Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What colour is your hobbit?

I have not read any of the Lord of the Rings books or anything to do with The Hobbit. I have not seen any of those films featuring hobbits, it is not my kind of thing. However, this news story did attract my attention though! A British woman of Pakistani origin was reportedly turned away from auditions for Lord of the Rings prequel The Hobbit in New Zealand on the basis that she was not white enough.

Naz Humphreys, who is 5ft tall, had travelled to Hamilton from Auckland last Tuesday in the hope of securing an extra role on Peter Jackson's forthcoming two-part adaptation of JRR Tolkien's classic fantasy tale. However, according to the Waikato Times, she was told after a three-hour wait that her skin tone made it unlikely she would be cast. According to the Waikato Times , a video shows a film company representative telling the crowd: "We are looking for light-skinned people. I'm not trying to be – whatever. It's just the brief. You've got to look like a hobbit."

A spokesman for the film-maker's company, Wingnut Films, said the offending crew member, an independent contractor, had been sacked. The member of staff had placed an advertisement in a local newspaper specifying female hobbit extras "with light skin tones" and had also been responsible for informing Ms Humphreys that she did not fit the bill.

...Okay, so how am I going to pitch my comment on this story? Well, Naz Humphreys can't you read? The advertisement clearly stated "with light skin tones" - clearly you are not pale skinned. She was taking the piss by turning up and was wasting her time. She was simply wrong to turn up for these auditions as the casting contractor was looking for a certain look. I agree with the 48 comments already posted on the Waikato Times website. These people have their sense of perspective just right, this is not a case of discrimination or racism but a simple artistic casting decision. Mark writes at 09:11 am on Nov 29 2010...

Wouldn't a small, imobile, homogenous comunity tend to contain individuals who bore broadly similar racial characteristics? A medeival english village would presumably have contained only fair skinned people, and isn't it fair to asume that being broadly similar in terms of technology and transport, and being notoriously shy of travel, a hobbit village would be equally homogenous? not to say that hobbits shouldn't be darker skinned, but in the interest of plausibility and integrety, if they were then they should ALL be darker skinned.

...I feel that Naz Humphreys was wrong to turn up for these auditions and that she should not be playing the race card. I think the casting director was doing his job right by trying to get the hired extras to look the part as portrayed in the books. The independent contractor should not have been sacked and he should be re-instated without loss of pay. He was being realistic in holding auditions for extras and should never have lost his job because some woman who was unsuccessful for the right reasons played the race card that other unsuccessful people with light skin tones were unable to play. Let common sense prevail, like the 48 commentators have already posted, and give the casting director his job back. Naz Humphreys - get a life, you silly woman.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mood of the holiday.

I am on holiday at the moment and I have been off-work since last Tuesday. All our staff have to take their annual holiday allocation before the end of December. I will return to work on Monday 6th of December and have been spending my time at home. We do not have sufficient money to afford to go away on another foreign holiday this year. So we have been pottering about locally and treating ourselves to many a pub lunch.

The snowfall here in Cardiff is extremely light and has not hindered people getting around. It is nice for me to be able to take Barney, our little pet dog, for a fair walk everyday. He will get a shock when I go back to work and his walking will be reduced.

I have spent some time on the internet but nothing has really rocked my boat. The reason for the absence of blog posts is that I am finding all the news stories across the net rather boring. I have not found anything that I really want to comment on - this is not a case of writers' block, more a disillusionment with the stories that I find on the web. Looking at all the newspaper websites makes me seriously wonder how they stay in business.

Gail has been getting her fill of television and spending more time with her at home has given me the chance to discover what rubbish she watches whilst I am at work! No wonder she has a magazine on her lap whilst the television is playing. She reads her magazines and completes her puzzles whilst some very low rate television is being broadcast. Women claim that they can multi-task but what they really do is watch rubbish television and do something better at the same time, like reading a magazine or completing a puzzle. The television she chooses to watch on a evening is no better - real dumbing down stuff, I have a brain - get me out of here!

Still, plenty of rest and time for reflection. Where have the years gone? It is now 20 years since I first met Gail outside Cardiff Castle. Times and society have moved on a lot in 20 years. We all get wiser as we get older and some things we have missed out on. We realise that the world is not one of opportunity but one of gradual social evolution as society grinds forward. It is no use thinking of all those what if's and could have been's. Each person is only a speck on this planet and their lives are just a tiny fraction of time in history.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ghostheart by R. J. Ellory .

Meet Annie O'Neill, she is 30 years old, single and runs a bookstore in Manhattan. A stranger walks into her shop and claims to know her father, who has been dead for 20 years. That is how Ghostheart starts and then the story unfolds. Ghostheart is a very clever story that has small pieces of information that taunt the reader. The story builds steadily and gives you suspicions as to the outcome. Ghostheart is very well thought out and it's beauty is that the details fit like clockwork. There are no loose ends in this novel and it's structure is quite mathematical, almost like a spreadsheet. You discover as you read through this book the mystery behind Annie's father. The joy of this book is how it draws you in and it is impossible not to think about what will happen next. Ghostheart is not a book to wash over you, it turns you into a spotter.

R. J. Ellory writes a colourful and observational tale of how people mix with each other in our cities. Other than the basic story surrounding the life of Annie's father, Ghostheart explores really well the loneliness of city life. How people can live in a densely packed area, yet lack the human contact of those strangers that they pass. However, there can be those lovely special moments when strangers cross paths, nothing happens but they wonder what might have happened had they not walked away, never to meet again. Could that glance shared with a stranger be something special, that could have turned into meeting your soul-mate in that vast sea of humanity? Ghostheart gives a very good observation of city life and the plight of single, lonely people.

The mystery surrounding the life of Annie's father, brings the reader into contact with the darker, criminal side of life, the underbelly of our cities. On page 379 I felt very sad for Annie as there is a very emotional scene, that really pulled at my heart strings. I felt great sadness for Annie as this appeared to be almost the end of this novel. I thought that the end of this novel would be really sad but there was one detail that had yet to be resolved. This detail had been known to the reader from very early on in this novel and it's explanation brought a lift to the end of this dramatic story.

I really enjoyed reading Ghostheart and I shall vote it the maximum score of 5 stars on book army . I can really recommend this mystery thriller that has 390 pages and was written in 2004. It was published in paperback in 2005 and reissued in 2008 - a good move by the publisher because this book is so good and some people may have missed it, earlier in the shops.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shock news: Over 30 women walk together in silence!

Well, we all know how women love to chat to each other like a gaggle of geese. These women chat ten to the dozen and tend not to walk very far. But over in Jerusalem today over 30 Israeli, Palestinian, and Druze women took part in a silent walking meditation dedicated to bringing rain to the area. Women came out to the Haas Promenade in Jerusalem with umbrellas for the walk.

A silent walking meditation with over 30 women! That's different! Click the link above to view the photographs. Amidst the stalled peace negotiations and continuous regional turmoil, Israelis and Palestinians are uniting around the need for rain in the region, with groups gathering to pray for a wet winter. Forecasters have predicted drier than average winter months – December through February – and expect precipitation to fall below the 30-year average. "We use the term 'a little below average,' but it could be more than 20 percent below average," said Dr. Henia Berkovich, Director of the Israeli Meteorological Service.

As an Atheist, I think it is silly that these women are praying for rain. You have to harvest your rainfall by building more reservoirs and save water by stopping leaks. Meeting in prayer is nothing more than wishful thinking and will not get the job done. Earlier in the month, Jewish and Muslim worshippers gathered near a water spring in the West Bank village of Walajeh to pray for rain. A lot of good that multi-faith prayer meeting will have done!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The changing face of Britain.

White British people will be a minority in their own country by 2066 if current immigration levels continue, a population expert has claimed. Professor David Coleman, of Oxford University, said the demographic group would make up less than half the population in "little more" than 50 years. Referring to white British people becoming a minority, the population expert added: "The 50% benchmark has no special demographic significance, but it would have a considerable psychological and political impact. The transition to a 'majority minority' population, whenever it happens, would represent an enormous change to national identity - cultural, political, economic and religious. In Britain, judging by the opposition to high immigration reported in opinion polls over recent years, it seems likely that such developments would be unwelcome."

...Well, 2066 - that will be beyond my lifetime, unless I live until I am 108 years old! Of course this opinion by Professor David Coleman, of Oxford University will wind up an awful lot of people. People who think that being British is having white skin. National identity is gained from living in a country, living in a way that the population does. National identity is not gained from skin colour but from living and working every day in that country. I was at first very surprised to hear one person claiming to be a "Black Welsh person". That description made no sense at all to me, a white skinned Englishman living in Wales. I do not think of myself as Welsh, although I have lived here in Cardiff since 1991. I do not even think of myself as English any more because of how diverse our society has become. I am just Stephen and I live in Cardiff. I do not notice people's skin colour because I see so many different shades in my day job. Looking at the passengers sat on my coach, less than half could be white skinned. I do not know because it does not bother me and I have never counted! Even if less than half of the passengers are white skinned it will not bother me, I will be happy to have a job and drive a coach for the black man.

I am just a person, a law abiding and tax paying person. I was born with white skin and it is no big deal. What I find rather sad is black skinned people who declare that they are Black British or Black Welsh. No mate, you are hopefully a council tax payer and should leave your skin colour out of your declaration. So, get over it every one - it is only skin colour and not how people live in our diverse society, part of a country we should be proud of as residents. Mind you, I think it is silly people getting fake tans or using sunbeds - what is the point?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting it right, on the first take.

Over on Presenting Lenore she writes about books that we have to read twice (or more) to really get into. "I think a book is fundamentally flawed if you have to read it twice before you can really get into it."

I agree with Lenore on this issue. An author's job is to communicate with the reader and if you can't enjoy the story fully and really get into it on the first read, then both the author and the book are failures. You should only need to read a book the once. Good authors publish good books that hook you in from the first page, you should never have to go back. It is sad that some readers make excuses for bad books by saying that you need to read it twice to really get into it! If a book is bad then you should read it until the end and then write a review on your blog explaining why that book is so bad. Never give a rubbish book a second chance, you have been disappointed once, don't give that bad author another chance to disappoint you. Read a book once and then move on, because there are plenty of other books to choose from in the bookstore.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Barking up the tree .

Over on Nothing To Do With Arbroath he posts a story about a Jack Russell terrier . Well, we have a crossbreed terrier dog called Barney, his father was a Lakeland Terrier and his mother a Jack Russell Terrier. Barney loves to chase cats and can bark rather loudly. But this Jack Russell terrier will even scare away rather large cats, like a cougar, up a tree! All Jack Russells will guard their patch, no matter what!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Using it while it lasts!

Back to work this afternoon driving my coach up to London along the M4 motorway. Between Junctions 3 and 2 going towards London there is at the moment a bus lane , that I use every time I drive my coach. Sadly our recently elected Tory government has decided to abolish this bus lane from the 24th December. That will be a sad day for all bus, coach and taxi passengers. This 3.5-mile bus lane was created by John Prescott in 1999 and has worked really well for the last 11 years. Our government should leave well, well alone. But Tories being Tories, they think that the motor car is king and that only poor Labour voters travel on public transport.

At the moment journey times for people using public transport going into London along the M4 motorway are reduced because of this bus lane. This is because the M4 motorway narrows from 3 lanes into 2 lanes just before the Brentford flyover and cars can start queueing back due to the sheer volume of traffic. Of course you can get far more people on a coach compared to the number of people into cars for the same amount of road space, so having a bus lane is a rather democratic use of the infrastructure. Without the bus lane you are still going to have tailbacks simply because the motorway narrows from 3 lanes into 2. All the closure of this bus lane will achieve is that the tailback queue will occur in 3 lanes rather than 2 simply because of the volume of traffic. Journey times may be reduced by mere seconds for the many car drivers impatient to get into London. Journey times for environmentally friendly public transport users will be extended by many minutes, especially at peak times.

So, when this bus lane is closed, I will revert to what I used to do before it was created in 1999. By the time I get as far Junction 3, I will position my coach in the driving lane, that is lane number 1. I will drive in that lane until the end of the motorway, I will not pull into lane number 2 to overtake a slower moving vehicle. The reason for this comes from my experience of driving along this section of the M4 motorway before the bus lane was created. Cars drivers are really impatient to get into London and will race towards the end. These drivers are going for it and they must get in front at all costs. Drivers in lanes 2 and 3 are racing for position, with insufficient gaps between them. One driver breaks and the following drivers follow suit, most of the time as they race towards the Brentford flyover. But very often they pay the price for driving too fast and too close. BANG! they crash into each other as more experienced and professional drivers go sedately past in lane number 1 shaking their heads. That is why I will drive along in lane number 1, for my own comfort and safety. I have seen so many tail-gated accidents in lanes 2 and 3 over the years to know that lane number 1 is best practice.

I will use the M4 bus lane until it is closed although we always have the same problem at the end. Lane number 2 merges into the bus lane from the left, the merge distance is huge. However, car drivers MUST get in front of the coach at all costs because they are successful people in their shiny cars. I look in my mirrors and there is a huge empty gap behind my coach for these car drivers to very safely slot into. But what do these selfish, arrogant car drivers do? Oh yes, they force their way straight into the front of my coach because they MUST get in front, nomatter what. This not just happens to me, it happens to all coach drivers on this section of motorway. I look a long way in front of me and I witness that the coach driver a long way in front is experiencing the same aggression imposed against him by car drivers that I will find moments later. Still, from 24th December it will be lane 1 for me, with a nice big empty gap in front of me as I watch the car drivers in lanes 2 and 3 charge into their next accident.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gail joins another quasi-religion .

Oh! the pounds have piled on and my wife Gail has started yet another diet. Gail has always been obese and has been on numerous diets in the 20 years that I have known her. Gail loves her food, a joy we both share. However, Gail simply eats too much, she finds it very hard to resist food.

She used to be a member of Slimming World and used to attend the weekly meetings with her friend Deborah. She did loose a bit of weight but nothing much. She would go to the meetings and talk about food at great length. Gail and Deborah would chant the Slimming World message with a religious zeal. Gail's weight would float up and down, giving me the impression that she was on a yo-yo diet. It was then that I began to understand the psychology behind these diet clubs.

I have written before on this blog about the religious impulse and it was obvious to me that Gail and Deborah were responding to the message and doctrines of the Slimming World in the same way that members of established faiths worship their chosen god each week. I am an Atheist and I do not believe in a god. I do believe that everyone should have a free choice in what they want to believe and their right to change their religion. I also do not believe in the many diet clubs doing business. I think these diet clubs are conning their members in their dream of a slimmer figure. People eat just what they want to and in the portions they desire. You are simply what you eat. Following a fashionable diet and singing the company song will not guarantee a slimmer figure, especially if you enjoy your food.

After a long time of yo-yo dieting whilst being members of Slimming World, Gail and Deborah decided to stop going to the weekly meetings and do-it-on-their-own. Slowly the pounds went back on and Gail decided to try a diet club again to get her "back on track". In a way she had decided that she had lost her faith and wished to get closer to her god. Only this time she thought she would change her denomination and join a diet club with a more favourable liturgy.

Many years ago Gail was a member of WeightWatchers and whilst attending their weekly meetings she lost a total of about 7 stones. She decided to give WeightWatchers another go and women always like to go with a friend or as they call them in diet clubs, a diet buddy. Deborah was not interested in going back to a diet club but Trisha was up for it.

Gail and Trisha went along to WeightWatchers on Monday night for their first diet club meeting. WeightWatchers have just launched their new diet called ProPoints and it is very different to their old diet that was simply called Points.

Well the buzz that Gail and Trisha had on Monday was amazing to witness. This whole new ProPoints diet had them both really excited with a religious zeal as they worshipped their god with the updated liturgy. They both embraced this new-found quasi-religion as born-again dieters. They both seemed very happy with this new diet as they studied the handbook with the zeal of religious scholars.

I do not have any faith in their diet as I know Gail and her love of food very well. I view the cost of these diet club meetings as an entertainment expenditure that we can afford and I know that Gail gets a lot socially from these meetings with other gossiping women. I would rather she wasted our money paying to be a member of a diet club than spending it on that brain-numbing popular gambling game called bingo. Sadly since Deborah left the faith of the diet club, she now attends bingo as a weekly treat.

Gail is very happy with her new-found quasi-religion, it gives her a lot to think about. The WeightWatchers handbooks give her a lot to study in the search of her dreams. Still, time will tell and it the meantime it is a relatively cheap trip out on an evening. I believe that all diet clubs are quasi-religions, which coupled with the religious impulse makes them such profitable and successful businesses.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The art of letter writing, by Gordon Ramsay.

Gordon Ramsay appears quite often on television doing programmes about food and restaurants. His manner on television can be rather brash with him swearing loudly at people. One day I saw him on television but not on one of his own programmes, he was door-stepped by another programme maker and his response was very polite, articulate, professional and Gordon appeared to be an absolute gentleman. Ah! I thought, the loud mouthed swearing Gordon was his rough television image, cultured to nurture a brand and bring in the viewers. It was obvious to me that the off-screen Gordon can be articulate and very intelligent.

He wrote an open letter to his mother in law, trying to resolve the family dispute that was upsetting Gordon, his wife Tana and their four children. This letter is very well written and demonstrates that Gordon clearly has the art of letter writing. His use of words and the structure of his letter is outstanding. I think that he has pitched his letter to his Mother in Law just right. In particular where Gordon writes...

Listening to Tana in floods of tears reading your letter from you asking that she stays away from her family is so awfully wrong... I know how hard this must be for you Greta, and I'm not expecting a birthday card today, but your punishing your daughter and our four children, for all the wrong reasons, it's so sad. She's an amazing woman and you've been a fantastic mum – please don't stop!

Lots of love, Gordon

...The ending of "you've been a fantastic mum – please don't stop!" really seals the letter in such a lovely and forgiving way that I feel Greta must put the past behind her and return to being a loving, involved and active mother and grandmother. People do fall out in the world of business but family is family and Greta should resume normal family life with Gordon, Tana and their four children. Gordon has written a lovely letter and he has won me over. I wonder how long it will be before Greta changes her mind and realizes her mistake at breaking off contact with the rest of the family?

Of course, some people are intelligent and can realize that they have made a mistake. But then again, Greta does not live in Port Talbot and I am sure she is not semi-literate like someone I can think of!

The letter in full

Dear Mother in Law,

This has to be one of the most painful letters I've ever had to write. Listening to Tana in floods of tears reading your letter from you asking that she stays away from her family is so awfully wrong. Removing my father in law from my business has been the hardest and most important decision in my entire life. For a decade, his manipulation and controlling of so many lives has finally come to an end.

Chris recently suggested my mood swings were down to involvement with drugs; my god did that hurt. How dare he ever suggest this on the back of my frustration and dealings with my younger brother and his addiction.

To curb my suspicions, I employed a private detective and the situation started to unravel very quickly. The very complex life that Chris leads, has seen many of my key staff feeling they have had to cover on his behalf. His away days were rarely what I thought they were. But beyond that, one of my biggest concerns was the business: signing huge contracts in my name and furthermore discovering emails were being looked at.

The office became stifled and the air of relief at Gordon Ramsay Holdings, knowing that we don't need to pretend any longer, is a breath of fresh air. Three weeks ago today when I met with my team to explain the situation, you could instantly see the relief and joy on their faces. His role as CEO of Gordon Ramsay holdings in the end felt like he was running the business as a dictator.

My relationship with my chefs has been, and always will be, amazing. To see them, as individuals chefs, flourish and having now made their way to some of the most prominent chefs in the country, gives me nothing but pride and joy. The creative chefs we turned into partners, the harder they worked, the more profit they generated, but when they requested a share of the profits, their departure was seemingly imminent, something I wasn't comfortable with.

I know how hard this must be for you Greta, and I'm not expecting a birthday card today, but your punishing your daughter and our four children, for all the wrong reasons, it's so sad. She's an amazing woman and you've been a fantastic mum – please don't stop!

Lots of love, Gordon

Monday, November 08, 2010

Beats volleyball!

There are many, many games played on beaches all around the world by tourists. Some games are better than others to play and to watch. Rather tame is playing and watching volleyball with all those bodies bouncing up and down. Of more obvious interest to the more adventurous tourists is the games being played in the southern French town of Cap d'Agde where naturists interviewed by journalists spoke of witnessing orgies, voyeurism, fellatio, genitals being "waved in people's faces" and people being tied to signposts and whipped.

...Well, people being tied to signposts and whipped sounds like fun to me! A nice game played by consenting adults, which will surely bring a smile to passing tourists. Makes Blackpool look very old fashioned!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk .

It is a perfect spring day in Istanbul. Kemal, a wealthy heir, is about to become engaged to the aristocratic Sibel when he encounters Fusun, a beautiful shopgirl. He falls in love and finds his established world of westernised families, opulent parties, society gossip and dining-room rituals is shattered.

The Museum of Innocence is a love story that was written in the first person singular. It is not sentimental or girly but a love story from a bloke's point of view. It is very easy for men to relate to Kemal as this book explores the nature of love and how memories can be remembered through the collection of objects. Orhan really explains through this novel just how men fall in love and what the connection to their mate means as part of their life. He tells how being a part of a relationship is so very different to all other friendships. Also how spending quality time with the one you love brings true happiness. The Museum of Innocence is a long story at 728 pages, which was published in 2009 but it's length is not due to padding. It is a long novel so that the reader gains a full perspective to Kemal's story. There are two sad but very emotional endings and nothing is left unresolved.

The Museum of Innocence is full of local colour and you feel a part of this novel and the families involved. Orhan explains Turkish culture really well. On page 446 Orhan writes...

Conservative newspapers like Milli Gazete, Tercuman and Hergun were forever fulminating against New Year's Eve, which, thanks to tombala, the National Lottery, all this card playing, and the ubiquitous promotions for restaurants and nightclubs, was slowly turning into an orgy of drinking and gambling. When some rich Muslim families in Sisli and Nisantasi began buying pine trees to decorate and display in windows the way Christians did in films, I remember that even my mother felt uneasy, but because these were people she knew, she refrained from calling them "degenerates" or "infidels" as the religious press would, dismissing them rather as "harebrained."

...I really enjoyed reading this book, it is a quality read and deserves top marks. When you read this book you can understand just why Orhan Pamuk won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. I will vote the Museum of Innocence the top mark of 5 stars on Book Army because I can't find a fault with this book. This novel was translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely. It is such a good translation that it makes you think those are Orhan's words and that English is his first language. The text employs a huge vocabulary with very expressive and precise words. This is not a Janet and John book! When you finish reading this novel you feel as though you have lived with Kemal in Istanbul for over 30 years.

Tesekkur ederim.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Yemen Printer Toner Cartridges .

Looking for a new printer toner cartridge for your office? Well consider the new range of Yemen Printer Toner Cartridges . Our new range of budget price toner cartridges come with free postage and packing via secure air courier. When using our highly advanced and innovative Yemen Printer Toner Cartridges , your office printing will go off with a bang! You will be so happy with your choice of Yemen Printer Toner Cartridges that you will never buy another from your over-priced office supplier.

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