Sunday, 13 December 2009

Swindon twinned with Disney World

I promised myself that I wouldn't renew hostilities with Swindon and that I was very much done with my animosity towards the town.

I didn't lie. I've come to realise that Swindon is just as mediocre as a whole host of other towns and cities in the UK. I have to say that my attack was both grossly generalised and quite offensive and for that I apologise. You can make broad, sweeping comments like the ones in the article and they'll always represent a small portion of a community - and those people do exist in Swindon - but to claim a town of a quarter of a million people are like it is just flat out wrong.

However, while Swindon is just as lacking in things to do as a whole raft of other towns, I just got a little pissed off due to the number of public officials who stood up and insisted that this wasn't the case. The facilities in Swindon sucked at the time - the Oasis was outdated, the Link Centre burned your eyes just walking in the door due to the vast amounts of chlorine used and, well, no one ever really mentions a whole lot else. There's a bowling alley, a couple of cinemas and a nearly-bankrupt football team. Otherwise, you can go shopping and drive around a multitude of roundabouts. To quote the Internet: "epic win ".

Again, none of this really singles Swindon out.

What does single Swindon out is that they've now been twinned with Disney World in Orlando. I shit you not.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the partnership: an ever-expanding, commercial, poorly-managed venture that has its glory days firmly fixed in its past is being twinned with an ever-expanding, commercial, poorly-managed town that has its glory days firmly fixed in its past. Seems quite apt to me! No wonder the Disney World judges didn't even need to visit the place. I'm sure they just used Wikipedia!

Oddly enough, there is every chance I might be heading to Disney World in Orlando next year - not really through choice but through other forms of persuasion - and could get to see the Swindon exhibit at Epcot. I'm especially excited because it is "not known what it will contain". Roundabouts? Shops? A slight nod to a steam engine? A signed Jan Åge Fjørtoft Swindon Town F.C. jersey? A long diatribe about how good the Link Centre and the Oasis are?

I wait with baited breath!

Seriously though, I hope something good does come of the pairing. I can't see what Disney World will get from it but if it helps raise the profile of Swindon a little bit and bring it out of naff mediocrity then all power to it.

Monday, 21 September 2009

I hate McDonalds

I was clearing out my cupboards and found an article from the Observer on 20th October 2002. It was given to me by a fellow politics student who knew of my strong distaste for large corporations and especially those that perpetrate advertising campaigns that border on viral (designed to infiltrate the minds of young people and make sure that they become lifelong (and usually obese and/or diabetic) customers. I'm anticipating a letter from some legal schmuck telling me that both those statements are untrue and libellous but the fat and content of your average happy meal, I would tend to argue my case for me... (according to the article, there are 550 calories and 25 grams of fat in your typical Big Mac)

The article offered a startling fact sheet and I figured they'd be a good area to talk around, even 7 years later...

1) McDonald's is the largest toy distributor in the world
2) 96% of US children can identify Ronald McDonald by name - second only to Santa Claus
Principle evidence for why I can argue that McDonald's unscrupulously targets children - they are distributing more toys than any other retailer in the world and only Santa is more well known by kids... I'm pretty sure that adults aren't going to be drawn to buying them so there's only the one real target. In McDonald's defence, they're not the only one doing this but they are the only one that is doing it with 550+ calories running in tandem.

I'm not sure what these stats say about kids in general: they seem to know people who they associate with receiving toys. They're a bunch of mercenary little bastards!

3) One in three cattle in the US bred for meat is used by McDonald's
Using some statistics found online I found out that there were in the region of 96,100,000 head of beef cattle in the US. That means that there are nearly 32,000,000 McDonalds cattle in the US alone... Not the most reliable source but Wikipedia states:
cattle are cited as the greatest adverse impact with respect to climate change as well as species extinction
Cows are reknowned for their their methane production and Wikipedia further states:
a methane emission will have 25 times the impact on temperature of a carbon dioxide emission of the same mass over the following 100 years.
So, call it how you want it but the proliferation of McDonald's equates to the the deepening of the climate crisis. You could always try the Australian suggestion - apparently it's quite good. Me; well, I'm sticking to vegetarianism.

4) In Japan, where "r" is rarely pronounce, Ronald McDonald is Donald McDonald
5) Ronald McDonald was later replaced in France by Asterix, under a McDonald's strategy of "acting local"
This is one of the things that really makes me hate McDonald's: their insidious local advertising. The French hate them for their intrusion upon local food markets (let's face it, the French make good, healthy food for much the same price and in much the same time as a Happy Meal). In Britain, I've noticed a sustained campaign over the last 5 years of McDonald's adopting a green motif as opposed to their HORRIBLE, brash, "American" one. Their restaurants look more acceptable in British streets now, even if they're selling the same old soggy burgers and fries!

6) One in 200 people across the world visits a McDonald's daily
One in 200 people are fat bastards as a result! It doesn't make clear how many will visit McDonald's every other day or every week and, worse, it doesn't make clear how many people will have multiple meals there every day... There was a case recently in the UK where a woman took her children to McDonalds on a daily basis.

The problem seems to be that more and more people (read: morons) think that this is actually a balanced diet and McDonalds keep trying to pass it off as such by adding salad options etc... (Still packed full of calories)


The article pre-dates the likes of Super Size Me and Fastfood Nation in highlighting some of the alarming things that might not be immediately obvious from McDonald's own promotional material (although, much of the article was about the downturn in the fast food market).

For me, it's a good account of why we should be careful around fast food (or other unhealthy food products including soft drinks and chocolate products) as they attempt to promote their products against a wave of government warnings about the possible long term effects (and, in the UK, the horrible consequences on the National Health Service!).

I still hate McDonald's. My hatred began far more than 10 years ago, when I lived 5 miles from the nearest McDonald's and still would leave the house every morning to find their wrappers on my front garden.

For what it's worth, I think their marketing campaigns rank them as cunts of the highest order. And as for their food... Well, I'd probably getting more nutrition and find it more enjoyable to eat out of a trash can.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Parenting On Trial

So the BBC churned out a programme called "World's Strictest Parents" where unruly British teens are sent to stay with strict parents in another nation.

First point to make is this: the two kids they got were not the sharpest tools in the shed and, more than that, they were little assholes who were poster children for what happens when you make parents powerless (i.e.; the death of smacking as a punishment). I wanted to throttle them (although, to her credit, the girl learned quickly and got herself together) - buy the end of it, I developed a healthy respect and a lot of sympathy for her).

Second point, some of the points made by parents of the American family in this particular episode were valid and particularly their observations about the kids they had temporarily adopted. Their attempts to make time for their kids and teach them the value of working and philanthropy were pretty damn admirable.

However, there were elements of their lifestyle that were just insane. They granted their kids no freedoms. There were the usual things, such as a flat ban on cussing but their kids had no right to privacy. All children in the house (including the British guests) were subjected to inspections that started with their bags and extended to any electronic platforms (cameras were checked, cellphones are audited and any foul-mouthed mp3s are deleted from iPods). More than that, all online passwords were known to them and the kids were watched while they browsed the net...

I understand the parental desire to protect your children from things that may be harmful to them but there are clearly points at which it goes too far.

I'm accused by some adults of being a bit of a harsh taskmaster with the youngsters in my family but, I like to think, I'm also reknowned as pretty damn fun. The way I see it is this: there are rules and, within the realms of those rules, there is freedom to play, have fun and learn. Let's face it, how far can you go to protect your kids? How much cotton wool can you wrap your home in before your kids choke on it?

Still, when you've got idiot kids who whine when people won't bring them kitchen role to wipe some dirt off their fancy shoes (wipe your own fucking shoes!), maybe that's the way to go. Maybe the complete lack of boundaries that the Brit kids had needed the completely insane levels of parenting that the Americans offered... I think the answer is most definitely somewhere in the middle.

Oh, and despite all the conditioning, the eldest American kid totally oggled the Brit girl's tits when they first met. Rightly so - good on you son!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Making Time For God

Religion is something that I constantly circle as a topic for idle pondering during the day. I was trying to figure out how to articulate how I perceive religion and it's taken a long while but I feel like I'm getting a little closer...

As a basis for for this argument, I should clarify: I believe that much of science (until proven otherwise by better scientists) is fact. Like Bill Hicks, I don't subscribe to the concept that Dinosaurs were put their to test our faith and that God is just fucking with us (and, moreover, that if we happen to believe plausible explanations for the things that are in front of our face, we will burn in hell). The "Creation Science" theory just doesn't hold water - not in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Now, I know a lot of Christians will be sitting there nodding sagely and believing that those who espouse Creation Science are misguided zealots who are holding onto antiquated views. To you I ask this: if you don't believe the message in the Bible (or Old Testament, if you want to be specific), just how Christian can you be? Are you less Christian than the zealots or are you some other religion that should be properly defined...? God knows there's a lot of "Christians" who are turning to Buddhist teachings and faith healing in this modern age and just how far can you go and still be classified a Christian? How much lemonade do you add to a lager before it becomes a proper shandy? How much before it's just lemonade with lager in it? Anyway, that's a whole other argument. My argument today is why I AM agnostic and why I AM NOT religious.

I have a finite life. I might get to see 100 years, if I'm lucky but, more likely, I'll get bored and die a long time before that. The Universe, however, seems to be pretty damn infinite and even within the realms of our planet there are more things than I can ever hope to see or understand.

In my - for arguments sake, let's say - 70 years, I have the task of discovering the answers to a number of enormous questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What makes me happy? It's hard enough without the whole makeup of my life changing with a certain amount of regularity - people come, people go, I get sacked, I get a new job... And on and on.

In the midst of trying to find my place in the world and understand this life, I don't buy into the concept that we should stop or pursuit of answers and give thanks to a deity. I strongly believe that our pursuit of answers is our thanks.

Understanding and appreciating the miracle of our lives and the world around us is the greatest tribute we can give to the marvel that is life. To this extent, many of the original churches and cathedrals mimicked this - they were the pinnacle of human architecture for their time (however, the flat-pack, North American style are not). If you're doing something you love, with someone you love and you're enjoying the life you've been blessed with (and you're not pissing on others trying to do the same!) then you're giving your tribute to any deity that there may be in the next life...

Quite why you'd bother defining yourself as belonging to a particular religion above and beyond that is an elusive concept to me. After all, it's quite possible that you really don't share that many beliefs with the others in your religion... You might as well just be happy being you and believing what you believe: you don't need a priest to validate that.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Things Are Afoot

Things are a leg. Maybe an arm. Other body parts too. Especially a spleen. Yes, things are a spleen. Am I padding this post? Hell yes!

Okay, so it's been a while since I updated and this constitutes one of those completely pointless "I'm sorry I haven't updated more often posts". But I am trying to let you know that new things are happening on and this should tie in with all my efforts on

Suffice to say, I am having to do a lot of research, not only for this stuff but other external things and, while time consuming, it is proving to be incredibly enjoyable.

Yes, this was a crap post. Sorry.