Frack Off

If you have never heard of “Fracking”, that doesn’t mean you’re a fracking idiot. It just means the oil and gas lobby – you know them, close cousins of the “there is no confirmed link to cancer” tobacco people – have done their job.

Fracking is a fast growing and much loved process to more effectively rape our disappearing planet.

Take an area that contains natural gas trapped in shale. The gas has been captive for aeons. It clearly wants out, right? I mean, how will I competently BBQ if we don’t release this poor imprisoned vapour for me to use?

Now let me start by saying I am a pragmatist. We use and need things like natural gas to make our lives a bit easier. If dinner required me to make unaided fire for cooking and heating, my house would be a cold and salad-eating domain. So I am not about stopping all drilling and digging for all things.

But there has to be a point where it’s simply not worth it.

Fracking is that point.

Take literally millions of litres of water – add sand – and up to 150,000 litres (40,000 gallons) of chemicals – and pressure inject it into the earth. This causes the shale to fracture and release the gas.

30% to 50% of this nefarious fluid cocktail is then left behind, for future generations to enjoy.

But please don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe, according to the oil and gas industry. It is just co-incidence that no fracking gas executives live anywhere near an operation.

It’s also just hippy hype and pseudoscience that geologists discovered a link between fracking, and Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake in 2011. Oh, and please ignore the fact that between 1970 and 2000: seismic events in the fracking capital of America, the Mid-West, averaged 21 per year. In 2011, there were 134 events.

Maybe it is perfectly safe. Maybe all these chemicals leeching into the groundwater will do no harm. Maybe it’s just coincidence that seismic activity has gone up by 600%. After all, it’s just about the wonderful, clean, healthy natural gas. (Cue soft music and swaying trees by a river.)

The oil and gas lobby must truly think we are all fracking stupid.

Did it Really Rain Cats and Dogs Once?

So, how much truth is there in some of the popular sayings that people use every day?
Do “all roads lead to Rome”? Well, yes, actually, they do (or did) – historical fact, people!
In ancient times, if you came across a paved road, at least for a period of Roman times, it did lead directly to Rome. That’s because the Romans were the first people to build properly paved roads, and they started out making these delightful roads solely to and from Rome.

Skid Row
In the good old days – you remember them: war, famine, great depressions – fellows who felled trees, ie loggers, were not exactly top of the pops on the social scale. To transport logs in the days before we had chainsaws and big grabby machines to help deforest the planet 50 times faster, loggers chopped rough roads, hacked into the forest. They used these roads to drag out the logs – or “skidded” them out. Apparently, the term started out as a name for these access tracks, “skid roads”, but pretty soon, as loggers were at the bottom of the social pile, it came to pass that “skid row” became a term for poor or rundown areas.

British soldiers are widely known as “Tommies”. Why is this so? Well, there are a few plausible stories, but I am going for this one: In 1825, the British War Department issued forms that soldiers needed to fill out – and happened to use Thomas Atkins” as the name in a sample form showing soldiers how they were to fill in these forms. Next thing you know, British soldiers are known forevermore as “Tommies”

Learning the ropes
In days of yore, when you said to your parents, “I’m off to Europe to work in a bar for a year”; or if you were European, you might say, “I’m off to Australia because the judge said I had to go” – you got there by ship. Not the Queen Mary, either. You went on a sailing ship. These multi-masted marvels had, on average, 250 ropes (or lines) the crew needed to know and deal with. So sailors had to literally “learn the ropes”. Nothing made a Captain madder than some landlubber pulling the downhaul when he should have been hoisting the clewline. Learn the ropes!

In like Flynn
Errol Flynn. Stage and screen star of the 1930’s and 40’s. Expelled from school in Australia in 1926 for having sex with the laundry lady. Charged (and acquitted) of statutory rape in 1942. Failed in an attempt to join the US Army during WW2 for, among other things – having Venereal Disease. Married 3 times. Romanced dozens of young starlets during his Hollywood career. In like Flynn. ‘Nuff said.

Hat Trick
Doing something 3 times – “a hat trick” is often incorrectly attributed to ice hockey. The term actually came about in the 1850’s when an English cricketer took 3 wickets in 3 balls, and was awarded a “hat” as a prize.

Green Room
If you have ever been on TV, (I am yet to be discovered) you may have spent time in “The Green Room”. This is the place you hang out before your appearance. Theatres also have them for the actors. Sometimes, only the top banana gets to go in the green room. Like, for instance, if I were invited on the Dave Letterman show along with Sting; he would wait in the Green Room, and I would wait in the car park. C’est la vie. It is thought to date back to 1599, to an English theater, where the performers hung out in a room that just happened to be painted green.

Elvis has left the building
In 1956, it was first used to dispel a crowd of concertgoers, who hoped “the King” might pop back for one more encore. He didn’t, because he had left the building. Now one of the most popular sayings in the English language, it can describe anything from a person you think is brainless, to getting retrenched from your job. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Horace Lee Logan, the promoter who first uttered the immortal line.

Close but no cigar
So the story goes, in the 1930’s, 40’s & 50’s, men in America liked to test their strength and impress the ladies by going to the local fair, grabbing an oversized hammer – and hitting a target that sent a metal cylinder up a pole. If you were up to the task – a satisfying “ding” would announce to the crowd your immense power, and you would win a cigar as a prize. If you had spaghetti arms like me, all you got was a portly, boater wearing carnival man announcing to the crowd – “Close! But no cigar”.

Bought a lemon
There are many theories for this gem, but the one I like dates back to merry old England in the days when ‘exotic’ fruits started to appear in the Old Dart. Fruits like bananas, pineapples and even oranges. These strange and mysterious fruits were quite expensive, and so were often given as gifts. “Happy Birthday Grandma! Here’s a banana!” Unfortunately, like a Nigerian and his million dollars that need a home, there were unscrupulous fruit vendors, and occasionally, when granny took delivery of her birthday banana, she would announce; “you idiot, you bought a lemon!”

Do You Measure Up?

When you are alone, maybe with a glass of red in your hand, what is it that you ponder? World affairs? Politics? How can you make a difference? Yeh, whatever. I ponder things like this:

How tall (or short) do you need to be, to get a gig as a famous / inspirational / despotic world leader?

I have a small large obsession with military history. So in the course of reading a book about something extremely boring for 99% of the population, it struck me that Joseph Stalin – you know him – the guy that is estimated to have ordered the killing by execution, work-to-death, famine and general repression of approximately 20 million of his fellow countrymen – was very, very short. Interestingly, if you look at Soviet era statues and paintings He was depicted as, give or take, a 6-footer. But in the cold glare of reality, Uncle Joe was actually a petit 5 feet 5 inches tall (or short).

I know what your thinking, “short man syndrome”, but maybe not. Saddam Hussein, for example – a textbook despot – was a commanding 6’2”, in a country where the average height for a male is 5’5”.

So is there a height trend for individual countries and their elected (or otherwise) leaders? I needed to know. And so abandoning my obsessional search for the perfect meatball, I started to investigate post WW2 world leaders:

In the good ole US of A, the average male stands at 5’10”. Yet 75% of Presidents since 1945 have been 6 feet tall or above – it has been over 30 years since anyone has looked ‘south’ at a US president. “How is the weather down there, Pres. Carter?” (Bad pun alert!)

But is it a Cold War coincidence that the Soviet Union had the opposite statistics? In the last 90 odd years, only one Russian Premier has bothered the 6’ mark – and that was Boris Yeltsin – a man once found drunk, in his underwear, trying to hail a taxi out the front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. The Secret Service had to lock the White House liquor cabinet on that trip I can assure you. Apart from “belt ‘em down” Boris, the rest of the USSR/Russian leaders were all below average height; Khrushchev was reportedly too short to be allowed on the Kremlin pony rides. He topped out at 5’3” (5’6” with his fury hat on.)

The French started off great guns, making 6’5” Chuck DeGaulle the top Croissant. He just pipped a couple of 6’4” leaders, including Lyndon “thank you, grassy knoll” Johnston, as the tallest leader I could find. (Disclaimer: my research was neither… ahem… scientific nor exhaustive). Sadly, the Cheese-Eaters have let the side down in recent times, with the last two French Presidents resorting to platform shoes so they could sidle confidently up to people like Angela Merkel, the 5’5” German Chancellor. They both must have been so relieved they didn’t ever have to stand tippy-toe on a couple of phone books to get a decent photo opportunity with the old sausage loving 1980’s Chancellor, 6’4” Helmut Kohl.

So is there a pattern? Sadly it seems to be inconclusive. Hitler was a shorty, (5’8”) but took over from Von Hindenburg, who was a most Germanic 6’5”. Churchill (5’6”) was set amongst a string of mostly 6’+ bowler hatted Blighty lovers, until a magnificently coiffured Maggie Thatcher stepped down to the plate at 5’5”. Sometimes history also distorts the facts – Napoleon probably wasn’t as short as you may think, he was ~ 5’7”. (His height is often miss-quoted as 5’2”.)

So actually, the only conclusion we can make is I have just wasted 10 minutes of your time. Sorry about that. But for me, it’s back to my quest for the perfect meatball. Adieu!

What’s in a Name?

Is the world a better place today, than say 600 years ago? If you think it is, consider the wisdom of the Old World.

The task at hand: the Renaissance, or the Reformation, or whatever hell the time it was – let’s call it a long time ago – was a period where people called a spade a spade. There was no political correctness, the good folk from times of yore, called it as they saw it.

Kings, Dukes, Lords and Nobles – in the days before TV and Twitter – needed to be known and recognised, to be fittingly lauded by the common folk. There was nothing worse than being the Big Cheese of the area, walking into the local 7/11, and having nobody recognize you (or in those days, the local VII/XI).

So the King (et al.) had to be accurately described so the serfs, servants and  subjects could grovel in the appropriate manner.

Still, it seems to me, in an attempt to be known, some of these rulers put their foot well and truly into the proverbial “the jokes on me”, poo.

Poland had its fair share of kings who were “Good”, Old” or “Younger”. The standout, however, was a little bloke (I assume) called Władysław the Elbow-High. But spare a thought (or not) for the poor Pole, known (or not) as “Bolesław the Forgotten”.

The French were past masters at accurately describing the Monarchy ; no less than four Kings known as “Louis the Fat”, sat (heavily) on the French throne: as did “Ebalus the Bastard” and “Charles the Lame”. I’m not sure if Charles just had a gammy leg, or simply couldn’t tell a joke properly. I hope it was the latter.

The Czechs had a well-known fellow: “Good King Wenceslas”. Wenceslas, as it turns out, was neither a king, nor particularly good. How disappointing.

In Russia, Ivan the Great was the doting Granddad to a cute baby boy, eventually known as “Ivan the Terrible”. What went wrong, Ivan Senior?

And while on the subject of “Great”, it loses a bit of its “wow” factor with Peter, Frederick, Alexander, Catherine, Alfred, William and even Canute (eh?) all thinking they were pretty damned good. Did none of them own a Thesaurus?  Peter the Magnificent or Alexander the Splendid – now there are two Blokes you might happily grab an axe for, and follow into battle.

There are some other names that like “Great”, just lose out through endless repetition: Wise, Bold, Fearless, Good, Younger, Older, Brave, Pious… blah, blah, blah.

Denmark & Norway (then united) made it remarkably easy: between 1523 and 1766 the kings were, in order: Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian / Frederick / Christian  / Frederick / Christian. There’s nothing quite like the comfort of knowing what name to start stitching onto the commemorative tea towels, when the old King is looking like falling off the perch.

But most of all I feel for the French King, Louis XVI. He was preceded by Louis XV who was known far and wide as “Louis the Well-Loved”. Louis junior was not so well-loved – He was guillotined in 1793. I guess the proletariat just didn’t like cake.

Hospital Blues

You know what’s a gigantic letdown for me? A hospital’s Accident and Emergency.

With a sporty wife, I have visited many emergency rooms over the years, patiently waiting for my wife while sprains and breaks are X-rayed, stitches and shots are administered.

I have spoken to many doctors, nurses, and orderlies – even cleaning ladies. I eat at the cafeteria, buy from the vending machines and wait calmly in the waiting room. I sometimes wander about, look behind curtains and sneak a look into half open doors.

Never, ever, have I seen anything resembling a television depiction of a Hospital.

It’s a tremendous disappointment for me. Hospitals are rather dull. Nobody is crying (patients excepted), no-one is discussing their, or anyone else’s, dubious moral values at the nurses’ station, and it doesn’t appear that everyone is/has/will be, in a shallow sexual relationship with 3 or 4 other people in the general vicinity.  In a word (or two), they’re boring.

The reality is you wait a long time before a Doctor comes out and fixes you up. There is a minimum of chitchat, and they send you on your way without discussing their problems. If you’re in Hong Kong, they hit you with a bill that will certainly make you cry, regardless of the pain medication you may be given. But there will be no drama. There will be no tension, and there will be no strange behaviour.

I recently saw an episode of a popular Medical drama. A heart surgeon started to cry during an operation. Now call me old-fashioned, but if your heart surgeon is discussing life’s problems and crying while up to his or her elbows in your chest, you have picked the wrong hospital.

Still, I do suppose a real life hospital drama might be a little weak.

“This week on ‘Suburban Hospital’, Nurse Cathy catches up on a mountain of paperwork while Dr. Rogers thumbs through a boating magazine. When a man with a broken arm comes in, Chad, the orderly, pages Dr. Rogers to the emergency room. Dr. Rogers finishes reading the article, then wanders out. He x-rays, then sets the arm. The man is sent home.  Nurse Cathy resumes her paperwork and Dr. Rogers goes back to his magazine. Chad cleans up the area.”

In Hollywood, (or Seattle), it would go more like this:

“This week on ‘Suburban Hospital’, nurse Cathy is in the supply room with Dr. Rogers. While they are busy “getting busy”, a man is rushed in with a broken arm. Chad, the completely unqualified former bodybuilding male model orderly, decides to operate. He has a flashback to the last time he wielded a knife; it was when he worked in a sandwich shop, and it was a butter knife. But Chad decides he can’t wait for the “busy” doctor, and amputates – the other arm. Later, a disheveled nurse Cathy is seen having a ciggy out front of the hospital, while a smirking Dr. Rogers adjusts his béret in his rearview mirror, and screeches out of the car park in his convertible BMW. He is off to pick up his new boat. Chad conceals the amputated arm in his locker, and hides in the female toilets – he really didn’t think this through.”

Yep, come to think of it, I’m glad I’ve never seen “TV Hospital” in a real hospital.

What Do You Need Right Now?

A new car? A boat? Or are your needs simpler than that? Maybe you’d just like a decent coffee?

I was in a fancy bar recently. Now to be sure, I don’t usually go to places like that as I just don’t buy into the beautiful crowd (and they don’t care for me, either). Add to that, I am generally dressed like I was brought up in a sports bar and I refuse to wear sunglasses after it’s dark.

So, while this bar was exceptionally genial, I am actually more at home in down-market establishments. That’s not to say I can’t do posh because I can. Sometimes it’s lovely to be in a place that doesn’t need to be hosed out at the end of the night.

So there I was. I was dressed appropriately ‘fancy’, and as happy as a pig in poo. The wives were off in one corner, the husbands in another, as it should be.  The girls were probably discussing something mildly worthwhile – while we were discussing the strengths and weaknesses of various single-malt scotch whiskies. Disclaimer: not one of us had or has any idea, or knowledge, about scotch – good or bad.

We finally settled on one to our liking, and out they came. As well as a fancy tumbler of the golden nectar, the barman presented to us a little green medicine bottle with an eyedropper attached.

We looked at each other, searching for answers. None of us had any idea. So clearly, we needed to ask.

“Kind Barkeep, do tell: what is this eyedropper for?”

“Sir” (rolling his eyes), “It’s the Scottish spring water – for your whisky.” (Another eye roll.)

Oh, of course! How silly of me. I mean local water would not do at all! Even bottled water was clearly not good enough. If we were to drink the amber fuel from the Gaelic Highlands, by god, we needed their spring water as well!

Which brings me back to what do you need right now. The world is a funny place. For some, the thought of having a pleasant scotch without Scottish spring water just wouldn’t do. For others, maybe having their sight restored might be nice.

I have a dear friend who is doing a 50km (31 mile) walk for the worthy cause of preventable/curable blindness. And so mes amis, if you can forgo 1 night on the whisky spring water eyedropper – why not donate the money you’ll save to this worthy cause? Support Liza. Here’s a link. Come and find out the strangely satisfying feeling that comes from anonymously giving some of your good fortune back.

It will take a few minutes of your time, and a small amount of your cash, to change someone’s life forever.

You know you want to.

Hot Air Alert

I don’t understand politics. I mean, I sort of understand how government works, and I understand economics, also in a decidedly lay-mans kind of way.

What I don’t understand are politicians. The people, the way they do (or don’t do) things, and the mind-boggling childish behaviour they exhibit.

Left/Right/Centre, Tories/Social-Democrats/Liberals it’s all too hard. And how about the “Grand Old Party” – the Republicans – their mascot is an elephant: a slow moving beast that is so inefficient it digests less than 50% of what it eats… OK, now I get it.

And I won’t let the Democrats off the hook: they have a donkey as their mascot. Seriously? An Ass defines them?

So here’s what I don’t get. Let’s start with the United States. OK, so they have 2 main parties, Republicans and Democrats. The party that is not incumbent in the White House chooses their leader in an exhaustive selection process called the “Primaries”. It’s called that because all of the candidate’s time is spent “primarily” on publically destroying the other candidates.

Take Hillary and Barack. In 2008, this is what Hillary had to say about Barack:

“Shame on you”


“Alot of talk, no action”

But then he got the nod, was elected, and suddenly, according to Hillary:

“I’m a proud supporter of Barack Obama”

“We are on the same team”

“I support President Obama in the difficult work that lies ahead.”

In Australia, there is an unequivocal and clear choice of leaders – neither of them.  We have a Prime Minister who is fast and loose with the truth, and an opposition guy who is quite seriously, a ‘class A’ idiot. In Australia, parliament is no better than a schoolyard. Both sides of politics spend their days trading insults. Policy or robust debate is but a distant dream for the Australian electorate.

In Britain, politicians seem to spend equal amounts of time either in drag, or committing “sexual indiscretions” with big-breasted staff.  Invariably, of course, they are “deeply sorry” for getting caught making such a poor, isolated, moral choice.

In France, some politicians actually don’t sleep around or have multiple affairs. They are invariably sacked. That’s just not the French way. It’s also all about fashion and style. The 1.6-meter ex-President Sarkozy wore platform shoes and the incumbent First Lady (and the First Mistress) are judged solely on their stiletto choices.

It might be a tired cliché, but oh so true: when it comes to politics, the lunatics truly are running the asylum.

“Waiter, this coffee tastes like…”

I like coffee; I like it a lot. I like it so much that I would do almost anything for a cup. Well, almost anything.

So what’s the latest coffee craze? Is it fancy frothy designs expertly poured onto the top of an overpriced latte by a barista with clearly too much spare time? “Palm leaves are so yesterday, how about the Taj Mahal?”

Is it a new coffee variety? “Try our new double-mocha-short-cream-caramel-whisk-surprise”.

No, the latest and greatest coffee craze is this:

Elephant poo coffee. No need to re-read it, you heard me correctly the first time, (or for the pedantic – you read it correctly the first time). Elephant – Poo – Coffee.

OK, here is how it works. You take an elephant. In this case an Asian elephant from Thailand; you feed it coffee beans – and voilà, the next day you have dung coffee.  Apparently it has an “earthy” flavour. Oh really? Do tell!

Personally, I have remarkably few rules in life, but one rule I do have is I don’t consume products that have been through the digestive tracts of animals. Call me old fashioned, but it’s just how I am.

I suppose this might relate back to my youth when my brother – surely thinking I was smarter than I actually was – got me to eat a dog poo – that had been bleached white in the Australian sun. “Yep, you can eat it, it’s just a meringue”. Sadly, I did, and it wasn’t.

So maybe I’m a little sensitive, but seriously? Coffee that has come out of an animals butt? What makes it even more laughable is that it costs US$500 per pound, or, on average, US$50 for a cup.

So not only do these people want you to drink their poo beans, but also to pay for it like a prized French Truffle pig called Philippe dug it up in Périgord.

If a truffle is actually just a fancy mushroom, what can be said about an excreted coffee bean? I suppose it will become a marketing dream:

“Our coffee genuinely is shit”

The End Is (Maybe) Near

Last weeks post got me thinking. How does a person transform from snotty-nosed child, to a grown-up person – predicting the coming of an apocalyptic event? People like Harold Camping. In his CV – all it must say is “End of Times Predictor” – he should add “ 3 times loser – 4th time lucky?”

The Internet is littered with crackpots predicting their version of a religious awakening/destroying/reckoning. Many, like Harold, are multiple time losers.

My extensive research, conducted over several minutes, has revealed some intriguing facts about those of us who shun more traditional careers as, say, dentists or electricians, but instead go for more of a “Prophet of Doom” thing.

It seems you certainly don’t have to be: good looking, knowledgeable, or in any way rational – OK, I am still in the game.

But how do you start down this unusual path of destruction, so to speak? As a community service, I have decided to lower the barrier to entry by making a short list of words you just need to know to be able to accurately miss-predict the end of the world. Sure beats working at McDonalds.

The key is terminology. People all-over are impressed with long or fancy sounding words. Personally, I love to use the word “oxymoron”. Partly because some folk think it’s a clever way of calling them an idiot; “you’re not a regular moron Fella, you’re an OXYmoron!” And partly because using it makes me sound like I might have done OK at school or I am reasonably intelligent. (Disclaimer: I didn’t / I’m not).

So back to terminology. It doesn’t much matter how you use these words, just as long as you use them. It doesn’t even need to make any sense, just get them into a sentence somehow.

Portal (or “Great Portal” if you are senior in the organization)


Self-awareness (oxymoron alert!)

Astral Travel


It helps if the house where you might hold the meetings is referred to as “The Temple”, rather than “The wooden bungalow on Wilson St that needs a paint job”. Of course, the essential element for budding “High Priests” is your followers must give you all or most of their money (because you live in a dilapidated house on Wilson St that needs painting), and any women members must be prepared to jump in the sack with you (so they can be “enlightened”, of course).

So there it is – no need for a real job. My last bit of advice is just common sense, but you would be surprised how many apocalypse colleagues don’t heed it.

Please don’t predict the end anytime soon. Make it in 50 years or so. Just remember, once the house is painted, you certainly should think about the garden, and for that, you need cash. Remember, this is your job – so predicting Armageddon next week is like organizing your own redundancy.

Nothing? Really?? Not a thing???

So the world didn’t end on Friday 21st December. The doomsayer’s and Mayans were all wrong. Stupid Mayans. We all got so worked up – I even sold my prized baked bean, that looked remarkably like the Eifel Tower, on e-bay. OK, that’s a lie actually, but if I had such a bean, I would have sold it.

I must say I am starting to lose faith with spurious world ending predictions.

I keenly sat in front of the TV on December 31, 1999 ready to see civilization disintegrate – as “The Y2K Bug” destroyed the fabric of society. On that occasion, my preparation was the timely delivery of a large pizza and a case of beer: “yes please, before midnight if you could manage it, I’m expecting the end of the world”.

PS – I now understand the irony of trying to watch the technological end of the world on TV.

In 2008, and a little classier by then, I ordered Thai takeaway, opened a bottle of Rosé and awaited the “Large Hadron Particle Collider” to be turned on. This particle accelerator, whatever that means, is 27km long and runs through France and Switzerland. It fires extremely small things at each other. I’m not sure why. Its activation was due to create a black hole that would swallow the earth. All that actually happened was the restaurant forgot to pack my fish cakes.

“The Great Pleiadian Eclipse Alignment”, on 20th May 2012, was when the Sun, Moon, Earth and a bunch of stars a mega-don-dillion* light years away – aligned – apparently for the first time in 26,000 years. As I eagerly awaited “a major cosmic event” and all that (doesn’t) mean, my cheese plate arrived – and end of the world made way for Camembert and crackers.

But fear not, the end is still coming, even if you choose to ignore the plethora of religious/spiritual nutcases predicting global demise on a weekly basis. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have clocked up 21 failed “end of times” predictions. I think it’s time they gave it up and opened a bakery. Jehovah’s Biscuits might be a much better seller for them.

But really, the one we should be concerning ourselves with is happening in 1.2 million years. The star ”Gliese 710” will somehow be causing a drastic increase in the number of impact threatening meteorites around Earth.

Put it in your diaries, people!

*I made that word up – it means a very, very long way.


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