- Sir Thomas Hetherington 1926-2007 - Director of Public Prosecutions who prosecuted Jeremy Thorpe
- Professor Paul Lauterbur 1929-2007 - Nobel Prize-winning co-inventor of Magnetic Resonance Imaging
- Faustino Oramas 1911-2007 - 'Buena Vista' songwriter
- Andranik Margaryan 1951-2007 - Prime Minister of Armenia
- Mao Anqing 1923-2007 - son of Mao Tse Tung
- Johnny Booker 1934-2007 - lead singer of The Vipers
31 March 2007
30 March 2007
An international panel of scientists has concluded that the last Problem in Great Britain is dead, displaced from its home and outcompeted by its distant cousin from across the Atlantic, the "Challenge".
Archaeological records suggest that the first Problem arose in about 100,000BC - at roughly the same time as Homo sapiens developed the capacity for rational thought - when Ug realised that facing a stampeding mammoth with a bit of tree branch with a piece of flint strapped to the end might not be such a great idea. Ug was rapidly impelled to discover the problem's corollary, namely "the solution" - in this case placing a big pit between himself and the aforementioned stampeding mammoth.
Over the millennia more and more problems were to present themselves to Ug and his successors: physical problems such as hunger, illness, infirmity and the fact that the neighbouring tribe had developed superior pieces of flint to tie to their tree branches and started eyeing up Ug's successors' caves. As the years passed and worries about neighbouring tribes having superior bits of flint turned to ones about neighbouring city-states having pointier bronze swords, so humanity discovered whole new sorts of Problem to worry about, including how to work out the area of a circle, whether the Earth revolved around the Sun or vice versa and how to govern a bunch of people many of whom had armed themselves with incredibly pointy bronze swords. With each Problem, mankind was driven to discover a new solution. Soon it had discovered all sorts of things like the theory of gravity, medicine, hot-and-cold-running-water and nuclear weapons, and was entitled to sit back and feel very happy with itself, although a bit nervous about all those nuclear weapons.
It was in the 1960s that Problems were to meet their rival, as Wall Street marketing men slowly began to realise that people found problems rather awkward and negative and the whole business of having to find solutions to them really rather tiresome. Searching around for an alternative they soon stumbled upon the word "Challenge", a term redolent of acts of bravery and derring-do like climbing Mount Everest and, just like climbing Mount Everest, having an air of being something one didn't have to worry about at all if one didn't really want to.
Soon the Challenges were leaping through the linguistic ecosystem and pushing Problems out of their natural territory. Anywhere men and women could be found who wanted to sugar unpalatable truths or gloss over their own deficiencies, there Challenges could be found. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among those swiftest to cast Problems out of their language were politicians. Soon pupils with learning Problems found themselves liberated from the shackles of ignorance by being redesignated "learning challenged" and those with mobility Problems found themselves leaping from their wheelchairs and zimmer frames, eager to welcome the newly-coined Challenges that injury or Mother Nature had bountifully strewn in their, somewhat erratic and very short, paths.
By the early Noughties Problems had almost died out in all public discourse. Indeed, records indicate that the last politician to have been in possession of an actual Problem was former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, who was so embarrassed at having had a Problem, in the form of the Falklands War, that he felt compelled to resign. In early 2007, Home Secretary John Reid was proudly confirming that he had dealt with all the Problems in his department by converting them to challenges and within days all his fellow ministers had followed suit, with the whole nation following only weeks later.
Problems, having been conclusively identified as living-challenged, will be buried at the Church of St Judas the Slightly Iffy on Saturday. They are survived by "Challenges", "Small Presentational Issues" and "Downright Lies".
29 March 2007
In what is - extraordinarily - our third update of the day, we at As A Dodo present an obituary for The Da Vinci Code Litigation, which recently passed away. Sadly, it would appear that our reporter on the scene was so affected by what he saw that he has absorbed more than a little of the Da Vinci Code style. Please forgive us.
Renowned conspiracy theorists, 59-year-old Michael Baigent and 64-year-old Richard Leigh staggered through the neo-gothic archway of the Victorian Royal Courts of Justice yesterday. They lunged for the nearest reporter they could see, a representative of As A Dodo. Grabbing my gannex mac forcefully they told me a grim tale of dark conspiracy, of the death of their beloved Da Vinci Code Litigation at the hands of a secret society and of vast amounts of publicity for "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail". In the crisp air of a March afternoon in London they told me The Truth.
Now at last I can reveal The Truth about The Da Vinci Code Legislation to the global world.
It is time.
The Da Vinci Code Litigation was born in 2006. It was the child of two men, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh and of the billions of dollars made by dashing, cardigan-wearing author Dan Brown. Together Baigent and Leigh had built up one of the greatest conspiracy theories ever known, a theory that could make them millions. They were shaken by the dreadful knowledge. All they had to do was claim Jesus Christ had married Mary Magdalene and had children, that their descendants married into the ancient line of ancient French Kings, the Merovingians, and that a secret society planned one day to restore them to the French throne of France. They knew they could do it. They wouldn't even need any evidence. People are stupid.
The plan was brilliant. The pair published a book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. People believed it. But now the plan was under threat. The threat came from the sinister figure of sinister Dan Brown, who beneath his dark jacket, dark turtleneck sweater and light chinos was a secret member of the Society of Authors. Brown saw the genius of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. He knew he had to act. He spent hours in dark corners of the hallowed halls of his local Barnes and Noble bookstore, reading through the book. With a trembling hand he noted down the book's ideas in his leather-bound notebook. Now they were his.
Leigh and Baigent blanched white when they saw the product of Brown's work: The Da Vinci Code. They ripped it furiously from the shelves, flipping rapidly through its pages with white-knuckled hands. In it they saw all their ideas. They even saw themselves, cunningly disguised in a codex of extreme cunningness, as Sir Leigh Teabing. Their plan had been exposed to the world. And now it was making millions.
Swiftly Leigh and Baigent set out quickly for revenge. They ran speedily to the murky halls of the Royal Courts of Justice. They were met by three men, their thinning hair covered by horsehair wigs, their aged bodies covered by blood red robes. One of the men stepped forward.
"Mr Leigh, Mr Baigent", he said, chillingly close, "You have no case - these crazy ideas of yours are far too general to provide the basis for litigation"
Leigh and Baigent turned to each other. How could these men have known? There was only one answer: these "judges" must have been members of the Society of Authors too. As they looked behind the men in front of them, towards the part of the Royal Courts of Justice that was named the Bear Garden by Queen Victoria in 1882, Leigh and Baigent saw before them the sight they dreaded. On the floor lay their precious litigation, strangled to death. They fled.
The quest for The Da Vinci Code Litigation is the quest to kneel before the bones of Leigh and Baigent's hopes of millions, to kneel before the hopes of the outcast ones and weep. Now it is over, ended in the ancient Royal Courts of Justice on a floor on which Romans might once have trod if it had been built before 1882.
The As A Dodo editors add: The Da Vinci Code Litigation will be buried under massive legal bills. It is survived by ludicrous conspiracy theories, the works of Dan Brown and millions of people who wouldn't know a decent book if it bit them on the arse.
Members of the Government were this morning tearing up their scratchcards, throwing away their betting slips and cashing in their chips following the death of their addiction to gambling, which was shot down in its prime last night by a marauding gang of nonagenarians in ermine hoodies.
New Labour's Gambling Addiction was born in 1997, when Gordon Brown happened upon billions of discarded National Lottery scratchcards lodged in the nations coffers and found that, whatever lay behind the silver foil, they all came up as winners for the Treasury. Despite his reputation as a dour son of the manse, the Chancellor was unable to resist the temptation to see whether it was really possible to live the life of a professional gambler. Soon he was discovering gambling income in all sorts of places, whether from the high street bookmakers, the lottery, trackside betting or online poker.
With industry failing and the expansion of the service sector threatened by the inability of the populous to imbibe more than 16 supersize decaf lattecinos per capita a day without committing murder, or worse, releasing a new Robbie Williams CD, Mr Brown became convinced that the only way to bring home the bacon was to don dark glasses, rechristen himself Snake Eyes and tour the gambling dens of Great Britain.
It was not long before the Chancellor had convinced the rest of the Government to follow his lead, though few achieved his success. Peter Mandelson gambled his reputation on the Millennium Dome's success, John Prescott gambled his marriage on not getting caught in flagrante with his secretary and Tony Blair gambled the nation's armed forces on Iraq.
Only Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell seemed to understand the Chancellors lessons. Soon she and the Chancellor were working as a team, he stacking the decks to ensure a substantial tax take, she diverting the National Lottery's income to replace government spending on National Health and the Olympics. So great was Ms Jowell's enthusiasm, indeed, that she set about weaning the whole nation onto the joys of gambling, bringing forward legislation to flood the country with casinos and supercasinos (understood to be just like ordinary casinos but larger and with a strange vulnerability to Kryptonite).
It was Ms Jowell's enthusiasm that was to prove her undoing. One night she was foolish enough to wander through one of Westminster's seedier areas (the Houses of Parliament), her pockets stuffed with the Governmental IOUs she hoped gambling would enable her to pay off. As she neared the door of the House of Lords, however, she was set upon by a large number of Peers either (a) outraged at the Government's plans to revive poverty-stricken areas by licensing casinos to take the last penny of every local inhabitant or (b) acting in the mistaken belief that the IOUs had something to do with loans for peerages. Whatever the case, the result was a fatal assault on the Government's Gambling Addiction.
New Labour's Gambling Addiction will be buried at St Noel's Church of the Deal or No Deal. The ceremony will be conducted by the Reverend John McCririck and the hymn will be number 5-to-3 on, "All Hail ye Little Lottery Balls".
Further to our obituary for the Home Office, we at As A Dodo can now confirm that the ancient office of state will be buried today in a ceremony attended by Home Secretary John Reid and thousands of civil servants eager both to remember their former department and to bag a decent desk in the new one.
The Home Office is survived by twin offspring, The Ministry of Truth (responsible for the courts and the treatment of offenders) and the Ministry of Love (responsible for policing, immigration and anti-terrorism measures). The former will be delivered into the hands of Lord Falconer who will doubtless lavish on it all the care he has lavished on the constitution and the separation of powers in his time as Tony Blair's best mate Lord Chancellor, while the latter will remain in the custody of John Reid, and may God have mercy on its soul.
28 March 2007
The snaggle-toothed inhabitants of Britain were lining up in the streets outside dentists this morning, following the news that NHS Dentistry has passed away, its jaws clamped shut and its cries of protest muffled, after the publication of a report revealing that two million patients still don’t have access to a dentist under the National Health Service.
NHS Dentistry was born in 1948, the offspring of the post-war Labour government’s dream to offer free dentistry to all and their nightmare of millions of ill-shaped British teeth clamping down on their chip-butties for eternity.
For all the hope in which it was conceived, NHS Dentistry quickly began to show signs of the split personality that would afflict it throughout its life. Whilst purporting to be kind and generous, it could at the same time be money-grubbing and threatening. By the age of three it had already cast aside its practice of treating all and sundry without charge and was demanding payments of up to £1 with a hideously-squealing drill in one hand and a hideously-squealing patient in the other. When simple extortion proved insufficient to sate its lust for terror, NHS Dentistry moved into the protection business, threatening its victims with gnashers resembling Stonehenge and mouths full of gun-metal fillings unless they chose to hand over large portions of their cash and "go private".
With the service on the NHS growing poorer and poorer more and more were forced to fall into the arms of private dentistry or, like Gordon Brown, resolve never to smile again. Soon the nation was divided into two classes, the gummy poor, their teeth whipped out in a sad attempt to evade the dental Mafia, and the shiny-toothed rich, their molars bright but their wallets considerably lighter.
When, last year, the Tooth Fairy was murdered for 50 pence by a gang of freelance orthodontists, the game was finally up. Now almost wholly given over to private work and free dental service now scarcer than hens’ - or, indeed, healthy British - teeth, NHS Dentistry had no choice but to apply the gas to itself.
NHS Dentistry will be buried at the Church of Laurence Olivier amidst much gnashing and wailing of patients’ rotten teeth. It is survived by tying a string between the offending molar and a door-knob, ill-fitting dentures and endless American jokes about English teeth.
27 March 2007
Ian Paisley’s Refusal To Sit Down lost its long and extremely loud battle against gravity yesterday when Unionist leader Ian Paisley himself agreed to sit down with his arch-enemy, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams – the two men having reached an historic agreement to share power in Northern Ireland on May 8… Although no agreement has been reached between the two leaders for sharing power on May 9, May 10, May 11…
Ian Paisley’s Refusal To Sit Down took its first faltering steps in 1969 in protest at the British Army being sent into the province to protect Catholics from Loyalist attacks. Before 1969 there was no sectarian divide in Northern Ireland, no one had ever heard of the Battle of the Boyne or seen an Orange Man and Catholics and Protestants skipped hand-in-hand through the Six Counties singing All You Need Is Love.
But as the oh-so-slightly-euphemistically-titled The Troubles began to wreak havoc across the province, Ian Paisley’s Refusal To Sit Down made him very popular on buses full of (protestant) pensioners and pregnant (protestant) women, but caused him great personal anguish as, year after year, it stopped him from winning the much-coveted Belfast Apprentices Musical Chairs Contest.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, The Refusal grew in strength (and volume) – refusing to bend at the knee, or indeed apply the ointment to the appropriate area, for anyone. In the late 90s, when Tony Blair encouraged both sides to replace stand-up rows with stand-up talks, agreements were made which led to the decommissioning of James Nesbitt, Gloria Hunniford and Tom Paulin – making sure that they could never again be used to terrorise innocent civilians in the province or on the mainland.
But having stood up for nearly 40 years, The Refusal was getting tired, and as Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, threatened to dissolve the Stormont Assembly, it was on its last legs. Yesterday morning, Ian Paisley’s Refusal To Sit Down finally buckled and fell into the waiting arms of Gerry Adams... and onto a large rubber ring.
The Refusal is predeceased by Northern Ireland’s vital bowler hat and ski-mask industries and by the painters of sectarian murals. It will be buried at Stormont tonight once General John de Chastelain has confirmed that Ian Paisley’s Refusal To Sit Down has been interred and “put beyond use”.
It is survived by Ian Paisley’s Mouth, Gerry Adams’ Beard and Britain’s fabulous history of partition which has successfully kept the peace for so many years between Israel and Palestine, Pakistan and India, the Republic and Northern Ireland and Number 10 and Number 11, Downing Street.
26 March 2007
Bleary-eyed residents across the UK are celebrating this week, following the news that British Garden Songbirds have whistled their last thanks to a mild European winter and a bumper countryside fruit crop leading to the end of cheery chaffinches, bubbly blackbirds and wide-awake wrens visiting UK gardens and waking you at bleedin’ dawn with their chorus.
British Garden Songbirds were hatched about the time of the first British garden when Capability Brown encouraged a family of starstruck thrushes to go into show business – creating the first song thrush. It would whistle merrily at dawn to protect its territory, attract a mate and severely annoy the owners of Capability Brown’s new garden until they finally settled their bill in full, or fell, dazed from lack of sleep, into the haha.
With the growth in popularity of gardening, soon the Victorian working classes were able to enjoy the beauty of The Songbirds’ renditions of music hall ditties – with the added benefit of being woken early enough to spend a good 12 hours a day up a chimney or getting their tired limbs caught in a mechanical loom.
As trades unions and socialists won new freedoms for the working man and woman, people were able to spend more time in their gardens and allotments, especially as they now had a gap of several hours to fill between being woken at sun-up by a robin crooning Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and the start of the day’s work at nine or ten o’clock.
Despite desperate attempts by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to convince homeowners that The Songbirds were a wonderful addition to any British garden and that standing at the kitchen window with a pair of binoculars and a book of British birds was an exciting way to kill a few hours on a Sunday morning, relations between homeowners and Songbirds began to sour – especially when The Songbirds went electric in the 60s. Soon British gardens were awash with moptop warblers (both garden and willow) belting out And Your Bird Can Sing at ear-splitting volume.
The relentless ambitions of many songbirds to make it to the toppermost of the poppermost through their open-air performances reached its nadir in the early 90s with the release of British Garden Songbird’s debut album, Swingalong-a-Dimmock – and the backlash began in earnest.
Fatigued and jaded gardeners began to encourage robins to perch jauntily on the handle of their shovel whilst they whistled a medley of Andrew Lloyd-Webber tunes – all the while, the jazz-hands robin oblivious to the fact that the gardener was using said shovel to dig a six-foot-deep bird-shaped grave.
Salvation arrived as an unexpected benefit of global warming, as an unseasonably warm winter lured The Songbirds away from the limelight of the British Garden into the obscurity of the British countryside. After several hundred years, British gardens fell silent and a nation went back to sleep.
British Garden Songbirds will be buried in a silent ceremony at St Oddie’s Church of the Annoyingly Dull Twitcher. They are survived (for now) by Bill Oddie.
24 March 2007
23 March 2007
The Sony Corporation's hyping of its Playstation 3 Console (the European version of which is not dead, contrary to foolish and wholly erroneous reports to that effect) has finally expired, trampled under the feet of the hordes of up to five or six sad and lonely nerds early adopters who gathered outside stores last night desperate to be the first - outside Japan, North America, Canada, Hong Kong, China, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Italy and South Africa - to own the new gaming machine.
Sony Playstation 3 Hype was born on 16 May 2005, delivered at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles to a beaming Sony Corporation and a bemused gaming press, all of whom politely refused to remark on the console's George Foreman "Lean Mean Grilling Machine"-styling or the hideously deformed, banana-shaped appendages which served as its joypads - at least until they got outside the conference hall.
While The Hype's proud parents were quick to praise its every move, others were more doubtful. While other "next-generation" consoles like the Xbox 360 delivered a diet of car-jacking and shooting to alienated teens across America or, like the NIntendo Wii, were flying into the screens of the worlds TVs, the Playstation 3 seemed to have difficulty even taking its first step. Soon rumours were circulating that the oversized machine was in fact the product of a nuclear accident and that it had first emerged from the Pacific Ocean intent on destroying Tokyo ... or at least that part of it owned by the Sony Corporation.
Despite the attacks, the Hype struggled on as Sony pointed to its new machine's exciting network functions, which weren't as remarkable as the Xbox 360's, exciting motion-sensing controllers, which weren't as remarkable as the Nintendo Wii's and exciting Blu-Ray functions, which weren't as remarkable as its sky-high price.
Even The Hype's best efforts were to no avail. As it crawled from country to country it left in its wake shelf after shelf of unsold Playstation 3 consoles and red entry after red entry in Sony's balance books. When it finally arrived on Britain's shores it was greeted, not with the love it craved from the news and gaming media but with a wave of apathy and the odd appearance as a filler item on BBC News 24. Starved of support, it expired on the floor of London's Virgin Mega Store - with even its death failing to garner any significant publicity or sales.
Sony Playstation 3 Hype will be buried at St Mario's Church. The service will include The Hype's favourite hymn, number 378 "Jesu, lover of my console". It is survived by a pile of unsold Sony consoles and some very happy rival manufacturers.
22 March 2007
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, yesterday buried his last Budget under a waving of order papers, a cut in the basic rate of income tax and Mr Brown's Prime Ministerial ambitions.
The first of Gordon Brown's Budgets was born in 1997, the offspring of Mr Brown's first love, a shy and retiring model of fiscal rectitude called Prudence, and the golden economic legacy passed on to the Chancellor thanks to either (a) Conservative predecessor Kenneth Clarke's brilliant economic management or (b) the change in monetary policy forced on the nation following the UK's humiliating ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992 and the country having finally got over the Lawson-boom-induced recession of the early-90s*.
Year-on-year Mr Brown and Prudence set about the business of running the economy in the manner of a respectable Victorian couple. Each year Prudence would lie back and think of Adam Smith while Gordon whispered sweet nothings about post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory into her ear and each year she would give birth to a new model of fiscal rectitude. Like any proud father, Mr Brown celebrated each new birth by detailing the many fine qualities of his offspring to anyone within earshot, in speeches which have recently been released on tape by the National Health Service as a cheap alternative to Mogadon.
Hardened in his moral certainty by the encouragement of his inamorata and the praise of the International Monetary Fund, each day Mr Brown would stride through the streets of Britain in his top hat and frock coat, unmoved by the piteous cries of impoverished single mothers, the hideous smell of the non-functional lavatories of Britain's decaying schools and the disturbing sight of nurses flogging their kidneys to support themselves. All the while he satisfied himself that he was merely seeking to bring his budgets up properly by keeping to the spending limits imposed by his predecessor Mr Clarke, apparently unaware that - as Mr Clarke welll knew - the only tight restrictions members of the Major government could be expected to stick to were usually made of PVC and metal and provided by specialist shops in Soho.
What it was that softened the Chancellor's heart we may never know. Perhaps it was a visitation by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, perhaps merely the prospect of Labour being turfed out of office by all those public-sector workers still with strength enough in their bodies to drag themselves to the polling booths. Whatever the cause, by the year 2000 Mr Brown, whilst still paying lip service to his relationship with Prudence, had begun an affair with the charming Charity.
Under Charity's influence the Chancellor abandoned his old ways. Eager to impress his new love he lavished his money on the good causes he had once passed by. As their affair became more and more passionate Mr Brown threw caution to the wind, fathering a series of bouncing budgets, the apple of every teacher's and doctor's eye, while borrowing ever more heavily to fund his new, and expensive, devotion to Charity.
Yet, however delighted Charity may at first have been, all was not well. However much Mr Brown spent, he was always met with cries for more, while about him those who had once praised him for his severe and upright manner now lambasted him for his fond indulgence.
It is perhaps fitting that, in what is expected to be one of his last acts as Chancellor, Mr Brown chose to set Charity to one side - just as he had once done Prudence - choosing to impress the nation with a cut in basic-rate income tax while bamboozling them with fiscal jiggery-pokery, as he fathered the last of his Budgets with a new love, Political Self Interest.
Gordon Brown's Budgets are survived by Gordon Brown's Premiership Ambitions, George Osborne's hopes of moving into long trousers and a lot of puzzled economists staring at the Chancellor's figures and exclaiming "Whothewhatnow?"
*(readers are invited to select the reason they find best accords with their political prejudices)
21 March 2007
We at As A Dodo Towers are proud to announce that some kind - and possibly deluded - soul has nominated us in the Politics category for the Ask.com/Metro "Best of British Blog Awards".
Nominations close on 22 March 2007. Given As A Dodo's nomination our readers may well feel that the site should sweep the board in all categories but, given the remote possibility that they feel that there are other sites worthy of equal recognition, nominations can be made here.
Gravity (or, as its friends in the physics community knew it, "Gravitational Force") has gone to join the ether, phlogiston and Victoria Beckham's tan among the choir invisible of scientific no-noes, following the inauguration of the Grand Canyon Skywalk – a glass-bottomed horseshoe-shaped construction which allows visitors to stand in mid-air 4,000 feet above salivating coyotes, rattlesnakes and personal injury lawyers shouting, “Jump!”
Gravity was born roughly 13.7 billion years ago with the formation of the Universe. From the moment of its arrival, the heavy child set to work on its even heavier task of forming stars and planets, keeping celestial bodies in orbit and ensuring that when you place a cup on the coffee table it’s still there five minutes later and the scalding coffee hasn’t floated up and burnt the underside of your chin while you’re reading the newspaper.
Despite this seemingly useful physical property, Man longed to slip his earthly bounds and float free above the Earth or, in Daedalus’s case, let his son Icarus take out those new wax wings he'd invented on a test run, "you know, just in case" …
When Isaac Newton was brained by a Cox’s Pippin and began preparing for his lawsuit against Gravity, he accidentally stumbled across the three gravitational laws that (quite literally) underpinned its lifelong purpose. Though the subsequent court case failed Gravity’s secret hold on Earth was fatally loosened from its fingers.
Soon, Man was clamouring to rise up, up and away in his beautiful balloon and dreaming of faster and higher trips into the blue. The Wright Brothers early beach-hopping experiments inspired Wernher von Braun to design the rockets that destroyed much of London during the final years of World War Two allowed Man to finally escape earth’s atmosphere and put Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin et al on the Moon.
For those of us not fortunate enough to make the grade as NASA graduates or have the necessary millions to join Stephen Hawking on the so-called "Vomit Comet", ordinary earthlings' only chance of escaping Gravity was to take their lives in their hands on an amusement park rollercoaster or take their lives in their hands on a short-haul low-cost flight.
Inspired by the mid-air back-pedalling of Wile E Coyote, construction began on the Grand Canyon Skywalk in 2004 – the ingenious addition of a glass walkway ensuring that visitors would not plummet earthwards – leaving a visitor-shaped hole in the canyon floor below… before being flattened by a loosened boulder… a falling grand piano… and an ACME anvil…
As Buzz Aldrin stepped out onto the Skywalk with the immortal words, “It’s one small step for man, one giant step for… Buzz Aldrin…! Yeah, that’s right…! Buzz F**kin’ Aldrin…! In Your face, Neil Armstrong!” Gravity was done for and let slip its grip on the world.
Gravity will not be buried but released directly into the heavens to drift slowly upwards into the wide, blue yonder – if it doesn’t collide with a plethora of 747s, spy satellites or Professor Stephen Hawking.
20 March 2007
The VHS Tape has unspooled for the last time, its glossy surface ripped from its plasticky exterior by economists at the Office of National Statistics, who have extracted it from the shopping basket of goods and services used to judge the rate of inflation and thrown it into the bin alongside brie, vegetable oil and sprouts.
The Vertical Helical Scan System, known to millions simply as "the VHS" or (every time it unaccountably failed to record the whole of one's favourite programme) "that bloody thing" - was born in 1976. From birth it was to have a hard life. Even as it emerged from the womb of the JVC corporation it was to find rival mother Sony standing over it, pillow in hand, as it prepared to smother the child in favour of its own offspring, Betamax. Fortunately, the errant Japanese corporation was dragged away to a quiet room and, despite its inferior picture, VHS was ultimately to triumph over its rival after impressing the public with the size of its recording capacity. Thus began VHS's popularity as millions marvelled at their ability to record TV programmes while they were out… and then leave them unwatched until they were taped over a few days later.
The VHS was to prove a major stepping-stone in the life of many a child. Not only did it give the average 5-year-old their first opportunity to triumph over their parents by being able to tape hour after hour of Battle of the Planets while the adults could only manage a recording that ended halfway through Bullseye, it also gave millions of impressionable adolescents the chance to broaden their cultural education by watching fifth generation pirate copies of Driller Killer and recording subtitled films on BBC2 or Channel 4 in the hope of a fleeting glimpse of arthouse nudity (hopes which, thanks to the technological precision of the pause function, were inevitably crushed).
With the birth of its younger sibling, the VHS camera, the Tape enjoyed amazing commercial success enabling people to video their own weddings and birthday parties – and then send the oh-so-hilarious results to Jeremy Beadle’s You’ve Been Framed - and later allowing unknown micro-personalities such as Abi Titmuss to become very-well-known micro-personalities when recordings of their most intimate moments somehow found their way to the desks of every newspaper and PR agency.
It was the introduction of digital technology which saw the Tape facing its final rewind. Its binary relative, The DVD, stole the show and viewers’ affections by being able to provide movies with a sharper picture, surround sound and a commentary from the director’s chauffeur’s uncle’s sister at the push of a button.
The Tape deteriorated rapidly – stretching and distorting the picture and losing its sound quality in a gale of white noise – at which point the ONS consultants agreed that it no longer had a sustainable quality of life and, for the last time, gently untangled it from the playback heads and replaced it in its tired and worn-out cardboard sleeve.
The VHS Tape will be buried at car boot sales and charity shops across the country. It is survived by The DVD-RW, Hard-Disk Recorder and accidentally recording over that episode of The Persuaders on ITV4 you really wanted to watch.
19 March 2007
Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff's National Hero Status was born in 1998, the child of a press eager to build up any cricketing all-rounder as the new Ian Botham before condemning him to ignominy as the old Derek Pringle and the precocious skills of a cheerful, 6'4" cricketer from Lancashire.
Even at such an early stage it was apparent to many that the man the nation would come to know as "Freddie" (a nickname granted by his fellow players in memory of either German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche or - more probably, given that Mike Brearley wasn't on the team - yabba-dabba-doo-ing cartoon character Fred Flintstone) possessed many of the skills of a great all-rounder. As a bowler he could inspire fear in batsmen, as a batsman he could inspire fear in bowlers and as a drinker he inspired awe in such greats as Jeffrey Bernard, Oliver Reed and George Best.
With such unique attributes at his command it was inevitable that Freddie would be granted National Hero Status. Over the years there were many heroic achievements, two wickets in the vital final over in a one day match against India in 2001-2 that led to a shirt-ripping display, centuries against South Africa and the West Indies along with 5-wicket hauls in 2003-4 with many more to come, not to mention showing such extraordinary resolution in the face of the massed forces of pints of bitter and tins of Fray Bentos that he actually looked as if he could fit through the cricket ground turnstiles.
Freddie's National Hero Status was to reach its zenith in 2005 when his feats of cricketing excellence during the Ashes Test series (and drinking excess after it) succeeded in winning him the admiration of a whole nation, not to mention an award from the National Brewers Association for services to the industry. From such a peak, however, decline is inevitable.
In the following years, Flintoff found it hard to repeat the feats of his youth - whether on or off the field. With fame came responsibility and with the failure of Michael Vaughan's knee to survive anything beyond a shuffle out of the armchair to grab a newspaper came the responsibilities of the England captaincy. When England lost the Ashes to a resurgent Australia, Freddie's National Hero Status began to show signs of frailty.
It was during the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean that the last innings was to be played. Over several hours in St Lucia's Rumours nightclub, Freddie - cheered on by his team-mates - worked steadily, first grabbing a few singles before moving on to doubles, pints and chasers, with the prospect of an extra spicy goat curry on the way home and some serious runs later. It was not to be. Determined that his legend should live on, Freddie took the unfortunate decision to grab a pedalo and set out into Rodney Bay, where he capsized and his England vice-captaincy sank without trace.
Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff's National Hero Status, along with the prospect of him ever captaining the England cricket team again - barring every other England-qualified human being capable of holding a bat being struck by lightning - was buried at sea. It is survived by David Gower's Tiger Moth, Mike Gatting's reverse sweeps and Geoffrey Boycott's selfless team-spiritedness.
17 March 2007
16 March 2007
The 2012 British Olympic Spirit was found dead this week in a partially built stadium on Hackney Marshes. Sources close to the Spirit say it had become increasingly worried after the estimated cost for the London Olympics more than trebled from £2.4bn to £9.3bn and have now risen so high that they have been selected for the Pole Vault squad.
The Spirit, the long-awaited offspring of Sebastian Coe and Tessa Jowell, was born amidst much fanfare and hoopla in July 2005 – although the fanfare and hoopla had less to do with the prospect of the nation being afforded an opportunity to display its sporting prowess to the rest of the globe and more to do with pipping the French bid at the post.
While other countries greet the prospect of hosting the Olympics as an occasion for national pride (not to mention a marvellous opportunity to rip off tourists), in ever-cheerful and optimistic Great Britain enthusiasm for the 2012 Olympic Games was, from the sound of the starting pistol, confined to construction firms and property developers gleefully shaking their heads, sucking in air and cackling, “That’s gonna cost you… We should be able to finish that by 2013… But we’ve got another job on down Wembley way…”.
With the Olympic ideal of the finest amateurs competing for nothing more than a crown of laurels and the approbation of their peers having long been replaced by the worst professionals incapable of organising a school sports day without forcing the parents to remortgage their homes and sell their kidneys, the Spirit - never strong - quickly began to wane. Rather than being galvanised into glorious action, across the land Britain's potential medal winners of the future chose instead to slump back in their sofas, turn on Richard and Judy and wonder vaguely if Citius, Altius and Fortius were three of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Attempts to consolidate all its debts into one manageable debt failed to halt the Olympic Spirit's decline. Despite plans to raise capital by introducing sponsored events including the 400m financial hurdles and the Snickers marathon, and London mayor Ken Livingstone’s plans to introduce a congestion charge for cyclists using the Olympic velodrome, the costs continued to spiral. The Spirit fell into a deeper, and deeper depression before, tragically, taking its own life, hanged by a genuine replica plastic Olympic gold medal bearing the legend “I Love the 2012 Olympics” (retail price £29.99).
The 2012 British Olympic Spirit will be buried in a pauper’s grave along with billions of taxpayers cash as construction firms and property developers dance ecstatically in a New Orleans-style celebration of the dead. It is survived by Ken Livingstone, Tessa Jowell and the knowledge that if the French had won they'd have done the whole thing with a lot more class and a lot less whinging.
As A Dodo small print: the cost of your Olympics may go up as well as up, and your home may be at risk if you do not keep up council tax repayments.
15 March 2007
The Death of the Cold War died last night when MPs voted by a majority of 248 to renew Britain's Trident nuclear submarines, thus bringing the country kicking and screaming into the 1950s, prepared at any moment to deter the threat of a massive nuclear attack by the forces of the USSR, the Eastern Bloc and Red China with the prospect of mutually assured destruction, despite the fact that the USSR no longer exists, the Eastern Bloc's forces are already working over here as plumbers and the biggest invasion threat from China is from a large amount of extremely cheap T-shirts.
The Death of the Cold War began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall which left that once divided city vulnerable to unscrupulous capitalists determined to (literally) smash communism - charging $10 a throw for a piece of grafittied rubble and leaving the city wide open to the horror of an invading army of Pink Floyd fans.
Soon Eastern Bloc countries - sick of suffering under the yoke of communist oppression and the occasional visit by Sir Paul McCartney - were demanding the right to hold their own concerts featuring 70s rock dinosuars, elect democratic governments, eat quarter-pounders with cheese and yearn for the days of communist oppression.
Thanks to the Death a generation raised on a constant diet of Cold War paranoia - including Invasion of the Body Snatchers, When the Wind Blows, Red Dawn and Noel's House Party - breathed a collective sigh of relief as the superpowers stepped back from the brink of nuclear annihilation. At last ordinary citizens could go about their business safe in the knowledge that the man in the park whispering "the red squirrel flies low over the Volga tonight" wasn't a Soviet agent trying to start World War Three but an alternative comedian filming an ironic lager commercial.
All seemed well with the Death of the Cold War until yesterday when, urged on by our Great Leader and his predecessor Comrade Blair, Britain chose to follow the examples of such great nations as Iran and North Korea and commission itself some nuclear weapons to prove to the world that, for all it seems to be a crumbling state unable even to care for the health of its people, it is in truth a powerful player on the global stage. The great leader's success was due in no small part to the work of the official opposition and its leader Comrade Cameron, whose only request was that all the new missiles be fitted with windmills so they can generate gigaWatts of environmentally-friendly electricity as they hurtle towards Minsk at several thousands mile per hour.
The Death of the Cold War will be buried on May Day at Whitehall at a ceremony witnessed by Comrade Brown, who will stand on the newly erected balcony at Ten Downing Street, smile grimly beneath his Homburg, and stiffly salute a march-past of the missiles of the Glorious People's Republic of Britain... before personally executing the 95 Labour rebels who voted against him.
It is survived by the memory of a time when Tony Blair supported CND, the four-minute warning and shooting your irradiated grandmother with a 12-bore to stop her getting her crazed, mutated hands on your last tin of Alphabetti Spaghetti.
14 March 2007
The death of Childhood - which was confirmed yesterday by the publication of the government's new curriculum for the under-fives - cannot truly be counted as unexpected. Under increasing pressure from the joint effects of a society bent on buying girls under ten clothing bearing the logo of US porn magazine Playboy (at the same time as threatening to lynch everyone from paedophiles to paediatricians and podiatrists) and a government bent on cramming the maximum number of exams into the life of everyone under 25, the only cause of wonder is, perhaps, that it managed to survive so long.
While children had existed since time immemorial, the institution of Childhood was only born during the reign of Queen Victoria, when people began to feel that children were not merely handily chimney-sized mini-adults but cherubic innocents, closer to the angels than the adults about them and ideal for being pictured on the cover of any chocolate box.
Freed from the close confines of assorted soot-choked chimney stacks, dark coal mines and machine works, Childhood became for many a time of innocence and play, when the young could learn to experience their world first-hand - whether it be the joys of skipping merrily through a meadow, blowing soap bubbles and fashioning daisy chains or the even greater joys of scrumping apples, burning their dad's shed to the ground while discovering the wonder of matches and making their parents' lives as miserable as possible.
Soon Childhood was everywhere, becoming so popular that a significant proportion of those over retirement age (particularly senior judges) decided to indulge in it a second time. As the decades passed, more and more people began to realise that Childhood really was (contrary to their hopes when they themselves were children) the best time of their lives. Increasingly people well into their twenties, thirties and forties decided to cling onto Childhood (not to mention the childish things that went with it such as Xbox 360s, doll collections and the belief that the Harry Potter books have some literary value).
Soon it became clear that there was not enough Childhood to go around. Parents - urged on by a society eager to turn anyone capable of holding a coin into a consumer, a media eager to push pictures of semi-naked women at tweenies and an internet leaping over itself to insert images of donkey-sex into the minds of anybody it could find - rushed to thrust adulthood upon their offspring just as soon as they could find an ear-piercing salon willing to carry out its work in utero.
The government too became aware of the shortage of Childhood and, over the years from 1997, worked steadily to cut it down, loading everyone under twenty with so many standard assessment tests, GCSE exams, GNVQ exams, AS-level exams, A-level exams et al that the only way that anyone could find time to trip merrily was to drop some acid on the way to the exam hall.
It was the government's curriculum for the under-fives - a curriculum that will test them on everything from their ability to count their toes to their capacity to programme a computer - that proved Childhood's end, crowding out the last period of time in a child's life not already filled with examinations. Starved of time, freedom and love, Childhood passed away last night.
Childhood will be buried at St Herod's Church. The reading will be the first four words of Mark 10:14 "Suffer the little children".
13 March 2007
The news of the death of Sir Edward Elgar will come as an enormous shock to all those who loved him, particularly given that he was born in 1857 and was originally believed to have died in 1934.
Famed throughout his first life for such great works as The Enigma Variations - whose Nimrod variation, when played at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday is capable of bringing a tear to the eye of everyone from Telegraph-reading, retired colonels to happy-slapping youths - and the Pomp & Circumstance Marches that gave birth to Land of Hope & Glory, Sir Edward Elgar was one of the greatest British composers. Many believe his music had an uncanny ability to connect with the British people, an ability that was doubtless the product both of his enormous (and self-taught) musical gifts and of the fact that he first started composing in earnest while working as bandmaster at the Worcester and County Lunatic Asylum. At the time of his original death in 1934 he was the country's best-loved composer and Master of the King's Musick.
Left to rest peacefully in his grave for more than 65 years, Sir Edward was only exhumed in 1999, when the authorities at the Royal Mint decided to place him on the face of the £20 note - a position from which he could look down on Charles Darwin and his £10 note and look up to Sir John Houblon and his £50 note, doubtless joining the rest of the public in wondering who the hell Sir John Houblon was and what on earth he had done to rank above one of Britain's greatest composers and one of the world's greatest scientists.
For eight years, Sir Edward did loyal service on the £20 note, whether being slid into wallets, crumpled into pockets, rolled up in the lavatories of media haunts and snorted through or even handed over to politicians in exchange for a "baronetcy for myself and summink nice for the wife". Through all the crumplings up, impromptu origami sessions and even during many dark moments on boil wash in the washing machine while lying forgotten in a back pocket, the aged composer uttered no word of complaint.
Despite such Stakhanovite toil, Sir Edward soon found himself the victim of a whispering campaign in the Mint. He was, it was said, too old-fashioned and easy to copy - a charge which was to prove all too true when it was discovered that his image was spending more time on photocopiers than that fat bloke from accounting's arse did at office parties.
Sir Edward's doom was decreed. In March 2007 he was cast aside by the Royal Mint, to be replaced by the great Scottish economist Adam Smith - the man who first felt the invisible hand of the market (though the matter has yet to be brought to court). Sir Edward will be buried in the graveyard of deceased banknote characters alongside Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale and that dodgy copy of Elizabeth Fry on a five-pound note I got passed with the rest of my change in the pub last night.
12 March 2007
Cheap Flights reached the end of their short but lucrative runway this weekend following the announcement that the Conservatives plan to introduce a tax on frequent flyers with a green air miles scheme designed to limit damage to the environment - particularly if that environment is anywhere in the vicinity of a hen party with £1.00 tickets to Dublin.
Cheap Flights took off for the first time in 1985 when Ryanair went into competition with British Airway and Aer Lingus, flying from Waterford to London, and providing a much cheaper alternative by economising on "fancy frills" such as customer service and leg room for anyone taller than The Seven Dwarves.
By the early 90s Cheap Flights had become a popular and cost-effective way of enjoying what felt like a near-death experience at a fraction of the cost of Alton Towers. With EU deregulation of the air industry in 1997, the skies over Britain were filled with planes carrying passengers to weekends in such romantic European destinations as Stuttgart, that strange bit of Paris that is actually 50 miles from the city itself and is only used by cheap flights and the crop dusting plane from "North by Northwest" and the Stansted Travelodges that are the only alternative when you've been unexpectedly bumped off a flight despite having booked it several months in advance.
With growing concern over the environmental impact of Cheap Flights during the noughties, the 21st century equivalent of the Battle of Britain began. In the early days of the conflict, Ryanair and EasyJet prevailed, but despite increased demand for short-haul flights (so-called because the passengers were often called upon to haul the plane from the terminal concourse to the runway) environmentally-aware politicians and Conservatives looking for an image change soon began to inflict heavy losses.
The last post was sounded when Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, dared to speak out on behalf of the environment in a brave move to protect our beautiful planet in no way connected with the opportunity to embarrass a Labour government with all the green credentials of Jeremy Clarkson. When David Cameron - who had joined the Mile High club as a teenager despite never having boarded a plane - came flying out of the sun with all environmental policies blazing, Cheap Flights were riddled with holes, took a sudden nose-dive and crashed and burned... something many passengers had been predicting would happen for years.
Cheap Flights will be buried at St Leslie Nielsen's Church of Airplane! Mourners will be flown to East Midlands airport, 120 miles from the service held in the duty-free concourse of Luton Airport. Admission will be £0.50 (inc. wake taxes £75.00), a 100cl bottle of Lithuanian red wine £4.00 and complementary nuts £12.50. Passengers will be asked to join in the singing of Cheap Flights favourite hymn "There is an airport far away".
Cheap flights are survived by unseasonably warm weather, a load of lonely raffia donkeys and a massive increase in day-glo fake tans.
10 March 2007
09 March 2007
Conservatives across the country are today singing the blues for the Front Bench Seat of Patrick Mercer MP, which has died at the age of four in what is being reported as an unsavoury racist incident.
Patrick Mercer's Front Bench Seat was the lovechild of former Tory leader, ex-Scots-Guardsman and professional mute Iain Duncan Smith's need for a shadow cabinet member who didn't look as if he belonged in an 18th Century lunatic asylum and former army officer and ex-BBC Defence Reporter Patrick Mercer's desire to find a position where, if he bided his time, he could really shoot his mouth off.
It was a sign of the regard in which Mr Mercer was held that he retained his Front Bench Seat under three successive Conservative leaders - though this may have been due in part to the fact that in recent years the Tories have rarely given their chiefs enough time to put their lucky gonk on the leader's desk, let alone get round to reshuffling their shadow cabinet. Given the high degree of sensitivity and intelligence which has traditionally been displayed by British Army officers (only some of whom like to attend "natives and colonials" parties dressed in Nazi uniform) many were surprised when Mr Mercer failed to say anything outrageous at all for many years, preferring instead to leave foolish generalisations and ill-thought-through off-the-cuff remarks to Boris Johnson.
Mr Mercer's great moment - and his Front Bench Seat's darkest hour - finally came in March 2007 when his mouth took the opportunity of an interview with Times Online to begin channelling the spirit of Ron Atkinson, suggesting that during his time in the army he had come across "a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours" and that, in the army, a "chap with red hair" would get a "far harder time than a black man".
From the moment that Conservative leader David Cameron became aware of Mr Mercer's remarks (or at least from the moment he became aware that they'd been made publicly and to a journalist) the death of Mr Mercer's Front Bench Seat was inevitable. Confirming The Seat's passing, friends of Mr Cameron told reporters that to claim he had overreacted was "utter rot" and that in his time as Tory leader he had known "a lot of Conservative MPs who were idle and useless but who used claims of 'political correctness gone mad' as cover for their misdemeanours".
Patrick Mercer's Conservative Front Bench Seat will be buried without ceremony at St Enoch's Church of the Rivers of Blood and as far away from Mr Cameron's shiny New Tory image as the spin doctors can manage.
08 March 2007
In the latest in our series of tributes to those who have passed away by those who knew them best, we at As A Dodo hand over our columns - barely pausing for the requisite juvenile snigger as we do so - to one of Mr Inman's frequent pantomime co-stars, Dick Whittington's cat.
When they told me that John Inman was dead I'm afraid my instant reaction was a full-throated "Oh no he isn't". For, however well he was known for his light-footed work as the eternally "free" and extraordinarily camp Mr Humphries in "Are You Being Served?", John's true place was undoubtedly on stage and costumed (in one of the incredible creations he himself put together) as a pantomime dame.
John having starred in more than 40 pantomimes during his life I'm sure many of your readers will have had the chance to witness his genius at work on stage. I certainly know many whose life was forever altered by a sight of his extraordinary Twankey. Indeed his very first role saw him unleashing it on the Blackpool stage when he was just 14 years old.
From then on, John and panto were inseparable. I had the privilege of appearing with him many times in Dick Whittington and - having been caught in the rain before one performance - can honestly say that his Sarah the Cook took the best possible care of her soaking pussy, outdoing even Are You Being Served's Mrs Slocombe. Whether the script required Sarah to polish up the Lord Mayor's baubles or sort out King Rat's ballcock, John always rose to the occasion with alacrity. I would that we had been able to work together more often but sadly on his last outing as Sarah I was on another stage, giving my all to the Student Prince.
Whatever anyone may think of the role of Mr Humphries, as a dame John was one of the true greats, a walking encyclopaedia of panto lore. If only, like Peter Pan's Tinkerbell, we could wish him back to life. For now though, I must leave his memory and your readers: this little pussy's got 12 miles to London and there's still no sign of Dick.
The Political Middle Ages died yesterday when members of the Commons voted overwhelmingly for a fully elected House of Lords and the abolition of all hereditary peers under Leader of the House Jack Straw’s daring plans to drag the Upper Chamber by its be-wigged, be-gartered and be-ermined costume into the modern democracy of the, er … nineteenth century.
The Political Middle Ages began with the first Model Parliament held in 1295 when archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons (or anyone else who had a spare million groats to pop into the monarch's campaigning fund) - along with a couple of local burgesses to represent the, er, people - formed a royal council to freely discuss the important issues of the day… and then do whatever the king told them to do.
For centuries, the Political Middle Ages ruled the country with no-one raising any objection, in part because most of the people were too busy being swept up into ultimately-doomed crusades in the Middle East or suffering the black death but chiefly because, this being the Middle Ages, it somehow seemed appropriate. Time, however, moved on and people began to believe that it was somehow inappropriate for them to be ruled over by a bunch of people whose only qualifications for leadership were either (a) an ancestor having fought alongside the monarch's great-great-granddad, (b) an ancestor having slept with the monarch's great-great granddad or (c) an ancestor having bunged large amounts of cash into the monarch's great-great-granddad's campaign chest.
Gradually the power of the people began to grow, mainly because the Black Death had left so few of them standing that if all those nobles wanted their fields tilling they'd have to pay through the nose for the privilege. By the reign of Edward III, The Political Middle Ages found itself having to put up with an unwelcome division between the power of the nobility in the House of Lords and the powers of the knights and burgesses, quite rightly named "The Commons".
Matters came to a head - literally - when the country's ruler Tony Blair King Charles I started wandering around proclaiming that he was divinely appointed and could freely ignore the will of parliament, prompting Oliver Cromwell to test out the theory of whether the King's divine appointment also enabled him to ignore the lack of that bit of his body usually found above the neck.
For four years from 1649 it was believed that the Political Middle Ages had died and that Britain would be ruled by the will of its people. Sadly, by 1653 Cromwell himself had become almost as tired of democracy as those he ruled had become tired of wearing plain clothes and not being allowed to dance, and abolished parliament altogether. By 1660, the Political Middle Ages had returned to their usual position (along with several accommodating actresses) under Charles II.
By now, however, the Political Middle Ages were beginning to show their age, barely managing to stagger through Glorious Revolutions and the gradual diminution of kingly power. A series of punishing body blows were suffered during the 19th century and 20th centuries, with the passing of a series of Parliament Acts curtailing the power of the House of Lords. Soon The Political Middle Ages could only be sustained thanks to the tendency of Prime Ministers from Lloyd-George onwards to call in the ermine outfitters for anyone who could bung their party a bit of cash, no questions asked.
Despite the fond attentions of political leaders down the years, the last gasp of the Political Middle Ages was uttered last night. The death came following a vote on Lords reform in a ballot more confusing than the Eurovision song contest and with all the logic of Deal or No Deal. As MPs poured through the Division Lobby to express a) their desire for a fully-elected Upper Chamber; b) the plan most offensive to peers that they will reject it; or c) any option – it doesn’t really matter because it’s an indicative vote which won’t become an Act of Parliament, but trust us, it will inform government policy, some time in the future… The Political Middle Ages cried “Fie!” and “Zounds!” and fell into a deep sleep from which it could not be woken – although it may just have been taking forty winks during an important debate on increasing peers’ expenses to cover the exorbitant dry-cleaning costs for getting stains out of ermine.
The Political Middle Ages will not be buried during the lifetime of this government, or even Gordon Brown’s, but some time in the future, no really it will… at the Palace of Westminster where the remaining 92 hereditary peers, appointed peers and bishops will gather to sing The House That Jack Built. It is survived by Tony Blair, the Royal Family and a vote on Lords reform by peers themselves – yes, including Lord Levy – next week…
07 March 2007
Lewis "Scooter" Libby’s Political Usefulness as assistant to President Bush and Chief of Staff to Dick Cheney was legally terminated yesterday when it was found guilty on four counts of obstruction of justice and perjury in the cover-up of the leaking of the name of a CIA operative, and one count of being named after a character in The Muppets.
Scooter Libby’s Political Usefulness was born in 1981, the offspring of a legal career defending dodgy businessmen and military-industrial corporations and a job offer from his friendly old Yale professor, Paul Wolfowitz, who always likes to help out someone in need, provided that someone is already a hugely successful, go-getting, higher-rate-tax-payer and not some welfare-guzzling schmo who might actually be in, er, need.
The Usefulness quickly proved its worth at the State Department, specialising in East Asian and Pacific affairs, before moving to the Pentagon in 1989, as Principal Deputy Under-Secretary Of Defense For Strategy And Resources And Making Up Stuff About Foreign Countries As An Excuse To Start A War With Them.
By the end of the century, The Usefulness had become part of George W Bush’s core security team, along with Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Mr Wolfowitz – a network of neo-conservatives known as “The Vulcans”, completely devoid of human emotion, able to kill a liberal with their “death grip” but, strangely, singularly unsuccessful in achieving a mind-meld with the President.
In 2001, The Usefulness was made Vice-President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff becoming so close to the Vice President that it was known as “Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney”. At the same time, it also became an assistant to Mr Bush (“Dick Cheney’s Dick”) and national security adviser, shaping policy on Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea and other countries neocons thought the US could easily whup in a fight that posed a threat to world peace.
It was during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq that the seeds of The Usefulness's demise were sown, when former US ambassador Joseph Wilson publicly cast doubt on the President’s insistence that Saddam Hussein had the ability to develop nuclear weapons. Why Mr Wilson should have cast such doubt no one can say, perhaps it was out of envy of Mr Bush, perhaps a deep and abiding hatred of freedom or perhaps even because Saddam Hussein was not developing nuclear weapons. Nonetheless it was at this time that The Usefulness's nemesis arrived, in the guise of some shadowy figure - who may or may not have loved hunting quail and septuagenarian lawyers - authorised the leaking of the fact Mr Wilson’s wife, Victoria Plame, was a CIA operative and – far, far worse – the owner of several Joni Mitchell albums, details which were both capable of putting her life in danger and ending her career.
With the hunt for this shadowy figure on in Capitol Hill and among the press and indictments being threatened, The Usefulness entered its last moments, nobly allowing itself to be cast into the path of the ravenous pursuing lawyers, who set upon it with glee. Even as it was being devoured the Usefulness strove to protect those who had cast it aside, unwilling to call on its former masters even to speak in its favour. Found guilty of covering-up the Plame leak, The Usefulness was useful no more. It blinked its last and died yesterday in Courtroom 17.
Scooter Libby’s Political Usefulness will be buried at the Lee Majors Church of the Fall Guy. It is survived by Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz and a pardon from George Bush just before he leaves office in January, 2009.
06 March 2007
Students, drunks and the long-term unemployed are today huddled on their sofas , their fingers mashing the buttons of their TV remote controls as they search in vain for ITV's Premium Rate Phone-Ins, which died last night.
Born in 1987, Premium-Rate Phone-Ins was the younger sibling of the notorious Premium-Rate Chatlines. Having seen its elder family member gain its dubious reputation after thrusting itself (along with a number of semi-clad, gyrating women with unlikely breasts and improbable tans, plus several gym-addicted young men in overtight T-shirts, all keen to "make new friends on the telephone") into tabloid newspapers, softcore magazines and the advertising breaks on TV's "James Whale Radio Show" in the mid-1980s, Premium-Rate Phone-Ins quickly realised what it would take to let it push through the crowd in the heavily shoulder-padded world of Thatcher's Britain.
Soon Phone-Ins found itself hanging around in Soho alleyways near the Groucho Club, offering the prospect of good - and extremely lucrative - times to red-eyed media types who seemed more interested in the pressing business of finding a lavatory cistern with a nice flat top, a good lock on the door and no draughts. It was not long before, like a modern day Lulu, it was mixing with the nation's leading figures: hanging on Terry Wogan's arm as he hungrily urged the nation to get its collective wallet out and spend its wad on charitable causes, sidling up to Richard Madeley on the sofa as he took time off from the endless task of revealing the vastness of his wisdom to the country to urge his viewers to start fingering their buttons and dial in to the latest premium quiz, standing by to answer (extremely expensive) calls from a voyeuristic audience as an endless parade of the desperate and untalented prostituted themselves before the nation on Big Brother, X Factor and their ilk.
All this was as nothing, however, compared to Premium-Rate Phone-Ins' greatest coup, persuading the doddering old gentleman that was ITV to give it a whole TV channel to itself. ITV Play was the zenith of Phone-Ins' achievement, filled as it was with hour after hour of former Big Brother finalists, ex quiz-show warm-up men and shiny-toothed blonde women in their early twenties all doing nothing but singing Phone-Ins' praises. And all the while viewers across the land were falling over themselves (admittedly this was, in many cases, due to having imbibed enough Bacardi breezers to stun a herd of wildebeest) to pay 75p a minute to attempt to answer impossible quizzes in which the answers to the question "What would you find in a woman's handbag?" included "rawlplugs", "dog biscuits" and "balaclavas" and all despite their belief that the call centre they were ringing probably only possessed one, broken telephone manned by a profoundly deaf monkey.
Such an exercise in hubris could not go unpunished. Soon the very gods themselves, not to mention journalists eager for a rip-off Britain story to fill up their pages on a slow news day, were crying out for Premium Rate Phone-Ins' demise. With even the slumbering, not to say comatose, media-regulation giant Ofcom giving signs of being roused, senior officials at ITV led by Michael Grade last night visited Premium-Rate Phone-Ins' ITV Play home bearing a thank you note for all the millions it had brought ITV in one hand and a sock filled with wet sand in the other.
ITV's Premium Rate Phone-Ins will be remembered in a special service at the Lord Reith Church of Revolving-in-his-Grave. It will be (a) buried, (b) cremated or (c) shot from a purpose-built rail-gun into orbit around Saturn(*). Those wishing to leave their condolences are asked to repeatedly dial an 090 number despite having absolutely no prospect of getting through.
(*) Ofcom regulations require that As A Dodo advise readers that (c), being the least likely answer, is, of course, correct.
05 March 2007
Legal and constitutional experts are lowering their wigs and closing up their dusty tomes this morning following the announcement by As A Dodo that the office of Attorney General of England and Wales has passed away, after an attempt to advise itself on the decision to advise itself about advising the government of which it was a member on the legality of a member of the government of which it was a member advising the government of which it was a member about its decision to take out of injunctions which might be seen to be to the advantage of the government of which it was a member resulted in a rip in the fabric of reality, not to mention assorted conflicts of interest.
The office of Attorney General was born in 1315, when Edward II took time out from being defeated at Bannockburn and avoiding pointed fire irons (especially the heated ones) to appoint an individual (ideally someone who worked out a lot and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the latest madrigals) to prosecute his business in the Court of Common Pleas.
Over the following centuries the office of Attorney General went happily about its business of advising the Crown (and whoever happened to be wearing it) without anyone ever questioning its role. Soon it was deciding who could and could not bring cases in the courts, handing out injunctions, being responsible for the criminal law and representing the public interest.
Early signs of future disaster began to appear in the late 17th century and early 18th century when the gradual spread of a phenomenon experts have identified as "democracy" first began to appear in the British constitution. By the 20th century definite questions had begun to arise over whether, as a government minister, the Attorney General could really safeguard the public interest when the government kept doing things that the public weren't interested in at all like having wars and buggering up the National Health Service.
It was in the early 21st century that the Attorney General embarked on the course which was to lead to his office's doom. The first sign of the disaster awaiting humanity came in 2003 when Lord Goldsmith was asked to advise his cabinet colleagues on the legality of war with Iraq and, when he indicated that he wasn't one hundred per cent sure it was legal was told to go away and think again until he came up with the answer Tony wanted. With the fabric of reality already beginning to twist as the Attorney General engaged in a novel form of quantum superposition, being at one and the same time a loyal member of the government and also an impartial law officer, many experts were already issuing dire warnings that "the constitution cannae take it captain".
Undeterred, the Attorney General ploughed on with his experimentation, insisting that the British constitution itself required him to test the public's tolerance by being the final arbiter of whether his cabinet friends and colleagues, including the Prime Minister that appointed him could ever be prosecuted should the police decide that they had been offering passing billionaires a "touch of the old ermine" for a loan of a spare million or two. Matters came to a head when, acting on a request from the police, the Attorney General attempted to obtain injunctions to prevent the public from finding out anything about the police's investigation and to prevent them from knowing he'd asked for an injunction in the first place. The attempt to act "completely independently of government" whilst at the same time being a member of that government caused the public's belief in reality to explode, irrevocably destroying the Attorney General's office.
The office of Attorney General will be buried under a vast selection of constitutional hats at the Heisenberg Church of Quantum Uncertainty. It is survived by the equally confused offices of Solicitor General and Lord Chancellor as well as being both survived and not survived at the same time by Schrödinger’s cat.
03 March 2007
02 March 2007
The Internal Combustion Engine has coughed and spluttered its last, suffering from terminal indigestion triggered by that dodgy litre of petrol it bought at a supermarket in the South of England this week.
The Internal Combustion Engine was born of doubtful parentage in the late nineteenth century, although Karl Benz laid claim to it with his patent for a four-stroke engine. It was a large and greedy baby requiring constant feeding with petrol-based snacks and spent its youth roaming the countryside frightening women, horses and the people of Norfolk. Indeed, it was considered so dangerous that, by law, a man was required to walk in front of it waving a red flag – sending terrified Edwardians into the nearest chemist for a reassuring tincture of laudanum.
In 1913, with Henry Ford mass-producing his infamous “automobiles” built around the Engine, it was only a matter of months before millions were spending their last dimes on feeding the noisy, belching brat in pursuit of the American Dream of life, liberty, happiness and bigger engines, bigger tyres and bigger overdrafts.
Around the world, sensible, horse-drawn members of society abandoned their quiet lives in to become “travelling salesmen” – willing to work harder and further away from home to feed their mechanical off-spring and their need to cruise at 55 mph in the middle of the motorway regardless of the emptiness of the inside lane.
The Engine’s constant demands for attention played a part in the decline of organised religion as supplicants worshipped at a new altar, preferring to spend their Sundays tinkering with their beloved Engines before going for a nice drive in the country – spending four hours stuck in a traffic jam on the A12, arguing with their partner about whether they really should have taken that last left and stopping for a relaxing cup of tea from a thermos on the hard shoulder of the M25.
With the price of petrol being driven up by decreased stability in oil-producing regions that, completely coincidentally, had recently been invaded by forces looking to develop peace, stability and new oil exploitation opportunites, many owners were driven (literally) to find cheaper fuel for their voracious Engines and started frequenting supermarket petrol station forecourts, looking for a good two-for-one offer to keep the over-sized wheels of their 4x4s turning and possibly a microwaveable burger for themselves. The ill-effects of a lifetime of reckless combustion combined with a last meal of contaminated petrol brought about the Internal Combustion Engine's inevitable end as, bloated, unwieldy and starved of oxygen, it had one final seizure and rolled to a silent halt by the side of the road, out of sight even of a Little Chef.
The Internal Combustion Engine will be placed in an unleaded casket inside a Rover Maestro before being scrapped at St Clarkson’s Turbo-Charged Church of the Petrol-Head. It is survived by the bicycle, Shank’s Pony, Virgin Trains and irreversible climate change.