01 December 2008

All Quiet on the Dodo Front

Hello world! It's been quite some time since the last update from As A Dodo Towers but we can assure you that we haven't yet gone the way of all flesh (at least, not the last time we checked) and can still be found roaming the Dodo grounds, brushing dust off Yorick (the fully articulated skeleton in the hallway) and ensuring that the dodo stables and breeding centre are in tip-top condition.

In the meantime, readers might like to know that our erstwhile correspondent Hugo Kent has now had to flee the authorities returned to the role of foreign correspondent in the little-known, yet much-disliked, European land that is Albia. Should you wish to while away the - really rather long - time between Dodo Updates, we would invite you to pop over to www.messagefromalbia.com to catch up with events from a country "just like Britain ... but worse".

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10 September 2008

The World As We Know It c. 4,567,000,000BC - 2008AD


As we at As A Dodo board the speedy interstellar craft we knocked up in the potting shed this morning and prepare to launch ourselves towards a new life on a new planet, we wish to mourn The World As We Know It, which is expected to end at 7.30 GMT this morning, not with a whimper but with a mini-Big Bang, following the official start-up of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN(1))'s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

The World As We Know It was born when a large rotating cloud of dust, rocks and gas coalesced in the frozen wastes of space(2). It was just one of a family of nine planets, though sadly its smallest sibling Pluto, passed away in 2006 after a run in with a gang of astronomers hopped up on research grants and expense accounts.

A precocious child, it was not long before The World As We Know It was outshining its fellow planets, taking only half a billion years or so to develop life(3). Soon The World As We Know It was filled with more life than the six-month-old yoghurt in a student's fridge, while its brothers and sisters were either hanging around being gassy, dropping their magnetospheres at the first sight of the solar wind or, in the case of Venus, experimenting with lethal cocktails of sulphuric acid clouds, a greenhouse effect that would melt lead and the kind of crushing pressures normally only felt by teenage boys about to *gulp* go out on their first proper date.

It would be wrong to suggest that The World As We Know It didn't have its own ups and downs. In its youth it was a heavy smoker, indulging in major periods of vulcanism, it had numerous run-ins with gangs of marauding asteroids and, at the age of 3 billion, dabbled for a long time with vast amounts of snow - a practice still enjoyed today by many Groucho club regulars. Yet, despite all this, The World As We Know It managed to struggle on and life struggled along with it. Eventually - after numerous experiments with ediacara, early synapsids, dinosaurs and more bacteria than you could shake an enormously large and pointy stick at - The World As We Know It gave rise to humans.

In the brief span of their existence, humans were to give rise to many wonders. In the past they created the Great Pyramids, the works of Shakespeare and the music of Mozart. In more recent years they created Donald Trump's hair, Deal or No Deal and the Lindsay Lohan upskirt shot.

Yet it was by the hand of man that all these wondrous things, along with The World As We Know It, would be destroyed. As part of mankind(4)'s eternal quest for knowledge, he sought to plumb the darkest secrets of the universe, creating the 27-kilometre long LHC in attempt to validate the Standard Model of particle physics, reveal the nature of Dark Matter and perhaps even recreate a Higgs Boson, the so-called "God particle". Such hubris could not go unpunished.

Despite the warnings of some of the finest scientific minds(5) that the vast energies involved, as the LHC accelerated protons to near the speed of light and then smashed them together to see what they're made of, would create black holes capable of swallowing up The World As We Know It, the scientists at CERN insisted on pressing on, their only defence of their actions being years of painstaking scientific study, careful calculation and the belief that - in the words of Manchester University's Professor Brian Cox - "Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a twat". Thus it was that they prepared to doom The World As We Know It.

The end of The World As We Know it will be marked by the wailing of the Rapture Ready suddenly conscious that they have not been mysteriously spirited from the face of the Earth but rather that the Earth has suddenly been spirited from under their feet and a gleeful REM celebrating a sudden upsurge in iTunes sales.

(1) Yes, we know the acronym doesn't work but when everyone tried explaining that to the French they just shrugged their shoulders, said "Bouf" and took another puff on their Gitanes.
(2) By weird coincidence, if you omit the words "of space" from the previous sentence and add in "fundamentalist Christian beliefs, danger red lipstick and a sassy attitude" to the dust, rocks and gas, you pretty much have the origin of 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
(3) which arose either from the so-called "primordial soup" or through "Panspermia", which is the theory that the building blocks of life arrived from outer space and is wholly unrelated to what your elder brother used to do every time Pan's People came on Top of the Pops.
(4) or at least that part of mankind not wedded to the fatuous notion that all the answers are contained in a 2,000 year old book.
(5) by which we mean the same Daily Mail correspondents who insist on dividing everything in the universe into either a cause of or cure for cancer.

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12 June 2008

Magna Carta 1215-2008

The people of Great Britain are today willingly locking themselves up and throwing away the keys as they mark the death of Magna Carta, which passed away this week after being set upon in the Houses of Parliament.

Magna Carta, the eight-hundred-year-old document in which were enshrined some of the fundamental liberties of the people(1), was born in 1215, after the brooding, treacherous and incompetent King John got drunk on power one night and was accosted by a large group of rebellious barons whilst on his way to meddle with the forest law, increase scutage(2) and have one of those kebab things the crusaders kept banging on about. It was when the King awoke the following morning in a damp field in Surrey that he discovered that not only had he given birth to one of the earliest examples of constitutional law and sewn the tiny seed from which democracy might one day flower, he had also lost most of his power and inadvertently given Englishmen the right to equality under the law and not to be locked up without trial.

Given the circumstances of its birth, it is unsurprising that Magna Carta proved to be an unloved child. No sooner had it been born than its father attempted to disown it, even getting the Pope to annul large parts of it as "shameful and demeaning" and forced on the King by "violence and fear"(3). Yet despite this, Magna Carta refused to go unnoticed. Thanks to its provisions, for the first time a council was set up to represent the people of England (or at least as many of them as happened to be rich and powerful and have a significant body of knights to back them up) rather than merely to serve the King. It was Magna Carta that first granted the right to be tried by one's peers and insisted fines should be proportionate to the offence, as well as decreeing that only competent people should be appointed to ruling posts (a provision which sadly does not extend to the roles of England Football Manager, Heathrow baggage handler or successful candidate on The Apprentice).

As time passed, the popularity of Magna Carta was to grow. By the reign of Elizabeth I it was being hailed as the embodiment of ancient English liberties, by the time of her Stuart successors as an indispensable limitation upon the powers of the Crown and it was under Magna Carta's banner that Parliament was to seize power from Charles I. Indeed, so useful was it in overthrowing the country's leader that, upon becoming that leader himself, Oliver Cromwell immediately started slagging it off to anyone who would listen, memorably describing it as "Magna Farta".

Despite such attacks, Magna Carta fought on, travelling alongside the common law to all parts of the British Empire and influencing the laws of countries from America to Zambia and encouraging our Georgian and Victorian ancestors to proclaim the superiority and nobility of the British system, even as they sold people into slavery, nicked their land and exported assorted criminals to Australia, where their descendants would one day be responsible for giving us Neighbours and Home and Away in return.

Throughout the 20th Century (aside from a brief funny turn in the 1970s when the British Government decided to help the IRA recruitment drive by locking up without trial anyone in Belfast who pronounced "H" as "haitch" on suspicion of being a terrorist) Magna Carta was hailed as a hero. Yet heroes are not always universally popular(4). By the early Noughties, politicians in such enlightened countries as America, Britain and Zimbabwe found themselves publicly questioning Magna Carta's role. The aged document was said to be looking dowdy and old-fashioned, ill-fitted to a modern world where Presidents and Prime Ministers might need to lock people up in order to defeat terrorism/steal elections and/or look really tough in the pages of the tabloids and the bulletins of Fox News.

In America, Magna Carta found itself hooded, locked up and "questioned" without trial for giving succour to terrorists. In Zimbabwe it was quietly shot for giving succour to people who weren't Robert Mugabe. In the UK it staggered on, forced year by year to turn an ever more scarred cheek as its provisions were slowly whittled away by those whose job it was to defend it.

Just as it was born, so Magna Carta was to die. On 11 June 2008 an incompetent and much-disliked leader was to find himself locked in a room with a group of privileged people of negotiable morality eager to extract any concessions they could. Mere hours later, the body of Magna Carta was found bruised and bleeding its last on the floor of the House of Commons.

Magna Carta will be buried under several promises of knighthoods, the odd multi-million pound bribe, an "Ulster Says No" badge and a populace ever more eager to see their last freedoms destroyed in the name of an unwinnable and illogical "war on terror". It is survived - somewhat surprisingly - by former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.

(1) as well as not-so fundamental rights relating to the ability of widows to inherit fiefdoms, the duties of towns to build bridges and the like, and a complete ban on any member of the D'Athée family being made a royal official.
(2) a medieval tax, relating either to the right of a knight to buy himself out of feudal service or, possibly, to the use of obscure and long-disused words whilst playing Scrabulous on facebook.
(3) By strange coincidence, these are the same reasons given by many people for wanting to expunge all memory of their renditions of "Uptown Girl" at "the karaoke last night".
(4) As anyone who has ever played a licensed computer game tied-in to the release of the latest superhero blockbuster can affirm.

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01 January 2008

Happy New Year 2008

With the holiday period drawn to a close, it falls to us here at As A Dodo to announce the results of our Christmas Poll. Having asked you, our readers, to pick the obituary you'd most like to see in 2008, the "winners" (if that's the right term) were, in reverse order ...

4th Place
Facebook addiction

3rd Place
The Skinny Jean

2nd Place
Reality TV

1st Place
"News" about Diana, Princess of Wales.

Sadly, we have already (somewhat prematurely as it turned out) buried The Death of Diana, Princess of Wales. We can only hope that this year it is finally allowed to rest in peace.

As to our own New Year, we regret to inform readers that mucking out the Dodo is taking rather longer than anticipated. Owing to that (and other work commitments) we are forced to put As A Dodo on what we hope will be a brief hiatus. In our absence, readers are reminded that As A Dodo: The Obituaries You'd Really Like to See is currently available at Amazon and other good booksellers, and is a frankly bargainous half price in Borders stores.

A happy 2008 to all our readers. We hope to see you again soon.

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22 December 2007

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

With the arrival of the Christmas season, we at As A Dodo Towers will be closing down our operations for a little while, giving the editors precious time to rush home to their nearest and dearest and the rest of the staff a good few days to fumigate the Dodo's nest (a process which, we hope, should only prove fatal to one or two of them).

In the interim, our readers should feel free to vote for the little annoyances of life they'd like to see shuffle off this mortal coil next year in our poll (above) - you can select as many items as you like, so do feel free to vote early and often. Voting closes at midnight on New Year's Eve.

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our readers.

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20 December 2007

News c. 100,000 BC - AD 2007

Journalists are today handing in their rumpled Gannex macintoshes, removing the press cards from their battered trilbies and sloping off to the nearest pub for eleven or twelve "quick ones" (plus chasers) in memory of News, which has succumbed to a tidal wave of gossip, sports stories and infotainment after a long illness.

It was way back in about 100,000BC that Ug the Hack became the first person to realise that it might just be a good idea to actually tell his fellow cave dwellers about the stampeding mammoths heading their way, rather than just watching the ensuing carnage. Not only did his decision to beat out his message on the nearest available drum save his fellow Homo sapiens from a fate worse than death, it also resulted in the birth of News ... as well as leading to Ug being sacked by his boss, Ug the Editor, who pointed out that a bunch of cave men and women being trampled to death by mastodons would have made a much better cave-painting for the Paleolithic Gazette.

Undeterred by Ug's fate, foolhardy messengers continued to bring the News to all and sundry. Given that the News for the next several millennia consisted chiefly of stories about drought, pestilence, invading armies, stampeding beasts and crop failure, it is perhaps unsurprising that News was not universally popular and its bearers soon found themselves occupying a position in the people's affections slightly below venereal disease and just to the left of estate agents. Indeed, when Pheidippides dropped dead after running the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the defeat of the Persians he was regarded by most Greeks as having done the world a favour.

By the 15th Century, after having brought details of everything from the collapse of the Roman Empire, through the disastrous Crusades all the way to the arrival of the Black Death, News was so unpopular that its bearers hardly dared show their faces in public. Indeed, so many messengers were being shot for bringing bad News that by 1402 the Guild of Heralds could only muster three members, all of whom were mad. Just as things looked their darkest for News, however, a new dawn broke with the arrival of Johann Gutenberg and his miraculous printing press. Now it was possible for the News to be cheaply and easily transferred to paper - allowing messengers to deliver it and then run away very quickly before anyone could read it. Soon News was transformed from a pariah into the latest fashion, with everyone eager to grab hold of the latest items hot off the press.

The popularity of News became so great that it soon found itself granted whole newspapers all to itself, filled cover to cover with all the latest information from near and far (or, at least, as far as a carrier pigeon could travel without being shot and converted into carrier pie). By the 18th Century News was being printed out and stuck up on every stationary surface (a phenomenon which would lead to the unfortunate incident in which several acres of freesheets were pasted to the side of George IV one morning after he fell asleep outside the Brighton pavilion) and thousands of people were engaged in its acquisition and distribution.

As mass communication improved, News came to more and more people, and more and more people came to News. By the early twenty-first century, News appeared almost inescapable - available via television, radio, internet and mobile phones, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Yet all was not as it seemed. While the outlets for News were ever greater in number, News itself began to seem pale and worn out.

Pundits began to speculate - usually at length, across all 24-hour news channels and on the basis of absolutely no real information - that News was suffering from an eating disorder. Indeed many believed that, overstressed by the need to say something at all times, News had taken to binging on low-quality gossip about troubled minor celebrities, scandals involving overpaid soccer stars and underclothed women and entertainment "stories" merely repeating the exact event witnessed on the previous night's reality TV, plus unfounded scare stories based on inaccurately reported statistics and tendentious, lying and ill-researched rants along the lines of "Christianity banned to appease Muslims", "Measles jabs give kids AIDS" and "Diana assassinated by house prices". The classic five Ws of journalism "Who?", "What?", "Where?", "When?" and "Why?" found themselves transformed into "What?", "When?", "With how many footballers?", "Will you take your kit off for the photo?" and "Which wankers will read this rubbish?" and even genuinely news-based News became a shadow of its former self, with political reporting reduced to tales of tribal infighting and interpersonal conflict rather than policy, science news reduced to a few whizz-bang graphics or John Humphrys harrumphing about how gravity was all different in his day, and arts news reduced to half-hour specials on the premiere of the latest Adam Sandler movie.

As a result of this, it came as a surprise to no-one when News's body was discovered in the early hours of this morning, the cause of death apparently a heart attack induced by the strain of trying to come up with a story involving Amy Winehouse having a drug-fuelled affair with Victoria Beckham and the winner of the X-Factor whilst trying to cover up the death of Madeleine McCann with the aid of "canoe man" John Darwin.

News will be buried at St Trevor's Church of the Big Ben Bongs. The Reverend Fiona Bruce will arch one eyebrow à la Dan Dare before reading an overbrief summary of News's life, shortened in order to fit in the story about the skateboarding duck. The congregation will sing Hymn No 123, Mailman Bring Me No More News.

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19 December 2007

The Failure of the Liberal Democrats 1988 - 2007

As A Dodo regrets to announce The Failure of the Liberal Democrats has unexpectedly passed away after 19 sorry years in the shadow of parliamentary power following the election of David Cameron lookalike, Nick "Calamity" Clegg, as the new leader of the LibDems.

The Liberal Party had had a long history before its last glorious leader David Steel led it into obscurity with an alliance with the infamous Gang of Four. Unhappily, this association with the left-wing, new wave band failed to sweep the party to power, forcing them instead to form an alliance with the SDP, the infamous Single Doctor Party led by Dr David Owen. When that alliance proved to be about as popular and as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot (or, indeed David Owen and David Steel combined), the two parties realised it was time to do the decent thing. At the last moment, however, they changed their minds and merged, giving birth shortly thereafter to the Liberal Democrats.

Led by former Special Boat Squad member Paddy Ashdown, the Failure of the Liberal Democrats got off to a cracking start as the party was beaten into fourth place in the European elections and, at its first general election in 1992, won an astonishing 20 seats. Despite such bright beginnings, The Failure had a scare when, in 1997, Mr Ashdown boosted the tally of seats to 46 a feat attributed by psephologists to Mr Ashdown's hands-on (and pants-down) approach to publicity. Luckily for the failure, after an abortive attempt to form a pact with Labour, Mr Ashdown decided to hang up his leadership pants in 1999 and pass the poisoned chalice of the Failure of the Liberal Democrats to popular Scotsman, Charles Kennedy.

While pretending to be the leader of a rejuvenated party hoping to challenge the bi-partisan stalemate of parliament, Charles Kennedy was secretly drinking deep from that poisoned chalice at every opportunity and quickly established a reputation in the House as the leader who put the Party into Liberal Democrat. Thus the Failure prospered - missing meetings, slurring its way through press conferences and taking a frank approach to the hustings (who can forget the great 2001 election campaign "We've All Had A Drink, Vote LibDem"?). Despite this there were signs that all was not well with the Failure of the Liberal Democrats as the party increased its minority first to 52 in the 2001 general election and then to 62 in 2005.

With the possibility of success for the LibDems beginning to hove, however distantly, into sight it became plain to all that it was time for Mr Kennedy to step down (an impressive feat given that he was already in the gutter). The resulting leadership election proved the beginning of a golden age of the Failure of the Liberal Democrats as first they washed their dirty linen in public (quite literally in Mark Oaten's case) during the leadership election and, secondly, elected as leader a man with years beyond his wisdom.

Sir Menzies "Ming" Campbell rose simultaneously from the grave and to the challenge of continuing the Failure of the Liberal Democrats. With Labour mired in sleaze and the Conservatives flirting disastrously with eco-friendly policies, Ming Campbell's failure to raise the profile of his party above cheap jokes about his advanced years led to more and more calls for his resignation - none of which he heard because he'd left his deaf-aid in his room at the residential home.

Eventually persuaded to spend more time with his jigsaws, Ming was gently led away, leaving the Failure in the seemingly safe hands of a man only two years his junior. But acting leader, Vince Cable, surprised everyone by proving himself an able and quick-witted leader - refusing to meet the Saudi king and comparing Gordon Brown to Mr. Bean (thus not only imperilling The Failure but also threatening to put hundreds of satirists and parliamentary sketchwriters out of work).

The Failure struggled to keep going by organising a leadership contest between two men who weren't Vince Cable. But despite the contest between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne attracting less attention than one of Sir Ming's speeches, the Failure of the Liberal Democrats was mortally wounded when Clegg limped past his rival at the post by just over 500 votes - thrusting his party into the headlines once more and creating the real possibility that the public might, at some time in the future, begin to speculate about the possibility of one day, maybe, considering putting a vote in the box marked Liberal Democrat.

The Failure of the Liberal Democrats will be buried at St Paddy's Church of the Fallen Pants. The service will be conducted by the Reverend Charles Kennedy (just as soon as he can be prised away from the communion wine), and the congregation will sing hymn 392, Stuck in the Middle with Huhne.

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