Post-Avatar Gloom

I prophesy that in 10 years’ time the UK census will show more adherents of Eywa than there are of Jedi

Dear oh dear – as if there weren’t enough reasons for feeling low. Here we are in the middle of January with the Labour Party still in power, taxes about to go through the roof, the weather still miserable – and across the world people have apparently discovered a new and bizarre reason for being down in the dumps. It’s this film called Avatar, which I went to see at the weekend and which I would say delivers virtually everything a film-goer could possibly desire.

Just as the 3D, sci-fi epic teeters on the brink of becoming the biggest-grossing film of all time, some people are complaining of a terrible side-effect. It’s making them depressed, they say. It’s turning them as blue as the funny, helmet-nosed aliens that have enchanted us all.

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Billy Bragg to withhold taxes in bank bonus row

Singer-songwriter and political activist says he is ‘no longer prepared to fund the excessive bonuses of RBS investment bankers’.  Read the story here.

Boris quote on the tax on bank bonuses:  “The Government is doing nothing more than fast-tracking the departure of this talent pool out of Britain”.

Here, with a satirical twist, is Dungeekin with his take on the situation – check him out @dungeekin

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Superiority of Scandinavian Systems

Kenneth Branagh

It must have been a week ago that the BBC weather forecast got it more than usually wrong. You remember that night when they said there were going to be blizzards in London? They said it was going to be a white-out. The Almighty was going to Tipp-Ex us off the map, they said.

So, at round about 10pm on Sunday, when the snowstorm had not materialised, I was getting a bit fretful. I switched on the BBC in the hope of finding the news and I was indeed confronted by a blasted landscape – frozen, desolate and rimed with white.

It turned out to be the face of Kenneth Branagh, alternating imperceptibly between horror and depression as he played the role of Kurt Wallander, the Swedish supersleuth. After about 10 minutes I confess I was completely gripped by the mystery. I don’t mean I wanted to know who the baddie was, or why he was importing human organs from Africa. I didn’t really care why the shawl-wearing debt-relief activist had been blown up in her Volvo.

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Lane rental as a way of sorting out roadworks

You think it’s bad out there, eh? You think the roads are hell? Well, all I can say is, just you wait until the thaw. Just wait until the water bursts from those pipes and suddenly the roads will be sprouting orange cones like the crocuses of spring.

No sooner has the snow retreated and the ground defrosted than the landscape will once again be full of men with hi-vis jackets and pneumatic drills, following the ancient British procedure. First they cordon off a stretch of the road. Then they dig a hole. Then they brew a nice cup of tea and contemplate the hole. Then they simply vanish, like the Mayans, leaving the rest of us to wonder what they meant by these baffling excavations, and leaving thousands of road-users to queue in a mounting frenzy of frustration.

I don’t mean just the water companies. I mean the gas, the electricity, the broadband suppliers and all the other umpteen bodies with unlimited rights to dig holes in the public highway and plunge the system into chaos.

We have become one of the most roadwork-afflicted nations in the world, and it is a source of serious economic inefficiency. These endless craters are eroding our air quality with the fumes of stalled traffic. Roadworks are not only driving motorists nuts: they are bad for bus passengers, too, and they are a drain on the finances of public transport, since the delays mean we have to lay on more buses to be sure of a decent service.

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A sweet way to enforce Law and Order

Boris, in Morocco, finds the police ready to shake hands and embrace a road-rager:  “First the cop spoke kindly to the taxi driver, and then leant forward closely and kissed him on the crown of the head. Then the 19-yr-old road rager made a short speech to the taxi driver, bowed and kissed him on the cheek. Then there was general shaking of hands and embracing by everyone except possibly the road-rager’s female passenger. And that – believe me – was it.”

Uh-oh, I thought, this is where it all goes wrong. The car in front of us screeched to a halt and the driver door slammed. Towards us he stalked, face pale, eyes blazing like coals, hands twitching from the sleeves of his Dolce and Gabbana blouson.

His oiled black hair stood up in shark teeth tufts from his trembling head. With his beaked nose and sulky mouth he had the air of a young medieval sultan who had just discovered a Frankish knight in bed with his wife.

As he flung wide our car door I half expected him to jerk some jewelled dagger from his white designer jeans. In the instant before he physically attacked our driver I remembered the cheery predictions of the guide book.

Morocco, chirped the guide, has very little crime. You may be offered all sorts of things at outrageous prices, but no one, said the guide book, will offer you violence.

In the course of two days strolling around the pink-walled city of Marrakesh, I found that this optimism was well-founded. Everybody smiled. Nobody so much as jostled us. No one even raised his voice, except the muezzin. Yes, I thought, he must run a pretty tight ship, this King Mohammed VI.

Which made it all the more surprising to see this eruption of rage, here on our last night, in the dust and darkness of the ring road. The young man, of about 19, shouted at our driver to come out of the car and then aimed a kung fu kick at his head.

As the guidebook had prophesied, however, the police were almost immediately on the scene.

Police arrived in a van proclaiming them to belong to the Surete Nationale. Out stepped a balding plainclothesman in a leather jacket, with a hint of Mukhabarat menace. Both sides began babbling their cases, the taxi driver complaining of assault, the kids protesting that the taxi had cut them up.

The policeman clapped his hands for hush. His brown eyes bored intelligently into mine. Tell me what happened, he said. The chap had indeed kicked at the taxi driver, I attested, though whether he had connected I could not really say.

Suddenly the policeman clapped his hands again and barked a flurry of Arabic at all present. That’s it, I thought: we are all going to be hauled off to the blooming station for an orgy of tedium. Then things got very odd indeed.

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