prize winner David Mamet and creator of the outstanding cop drama The Shield, Shawn Ryan. The whole ensemble is very strong and while dealing with delicate issues it is no where near as gratuitous as brutally-realistic The Shield. You really don't want to miss this show, although it would have been nice if it had of been picked up by a terrestrial channel that could show it in HD...

Tomorrow's Daily Record Headline: Double Joy for Scotland!

"1. Murray Thrashes Roddick" and "2. England Crash Out".

Maybe the sub-headline could be "England's Dream Is Stamped Out". You heard it here first.

I am actually backing Germany now that England are out (this is not a joke), I have a very good German friend and so that's my closed allegiance.  I did have a brief chat with a girl in a call centre an hour after the penalties were over and she said "you don't happen to know the final score in the game today do you?".  "Yes", I replied, "Wigan won by two points".  Again this is not a joke.  She replied "Wonderful, we won!".