Monday, June 25, 2007

Ooh! Fancybags!

The Dior Golf Bag in all it's glory

Manufacturers and advertisers are in the business of making us buy things - and they use many techniques to get the average person to relent and purchase. One of these is the fake-tech factor, i.e. making something mundane seem mega exciting and revolutionary. I mention this because I recently realised I needed a new golf bag. Partly because the handle on my trusty white and red Slazenger bag gave way during a recent round (almost spilling my clubs on the fairway*), and partly because I was watching a 1987 rerun of Bullseye on FTN and one of the rewards behind Bully's Prize Board (I think it was iiiiiiiiin five) was a set of golf clubs in a familiar-looking white and red bag. Given that one of the other prizes was a Sega Master System, I think my bag had passed cutting-edge status many years ago.

So time for a change then, and as with every other shopping decision I make (bar shuffling around Waitrose looking for the cheap stuff), it was time to go online and see what was new in the world of golf bag technology. Firstly, I seemed to be old-fashioned in the view that they are just a place to chuck your clubs and lug them from one poor shot to another. These days they are precision engineered pieces of sporting equipment, designed to give you that edge over the elements and the competition. The possibilities are endless - combinations of pockets, straps, dividers, whether you want a stand bag or a cart bag, single support or double support, which manufacturer you want to go with, and of course the all important factor - the colour. Not so many white and red designs out there at the moment, and Slazenger don't seem to do bags anymore (maybe the humiliation of being a Bullseye prize got to them).

The Lynx Parallax bag gives itself away immediately, with "...Thermoformed handles for manoeuvrability, particularly when getting the Lynx Parallax in and out of the car." (a touch on the heavy side?) - but it does have an internal pencil holder. Also in the Lynx range is the Prowler, which sports an "Exterior thermoformed plastic tee peg holder and unique golf ball holder." - so pencil on the inside, or tee peg on the outside? It's the perennial golfer's dilemma. The official Lynx website describes it as having a "fur-lined valuables pouch". Seeing as the European Lynx is almost extinct, I was pleased to find out later that the 'fur' is actually velour, as used to make the uniforms from Star Trek (I looked that up - I may be blogging about golf accessories, but I'm not that sad).

At the top end of the range (one for the golf pun enthusiasts there), you have the stunning Christian Dior argyle golf bag (pictured above), desribed on the website I saw as "...the perfect addition to any chic-going golfing gal." A snip, at US $1,679. You'd have to be one seriously brave golfer to take that out to the municipal courses of East Lothian, I can tell you, gal or no gal. Other fashion designers have created similar models, and there are a few all-leather bags out there (100% American Steer, apparently) - but as the authentic manufacturer's products can slip into the three-figure price range, you can get a 'luxury' bag from a bona fide golfing make. The Ping T9.5, for example, as used by "golfers who want to leave little doubt as to their brand allegiance" (i.e. PING is written in enormous writing on the side of it).

Cupholders sell cars, and they also sell golf bags. The brilliantly named Ping Hoofer Vantage has an "...insulated pocket that keeps water and other refreshments cool during a round." (as well as a 'durable velour soft cover to help prevent shaft scratches'). I wonder what they can mean by 'other refreshments'? A quick glance in the tee-side bins at our usual golf course answers that question - and bags such as the Cold Fury II cater for that type of golfer - it has "...two detachable 6-pack cooler pockets". Highly tempting - but then so is the "Custom logo bottom ball pocket [zip-off]" on the Callaway X-Series, and the mobile phone charging ability of the Soldius Solar Powered Golf Bag.

In the end, it came down to one of two choices. The TaylorMade Mag F1 Bag comes with "...840 Denier Ballistic Nylon with polyurethane carbon fiber accents, a 14 way spoke and rim club organizer, a racing harness strap system with TaylorMade metal medallion, 14 way spoke and rim club organizer, and louver expansion pocket with Neoprene gussets. The Mag F1 also comes with TaylorMade silicone logo’d pocket pull tabs, TaylorMade sonic weld logo applications, and "T" Icon wire mesh logo applique." Hmmm. Choice B was the aformentioned Lynx Prowler - and not just because it "...provides many benefits to the gofler who likes to carry their golf clubs, but in comfort." Also not because of the 'carabineer towel ring', or the 'padded dual shoulder strap system'. No, let's face it - I'm a sucker for velour (but who isn't?). So it had to be the Lynx Prowler...

*I was walking over the fairway from one patch of rough to another.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Roll over Beethoven...

Dangermouse and Penfold in action

I was flicking through the paper today when I half saw an article featuring a picture of comedian Peter Kay and Leonardo da Vinci - not a double act you see very often. Turns out it was about a recent Arts Awards survey, which asked several thousand people to name their 'heroes in the arts'. As it happened the Bolton funnyman polled fifth, whilst the Renaissance decorator came out on top. You can imagine the teeth-gnashing in the broadsheets. "Banksy above Picasso? Walt Disney above Jane Austen?" Even more so with the shock absence of Shakespeare, Dickens and Michaelangelo. The overall top ten arts heroes were revealed as: -

1 Leonardo da Vinci
2 Bob Dylan
3 Andy Warhol
4 Walt Disney
5 Peter Kay
6 Jane Austen
7 Banksy
8 Bob Marley
9 Nick Park
10 Picasso

Good to see a fellow Prestonian in the top list there (Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit; freeman of the city). Of course, this is such a colossally pointless exercise. I'm not sure what the constraints were, but everyone has different personal definitions of 'hero'; and 'art' for that matter. I happen to believe Leonardo was a genius, a true legendary figure in human history. But he's not a hero of mine. I also think Peter Kay is a genius (and I wonder what he makes of an appearance in the top five?), but he's not a 'hero of the arts' either. So what would be my top ten? Bearing in mind Hero is described as "a person who is admired or idealised for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities...", and as a youngster growing up, my heroes wouldn't be playwrights or painters. So here are my own personal Heroes in the Arts...

Sir David Attenborough
At the top of any list of heroes, this man is a national treasure. Legendary naturalist and broadcaster, he changed the face of nature television and documentary making, and is still going aged 81. His new series, Life in Cold Blood, covers reptiles and amphibians and will once again be required viewing for anybody with an interest in the world around us. I hope it's many, many years from now - but when his time comes - a national day of mourning far more deserved than any vacuous royal should be given for him.

Boba Fett
Tough for me to include 10 heroes from the arts, and only one from the Star Wars films. As I went on about recently, they defined my childhood - and Boba Fett was the man. He came to an unfortunate end in the Sarlacc Pit, but before then he calmly stood in the shadows and watched, he never spoke, everybody feared him, and he could fire rockets from his elbows. He managed to capture the second coolest man in space (Han Solo), for crying out loud. And he could fly. Charging around the playground at Queen's Drive junior back in the mid-80's, I wasn't pretending to be Luke Skywalker.

The A Team
The greatest television show ever, bar none. With a moral message about teamwork and respect repeatedly rammed home every Saturday afternoon, the fantastic foursome dominated weekends for youngsters everywhere. Family-friendly, with catastrophic gunfights, car crashes, and even plane crashes causing occupants to stagger out, slightly limping, the A Team always came to the rescue of the little guy. Every episode was essentially the same - downtrodden locals, rich evil man with M-16 toting goons, a pretty girl for Face to get off with, Murdoch annoying Mr T, a mechanical montage, Hannibal in 'disguise' - "who let this one-eyed tinker past the guards?", someone being thrown through a window, and the plan always coming together.*

Hal and Roger Hunt
Not just television on my list of course - from the field of literature come the Hunt brothers, stars of Willard Price's 'Adventure' series of novels. Think the Hardy Boys with animals. No preppy New England crimefighting here, the Hunts travelled the world catching animals for their father's Long Island zoo (Price wrote most of them in the 1950's and 60's). Each was disctinctly titled - Amazon Adventure, South Sea Adventure, Volcano Adventure. Featuring suspect natives, cannibals, and even an entire book about whaling, they might not be PC these days, but for a ten year old boy there's little better.

Terry Nutkins
Missing out on the black and white era of children's TV, I never saw Johnny Morris do his thing - but our generation had a more than adequate replacement. He didn't transpose comic voices onto animals, as that sort of thing didn't wash in the more cynical 1980's. Instead, Terry Nutkins presented countless kid's wildlife shows by sitting in a studio gamely clinging to whatever it was he was talking about. Whether it was a goose, a cheetah cub, or a Amazonian pangolin, he'd be grappling with it as the thing tried to bolt for the shadows, yet at the same time reeling off all kinds of facts. He had extra gravitas as he only had 8 fingers, having lost two to a rogue otter some years before. Respect, Terry.

Gary Chalk
More literary heroes here, and an artist in my list. Not Picasso or Warhol, but a man who started out drawing black and white pictures for an obscure series of adventure books. The Lone Wolf series of what are sometimes described as 'choose your own' adventures, first came to our attention in 1984 with Flight from the Dark. The books, where you go through the story by making decisions and turning to the appropriate page to continue, are non-existant now - but were huge back then - Flight from the Dark sold 100,000 copies in it's first month of release. Written by Joe Dever, the fantastic pictures were drawn by Gary Chalk, and my Dad used to read them out to my brother and me, and we would bicker about what we should do next. It's one of my fondest childhood memories, and Chalk's illustrations brought it all to life.

Tony from Bullseye
Recently voted the 11th most important Tony in British history (I kid you not, he finished between Tony Benn and Tony Hart), Tony Green was - and still is - the voice of Bullseye. The second part of the most ultimate Saturday night lineup ever, on right after the A-Team, Bullseye is of course the seminal darts-related gameshow. Jim Bowen was the host and drole miserablist (and my Dad can tell a story about him that would be libellous if I were to repeat it here), so Tony the scorer was the ray of light. How much of a hero was he? Just read his catchphrases, as listed on his Wikipedia entry..."It's a Bullseye! And here's your host, Jiiiim Bowen" "OK, Take your time. Nice and easy. Nice and easy..." "Iiiiiiiin one" "Ohhhhhh... that's the gamble I'm afraid." "Best o'luck." "...and Bully's special prize..." "One Hundred and Eiiiighhtyyy"

Gordon the Gopher
Possibly stretching the definition of the word hero here, but I would say Gordon the Gopher was admired for his noble qualities. He didn't have much courage, admittedly - especially that famous clip of him being menaced by a puppy, which still has me in stitches when I see it. If you have no idea what I'm on about, Gordon was a puppet gopher used as a sidekick to children's TV host Phillip Schofield in the BBC broom cupboard, many years ago. He wore a leather jacket, squeaked a lot, and generally ruled the roost. Replaced cruelly by Edd the Duck, he will never be forgotten. Bizarrely, Schofield claimed in an interview that Gordon had recently become an alcoholic, and died in a ram-raiding accident.

The pixellated Daley Thompson
Not the man himself - the UK's most celebrated Olympic decathlete - but the videogame he fronted, the legendary Daley Thompson's Decathlon. Today computer games are a more respected artistic medium (or they are if you are under a certain age), so it's only right to include them in my list. But why Daley instead of Sonic or Mario or Donkey Kong? Well, for a start he was a real person. Secondly, I only ever played the game at the Blackpool arcades. The yellow-topped ball joystick was great fun to waggle (as it were), sending the blocky decathlete pinging down the longjump pit, or wherever. Looking back, the game was utter rubbish (they even got his skintone wrong, portraying him as being caucasian), but since when did things being crap stop them from being a hero?

Penfold from Dangermouse
...which brings us nicely to the final entry, and the most fantastic cartoon character ever. Dangermouse was simply brilliant, and yet his sidekick Penfold stole every scene he was in. A short-sighted hamster, always turned out in a blue suit and stripey tie, Penfold bumbled along with the dashing Dangermouse on his adventures. In every episode, he would get into trouble (usually just as DM was about to solve the case), and have to be rescued. Perfectly voiced by Terry Scott, his "Crumbs!" catchphrase summed him up perfectly. As much as I enjoy watching the escapades of Homer, Cartman, Stewie, Bender and so-on, Penfold took my heart a long time ago. He truly is a hero from the arts.

*The one where the A-Team are holed up in a barn and cobble together a steam-powered cabbage bazooka is possibly the greatest single television episode ever.

Disney ousts Dickens in Arts Hero survey
Daley Thompson's Decathlon
Gary Chalk's Official website
Flight from the Dark cover art
YouTube clip of Gordon the Gopher's mauling

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A part-time job offer?

They can't help themselves....

Dear Sir/Madam,

My Name is John Spelling I just came about your email address and your brief profile through an email listing affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce and I would be very interested in offering you a part-time paying job in which you could earn alot.

Well, who wouldn't want to earn alot? When this email popped into my inbox the other day it certainly made me think. Mostly about how I seem to have become affiliated to the US Chamber of Commerce. I did walk past it last year when I was wandering around in Washington - maybe that's all it takes. Anyway - let's listen to what Mr Spelling has to say...

I just resigned my job as a research scientist for WFD (Winterwood Farms Ltd) but I still work as a freelance consultant for the institute which gives me very much time to do my own work which is basically being a freelance researcher who could be employed by research institutes to do research projects anywhere in the world.

So he's into research, then. Am I being invited to join his crack team of researchers, ready to respond when a giant letter R is beamed on the clouds? What would be my special power as a SuperResearcher? Maybe a propelling pencil that never ran out, or something.


Presently, I have just been granted a funding to head a research project in the tropical regions of West Africa regarding rare and vulnerable plant species and this would be commencing very soon.

Plants? Oh, Ok. I did a bit of basic botany when I was a student - leaves, roots, xylem, phloem, and soforth. And West Africa? Well, fair enough - I suppose the majority of botanical expeditions for vulnerable plants would be in tropical places out of the way somewhere. This is quite conceivable, really.

However my funding were by my American counterparts which sent me the bunch of payments mostly in US and Canadian based check.


So presently, assuming you would be able to deal with cash, I would be willing to employ you on contract basis to be my payment representative back in the states, this way I could issue and make these money orders out to you, you could then cash them easily, deduct 10% of the total amount on these money orders as your commission and then send the rest back to me through Western Union wire transfer.

Yes, I am able to deal with cash (on rare occasions when my wallet is filled with anything other than old bus tickets). But I'm not in the States! Oh, the misfortune. The US Chamber of Commerce's database can't be that accurate then. But he's very trusting, is Mr Spelling - he'd like to make out money orders for the full amount for his threatened shrubs, then have faith I'd only deduct 10% before wiring him the rest (or indeed any of it). Don't forget, he's in a West African jungle, and he thinks I live in the US...


10% from each operation! For instance: If you receive 9000 USD via cheques or money orders on our behalf. You will cash the money and keep $900 (10% from $9000) for yourself! At the beginning your commission will be 10%, though later it might increase up to 12%!

Oooh! See that 12% casually tossed in there, like a juicy baited hook. Why, 12% of $9000 than 10%! Maths really isn't my strongpoint. Maybe that's why I got this email. Notice at no point has Mr Spelling mentioned just what the heck he's doing with these rare plants to make such large (and oddly 'plucked from the air' sums of money). Will they become even rarer? What about the West Africans? I bet he's not even conducted a basic environmental impact assessment. But you've got to watch out for these fly-by-night botanical researchers.


You do not have to go out as you will work as an independent contractor right from your home office. Your job is absolutely legal.

But could I earn more if it wasn't?

You can earn up to $9000-12000 monthly depending on time you will spend for this job. You do not need any capital to start. The employees who make efforts and work hard have a strong possibility to become managers. Anyway our employees never leave us.

There's six words to sooth any nervous would-be employee. I've seen enough episodes of the Sopranos to know what that means - New Jersey landfill here I come. But as a committed follower of all things natural worldy, of course I'd work hard - so if my lesser performing coworkers suddenly stopped appearing, hey - more vulnerable plants for me. Woohoo!


18 years or older, legally capable responsible ready to work 3-4 hours per week. With PC knowledge e-mail and internet experience (minimal)

I think most people who know me realise I passed the minimal internet experience standard a loooong time ago. Although I do have a Mac rather than a PC. I'd best not mention that in the interview. I am over 18 and legally responsible though. Go me!

And please know that everything is absolutely legal, that's why you have to fill a contract! If you are interested in our offer, please to reply. Mail directly to my personal email address...

I find emailed contracts are all the more legal. At this point, our would be Dr Livingstone supplies his email address and asks for my personal details, including my email address. Hmmm. But he sent me the email. I conducted my own research (it takes two to tango, Mr Spelling) - Winterwood Farms may well be interested in rare species, but they are in fact a fruit picking business based in Maidstone. Their director is called Terry - there are no John Spellings listed, or any 'research institutes' attached (although they do grow blueberries in Poland). Hmmm.

So after careful consideration Mr Spelling - I'll have to give your kind offer a miss. Unless you'd go up to 15%...?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Edinburgh's Views

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, without a doubt. Currently filling up with camera-toting tourists, there are plenty of things to click away at. Here are some photos I've taken over the years showing some of the best views you can find here. This is St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in the West End. Consecrated in 1879, it's tightly symmetrical three-spired shape is one of Edinburgh's many landmarks. It's also one of the few that isn't lit up at night, so it sits there looking Gothic and menacing. You get a tremendous view along Melville Street at dusk, when St Mary's is dramatically silhouetted - I walk past it every night and always look up.

You know Christmas is approaching when the big wheel is bolted together next to the Scott Monument. I've never actually been on it - I'm not quite sure why - but I suppose I should one day. It only takes a day or so to erect, and they always carefully hang a tarpaulin over the Princes Street pavement underneath to stop youthful riders plopping things onto passing pedestrians. It looks nicest illuminated, with other fareground-type attractions nearby, and the ubiquitous German Winter Market and ice-rink (which I avoid after my accident in Boston).

This is the best of all Edinburgh views, taken on a walk over the Bridges at the East End. Any time you get a colourful sunset, this is the place to stand. It's almost the same you get exiting Waverley station - I've seen people arrive in the city to this view and stand there gasping, or fumbling for their camera. On the far left is the spire of the original Parliament Building church, then the Bank of Scotland building, and then the castle sprawling down the hill. On the right is the Scott Monument with the Christmas ferris wheel, and in the foreground the glazed roof of the station.

The Meadows is the place to be on a sunny afternoon, there are times when you'd struggle to get a few square feet to yourself on this part. The large tenement flats of Warrender Park line up behind - I used to live to the left of this picture down the street a bit. Because of this I never went in our garden, we never needed to - a short frisbee throw away was this fantastic park. Very much the student area, I used to see them carrying sofas out of their flats and wandering to the Meadows for a hard day's drinking. There are signs up everywhere forbidding barbecues, but after a hot day there are always tell-tale scorchmarks on the grass.

The Dean Village in winter. It used to be a grain milling settlement along the banks of the Water of Leith (the name comes from 'Dene', meaning deep valley). I've written about this a few times, but it's a great part of the city few tourists find. We don't usually get much snow in Edinburgh as the central highlands and west coast get most of it, but when it arrives the Dean Village looks even more picturesque. The mills lasted here for over 800yrs, and the buildings still exist today, converted now to houses and fancy flats.

No prizes for guessing the most photographed building in the city. The castle dominates the landscape - I see it when I leave my flat in the morning, and I can still see it when I get to work several miles away (if I nick up to the top floor and stare out of the window). One of the UK's most popular tourist attractions, I think now it costs something like £13 to get in, so the National Trust Free Day last year - where all their historic buildings drop admission costs - had people queueing up in the hundreds to get in. Not me though, I went about 10yrs ago and spent the day there. It's a good day too, lots to see. But I prefer looking at it from the outside - and of all the many views, this is my favourite - straight up at the retaining walls, from the Grassmarket.