Heat-seeking missiles “not” the answer to congestion problems outside school

Headteacher unsure about council’s proposition to deploy heat-seeking missiles from school roof

The headteacher of a school in Buntingford, Hertfordshire, says that while she understands that the Council’s latest idea to ease congestion before and after school hours was “well intentioned”, it may cause more problems than it solves.

Last week Hertfordshire County Councillors voted “unanimously” to erect heat-seeking missiles from the roof tops of Edwinstree Middle School in order to deter parents from loitering outside school gates and to “ease” the flow of traffic along the busy Bowling Green Lane.

“The idea is a simple one,” a spokesperson for Cllr Richard Thake said, “people will not want to be blown to smithereens by a military-grade missile and so they won’t clog the road outside the school.”

Traffic has “plagued” the narrow road for many years, “very much like the Plague in some respect,” said Councillor Malcolm Grunt, adding that it “wasn’t exactly comparable in a literal sense” to the actual Bubonic Plague that swept across the the Western World in the 14th Century as no one had “yet” died as a consequence of the severe congestion, and all he had meant by the “throw away remark” was that there was a “tsunami of cars” blocking the road the whole time, “very much like the tsunami in Indonesia,” the Councillor quipped.

Mr Grunt has since apologised for his ill-judged comments and has been removed from press duty for the foreseeable future.

But headteacher Julie Michael says propositions such as this do not send the right message to her pupils.

“I know they are just trying to help, but what are the children supposed to think when they see responsible adults literally agreeing that the most viable option for solving a traffic issue is to erect missiles on their school roof?” said Miss Michael, who is heading a petition signed by “most” of the school’s parents, teachers and governors (a minority of parents and one teacher – rumoured to be Mrs Holmes, a part-time Technology teacher – are said to believe the missiles will “do wonders” for the school’s image and tough stance on bullying).

The reaction amongst the school population is mixed, verging on a large swing towards “pro-missiles.”

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” said Jake, 14. “When the Council guy came in to talk about the bombs and showed us a simulated video of a Land Rover being blown up outside the gates, I was sold. Then he handed out pamphlets and I went nuts.”

“It’ll be cool, like being on the set of Rambo or something,” said Niall, 15.

In her petition, Miss Michael has asked the Council to consider a “smorgasboard of alternatives”, which features a one-way system, enlarging lay-bys for buses, adding more double yellow lines and blocking the road off entirely during peak hours.

“All perfectly sound and logical suggestions that need not involve turning the school into a military strong hold,” she insisted.

But the Council say “they’re good ideas, yeah,” but they’ve already spoken about “those kinds of things” and nothing they came up with excited anyone as much as the prospect of “missiles in Buntingford.”

“Just think of the press coverage!” said one Councillor.

The story is expected to rage on for some time.



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Hand-Me-Down People: Fringe Review

Strap yourself in. This is going to be a hell of ride.

I’ve been mostly covering comedy for the Fringe, but I thought seeing as we’re close to the end of this year’s festival, and I’ve finished with my official reviews, that I would make some much-belated comments on a university theatre production which has stained my mind for all eternity due to its crushing tedium. I firmly believe was one of the worst shows I have ever seen. And I’ve seen my little brother’s children’s dram club Starmakers’ interpretation of Mamma Mia.

Now, I wouldn’t normally do this. I’m not a mean-spirited person. I felt bad handing out 2 stars for a show that deserved it (Polly thankfully talked me into dropping it from 3) but I felt I had to write this after reading two extremely generous reviews. One from Broadway Baby (http://www.broadwaybaby.com/listing.php?id=14085), the other from Edinburgh Spotlight (http://www.edinburghspotlight.com/2012/08/fringe-review-the-hand-me-down-people-c-nova/), who gave 3 and 4 stars respectively. Personally it would be lucky to get 1 and a half. But I don’t work in half-measures.

Polly and I went to see the Hand-Me-Down People after being handed an interesting-looking flyer and helped with the further incentive of 2-4-1 tickets. The lesson here, I should add, is don’t take a flyer at face value.

The Hand-Me-Down People

It was a small cramped room in a building that is disused for the majority of the year. We ended up tucked away in a corner on the far side. We soon realised this was a mistake; there was no exit.

The stage was the floor, with chairs all around. There’s a girl at the back sat in an over-sized music box playing a repetitive tune. As we came in the characters were acting something we later discovered was one of the stories the children used to tell when they played with the figures. These old toys, or figurines, as they insist on calling themselves, don’t really ring any bells. There was a piper (?), a generic monster (a rip-off of Shrek), a witch (okay), princess (fair enough), grandmother (wah?) and a doll (you presume some sort of barbie-figure but really this actor made the least effort in terms of costume. Hot pants and pony tail? Oh yeah! A doll!) The witch, princess, and grandmother are supposed to be the same character playing all three, but it never really comes across, and there doesn’t ever seem to be a point to it. Let alone the rest of the play.

So the premise: OK. These toys are living a sad, desperate life up on this shelf having been discarded by the children long ago. They miss the stories in which they used to feature and that long drop off the shelf is looking all the more appealing as the days go by.

Yeah, by this point, I’m thinking…I’ve heard this somewhere before. Ever heard of Toy Story, guys?

They’re not saying this is a new ‘darker’ spin on Toy Story. At least I hope not, because it is the most tedious hour of theatre I have ever had the misfortune to sit through. No, scrap that. Where I said theatre, just include any medium you wish. I’ve had more fun listening to droning sermons in church.

The room is sweltering hot, which doesn’t help. What also doesn’t help is the god-awful acting. The worst thing is this monster character who is painted green, including his nails – and that’s important, because the green is highlighted under the lighting. And the monster had this really irritating habit of splaying his hands out and resting them on his thighs as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands. So instead of listening to the REALLY DULL AND BORING dialogue, all I’m concentrating on is this guys green fingernails. I mean, come on! Did you just not know where to put your hands so decided on that? Was that a directional move? Is it stylistic? I just don’t know enough about theatrical convention to get my head round why you shouldn’t do that. But just don’t do that!

Back to the dialogue: it is so horribly dull. The whole show is just talking. And they never say anything remotely interesting. They try to be funny. but bless their cotton socks, they seem to have missed the memo that “Your face,” stopped being funny about four years ago. “Look at her face… and her clothes,” they keep saying in reference to the doll. Give it a rest, please, we are all thinking.

They also persist with a joke about the music box. “Can’t you play anything else?” they drone on and on and on. It gets a snicker, if that. The whole show is just not very convincing. not at all ‘poignant’ and ‘multi-layered’ as Edinburgh Spotlight would have you believe.

All they have on the shelf is a broken pencil, a dead mouse and dust. Details they keep pushing on us. We get it, alright, there’s not much up there. There’s no explanation where they all go when there’s only one or two characters on stage. How big is this shelf supposed to be? And they go on and on about these stories, how great they were, how much they miss them. The irony, I think, is supposed to be that the really deep and meaningful story is the one about the fate of the toys. It doesn’t come off.

Musings on the inevitability of mortality? Do me a favour. It’s such a weak script, heads were literally lolling. I took a look around the audience at one point and people were struggling to keep their eyes open, staring up at the lightsm twiddling their thumbs – ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING to take away the excruciating pain of watching this terrible production. Yes, it was hot. But it was hot in the theatre where I watched Carl Donnelly. The temperature can only account for about 5% of the audience attention span waning.

I’ve probably said enough. I don’t want to destroy the ambitions of young drama students. I just want the world to know that just because something is advertised as a 4 star show, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth watching. God help you if you pay full price for something like that. It must haunt you for the rest of your life.

My suggestion is: guys, go back to Nottingham, take a good hard look at your script, tear it up, and write something new that isn’t a crap, insincere rip off of Toy Story, and come back to the Fringe next year with something you can proudly call “The Best We Could Do Given The Allotted Time and Limited Talent”

And to the reviewers from Broadway Baby and Edinburgh Spotlight: Are you seriously suggesting you kind of enjoyed the show? or was this more a case of meeting star targets or being sympathetic towards students? People have to learn that their stuff isn’t good enough so they can improve.

Don’t encourage mediocrity.

Thank you for your time.

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Foodies fraud fest

Went to the foodies festival in Inverleith park today on recommendation. One of the more middle-class aspects of the Fringe where people sit around in tents sampling champagne and wine and other things of that nature.

We turned up not long after midday, found out we’d have to pay a £10 entry fee. Oh the horror! It was so tempting to just side-step the queue and disappear into the foray. But our consciences held us back and paid up like suckers. 

Once officially inside we explored the man and varying food stalls (it was a food festival, food was expected). Nice as I’m sure all the food was, it seemed we’d just paid £10 for the privilege of spending more money. The whole thing wasn’t really my cup of tea anyway, but this festival was basically a music festival with only the really extortionate food stalls left in (and one stage for music). There were free samples everywhere, which was great and all, but I don’t understand why we had to pay the entrance fee if everything inside was going to cost. Nothing seemed inclusive in the cost of the ticket, rendering the ticket and the festival itself in my eyes, one giant con.

After trying a thimble of Elderflower gin, a bit of raw cinnamon chocolate, and some caramel vodka, we decided this festival was not for us. (The best bit for me was the bouncy grass by the Demonstration tent. Ah, nature, you and your wacky ways.) So we left, and then touted our tickets for half-price (being made to feel incredibly suspicious in the process – and guilty when we noticed that some people were just GIVING their used tickets away. Poshos, I say, with no regards of value. “What’s that, dear? £45 a glass of champa? Why the devil not.”)

We then went and experienced a virtually identical food festival in the guise of Stockbridge market. They had free samples, lots of local produce, and most importantly, it was free to enter, which is far more encouraging. And we even bought some highland hairy coo for supper. (SUPPER? WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, BOY? WAS IT GOOD? IT WAS DELICIOUS. ALL RIGHT THEN – CARRY ON.)


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Wrote a book

Shows how much spare time I’ve had over the past eight months in that I’ve actually managed to sit down and write a book, and edit, edit, edit as far as my will would allow (I don’t want to look at it again in case I’ve made some blinding errors. Oh the tribulations of self-publishing!)

Well, it’s been more than a hobby. I mean, if no one is going to employ you, you may as well employ yourself (or technically, it’s Polly who employed me, albeit unpaid, to write the book to accompany her coursework).

It’s taken a lot of thumb-twiddling and banging of fore-head into laptop keyboard. And time has had to be organised around grocery shopping, washing up and applying for ‘real’ jobs. But here it is, just in time to coincide with Polly’s exhibition on the 10th August: Bobeaky Island, the full length novel. And when I say full-length, what I ought to say is: I overshot the original estimate of 40,000 words but some 30,000. Back in December-ish time when Polly wrote the first few pages to get the ball rolling, 70,000 words would have seemed ridiculous. We couldn’t possibly write that much about this silly underground island and those weird furry people who everyone thinks look like rabbits. But there we are. We got carried away and wrote an epic. Or, more aptly, a book of length.

I suppose we should already be looking to the next book. That’s what publishers would want. Oh how they love their sequels and prequels and spin-offs and trilogies. Fire Donkey is long overdue a return (Anyone who wasn’t of the select few who ever listened to the Tales of Fire Donkey radio show will have no idea what that is and for that I can only apologise). Maybe he will get round to writing his life story. And then there’s the moles from Bobeaky Island. They have a whole past to explore. That’s a spin off just WAITING to happen.

Anyway, here is a link to Blurb, where you can preview and even buy the book if you so wish.

By Liam McKenna &amp…

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The Horrible Breakfast

I must blog this before I forget. Yesterday, Polly and I had the most hap-dash breakfast at ECA. We were in at 8.30am, first in the canteen, preparing for a long day ahead. Polly had suggested we try breakfast there. You never know, might be alright.

It wasn’t. I can categorically state this now.

Firstly, the customer service needs a bit of tweaking. We came in at 8.15 asking when breakfast would be available. The grumpy cook in the white coat, who is a sort of real-life version of Ms Trunchbull, just stared at us with her angry eyes and said ‘Breakfast comes out at HALF 8,’ and stared us down til we left.

Sorry for even asking.

Polly said that they whenever she’d seen breakfast before it had just been a few bits of bacon in a tray looking very sorry for themselves.

Sure enough, when we came back at HALF 8 on the dot, there was a little tray on the counter with a handful of sorrowful-looking rashers. Then the cook came over with another tray, dumped it in front of us, and started chiselling off some stubborn black puddings, and then slopped them into the bacon tray – to make that tray look fuller and more appealing, I don’t know. All the while she didn’t look up to see if we minded if she cut our food up for us, she just carried on chiselling away.

Needless to say, we didn’t opt for the black pudding.

She said we could have FIVE ITEMS, and then said off-hand, and pretty half-heartedly, “I can do fried eggs… if you want.” Oh, only if it’s no trouble, not like we’re paying for this wonderful service or anything…

“No beans,” said Polly quite disconcertingly when the cook swept away into the furrows of the kitchen.

We sat down twiddling our thumbs for a bit while the cook fried one egg for myself, and one scrambled egg for Polly (oooh, we were pushing our luck now). Then she brought the eggs to the counter and  – I didn’t see this bit – Polly looked over and saw her picking through the eggs to remove what Polly later described as “bits”.

We sidled over, and made our selection of FIVE ITEMS ONLY. I asked rather cheekily if we could have toast. I got a resounding “NO,” as if I’d just insulted her mother or something.

We were however allowed cold rolls free butter, and even complementary sachets of ketchup, which was a mini consolation.

We paid and sat to eat in stony silence. We haven’t had many sausages lately since seeing that show about the “DISGUSTING REALITY OF SAUSAGES” but these sausages were quite special. They didn’t even taste like pork.

“They’re a bit offaly,” said Polly.

And every other aspect was equally naff. The bacon was dry; the egg was – actually, the egg was fine bar the lingering thought of the cook picking bits out. And there weren’t even any beans.

This isn’t to say that we expected Michelin-star quality from a college cafeteria, but for a university that prides itself on good, healthy food, it is pretty shocking. And there has been a price increase, with the quality of food and service failing to increase correspondingly.

There’s a surprise.

Jamie Oliver would be in tears if he inspected this place.

First World problems. I know, right?

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Stretching my comedy-reviewing limbs. (Warning: contains obscenities.)

Tom Stade Fringe Preview, the Beehive, Grassmarket, 3rd July 2012

Tom Stade has been on Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow talking about meat vans, trampolines and Argos. That’s the material he’s allowed to use on TV. Here, in a small Victorian room on the third floor of the Beehive in Grassmarket, Edinburgh, it’s a little different. Those ten minute TV sets seem very distant now.

Opening on the topic of “pussy cancer” is pretty bold. The bar has been set. There’s no going back. You either go with it or leave. It’s not for everyone. Stade says he’d prefer it if a “dick” who doesn’t like his show would just leave. And you don’t want to stereotype, but there’s a middle-aged American couple beside me who are clearly in two minds as soon as the word “pussy” erupts from Stade’s mouth. They are talking obnoxiously loud which, ironically, is rude. They are focusing purely on the word, ignoring any justification behind it, as Stade tells us of his inability to take anything seriously. But this couple refuse to leave. They are reluctant to draw attention to themselves. Which, ironically again, is exactly what they are doing.

This is a snippet of Stade’s Fringe show. He’s got a notepad laid out on a stool behind him, which he refers to occasionally if he forgets a line or loses track. The mike has been tetchy all night (Stade is the fifth of nine performers of varying quality) and though he’s talking into it, no sound is emanating from the speakers. But that’s not a problem because in this tiny room the microphone is basically redundant so long as we keep quiet – a concept the American couple are yet to grasp. Stade asks if anyone in the audience has a disabled friend. There is a hush. The man shifts uncomfortably in his chair. His wife gestures for him not to make a scene.

It’s a rough but pretty resounding idea of what to expect from the full show. It’s the usual no-holds-barred roster of profanity-heavy material about clubbing seals faces off in zoos (he’s Canadian, it’s what he does), mixed with musings on what real love is: something that can only come from 17 years of marriage, as opposed to Romeo & Juliette’s kind of love which lasted “less than a year.” There is poignancy amidst all the coarseness. Juliette could only imagine what Romeo would be like after 17 years of marriage. “That’s not love,” says Stade, “that’s an infatuation.”

He talks of being a parent to a son he’s never really got to know. But if his son wants to know who his dad is, “he just has to Google Tom Stade.” Stade tried this to find out about his son, but it just said, “Tom Stade’s son.” The American couple like this bit. They can relate to the lighter teenage material about getting kids to do what they’re told. Then Tom veers off onto his daughter, “a real Stade,” with perfect command of the F-Bomb. He’s genuinely proud of her for telling a guy in a queue at the bank that it’s “his fucking turn.” The Americans aren’t so sure. We segue back to the topic of love. Stade says it’s hard to love a girl when you’ve got eight fingers stuffed up her arsehole. That pretty much does it for the American couple. They make for the exit.

“I’m the dick,” the man says.

“Americans?” says Tom when they’ve gone. “I heard the accent.” He laughs this off, quipping, “It’s not like on TV, is it?”

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Things in food

Polly has been on a roll lately. Over the past month or so we’ve saved a considerable amount on eating out through her sharp eye for food-related imperfections, foreign bodies and her persistence to get a discount at all costs. That’s not to say the complaints have been petty or contrived. We haven’t been turning up to eat armed with a bag-full of stray hairs and rubber vegetables.

There was a burnt burger that was the wrong burger with the wrong flavouring, or something along those lines. Then there was the dry turkey and leathery potatoes. Oh, and the grub in the grub at college. All resulting in money off or a complete refund which has probably afforded a few extra meals out themselves, and in turn more opportunities to spot cause for a discount/refund. Not bad. But not ideal if you end up going hungry because you feel a bit sick after the sight of a maggot clinging to your broccoli.

The latest debacle was in a new patisserie that shall remain nameless (but I will say that this particular patisserie chain shares its name with a Zuton’s song made famous by Amy Winehouse. I gone gave it away didn’t I?)

It’s a pity, because we only spotted this place the other day. Moved recently into the old shell of a hilarious T-shirt shop that went bust months ago because its T-shirts, it turned out, weren’t that hilarious.

There were neat displays of double-chocolate triple-cream gateauxs, fruit tarts and other slices of cakes with French names to make them sound even fancier in the window. It was a proper upmarket kind of place, maybe not aimed at stingy student-types. But it’s only a few yards down from Argos so it’s not quite Carnaby Street. Polly was excited anyway. Could we go at the weekend? We could.

So we went at the weekend. And we turned up in good time. Mid-afternoon. A large crowd was pushing their faces up against the window trying to lick the cakes on the other side. We strolled in and were immediately greeted and led to a table. And that was just as everyone outside decided to come in and find that we’d pretty much taken the last table.

The inside was bright and creamy. It had the feel of a patisserie that was trying to make itself better than you. The staff had matching waistcoats and aprons, although they seemed to be able to select their own tie. Which was nice.

We were served promptly. Polly opted for a lemon cheesecake with a curl of chocolate on top and a strawberry milkshake. I went for a Belgian apple tart (an apple tart with the word ‘Belgian’ prefixed onto it for no apparent reason) and a coke.

They brought us our drinks and food. The main problem thus far was they’d brought me a warm glass for my coke. The waitress had asked if I wanted ice. I’d said yes but didn’t want to labour on it. Apparently they were waiting for ice. I was caught between not caring and hesitating to pour in my coke in case she came rushing over to insist the ice was on its way. Anyway, I’m digressing.

Polly was working her way through the cheesecake. It was a bigger portion than she had bargained for. She was fairly sure they’d used gelatin to reinforce it. Something she wouldn’t use when she opens her patisserie one day. But it wasn’t the gelatin she was concerned with right now. While excavating her way through the part of the cake she wasn’t going to finish (a thing that Polly does that means no disservice to the baker, she just has to forensically examine the food for future reference) she stumbled across a black hair sticking out in the middle.

We sat for a while. I had long finished my tart, with which I had no bones to pick. Quite tasty. An intense fusion of cinnamon, pastry and apple. A taste of pure Belgium, I imagine. Polly was deliberating how to break this news to the enthusiastic waitress. She’d be devastated. Could Polly request a full refund or just for the bit she didn’t eat? Surely a full discount is only right.

The waitress acknowledged the problem with a grumpy nod and brought it to the attention of a supervisor, who wasn’t wearing a waistcoat or apron, who asked what the problem was, inspected the cake, offered a replacement – which Polly sternly refused – and whisked it off without so much as a “I’m dreadfully sorry, the chef will be sincerely dealt with.”

We didn’t know if this meant we were getting a refund or if they were going to dispose of the evidence and charge us full price. The hair was dark like one of my hairs, but it was pretty firmly embedded. It would have taken an expert trickster to have planted that. In the end they came with the bill and had slyly removed any reference to the cheesecake. At least this way there was a chance we might recommend them. After all it’s probably not a common occurrence in such a fine establishment. And Polly seemed to enjoy her milkshake.

I said Polly should start a blog, like that Scottish girl, about the things she finds in her food, but it seems I’ve been left to document her dining trials and tribulations like some sort of lowly unpaid biographer.

Here is the picture of the incriminating hair

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