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March 1st 2014
So, you know those surveys in newspapers saying that 36% of under-30s have never licked a stamp, or 83% of men don't know what a tea towel is? Have you ever, like me, wondered why you've never been one of the people polled? It's like the hundred people they survey on Pointless: I've never been one of them, either. And yes, I know that supposedly those hundred people don't actually know they're helping Pointless out, but I'm sure I'd have twigged if someone sidled up to me on the street with a stopwatch and a demand to name as many African countries ending in a vowel as I could think of in the next 100 seconds. Anyways, while I haven't knowingly contributed to Pointless yet, I've done the next best thing and aided research by Ipsos MORI by giving a bloke called Alan* "25-30 minutes of my time" last Saturday afternoon. Over the course of an hour and a quarter (Ipsos MORI staff clearly aren't supplied with accurate watches) I gave my views on gadgets, energy suppliers, media outlets, pubs and more. If you see a sudden surge in pubs that offer plentiful quizzes and no alcohol, it'll be partially down to me. Similarly, if the Guardian shuts down, you'll know why (actually, in their case, it'll be because they've put all their content online for free and made far too big a deal about it to be able to reverse the decision now). Anyways, I was apparently only the second person that day who had let Alan in, and he was thankful enough to break up the incessant polling - because who wants that, really? - with excerpts from his marital breakdown (his wife didn't like it when he had a girlfriend, apparently. Women, eh?) and a story which he prefaced with: "I almost lost my job because of telling this story, once. But it's not racist". Despite including the 'N word', I kinda agree that the story wasn't racist. Sadly, it also wasn't even slightly interesting. If you ever want a lengthy and racially insensitive anecdote about failing to buy breakfast in McDonald's, though, I can confirm that Alan is your man.
In other news, Ash Wednesday is only a few days away, and after many years of Simon trying to persuade me to give up meat for Lent (my usual response that I'll do it if he gives up vegetarianism has never really gone down well), I've caved. But only on the proviso that he gives up tea. Watching my brother contemplate this situation is not unlike watching Bambi just after his mother has been shot. My personal view is that giving up tea for Lent isn't actually that hard - a view backed up by the fact that I did it myself back in 2008, and didn't particularly struggle - but Simon appears to rank it as one of mankind's greatest ever achievements, possibly below the moon landings but not by much. If this goes ahead, I'm not sure what kind of vegetarian I will be (other than, very definitely, a temporary one): will I just try to replicate meat dishes through prodigious use of Quorn, or will I actually, y'know, eat vegetables? By the time Holy Week heaves into view, will I have become the kind of person who buys aubergines, raves about coriander and can tell the difference between the constituent parts of salad? Will I (gulp) hold an opinion on rocket? One can only hope not. I'll keep you posted.
* Alan's name has been changed here because, hey, I've always wanted to be important enough to change someone's name. His real name's Nigel.

March 9th 2014
All that time I was a fully paid-up pedestrian, I imagined - and said - that, when I had learned to drive, I would keep to the speed limit at all times. I would not, like all the motorists I knew, complain about speed cameras being income generators, because - as I also said - who else should pay money but those people who were breaking the law? Now that I've been driving for a few months, I do not have to make a total volte face, as - give or take the fact that my speedometer appears to slightly understate my speed, and I try rather unscientifically to redress the balance - I keep to the speed limit almost all the time. Erm. I mean 'all the time', especially if you're reading this from the offices of the DVLA. All the time. But...
...if you're not a Bristol resident (and, while we're on that topic, why aren't you? Bristol is the greatest city there is. Great place to make your first property purchase. I'm looking at you, Rob) you might not have heard that the city centre is more or less all a 20mph zone, and that this zone is expanding slowly [insert joke here about the word 'slowly' and the 20mph thing] [note to self: check if 'insert joke here' gags are still funny] further and further from the centre. Where I live, several miles from the centre, we have had letters through the door and legal notices on telegraph poles telling us that the dreaded 20 is coming, including on my very own road. Not to put too fine a point on it, the 20mph zone is wrong-headed, idiotic and almost completely senseless.
I think we can all agree that hitting kids with our cars is, by and large, a bad idea. Even the really noisy kids. You could argue that dropping us all to 20mph (i.e. in addition to the well-observed 20mph limits already in place outside schools, where kids tend to congregate for reasons that even Bristol City Council should be able to fathom) will save lives. Although I'm not sure how many children were being hit by drivers observing the thirty limit; I don't read the local paper, but I imagine I'd have heard if it was a genuine problem. Anyways, if that's the only yardstick we're using to measure the success of this scheme then the limit should be 5mph everywhere, or cars should be banned from the centre, or, in fact, adults should be banned from the centre, because how often are people killed by a car driven by a schoolkid? My point - facetiously made, I'm sorry - is that this is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut: the 20mph limit applies in roads that it very, very clearly doesn't need to. Pembroke Road, for example, is a road on my route to work that is more or less textbook 30mph territory: a wide lane in both directions with long sight-lines stretching out into the distance. On the first day that the twenty limit came in, I loyally drove along at 20mph and was overtaken after a fairly short distance by a driver who saw, as I hadn't yet, how ludicrous the limit was. If anything, I was causing more of a danger by driving at 20 than I would have done at 30.
And that's kind of the point. If reducing our speed by a third - which, by the way, is definitely not 'a little bit slower' as the patronising marketing campaign claims; a third of a thing is a flippin' big chunk of it - simply made our journeys longer and more annoying without serving any purpose, that would be one thing. But it actually makes things worse. Firstly, driving along at 20mph in third gear must surely cause more pollution than driving at 30mph in fourth. Secondly, and notably, we have the problem of cyclists. I don't have any problem with cyclists - or motorists - using the roads, even if I do find the anger emanating from both groups somewhat wearing; the problem here is that cyclists can, with a bit of effort and a following wind, get themselves up to a little under 20mph. That means that it takes a lot longer to overtake them when you're driving at 20mph, so you're driving out wide for quite a bit longer, making things more dangerous for everyone and possibly causing more accidents than were already happening.
So: pointless, polluting and, er, precarious (a sermon needs to have three alliterative points). Quite an achievement, and apparently success enough to extend the limit to roads like mine that can't possibly need it. It's enough to make reasonable men abandon the car and take to the pavement once more. Which, since it was such a lovely sunny day today, is what I did to get to church; three sun-shiney miles each way, and I didn't go over 20mph the whole time.

what was I listening to?
Endless Love - Kenny Rogers
what was I reading?
The 100 Most Pointless Arguments in the World - Alexander Armstrong & Richard Osman
what was I watching?
Like Crazy
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