Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Mud, Hippopotamus Sweat and Tears

What would you do for the opportunity to get your hands on a quantity of hippopotamus sweat? Probably nothing too demanding, I should imagine. In fact, if you're anything like me, you didn't know that hippos sweat at all, and, now that you do know, you will be doing your level best to forget.

Not so naturalist and hippopotamus impersonator, Dr Brady Barr. So keen is he to get his hands on a sample of hippopotamus sweat that, according to the Daily Mail, he's been trying to creep up on the poor unsuspecting creatures dressed in a hippopotamus suit.

Well, that's what Dr Barr calls it, anyway. It's more like a hollow, reinforced fake hippo on legs, coated in hippo dung to mask the scent of its human occupant - think bird watcher's hide in grey with ears on.

When the demand for hippo sweat becomes unbearable, Dr Barr has been crawling inside this trojan hippopotamus and inching it towards the watering hole where real hippos - weighing in excess of 400 stone and distinctly short on temper - hang out, in the hope of half-inching a sample of their bodily fluids.

Unfortunately, this cunning if wacky scheme has run in to a small technical hitch. Being sufficiently reinforced to protect its occupant in the event of an unexpectedly savvy but predictably enraged hippo setting about in a frenzy of sweat-bereft furry, the suit is heavy. So heavy, in fact, that, as soon as the intrepid Dr Barr got it near to the watering hole, it got stuck in the mud, leaving him stuck for six hours in temperatures of up to 100 degrees F, close enough to spit at a hippo but not quite close enough to pinch a sample of its sweat.

Now, you might, if you couldn't avoid it, spend six hours stuck inside a fake hippo, surrounded by the massive and notoriously cranky real things, covered in hippo dung to hide your scent, and frying in unreasonably high temperatures. But, having finally made good your escape, how likely would you be to do it again?

Wouldn't the very idea of a hippo suit bring you out in a cold sweat? Wouldn't phrases like "over my dead body" and "wild horses" be hurrying towards your lips? Perhaps, but Dr Barr is either made of sterner stuff or really, really likes dressing up as a hippo. He's been through this whole rigmarole no less than four times, and STILL hasn't managed to get his hands on any hippo sweat.

Of course, there is (allegedly) more to this escapade than yet another opportunity for him to get stuck in the mud. It seems that hippo sweat has useful properties as an antiseptic and sub block, which Dr Barr hopes to examine in the lab - if he can ever get his hands on some. That's as maybe, but there must surely be a better way to get hold of this stuff than fooling around in a hippo suit in the middle of Zambia's South Luangwa National Park.

Still, it's not for us to tell Dr Barr how to do his job - you shouldn't knock something until you've tried it, and how often do YOU wake up with a sudden urge to relieve a hippo of a sweat sample? Somehow, I suspect Dr Barr's job will be secure for some time to come.

Billy Seggars.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Gordon Brown-Trousers in a Spin

When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, you could always tell when there was something going on that he - or, more likely, his spin doctors - didn't want the media to cover. There would be a sudden crop of bizarre non-stories about things that were more or less guaranteed to gain coverage, but didn't actually contain any news.

Now it seems that Gordon Brown-Trousers is trying to adopt, adapt and improve the technique with a view to saving his political bacon. Take this story from the Daily Mail, for example: Transplants: Concern as Brown backs right to remove organs without consent. The headline tells you pretty much all you need to know, but the executive summary goes something like this - approximately 1000 people die every year while waiting for organ transplants, and there are about 8000 people on the waiting list at any one time. In a bid to cut deaths, Gordon Brown-Trousers wants everyone who dies to be a potential organ donor, unless they specifically opt out, or their relatives object.

Sounds like a good plan, eh? After all, in this environmentally friendly age, we should recycle anything we possibly can - I fully expect local councils to add bi-weekly corpse collections to their other recycling schemes any day now.

No doubt specially refrigerated red bins will be added to the rainbow-hued fleet of refuse containers already vying for space in many of Britain's gardens, and eco-conscious citizens will be encouraged to die in one wherever possible. Those of us who prefer a more traditional exit from this world - you know, screaming in vain for help on a trolley-filled NHS corridor, for example - will no doubt face heavy fines for thwarting new Government targets for wetware reclamation and recycling.

Unfortunately, this ultimate recycling scheme looks set to fail before it has even got started for, although boffins from the British Heart Foundation and the National Kidney Foundation are tentatively in favour, there is a problem. According to the NKF, the NHS would be unable to cope with the massive influx of donors presumed consent would bring, needing more transplant coordinators, better testing facilities, a national transplant centre to match donors and patients, and more transplant surgeons.

And what about the risk of patients being polished off before their time so their squishy bits can be recycled? Burke and Hare would look very tame indeed compared to widespread premature organ donation!

No, even by Gordon Brown-Trousers' pretty poor standards, this scheme is so badly thought out that it has to be a blatant attempt to hijack the media. So what is he trying to distract our attention from?

Well, the choices are endless. There's Peter Hain, who has skillfully dumped the Brown-Trouser Government into yet another sleaze / funding scandal over allegations that he tried to conceal donations to his campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour party. Of course, this is old news, but new revelations about a think-tank and chap called Morgan have brought it back into the limelight.

Then there's the Northern Rock fiasco, which is STILL rumbling on, and looks to become even more embarrassing for beleaguered Chancellor Alistair Darling and, of course, his craven boss. In the latest developments, shareholders are hoping to hold off enforced nationalisation, which, it seems, would effectively mean that investors in Northern Rock would lose their money - hardly something that would look good for the former Iron Chancellor, now cringing Prime Minister, Gordon Brown-Trousers, is it?

But my best guess would be the Stephen Carter humiliation. It was revealed yesterday that Carter, the PM's new chief of strategy, is said to have made "materially false and misleading statements" as a director of NTL, according to court documents filed in the United States.

The Daily Mail, probably revelling in this opportunity to out-spin the spin-doctor before he's even begun to revolve, goes a little further, publishing the fact that documents filed in US courts allege that Mr Carter described to a fellow director how he gave information to shareholders: "What I tell them is nine-tenths bullshit and one-tenth selected fact." Sounds like the perfect qualification for a powerful government PR man - and, make no mistake, Carter's role makes him very powerful indeed - even though the case has recently settled with no admission of liability on behalf of Carter and his colleagues.

Yep, that will be it. How can Gordon Brown-Trousers' new fixer be expected to fix anything, much less the PM's now devastated reputation and public image, if some folks think he's speaking nine-tenths bullshit and one-tenth selected fact? And what will folks think of the Prime Minister who hired him? Yet another own-goal for a Prime Minister so bogged down with sleaze, scandal and his own incompetence that he has no hope of keeping his job beyond 2009.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Dead Heat

Tameside Council, up in the North West of England, has some controversial plans in store for Dukinfield Crematorium, according to the Manchester Evening News.

It seems that, in a fit of environmental angst, not to mention a pressing need to comply with government targets on how much mercury is released into the atmosphere from cremations (IS there such a target? If so, which sad bugger thought it up??), the council is planning to use excess heat from cremations to warm the freezing butts of mourners in the Crematorium.

Regular readers, particularly those from Cardiff University, will know that I have very little time for environmental "issues", and even less time for environmentalists. Even so, I can recognise a good idea when I see one, and this particular notion strikes me as little more than the practical application of common sense.

I have never yet visited a Crem that is, in reality, anything more than a brick shed for mourners to sit in while their dearly beloved vanishes behind a pair of plush curtains. By their nature they're remote, usually being stuck in the middle of a cemetery, and bloody cold. Heating and lighting them requires the provision of an electricity supply, yet their very purpose is to generate substantial amounts of excess energy - why not put that to good use and do away with the need to consume power from the national grid?

It is an efficient and logical use of available resources, which also happens to have an environmentally beneficial side-effect - I suppose that was bound to happen one day, eh? No doubt there will be some protests amongst those of a soft-minded disposition, but I think that, unusually for local government, Tameside Council is on to a winner with this one. Go to it, guys, and, while you're at it, perhaps you could consider the possibility of passing excess power back on to the national grid - if all Crems did that it might make a small but significant contribution to the UK's energy demands?

Billy Seggars.