Friday, 29 February 2008

A chav for two days

One of the benefits of driving a Nissan X Trail is the car you get to borrow when yours is in for a service.

Yesterday I swapped my sleek, sophisticated X Trail for the ultimate chavombile, complete with chucky roof bars, running boards and a back seat, convenient for servicing firm breasted blonde hitchhikers.

It's a motor that had me fighting the urge to blow £10 at Argos on a gold bracelet and chest medallion. It's also a motor that did not meet the approval of the lovely young lady on the security barrier at Norfolk County Council.

She was clearly the kind of person who would normally swoon at the site of a tanned, muscular chap like me arriving in the ultimate fun 4x4, but somehow the charm opportunity passed her by.

'The car park's full,' she said, 'you'll have to go away again.' This was somewhat inconvenient as three people were waiting for me inside the building for some high-powered negotiations. I had to ring them from the roadside and explain that short of parking on a double yellow line on the main road outside, they'd have to re-schedule the meeting and find a venue that allowed visitors to park.

Rather like the car, her willingness to screw up the Council's business by turning away visitors with important meetings, left me speechless.

The three folks I was to meet are now scheduled to come here in a few days time. I'm tempted to give my PA a high-vis jacket and clipboard and have her turn them away at the top of the drive, 'as our car park is full'. That however would be rude and unlike Councils, I don't do rude.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Just because it's there . .

I try to challenge every convention, if only to explore the fringes of normal behaviour. However, when given a tray of food on a plane on Sunday afternoon I ate it without really thinking. Yes, I was a litte hungry, but sausage and mash in a plastic tray at 35,000 feet does little to stimulate the appetite. I followed the herd.

12 hours later I realised the mistake I'd made. Food poisoning is not nice and having one toilet and the urgent need to both sit on it and lean over it at the same time is even worse.

Now, 36 hours later I am beginning to recover. To eat again and feel as if I might manage to live beyond the weekend.

Of course the airline will say it's pure coincidence and perhaps it is. It might have been something else that struck my wife and I that night, even though I very much doubt it.

My lingering question is this: why do we expect a 'proper' meal on a plane when actually, a few museli bars or similar would bridge the gap, not fill the plane with awful food smells and be a lot easier to store and serve hygienically.

Health vs Wealth

I’ve just come back from a week in Morocco. Part of the holiday involved a two day guided trek through the mountains with our luggage aboard Nellie the mule; (a strange name for a Moroccan mule, perhaps more for our benefit than the mule!)

We stopped overnight in a remote Berber village. The houses were made of earth, there was one light-bulb hanging from the ceiling of each room, no heating and the only washing facilities were the small tap on the wall beside the squatter toilet; even when given its morning rinse with water from the stream, this was not a nice place to linger.

Dinner was a tasty tagine, filled with fatty lamb and vegetables. The bread was unleavened and everyone dipped into the food with their fingers; there were no plates, knives or forks. Afterwards I slept fully clothed (it was cold) under a couple of heavy blankets.

At first appearance, this way of life is primitive if not squalid. The family we stayed with did have a TV in one of their rooms and also a Nokia phone, to save the stroll down the earthen track to the shop where there was a payphone. What struck me above all else was that the people here were extraordinarily content.

TV and the occasional trekking tourist clearly illustrated the material comforts of life in nearby Marrakech and beyond. Teenagers here wore jeans, T-shirts and if they were lucky trainers too. The basics of life that I take for granted, central heating, power-shower, dishwasher etc were totally lacking. The washing machine was a bucket and board on the roof of the house. Others did their laundry in the stream that ran through the village.

Our guide Abdou summed up the philosophy of the place. He sees overweight, unfit Europeans almost every week of the year as he introduces them to his traditional way of life. He said that all the material wealth in the world was of no value if you were not healthy. People here don’t drink and few smoke. They go to bed soon after dark and get up early to work at their self sufficient lifestyle. In their villages of 3-400 people, they know and respect all of their neighbours. People have time to talk and as we walked, everybody we passed stopped for a chat. Contrast this with Holborn tube station at 10am on a Monday morning, when people spew forth in their thousands onto Kinsgway like wet cement out of a pipe; grey, cold and miserable.

Who has the best life? The London commuter or the Berber who only strays from his village once a week to go to the market in his nearby town? Whose life most closely matches that for which we are best suited, physically and psychologically? Who complains the most about his lot? Who takes the most Prozac?

Like you, I don’t want to give up every material comfort to live a basic, back to nature, existence. That’s too big a step to take. However, I return to the UK determined to seek greater simplicity and to listen more closely to my instinct. Simple is good and striving for more ‘stuff’ does little for your long term health.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Buy a slice of me for your living room wall!

According to 'The Times' earlier this week plastination supremo Gunther von Hagens is planning to sell resin mounted slices of his body donors to the general public. He rightly pointed out in the interview that if you tired of your novel artwork, it would be appropriate to have it cremated and not chuck it in your black bin. After all, whoever heard of disposing of the dead by burying them!

He later told the media that this was a misquote, but not before the Bishop of Manchester got hot under his dog-collar and protested loudly about the Bodyworlds exhibition about to open in his city.

I've got to know von Hagens reasonably well over the five years since I signed up with him as a body donor. I have also accompanied him to his factory in China and watched his team of highly skilled anatomists preparing donated bodies for display.

I don't for a moment really think he plans to sell body parts to the general public. But if he did, would it really matter? If in 50 years time someone could entertain their friends and shock the postman by fitting my preserved right arm as a door-knocker, then who am I to worry?

Given the choice between cremation, burial or being recycled as a teaching aid or even as works of art, the latter is surely the most appealing. It makes such sense to be able to continue to contribute to society in a positive way long after your death.

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