Friday, 31 July 2009

1st August

And thus begins a new month, our 41st on the road, in a brand new country. Although it's only our second day in Vientiane, we've seen a fair bit and already we've become fascinated by it.

It is nothing like we expected; being more modern with a heavy French vibe to it, but I prefer it to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which we thought it would be similar to. In some ways it is, but it feels more European and we are really going to enjoy our time here.

And They're In

We're now in the new gaff and it is much more to our liking. Again, it must be stressed that the previous place was fine, only that it was too far out of town and it seemed like we were located in the middle of a farm. Dogs barking, cockerels crowing, frogs croaking, crickets chirping, birds tweeting and then the building site kicked off next door.

And although the room was plenty big enough, it was a bit dated, with wicker furniture and 1970's style glass topped tables. Oh, and the bathroom was missing essential things like a sink that wasn't blocked and a shower that actually pushed water through the head and not directly into the bath- the hose had obviously come adrift and they had simply pushed it back into its housing. At the first sign of water pressure, the pipe simply fell off and water gushed out.

Oh well, we're out of it now and we've landed firmly on our feet. Not only is it cheaper by eight bucks a day, but the cable package has more film and sports channels (we've just finished watching the Donington MotoGP), but the room is quite delightful, we have wi-fi broadband which seems great and means we can both surf at the same time and the shower is a stand alone affair- which works.

More later as we're off now to get some food supplies in and stock up the fridge. :o)

And With That

I'll sign off as we have some repacking to do and then we move. I've also seen our new hotel this morning and they have our room at the ready, just waiting for us to show up.

Not only is the new hotel much more modern and far more centrally positioned, but we've managed to negotiate a long term stay that is US$ 8 less a day. That saves us quite a bit on our stay. :o)

The Deed is Done

Just seen the Manager and informed him of our decision to leave our room and seek new accommodation elsewhere. I mentioned why (more later) and he seemed to accept our reasons without too much persuasion, which makes life a little easier all round.

Having now done the dirty deed, I have a much worse task to perform. Getting wifey up before midday. Wish me luck...

Bird Food

The city of London produces around 1.5 pounds of toast crumbs on an average Sunday morning.

HP and the Half Bottle of Ketchup

As Harry Potter begins his 6th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he discovers an old book marked mysteriously "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince" and begins to learn more about Lord Voldemort's dark past.

So begins yet another money spinning pile of dross as the "kids" now reach puberty and discover "snogging". Chuck in a game of the incomprehensible "Quidditch", a bastardised sport of rounders, lacrosse and ice hockey, a wizard's duel, a rambling intro before the wannabe wizards return to Hogsnot and before you know it, it's two and a half hours lost of your life and it's time to grab a cab to the airport.

What is most disappointing is that they have followed the blatant rip off formula of finishing a filum on a "cliff hanger" (don't worry kids, he doesn't die, I swear I saw him/her breathing) and because I don't want to chuck in a spoiler, I won't be able to say much more about the plot. Because that's all there is that is in any way new.

So instead I will just bitch about the dire acting (we have now discovered why the Amazon rain forest is in danger of becoming extinct; all the wood is being sent to the HP and Pals acting classes), the hotch potch, mismatched continuity of scenes and the inexplicable reason an entire entourage of learned wizards and witches cannot cast a spell or two to deal with a few baddies.

Dumblbore is supposed to be rock hard and yet he relies on HP, a sixth year newbie, to duff up the Voldemort? Pathetic- and yet he's coining it in by setting up a school to teach wizardry? BIG CON!

Another problem for me is that the gibbon-faced, ham sandwiched-acting Bonham Cater is in this and I can't abide her. She probably feels the same about me so we're quits, but as I am writing this review I can comment first. I really do not understand why acting as if on stage in a filum is considered to be a good performance. It isn't, it's luvvie's drama and belongs in a theatre in front of a live audience for the benefit of the povs in the back rows.

Gambon is good though, as is Rickman (and like we really don't know which side he's batting for?) and a great performance by Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn, but aside from that, it's a nowt film, milking the pennies from the fans of the books and movies alike. I've never been a fan of either but it is a good way to while away a few hours and for a quid a time, I can't complain. Pay any more though and I'd suggest you're being mugged. Quite honestly you're better off buying a teen burd's magazine and reading the problems pages as you cringe at the teenage fumblings of the tree stumps trying to get to second base.

More Annoyance

As mentioned, we were at the cinema a couple of days ago and I have never seen/heard so many mobile phones being used in a theatre before. Even if they had "forgotten" to switch off their handies and a call had come through unexpectedly, there can be no excuse for trying to continue their conversation.

Only one person left the auditorium to do so, whilst the other selfish bastards whispered ferociously into their phallic extensions. And don't even get me started on the idiots who were texting during the filum...

And finally, we must have had the most disease ridden, poxed couple in the whole world on the end of our row. There were more coughs, snots, snorts, splutters and sneezes than at the latest research centre for H1N1 and not once did they consider where their germs could have ended up.

I was glad to leave- because the movie was certainly not worth staying for.

Happiness Is...

... a new Braun head on your electric toothbrush, which at over a fiver a pop doesn't happen quite as frequently as it should.

"Do Not Disturb"

This is not the first time I've had cause to mention this, but why do hotels issue these notices and then promptly ignore them?

Yesterday, while trying to grab 40 winks, we heard a tapping on the door, which despite polite requests to "call back later, please" was persistently ignored. As the knocking turned to pounding and mumblings grew louder (in direct proportion to my impatience, it has to be said), I reluctantly answered the call, expecting to be informed of some kind of impending fire or other emergency evacuation notice.

It wasn't to be- the poor chap merely wanted to offer us a plate of fruit and seemed rather disappointed at my insistence to adhere to the prominently displayed signage requesting all callers to leave us in peace.

He seemed even more put out that I declined his offering as I rather hastily closed the door, reminding him that "do not disturb" really did mean do not disturb in English and perhaps we could continue the conversation at a later point?

We didn't see him for the rest of the day...

Up to Date

And again, due to the uncertainty of our next whereabouts, I've amended a couple of the widgets a day early so at least they'll be up to date for the forthcoming month of August, 2009.

New ticker messages at the footer, the beer-o-meter is up to version 4.04 with Laos proudly residing in the green zone, a new monthly hit counter (we had over 11 500 visits from guests this month) and even the Laos flag has been added to the slide show.

I think all that is left to add will be a picture of Vientiane and we'll get around to that soon enough.

OK, One Final Factual Then

There are a regulation 92 beads on a Mardi Gras necklace.

Now I am deffo off to crash.

And That, Is About That

OK, I seem to be finally getting sleepy, so please excuse all the typos and errors and it's time to hit the sack again. We will be back at some point later today, but it's all going to be a little hit and miss as we try and swap hotels, explore some more of this exciting country and settle down to enjoy our first ever stay in Laos.

Later, people.

Jury's Out

To accompany my awful pizza, we had a local beer, called Beerlao, and although the price for a big bottle (640 ml) was 10 000 Kip, an amazing 70 pence a go, I'm not convinced over the taste.

It's got a kick to it at 5% but it doesn't taste like it as to me at any rate, it is dry and metallic. I'll have to do some proper testing before I decide if it's a winner, but they also do a darker, stronger version, which I did like. It's only 330 ml but at 6.5% more to my tastes and it also costs a wallet friendly 10 000 Kip. This is going to be fun. :o)

Good for Food Shopping

One can see the French influences everywhere. Not so much in the architecture but in the local shops and the food they sell. Cheeses are big here and so is the variety. Sadly so is the price but as a treat. Better still, the bread is simply divine and almost all the bakers sell a variant of a baguette and gorgeous rolls. And I can find ham and salami too, which was extremely difficult in Muslim Malaysia.

I don't think I'll be starving. :o)

Obtaining the Readies

What a pallava. There are ATMs around but so far, none are supported by Visa and we have had real difficulty in getting cash. In the end, we had to use a bank where they needed our card and passport to withdraw funds in Thai Baht and then convert that into Lao Kip.

It took a good half an hour for this transaction to be concluded, but we are now proud millionaires (thrice over indeed) as we changed up two hundred quid into just over three mill.

The New Gaff

It's a lovely hotel and reminds us of an old colonial building with mazes of corridors and balconies. Our room is huge and we have a comfortable bed with cable TV, a seating area, air con, two ceiling fans, big writing desk and great internet connection...but it's not for us.

We're a little away from "down town" and there isn't much happening locally, so we spent some time yesterday looking for alternative accommodation. If we intend staying for three weeks, we have to make sure it's right and having found a fantastic alternative, we now have to see the manager tomorrow to try and get out of our long term stay.

It shouldn't be a concern as there have been a couple of problems (more on that later) but we want to be fair and give them a little notice before we move on. It's not something we like to do, but as said, for our first visit we want to look back with fond memories and therefore need to get the best deal possible for us.

Fingers crossed.


Getting in was no trouble, despite the hype and hysteria of H1N1 and flying pigs. First off was obtaining our visas on arrival*, which consisted of queuing at a trio of booths where friendly officials all did their bit, including taking of one passport sized photo and a fee of $35 per person, and then passing through passport control, collecting our luggage (already waiting for us as we emerged from immigration control) and passing through customs checks without concern.

A beaming smile greeted us with a notice for "ktelontour" and within twenty minutes- there is heavy traffic everywhere, we had arrived at our hotel.

First Impression of Laos

Vientiane is the capital of Laos and we were half expecting it to be similar to Phnom Penh, the capital of neighbouring Cambodia. It is in that the people are just as friendly, smiling and happy to help, but this city is far more vibrant and happening than (in comparison) to PP.

It's only our first day and we have so much more to explore but I really do think we are in for a treat over the next few weeks. Photos, stories and much more to follow as we get more opportunity to have a proper look around in the ensuing days.


As you can see, the room was modern, well equipped and comfortable. It had a great power shower with bags of hot water, a comfortable bed with a proper duvet, an in-room safe, toiletries (intro pack + towel was just MYR 5), a ceiling fan (ample to keep us cool at night; air con is pay as you go extra) and we could even have bought wi-fi for the lappie. At MYR 12 for 24 hours, that really is a bargain.

We feared that the noise of planes taking off/landing would prevent sleep but I didn't hear a thing and slept extremely well. There just wasn't enough of it.

The only other observation is that the room is compact, but if our cabin to be on next year's cruise is half as good as this, we'll be more than pleased.

Tune Hotels- ktelontour recommended.

Room With a Tune

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Breaking the Duck at the Tune

It takes just seven minutes to walk from KL's airport to the hotel and although the hour was late and approaching midnight, shops, bars and a 7-11 were all open and there were travellers milling around everywhere.

We checked in without fuss (all pre-booked) found our room and gingerly opened the door. What kind of a room does one get at the airport for less than a tenner? See the photos next post...

Our First Delay

We've used (and will continue to do so) Air Asia as often as we can over the last year of our travelling through Asia. Extremely cheap; even more so nowadays where they cover all fuel surcharges and all we cough for is the fare, the airport tax and nothing else, reliable and efficient- we've never had a problem.

This time we had our first delay but even then, it was less than an hour and no real harm done. We'd booked a night at the Tune Hotel and so didn't have the worry of missing a connecting flight. And that really made a difference to us, as we managed to get to bed before midnight and got some sleep before the 04:00 alarm rudely announced it was time to get back to the airport for our flight to Vientiane. Still, four hours are four hours but I am convinced that is why I can't sleep at the moment.

Touching Cloth

The one thing we weren't fancying was finding out how much our luggage was going to weigh in at. A combination of tempting bargains in the sales, the inexplicable but expected amassing of stuff over a prolonged stay and a tight limit of 15 kg per person, meant it was always going to be touch and go but much to our relief and joy, we just squeezed in with a combined total of 29.2 kg.

Close but we weren't facing any OTT excess baggage charges. :o)

And That Was That

The filum finished, we got back to the hotel to collect our luggage (most of it- we also left a rather large suitcase for next year which the hotel kindly stores free of charge for us), hailed a cab and before we knew it, we were at the airport facing the dreaded check in- and the scales...

Harry Potter

I need a little more time to consider my thoughts to adequately review his latest foray into celluloid. Expect to see it in the next few days, or if I forget, give me a nudge. Thanks.

Far Better Value

Come on then, how much for 2 x tickets to see a "blockbuster filum" and 2 x McD's "value" meals?

To get into the movie cost us MYR 6 each plus another MYR 15 for the food. Aye, MYR 27 all in, which is less than a fiver. Back in the UK that wouldn't even cover the cost of one entrance to the cinema.

The Cost of Pills

I need to take prescribed medication to combat my high levels of hereditary cholesterol and popped into a local Pharmacy to pick up some supplies.

Up side is that one doesn't need to faff around with doctor's prescriptions in Malaysia- just walk in off the street and ask for the tablets you need. If they're in stock, they'll be in your grubby palms within minutes.

Down side? Cost. In the UK, I used to pay around £15 for three months worth of pills. Here it cost me the same, but only for a fortnight. Ouch.

Story of the Day(s)

It all began with us leaving the Bayview Hotel with fond farewells and promises of a return in the early new year, before we left the icy cool of the Reception area to face the furnace blast of the outside temperatures and to kill off four hours.

A leisurely stroll through the back street of Chinatown, a meander through Little India and one final glimpse of all the places we had taken for granted over the past two months. What's not to like about Georgetown?

We headed for Prangin, the large shopping mall on the other side of town for final meal and a visit to the cinema to see us through to six o'clock pick up to the airport, but on checking the running times, the only filum we could catch would be Harry Potter and the Half Blood-Prince, which had just premiered, starting in half an hour. Sadly, the slap up scoff we had promised ourselves would have to wait as we didn't have the time and McDonald's it was then.

Stir Fry I Wish

When eating a meal, there is a 35% chance that at least one ingredient traveled over 100 miles by rail before reaching your plate.

I've no idea what my odds were, but the frozen pizza I attempted only came as far as the freezer and into the micro wave. It was gross and despite sending it back twice, it was still raw and doughy in the middle. I hope this is not indicative of what to expect over the next few weeks.

Think I'll stick to local cuisine and leave the fine Italian dining until we get back to Izola, where they have the best pizza ever. Once I discover what the local fare is, of course.

Jet Lagged?

Of course it's not, but as we approach 01:00, I've just woken up and cannot get back to sleep, no matter what I try. It was barely a two and a half hour flight from KL and yet it feels as though we've travelled half way around the world.

I think it's down to breaking the journey up over two days that's screwed us, so in time honoured fashioned, I guess I'll just Blog a little until the eyes begin to glaze over and I'm ready to go back to kip.

Well, it certainly works for you guys. :o)

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Landed in Laos

Arrived safely, internet seems to work, room is super and we're very excited.

And d-e-a-d tired as we've been up since 04:00.

Can't be bothered today, as we're now off out exploring, so play nicely and we'll be back tomorrow to update and let you know what's been happening and how it is.

Country number twenty three; *yay* :o)

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Shut Eye

One in eight Russians say they practice falling asleep. Pre or post Vodka?

Here We Go

The London Olympic committee is considering a more expensive starting price in a bid to increase revenue and are about to renege on promises to offer tickets for just £15.

A pledge to charge £15 a seat, with more than half the nine million places selling for less than £30, was made by committee chairman Sebastian Coe when the capital's bid for the Games was launched in 2004. But with three years before the Games the chief executive of the London Organising Committee (LOC), admitted it may not be possible to honour that commitment. He said he hoped cheap tickets would still be available but could not say how many or for what price.

"The principle still applies that a very significant chunk of our tickets will be highly affordable so we can get families here."

It sounds like he wouldn't a understand a principle if it bit him in the scrotum.

Farting Herrings

A study the Bamfield Marine Science Centre in British Columbia discovered that herring appear to communicate with each other by expelling bubbles of gas from their bottoms. These "distinctive bursts of pulses" were termed Fast Repetitive Ticks.

No Nazi Salutes Here

A pub landlord woke up recently to find his beer garden had been invaded by 50 gnomes. He has no idea how the little visitors got there, but suspects it may be the regulars of the Lamb in Yapton, West Sussex. He said:

"I couldn't believe it when I saw them. I was half asleep and saw all these little eyes looking up at me. It was the last thing I was expecting to see."

He is now planning to raffle them off for charity. :o)

Vodka and ?

How to mess up a perfectly decent drink- pictures here.

Vodka is one of the most varied spirit as far as its possible flavors are concerned. The choice of vodka infusions is almost infinite and stretches as far as your imagination. You can choose between either fresh fruit, or more alternative ingredients, like marijuana vapor from volcano vaporizers. Let’s try to list both traditional and extra-ordinary ingredients that can be infused with vodka:

Fruit-Infused Vodka

Hardly can you imagine a fruit (or a vegetable) type that cannot be used to flavor vodka. The choice ranges from most popular flavorings like cherry and raspberry, to less obvious ingredients like cucumber, blood orange, and blueberry-vanilla. Anyway, no matter which fruit you may want to pick, you will hardly surprise anyone; so no reason to add too much detail here…

More advanced infusions to try:

The following drink is made using Belvedere Black Raspberry mixed with white grape juice, uncased in a fresh rosemary Volcano Vaporizer smoke.
Belvedere Vodka debuted the use of the Volcano for cocktails in January 2009 to a group of esteemed NY and Los Angeles based mixologists at their members only ‘Sipper Club’ to rave reviews.

Bacon-Infused Vodka

As far as I can tell, no one (shockingly) has mass-produced and marketed a bacon-flavored vodka. But there have been quite a few web mentions on how to cook it and what it tastes like (which is most often “nowhere near as horrible as expected“).
There isn’t much to making bacon vodka: You throw a few cooked slices into the bottle, put it in a cupboard, and wait for about three weeks.

Snake-Infused Vodka

Infusing snake and other exotic critters, like scorpions, for romantic and medical purposes is actually a common practice in some Asian cultures. But It could become popular in the USA also, says Drinkdogma:
Besides, it’s an exotic drink served throughout the world:

Scorpion-Infused Vodka

Another Asian favor: scorpion-infused vodka:
The scorpion lends a woody taste to the alcohol; it also supposedly helps to detoxify the body and kickstart the libido. The scorpion itself is usually edible, too.

Hot Dog Infused Vodka

While it sounds like fun to me, they say this infusion can taste great:
Hot dogs added to 100-proof Smirnoff vodka and infused in a large jar for five weeks. After infusion, it is important to squeeze the dogs well and strain them through a cheesecloth, to release all the essential oils and lipids. The resulting weeniecello is delicious served straight up, whether ice-cold from the freezer or slightly warm. It has a fine beefy taste, with a hint of salt and gentle spiciness that lends itself to pairings with nachos or buffalo wings (source).

Honey-Infused Vodka

If I had one of those funky bottles, I’d sure to start collecting vodka bottles:
Honey-Pepper Vodka
Originally Ukrainian recipe gets really popular all over the world:
“The taste of this distinctive vodka is unforgettable. A subtle infusion of honey and wild herbs creates a smooth and delicately spiced blend which perfectly complements the warmth of the red chilli peppers.”

Rose-Infused Vodka:

Vodka infused with organic rose petals: looks really awesome but I imagine the taste is not really different from just plain vodka:

Tea-Infused Vodka:

It is such a simple idea, so plainly obvious that many people can’t believe they didn’t think of it first: take the South’s trademark refreshment – sweet iced tea – and make it alcoholic. That, essentially, was the recipe used by a South Carolina distillery last year to create a phenomenon.

Oak-Tree-Infused Vodka

One of the most popular Polish vodkas is one infused with oak tree as well as other plants:
Combining only the best natural ingredients of highly selected plants and a centuries old traditional distillation method, a wonderful blend of vodka has been created.
Coffee-Infused Vodka
Two energizers in one – or can we say vodka is energetic? Anyway, I imagine this is a hard drink:

Juniper-Infused Vodka

Junipers are coniferous plants and they are actually very rare, so I am not sure this vodka is really eco-friendly. But I imagine the flavor is great.

Skittles-Infused Vodka

Infusing vodka with Skittles has been a very popular trend lately. I am not sure about the taste but it looks really sugary (here’s a detailed recipe):

School of Life

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Sat Nav Typo

You have to feel for a Swedish couple who used their Sat Nav to try and reach the golden beaches of Capri and ended up 400 miles away in Carpi.

The picturesque island of Capri, famed as a romantic holiday destination, lies in the Gulf of Naples in southern Italy and has been a resort since Roman times. Carpi is a busy industrial town in the province of Emilia Romagna, at the other end of the country.

Apparently though, on learning of their mistake, they simply got back into their car, turned around and drove off again. :o)

Who Decides?

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Short of Cash

Try some of these ideas to cop some extra moolah, as per TTel:

1. Answer text questions

If you are an anorak for trivia, why not get paid for sharing your wealth of knowledge? There are several mobile phone text answering services that need more researchers to answer the thousands of questions they receive per day. The most popular ones are Texperts ( and AQA (

It is flexible work and you just have to be a bit knowledgeable and quick at searching the internet. You can earn about £10 an hour on average. You need to be fluent in English, with excellent writing skills, but you can work from wherever you want, and you get paid for each question you answer.

2. Become a simulated patient

Medical schools across the country run communication skills workshops for their trainee doctors and require people to act as patients. A simulated patient is a person who plays the part of a real patient allowing medical students to learn by developing their communication skills and diagnostic abilities. For example, Bute Medical School at the University of St Andrews pays £6.97 per hour and sessions last between one and four hours.

3. Rent out your driveway

Rent your driveway, garage or secure parking space and earn £50-£300 per month by advertising on

How much you can charge depends on factors such as location, proximity to train/tube stations, or the availability of parking in your area. For example, if there is a nearby car park or pay-and-display bay, you may want your price to be more competitive than the cost of either of these. It's also worth doing a quick search to see what others are charging.

Keep in mind that these types of websites may charge a commission for their service. For example, a similar website, charges an ongoing 15pc of the total amount of money received for successful rentals. However, is free to join.

4. Get a lodger

Taking in a lodger is an easy way to bring in extra income. Advertise your extra room on house and flat-share website Spare Room ( Listings are free, the only charge is if you want to highlight your listing and run it simultaneously on other property websites such as and Globrix ( Prices start at £7 for a seven-day listing.

Keep in mind that you can earn up to £4,250 in any tax year and be exempt from income tax. If you earn more than £4,250 in a year, you can either pay tax on your whole profit, minus any expenses and capital allowances, or your profit minus £4,250. If you choose this option, however, you won't be able to deduct any expenses or capital allowances. You can get your tax reliefs and allowances by filling in your Self Assessment tax return.

5. Become a mystery shopper

Go undercover and become a mystery shopper and earn £10-£15 per job.

This job requires you to judge customer service in shops, restaurants, hotels, banks, even on public transport and you might do this through store visits, telephone calls or even shopping online.

The payment for each job will vary depending on the amount of time the job will take and its complexity. Sign up with market research companies such as GFK NOP (, TNS Global ( or Consumer Intelligence ( to start making money while you shop.

6. Sell your books on Amazon

If you are a bit of a bookworm, you could have hundreds of pounds just sitting on your shelves. Sign up with to sell your old novels, textbooks or DVDs and watch the sales roll in. Unlike eBay, Amazon sells at fixed prices and listings can last for months or years.

Just sign up for a seller's account and search for your books by title, ISBN or UPC and choose a price. Postage is broken down by item category and is automatically added to your listing, so you needn't bother with a set of scales.

You will be notified by email when an item sells and just pop it in the post to complete the sale. Avoid Post Office queues and buy your postage online at Just print the label and glue it to the package and you are done. It really couldn't be easier.

7. Get paid to party

The home-shopping party is back and now there are more brands. If setting your own hours and selling to customers of your own choice appeals, this could be the type of job for you. Choose from The Body Shop at Home (, The Pampered Chef ( or Neal's Yard Remedies at Home ( and you get to set your own income level and are able to cash in on some great discounts on products.

For the Body shop at Home, you make 25pc profit on all your sales – so if you sell 10 bottles of shower gel at £5.85 each, you would make a £14.65 profit.

8. Become a tutor

If you are fluent in another language, good with maths or have mastered an instrument, get paid for teaching in spare time. Families will pay up to £25 an hour for tutors to coach children through key exams. To find local jobs, contact First Tutors (, UK Tutors ( or Tutor Hunt (

9. Host a foreign student

If you have spare room, you could earn thousands each year by taking in an exchange student. You can host students for the academic year or a few weeks. For a list of schools in your area, visit the International Association of Language Centres ( Students who stay in Brighton in Homestay (with a host), for instance, pay £109 a week.

10. Work as a film extra

Being a film extra can be lucrative, with rates typically ranging from £80 to £100 a day. You can earn more if you provide your costume, or do overtime. Universal Extras specialises in finding film work for students, but also finds work for non-students. For more information, visit the website (

Short Sighted

The Government is to create tens of thousands of "socially useful jobs" such as dance assistants,
tourism ambassadors, forestry workers, loft laggers, child carers and solar panel engineers. The taxpayer-funded jobs are being created by councils, quangos and charities under a Government scheme to remove 150 000 people from the unemployment register over the next two years.

The list of new vacancies (most of which will be filled by 18 to 24 year olds) will also include sports coaches, classroom assistants and social carers. As the Taxpayers' Alliance said:

"The public sector has failed to cut back in the recession. Expanding it further is unrealistic and shortsighted because it will plunge us further into debt. Soft jobs like these would be indulgent even in good economic times let alone in the current climate."

Aye. A typical Labour approach to massaging unemployment figures.

More at TTel.

Towels at Dawn

German holidaymakers are being offered the chance to pre-book their sun loungers, saving themselves the early morning chore of heading to the poolside with a beach towel to reserve their desired spot.

Thomas Cook, the travel company, is giving German tourists the option of paying ahead for their loungers when they book their Mediterranean package holiday. At a cost of 3€ (~£2.60) a day, Germans will now be able to pay in advance for their lounger and beach umbrella.

Up to nine hotels have joined the programme run by the Thomas Cook's German business in an attempt to stop perceived "beach towel wars" between Germans and holidaymakers of other nationalities with the scheme currently only open to winter holidays booked in Germany. Thomas Cook is offering the option at hotels in Turkey, Egypt, and the Canary Islands. A spokesbod for the company said:

"As part of a promotion to holidaymakers in Germany, pre-bookable sun chairs are being offered as part of an upgrade package following positive feedback to a successful initiative by a small number of hotels. Thomas Cook Group is an international company, operating in 21 countries across the world. Each business markets itself to its own customers to provide quality products and services to give them the best holiday possible."

I wonder how this is going to work out? :0)

An Innocent Mistake

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Halt, Hände Hoch

Taleban insurgents fighting German forces in northern Afghanistan have often lived to fight another day thanks to trilingual warnings that have to be shouted out before the men from the Bundeswehr can squeeze their triggers.

The seven-page pocket guide to combat tucked into the breast pocket of every German soldier offers such instructions as: “Before opening fire you are expected to declare loudly, in English, "United Nations — stop, or I will fire", followed by a version in Pashtu- "Melgaero Mellatuna- Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!"

The alert must also be issued in Dari, and the booklet, devised by a committee in some faraway ministerial office, adds: “If the situation allows, the warning should be repeated.”

The joke going round Nato mess tents poses the question: “How can you identify a German soldier? He is the corpse clutching a pocket guide.”

However, the German Army can now perhaps defend itself a little more urgently after the release of new rules of engagement this week, giving their forces more freedom to shoot back and shout warnings later. The new guidelines also say that soldiers can shoot to prevent an attack, allowing them to kill a rebel escaping from the battlefield.

Up until last week it was, for example, forbidden to shoot a fleeing assailant, even though every civilian policeman in Germany has the right to shoot an armed fugitive in the arm or leg after barking a short warning.

More at TTimes.

Coke V Pepsi

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How the logos have changed over the years. There can be only One- the Real Thing.

Holy Batman, Batman, We're Relieved

The Indian Government has finally bowed to political pressure and ordered the army, for the first time, to prevent its roughly 34 000 officers from using their sahayaks, or assistants, as domestic servants or batmen as they are called. The Defence Minister, told Parliament:

“Sahayaks will not be employed for menial household work. Any practice that lowers the self-esteem is to be abhorred . . . In this context, it is always ensured and shall continue to be ensured that soldiers are not employed on any demeaning and humiliating tasks.”

The response came from a report by a parliamentary committee last year which said that using batmen as domestic servants was “demeaning and humiliating” and contributed to psychological problems in the 1.3 million-strong army. Batmen are still officially obliged to answer their officers’ telephones, maintain their uniforms and weapons and act as their bodyguards.

India is thought to be the only country in the world to maintain such a tradition after Pakistan’s decision to replace batmen with contracted non-combatant domestic staff in 2004. Britain abolished the system after the Second World War. In India, the navy and air force phased it out several years ago and pressure has been mounting on the army to follow suit. Current and former batmen complain that they are issued with inferior uniforms, passed over for promotions and frequently humiliated by their officers, or more often their wives.

Good- and not a moment too late, but as usual it's only half measures. They have stopped short of abolishing the system altogether, in an apparent concession to army top brass worried that losing such perks could accelerate a brain drain to the private sector. Poor, but what do you expect from an Old Boy's Club?

Always the Little People

The UK tax authorities launched a fresh crackdown on savers with offshore accounts yesterday in an attempt to recoup hundreds of millions of pounds in unpaid revenue.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) began its first assault two years ago when it raised £400 million by chasing savers who had failed to pay tax on offshore accounts held with five leading UK banks. It has now widened the net to examine people who have accounts with a further 300 UK and foreign-owned banks.

It is understood that 500 000 people could have accounts with these institutions, but it is unclear how many of these have failed to declare their holdings. The Revenue said it expects to raise a further £500 million from these over the next four years.

If you've got any dosh stashed abroad, better mug up on the rest of this at TTimes.

Enforced Diet

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) wants manufacturers to reduce the size of chocolate bars by about a fifth to help to cut calorie intake, proposing that by 2012, standard-sized bars should be no more than 50g.

No big deal, manufacturers have been doing this for years already and still charging the same for smaller portions.

Restrictions on the size of carbonated drinks were also put forward yesterday as part of the consultation with the food industry as it was proposed that, within six years, fizzy drinks should be sold in smaller containers. 250ml (8.8 fl.oz) is suggested as the norm instead of the current standard 330ml for most brands.

Added sugar levels to drinks should be reduced by 4% within three years- the idea being that consumers will be weaned off very sweet drinks without noticing the lower sugar content.

No problem if prices are dropped accordingly. But they won't will they?

By 2050, 60% of Britons will be obese unless the nation’s diet is improved, according to health chiefs, with the cost to the National Health Service estimated to reach more than £8.4 billion.


More people die by asphyxiation while eating peanut butter than from peanut allergies.

Crunchy or smooth?


So screams a headline in today's paper. How desperate are they getting?

Sunbeds are as likely to cause cancer as smoking and have been classified in the highest level of risk alongside cigarettes and asbestos by an expert committee reporting to the World Health Organisation.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which provides information to the WHO, upgraded its assessment of the risk posed by sunbeds after reviewing studies of the effects of tanning devices. It said that children and young people were at the greatest risk.

Ministers are considering a change in the law to protect young people from sunbeds and sun lamps. A Department of Health spokeswoman said last night: “Sunbeds can be dangerous — we must ensure that people use them safely. If necessary we will look at laws to protect young people.”

What next? Health warnings on the sides of beds? Pictures of people with tans and missing arms and legs? Luckily the good old Nanny State is at the ready to ban them no doubt, and make sure we will be fined and/or gaoled if we dare to sneak a sesh under the UV lights.

Fine Fuzz Work

American Feds resorted to what they know best by employing full use of pepper spray and Tasers when a guy in the "rest room" refused to come out. Even after repeated orders to vacate the bathroom, the chap obstinately kept himself locked in, so they had no choice but to kick in the door and "tase his ass" with a good old dose of pepper to boot.

Turns out the poor chap was deaf and mentally disabled...

Dibble have since attempted to book the man on charges including disorderly conduct, but luckily not everyone involved is a retarded, bullying moron and the magistrate on duty wouldn't accept the charges.

I hope they get all they deserve.

Early Starters

A 12 year old boy was arrested by Berlin police after he was discovered to be carrying 150 small packets of heroin at a playground. Plainclothes Plod became suspicious of the lad when they noticed him rummaging around the sand of a playground in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district.

When they tried to approach the youth and speak to him he attempted to flee, but Dibble managed to restrain the child and search him. They discovered he was carrying 150 packets of heroin and a “large” quantity of cash.

Teaspoons, Pizza Cutters and Now Potato Peelers

But this time the news is in Canada, not Britland, where a 25 year old woman from Vancouver was arrested for sticking some burd with a spud scraper.

She was charged with assault with a weapon after stabbing a woman she knew with a potato peeler following a shouting match in a nightclub in the heart of Vancouver's entertainment district. The incident may be the first time that anyone in Vancouver has been charged with assault with a potato peeler and if you can bear the excitement, more of the story here.

Room for the Night. Hic...

American state troopers say a man was arrested on Sunday morning after allegedly driving whilst drunk to a state trooper station, mistaking it for a hotel. They said the man knocked on the front door of Troop A and after being buzzed in, the guy asked the trooper working at the desk if he was in a hotel.

He was booked with driving while under the influence of alcohol. What a div- and on a morning too?

Need to Know Stuff on Laos

We'll be GMT + 7 in Vientiane, so we lose an hour from Malaysian time, putting us on whatever time you have back in Britland plus six hours as you guys are in British Summer Time.

And the wedge factor is biggie, 1.00 LAK (Kip) = 0.0000712738 GBP, so a quid is approximately 14 000 kip. That is going to be one bastid of a conversion factor.

Stiff Problem

Prolonged erections are the leading cause of hypoxic brain damage among men.

Laos Flag

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All Previous Again

Do not adjust your TV set. Alterations have been made at our end to update settings on the Blog for Laos, although we will not be there until tomorrow. We have such a good internet connection that it's better to be slightly early than to not be able to change anything for days.

Travel Tip #901

As you're queuing to check in, drop your cargo luggage into a heavy duty (black) bin liner and secure it with a cable tie.

The liner will help keep straps out of the way if you travel with a rucksack, it will keep most of the dirt off your case, it will keep it dry in case of rain when being taken on/off the plane and usually, it will make for easier identification. Naturally it will not arrive at your destination intact, but it will get the job done and all you do is simply chuck it into the bin when you collect it off the conveyor belt.

And it costs bugger all.

Airport Scam

It's been in the news again recently about how there are gangs who set you up for a shop lifting rap by planting stuff in your bag whilst you browse and then let bent Plod arrest you. There's no smoke without fire and therefore to not take note and precaution is foolhardy.

One of the best ways to dissuade shysters you're not an easy mark is to travel in company so that you keep an eye out for your partner and to add to security, lock your bag. Padlocks not only prevent people from nicking your stuff, they also deny access to people wanting to add things to your luggage.


It's all planned out and while it may take a bit of time to get everything in, the main problem is weight. Somehow we appear to have acquired a whole load more "stuff" since our arrival and we're both a bit nervous we're going to be OTT on the scales at the airport.

Time to see just how generous AA are with excess baggage...

The Plan

Due to visa commitments, we cannot enter Thailand until 8th/9th September, which is why we are visiting Laos and Vietnam; both countries offering us almost a month should we choose to.

Laos is easier to enter as we can collect a visa on arrival (for 28 days) for a fee of $30 and a passport sized photo, but Vietnam we have to apply for a visa (same cost and requirements) in advance and we get 30 days.

We've decided to do approximately three weeks in Vientiane, the capital of Laos and another three weeks in Hanoi and yesterday we sorted out our travel arrangements. Hanoi to Bangkok is simple- once more we turn to Air Asia and two flights to Thailand kick in for £50.

Vientiane to Hanoi on the other hand is looking much more expensive as AA don't fly the route and it's going to have to be Laos Airlines- complete with turbo prop planes. We reckon on $130/head, so well over £150 for a shorter distance than the AA flight.

Once again, Air Asia are simply tops and we really need to find out if they are part of the air miles scheme.

First Hotel in Laos

Judging by the help already offered by the staff at the Aroon Residence Hotel, we should be well looked after.

Constant correspondence assures us our room is ready, we should have some kind of internet connection and they are even collecting us from the airport, with a guy holding up a sign for ktelontour- another first.

Check out the link to see what's in store and rest assured, we will be commenting about our experience on a daily basis...

Eddie Says

If you're choking in a restaurant you can just say the magic words, "Heimlich manoeuvre", and all will be well. Trouble is, it's difficult to say "Heimlich manoeuvre" when you're choking to death.

- Eddie Izzard

Not the Norm

Today is going to be rather different. Aside from obviously leaving, we have to "kill off" an entire day here and even then, we are only flying as far as the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Due to stupid o'clock flights tomorrow (07:00?) we decided to stay over night at the Tune Hotel at KL's airport for the measly price of eleven quid. To get a taxi to the city centre already costs MYR 80 (one way), which is £14...

Once again, we are being spoiled with our hotel granting us a gratis late check out at 14:00 (most of which will be spent packing and not playing on the Blog) and then we have until around 19:00 before we have to get a taxi to Penang airport.

So, a leisurely lunch, followed by a movie at the pictures and then one final stroll around town. No rush, no hassle and definitely no stress. :o)

Last Day in Georgetown

It is with heavy heart we say "adieu" to our happy place and turn to empty suitcases and bags. Yip, after two glorious months back in Georgetown, we have to pack up and push off to pastures anew. It's been a blast and we've been spoilt rotten, staying at the Bayview Hotel, who have looked after us as if we were family.

Tomorrow morning we land in Laso for the first time and so the adventure turns another page in the story of our travels. We have an idea of what to expect, hoping it will be similar to Cambodia, but until we get there, it's just idle speculation. No matter what though, we are happy to be back on the road again and are very much looking forward to the next instalment.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Crackdown on Scams

Police authorities in Thailand are to be tougher with illegal taxis and unlicensed guides at Bangkok airport, after the transport minister, Sohpon Zarum, called for new measures to protect foreign tourists.

Perhaps they can also look into the set ups by people inside the airport who plant goods on tourist whilst browsing in the shops and then accuse them of shop lifting? That would be rather nice too.

No Cock, Spock

Surprise, surprise, Britain is one of the most expensive places to holiday.

Those holidaying in the UK will have to fork out around £71 a day for such items as meals out, postcards, drinks, newspapers and ice cream, a survey by Teletext Holidays found. The £71 figure is one of the highest in Europe and compares unfavourably with the best-value destinations Turkey (£61 for daily expenditure) and Spain (nearly £65). The next-best value destinations – including the cost of a package holiday plus daily expenditure: are Greece, Egypt, Portugal and the Canary Islands.

The typical cost of a three-star, half-board late deal in Turkey is £237 per person and an all-inclusive break is £282 per person. A three-star half-board holiday in mainland Spain is £268 per person, with an all-inclusive break costing £286 per person. In Britain, the average cost for a week self-catering in a holiday park is £147 per person, while it costs £98 per person for a week based on four people sharing a country cottage.

Not forgetting the delights of the English summer too...


What a great article on tipping, from TTel:

A hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, 7pm. A weary traveller, recently off an 11-hour flight from Gatwick, has just eaten half a bucket-sized portion of beef, cheese and peppers in the hotel restaurant and is about to get into bed.

Caller: "Hi, Mr Richardson. This is Brad here. Your waiter for this evening."

Me (puzzled but friendly): "Oh, hi, Brad."

Brad: "I was just calling to check you enjoyed your meal this evening."

Me: "Well, cheers for asking, Brad. It was fine."

Brad: "Only, I guess you being tired and all, you forgot to express your appreciation in the customary way…"

Like a lemon I got dressed, went downstairs to the restaurant and handed Brad a $5 bill. The recollection of this episode has tortured me ever since.

Yes, I know that Brad gets paid diddly-squat and, like all American waitpersons, relies on tips to stay alive. I forgot, I screwed up. But I was already in my pyjamas, for God's sake.

Tipping, let's face it, is a cultural and pecuniary minefield. There are complex cultural variants, such as baksheesh in the Middle East (basically, daylight robbery) and ta'arof in Iran, a preposterous formality whereby offers of money are refused two or three times before being greedily gobbled up. But these require a lifetime of study.

Simple tipping – the handing over of money as a token of gratitude for services rendered – is complicated enough. I have been travelling extensively for nearly 20 years now, and trying to get it right (how much, when, how) still leaves me feeling like a chimp at the Ritz.

Recently, it has also been leaving me feeling poorer. Tipping has been getting so out of hand in certain destinations that it amounts to a stealth tax on Western tourists and distorts local economies – and I blame the greenback-flashing, we-can-solve-anything-with-moolah (except find Bin Laden) Americans.

Last month, waiting to catch a hotel shuttle bus at Johannesburg airport, I watched an American tourist tip the bus driver 100 rand – about £7.50 – for moving his case 10 feet from the tarmac to the luggage compartment. Last year I trekked in the Peruvian Andes with a Californian couple (let's call them Ron and Nancy) who were charming and urbane company – until we got on to the subject of gratuities.

At the end of the trek we had to tip the horseman, Jorge, who had followed us for five days with a mount in case one of us fell ill and couldn't walk (in the event his services were not required). Jorge had told me that the agency that arranged the trek was paying him $10 a day, an excellent wage in the Andes.

I suggested to Ron that we give him $30 between us. Ron seemed deeply affronted that I had even raised the subject, as if adults should not discuss such private matters.

When it came to it – and I admit my eyes were peeled – Ron and Nancy handed over $50 each. In a moment of chimp-at-the-Ritz madness, I then did the same. The horseman thus received the equivalent of nearly three weeks' pay, on top of his actual pay, for doing, well, what he is paid for.

Good luck to him, you might say. It will put clothes on his children's backs and scrumptious roast guinea pig on his kitchen table. But, hang on. The long-term effects of overtipping can be insidious and corrosive on both sides.

A fist full of dollars is almost always delivered with an averted face, as a substitute for trying to understand the lives and needs of other people, while the recipient is left feeling confused as well as richer. The prospect of unfeasibly massive and barely earned tips causes teachers to give up teaching in favour of driving shuttle buses, children to give up school in order to beg – and horsemen to ride roughshod over other horsemen for the privilege of trekking with Americans.

This is not a party political broadcast by the Tightwad Tendency. Legitimate concerns about the effects of excessive tipping should not be used as an excuse to keep wages low. "There needs to be a happy medium," says Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern, a charity dedicated to fighting exploitation in tourism. "A lot of people don't understand the value of a tip to people whose wages are incredibly low. The price to us is minimal, but it can make the difference as to whether a child goes to school."

Barnett's advice is that if you have had good service from, say, a tour guide and want to say thank you, you should, judging the amount from what you have learned of the local cost of living. "Something like $10 goes down really well," she says. (See "Rules of thumb" for recommendations, but bear in mind that these are flexible.)

There is also the fraught question of whether inclusive service charges are distributed to staff. If you can establish that they are, a tip to your restaurant waiter is not necessary. Otherwise, leave cash. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that in the developing world, where wages in the tourist industry have been stuck on about £1 a day for a decade, that bit of cash can be a matter of life and death.

In the restaurants and resorts of the Western world, lives are unlikely to hang in the balance. But depending where you are, some employees still exist on pitifully low wages (though I suspect that Brad in Phoenix does all right). Now, it seems, hard economic times are making things even tougher. An online forum for whingeing waitpersons called (motto: "Overtipping never killed anyone") has picked up on the new frugality among diners in Manhattan: "They're back! Well, they never really left, but they seem to be enjoying the Recession Special that is NYC fine dining."

The worst offenders for "tip-compromised tyranny" are, in joint first place, the French (especially Parisians) and the Israelis, followed by the Russians ("No you cannot buy the hostess"), with the British in third place. Closer to home, and at the very top of the tree – the two-Michelin-star restaurant of the Gidleigh Park Country House hotel in Devon – the punters are also trimming.

"It's definitely down," says the general manager, Sue Williams. "People are being cautious with every pound. It's hard to put a percentage on it, but somewhere between five and 10 per cent."

When dinner for two can easily exceed £300, that represents a considerable hit. Restaurants, including Gidleigh, have also responded to the straitened times by putting on cheaper options – what Sue Williams calls "favourably priced menus" – so by default many diners are tipping less in any case. Heavy discounting is happening across the travel industry this year, nowhere more than in the expensive, highly competitive cruising sector. "Cruise lines are discounting fares to near-record levels, so it's cheaper than it's ever been to take a cruise," says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of the website

"The deals are not only really cheap – as little as £50 per person per day, which is just amazing – but gratuities are usually included," she says. "So there's not much of a sense that people are tipping less when cruising on UK lines, because the tips were included in the first place."

The key phrase there is "when cruising on UK lines". British and American cruise lines tend to have different fare structures that reflect differing national attitudes to tipping. In the United States, cruise fares quoted in brochures and on websites usually do not include gratuities because Americans are comfortable, and generous, with the idea of tipping, and allow for it in their mental calculations.

Britons and other Europeans prefer to have it all taken care of in advance. But if you have booked a cruise that doesn't include gratuities in the price, Spencer Brown recommends that you allow a minimum of $10 per person per day in tips, to be paid into a general staff kitty at the end.

For the British, especially, it is sheer embarrassment – the fear of doing it wrong, of handing over either far too much or pitifully little – that makes tipping such a vexed question. "That moment when someone takes your bag to your room for you and waits for a reward is probably the worst of all," says Karen Gee, general manager of Journeys of Distinction, a tour operator that specialises in escorted tours to exotic places.

For that reason, "porterage" is taken care of on Journeys of Distinction trips and the tour manager offers advice on what to tip in other situations. Gee believes tips have fallen in more affluent destinations, "but in places like Sri Lanka, where the locals rely on tipping, and the amount is negligible in British terms, our clients are still tipping generously."

For those who are not just hesitant, but tight-fisted as well, it's worth pointing out that tipping is not just a one-way street. In an upmarket hotel a generous gratuity to the concierge at the beginning of your stay – in return, say, for directions to the nearest jewellers – can ensure that, throughout your time there, nothing is too much trouble, even the procurement of tweezers for the removal of navel fluff at 3am. Or so I'm told.

All in all, sensible tipping is a civilised transaction that reflects credit on both giver and receiver. For the poor and needy it can be a lifeline – and if you're in a tricky situation it can work wonders, as this story about Sir Winston Churchill demonstrates.

In the gloom of Blitz-torn London he hailed a taxi to take him to the BBC, where he was due to give a radio broadcast. "Sorry guv," said the cabbie. "I'm off home to listen to Churchill on the wireless." In response Churchill tucked a note in the cabbie's pocket.

"Bugger Churchill," said London's finest. "Hop in."

Rules of thumb

Amounts given in sterling – translate into local currency:

Bell boy 50p-£1 per bag

Waiter/waitress 10-20% of bill in cash

Barman 10-15% of drinks bill

Chambermaid £1-£2 per day

Tour/trek guide £5-£10 per day

Trek porters/cooks £20-£30 for the trek in general kitty

Safari camp staff £3-£5 per day in tips box

Taxi driver 10% of fare, plus 50p-£1 for help with each heavy bag – but check locally as in some countries tips are not expected, such as Mexico and Turkey

Country by country guide


VAT on food in restaurants has recently been reduced from 19.6 per cent to just 5.5 per cent, making eating out good value this summer. A service charge of 15 per cent is always included (service compris), but, if you're happy with the service, round up the bill to the next euro, and even add a euro or two.


Service is included in taverna bills. Round up or even add more, as you see fit.


Don't mistake the 7 per cent VAT charge on restaurant bills ("IVA") for service charge, which is not included. This is not a big tipping culture, but staff at restaurants in tourist hot spots will expect at least 10 per cent. For tapas and drinks at a bar, just round up and add a euro or two.


A cover charge (usually about €2.50 per person, for bread and so on) is always included, a service charge sometimes, so check the bill or ask. In any case that service charge is unlikely to go to the waiter, so a couple of euros will always be appreciated – and also makes sense if you will be eating there again. If there's no service charge, 10 per cent in cash is sufficient.

Boys in Blue Too Blue

A Plod sergeant has been ordered to undertake a "management advice course" because he swore while dealing with a violent and abusive criminal who had threatened more Dibble during a two hour siege. He could also face legal action from serial offender whose complaint was upheld by a disciplinary hearing.

An investigation by Northumbria Police Professional Standards Department (PSD) found the sergeant guilty of misconduct for using the swear word. A PSD report stated that the sergeant was pushed into making an "inappropriate comment" following a tirade of abuse from the suspect. It said:

"The police officer openly admits he made the inappropriate comment about Mr Francis after the strip search had been conducted. He admits this was unprofessional, although it was never his intention for Mr Francis to hear this comment. He stipulates this comment was a result of the violence and abuse from the suspect."

The Vice-Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales said:

"This case just typifies the bureaucratic nonsense police officers often have to contend with. As for the convicted criminal's human rights, did he consider the same rights of the officers he threatened during the incident?

"It's high time the criminal justice system in this country was properly reviewed so that it protects those who abide by the law and does not pander to those who do not."

Well said.

More at TTel.

Better Than a Pizza Wheel? Try a Teaspoon

Not wishing to be left out of the publicity, Asda have trumped M & S by requesting proof of age from a shopper who wanted to purchase some teaspoons. The shop assistant reportedly informed the customer that someone had once been murdered with a teaspoon, and therefore age identification was now required. :o)

The Asda Halifax store manager, said he was unaware of the spoon ID rule and said:

"The customer will have been asked for age identification by the assistant when prompted by the till. I'm not aware of an age restriction for spoons. It's most likely a mix-up with the bar codes."

So why the sage knowledge about being spooned to death from the gadgy on the till then? It's also prompted a few comments from the community:

  • "Tea towel and a couple of bottle of diet cream soda and you've got all the equipment for waterboarding an Asda manager."
  • "Seemingly Asda believe that nobody over 18 ever murdered anyone."
  • "If the Government are going to try to take away my constitutional rights this way, I'm going to carry the biggest calibre teaspoon I can find."
  • "I will give up my teaspoon when they prise it from my cold, dead body."
Possibly the only way to deal with this nonsense is to laugh at it, but it's only going to get worse.

Numbers Don't Add Up

A shopper was astonished when staff at Marks and Spencer demanded that she prove her age before she bought a pizza-cutter. She was 28.

M & S insisted its employee was right to demand proof of age from the woman under the "Challenge 25" policy as staff are required to ask for identification from any customer who tries to buy alcohol or a bladed item and appears younger than 25. A spokesbot said:

"Our policy is not to sell knives or bladed articles to persons under 18, and a pizza-wheel fits into to that category. We are a responsible retailer, and our customers expect us to be vigilant in providing blades if people appear to be underage."

Bollocks. And he obviously can't count- the law says 18 and they insist on 25? Why?

No Sign of Danger

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A village tea rooms owner in Devon has said she will be forced to close her business after a council ordered the removal of an advertising sign for "health and safety" reasons. She was told the board pointing to her remote tea shop was a "potential hazard" to pedestrians, even though it was on an embankment with no footpath and within days of taking it down she saw her takings slump to just £8 a day. She is being left with no option but to close the Fancy That Tea Shop in the village of East Budleigh, Devon, with the loss of five jobs. A spokesburd for the council said:

"The Highways Act guidance says that no unauthorised items, such as advertising boards, should be displayed on the pavement. But in Devon our policy is more flexible; we do allow authorised displays on the pavement so long as they are immediately in front of the business.

"However in areas where the pavements are not that wide it can pose a potential hazard to passersby. The council has asked businesses in East Budleigh to take in their displays and most have done so willingly."

I don't even understand what she's guffing on about? How is it flexible if you've ordered her to take the sign away? She hasn't got the notice directly in front of her shop and nor is it on the pavement, as there isn't one.

What on earth is she saying?

Walking on the Moon

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A book released to mark the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing; complete with a piece of Moon rock in the binding, is to go on sale for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only 12 copies of the special edition, commemorative book MoonFire will be available, because of the scarcity of the rock, which is based on accounts of the Apollo 11 mission by Norman Mailer, the US author and space exploration enthusiast who died in 2007.

The extra-large tome features glossy photos of the landing from the archives of Nasa and LIFE magazine and each copy is signed by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon.

In total 1969 copies of the book are being produced; to represent the year of the landing- with most available to buy online for around £650 ($1 000). Only the final 12 copies come with pieces of Moon rock that crashed to Earth as meteorites. The samples range from 0.4g slivers to a 30.34g rock – one of the largest lunar meteorites ever found on Earth.

Taschen America, the publishers, are waiting to hear back from valuers before setting a price but have said that it will be one of the most expensive books ever made.

Anyone willing to pay astronomical prices for a piece of Moon history can sign up to the waiting list on the Taschen website. Every copy MoonFire also comes with a ready-to-hang print of one of the most iconic images of the Apollo 11 mission, Aldrin standing on the Moon with Neil Armstrong visible in his visor reflection.

One for the Road

Two burglars who broke into a Swansea drinks depot, drank until they were incapable of escaping and were only able to make it to the yard next door where the Fuzz found them the following morning. They had wheeled out more than £700 worth of alcohol causing £1 400 worth of damage, and could not resist drinking the stock.

CCTV cameras had filmed the duo breaking into the drinks depot in Swansea and the would-be burglars could be seen knocking back bottles of beer. Dibble were called in found cases of beer and cider stacked up and ready to be removed.

They then turned up at Swansea magistrates' court so drunk that one of the guys was not even allowed in the building and when he was turned away by security guards at the courthouse, his pal also left. Neither have been seen since and magistrates have subsequently issued arrest warrants.

Outstanding effort. :oD

On the Back Burner

A Florida-bound Southwest Airlines flight made an emergency landing in Long Island on Sunday after a flight attendant reported a suspicious smell after takeoff.

After all 131 passengers and five crew members were safely evacuated, it emerged that the odour had been caused by a coffee maker in the back of the aircraft.


The Pigs are Getting Fatter

MPs have ignored public anger over the expenses system by quietly introducing new rules which allow them to claim up to £9 125 a year without producing any receipts. Wait, MPs ignoring public opinion? Since when?

Politicians have devised a new scheme allowing them to claim a £25-a-night “subsistence” allowance when staying away from their designated main home. The allowance, which is almost double the previous £4 800 a year limit for unreceipted claims, is paid on top of expenses for mortgage interest, rent, council tax and utility bills.

It has been approved without any public announcement or debate in Parliament as MPs left for their summer holidays, instead it has been agreed by a small committee of MPs chaired by the new Speaker and including Harriet Harman, the Labour Leader of the House and Alan Duncan, the Tory frontbencher.

More on this at TTel.

Our Lifts

Traditionally, lifts will not carry the number thirteen, due to some superstitious beliefs that the numeral will give you bad luck.

I wonder why the number three has also been omitted from our elevator? There must be a reason, but I can't think of it.

What Barrier?

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Dropped Bollock

The travel website has found a way to get money for nothing out of the stingy, no-frills carrier, Ryanair.

Ryanair’s error, the site explains, is its on-board pricing structure: a cup of coffee, for example, costs 3€ or £3, and passengers can ask for their change in either currency. The trick, therefore, is to pay for your coffee with a 50€ note and ask for your change in sterling.

Instead of getting back 47€, worth less than £42, you receive £47, making a profit of £5 and cancelling out the online check-in fee.

The airline was unavailable for comment. :oD

All Aboard

Overheard by TTimes- from a Swiss tourist on a flight back from India:

“I thought I found the only train in India that was 30 minutes early. The sad thing is, it was actually 23½ hours late.”


Slow Cigar

Lonesome George, the famously shy 100 year-old Galapagos tortoise thought to be the last surviving member of his subspecies, could be facing fatherhood.

The latest attempt to pair him off with a female of a related subspecies has produced a clutch of five eggs, which have been placed in an incubator at the Charles Darwin Research Station, on Santa Cruz island. A statement said:

“Now we have to wait for the incubation period of 120 days to find out whether they are fertile.”

I'm sure he's got the time.

Yay or Boo

What with David Beckham's on-going love/hate affair with his American fans leaning more and more towards the darker side, TTimes takes a look at which British exports hit and which miss in the States.

English muffins Go to the breakfast buffet in any motel in the US and there you will find a stack of “English muffins” waiting to be toasted and smeared with “jelly”. One great British food export that is doing much better over there than it is back home, where it is shamefully under-appreciated and eclipsed by American “muffins”, which used to be called cakes.

Tea Coffee is the national addiction and they just don’t get tea. Unless it is loaded with sugar and packed with ice. They bring hot (ish) water and a tea bag on the side and you have to specifically ask for milk.

Golf Invented on these islands, but embraced by Americans so enthusiastically that 97 per cent of the lower 48 states is now covered in golf courses. But sometimes — step forward Sir Nicholas Faldo, three time winner of the US Masters — we can still show them a thing or two.

Cricket Cricket was quite popular in the early days of the US, and even George Washington reputedly played. But it was too English, too associated with the former colonial masters, for popular tastes and was quickly eclipsed by baseball, now America's national game.

Dario Franchitti The Scottish racing driver was a Formula Three driver and then drove in Germany before heading to the US where he found fame after winning the famous Indy 500 in 2007. Married to the actress Ashley Judd.

Nigel Mansell The most successful British racing driver, having won both the Formula One championship and the CART Indy Car World Series in the US. But Americans found him grumpy (at best) and never took him to their hearts.

Virgin A great name for a brand targeting the abstinence market in the Bible Belt. But too funky for American flyers? Clearly not. After a quarter of a century, Virgin Atlantic is a genuine success story and Virgin America, which took off two years ago, has only served to consolidate Branson’s position in America as the most instantly recognisable of bearded Brits.

Tesco The supermarket behemoth has called its US offshoot Fresh & Easy, but its attempt to crack the American market certainly hasn’t been the latter. Stores started business on the West Coast two years ago, but in the face of the recession and criticism of the business plan, there has been a slowdown in the opening of new outlets.

Tony Blair There was a time, after 9/11, when Americans would toast Tony Blair at Washington dinner parties. The speaking fees he now commands suggest that his stock continues to remain buoyant in America

Gordon Brown He may have bragged about saving the world economy, and some American media outlets may have offered some praise, but most Americans couldn’t name him, let alone raise a glass to him.

Leona Lewis Winning The X Factor was just the start for the girl from Hackney, who went on to become the first British solo artist to top the American chart with a solo debut album. When it comes to collecting those Grammy nominations, it certainly seems to help if you can mimic American balladeers.

Robbie Williams He may have sold more albums in the UK than anyone else, but when he moved to the US, Robbie put out an album called The Ego Has Landed and found that he couldn’t get off the ground again. He ended up hunting UFOs in the Nevada Desert and later returned to Swindon, where the renaissance of his former band Take That cannot have escaped him.

The Queen Queen Elizabeth, as she is known, always receives a warm reception when she visits the US and HRH, or her various homes, suck in American visitors like a magnet.

George III The only person here who didn’t try to take America. He already had it. And lost it. And we’ve all been trying to get a toe-hold ever since.

Britain's Costliest Airport?

Luton airport is already charging for all sorts of its "services"- from selling resealable bags at a pound a time to charging people for being dropped off outside the airport.

Now, passengers flying from Luton this summer will pay more commission at the airport’s bureaux de change and get up to a staggering 13% less for their money than travellers departing from other airports.

Research by the online currency supplier FairFX has shown that passengers using the Travelex outlets at Gatwick and Heathrow were paying £3 commission and getting $298 in return for £200, while those using Luton airport’s ICE bureau paid £4.50 commission and received just $288.

Vote with your feet and fly from another airport- it's the only way they will learn.

Twittering for Twits

Postings on Twitter normally have to be brief- but the first government guide to the micro-blogging service, stretches to 20 pages.

The department for Business, Innovation and Skills official has produced a generic "Twitter strategy" for all government departments, despite the risk of “criticism of jumping on the bandwagon” and “pointless content”.

The 20-page document , produced by BIS's head of corporate digital channels, says that departments can use Twitter to communicate better with the public and it recommends that tweets should be "human and credible".

More at TTimes.

Keeping the Red District in the Black

Prostitution is legal in Germany and, according to the Verdi service sector union, approximately 400 000 officially registered and taxpaying , sex workers account for up to 14 € billion of turnover annually. That is about twice the figure recorded by registered self-employed electricians.

It has been estimated that since the start of the economic downturn, turnover has dropped about 30%, which is why you'll have heard all about the "special offers" in the hope of drumming up trade. Brothel owners have offered rebates for pensioners, the unemployed and those on welfare. Some have offered discounts to taxi drivers and rubbish collectors on the 15th of the month, which is close to pay day.

One Berlin brothel tried to brand itself as environmentally friendly by offering a 10% discount to customers using public transport or bikes and some have started to provide free drinks- overpriced alcohol is seen as one of the big earners in brothels. In Hamburg, men who stay overnight have their shoes polished and clothes pressed as part of the service.

And now they are trying flat-rate services, based on "all-you-can-eat" evenings run by restaurants. At the Berlin Pussy Bar, clients were offered sex with as many of the in-house prostitutes as they wanted for 70 € (~£60), but it seems this approach is not going down too well. The debate that has drawn in politicians, bishops and newspaper editors and open letters have been sent to Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, demanding that she should ban the flat rate. Said one conservative politician:

“This is an outrageous violation of human dignity. So-called flat-rate sex is an immoral development which cannot be tolerated in our society.”

For the moment though, there is little that can be done, as rules on prostitution vary according to region. After the war, large numbers of German women turned to prostitution to support their families. By the 1950s, town councils were finding this an embarrassment and tolerated the creation of brothels, often in industrial areas where there were no neighbours to complain. These became large Eros centres in the 1960s.

By 2002 a law scrapped the idea that a prostitute was engaging in an immoral trade, giving her legal protection but making her liable to tax. Brothels then began to offer contracts to their prostitutes, making them self-employed subcontractors.

Moral laws

Britain Although prostitution is not illegal, almost all other elements of the sex industry — soliciting, operating a brothel and pimping — are. The English Collective of Prostitutes continues to lobby for full legalisation

Sweden Paying for sex is illegal, meaning that clients are liable for prosecution rather than the prostitute. Prostitution is considered an act of violence against women, and customers are harried by police. Many go to Denmark, where laws are more lax

The Netherlands Prostitution and operating a brothel are legal and regulated by the Government

From TTimes.