Tuesday 28 July 2015

Ping Pong A-go-go and Snorkeling

No comment required
I managed to get myself sunburnt whilst snorkelling. Normally I wear factor 30 sunscreen, but on this occasion I didn't bother and suffered accordingly. I really should know better considering my fair complexion. I'm now the colour of a ripe tomato and my shoulders are afire and glistening with 'after sun' lotion. We had spent the day at Phi Phi Island, a mere 2 hour boat ride from the mainland. To call the island, 'A paradise', doesn't really do it justice. The boat stopped off at a cove which featured in the film, 'The Beach', starring Leo DeCaprio and the evocatively Elfin featured, Tilda Swinton. I snorkelled to the beach accompanied by shoals of gaily marked fish. Once ashore, several monkeys came down from the surrounding cliffs and regarded me with frank disdain. I tried to stay outside faeces throwing range but they were fast, cunning, and surprisingly accurate. Sadly Mrs FS had forgot to charge the batteries in her camera and therefore our memories will always remain in sepia and eventually fade away once our suitably primed brain cells are no more.......I've digressed.

On the night we sampled one of the ubiquitous 'Ladyboy Shows' which are thrust upon you as you weave through the hectic main thoroughfare, Bangla road. I'm not aware of the collective noun for 'Ladyboys', so I'll just call them a 'Bollock'. We entered a darkly lit bar which sported a small stage. Including our party of four, about 20 customers be-speckled (steady, flaxen) the bar area. Just to mention, before I receive moral censure: This was not one of the seedy shows which also abound in 'The Strip'. No nudity; no ballistic ping pong balls and no small rodents were harmed during the performance. You don't pay an entrance fee as such, but are obliged to purchase a drink at an inflated price. A beer costs 300 baht. This is about 4 times the cost of a beer in a standard (is there such a thing?) Bangla road bar and is equivalent to $NZ 13. The 'girls' were dressed up in Carmen Miranda-esque costumes and pranced and mimed about the stage to popular songs. The 'cabaret' was interspersed with comic dance routines performed by an overweight, middle-aged, Ladyboy. All very amateur but strangely entertaining and beguiling, nonetheless. At the end of the 30 minute show we got up to leave; too slow, sexy Western boy! Suddenly we were surrounded by a gaggle of Ladyboys (a bollock, perhaps?). It reminded me of when I was a lad at Skegness beach throwing chips to the gulls. I was that chip. This is where the 'girls' make their real money. A photo with miss 'Mimi' will cost a couple hundred baht. All escape routes are blocked and we were barraged by a cacophony of noise and movement. Some of the other punters knew what was coming and made a rapid exit. And they needed to be very quick as the performers were lightning fast and rapacious once the final note died away. Being of a naturally curious disposition I took the opportunity to observe the 'gulls', sorry 'girls'. Most you could tell were men, although I'm talking through a haze of hindsight. They all wore very heavy makeup to disguise any traces of masculinity. Two of the 'girls' were very convincing, indeed. But I wondered if this would be the case with a lighter application of foundation and lip rouge. Luckily, I will never know. Eventually, we fought our way out of the bar. The whole experience, for myself and Mrs FS, totalled about 13 hundred baht with the drinks and 'photo tax'. Sounds a lot, but works out at $NZ 25 a head. Not bad for an interesting and unique experience.

Although the 'ladies' were amateur performers there is no doubt they were professional hustlers. I have a certain sympathy and respect for these folk. It is not an easy life and the actual takings from the punters was not that great when you consider the number of 'girls' involved. Not a great deal of money to be made for their hard work. And at least, whilst fleecing us, they had the courtesy to smile.        


Not a girl in sight.......

Friday 24 July 2015


A view from the hotel
We arrived in Phuket at 1.00 am after the inevitable flight delay. Next morning we teamed up with our friends from Aussie- actually they are Scousers but I won't hold that against them. The first thing you notice is the heat. Thick, steamy, heat. Every effort outside an air conditioned cocoon elicits a deluge from the pores. Within minutes, I was a lathered mess. Of course, being an Englishman abroad I'd packed a suit and sensible shoes. These items are never destined to be removed from the case and I spend my time in light/tight shorts, sandals, a Tee shirt and a bow tie (not really).

Walking the streets of Phuket is a deranged assault on the senses. Every third shop is a massage parlour. Impossibly attractive young girls coo to you from the sidelines. And there be tailors. Indian tailors are everywhere. "Come inside Sir and I make you a wonderful suit for little monies." Taxi and Tuk-Tuk drivers are constantly asking if you would like a ride. Some find the continuous pestering annoying. Most, like myself, quickly adapt and see it as part of the local noise. At every other step I utter: "No thank-you" with a smile. The Thai people are genuinely warm and friendly and I really don't mind the hawkers. After all, they are only trying to make a living in a highly competitive environment and I can't condemn anyone for that. Remember, if they don't sell, they don't eat. There is no safety net here. 

On the second day, our respective wives went to the mall to shop. Mrs FS is a professional shopper of the highest order and is content to spend all day in the retail environment. It has got to the stage where I absolutely refuse to go shopping with her. She views shopping as recreation, whilst I consider the experience as a chore. And so, with my mate in tow, I decided to have a walk around the town.

The first thing to be noticed is that the 'massage ladies' become more strident and insistent. Without our wives, we are obviously viewed as 'easy fruit'. "Sexy boy come and have massage, after, I go with you". There is no doubt, I'm a fine looking specimen, for my age. But to think I'm a sexy man in the eyes of a young woman, is a stretch, way too far. We eventually squatted down at one of the many open-air bars. Our hosts were a couple of delightful young Thai women. As we were the only customers they sat opposite and engaged us in near perfect English. Would we like something to eat? Would we like a sexy lady? After they realised that we were genuinely just there for a cold beer they relaxed somewhat and became less predatory. We chatted and laughed with the girls and played a couple of bar games. An old Western man passed by, he was about 65, grey-haired and heavily paunched (is this a real word?). He had his arm around a stunning looking Thai girl who could have been no older than 21. As they passed, one of our genial hosts shouted to the girl, in English: "Wow, look, sexy man". We all laughed. But as the couple passed, the young Thai girl glanced back toward us. Her expression said it all: a mixture of frank despair and resignation. Sad, poignant and wretched in equal measure. I stopped laughing and exchanged a meaningful glance with my hostess- she was no longer laughing. Eventually, we decided it was time for a swim and left the girls to woo their next customer. "You come back later", they shouted as we left. "Of course", I said. It seems everyone becomes a liar in Phuket, eventually.



Friday 17 July 2015

Flaxen Saxon in Paradise

Tomorrow, I fly to the sun-kissed, monsoon bestrewn, shores of Thailand. I escape the ambient 6 degs C of Wellington to merge with the relative balmy 27 degs C of Phuket and environs. Although my resort spa has unlimited and free WiFi, I am under strict instructions, from Mrs FS, that this resource is to be used, sparingly. Actually she wants me to leave my laptop behind, but this is an injunction too far. I am sure I'll find time to write. I can't be out and about every night sampling the local fleshpots, not at my age. But I'll be buggered if I'm going to watch the tele. Television all over the world has become universally awful. Programming is filled with cheap and tacky reality shows which fill me with televisual dread and despair. On those occasions, I shall retreat to the quietude of the Hotel lounge and leave the missus to ingest the Thai equivalent of 'Rate my Big Fat Arse' (arse). Oh, deep joy.

The point I'm trying to make is that posting over the next two weeks may become erratic or none existence. Don't despair gentle readers! I shall return and regale you with exotic tales of an Englishman abroad.

Hopefully I won't have an invigorating experience with one of those 'testicularly endowed women' or get thrown into the 'Bangkok Hilton' for trying to smuggle out a kilo of Viagra sewn into the lining of my shell suit. Only time will tell. Dioclese has full admin rights to the blog and will keep you informed in the event of my demise or unforeseen circumstances of doom.

Mr Mu-Gumby will be accompanying me

Thursday 16 July 2015

Ancestor Paradox

'Tree of Doom' Steady Flaxen, this supposed to be a sensible post- arse

Most folk are interested in their antecedents and many have undertaken genealogical research. Are you related to the 17th century Earl of Wessex, or a sheep rustler hanged by the neck until dead? The simple answer is both.

Superficially, at least, how many ancestors you have appears an easy question to answer. Mathematically it represents a simple exponential progression. Thus, you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and 16 great, great, grandparents and so on..... After 30 generations, which would take us back to the middle of the 11th century, you would have a staggering 1.1 billion distinct ancestors alive in that generation! Just going back one more generation would generate 2.2 billion relatives. The  problem is that the world population of the time is estimated to be in the region of 250 million. Go back 50 generations and you have 1,126,588,362,522,624 ancestors. In this instance, the living ancestors are in the quadrillion- if you don’t believe me do the basic maths yourself.  So something must be seriously awry. But what could that be?

Inbreeding and Circumstance
Inbreeding is generally not practised in polite society. I use inbreeding in the sense of cousins marrying cousins of various relatedness (1st and 2nd etc). However, it is to be acknowledged that certain less
well- developed societies practise 1st cousin marriage as an act of virtue. In today's indigenous English population, 1st cousin marriage is rare, but in the past it was a relatively common. We take our mobility for granted. One hundred and fifty years ago people were more constrained geographically. Most folk walked everywhere and this would limit the individuals they interacted with and eventually married. The majority would find partners within just a few miles from where they were born. Under such circumstance, the chance of meeting a relative of some degree would be relatively high. The presence of 1st cousin marriage in a genealogy reduces the number of ancestors in comparison to the mathematical exponential maximum. If some of your ancestors indulged in first cousin marriage they would share common grandparents. If you don't believe me try drawing out the pedigree plot. I've illustrated an example below. 

Therefore, some of your ancestors are 'duplicates'. I'll consider an exceptional theoretical example and assume that all your ancestors married a 2nd cousin. Instead of having an exponential increase we actually start to see a regression in ancestral numbers. With each generation, we would see a reduction in ancestors by 1/8th. This reduction would accumulate as we progress through the generations until we come to the 30th generation in the 11th century. Here, instead of 1.1 billion mooching relatives, you would have a meagre 4.4 million ancestors alive at that time. This is not a realistic scenario, but I hope it illustrates how we can downplay and deviate from the ridiculously high theoretical maximum. However, even in this extreme example we haven't reduced the number of ancestors enough- 4.4 million people is still far too many. Other models have been proposed which also explain why are ancestral numbers are not impossibly large. They are often based on mathematical manipulations, which for obvious reasons, I will not consider. Professor Robin Fox, in his seminal tome, ‘The Tribal Imagination: Civilisation and the Savage Mind’, contends that about 80% of all marriages, in history, have been between 2nd cousins or closer. What I take this to mean is that not 80% of all matings were between 2nd second cousins but for all practical purposes, the additive ‘cousin’ effect was equivalent. I’m sure you will be able to discern the subtle distinction.

Another point I would like to make concerns population bottle necks and population catastrophe. In the past, there have been population disasters. The 'Black Death' in the Middle Ages is a notable example. During a relatively short period about a third of the population of Europe carked it. Therefore, the pool for breeding would have been significantly diminished. There is even evidence for catastrophic declines in population in pre-history. About 70,000 BC, the explosion of a super-volcano in Sumatra nearly caused humankind to become extinct. The best guess is that, after the event, there were only a few thousand individuals left and subsequent population recovery was very slow. This and other unknown events have taken their toll on our ancestors. 

I hope I’ve convinced you with my rather simple exposition that relentless doubling of your ancestors cannot occur due to ‘inbreeding’ and population 'bottle necks'. There are other factors in the mix but I’m disinclined to elaborate as further discussion becomes technical and burdensome (can't be arsed).

As an aside, I would like to consider the skewing of the data by a very prolific breeder. This concept only applies to men. Women are exempt for sound biological reasons because they are unable to have large numbers of offspring. But for men, the potential is limitless given unlimited access to females. Throughout history, there have been a few powerful men who have exercised this prerogative without restraint and consequently have sired large broods. For instance, Genghis Khan’s Y chromosome can be found in 1 in 200 men alive today. Not only did he have a lot of kids but his sons followed their father's ruthless proclivities.

It is often claimed that many Western Europeans are descended from the great Frankish king of the 8th century, Charlemagne. But before being carried away with our new found regal status it is sobering to note that 99.99% (or greater) of our ancestors were undoubtedly of simple, poor, peasant stock. So if you are tempted to adopt airs and graces, you are well-advised to cast off pretensions and embrace a humble demeanour, as befits your lowly station.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Gone with the wind

It has just been announced that Tipton is to be eternally privileged to be the ensconced repository for the appropriately named: Tipton Town's Turbulent Tempestual (definately not a real word) Wind Farm. The turbines will be sequestered in Tipton's Tranquil Valley adjacent to Placid Nook. Commenting on the enterprise, The Mayor of Tipton, the esteemed 'Baby Doc' Vowel, stated that the placing of the turbines on his property was purely coincidental and in no way related to the government subsidy of £2,000,000 per year, that will undoubtedly ensue/accrue to the landlord.

Mr Vowel averred that at maximum output the 'Vowel Money Generating Turbines' will produce at least £10,000,000 over a period of 5 years. It is expected to contribute, not a jot/Watt, to Tipton's power generation. It is a proposition of pure serendipity that 'Mr Khan's Dead Wild Bird Sanctuary' is within striking distance of the 20 turbine complex.

The notorious loud whining which issues forth will come as no inconvenience to those who vote, as the turbines will be placed askew upon a building containing Tipton’s terminally befuddled, auditory unenhanced and disenfranchised, citizenry. Bugger nuts.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Pythagorus never ate beans

Mere words escape me when in the presence of a great man

Pythagoras was a very interesting individual. Most folk only know him through the famous theorem which bears his name. And what an elegant theorem it is, although there is a debate about whether he uncovered/discovered it himself. Anyway, no blog would be complete without citing the theorem at least once: 'Pythagoras theorem states that in any right angled triangle, the sum of the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Thus, if we are given the dimensions of any of the two sides of a right angled triangle we can calculate the length of the third side by applying this theorem.

What we know of this great man is through the work of others as he has left us no extant writings. He was born in Samos, Ionia, in 569BC. His father was a wealthy merchant and therefore Pythagoras received a liberal and extensive Greek education. He was a true seeker of knowledge, and in his younger years, travelled widely to be taught by the greatest minds of his time. At some time, he acquired a love for mathematics and mysticism. He should be commended for the first accomplishment and condemned for the second.

In about 518BC, he settled in southern Italy. At Croton he founded a scientific and religious school. His teachings were a curious mix of sound mathematics, science and weird, spiritual mumbo-jumbo (not Mugumbo- that would be just silly). He believed 'everything was number' and taught that at the most fundamental level, reality is mathematical in nature. He attracted acolytes who had to obey strict rules. They were not allowed possessions, practiced vegetarianism and eschewed beans. They were probably the only non-flatulent mathematicians in the entire history of the world.

The school practiced profound secrecy, on the pain of death, and therefore nothing is known of Pythagoras's actual work. However, there is no doubt that Pythagoras and his pupils made significant developments in mathematics. They were very much interested in abstract mathematical principles and not concerned about practical applications that might ensue. The 'Pythagoreans' were the first to note (pun intended), that vibrating Lyre strings produced harmonious tones when the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers. Of interest, the advances in mathematics were made in spite of not having a sophisticated notation for number. Modern numbers are wonderfully kind for those who dare to manipulate them. But how would a mathematician fare, for instance, if he had only access to the Roman numeral system. Try doing basic mathematics with IV and XII and you will quickly learn what an impediment this would be. The ancient Greek system was no better. Therefore, the Greek contribution to mathematics tended to be in the discipline of geometry. Geometric problems can easily be expressed in algebraic form, but the ancient Greeks would have none of it.

The discovery of irrational numbers is attributed to the Pythagoreans. According to history, (?legend) the Pythagorean philosopher, Hippasus of Metapontum, in the 5th century BC, discovered these 'naughty numbers'. Mathematics would never be the same and the Pythagoreans were deeply shocked and perturbed. It is recorded that for his contribution to knowledge, Happasus (for it is he) was drowned by his peers for impiety. So what do I mean by an irrational number and why did the ancients get so excited and upset? Consider the square root of 4. We come up with a nice sensible number of 2. Wonderful in its poetic symmetry (steady Flaxen). But what about the square root of 2? Here we enter the dark world of mathematics. A slight digression is required to inform those not versed in mathematical principles. A rational number is a number that can be written as a ratio. Thus the number on the top (numerator) and the number on the bottom (denominator) are whole numbers. Therefore 8/4 and 10/2 would constitute rational numbers. An irrational number has endless non-repeating numbers to the right of the decimal point.  Pi (22/7) and the square root of  2 are impressive exponents. Just as an aside and to fuck your mind up, there are an infinite number of irrational numbers between 0 and 1. Makes you think, dun it? Digression endeth.                          

Regardless, I can't see why a man should lose his life as a consequence. Surely a slight castigation and a light scourging would suffice. Seems the ancients were just as barbaric as us 'moderns'. Perhaps we should take some comfort in this.

So what can we say in conclusion of this most singular and fascinating, individual. Apart from not liking beans, he seems a man possessed of an astonishing versatile intellect and what little we know, he also appeared to have his modicum of human and intellectual frailties. The introduction of mysticism into science has no place unless you are a quantum theoretical physicist. In which case it is essential. How otherwise are they able to contemplate multiple dimensions and the mysteries of space and time.  

Mayhap posterity should be kind to Pythagoras. He lived in turbulent political times and intellectual discovery was in its infancy. Often great men are drawn to simple unifying concepts. Einstein spent most of his life trying to unify all the forces of nature but ultimately failed. Pythagoras set out to solve the world's conundrums based solely on number. We can scoff at his naivety. But it is due to advances in thought by the likes of Pythagoras that we are privileged to think this way. Modern man is indeed blessed if only we can bother to recognise it.    

Friday 10 July 2015

Smoking Shit

Smoking shit, ain't cool

The other day I was reading a book about the ‘Battle of Stalingrad’ in the Second World War; don't worry, this post is not about the battle. However, one passage caught my attention. During the transport of German prisoners by rail, the author noted that the hardened smokers amongst the German troops collected dried Camel dung for smoking during their transportation to the POW camp. This, of course, had me thinking…….

A quick Google search: ‘Can you smoke animal dung?, elicits 11,000,300 pages. However, a cursory look quickly establishes that only the first page is germane to the topic under consideration. Dung as a fuel source for cooking and heating has been used by dirty, smelly, foreign folk, for centuries. Although I’ve been assured, that once dry, animal faeces lose their characteristic, fresh odour/ordure. No great surprise, I suppose, that there is a paucity of information concerning the practice of smoking animal waste. But what is out there is absolutely fascinating. Read on and weep, in equal measure.

Apparently there is some old fella in the wastelands (all of it) of Iran who hasn't bathed for 60 years. It will come as no surprise, perhaps, that he also smokes animal dung in a pipe. Who would have thought that a man with questionable hygiene habits would also be partial to smoking faeces? He is also looking for love- good luck with that mate. Just in case you think I'm making this shit up, here is the link.

The obvious question that needs to be asked is- why bother? Tobacco is smoked because smokers gain access to the addictive and psychoactive drug, nicotine.    

Some of the 'articles' are clearly not to be taken seriously. Others elicit curiosity. It is conjectured that smoking animal dung releases methane gas which can induce a high. I know crap is free, but methane gas cylinders are relatively cheap. But if you are a gypo living in a third world shit-hole, wat ya gonna do? I'm not totally convinced though. Another site, aptly called: 'Legends and Rumours', suggest that animal faeces contain a host of psychoactive substances formed during the digestive process. Frankly, I can't be bothered to do the fundamental research to challenge the veracity of these assertions.

Just as you thought it couldn't get worse, check out this twat. He can't even be bothered to dry out the shit he smokes. I suppose it is his  90 seconds of fame. Watcher beware! On second thoughts, don't bother. He is clearly after a 'viral video' in order to make loads of cash. Don't indulge him, I beseech thee. Total wanker.

Thursday 9 July 2015

George and Arthur's Wicked Wheeze, Part II

U-boat on Canal

When we left our hapless duo they had just returned to Britain courtesy of the German navy. After negotiating the river Thames, the U-boat turned left into the Birmingham to Dudley canal and navigated the complex lock system with scant regard. They encountered only one problem during their peregrination and had to surface to avoid taking on board a dead/drunk floating itinerant with the flamboyant/buoyant appellation, ‘Disreputable Dougie’. By repeatedly exposing Dougie to the twin screw propellers, they quickly rendered unto him into a fine paste much to the delight and relish of the resident migratory bird population. Thus freed of impediment U-239 (for it is it) recommenced its merry way but not without accumulating a sticky, pink, cloying, residue.

Once reaching the West Midlands, George and Arthur were propelled out of the U-boat torpedo tubes (an elegant and extravagant extraction) and alighted, fully attired, outside Dudley's premier night spot, 'Dudley’s Discotheque and Abattoir agogo’. Prior to immersion, Arthur insisted on nasal clips for an inherently weak sinus cavity which was particularly prone to cavitation when fluid bound (I’ve introduced a digression).

After adjusting their attire, our moist twosome approached the establishment seeking refreshment and comestibles. Unbeknownst to our doublet, a Japanese sniper had been stalking our mirthless mates. Sequestered atop the adjacent Aldi building (refer to: 'Japanese Sniper found on Dudley Aldis' for enlightenment) the Japanese sniper and war hero/criminal cocked and aimed his rifle. After squeezing one off he decided to take a shot. The bullet ricocheted off George’s prominent and protruding gnashers and thereafter tumbled anew through the ear canal of Arthur. Hitting nothing, it made an exit via the opposite lughole. Neither of our chums was cognisant of anything awry and continued on unimpeded and unperturbed. At that instant, and at no other, our chuckleless chums became  aware of a vague feminine form athwart their path of progress. Twas none other than ‘Ten Bob Betty’, a notorious lady of the night who plied her pitiful trade betwixt the canal and discotheque (agogo). She regarded them with her one good eye and exclaimed with a resonance born of desperation: “Hello sailors”, which under the circumstances, seemed suitably appropriate.

"That'll be half a quid, sweetie"

To be continued……

Sunday 5 July 2015

The Grey Wolf of the Sea

Boat of Doom

The Grey Wolf of the sea. Is there a more fitting description of the German U-boat of the First World War? When the Great War started in July 1914, none of the combatants expected a long war. It was meant to be a war of vast manoeuvres and sharp battles. Then as usual the great Powers would tinker with the map of Europe and everyone would go home. But not this time.

From the first day of the war, the British closed down German sea commerce. They erected a boom of mines on the east and west side of the English channel. Ships that ventured into German ports would have to navigate  the full stretch of the British Isles. And the British imposed the embargo with efficiency as becomes a nation transcendent in its home waters.    

At the outbreak of war, the Germans had 12 U-boats in service. None of the combatants expected the submarine to be a decisive weapon. The Dreadnought battleships with their 12-inch guns would settle all issues. In the great scheme, submarines were expected to perform a subsidiary role in the anticipated great fleet battle. On both sides, it was thought that there would be a 'Sea Armageddon' between the British and German battleships early in the war. Little was expected of the submarine. At the beginning of the battle, they might operate between the fleets, firing torpedoes. But once the enemy fleets engaged they were not to take any further part, except to release a salvo of torpedoes in the event of a tactical withdrawal (defeat).

Senior Naval Officers, on both sides, despised the U-boat/Submarine. It was  considered 'unsporting' and beneath a gentleman waging war. It dealt destruction by stealth and without warning. Innovative naval officers appreciated its potential; a tube with 27 men could influence war. Exclusively, they were a younger breed of officer.    

The great naval battle did not occur at the outbreak of war. There was no advantage for the British to confront the German High Seas Fleet in a single decisive battle. The British Fleet exerted maximum effect by simply, existing. Why risk all by engaging a powerful enemy? If the Germans beat the British, the pendulum of war would swing decisively in the German's favour. If the British beat the Germans, the Allied cause would remain as before.         

After the imposition of the British blockade, the German's decided to target British commerce. The British as an Island nation were particularly vulnerable to this form of warfare. Britain, dependant on imports, would starve if the Germans could destroy enough ships.

The Germans introduced unrestricted U-boat warfare in October 1914. It made good military sense especially as the British were clearly intent on starving the Germans. However, war does not exist in a vacuum and there is always a political dimension. The Americans were vocal about the conduct of the war if it affected its economic interests. They objected to the British blockade, although the British argued, with some justification, that the nation was engaged in a legitimate and lawful act of war. If you think that warfare and law should exist on the same page, I salute you. However, the sinking of the British ship the 'Lusitania' in May 1915 changed the game, irrevocably. The Germans claimed that the ship was carrying war munitions and therefore, fair game. The British stated that the ship only carried civilians. The Germans were right and the British lied. The problem for the Germans was that American citizens died. The Americans were indignant and threatened war. The Germans backed down, for now, and ceased unrestricted U-Boat warfare against merchant vessels. At the time, the Germans did not want to provoke a war with America. Although shrewdly, the Germans noted that the US was not ready to take part in a first-class European war- although this would change. The Germans were playing a fine game. Unrestricted warfare was very effective against Allied shipping, although the eventual political consequences were dire. The Germans were always best at the mechanics of war. The political consequences often eluded them, to their detriment.   

The Lusitania on its last voyage 

And so the war continued and the anticipated 'Great Fleet' confrontation occurred in May 1916. The result was inconclusive, but the Germans claimed victory, although the German Fleet stayed in port for the rest of the war. By 1917, the Germans were becoming desperate. It was argued that unrestricted U-boat warfare should be reintroduced although it was almost certainly to provoke the Americans to war. The Germans gambled that the Americans would take a year or so before their power would become apparent and turn the war against them.

The Germans introduced unrestricted U-Boat warfare in January 1917. It was hoped that their U-boats would sink enough Allied ships to bring Britain to its knees and to the negotiating table. Predictably, the Americans declared war at the beginning of April. The fuse had been set and the Germans were on borrowed time. However, it was going to be a close run thing. By April 1917, the tonnage of Allied ships sunk had reached critical levels. In that month alone over 1,000,000 tons of British and neutral ships were lost. Political and military leaders were beginning to panic. Then sanity prevailed. To date, commercial ships travelled alone and unprotected. It was decided that, in future, ships should sail in convoy guarded by warships or converted merchant vessels. On the ocean, a convoy of ships sailing together were no easier to find than a ship sailing alone. Immediately, the rate of ships lost decreased dramatically; the British did not starve.   

Few pundits, at the beginning of the war, would predict the fundamental role the underestimated, infernal and despised U-boat would have on the conduct of the war. In the end, it came close to beating the British and, therefore, by default, the Allies. The importance of the U-boat/Submarine as an instrument of war had been established and naval warfare would no longer be dominated by the big, surface, leviathans.

Casus Belli?


Friday 3 July 2015

Come to Tipton Mall!

Okay, Filthy Eric has a few questionable hygiene habits, but he ain't no Zombie

Today, with pride and honour, the incumbent Mayor of Tipton, Mr 'Baby Doc' Vowel, officiated at the opening of Tipton's only premier mall, appropriately called: 'Tipton’s only Premier Mall'. To inaugurate the inauspicious opening, Mr Vowel threw a half eaten donner kebab at the front entrance. The kebab promptly slipped sluggishly to the floor, whence it instantly congealed into a glistening morass/mass. This momentous event augurs well for the future of this prestigious establishment.

Even before the mall opened, half the shops were boarded up and covered in ill conceived graffiti. The clutch of Pawn/Porn shops are expected to thrive as is 'Mr Khan's Cheap Liquor Establishment of Oblivion'. 'Mr Patel's Pound Store' sits cheek and jowl next to Wang's Cheap Discount, Cut-Price, Cut-Throat, Low-Cost, Boutique'. And no inner city mall would be viable, or replete, without the ever present, 'Super Fags' outlet.

Local itinerants and foreign 'tourists' have already shown their enthusiasm and support by moving in and placing their bed rolls strategically in door ways. Filthy Eric's place lies adjacent to the bolted ‘Emergency Exit’ for quick egress on benefit day.

Filthy Eric, has left the building
This well thought out mall provides for every demographic. Posing, intimidating youths, in hoodies can congregate in the poorly lit aisles dispensing drugs and ill gotten gains with aplomb. World-weary, intimidated, superannuated folk, can swap tales of mirth and woe whilst glancing precariously at the turbulent youth and gypos with rheumy beclouded corneas. Thieves abound, and pilfer with boldness and impunity.  

The mall even comes equipped with a fully functioning 'Sick Bay'. A bucket placed at a jaunty angle provides the denizens of Tipton with a receptacle for relinquishing their stomach contents after a Saturday night sampling the delights of the liquor store and 'Fat Mugumbo's Fast Fried Fat Filled Fancies'. Arrrrrrrsssssse.

Teddy, is still in the building. Come save him, please

It can only get better…….

Wednesday 1 July 2015

On Cancer

All families are touched by cancer. It is estimated that one in three will contract cancer during their lifetime. There is a perception that the incidence of cancer is rising and that it is a relatively modern disease. But appearances can be deceptive. In times past the condition was under-diagnosed. Furthermore, we are living much longer than our ancestors. The average life span for an Englishman in the 18th century was 40 whilst today it is nudging 80. If cancer is anything, it is a disease of the aged; consequently we are seeing more cases simply because more of us are getting really old.

Until 1900 the only effective treatment for cancer was surgery. If the tumour was contained and not invasive, a cure was possible. More likely the tumour had infiltrated surrounding tissue or spread through the circulation and lymphatic system to other regions of the body. These 'seeds' would then lodge and start to grow. Under these circumstances, the patient was doomed. Radiation therapy for treating tumours came about in 1900. Some tumours are equisitively (definitely, not a real word) sensitive to radiation while others are tenaciously resistant. Normal tissue is also damaged, although there are techniques available to minimise collateral tissue damage.

Chemotherapeutic agents became available in the 1940s. This technique has evolved and proved very effective in the treatment of some cancers. However, it is still a relatively crude approach. The drugs are rather indiscriminate and target fast growing cells, regardless of whether they are malignant or healthy. Therefore, this technique is particularly effective against aggressive, fast growing tumours. Usually it has little potency against the indolent, slow growing variety. Chemotherapeutic drugs will also act on normal healthy tissue, especially if they are relatively fast growing. This is why cancer patients lose their hair and suffer from nausea as the drugs kill rapidly growing hair follicle cells and the cells lining the stomach. Often it is battle between killing the tumour before the chemical regime kills the patient. That said, there have been some notable success stories using chemotherapy. Childhood Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL) was invariably fatal before chemotherapy. These days, 90% of children become long term disease free survivors.

In the 1960s, the Americans came up with a bold plan. What if they threw billions of dollars at the problem of curing cancer? Certainly the injection of money was welcome to the scientific and medical professions and the subsequent research certainly helped. However, after spending billions and billions of dollars on research a quarter of us are still dying of the disease. The pace of discovery didn't meet the politician’s expectations. Politicians truly believe that throwing money at a problem, solves all; consider the manned Moon mission programme. All falls prone to the mighty dollar. I am not trying to belittle the research work which followed. Much fundamental research occurred and great strides were accomplished. But the politicians and the suitably primed public expected a quick fix and cure. Unfortunately biology decided not to oblige. Those scientists and medics at the leading edge of research surmised that this problem was not going to be quickly resolved, but they kept their counsel, to themselves.

Cancer is not a single disease. Cancer is a multitude of diseases although they have the common denominator of being a genetic disease. Whenever a cell divides there is a preceding event of DNA replication. The fidelity of the process is astounding and an error occurs only once in ten billion base pairs. Even so, all is not lost as the organism has a surveillance system which picks up the errors and initiates a repair process. If the damage is too great, cellular destruct mechanisms come into play and the aberrant cell is eliminated. Why should this matter? It matters because genetic mutation within our cells drives the cancer process. It is an accumulation of genetic mutation which cause a cell to become cancerous. However, the efficient immune system is ever vigilant and detects mutant cells and destroys them. Therefore, cancer occurs when the repair process and the immune system becomes inefficient. As we age all our biological functions decline. Thus as we age we are more prone to cancer. Childhood cancer defies this explanation. There are other mechanisms at work here, but in my brief and simple survey, this will not be considered.

We live in exciting times and new targeted therapies are being introduced. As alluded to earlier, the problem with radiotherapy and chemotherapy is their inability to discriminate between normal and malignant tissue. Drugs have been developed which target the genetic defect. Aberrant mutant genes drive cancer growth. If we can turn off these genes then perhaps we can stop tumour growth and even cause tumour regression. There have been a few success stories. Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) is a cancer which, in the past, could only be cured by a bone marrow transplant. Only a minority of CML patients were eligible. Most patients were just too old to tolerate the procedure. And then there was always the problem of finding a compatible donor. Hence for most patients, the course of the disease was very predictable. The symptoms could be controlled for about three years, thereafter, the patients invariably developed an aggressive form of leukaemia which was intractable to treatment. And thus life was relinquished. The new drug (Gleevac) stops the gene from producing the protein which causes the blood cells to proliferate. This is not necessarily a cure. Some patients after a year or so develop further mutations which circumvent the treatment. However, second and even third generation drugs are now available to progress life.

Some cancers are close to being conquered although there remains a large group of malignancies which still defy medical science. But with continuing research and the relentless introduction of novel and effective drugs, there is hope that one day, perhaps not soon, most, if not all cancers, will be mastered.