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Saturday, November 29, 2008
Do I complain too much?

It occurred to me yesterday that I am being inundated with material, news, and events quite deliberately designed to enrage me. These irritations come from a multitude of sources, so there is quite clearly some sort of conspiracy going on. I hesitate to call it a vendetta but it is a conclusion difficult to escape. Think of it: I am calmness and reason personified, yet I am irresistibly driven to the use of curses and intemperate language, something as far from my normally polite and civil nature as it is possible to get. Consider the following, apparently unrelated, events.

Here is a Grauniad article, titled 'Warning of measles epidemic risk as cases rise sharply'. It then goes on:
Britain is at risk of a serious measles epidemic breaking out in the near future, the Health Protection Agency warned yesterday, after a sharp increase in the number of children infected.
This is indubitably attributable to the reduction in uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, due to the autism scare.

Here's the link. The article doesn't point the finger in the right direction: it was press speculation about an unscientific association, of no statistical significance, which led people to withhold vital vaccines from their children. Of course there is no association between autism and the MMR vaccine. On the other hand, the risks of measles are very real: the disease can be fatal and it sometimes, and significantly, causes chronic bronchial problems. So who do we have to blame for this? Virtually all of our sensation-seeking media, led by the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press.

Then, a few days ago, I was driving through heavy traffic in Oxford when two motorcycle cops appeared and stopped the smooth flow of traffic. Since, at the time, I was near the John Radcliffe Hospital, I automatically assumed that the holdup was for an ambulance carrying some dangerously ill person, an organ for transplant, or some vital equipment for someone critically ill. Not a bit of it! It was HM the Q and Phil de Greek! Over on the wrong side of the road went their entourage. Much chaos ensued, considerable choler was raised, and many approaches to apoplexy doubtless supervened. It makes it even worse to learn subsequently that Her Maj and her esteemed Orientalist hubby were on their way to lunch at Magdalen College.

'Why can't Royalty sit in traffic jams like the rest of us?' I demand to know. And why can't I have a police escort when I'm in a hurry for my lunch? (Actually I thought I was being thus rewarded once but it transpired that the cop only wanted to give me a speeding ticket. Grrr!)

Then, on to Boots for some boots, but I found none. However, I did come across something very useful to the aged: something that purported to be a 'The Sanctuary Overnight Body Renewal Bag'; I kid you not. I was pleased that the bag wasn't claimed to replace bodies – there didn't seem to be anywhere to dump the old ones, and the bag itself was too small, anyway – so I spoke to an assistant about the remarkable claims made for the product. I am, after all, in serious need of having my body renewed. To have it done overnight would be highly desirable and miraculous indeed.

Alas, I think the claims were hyperbolic (nothing to do with conic sections here) and I shall be referring the matter to the Advertising Standards Authority, not that I think anything will be done. So many lies abound in modern advertising. I blame it all on the adulteration of our beautiful language; it has lost precision at the hands of the opinionated, self-proclaimed brainless, the talentless, tasteless, yet well-known, and TV presenters/newsreaders whose ignorance knows no bounds. Why, the other day I heard a Sky newsreader refer to Sydney as the capital of Australia, Grrr!

Recently, driving out of London, I saw an advertisement for Stella Artois. In case you can't read it properly, it says that Stella Artois contains only four ingredients: hops, malted barley, maize, and water. There is a clear implication that these things are nice, pure, and wholesome and that there are no nasty additives in the mix.

Well for a start, that isn't true: there are bound to be trace amounts of yeast and finings (finings, the clarifying agent, used to be made out of ground fish-heads), plus a few other things used during the production process – catalysts perhaps.

Then, seeing that the operative word is 'contains', there are the various fermentation products. The desirable one is ethanol – why not mention that? – but, from memory, there will be measurable amounts of other products ('chemicals'), including methanol, higher alcohol homologues, esters, and benzene; they are all clearly undesirable.

This is such a misleading advertisement that it should be immediately withdrawn. The company should be fined heavily and forced to display 'Sorry' advertisements of the same size and number. These advertisements should now include the same advertisement, suitably modified to mention the twenty odd real ingredients, rather than the 'harmless' four.

It should also be prominently endorsed 'We are lying bastards'.

I asked, at the outset, if I complain too much. Well, since I wrote the Stella piece, deriving it from a draft letter I never sent to the Advertising Standards Authority, I have answered my own question: I didn't send the letter so I don't complain enough.

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