Tuesday, March 29, 2011

...and justice for Moi

Regular readers of my blog will by now know that I’ve not had the best few months. I appreciate that everyone has their struggles and, by comparison, mine perhaps seem irrelevant and the fact that I go on about them so publicly and in such detail may be a tad churlish. With this in mind, I am quite pleased to say that since recently things have improved somewhat. Sure, I was still burgled, given notice at my job, left by my girlfriend, drowned with debt and also turned 30; but see I’m a big believer in the little things in life. It’s too much to expect that I will win the lottery or that Mila Kunlis will arrive at my door begging for a sexy hug, but well meant gestures, good manners, kind words and little fragments of decency are sometimes all we need to realise that the world isn’t such a bad place. Well, that or the delicious taste of revenge and justice being done.
I had one such experience only today; and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Hark back if you will to New Years Day, you were all out celebrating and spending time with your loved ones. So was, but as we partied and in the wee small hours, some reprobate was breaking into my house, robbing me of my belongings and trust in fellow man. My new year’s thieves only managed to get away with a camera, laptop and my X-box. Not a bad haul I’m sure you’ll agree, but also as they soon found out, a grave error. Permit me to explain.
X-boxless and alone, reluctantly I began to socialise with real people. And it was a good job I did. In late January I was visiting a friend’s house, predictably we were playing X-box when all of a sudden I came on-line. But hold on, my Xbox was stolen and as yet still unreplaced. So how in God’s name was this happening? Seeking permission, I checked my friend’s friend-list and sure enough there I was; ‘Sosolidvampire1 is on-line’. I checked ‘my’ profile to see if there was any information and to my surprise I was now a bald-headed, goatee wearing black man.
Then I got angry. This wasn’t helped by the day’s drinking which preceded it.
I’d have paid good money to see my face at this point – a mix of bewilderment, a red-face and hard-boiled fury. See, its one thing to be burgled, but quite another to have your identify stolen. I appreciate this isn’t identity theft in the real sense, but surely it must have some ethical muddiness with regards on-line identify? There’s my rep to consider for one. My kill ratio and gamer points and as if I would play Gran Tourismo or God’s sake?!  
Wasting no time I got on to the local Police and from here on in it’s difficult to articulate my frustration. To me it was simple, someone stole my Xbox and now they were using my account. Therefore, someone HAS my Xbox and, as it’s being used on-line, their IP address can be checked by contacting Microsoft thus providing an address. Hell, even if the person using it didn’t burgle me themselves – they’re still handling stolen goods and committing fraud by charging my bank account for use of Xbox LIVE… I understand that the nature of the crime I was reporting is usual, but seriously, the next 15 minutes were like trying to explain Quantum Physics to a dog. And not even a very bright dog. This is no reflection on the Police, who for what it’s worth were fantastic, but the poor chap I was on to had at best a limited understanding of gaming and on-line etiquette. But he got it in the end, well, he wrote it down anyway.
Days went by, then weeks and I assumed that the evidence I had supplied had become redundant. But then on Monday 27th April that all changed as I received a call from the Police asking me if there was anything identifiable about my Xbox. I paused for a moment. Was there? Had I added anything which may make it stand out, was there any periphery which might identify it as mine? My pause must have lingered longer than I thought.
‘Mr Welch?’ the voice asked. ‘Was there anything that might identify it was yours?’
Now at this stage I wasn’t 100% sure, but due to the nature of my own work I had inherited some smart water pens as part of an anti-burglary campaign (smart water does not show as visible to the eye but can be seen under UV light) and, with this I was confident enough to ask.

‘Sorry, yes. I think I that there may be something written using smart water’ I replied cautiously.
The voice coughed, as though embarrassed. ‘Would you be able to confirm what was written on the stolen item, Sir?’ the voice went on.
I think we all know what its like to not be able to laugh but really want to. When you’re in church and someone farts, in a meeting when someone’s phone goes off exposing a hilarious and surprising Hip-Hop ring tone. Or in this case, when a police Officer has her fears confirms and hears the answer: ‘Yes. If memory serves I drew a massive penis on my Xbox’.
Now bless this woman, but at this point she could no longer hold in her laughter and more of less lost it on the phone for a good ten seconds. Between composing herself and giggles she did apologise (which I had no trouble in accepting) and we continued our conversation. Sadly, she was unable to confirm any details of the actual daubings with me as they had to speak with the suspect further, but on ending the call she did seem confident that I would, one day see my Xbox again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Red Bull gives you wings, and Diabetes.

You don’t need to see the facts; you merely need to just look around you but to make my point perhaps a truth bomb or two might be appropriate. According to recent figures, in the UK an estimated 60.8 per cent of adults and 31.1 per cent of children are overweight or obese.
Experts say that obesity is actually now responsible for more ill health in the UK than smoking. Unsurprisingly, obesity can lead to some pretty nasty outcomes for us, including: heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure as well as anxiety and depression and in some cases, get this, cancer which can affect as many as 300,000 people a year.
The problems within the UK is of epidemic proportion and costs the NHS (or ‘tax-payer’ for all you budget cut fans out there) £500m a year (that’s half a billion pounds) and the wider economy a further £2bn a year in lost productivity. Now, though this doesn’t come close to what we pay out in Bankers bonuses (for banks we ‘own’) it is still a lot of money, I think we can all agree. There is unquestionably an issue in this country regarding health – but on the other side of that, there is also an obsession and the health and beauty industry has never seen such profit.
Personally, I aim for a balance. I drink heavily but then I also eat right and try to exercise. This wasn’t instilled in me from birth but, like me my parents have balance. But since those simple, halcyon days of my youth, convenience has become king. Everything you want is attainable and accessible, immediate and instant, we live in a fast paced world and if you can’t keep up with it then get out of my face and stop slowing me down! To meet this impossible need over the past decade or so we’ve seen the emergence of the energy drink. Most famously there’s Red-bull, which has gone on to become such an institution that it owns a Formula 1 team and can sponsor international events. Amazing, considering it tastes like the Devil’s backwash.
But the thing about Red-bull is that it has the good decency to be vastly overpriced and therefore only really ‘binged’ on by those idiots in the fast lane on the motorway and hedonists looking for get off their head drunk on cocktails containing powerful and confusing mixes of stimulants and depressants. But, with its success it was only going to be a matter of time before there were copycats. And man did these copycats come in their droves!? There’s shark AMP, Doubleshot, No Fear, Venom, Jolt , Go Girl, FRS, 5-hour, NOS, CRUNK, Verve, Shark, 180, Blue Energy, Bawls, EVO Smart Formula, Energy+, HELL, Red Thunder, Venom Energy and XS Energy Drink...to name put a few.
Not to be outdone, it wasn’t long before the supermarkets got on board and began asserting themselves by making their own versions of these drinks. Plain labelling but just as potent; the only difference being that these could be bought for as little as 25p. I was in a corner shop only last night and some guy came up to the counter two 1 litre bottles of some new concoction called ‘Boost’. He then asked the assistant if they had anymore in the back. I assumed he was stocking up, perhaps he had a marathon to get to, but when she returned to say there was no more he began to twitch with anxiety and looked about ready to have a stroke. Clearly that’s not a good sign? He was also very overweight and I have to question whether he really needed that much energy at 10:00pm.
As you may have picked up, these drinks frustrate me. I do a lot of work with children and I have noticed a steady increase in the consumption of these drinks, to a point where most of the children I am in contact with will frequently drink 2 to 3 of these in a day. So what you may ask, and indeed fair enough, but don’t children already have a lot of energy? I know I did, that’s why I played. And I certainly didn’t feel the need to supplement this with dangerous amounts of sugar. There’s also the caffeine element, should kids be drinking caffeine in any form, let alone one as concentrated as energy drinks?
Let’s not forget though, stimulants ARE coo, I concede this. And children are going to want to have things that are en vogue whether they’re energy drinks, Ben10 or MCAT. Now, I am not suggesting making them illegal or placing an age restriction on buying them (though that did little to curb smoking). But I do feel that we have to take some of the responsibility as the affect they must be having on them cannot be healthy. It’s no wonder teachers have difficulty controlling classrooms when half the students are off their heads on this stuff.
Within the UK, research suggests that one in eleven children suffer from ADHD and that number is currently on the rise (despite our current Government’s pledge that the number of Special Education Needs students will be reduced).  Though the national figure for ADHD is one in eleven, in my line of work it is significantly higher. Alarmingly, ADHD seems to be able to target young people from families on low income in deprived areas in the country…which is some feat. These kids however, seem especially keen on energy drinks and, though I’m no Doctor, I can’t imagine that more energy is the antidote to a disorder which causes hyperactivity.
I often hear people finger point as to why there is such an issue with health in younger years - it’s the multi-nationals, isn’t it? Them, with their faceless sales targets and enormous buying power milking the state and destroying the family unit. It’s Red-bull, and Coca-cola and McDonalds…
But they have McDonalds everywhere, right? I mean, I’ve been to their restaurants in Spain, France and Peru and they don’t seem to have the same health problems? In fact, and I can’t believe I’m defending them, but in the last 5 years McDonalds have changed the make of up their produce drastically (now using 100% British beef for example), they are fully transparent about what goes into their food and its fat content. And, though they don’t actively encourage healthy eating – they do at least give the option on their menus. I certainly don’t see the same commitment present within the plague of fried chicken takeaways which seem to have engulfed England’s high streets like a deep-fried zombie Apocalypse.
Things are very hard at the minute, no one can deny that. The recession which everyone spoke about two years ago now seems very real. I can see the difference in my own bills week on week. Inflation is on the increase, as is the cost of living. Unemployment continues to soar and, despite what Jamie Oliver might say – it really isn’t cheaper to make home cooked meals every night of the week. Healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle are a hard, but everything in moderation, right?