April 10, 2006


I went out for a drive this afternoon. Not that I needed to go anywhere in particular; I was just fed up with revision and, at the time, driving appeared as one of few acceptable alternatives. So I was driving through the countryside wondering where to find the motivation to pass finals when I was graced with a sign. A sign among a swathe of daffodils. Okay, so this wasn’t the burning bush of Moses but it probably was as miraculous an example of luminescent flora as one can hope to experience in this secular age. But what was remarkable was the way in which it anticipated my predicament: the sign was shaped like an arrow and bore a solitary inscription, “Motivation”.


The thought briefly crossed my mind that following the sign might lead to the source of motivation. Something perhaps akin to the fountain of eternal youth. Unable to resist such foolishness – and perhaps because the alternative was to drive home and study – I found myself obeying the arrow and searching for motivation in a form which I never imagined it might exist.

Having completed my adventure, I can happily relay that motivation is not only something that evades students around exam time. Motivation is also a charity working to improve the lives of people with mobility difficulties. Should you ever deign to visit their headquarters, at the end of a long winding country path in Somerset, just follow the sign marked “Motivation”. I hope you find it!

March 06, 2006

Never quit

Some time ago, in my first year at Warwick, I took employment with the Southwestern Company of Nashville, Tennessee. For those who don’t know, this unique company takes students from around the world and trains them to sell encyclopedias door-to-door in various locations across the United States. This kind of work proved to be as demoralising as Southwestern’s incredible style of training was exhilarating. As I prepare for my final exams, I recall a short poem from the Southwestern Sales School; the last verse of which I reproduce here if for no other reason than because I am bored of learning about fruitfly genetics.

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver lining of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

February 20, 2006

An historical anecdote

In a recent discussion on sexual liberation, a friend adopted the fashionable argument that there is nothing distasteful about women who are promiscuous. He did however eventually concede some discomfort at the thought of entertaining such a 'liberated' woman as a serious girlfriend.

I am reminded of an anecdote about the Duke of Wellington. It was around the time that George IV decided to rid himself of his consort, Caroline of Brunswick, on the grounds of her adultery. The Queen became increasingly popular among radicals, not because they had much confidence in her virtue, but because by supporting her they showed their hatred of the King and his ministers.

Riding through Grosvenor Place one day, Wellington was stopped by a gang of road workers who demanded that he should say 'God Save the Queen'. "Well, gentlemen," he replied, "since you will have it, God Save the Queen – and may all your wives be like her"!

December 18, 2005

An unusual Christmas card

This year my brother received a Christmas card on the inside of which were found the words: "Hope Cards: this card was handmade by people in the slums of Bangkok".

This caused me some degree of surprise. When did it become fashionable for companies to use impoverished labour to produce their merchandise? I wonder how much the Thai creator of this card was actually paid for it.

Perhaps Nike will take up this marketing opportunity and stamp its clothes with "handmade by children in the slums of Indonesia". Go on Nike.. Just Do It.

December 17, 2005

A matter of principle

Provisional Driving Licenses in this country are issued in a neat plastic wallet. However when you exchange this document for a full driving license, the DVLA will withhold wallet in order to save postage costs. Should you be upset by this flagrant disregard for your property, this letter template might just serve a purpose. It worked for me anyway!

Thank you for issuing my full photocard driving license. Unfortunately the plastic wallet containing my Provisional Driving License was not returned. Instead, a small leaflet informed me that, in order to “minimise administrative costs”, my wallet had been confiscated!

No doubt an applicant who declined to submit his provisional license on the grounds that he wanted to ‘minimise costs’ would have had his application for a full license rejected.

The plastic wallet, license and photocard have now cost a total of £41. Assuming that a single sheet of paper and a piece of laminated cardboard cost less than a pound to produce, I am devoid of an extremely valuable wallet. I note that efforts to ‘minimise costs’ have not translated into reduced licensing fees.

Considering the value of the plastic wallet and the fact that it was sent to your office in good faith, I would be very much obliged if you would send me a replacement. Presumably there are a number of similar wallets floating around your Swansea office and so this request will prove simple to fulfil.

In the event that the DVLA is facing financial difficulties and that my £41 has been lost in some administrative black hole, I enclose a prepaid envelope in order to stave off bankruptcy for a little while longer.

January 14, 2005

Harry the Nazi

So Prince Harry wore a swastika armband to a fancy dress party? "Harry the Nazi" scream the tabloids. We live in sorry times when such an inane story makes front page headlines!

If Harry was really hiding Nazi sensibilities then would he really turn up at a party in Wehrmacht regalia? I think it unlikely.

I was always under the impression that we fought the Nazis to protect freedom of expression. Freedom of expression for all, it seems, unless you're a Prince.

December 03, 2004

TV Licensing revisited

Following a prolonged correspondence with the bullies at TV Licensing, I decided to buy a television license. Surely that would satisfy them? Apparently not. Behold my fourth letter to this company. Hopefully it will be my last.

"Further to your letter dated October 2004, I resent the accusation that I am using a television illegally. A quick look at your records would show that I do indeed have a license and that would have solved your problem, but that would be too simple, wouldn’t it?

Your office has hounded me relentlessly ever since I moved into student accommodation. Last year I was in receipt of one heavy handed reminder after another simply because I chose not to buy a television.

I wrote repeatedly asking you to leave me alone, as did my Member of Parliament. Needless to say you ignored both requests. So I finally bought a license in the hope that you might stop pestering me.

Wishful thinking. This morning I received yet another notice from you threatening a visit by your ‘officers’. Exactly how many licenses do I have to buy in order for you to stop writing?!

Please find enclosed previous correspondence sent to your office. Note my reference to the Malicious Communications Act (1988) which makes sending threats by post an offence. If you want to catch criminals, I suggest you stop looking for unlicensed televisions and look closer to home!

I would apologise for the tone of this letter but then again it seems rather tame in comparison to yours

November 26, 2004

Banning 'fascists' from the Union

Why are we only voting on whether to ban "fascists and racists" from our Union? I suggest we extend this ban to Marxists as well.

The bourgeois students on campus will be rightly intimidated by the presence of Marxists at this university. The heirs of that bastard ideology have been responsible for many more deaths than fascism so perhaps the word 'intimidated' is an understatement in this case.

In comparison the BNP are not a threat to this university. Our democracy is not so fragile that it will come crashing down at the prospect of a few BNP leaflets being handed out outside Costcutter. Are we really worried about 'fascists' appearing on campus en masse? Are we expecting to wake up one morning to Nazi Storm Troopers parading in the Piazza? Hardly!

Marxists on the other hand are a clear and present danger. They have colonised the student body, the academic staff and already dominate whole departments. They are undermining our democracy by proposing oppressive motions such as the one to ban 'fascists' from the Union. If fascists go then Marxists should follow.

Are students at Warwick stupid enough to believe that we must lose freedom in order to protect freedom?

November 10, 2004

Free Speech at University

Writing about Blogs, the scope of offensiveness, and the democratic process. from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

That old debate about free speech has finally reared its head here at a university-sponsored website where, with some degree of irony, it is most inappropriate.

The very word ‘university’ derives from the Latin for ‘whole’, meaning everything. Everything, that is, and every point of view. In a democratic society, the role of the university is ideas. Students and academics should be intelligent enough to process any opinion conceived by the human mind and, where it is conceived in error, to correct it. Anyone to whom a simple idea can cause offence is either closed minded or deficient in that rarest of human qualities, empathy.

Racialists are offended by what they see as the colonisation of their country by foreigners. Liberals are offended by the racialist will to keep those same foreigners out. There are two sides to each story and someone will always be offended. Offence is simply the collision of a new and fresh viewpoint with the ingrained prejudices of the person taking it. Anything which challenges prejudice should be welcome, particularly on a university campus!

The only way to measure offence is with the ruler of established and accepted ‘facts’. If we uncritically accept what we already know to be true then we betray both our own intellects and the concept of academia. When we only know our side of the argument, we barely understand that. It becomes, as J. S. Mill wrote, “stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth”.

We are not children and do not need protecting from ‘offensive’ posts. If a blogwriter is wrong, real scholars will not take offence. We will instead accept the remedy of Mr Justice Brandeis and prescribe “more speech, not enforced silence”.

October 25, 2004

A short verse

"Your concern to preserve identities of immigrants suggests a man who cares. And yet, professor, not a single word about the natives slowly losing theirs".

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