I think that I can empathise with Alberti Biondi more than I ever could, not least because I’ve only just found out who he is. Biondi was one of the first ever archaeologists, taking a [then unheard-of] fascination with the relics of the past and turning it into a recognised study within his own lifetime. It was Biondi that orchestrated the first mass excavations of the forum Romanum in Rome and it was he that found the rubble and ruins of a once great civilisation and imagined to what it was like in its prime. (Incidentally, Biondi found Rome in such a state that he often despaired, like the time he found cows grazing on the Capitoline hill, the former seat of republican government inamongst the fallen columns and weathered statues.) Walking home from university today, I think I can understand in microcosm what it must have felt like to look into the once-glorious past from a perspective of utter, unceasing ruin.
As even the least observant amongst the general public will inform you, the last few days have been sodding cold. Accompanying this cold was more than a little bit of snow which made for a pleasant change for a lot of people until it started to interfere with their lives. I was struck by just how quickly snowmen could appear seemingly from out of the ground and come to dominate the near landscape as the only things of any definable stature as everything else was covered in snow. The great snow car of Manchester appeared outside our house [where it still resides] and numerous half-used snowballs could be found littering the place. Alas, nothing lasts forever, and the snow was destined to melt. However, I didn’t expect it to be so drawn out and distressing to watch.
First, trees and buildings start to shed themselves of their shiny white coatings and soon reveal the gritty, grimy colours underneath. Then paths begin to form amongst the snow on the floor allowing people easier access – this one I can permit. Then the snowmen begin to melt, with each component slowly dropping off to lie, ruined, on the floor. Before long most of the snowmen are either in pieces on the floor like the columns on the forum or else are holding onto the wall on which they rest for dear life as their body slips away from under them. Even the once-illustrious snow car is now nothing more than a vaguely car-shaped blob of snow. Snow gives way to barbarous ice before a second snowfall promised to return us to the glorified days of enveloped neigery but, alas, it wasn’t enough. It dusted the ground and gave the appearance of progress but, in actuality, it just concealed the barbarian glacial covering for a short while. It was not long before that snow, too, gave way to the [now fortified] ice underneath and the slippery, shiny pavement hints at what once was, much like the present paving on the Acropolis in Athens. As I write this the rain has now come, washing even the ice away in a drizzly deluge and revealing the civilisation of man once more from underneath its frosty coating of the past three weeks. The kingdom of the snowmen has come and, unfortunately, gone and is replaced by the far less ephemeral land of mankind and we can but remember the once great hold the kingdom of the snowmen held over our lives.
Gaz out.

Jeremy: An obituary

October 25, 2009

Anyone that has been to our house in the past week or two
will have met Jeremy – especially at the party last night where he was far from
a sociable chap though seems to have gone down very well. It is with a heavy
heart, then, that I announce the unfortunate demise of Jeremy as he sits,
dismembered, in our hallway.

 

For those of you that don’t know what in blazes I’m talking
about, allow me to recount the entire story. Around two weeks ago, a prank was
hatched very much off the cuff. John decided to hide a large box in Scott’s
room (both and, incidentally, probably all of the names mentioned herein are
housemates) and did so by disguising it as a man (In Scott’s clothes) and
propping him up in his dirty laundry hamper. This feat was soon exaggerated as
Scott’s clothes were stuffed with a towel and attached to one another to form
Jeremy. The clinching factor? Jeremy’s ‘face’ is a mask of the Joker from the
dark knight film.

 

Jeremy was then placed in various places around the house,
much to the terror of everyone. He might be waiting in a shadowed room, or
outside your door. Likewise, he could be sat on the toilet or hanging from the stairs.
One never really knew where or when Jeremy would next strike, though it was
decided to bring Jeremy out for the premature Hallowe’en [Microsoft word tells
me that this is an incorrect spelling, but I know better] party and allow him
to meet more people.

 

Over the course of the evening, then, Jeremy was sat next
to, around and on and gradually assumed a more unorthodox shape. He currently
exists as two halves of an effigy littered about our hall. How the mighty have
fallen or, in this case, been dismembered.

Gaz out.

Ban-a-burqa

October 9, 2009

When one comments about sexism, notably against women, one can’t help but conjure up words like ‘opression’ and ‘domination’. Women are being kept down by being made to conform to stereotypes: to be beautiful one has to be skinny and wear the right clothes, for example. Few would disagree that such practices are misogynistic regardless of whence such social edicts came. The question I wish to pose to you today, though, is whether or not the burqa (or burka) – the full-body covering used by women in Islam – is just as sexist as fake boobs and stereotypical supermodels? I think there’s sufficient evidence to say so.

It must first be said that not all women are made to wear the burqa, and do it off of their own backs. This is no less insulting to a modern liberal nation (such as our own) than not allowing women to occupy certain roles in society or any suchlike discrimination based on gender. The truth is that the burqa may well be a cultural norm, but it is certainly not a religious one. I challenge anyone to give me a verse of the Qu’ran that explicitly states that women must be covered at all times. It does advocate decency and moral fortitude in both men and women, but I’m not sure what sort of perverted game of chinese whispers went on to turn that into the need for women to walk around fully covered.

Though this issue has been one that I’ve considered absent-mindedly for a while now, it is only recently, with Egypt proposing to ban the burqa that I find myself writing this. In addition to Egypt, France and Italy want to make a strict point that any ostentatious religious paraphenalia will not be allowed in state buildings, should they get their way. Monsieur Sarkozy has even gone so far as to say that burqas are ‘not welcome’ in France. Throw into the mix the political turmoil that gripped Turkey a short while ago with the Prime Minister, Gul, allowing headscarves in state buildings and Canadian muslim groups also vying for attention to get the burqa outlawed and one soon has a recipe that leads to one clear conclusion: the burqa being seen as an outdated mean of repression.

Fashions change – such is evident when you take a look at any high street and see an absence of ruffs and men in tights. With fashion changes social mores, especially concerning modesty. What was immodest in the heights of Victorian prudishness is tame by modern standards. My point? Religions need to adapt to avoid being seen as outmoded and out of touch. The burqa is the prime exemplar of the failure by certain orthodox Islamic sects to do so.

In a nutshell, the burqa has no place in a modern, liberal, western society. In a time of unprecedented social integration and multiculturalism, certain sects should not be erecting barriers between faiths and cultures, but should rather be tearing them down. Multiculturalism is, after all, a two-way process.

Gaz out.

Man ‘flu

September 30, 2009

Thanks to the generous and philantropic nature of my housemates and friends, I have managed to contract the dreaded man ‘flu. Now, before any women pipe up that this is nonsense I would draw you attention to the common-held stoic philosophy of mankind (in a literal rather than biblical sense) and how this does not really compliment the symptoms of man ‘flu. This leads me to conclude that man ‘flu is actually every bit as crippling and dehabiliting as men say it is. Women – you are safe [and lucky] on this one as with a number of other complaints that men get – such as colour blindness – and thus ought to thank your lucky stars. Women get the agony of childbirth and men the dreaded and constant fear of man ‘flu. The following information is taken from the official man ‘flu website and ought to be read by any self-respecting man: 

"It’s important to remember that YOU are an expert in self diagnosis.
Don’t be influenced by what others, particularly females, may say
about your condition. If anyone can say whether you’ve got Man Flu,
it’s you, so stick to your instincts.

The first rule of Man Flu is DON’T PANIC. Man Flu can smell fear.
Man Flu will normally initially present itself as a bit of a
sniffle, dull aching all over or just ‘not feeling right’. It’s
important to let as many people know exactly how you feel,
particularly other men. This will give
them
the opportunity for early preparation should then begin
to fall ill.

At this stage you may find women become sarcastic, cold or
unsympathetic towards you. This is simply a primitive defence
mechanism ensuring that you keep your distance from them and therefore
lessen the likelihood of them carrying the virus home to their
husband or boyfriend."

[The rest of the site can be found at http://www.manflu.info/index.html]

Come on, men: we can all get through this crippling affliction if we all stick together. Firsly, I propose to have this pandemic listed on the UN list of diseases so that work can then begin on finding the much-needed antidote. As for testimonies, could any afflicted men out there share their own horrible experience of man ‘flu so that we all might be that bit wiser?

Gaz out.

Bat out of Hell

September 20, 2009

I’m fairly sure that anyone who knows me will appreciate my love for Meat Loaf or, as this blog has come to know him, Mr Loaf. Such a love affair spans back years since I first listened to the ‘best of’ album that was released way back when. I saw an advert for it on telly and, already knowing Bat out of Hell, decided to expand my knowledge of the artist and, evidently, was pleased with what I found.

Now, it has recently come to my attention that the entire Bat out of Hell trilogy might be one long concept album. ("I’m sure Meat Loaf would be happy for you to think that", replied Mitch.) Though my madness shall shortly be made manifest, indluge me for a while. Mr Loaf’s album Welcome to the Neighbourhood is definitely a concept album, detailing a love story going from teenage lust (Where the rubber meets the road) through to a relationship (Original Sin and 45 seconds of ecstacy) to betrayal (Left in the dark), forgiveness (Amnesty is granted) and finally a happy ending many, many years later (Martha, Where Angels Sing). If you don’t believe me I invite you to listen to the whole thing and try and visualise it as a soundtrack to a romantic comedy.

Now – Bat out of Hell. I’ve not managed to tie all three albums together completely yet, though there is a definite heaven and hell theme outside just titles. The trilogy starts with the eponymous track, whilst the second album ends with Back into Hell featuring a remix of the guitar solo from Good Girls go to Heaven (Bad Girls go everywhere). The third album then starts with The monster’s loose and ends with Cry to heaven. So Mr Loaf escapes from hell, returns and escapes once more, this time for good? It’s a thought.

Gaz out.

Coco before censorship

September 6, 2009

Why do they keep pushing the boundaries and keep forcing me to write stuff like this? Is there some sort of conspiracy to somehow force me to become the posterboy against political correctness gone mad or is it just some sort of illusion of grandeur on my part? Regardless, I present to you the latest bafflingly interventionist nonsense courtesy of the BMA, brought to my attention by Monsieur Bergs.

You may or may not be aware of the recent film detailing the life and times of Coco Chanel, the icon of the fashion world entitled “Coco before Chanel”. Now, I’m not going to comment on the film as a whole as I haven’t seen it and, quite frankly, have no real wish to see it barring the detail that the lead role is played by the same girl that place Amélie in the film of the same name. (I quite like her – she’s a good actress and attractive to boot.) However, I do have to comment on the blatant censorship involved in the film’s posters. Regard:

Original film poster
Edited film poster [1]
Edited film poster [2]

You don’t have to be an expert at spot the difference to be able to judge what has gone amiss. What’s even more infuriating is that this isn’t just some poor photoshop job (the pen one, admittedly, is very well done but still not more permissable) but the actual edited poster. In the words of the BMA: “Film stars who smoke on screen should attract the attention of the censor in the same way as they would if they were engaged in extreme sex or violence”. Alright, so most people in today’s day and age would agree that smoking is damaging to your health and should not be condoned. However, I’m also a stickler for historical accuracy and – guess what? – people smoked in the days of Coco Chanel. Coco died in 1971, long before smoking was popularly lambasted as a cause of cancer and many people smoked in those days. Hell, while we’re at it should we remove the drinking and swearing from the film as well, lest we all turn into potty-mouthed alcoholics. If nothing else, it just looks plain silly. For example, regard Coco sans cigarette and instead appearing to be doing a poor impression of the Queen:

Reductio ad absurdum, you may cry. But I regard this as a serious step. I agree with not being able to smoke inside and not being able to advertise for cigarettes, though an attempt to completely remove them from the past is stupid. Ought we go back and remaster Casablanca to remove the cigarettes as well? What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Both are iconic, the latter perhaps specifically for the shot of Ms Hepburn with a cigarette in hand.

Whilst we’re at it, a related point: I’m fairly sure that, given the end of the world, someone somewhere will swear at one point or another. Call it a foolish hunch if you will, though I’m pretty certain there would be the odd cuss word floating about as an asteroid or nuclear bomb headed towards earth. I digress, though. Smoking may not be condonable, but that certainly doesn’t make it editable. Let’s put a bit of money into schools and start teaching common sense, shall we? Just because it happens on the big screen doesn’t mean it should happen in real life. I would have thought that the veritable lack of supervillains might have taught us that.

Gaz out.

[Source for the BMA: http://www.melonfarmers.co.uk/storymf00261.htm ]

Zwei bieren, bitte…

September 4, 2009

Below is the article I was asked to write for the student newspaper for the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, Bolton University and Salford University. Naturally, you guys get it first as you’re the avid fans and they’re just the commissioners…

***

I write this on the back of an interrailing trip across Europe. Rain drips miserably from the window panes and the wind howls pass and I’m already convinced of the reason that people go on holiday – to get some of what they don’t have at home. We Britons thus seek out sun, sea, sand and cheap booze as well as the chance to be thoroughly raucous whilst Americans, Canadians and Australians seek out history and culture (and cheap booze). This theory goes a long way to explain the abundance of Australians teeming over European cities and can be compounded by the fact that you will rarely find an Australian on a European beach. If they wanted to sunbathe, why would they pay several thousand dollars for the privilege? Aussies, for all their reputation of being seasoned drinkers, will attempt to see the local culture by day. Fair play to them, as such cultural diversity was my reasoning for going abroad in the first place though I seem to be in an ever-decreasing minority of Britons.

Naturally, this seasonal invasion of the Mediterranean by the pasty plethora inevitable brings cringeworthy holiday attitudes. The most common amongst these is the ‘well, I am on holiday’ posit which, as many might agree, permits damn-near everything. This often fails to stop short of drunkenness, hooking up with various people, insulting residents, relieving oneself of various bodily fluids over local landmarks and spending a night in the cells. Who can remember the story from a few months ago of the men dressed as nuns appearing in court in Crete after flashing to everyone and sundry? I’m sorry, but a simple affirmation of a common-held truth (that you are on holiday) is not support of your wanton embarrassment (that this somehow gives you permission to act like an imbibed moron). You may be on holiday and, as such, should perhaps try to represent your country in a positive light and work against the impression that everyone in the UK is a binge-drinking fool. Alas, I digress.

Perhaps the greatest single British shortcoming abroad is our seeming ineptitude to learn a foreign language. I do speak more than one language and have a smattering of a few more (enough to order a coffee or beer, for example) and so my point is not that one ought to become fluent before going abroad. However, I do attempt to learn to greet the locals and ask them in their own language if they speak English which they often do. I’m tempted to believe that the impression many Europeans have of the English is that of the loud-mouthed, arrogant fool sat in a restaurant and deciding that the waiter not understanding them was due to their not yelling it angrily or loudly enough. This was the case for some English lads on the train from Sofia to Thessalonica. After speaking to the conductor in raised, patronising voices for a good five minutes they yelled in very quick succession “is this train going to Athens?” to which the conductor didn’t answer, giving them the impression it was (a quick glance at the departure board in the station before they left would have told them the answer, as would any of the information booths). Their arrogance and condescension led my friend and me not to inform them otherwise. They’d find out in time, anyway.

Now, I’m not claiming innocence for the activities ascribed above. I have relied on foreigners speaking English in my moments of need, have gotten rather drunk and attempted to find my way across a city and probably made a fool of myself in the meantime and have held up a train crossing the border as I didn’t get a visa until prompted by the irritated conductor. The problem lies with us all and I, for one, have no idea how to solve it. All I beg of anyone who has read this and agrees is to perhaps urge one other person to show a little restraint on holiday and, for the love of everything even remotely holy, not to assume everyone in the world speaks English. The chances are that they will, but the odds of you being overcharged, having you food spat in or being sent in the wrong direction are exponentially decreased as a result of your trying.

Gaz out.

Monty python were right to take the piss out of religion. The sketch with Jesus delivering his sermon on the mount whilst the Pythons take the piss from a way away seemed just too juxtaposed to be taken seriously - and yet there was a time in my life when I probably would have been offended by such statements. It’s taken a long while for my opinions to change, though I might comment that I’m now distinctly anti-religion (though at the same time, not neccessarily anti-faith, which is a whole different kettle of fish).
 
What made me change my mind? Studying the rise of various religions from a historical standpoint probably helped, to be honest. Though it was yesterday, on a trip to Topkapi palace in Istanbul, that I think I realised that I had realised how false it all is. Allow me to demonstrate this with the three tenets of the monotheistic God - Allah, Jehovah, whoever – which are all-powerful, all-loving and all-knowing. Outside the riddle that if God were all-powerful, could he create a rock big enough that not even he could move it, why would an all-loving God approve of religions that purposely create a divide between the clergy and the congregation? Why would he want to put up with the mindless begging, pleading and monotony of the majority of church services? If everyone is equal under the eyes of the lord, then how come certain areas of worship buildings are sealed off to all but the most pious? These are questions I can’t seem to find an answer to.
 
It was the point at which I looked at the purported footprint of Mohammed in Topkapi that I realised he was just anordinary guy. Alright,so he had ideas on how to live your life and change for the better, but he was a mortal and has been posthumously deified, much like the roman emperors of old. Who of sound mind would agree that Julius Caesar was a god? Better yet, who would agree that Augustus, his adopted son (the son of god?) was also a God? I’ve yet to find one. Similarly, the gods of classical civilisation that people worshiped so vehemently are now just stories that people enjoy… might the same one day be said of the Bible or Qu’ran? I think so. Whilst I’m not sure I doubt the existence of God, I state that religion has screwed things up right royally and giving us the paradoxes listed above that might give someone more prone to black and white decisions the notion that it must all be a lie.
 
Like I said – I’m not knocking God here, but man’s attempts to make a quick buck and secure their own authority through him. Maybe an addendum to Genesis might read:
 
‘And God looked upon the world he had created, and wasn’t that pleased at all.’
 
Gaz out.

I could save 90%!

August 10, 2009

I was wandering through Bulgaria the other day (as one casually does) when I was handed a flyer by a rather estranged lady. She was marching towards Mitch and I waving this piece of paper as you might expect a black and white film star to wave a hankie at their departing loved one on the train platform and laughing [perhaps inappropriately?] to herself as she handed us this sheet of paper. On it, I was presented with a selection of consonants in a seemingly random order and three big numbers; 90%, 20,000 and 500. It turns out that, with this piece of orange paper I could save ninety percent, cutting the price of the product from 20,000 Forint to a mere 500 – quite the saving, by any standards. Trouble is, I had no idea what in the name of Satan’s fetted foreskin it said. There were no pictures. There was no map to the store, nor a store name itself. Could I buy this lady? Would I want to, moreover?

This, as many things do, got me thinking. Hungarian is a language unto itself – dissimilar to all other European languages as it doesn’t share a indo-european root, I have absolutely no idea how to speak it. I can just about pronounce certain words, but I honestly stand more chance of understanding something written in Cyrillic than I do of comprehending this one. I didn’t like this: as someone who can speak more than one language to a reasonable degree I found I was out of my depth. French allows me to understand Spanish, Italian and Portugese to a standard and Dutch and German seem to fill in each other’s blanks if said quick enough and in a more local accent. Not that I would want to learn Hungarian, mind, just that I don’t like not being able to understand anything.

I still don’t know what I could save on – I carried the flyer round in vain for a good few minutes in the hope that I would be able to find a shop with a similar offer emblazened over the fronting before I got bored and decided that it would be much more use in the bin to be used as a tramp’s napkin. (Would a tramp use a napkin? Answers on a postcard, please.) I guess I’ll never know but then that’s what life’s about, maybe; the little mysteries that keep you thinking.

Gaz out.

It’s funny how things pan out. It really is.

You might think that, what with me being travelling and in the middle of eastern Europe even as I write this, that the idea of a revival of the blog seems a million miles away. Up until twelve hours ago, I might have been tempted to agree with you, as it happens. Though, as I said, it’s funny how things develop – a talk with Mitch and suddenly I’m inspired to revive this long-standing institution, this sui generis.

I ought to tell the full story, mind. Last night we discussed at some length (I say discussed as if it were a two way process, though it was more Mitch complaining that I don’t blog enough anymore – sentiments I can wholeheartedly agree with) the blog and, this morning, amid blurry vision and a head that feels like it’s been stuffed full of cotton wool I decided to check up on my once-beloved blog. To my surprise, I found that the hits counter had spun past 80,000, with over five hundred since last sunday. Awed, my mind began to whirr and ideas began to fall into place, much like they would do if a mousetrap game were constructed correctly. (Alas, such was something I was never able to do, though the advert assures me that it was possible.) The product of such deliberation is this blog, which describes itself. I’ve created a paradox. Well done me.

On a slightly less egotistical note and one of forward thinking and determination, I shall endeavour to write more. I know that I’ve banded this phrase about for quite a while and can personally recall a good five or six occasions without even scanning the archives of the blog. It’s easy enough to do, and this blog shall stand testament that I can write about anything given the motivation to do so – even the blog itself. Budapest is the next city on my travels, so I’m sure there shall be something worthwhile there to discuss and I do hope that such a trend continues.

Gaz out.

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