Monday, 25 October 2010

Italy, Restaurant Fires and Health and Safety

Dear Reader,

I recently popped out to Italy for a few days for a little R&R. Whilst there I did a bunch of stuff in Rome and then travelled out a little to a wondrous town called Bracciano. A truly delightful village/town which nestles around a castle where some of the great and the good get married, (Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes being the most recent). Not that the locals get T&K up close, they just get irritated by paparazzi invading their town in the vain hope of getting a picture. Maybe the locals should amuse themselves papping the pap or whatever the appropriate phrase is for this.

So the scene is set, onto the story. Myself and dear lady wife were staying in Bracciano with a great friend of hers who took us to a lovely little restaurant (good seafood, nice ambience etc) and all was well. Food was great and wine was drunk and much chatting ensued.

Towards then end of the meal I was relating one of my better stories, (honestly I do have some) to the hostess of the evening. I became a little irritated when I realised she was no longer listening to me but merely nodding and looking over my shoulder. I ploughed on through my story, hoping to revive some attention from my listener, but no, all monosyballic answers and the over the shoulder gazes. So I looked over my shoulder in the direction that my host was staring; ah now I get it... there appears to be a large amount of smoke pouring from the kitchen area, and when I say large I mean a lot. This pleases me, in a selfish way, because at least I know my story wasn't the issue, (unless in desperation our host set fire to the kitchen to create a distraction so that she could escape my story). I don't believe this is the case as I don't think the story warranted that extreme a reaction, but, who knows.

The smoke billows and reaches our area, upon sniffing it is quite clear these are not just smells associated with over-zealous cooking because there is a whiff of plastic in the air, not good.

A waitress emerges from the dark cloud in the kitchen, eyes smudged with tears from the smoke and comes to our table. I have some expectations of what she may say, being a health and safety molly coddled Englishman, something along the lines of "the restaurant is now closed", or "please leave, there is an issue in the kitchen".

The waitress, through smoke reddened eyes came up with a much better riposte; "Would anyone like coffee?". No, actually, could we just have the bill I replied and exited before the place burned down.

What was notable about this worthy experience was the Italian approach to Health & Safety. At no point did a smoke alarm go off, nor did any sprinklers kick off when things were clearly going a little pear shaped. Having paid the bill it was noted that some guests were still eating their dinner as if this was some expected performance from the restaurant that they should just laugh off and continue with their order.

Having escaped this madness we adjourned to transport and passed a fire engine going in the opposite direction. I have yet to verify whether this engine was en route to the restaurant or rescuing a cat stuck in a tree.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Cats, Wheelie Bins and Hanging


A misguided soul walking down a road spies a cat. The cat is of an egregious nature and offers affection to this misguided soul. The misguided soul strokes the cat and this is where the story should end. Except it didn't, because the misguided soul in question took the cat by the scruff of the neck and unceremoniously dumped it in a conveniently placed wheelie bin and then walked off.

There was a time when this would have been an unfortunate end for the cat, and an unfortunate end to the story, but times change. The owner of the cat found the cat in said wheelie bin a day later, hungry, but apart from that unharmed.

What makes this happy ending interesting is the postscript that rocked the world. The owner of the cat had installed movement activated CCTV due to an ongoing issue with the neighbours/area, which was trained on the bin. The owner span back through the archive footage and published the offence on YouTube.
If you have been living under a rock for the last month watch it again here.

This story made the news in the UK and the video went viral across the world. It even spawned response videos on YouTube such as this, highly amusing.

The worldwide outcry to this video have been polarised to say the least, I reproduce some recent comments to the original video;

I hope that cat hunts that old bitch down and claws her death haha


I imagine caps was important to making the point. So why the post, this all happened a while ago, didn't it? I do have a habit of being a little behind the times with posts don't I? Well on this occasion no, because the said misguided soul has been sentenced this very day...

A £250 fine along with some associated court costs coming to about £1100. That must have felt like a let off, really. I thought hanging was going to be introduced for this particular crime, although I suspect it might have been deemed too expensive in the latest round of budgetary cuts, but I digress.

What is pleasing about this whole affair is the power of the camera. A lot of people have been whingeing about the proliferation of CCTV in our country, and how damaging it is. Clearly this is only an issue if you are doing something wrong or something not neccesarily wrong, but a little embarrassing in public places. The technology in question was not government owned but in fact a piece of equipment inexpensively installed by an individual. Just goes to prove that if bad things are happening where you are then get it on tape, publish it and let the world decide. The court of YouTube is now in session.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Getting To America - Part 3

Oops, my general laziness means that chronological order of things has gone a little bit astray. If you are a new reader then you it would probably make sense to pick up the first two parts of this pulse-pounding monologue;


if you can stand it.

So to catch up I was attempting to get a visa to travel to the US for a stag do. This process had been somewhat complicated by two facts:
  1. I have to get a visa in the first place
  2. I have left this to the last minute
I have landed in Belfast to visit the US Embassy for my interview, I have surrendered my mobile phone to a taxi driver because you cannot take any electrical items into this Embassy. I was curious as to how pacemakers would be dealt with by this rule but did not want to push my luck. I imagine the taxi driver who kindly stored my phone until my return would have been less enamoured with the idea of open heart surgery. Or maybe he would, there would some dubious looking stains on the seat of the cab. Never mind, move on.

So I arrived at Embassy, and after being subjected to a security check more rigorous than the average airport was ushered into what can only be described as a doctor's waiting room. There were some cubicles, some windows and some people, who like me, had all broken the law at some point in their lives. I spent a good deal of time speculating as to the nature of their crimes, but thought it a little too rude to ask.

After a paperwork check to ensure all was present and correct I was eventually ushered to a booth for the interview. This was an experience not dissimilar to being ushered into a booth at a DHSS office when applying for some sort of benefit, the only difference being that the figure behind the glass presented a rather different demeanour. In the DHSS case you get a bored low level public service worker who has been abused and spat at at least four times today. In the US Embassy case you get a hulking ex-military looking type who has DEFINITELY not been spat at or abused during his shift. I assumed my most angelic face.

The conversation went as follows:

Hulking Ex-Military (HEM): Show me your paperwork.
Me: Shuffles paperwork under the counter.
HEM: Explain your offences.
Me: Well, (big pause), I distributed an extremely small quantity of not very potent drugs to a very small demographic. (So different from my sales pitch, but that was long in the past).
HEM: You appear to be convicted of quite a lot of offences at the same time?
Me: Well (big pause), I am a little confused by this. How many times can you be convicted of distributing a Class B drug on the same day (nervous laugh). All the counts were concurrent.
HEM: How long did you spend in prison?
Me: (Enjoying myself for a second) Sentenced to year and released after six months on good behaviour (beaming smile).
HEM: The second offence?
Me: Ahem, just a small thing, would have been a caution had it not been for my previous record.
HEM: How small?
Me: Really small.
HEM: Define...
Me: (Pinching motion with fingers)
HEM: OK, in light of the fact that your initial offence is serious, but also took place a long time ago...
Me: (Not interrupting but thinking this will be all over and a Visa will be attained), (beatific smile).
HEM: I am happy to refer this case to Washington, who will after due diligence, probably issue a visa.
Me: (WTF ?!?) OK, and, erm, how long will this process take?
HEM: This will take approximately two weeks.
Me: OK, thank you. ("Due diligence", "probably": WTF again???).

So I leave, pondering the process of access to America, if you have been a little naughty, and hoping the process will run smoothly. Will Mr B. Obama be too busy too sign? Arghh!

Some notes about criminal offences and their acceptability for disclosure:

In the UK if you are applying for a job you will be asked if you have any unspent convictions:

In short, a "spent" conviction is any conviction that attracted less than 2.5 years jail time. These will be spent in 10 years. Good news for me when I am applying for a job.

If you are applying for permission to visit the US and many other countries as well then a different and rather more draconian set of rules apply. Basically all offences are categorised as A, B, or C

A includes crimes such as: Attacking a human with a rocket propelled grenade launcher, messing around with small children, attempting a military coup, assassinating a president etc.
B includes crimes such as: Defrauding an individual, identity theft etc.
C includes speeding crimes, dancing on your next door neighbours daffodils.

Each offence buckets dictates how long your offences will have to last before they are spent. A: never, B: sometime soon, C: well that all depends if the daffodils are prize winning.

Mutiple choice question: guess which category I fell into...

If you guessed A you are correct, my small contribution to the chemical entertainments industry is classified at the same level as murders, rapists and people convicted of an attempted coup d'etat.

I would say funny old world, except it isn't. Never mind, dear reader I will get there in the end, or will I?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Site Of The Month - Part 1


A new idea of mine is to share a site that makes me laugh or cry. I figure that if I like it and you like me then you might like it it too (usual caveats apply). I will tag the post accordingly depending on it's content... some will be funny, cat related or whatever else comes to mind. I will also create a links section so you can access these sites directly from one comfy area.

OK so here comes the first. I started to recieve some hilarious viral emails regarding a gentleman called David Thorne and his issues with the world, normally in the form of email trails.

Having looked into this it appears that Mr Thorne is well know Australian blogger whom I have much respect for. To get an idea of what the man is about and why this makes me laugh follow this.

I will publish the the site link in a new links section which I have added to the site labelled Stuff I Really Like.

Enjoy, dear reader.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Cambodia – The Killing Fields

I have recently been on holiday in Cambodia and Vietnam. Two countries whose recent history has been a little troubled to say the least. When I say recent history, I don’t mean that I read about it at school, I mean I saw some of this on the news (infer what you will into this regarding my age.)
So in short form this is what occurred:
  • In 1975 a Maoist regime led by Pol Pot took over the country of Cambodia, intending to “convert” the country to a self sufficient state.
  • This involved moving people out of the cities into the countryside, and torturing and murdering anyone (and anyone directly or indirectly related to anyone) who might think this might be a bad idea.
  • Although the exact figures are difficult to ascertain, it would fair to say that somewhere between 1.5 million and 3 million people were killed in the four year period that Pol Pot’s regime was in power.
  • In 1975 Cambodia had a population of 7 million, hopefully this fact will give a sense of scale as to what occurred.
Facts are what they are, but I think in this instance it is very easy to get overwhelmed by numbers if you are looking at this from a distance, as I was when I was a child.

The tourist experience of the Killing Fields is in fact just a field, snappily titled Cheoung Ek.

Make no mistake, this is not just any field. Not far from the centre of Phnom Penh, the field I visited was the final resting place of thousands who had previously been residing in the infamous Toul Sleng security prison (S21).

On arrival all seems peaceful, helped by Cambodia’s wild chickens clucking about the place without a care in the world. There are however, as you review the area, several deep hollows in the ground, mass graves, as the signs solemnly inform you.

Walking around, it is easy to see fragments of bones and teeth etc visible in the reddish dust underfoot. This is a deeply unsettling experience for myself and those around me. Many were moved to tears, myself included.

And then a tree, the Killing Tree, apparently where babies heads where smashed to silence their cries forever. Contrary to any Hollywood instilled drama, it just looks like any other tree that is growing in the area. Everything just looks so ordinary.

Finally the Stupa, which is a Buddhist word for kind resting place. In here the Stupa is an unforgettable monument to what has occurred in one Killing Field - the skulls and bones and other remnants that could be recovered. This is one Killing Field that has had the graves excavated. To date 369 similar sites have been unearthed, contributing the best part of 20,000 mass graves to the cause. I guess the final toll will never be truly told, but the scale of this tragedy is unimaginable.

We had a guide, who was somewhere between 35 and 40, a good Buddhist who had been affected by this personally as a child, but who had, as a child been one of the souls who escaped the Killing Tree but was definitely part of the terror.

The purpose of the museum, and also the Toul Sleng prison camp is not to attract tourists. It’s purpose, primarily is to inform the world of the horrors that occurred in a single man’s name.

This post is dedicated to that idea, in the hope that humanity can learn, not just about the numbers, because if you just listen on the news it could become meaningless, but about some people, real people.

This whole thing continues to concern me because it still happens, apparently Hitler and Pol Pot are not the end of this grisly story. Rwanda and the breakdown of Croatia and on and on and on.

The reason this is here is a reminder to my several readers is that this shit doesn’t appear to stop or go away.

Some pictures...

The Stupa

And inside...

This not meant in any way to freak out potential visitors to Cambodia; the people are beautiful, (and astonishingly well adjusted considering what they have been through) however it is worth doing this just to give a sense of reality to those of us who don't have he good fortune to to see this in person.

This is undoubtedly some small words in a big sea, but we should not forget and hopefully this little piece would make my guide happy.

You may like to read some more informed and less emotionally attached words on this subject; below are some good links.

And finally, comments and corrections are always welcome, my loyal reader.