Nollaig shona daoibh go leir

Like salmon returning to the place of their birth once spawning season is upon them, every Christmas the Irish diaspora returns home to their Mammies to celebrate in a way only the they can: Lighting the fire in the good room, leaving a Guinness out for Santy, and getting the Christmas clothes out for Midnight Mass.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btqSxlUJyxo]

We’re staying in Cambridge this year but will be sticking a candle in the window for the rest of you that make it home.

Happy holiday season.

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The Geek shall Inherit

In the UK only one of the six-hundred and fifty Members of Parliament has a scientific background. Homeopathy and chiropractic are available on the NHS, while effective and proven medicines are shunned. Our newspapers and television constantly report non-effective and dangerous practices as if they were fact. Even when they report on scientific work, scientists are misrepresented and used to score political points which leaves the public believing that there is no use in funding research any more. The UK is turning from a centre of excellence, a candle in the darkness, to a Thunderdome where ever-decreasing funds are fought for by our scientific community.

Enough, says Mark Henderson – the head of communications at the Wellcome Trust, and sets forward a manifesto to reclaim our culture of scientific inquiry and build a government where decisions are made based on evidence rather than fear, uncertainty and doubt.

In order to try to force our MPs to listen, Dave Watts pledged to send a copy of The Geek Manifesto to all MPs if enough volunteers stepped up to share the load and, oh boy, did they?  Not only that, Transworld Publishers donated 150 copies to make sure the pledge could be met.

My own copy is now on its way to Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge), who certainly doesn’t need it but our own MP, Andrew Lansley, was the first to be snapped up. No surprise there. Let’s hope they read and act on it so the country doesn’t fall back into the dark ages.

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General Zod’s Chicken

Once a year, usually around my birthday, my parents come over to visit and make sure Ang hasn’t killed me yet.  Now, there’s one trait all Irish people of a certain generation have when it comes to food: they’re not adventurous. A bit of meat, a few potatoes, and the odd carrot or growth of cabbage and they’re happy and there’s no-one more set in his ways than my father. To keep the peace, occasionally he’ll let us go for a meal in a Chinese restaurant (only because he was in one once in 2001 and it didn’t kill him).  This has become one of the highlights of my poor mother’s year, so when a new restaurant opened in Cambridge she couldn’t wait to drag him there.

Picture the scene as we waited for the menu. Me, Ang and mam drooling in anticipation after starving ourselves all day, putting on the elasticated pants and getting ready to take in a year’s worth of Weightwatchers points in one sitting. And my father, pulling at the leash like a dog who doesn’t want his walkies to end.

Then it arrived. The menu.

Oh dear God the menu.

Nothing was made from a part of the animal we’d use as by-product, let alone eat.  Not the husband and wife starter (ox and cow tongue intertwined – one for Valentine’s Day).  Not the roast maw. Not the medley of duck tongue, cow intestines, pigs trotters or any other item on a menu that started off exotic and gradually turned in to the effects department props from the Saw franchise. I’m pretty sure they’d just started making up internal organs by page six.

That’s the funny thing about Chinese food, none of it’s really authentic.  Take General Tso’s Chicken.  Apart from the name, there’s nothing Chinese about it, but it’s good and since I haven’t had it in a decade it had taken on godlike properties in my mind.  After hearing me talk about it non-stop every time we got a take away, Ang made me find a recipe and get it out of my system.  Mission accomplished – we need the elasticated pants.

Oh, and Dad’s excuse for leaving Seven Days before the seat cushions had warmed under us and fleeing to the steakhouse next door?  No beer on draught.

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Put your thumbs away

Fuck, you look PhotoshoppedI’ve been a firm believer in the Wittertainment Code of Conduct and because of this spent many a movie under Angharad’s cold stares for yelling at talkers, seat kickers, and loud chewers at our local World of Cine (don’t blame us, their monthly card is the only way of fighting off a charge that’s close to £10 each a movie). So it was a delight to witness two security guards make their way around a recent screening of Crazy, Stupid, Love in Cambridge telling the teenaged audience to shut off the arc lamps that backlight their mobile phones. I would have reached for my own device to Tweet my delight at this turn of events had it not been in contravention of the rule on mobile phone usage (and the security guards were quite large).

They may not be properly projected, the sound might be off, and the seating only slightly less cramped than the 7.15 train to King’s Cross, but at least they’re one step closer to having a performance that is properly ushed.

Incidentally, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a charming piece of work that’s setting Steve Carell firmly on the same career trajectory as Robin Williams – I’m hoping we’ll get to see him play a serial killer way before he remakes Patch Adams.

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Five Reasons why Cyclists Love Cambridge

Christ's College, St Andrew's Street, Cambridg...
Image via Wikipedia

Laura Laker suggests that Cambridge is a model cycling city “with considerate drivers, dedicated bicycle parking and bike-friendly city planning.”  Here are five real reasons cycling is so popular in the town:

  1. Cyclists can ignore red lights: It’s a rare cyclist that actually stops for a red light except when they’re in danger of being hit by a car.
  2. Keeping your hands in your pockets: Handlebars? Direction control? Who needs ’em?.
  3. Cycling on the pavement: Even with miles of cycle lanes, the footpath is perfect for traveling at high speed.  Move it Grandma, I’ve got to get to my yoga class.
  4. Cycling two or three abreast: Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees. Never mind other road users when you’re carrying on your conversation. Of course that nail polish looks stunning.
  5. Chatting on a mobile phone: Unlike those evil motorists using a mobile on a push bike has no effect at all and, best of all, if you get hit it’s always their fault.

‘Course, you might say pedestrians and motorists have it coming.

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This Guitar Kills Fascists

United we Stand
Image by Damien Ryan via Flickr

This Saturday, when the people of Cambridge thought they’d be enjoying their annual Big Weekend, a ragged collection of football hooligans, the ignorant, and the hate-filled is descending on a city with an eight-hundred year history of learning and academic debate.

“The EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred.”

David Cameron

Cambridge has spoken.

As Cambridge councillors we do not welcome the decision by the English Defence League (EDL) to organise their event in our city next Saturday, a city of so many special and well integrated cultures and faiths and a city that is at peace with itself.

We reject the views expressed by the EDL and we fully support the right of all Cambridge people to celebrate their cultures, enjoy their places of worship, and to be treated with equality and respect.”

We don’t want your despicable views around here. Go back to your homes and take responsibility for how you’ve wasted your lives.

Immigration isn’t the problem. A doctor from Iran who contributes to society and pays her taxes is infinitely preferable to a third-generation English dole-recipient who spends their benefit on ink to tattoo Love and Hate on his knuckles.

Islam isn’t the problem. In fact they have more in common with you than the so called white England you claim to defend.

Multiculturism isn’t the problem. E pluribus unum, baby. From the many one.  Infinite diversity in infinite combinations only serves to make Britain richer.

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“Now, let’s take a look inside this fascinating medieval long burrow”

St Andrew's St, 1986

Between 1984 and 1986, the BBC partnered with Acorn, Philips, and Logica to create a modern version of William I’s Domesday Book. Stored on a pair of optical laserdiscs, the modern Domesday project contained a multimedia snapshot of life in the UK during the mid-eighties.

I remember watching a children’s quiz show back then and wishing we could be taught in such a cool way, but all the Irish Department of Education had to offer were fifty year old film projectors and velcro figures on felt boards.

The BBC has now released the completed work online, and it looks like Cambridge hasn’t really changed all that much in thirty years.

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