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.
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.
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.
I’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).
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.
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:
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.
Keeping your hands in your pockets: Handlebars? Direction control? Who needs ’em?.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago I overheard a WH Smith employee telling a customer that he’d looked up the author of a book and it was William Golding. The customer was looking for Lord of the Flies. That’s right, he had to look up the title of Nobel Prize winning, thrice adapted, on the GCSE, Junior Cert 1954 classic allegory Lord of the Flies.
Needless to say, I posted this on Twitter and FaceBook and got accused of elitism and snobbery. I’m not saying that someone working in a bookshop needs to know the author of every book under the sun, but a basic grounding in the classics couldn’t hurt.
However, during the climactic scene we started to hear a low but constant beeping. Ang, being much more generous than I am, only glared accusingly at the smoke alarm but I turned around to shush what I thought was a rampaging horde of huge thumbed happy-slappers. Cue a retreat of almost Gallic proportions when it turned out the source of the beeping was none other than Professor Hawking.
Even though the terrible acoustics in the Corn Exchange forced him to slow down his trademark fast delivery but Dára Ó Briain managed to squeeze his entire show into two of the funniest hours I’ve ever spent in the company of a fellow countryman.
The set pieces ranged from our obsessions with keeping up with “stuff” to being stalked by the lonliest man in the world (Will Smith in the abominable I am Legend, coming soon to every format imaginable) and managed to keep the laughs going through the uneven audience participation section.
The tour is selling out quickly but it’s definitely worth traveling to get to a show if only to see there’s certainly more to Ó Briain than being the token Paddy on the BBC.