Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Season's Greetings

Having dug the car out of the snow I am met with some redundant information

You may need to click on the picture to read the message my car is giving me.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Book Review - Rupert Bear

In these stories a much loved character that is known as Rupert Bear is featured in a continuous series of adventures. What most people should realise from his name is that he is not in fact a fictional character at all, but a real person. All fictional bear characters invariably have a name starting with B, Bruno, Barney etc. As his name is Rupert we can see immediately that like Winnie the Pooh, it is a real name. No one could make up a name like that.
Describing him as a bear is rather unkind because there is nothing ursine about him apart from the shape of his head. Unknown to most people, he is completely human but suffers from an inherited genetic deformity analogous to the Elephant man, but more symmetrical in effect. His deformity is an inherited condition that both his parents and many of his relations suffer from too, and may in fact be a mutation. Other symptoms of this condition are that he is completely hairless and his body chemistry causes his skin to be paper white most of the time. His complexion sometimes takes on a brownish yellow hue, something like a sun tan, but which is actually the reverse and is caused by a lack of sunlight since this colouration is most predominant in midwinter, particularly around Christmas time.

Rupert is brown in midwinter

Rupert is otherwise completely human, having correctly proportioned limbs and five fingers and five toes on his hands and feet. However, he rarely takes his shoes off, even when playing at the seaside, and appears rather reticent to expose his feet. I can only assume that whilst not deformed visibly they need his special supportive boots that he wears constantly.

This poor child has been brought up in a kind of reservation which is shared by other similarly afflicted people, including an entire family of ‘Elephant Man syndrome’ people who are much more elephantine than Rupert is Ursine, having very deformed bodies giving rise to thickened skin, a trunk like appendage on the face and deformed hands and feet. Most of the other unfortunates living in the same location have the same white pigmentation and as with Rupert’s friend Bill, a black banding which gives rise to his nickname Bill Badger. The white areas on most of these victims, turns a slightly different colour around mid winter too, ranging from the brown Rupert shows to a grey colour for the Elephant family.

Amongst the deformed people living in Nutwood you will run across a few healthy people who are employed by the institute. The ‘Professor’ and the scientist, known only as the ‘Chinese Conjurer’, are medical professionals who are working on possible cures, but the main aim of Nutwood is integration with the outside world.

These two men have dedicated their lives to helping people like Rupert

To this end carefully selected staff are encouraged to live in along with their own families and mix with the afflicted and are slowly integrating them into a modern society.

Occasionally Rupert and his family travel outside this area, often to a particular destination, a small seaside town referred to as Sandy Bay and the nearby Rocky Bay, where they mingle with many normal people who are unusually kind to them, obviously aware of the project and ‘that there but for the grace of God etc.’ The names of these places given in the stories are obvious disguises for the real locations.

Mixing with normal people can be quite traumatic for poor Rupert and sometimes after a long visit away from Nutwood he requires counselling.

I felt everyone really hated me
As well as dedicated professionals, occassionally this is done by voluntary groups often recruited from the Girl Guides, since they are able to retain a child’s perspective.

Sometimes being accepted by these children is important therapy

To pay for this vast and very long term project, apart from the yearly Rupert annuals on sale around Christmas, a great deal of merchandising is done based around fantasy versions of their life, which whilst a steady mans of funding for the institute, is also a subtle means of preparing the outside world for the sight of these unfortunate, hideously deformed, people when they are finally integrated fully into the outside world.
This project has been running for several decades and needs to be staged very carefully to avoid trauma on the part of the victims and encourage acceptance on the part of the outside world. One very interesting side effect of the complaint which causes these ghastly deformities is that almost all of the victims have incredible longevity and they age so slowly that over the entire length of the project few have shown any signs of ageing. This too is being researched very closely since it is obviously of great interest to the outside world and seems to have been passed on to some of the social workers and medical teams that have had long term contact with these victims. This is not advertised widely since it is little understood and the team would be overwhelmed with volunteers whose only motive would be to gain longevity.

It is difficult to imagine what it must be like for the children to remain immature for such a long time, but with only one or two exceptions, notably the Foxoid brothers and the porcine girl, they seem well adjusted and remain perpetually cheerful and in good spirits.

Because of the longevity of many of the long term people working there you will see a number of different styles of clothing being worn from many different eras, which suggests some have been working there a very long time indeed. Amongst the inmates of this institution, symptoms can be limited to just his skin pigmentation and the longevity.

The two characters shown below, the Regency gentleman and the Pike man, who has been in the area a very long time, have no visible mutations at all other than longevity and a greater or lesser degree of skin pigmentation disorder.

Normality in appearance is not always a sign of dedication to the project, because certain unfortunate cases have been unable to cope with the longevity and have lost touch with reality. In their minds they believe themselves to be genuine pirates or bandits and so on and before discovery are often able to hide in the vast Nutwood grounds with fellow delusionists, living the life of an outlaw and so reinforcing their delusion.

The published stories that have come out of this amazing institute, as opposed to the unpublished details of certain case studies which remain too disturbing to reveal, whilst more often are fantasy, not all are entirely fictious since delusional patents believing themselves to be real bandits or pirates have needed the authorities to flush them out of hiding so that they can be restrained and given therapy.

Because Rupert and other children are free to roam the Nutwood grounds, they have occasionally stumbled across these unfortunate victim’s hideouts and become involved in their recapture. On these occasions, the marketing department quick to realise the potential as a narrative, have used some of these real life situations as the basis of various published adventure stories.
Long before I discovered the truth behind them, Rupert stories were an important part of my childhood literature and I read and re-read any Rupert Annuals I was given for Christmas. Now I am aware of the wonderful charity that is behind these I am overwhelmed with admiration and hope that modern science can improve the lot of thes remarkably cheerful individuals.
All the stories are very entertaining and I give them 9.9 out of ten for readability and despite the tragic truth behind these stories I would recommend them for any child.
Because the Nutwood institute is entirely self funding, they have a registered charity which can be found at www.nuttwood.org where donations may be given via Play Pal.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Are we being ripped off?

The answer is YES WE ARE!

Manufacturers are slowly, sometimes oh so slowly shrinking their products whilst retaining the same price. I have noticed this shrinkage on several products recently, particularly tubs of yoghurt, sandwich fillers and the like, where once opened you can see that there is a distinct drop in the level of identically priced foods.
We stocked up on Cheese strings for The Granddaughter and Grandson this autumn and I rediscovered that I like these too, so we bought a few recently for me. Guess what? Exactly the same package but a much shorter cheese string! No doubt we will soon be seeing a new packaging with NEW IMPROVED cheese strings and inside cheese string in a package resized to disguises the loss of cheese in this new pack.

They are not the only ones.
I sometimes buy Kleenex balsam tissues, if I have a heavy cold, they really work and keep my nose from getting sore. I had a cold not long ago and needed to stock up again and found that Kleenex have changed the name and called it Soothes.

Apart from the new name, the box is the same but the contents are now less. I have not had a cold since buying the new packs, so I have not yet been able to test these still keep my nose pain free. Maybe that has not changed but the label does say 'with a touch of basalm'. So maybe that is reduced too.

Above the Kleenex box unopened

The Soothes box unopened

It is not just the tussues that are soft, as far as these cynical manufacturers are concerned, we are not their loyal customers, but a soft touch to be cheated. Disguising the changes to their product is sneaky and I don’t like sneaky. I would not be too incensed if the price went up a little, I would grumble but resign myself to the change because it seems to be inevitable, but sneaking a cost cut into a box which is otherwise assumed to be the same is a real rip off and really annoys me! I am more upset by someone trying to sneak a change past me than by an open up front price increase.
So do they think we are all stupid? – of course they do!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

A Book Review - The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

In this book we are taken back to the 1940s and introduced to four children, two girls and two boys, brothers and sisters who are ‘Evacuated’ to the countryside during WWII. This was common practice during that conflict, when children were taken out of the towns and sent to the country in order to make them relatively safe from the regular bombing raids that were causing huge destruction to all the major cities.
These particular evacuees are taken in by a rather eccentric professor who largely ignores them, leaving their care to his housekeeper. They are free to explore his house and soon discover what appears to be a perfectly ordinary, but fairly old model MK XXII Quantum Interdimensional Portal (QIP ) of the kind that transports you to another parallel world but which has been mistaken by the housekeeper and the children for a wardrobe.

It looks just like a wardrobe

Lucy, the youngest child, accidentally passes through the QIP and encounters a lampost in the middle of some trees although we are never told how it is powered so far from any road or urban area. I can only assume it is a quantum flux source indicator and signals when the QIP is operational.
The Quantum Flux Source Indicator

In this particular adjacent world, known by its inhabitants as Narnia, Lucy meets a fawn carrying a number of parcels. This should have forewarned her that he was not all that he seemed since there is no shopping district or post office within walking distance of the lampost. On meeting this creature Lucy, despite all warnings about small girls going off with strangers, is tempted by the offer of a tea of toast, sardines and cake. In war time the offer of sardines would have tempted most people, since they were stringently rationed and saved for very special occasions. She accompanies this half man, half goat, half dressed - (he has no trousers, just a scarf and an umbrella!) - creature, back to his home.

Lucy goes off with a complete stranger

After a while the confused creature confesses that he has been acting on behalf of the Secret Police and through genuine remorse and tears, explains why.
It turns out that there has been a recent change of government and the country is now under strict economic freeze with very tight restrictions. The new leader of the country is known as the White Queen, someone who is rather on the harsh side of severe in her policies and who emerged onto the political scene after a power vacuum was created by the unexplained loss of the monarchy.
This new ruler seems to come from a land that must be much like Alaska, because a part of her policies also imposes a literal freeze on all her dominion creating a permanent winter. Possibly because she uses a sleigh for transport and they do not run well in warm weather. She also has the wildest collection of garden ornaments you have ever seen in her castle yard and in accordance with the rules of being an evil ruler, is served by only the ugliest of hench-creatures. No doubt the castle, in compliance with the standard evil rulers' charter, has a self-destruct button somewhere too, but this is unconfirmed and not used.

Cool garden ornaments

The token ugly hench-creatures

After discovering the fawn’s deviousness, Lucy hastily returns home and finds she has been away with no objective time lapse on the part of her original universe, but when she attempts to show the other children the portal, the QIP is on the blink and will not work for her, so they think she is mistaken and still believe it is just an ordinary wardrobe. I expect being one of the older models it required about twenty four hours to recharge after each use. Edmund, the younger of the two boys, later manages to blunder through it and meets the White Queen herself, who happens to be out for a sleigh ride with her vertically challenged companion, usually rudely referred to as the dwarf.

Edmund encounters the White Queen's sleigh driven by 'The Dwarf'

By means of bribery, involving a hot drink and Turkish Delight, another rationed item, she manages to convince Edmund that she is a soft touch and good for much more Turkish Delight if he gets the others to come and see her. Completely taken in by her good looks and smooth talk he returns home in order to hoodwink the others into returning with him. Unknown to Edmund, for some reason the White Queen believes the presence of children is a threat to her position and plans to kill them all.

Eventually, the QIP operates long enough for all the children to enter the portal and they soon find out that they are expected to take charge and wrest the land of Narnia from the grasp of the White Queen and allow the weather to improve. This comes as something of a surprise to them and they are rather hesitant but when introduced to a huge talking lion, they realise, quite sensibly, that they would rather attempt to overthrow an evil and extremely powerful ruler, rather than get on the bad side of this enormous carnivore.

A large talking lion

Meanwhile Edmund has inadvisedly gone off to look for the White Queen hoping for more Turkish Delight, but things do not work out for him since he is alone and she is not too pleased with his lack of success in getting the rest of his family to visit.
Meanwhile the other three are still with the lion who, although obviously capable and feared by the White Queen, puzzlingly is not actually in charge. He does however, seem to have some sort of executive power and negotiates a deal to save Edmund, who has by a very obscure piece of ancient Narnian legislation, become the property of the White Queen, and this has happened to him even though he has never actually signed any contract.
This must work something like changing your energy supplier or phone service provider when they do cold-calling and let you agree to a change of supplier without you realising that is what the conversation was leading to.

Such is the nature of the Narnian universe, that if this contract is not fulfilled, the whole place will suffer a major tectonic collapse and immense earthquakes and the subsequent tsunamis would eradicate all life. Not a very sensible structure for a world, when by hiring a bad lawyer you could cause the world to end.

The talking lion, unlike his counterpart in the parallel dimension of Oz, is no coward and to prevent this disaster agrees to be ritually killed by the White Queen, who is less well briefed by her barrister on Narnian law and believes that this course of action will get shot of the Lion and she will regain control.
Boy is she wrong!
After the seeming demise of the lion and all the evil crew have run off exulting over their easy victory, a rather smaller earthquake occurs and the lion is restored to health with a new hairdo too.
Only a small earthquake

Before the lion can get back to stop it, a big fight starts up between the evil minions of the White Queen and his friends but on his way back from the dead, he manages to steal all the White Queens’s garden gnomes and such and returns with them and so wins the day.

A huge fight

Shortly after this all the bad ones run off and the children are crowned to become a quadumviate and rule Narnia as King and King and Queen and Queen. A very unusual governmental structure.
The lion meanwhile, job done, wanders off and the two kings and two queens start to live the life of riley in Narnia with everyone left fawning over them as the right and proper rulers of Narnia. This carries on long enough for them to grow into adults and eventually forget who they really are.
The story ends with them rediscovering the lampost whilst on a hunting trip, returning home and reverting to their original children’s forms, again with no objective time passing in their original universe.
Home again with no elapsed time

I find this bit hard to swallow and believe it is a fabrication because the amount of energy released by the transmutation of their adult Narnian forms into children would have caused enough of an energy surge in the local quantum flux to totally destabilise the already fragile structure of Narnia. So that part is probably an exaggeration of the time difference between the two universes, because the sequels find Narnia still unscathed by tectonic events.

A fascinating story and I give it a 9.8 out of ten and read it and re read it as a child. This book was followed by several sequels and one prequel but I did not find any of the later stories about Narnia anything like as magical as this first book and would probably give them between five and six out of ten should I review any of them.

A Disney movie was made of this book a few years ago, which is probably a lot closer to the original story than many other movie versions of books I have seen and very nicely done, but they did not do all their research properly. The movie adds a bit by unnecessarily starting with an air raid over London during the blitz. The book starts with the four children on the train leaving London, but in the movie the whole family are still in London and for some incredible reason are taken completely by surprise by an air raid! Bombers did not sneak up on you, they were slow and noisy and you heard them coming and anyway Britain had long range radar. So it is not very likely that a mother would risk her own children’s lives by ignoring all the warnings. Before a raid arrived deafeningly loud Air Raid Sirens were started several minutes before any bombers could get to you and besides the local sirens, you could hear the sirens starting up in the far distance and closer sirens joining in as the raiders approached long before this. In those days you listened out all the time so I am sure that they would have been inside their bomb shelter well before any bombs started falling. Apart from that the movie is quite well done.

Finally a Health and Safety warning!

It is important to stress that should young children be attacked by a lion or other large predator, a garland of flowers is no real defense. Please do not attempt to control any wild animal in this way.