Thursday, 26 November 2009

30 things you can’t do with a broken hand.

It wasn’t until I broke my right hand in a “door related accident” that I realised 1) How much I use it, and 2) How utterly useless my left hand is. For the paltry 3 weeks the bulbous plaster and polyurethane 'gimp-fist' was on, I gradually compiled a list of things I simply could not do. I’d like to share a few of those with you.

1. Wash my left armpit:

I’m told you can’t lick your own elbow. As there is no earthly reason why you’d ever want to I suggest we replace this truism with the more potentially helpful “You can’t get shower gel and water into your left armpit without your right hand”. It would have saved me hours of trying.

2. Open ring-pull cans:

My mother suffers from arthritis in her hands and has always complained about these “new fangled” tins. I, being young and indestructible, always took such things with a pinch of salt. She’s still laughing at me.

3. Unscrew anything:

As a man I pride myself on the ability to open things. When adverts portray us as the brainless football watchers and sock sniffers in a female wonderworld of order and sense, I have remarked wryly that the fairer sex would at least be denied olives, jam and morello cherries were it not for us. Brothers, let me tell you now, the day you ask the fiancé to perform such a task for you is the day your masculinity dies.

4. Figure out what that revolting smell is:

I became convinced that the fiancé had gone on laundry strike because of my inability to do the other household chores usually reserved for me. Everywhere I went smelled of old socks. A chanced attempt to scratch my nose with the broken hand revealed that wrapping it in a nylon bandage, encasing it in plaster and not washing it for three weeks has the same effect as it would on a foot, only much, much closer to your face.

5. Wave convincingly:

You give it not a single thought. Simply lift your right hand and wave, but when it’s in plaster and permanently bent slightly at the wrist the effect is more the pawing of a needy puppy than the chirpy acknowledgement you had hoped.

6. Tear the tops off those little paper sachets of sugar:

I dislike paper sachets of sugar in restaurants. It smacks of penny pinching. Presumably the cost of having an employee actually fill a bowl and insert a spoon makes it worth giving your customers the impression they are not to be trusted to use a sensible amount if left to their own devices. If the customer has a broken hand however there is a real financial incentive. By the time they have opened enough sachets, the coffee is cold and they have to buy another.

7. Write:

Here's how it goes; I’m going to the shops ... I’ll write a list ... bugger. I’m watching TV ... must write down that website ... bugger. At a meeting ... I’ll put that in my diary ... bugger. Must get a lottery ticket ... now to fill in the little check box ... oh for goodness sake!

8. Sleep comfortably:

There is a very good reason no-one has ever made a teddy bear out of Gouda-scented plaster of Paris and polyurethane.

9. Sign my name:

My signature is, at best, a hieroglyph dredged from the “Other Side” where monsters lurk and envy our world. Once the hand used to execute this sigil is wrapped in an inch of plaster of Paris the hand tends to skid, stretching it to even greater lengths. My request for a book of those giant charity presentation cheques was met with a stony response from the bank.

10. Turn keys in stiff locks:

When it’s dark and wet and cold and the only sound above the rain is the rhythmic slamming of your forehead against the still-not-budging front door you’ll wish you’d fixed it before you broke your hand.

11. Get change from the pocket of tight Jeans:

How to make a queue. 1) Take one man with a broken right hand. 2) Put all his change in the right pocket of his jeans. 3) Place him in front of a parking meter in a busy city centre car park. 4) Allow to stand for fifteen minutes or until bludgeoned to death.

12. Shake hands:

Normally I shake men’s hands, women’s hands and dog’s paws as a matter of course. It’s part of my manners ritual. Holding up aforementioned gimp-fist and saying “I would … but…” really doesn’t provide a satisfactory alternative for either party, least of all the dog.

13. Swat flies:

The human male has one, conspicuous ability over his female counterpart; that of being able, in the presence of a wasp or bluebottle fly, to casually swat the offending insect without recourse to a dancing around like a cross between Michael Flatly and a southern Baptist speaking in tongues. When one forgets one’s hand is 18 ounces heavier, 2 inches wider and immeasurably harder, the result is either concussion or broken ornaments.

14. Execute the “Rimmer” salute:

*Twirl, twirl, twirl, flick, slap!* becomes *Twirl, twirl twirl, flick THUNK … “STRETCHER BEARER!”*

15. Learn from my mistakes:

Slapping your hand to your forehead when you’ve blundered is a mild self-administered punishment reminding you to not make the same mistake again. This effect is largely lost with a plaster cast on your hand as it renders you immediately unconscious.

16. Use gloves (Plural):

Two kinds of people wear just one glove; Micheal Jackson and Golfers. One is dead, the others might as well be. The broken handed get to wear one glove and a football sock. This is not an improvement.

17. Use pockets instead of gloves:

James Dean looked moody and rakish in Times Square with his hands thrust in his pockets. He may have had a broken hand, although I don’t recall Dennis Stock ever mentioning it. If he had there would also be an anecdote about the tragic star flailing around like a broken marionette trying to disengage the pot from the pocket.

18. Use oven gloves:

An ordinary hand fits in an oven glove, well, like a glove. A broken one does not. Figuring this out before the soufflé is ready is strongly advised.

19. Use the plaster instead of oven gloves:

Necessity, it turns out, isn’t the mother of invention. It’s the mother of second degree burns.

20. Do ... “Toilet things”:

Many people in the Middle East consider it almost an act of religious observance to use their left hand for the application of certain paper products to certain parts of the body for the removal of certain substances. They have thus had a lifetime’s practice. They spend less time in the smallest room than I do for this very reason.

21. Wear a suit:

A black suit, well fitted in chest and sleeve, is the mark of a man ready to do business. A black suit, torn at the armpit from the force of ramming an orthopaedic cast down a fitted sleeve is not. Add to the picture the crazy pattern of white plaster scuffs and it just looks like a cry for help from a man who asked for pinstripes from an epileptic tailor.

22. Fondle. Anything:

For centuries lovers, scholars and out of work physiotherapists have looked on the Kama Sutra with wonder and anticipation. Little did they know that the number of love making positions could be effectively doubled simply by disabling one of the combatant’s hands. While we’re at it (or not, as the case may be), a discussion of lovemaking in the context of metacarpal fractures would not be complete without mention of two words; Bra and Strap.

23. Use scissors:

“Cut Here” is not a simple instruction. It’s a cruel taunt used by apple juice cartons to mock you.

24. Put drawing pins in a wall:

Normal instructions: Place pin on wall. Press with thumb. Job done. Broken Hand Instructions: Place pin on wall. Press with right thumb. Scream. Attempt steps 1+2 with left hand. Retrieve pin from behind desk where it landed after skidding off wall and flying across room because of complete lack of coordination in left hand. Hold pin in place with left hand. Strike head of pin firmly with forehead.

25. Get my hand down the back of the sofa:

When you’re leaving the house in a rush … when there’s no time to stop at the shop and buy a Twix with a £20 pound note … and if no-one else can help … you need … sofa change. Fat chance with a hand the size of a boxing glove.

26. Accurately use a mouse:

Where “Click here for your chance to win X” used to be a simple and ignorable invitation to the gullible. It has now become an aspiration.

27. Play Pictionary:

In preparation for a night in with a few friends my fiancé suggests board games as a pass-time. “What did you have in mind?” says I. “Pictionary” says she. “You’re all heart” says I, holding up hand. “Ah” says she. I’m just glad we didn’t invite David Blunkett.

28. Play guitar:

I don’t play guitar. I didn’t before I broke my hand. In the corner of the office sits a guitar nevertheless. In three weeks I managed to convince myself that the only thing stopping me from learning to play the guitar was the damned plaster cast. This turned out to be untrue.

29. Do press-ups:

So far one of the very few benefits of the broken hand has been the release from the tyranny of the fitness Nazis. It’s like a golden sick-note. I’m considering having a fake cast made so that at dinner parties in future I can be exempted from the inevitable gym conversation with a wave of the pot and a shrug conveying the sentiment “I’d love to but…”.

30. Explain to anyone that I didn’t get the injury in a fight:

When you break the fifth metacarpal in your dominant hand, everyone over a certain age will tell you, in a knowing voice, tinged with disdain, that it is ‘a boxer’s injury’. It is more than mildly ironic, given I have never boxed, never particularly wished to box and currently cannot box, that the one time I really want to punch someone is for telling me I have ‘a boxer’s injury’. Next time when they ask what I did to break my hand I’ll say “I was talking to someone about having a broken hand and they said it was a boxer’s injury and I punched them so hard I broke my hand again”.

Friday, 13 November 2009

New car versus old car.

Reading through a website for a range of sustainable luggage recently (Yes there is such a thing) I came across a question about the pros and cons of buying a new car. I answered their question thus:

"My vote would be on second-hand every time for four reasons:

1: Recycling. Buying a new car, even a so-called eco-friendly car, means paying for the mining of heavy metals, the use of thousands of gallons of water and tons of Co2 for it's production. Meantime the car you would have saved from the scrapheap goes to recycling where tons of Co2 and thousands of gallons of water are spent feeding its raw materials back in to the same eco-expensive system. Re-use will always be more effective than re-cycling.

2: Fuel Economy. I drive a 1993 Vauxhall Cavalier. It does 37 miles to the gallon. It does this because it doesn't have the side impact bars, extra airbags, sound insulation, Air conditioning and gadgets crammed in to newer cars. It doesn't weigh as much. As the meercat says; Simples.

3: Local economy: I don't pay £200 a month on leasing to a faceless international corporation's usury arm. I bought my car off a local dealer for £500 two years ago. Since then I've spent about £500 pound a year on repairs and MOT work. I don't have to go to a dealership to have the work done, there's a father and son garage at the bottom of my street. They'll do the work I can't do and tell me how to do the easy stuff myself. When I need a part I don't have one shipped from Indonesia. I go to the local scrapyard and pay a man who uses the money in my community. My car has 160k on the clock and starts first time, every time. When the engine goes I have a donor engine on a pallet at my local garage which cost me £80 and has 80k on the clock. It'll cost £100 to put it in. Then I'll have another 80k of cheap motoring.

4: Ownership: Finally, when I get in my car I know it belongs to me. I don't think "If I don't make enough money this month they could take this off me." It might not be much but it's mine, and if I look after it it'll still be mine for a good long while too.

I am biased. I don't like new cars. Sure I'd have a sporty executive type thing, a Bentley or an Aston if I had £100k to spend but I haven't. So why make myself poorer and more anonymous in the meantime with a tin box the same as everyone else? I'll keep my Cav thanks.

PS: Really. Don't buy a new car."

Thought for the day: For those interested in sustainable luggage you could do a lot worse then go here: Millican. If nothing else it'll make you think about how un-sustainable the rest of your posessions are.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Bish, Bash, Tosh! (Folk Myths of a PC Christmas)

My interest was peeked this weekend by a shouty article in Birmingham's leading tabloid:

"Midlands Church Leaders in Battle to Save Christmas" screamed the headline. The article itself is no less polemic, announcing it as a gauntlet thrown down to "The Politically Correct Brigade" (whoever they are).

The Mercury quotes the bishop at length...

"We’re just getting to the season when the papers like to report on local councils who, out of concern for ethnic minorities, have banned Christmas in favour of Winterval or another silly name.

This year that kind of story is likely to be more than matched by stories of big firms sacking those people who want to wear a cross, a fish lapel badge or some other sign of the Christian faith.

Ethnic minorities are far more anxious about the rampant secularism and commercialism that erodes all Christian standards than they are about their host country properly celebrating its Christian foundations."

(Read the rest of it here

Now I'm not arguing against the good bishop's right to express his fears but there are two phrases which need highlighting in the above paragraph.

"the papers like to report..." and "that kind of story is likely to be more than matched by...". It hasn't actually happened you see?

Trying to find an actual example of a local authority or a company banning Christmas is as difficult as trying to find a Muslim who's offended by cheap plastic baubles and borrowed pagan symbols. It's like trying to nail jelly to a wall, but the idea persists that they're all at it.

The Chronicle warns "it comes as a report reveals three out of four employers will not be putting up decorations this year for fear of offending staff."

I wanted to read that report, so I went looking for it. It was conducted by an employment law firm which deals with compensation claims against employers. Oh and it was done in 2006.

Despite the decrepit and potentially biased nature of the stats and the paucity of other proof, the Chronicle (and the Bishop) have responded as though the sky is falling, while Muslims and other minority faiths respond with utter bewilderment.

The "Winterval" scare is also an urban myth. Back in 1997 and 1998 Birmingham City Council came up with an idea to promote the redevelopment of it's city centre to everyone. What it wanted to do was include a whole grab-bag of celebrations without making anyone think it was just about Christmas. Among the events between October 20th and mid-January it wanted to celebrate were such foreign muck as; The Christmas lights switch on, BBC Children in Need, Aston Hall by Candlelight, New Years eve, various theatre shows, an open air ice rink, Frankfurt open air Christmas market and "the Christmas seasonal retail offer".

Fortunately for the headline writers, the Hindu Diwali festival, Chinese New Year and the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Fitr were also included. Knee-jerkers will often call Eid "Muslim Christmas" but it moves forward 11 days each year so most of the time it's nowhere near the Christian festival. Not in 1997 and 1998 though. Then it was slap bang in the middle. A perfect chance to make money off Muslims and Christians alike, not to mention BBC viewers and Torville and Dean fans. But the authority made the mistake of using one of those public service words which has the effect of turning tabloid hacks into rabid attack dogs. That word is "Inclusive".

What started off as a marketing ploy to get more punters in to the town centre on dark winter nights swiftly spiralled into a national tabloid sensation, as editors scrambled to gain the high ground of moral indignation on what was always a hill of sand.

Commentators raged at "Political correctness gone mad" but consider this; If I go and ask a bishop the two following questions (as a qualified journalist) which do you think is going to get a more explosive response?

Q1) Birmingham City council wants to rename Christmas "Winterval" to avoid offending Muslims. What do you think?

Q2) Birmingham city council wants to get as much money as possible off everyone this Christmas so it's calling its major marketing event Winterval so it can include adverts for Diwali, Eid, Dancing on Ice and Children In Need. What do you think?

Guess which angle the papers went for? Here's a clue; The Sunday Mercury, bastion of fine editorial content that it is, has such gems as "Stourbridge widow was £1,000 per night hooker" and "Britain's Got Talent star offers sex for money" on it's front page this week. Incisive stuff.

The Winterval story was just too good for them to miss. 12 years on it's still running. "A lie", they say, "will be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on".

So I'm sorry to be a wet blanket on everyone's righteous anger but this is a tabloid inspired circulation booster.

A combination of lazy journalism and partisan paranoia have conspired to bring another non-story back from the dead. It is truly a ghost of Christmas past.

You've been had. Again.

Thought for the day: How many people who use the Coca-Cola company's image of Santa, hang pagan mistletoe in the hall and fight for a Christian Christmas have been to church in the last 12 months?

Monday, 12 October 2009

Dying to be green

I'll not bore you with the thought process which lead me to my current conundrum but it occurred to me that my death, when it comes, will have an impact on the planet's atmosphere if I'm not very careful. We're all destined for landfill of sorts after all. Before your eyebrows migrate to the nape of your neck, this began more as a thought experiment than an eco-crusade.

Put simply, we're 18% carbon as we stand, but when we lie down to sleep for the last time it'll all be released as we rot. I'm only 11 stone so that's one run to the shops in a Fiat Panda in Co2 terms but there are an awful lot of us around. 7 Billion trips to ASDA worth of rotting corpses is a bit more of a problem.

It's not an easy one to solve either. My first thought was encapsulation. Bury me in Tupperware! But then there's all that oil and water to make the plastic and the inevitable junk male which would come from the production of a click-lock casket (I can see the JML ad now). Ditto glass. All that heat required to make me into a giant paperweight. Concrete, another candidate chucks out huge amounts of carbon dioxide as it sets so that';s an eco-no-no too. Nelson was pickled in brandy to preserve his body for the return trip from Trafalgar (Third class really meant something back then) but again, vineyards, wooden casks, transit costs and the fermentation process are hardly carbon neutral. Cremation's the worst of all. Most of the ovens are natural gas fired and would release my carbon faster than mouldering in the grave.

When you start analysing what makes carbon dioxide it really does get tricky. How do you dispose of a human without the funeral service being drowned out by the tutting of environmentalists.

I have however hit upon a plan which I think you'll agree ticks most of the boxes. I shall plant a rubber tree and harvest the sap until It's time to clock out. It'll bind up C02 itself and the resulting gluey mess can be used to encase my remains upon exit. Thus shrink-wrapped I shall ask to be transported north, by sailing boat of course, to the frozen wastes of the polar ice-cap where bacteria fear to tread. On arrival, dig me a hole. Deep frozen, my carbon should be safe and my neutrality in the cycle quite literally preserved.

Simple as that.

Thought for the day: The amount of Co2 generated by the computers used to compile this blog and for you to read it have made the plan utterly pointless.

Monday, 28 September 2009

With a jerk of the knee...

With a jerk of the knee the cycle is complete. Today’s news contains a perfect example of the modern world’s most infuriating malady. The knee-jerk cycle. The story so far: Two police officers agreed to look after each other’s children while they were on shift, thus saving each other £300 pounds a month. Ofsted says they’re breaking the law because it’s more than two hours at a time and the arrangement is for more than 14 days a year. They could now be prosecuted. Read the full story here:

The story in itself is not a new one. Charles Dickens was the one who coined the phrase “The law is an Ass” and it stands today. The righteous indignation and calls for the heads of the law makers is all to familiar too. The echoes of “Something must be done” barely have time to fade before the same people cry “Nanny state!”. The Childcare Act which is at the heart of the story was brought in to stop cowboy (or cowgirl) carers abusing children in their care. It was brought in on a wave of public indignation after high profile cases of kids being mistreated by people who’d not been checked. The government, ever seeking to please the illiberal mob, rushed a piece of law to statute and handed it over to non-partisan civil servants to enact. This they have done with gusto. But the mob is fickle. It wanted this law. Now it has it. Now it doesn’t want it.

Consider this hypothetical: An unqualified friend offers to look after a child in exchange for some kindness, walking the dog for instance. The friend takes pictures of your naked child while you’re at work and flogs them to an internet paedophile. When the story hits the papers there are cries of “Something must be done” but of course something has been done; It’s called the childcare act. If Ofsted had failed to act on the breach it would be condemned for not doing its job.

Now, if anyone can tell me how the law could have been differently drafted to allow the two police officers to continue but stop our hypothetical predator I’d be pleased to hear it. In the meantime I’d appreciate it if you could all try and keep your knee relaxed and your foot firmly on the floor.

Monday, 21 September 2009

To the far horizon.

So here it is, a Mallin blog. It's perhaps a symptom of my muddled ideas on blogging that I feel the need to provide a prologue, just like a traditional written format. No one will ever read it perhaps but I feel such a thing deserves a beginning, a proper launch. So permit me a flight of fancy, dear reader. Allow me a little pretence. If an analogy is worth whipping it's worth flogging.
Here she is on the slipway then. Imagine, if you will, a woman with a flowery hat and a name with a hyphen, poised with a bottle of champaign on a rope to christen the bows. In the crowd the general feeling is of anticipation but the riveters know there's a few seams that will only hold with the grace of god, the shipwright himself feels he could have done more to make her seaworthy, and the boilers aren't even connected yet. The majority of the fitting-out won't be done until the keel's wet and after that it'll be too late to bring her back on shore to fix the bits that weren't thought through.  She's a little broad in the beam and likely to roll some in heavy seas. She'll make a few people queasy once she's out of the harbour. There's a sense of occasion nonetheless, even though there are plenty of better ships out there already. She's not even got a mission yet. Carrying coals is more likely than a voyage of discovery, for what's left to discover? The sea level will rise a fraction of a fraction when she's afloat, but that's just displacement folks.
The woman in the hat says "God bless her and all who sail in her" (as so many have said before) and another good bottle of bubbly is sacrificed to superstition. As it bursts someone adds "To the far horizon!" but there are mutters from the old hands that Grimsby is a more likely destination.
Off she goes down the ramp nevertheless, with a patter of applause from the crowd, a shriek of blocks and the sound of a lot of gravity arguing with a lot of inertia.

Thought for the day: The story of the Titanic proved the most important man on a ship is not the captain but the lookout.