Kicked out of the Disneyland bar

Disney

Disney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not a fan of Walt Disney. Despite this, Julie keeps threatening to take me to Disneyland with our nephews and nieces. The thing is, I’ve already been to both Disneyland and Disneyworld. It seems bizarre to me that companies select these as conference venues. Techy nerds and Businessmen are hardly the demographic that Walt had in mind. I’m sure there are people who are big fans of these temples to the great Mouse God who go again and again, but there wasn’t much there that appealed to me.

I once saw a documentary about how they train people for a life in the service of the largest media conglomerate in the world. Apparently, they even teach their employees how to smile. Either the receptionist who served me was yet to go on the course or she had forgotten how to do it. I was tired. I’d been travelling for nigh on 18 hours and I really wanted check in to be smooth. I gave her my reservation number which she couldn’t find on the computer. As far as she was concerned, that was that. It took some stamping of my feet and some holding of breath before she gave me a room. To be fair, the room was amazing with more beds than we had in our house at the time.

Whilst we’re looking at the bright side, breakfast was excellent. I loved the spicy house potatoes and the service was superb. I happily tucked into my breakfast whilst reading the complimentary newspaper. I was in a world of my own, so it took a while to notice something moving around in my peripheral vision. There was something dark bobbing around trying to catch my attention. I slowly looked up and came face to face with Goofy. His nose was inches from mine and he gave his trademark guffaw. I told him to go and find some kids.

I went out for a walk. The pretty pastel pathways and the twee music playing from just about everywhere got on my nerves. In the middle of the complex was the bar. In the middle of the bar was my boss. We sat together in the sunshine and had a beer whilst discussing the conference so far. It wasn’t long before some other delegates sat at a nearby table. After a short delay, they waved us over to join them. As the night went on, the conversation became more and more lively. Suddenly two of the girls decided to kiss each other. My boss turned to me and said “I’ll have some of that” and joined in. The rest of us looked on in shock at the three-way kiss.

It was certainly an icebreaker but it didn’t last long. An enormous black man in full blue uniform arrived, only distinguishable from one of LAPD’s finest by the tiny set of Mickey Mouse ear epaulettes on each shoulder. He sounded like a very angry James Earl Jones and he made himself heard.

“Hey! This is not a sex show.” Then in a softer voice, laden with pride “This is Disneyland.”

He ejected us from the bar and we walked back to the hotel. My boss left the elevator first. One of the ladies decided she wanted to go with him. In the resultant tussle, they fell over, breaking his rib in the process. Not a great souvenir as his journey home was agonising.

One way or another, looks like one day, I might be savouring the delights of Disneyland once again. Let’s hope it’s less eventful next time.

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Take him to sick bay!

Medicine

Medicine (Photo credit: iPocrates)

The army is struggling to recruit for the Special Air Service (or SAS), a world-renowned élite force. They find it hard to find volunteers with the right combination of mental resolve and physical prowess. They are missing a trick. They should look among the ranks of doctor’s receptionists. Like many men, I don’t like going to the doctor’s. If you don’t feel well, the last thing you want to face is a number of challenging situations. The receptionist is just the first of many, but in many ways, the most daunting. These highly trained individuals are there to weed out the needy, the snifflers and the feeble of mind.

“Is it an emergency?” Of course it’s not an emergency, otherwise I would go to accident and emergency.

“Do you need to see someone today?” In a week, I’ll either be dead or better and I’d like to do what I can to make sure it’s the latter, so yes – I’d like to see someone today.

Once you are in, you are faced with the next challenge, the examination. Is it just me, or does the examination seem somewhat archaic? Thee stethoscope remains fundamentally unchanged since its invention nearly 200 years ago. If the doctor wants to test your reflexes, he hits your knee with a hammer. To take your pulse rate, he holds your arm and counts. To take your temperature, he pokes something in your ear. If he thinks you might have appendicitis, he pokes your abdomen to see if you hit the roof. The only nod to modern technology is the PC in the corner which is clinically useless. It is just a record keeping device.

You might get referred to a hospital for more detailed tests. If they want to see inside you, they will stand you up against a photographic plate and bombard you with radiation. Or maybe they might stick you in a torpedo tube where they ask you to lie still whilst they try to deafen you. They might even smother your belly with freezing cold gel and thrust an ultrasound wand into your abdomen. They will look at the results on a monochrome screen that looks like a poorly tuned TV.

Number One (Star Trek)

Number One (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why can’t it be like sick bay in Star Trek? As you lie on the couch, a machine behind you monitors your life signs. A steady bass beat echoes in time with your heartbeat. Doctor Bones McCoy waves a warbley box of tricks over your abdomen which tells him exactly what’s wrong with you. Invariably, he then reaches for a different device which makes a high-pitched whining. Whatever’s wrong with you, it is rapidly remedied with a quick wave of this futuristic marvel. All of this is carried out whilst a beautiful nurse in an inordinately short skirt mops your fevered brow.

It feels to me like modern medicine has a long way to go.

Does progress always have to be savage?

Navvies monument

Navvies monument (Photo credit: phill.d)

Whenever there is a great leap by mankind, someone, somewhere suffers. Empires rise and fall, companies thrive, plateau and die. Whole industries die out to make way for new ways of doing things. It happens over and over. In the long run, the human race as a whole blossoms, but in the short-term, someone, somewhere gets hurt. The incredible feats of Victorian engineering that came about during the Industrial Revolution only exist because of hoards of navvies. Working in appalling conditions for pitiful pay, these manual workers toiled away to produce some marvellous structures. The mortality rate was sky-high. More navvies died building the Woodhead Tunnel than during the Battle of Waterloo.

Jobs in manufacturing disappeared thanks to the rise in mechanised assembly lines. Printing jobs went up in smoke because of the digital age. Where it once took an army of workers to produce a large print run of newspapers, it now only takes a handful. Office workers in their droves saw their jobs vanish due to computerisation. Cars today are much more reliable thanks to the robotised construction techniques, but that means we employ far fewer car assembly workers.

The sheer amount of technology available to us today is mind-boggling. 10 years ago, I only had one multiple electric gang socket. Today, my house is riddled with them. All this technology has an increasingly diminishing shelf life. Many people replace their mobile phones every year if not more often. Today’s laptop will be tomorrow’s landfill.

English: Mobile phone scrap, old decomissioned...

English: Mobile phone scrap, old decomissioned mobile phones, defective mobile phones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

30 million computers are discarded in the USA every year. Europe manages to ditch 100 million mobile phones. All in all, an estimated 50 million tonnes of electrical waste needs to be disposed of every year. All of this waste contains a cocktail of poisonous substances and useful materials that could be recycled. Unfortunately, much of this waste ends up in developing economies where workers are slowly poisoned whilst earning a pittance to separate the wheat from the chaff.

In this country, we immediately throw our hands in the air whenever there is any kind of project that might affect the resale values of our precious homes. Spare a thought for anyone who stands in the way of a big engineering project in China. They certainly get the job done and progress is made, but at what human cost?

Of course, we eventually clean up our act. If you work on a big construction project today, the laws in place to protect you are legion. We are starting to put together frameworks for the handling of electronic waste. China has even passed a new law, after a tortured 12 year journey through the courts, to better protect the rights of homeowners when faced with compulsory purchase.

But when the trail is being blazed, the damage gets done.

Snow, why does it have to be snow? I hate snow.

2013-01-19 11.16.03

There’s a bit in Raiders of the Lost Ark where our illustrious hero, Indiana Jones, peers down into the pit he’s about to enter. He spies a writhing mass of reptilian flesh before collapsing back, ashen faced. “Snakes, why does it have to be snakes?” That’s exactly how I feel about snow. The very sight of the stuff makes me feel bitterly cold to my core.

I explained my prejudices to Maisie, to which she responded “Yes Uncle Martin. Let’s go out and make snow babies!” So either she is already not listening to a word I say at the age of 3 or her aching, burning desire to have fun in the snow trumps my need to avoid frostbite. What exactly is a snow baby anyway? When I grew up, snow creatures only had one gender and they were always grown up.

She wouldn’t take no for an answer and before long we were playing in the snow. I started rolling a ball of snow in an attempt to make a snowman. The snow was far too powdery, and as soon as the ball reached any kind of respectable size, it collapsed in on itself. Maisie was not impressed. I tried to convince her of the inferior quality of the snow, but something in the look she gave me dispelled any notion that she might have believed me.

“Let’s go sledging” I said. In the absence of a purpose-built sledge, I reasoned that the lid of the recycling bin was roughly sledge shaped. Up the hill we trudged. When we got to the top, I gave Maisie a hearty shove. Her progress down the hill was much like that of a reluctant mule. The bin lid travelled slowly and stuttered to a stop with annoying regularity.

2013-01-19 14.45.02Drastic action was needed. A trip to the sledge shop was in order. The man at the shop mentally sized Maisie up before proposing a lime green plastic sledge with a lever on each side to control the brakes. Maisie’s face lit up. “My sledge has brakes!” In her mind, she already owned it. A short while later and we were back on the slopes.

This time, when we reached the top of the hill, a shove wasn’t needed. It was all we could do to hold the sledge in place. Once released, it flew down the hill like a rocket with Maisie squealing with delight. Did it soften my stance towards the cold stuff? No. But I might have secretly had a tiny bit of fun. Just don’t tell anyone.

The Industrial Renaissance

Teenage mutant ninja turtles

Teenage mutant ninja turtles (Photo credit: cubedude27)

I have to confess that the names Michelangelo and Leonardo make me think of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles long before I think of Florence and all the amazing architecture and artwork. Even so, it’s an amazing place. We spent a day there and marvelled at all the sights. Our tour guide was a short, round man who sported a massive pink umbrella which he held aloft for us to follow. One of the first things he told us was that he was homosexual. At first I wondered what relevance his sexuality could possibly have, but as he took us around all the beautiful buildings he pointed out, he told us a little about the famous renaissance men.

The way he explained it, they were all lovers and they spent their spare time, whilst they weren’t painting masterpieces or carving marble, sleeping with each other. “It was a marvellous time” he told us in his squeaky Italian accented voice. “There was love everywhere and that’s where the inspiration for all these masterpieces came from.” Whatever it was that inspired those great artists, they did a fine job, even if it does mean you get fleeced everywhere you because you are in the presence of greatness.

Although they are very nice works of art and Florence is a beautiful city, I have far more respect for another period in history. If I could travel back in time, the period of choice has to be the Industrial Revolution. In less than a century, a number of inventors transformed the world. Great advances in textiles, metallurgy and energy made more of an impact than any other period that came before (and arguably afterwards). Isambard Kingdom Brunel built God’s Wonderful Railway and if he’d won the argument about how wide apart the rails should be, we would have much faster, safer and more comfortable trains today. Instead, Stephenson, another Victorian engineer won out. Railway lines spread out across the country in a frenzy of navvies.

It was an age that saw the first postage stamp, the first pedal bicycle and the first flushing toilet. Telephones and typewriters were invented along with petrochemicals. For those with a sweet tooth, someone invented jelly babies and ice cream. Pasteurisation meant you could eat the ice cream without fear of being poisoned. The electric light bulb came along to light up our lives. For those with an ear for music, along came the gramophone and the wireless. Children all over the world (as well as some grown up children) give thanks for the invention of the comic book.

Maybe we will look back at the last hundred years and think it a revolution of a different kind. The internet revolution, although undoubtedly profound, somehow pales in my mind when compared with the achievements of our Victorian forefathers.

 

A hurricane in the North Sea?

Esbjerg PedestrianArea

Esbjerg PedestrianArea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We hadn’t been told where we were going. The best man told us where to turn up and to pack for a few days away. Eventually, our coach, packed with rogues and vagabonds, turned up at a port. The terminal was chaotic. The departure boards told us our destination, Esbjerg. “Where the hell’s Esbjerg” asked Bob the Fish.

Eventually we boarded, an hour late, and made our way to the bar. Although the vessel was a glorified ferry, the operators had cruise ship aspirations and there was a full entertainment programme. The compere was a dead ringer for Dale Winton, just a little more camp. He took a shine to us and kept coming over to our table. Someone suggested he fancied Bob the Fish, although I doubt anyone believed that.

The crossing was rough and our drinks slid around on the ringed table. Although much of it slopped over the sides, we consumed enough to ensure a good night’s sleep in our tiny cabins. When we awoke, the ship  had docked and we made our way into town. We had a look around, but found ourselves inexorably drawn to Esbjerg’s only Irish bar, Hairy Mary’s.

The following morning, there was a compulsory sightseeing trip whilst they cleaned the ship. Our party split into those who were hung over enough to insist on staying on board  (including the groom to be) and those who went sightseeing (including myself and the best man). The tour guide introduced himself and the itinerary. It didn’t sound exciting.

“What do you think of my English?” he asked. The coach replied with a chorus of “very good” and “yes”. He explained that Danish children study English from the age of 5, but don’t start learning German until they reach 11. “You might think this is strange, as the only country we border is Germany. This is because we hate the Germans!”

He pointed out Esbjerg’s tallest building (which had burned down) and 3 enormous statues. He asked us if we liked them. Again, a chorus of “very nice” and “yes” from the coach. “We hate them” he said. “They were a gift from the German government.” He took us to a fish museum (which was more interesting than it sounds). Bob the Fish was in his element.

We eventually found ourselves in a quaint Danish village, when I received a phone call. It was the groom-to-be. He told me that the ship would not sail in the morning as planned so they were going to jump on a train over to Copenhagen and fly home. I passed him over to the best man and they had a blazing row.

When returned to Esbjerg, a storm had really taken hold. It was difficult to stand. It was even more difficult after a night in Hairy Mary’s. Making our way back to the ship involved leaning into the wind at a 45 degree angle. At one point, I turned my back to the wind and was astonished to see the road we’d just traversed submerged in water. The cars from the adjacent car park floated into the sea.

Panic reigned inside the terminal building. An angry mob had assembled at the enquiries desk. A German man at the front screamed at the lady behind the counter “You told me my car would be safe!”, every syllable punctuated by his fist slamming on the desk. Somehow, we managed to blag a flight home in the morning  for which we swore not to tell a soul and made our way onto the ship.

We told Dale Winton our story. He told the ship. A TV crew came on board to film the passengers. They interviewed us and Bob the Fish announced our free flights home on Danish TV. As we left to catch our flight, Dale Winton handed the best man a tape. He’d recorded our interview for us. He joked that recorded over his favourite porno. The best man looked very nervous heading through customs.

First I was afraid, I was petrified…

Keynote speak at TechEd EMEA 2007

Keynote speak at TechEd EMEA 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seemed like a long time before I heard my introduction. I threaded my way through the round tables surrounded by delegates. I took special care when I stepped up onto the stage. The last thing I wanted to do was fall over and make a tit of myself in front of hundreds of people. I took my place and turned to face the audience. They stretched off into the distance. Behind me were giant screens showing my presentation and I had a gizmo in my hand to work the slide deck.

I started my presentation. I could hear my voice, small and trembling, amplified by the lapel microphone. Why was my voice trembling? My heart started to bounce around my ribcage at alarming speed. words tumbled out at a million miles an hour. It was only then I realised how nervous I was. Although I was no stranger to presentations, my subconscious mind decided that this one was different and a sensible survival strategy was escape at the earliest opportunity.

This was the first presentation I gave to a large audience and as I made the long walk back to my seat, I convinced myself that I made a mess of it. During the breakout session afterwards, someone sought me out and congratulated me for doing a good job. I gracefully accepted her praise, but inside I was far from convinced. But she wasn’t alone. By the end of the day, I had praise from quite a few.

This taught me a few things. Firstly, no matter how nervous you are, it never looks as bad as you think to your audience. Despite the little voice inside your head telling you otherwise, they are not waiting for you to make a fool of yourself. They want you to succeed. Even if they do detect any nerves, they are more interested in what you have to say. The other thing I learned that day is to never, ever let your boss persuade you to ditch the presentation you prepared and practised to rewrite it the night before showtime.

As soon as another opportunity to present to a large audience came up, I grabbed it. It was important to me that I improved. My voice still trembled, and so did my hand which wasn’t good because I had a hand-held microphone this time. It was most disconcerting to see it wobbling around right in front of me. I managed to slow down though and I was much happier with the presentation.

Nowadays – I’m relaxed about presenting on stage to large audiences. I still get nervous and I think I always will, but it all adds to the spice of life.

Where’s the technology I want at CES?

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Veg...

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Nevada in January 2010 (cc) David Berkowitz http://www.marketersstudio.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My technology needs are simple. I want my phone to check the weather half an hour before I get up. If there’s likely to be frost, it will communicate with a gizmo in my car that will not only defrost the windows, but it will warm up the seats and the steering wheel for me. My heating should also be given a little boost so that downstairs is nice and toasty. Five minutes before I get up, I want it to switch the kettle on downstairs. I want it to gradually bring the lights up in the room so that I wake up gently.

My tablet should automatically download today’s copy of the Times rather than dumbly waiting for me to fire it up and press the button. My phone should check my diary to see whether I have any appointments in London. If so, it should check that the trains and tubes are running OK. If for any reason I need to deviate from my normal route it should be ready for me by the time I look at my phone. I want my phone to check the balance on my Oyster card, If it’s running low, it should automatically top it up. The TV should switch on and automatically turn to my favourite news channel.

If it’s dark and I walk into a room, the lights should automatically come on. If a room is empty for any length of time, the lights should switch off. If any bulbs are blown, and we are running low on replacements, something will magically buy some best value ones from eBay. I should be able to watch or read any media on any visual device in the house. My wife and I should be able to start watching something on the TV and half way through independently watch the remainder on our mobile phones.

The fridge should have a touchscreen that shows the contents in order of sell by dates together with suggestions for recipes. There will be buttons next door to everything so that we can add them to the next order from the supermarket. The cooker will be told what temperature to warm the oven up to and how long the dish needs. The microwave should be clever enough to work out what’s inside it and set the timer accordingly.

The car should go and fill itself up with fuel. As it sits there most of the time not doing anything, it should also automatically check all those annoying comparison sites and renew my insurance and my tax disc. The car should also book itself in for a service, preferably on a day I’m taking the train into London.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Everything connected up intelligently. The frustrating thing is that much of this technology is here today. The reason I can’t do all these things is because consumer technology is so disjointed. You might be able to get some of these things individually, but making then all work together is either ridiculously expensive, difficult or both.

So what do I think we’ll see at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? Higher resolution TVs, flexible phones and a sea of tablets.

But we’ve only got one bed

English: Buccleuch Dock, Barrow-in-Furness

English: Buccleuch Dock, Barrow-in-Furness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mum used to take in lodgers. It was great to have someone different around the house and they helped to pay the bills. One day, Two quirky young guys from Barrow-in-Furness knocked at the door. “We’ve come about the room” they said in a heavy Northern accent. Each of them held a large kit bag with a spirit level sticking out the top. One had a mop of curly blond hair. The other had long hair and bad skin. 

Mum explained that we only had a single room. They looked crestfallen and pleaded with mum to let them stay but she was resolute. After a short pause, one of them asked if they could at least leave their heavy kit bags at our house whilst they went off to find somewhere else to stay. Something about them made mum acquiesce and off they went without their bags.

A few hours later, they knocked at the door again, obviously drunk. “It’s too late to go anywhere else now and our bags have caused you no bother and neither will we – one of us can sleep on the floor. Go on – please!” For some reason, mum agreed and allowed them to stay, but just for one night. I can’t remember exactly how long they stayed with us, but it was a few months.

Their names escape me now, but at the time they spent a lot of their social time with me and my younger brother. They were great fun, but they were a bit of a handful. If they ever saw a police car driving past, they would insist on flashing their bare buttocks regardless of their state of sobriety.

One day, one of them invited up to Barrow-in-Furness for the weekend. If I shared the travel costs, his mum would put me up when we got there. His mum’s expression when she saw me on the doorstep suggested that she hadn’t been consulted.

It was an eventful weekend.

The first night, he took me into the local town to meet his girlfriend, Rose. Barrow-in-Furness is one of several towns in the UK that lays claim to having more pubs than any other so it was lively. Within half an hour, they had a blazing row in the street. He stormed off. Rose proceeded to rip off all her jewellery (which took some time) before storming off in the other direction.

I stood in the middle of a strange town on a Friday night, holding a large pile of jewellery and the only two people who knew his mum’s address had buggered off. A policeman noticed me standing there and approached. “This had better be good sunshine” he said. Luckily, the boyfriend returned as I clumsily tried to explain the train of events.

The following day, we joined a load of his friends to drive around the lake district. At one point, the convoy of cars screeched to a halt and everyone jumped out and ran down the hill. I ran down after them and found them urinating in a river, laughing maniacally the whole time. They were still laughing when they drove off. A few hundred yards further on, the source of their amusement became clear. Around the corner people drank from the river thinking it had healing properties. 

They were two of the most colourful characters I’ve met and I wonder what they are up to now.

The sort of characters that would be good in a story…

Freezing cold folklore

English: A tree branch completely en-globed in...

English: A tree branch completely en-globed in freezing rain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some reason, my internal thermostat is completely broken. I’m the one that is thinking about maybe removing my jacket if it gets any warmer whilst the people around me are dripping in sweat. As a result, I really suffer from feeling the cold, which in this country, at this time of year, is no fun. Luckily December this year has been lovely and mild, but as we head into January, as sure as ice is ice, things are going to get a lot colder before they get warmer.

For the past few years, this country has had a really hard winter. I know that there are people out there who look at our 12 inches of snow and laugh because they are used to much hardier weather, but for us, it’s a big deal. I hate snow, because just looking at the stuff makes me feel cold. People ask me if I’ve ever been skiing, but the thought of hurtling down a hill on two flimsy bits of fibreglass in the freezing cold is not my idea of a good time.

I don’t know what’s made me this way. Maybe it’s because of some of the things people told me about the cold when I was growing up. “You can’t go out wearing that or you’ll catch your death” or “you need to dry your hair before you go out or you’ll freeze to death”. Despite ignoring both these sage pieces of advice, I don’t remember any near death experiences.

“You need to wear a hat, because 90% of body heat escapes through your head.” Really? Why am I bothering with all these clothes then? I’d be better off going out in just a hat. Somehow, I don’t believe a word of it. Even if I do put a hat on, it doesn’t stop me from shivering – it just means my ears are warm.

When I used to come in from the cold, I’d take my shoes off and rest my feet up against the radiator. “You don’t want to be doing that – you’ll get chilblains”. “You will – you know! And you don’t want chilblains!” Again, despite these warnings, I have never had a chilblain and I don’t know anyone who has.

My favourite has to be “It’s too cold to snow”. Really? Where did all that snow and ice at the North and South Poles come from then? I’m glad I’m writing this sitting next to a radiator, because otherwise, my teeth would start chattering.