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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Chinese university hosts 'grenade-throwing' contest

From The BBC

24 April 2018 (Yes, that’s right. NOT the 1st April).

A Chinese university has decided to liven up its annual sports day by hosting a grenade-tossing event, it's reported. According to the China Youth Daily newspaper, the North University of China in the city of Taiyuan, northern Shanxi province, has decided to introduce a "500-gram grenade toss" to its track and field event in May. One teacher, Li Jiangxi, told the paper that the school had noted the earlier reluctance of students to take part in annual javelin and discus contests. However, after the school decided to replace these contests with the grenade toss, Ms Li said that there had been a surge of interest. "Students rushed to sign up," she said. "Some came late and didn't qualify; they seemed really disappointed." The paper says that the idea originally came from a student called Wu Jianhang, who had written to the school headmaster, suggesting the new activity. "He told reporters that he liked throwing items; however, when he signed up for the sports event last year, he found that javelin and discus did not suit him," China Youth Daily says.

According to the Global Times daily, students will be throwing weighted replicas of a Type 23 projectile, a wood-handled grenade based on the distinctive German World War Two Stielhandgranate, or stick grenade. It was later adapted by the Chinese military. The university says that the event, which they are hoping to continue in future years, is not a publicity stunt, but rather a way to commemorate the school's history. When it was founded in 1941, the North University of China was originally named the Taihang Industrial School, and was a base for the People's Liberation Army to develop weaponry and train personnel.

[OK, at first I thought this has to be a joke – after checking the date. But no, apparently it’s real! Just when I thought the world couldn’t get weirder there’s news from China……]

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Just Finished Reading: The Other by Ryszard Kapuscinski (FP: 2006)

Since Man’s earliest existence we have encountered ‘the other’. People not of our tribe, not of our family, not like us. Since our earliest days there has been three responses to the encounter – fight, flight or mutual discovery, trade and with luck, time and effort, co-operation, cultural exchange, growth, friendship. Each and every encounter with strangers, foreigners, others is an echo of these early meetings between disparate tribes. Each is an opportunity to learn or an excuse for a fight. As the world grows smaller in time and more people travel further and more often such encounters proliferate beyond counting. Such a thing is a great opportunity to outgrow our fears in otherness as well as a great danger that we will retreat from the strange, hide behind our walls and reject the chance to grow in unison with people both like and unlike ourselves. Encounters with the other, the author maintains, holds up a cultural mirror so that we can see who we are by seeing how others see us. Only in such meetings can we become rounded individuals as we bump into the barriers that exist between us and between our myriad cultures. It is in the discovery of difference that we find out who we are, what we believe and how we can grow. This is the value of the other and the reason why we should meet them with open arms and not with closed minds.

The author began travelling the world from his native Poland during the Soviet era. Reporting back from countries and cultures steeped in poverty or exploitation, under tyrannies or occupations his travelogues feed into the Soviet idea of Capitalist failures. But the author saw much more than his propaganda value to his Communist masters. He saw the strength of the human spirit under adversity, he saw humour across the cultural divide, he saw the wonder and curiosity in the eyes of a plains tribesman who had never seen a white man before never mind a Pole, he saw the need to communicate despite the inevitable language barriers and he saw, above all, the value of humanities shared experience on this wonderful world. Otherness is everywhere. Never more so than in the present age. We can now live in a city where hundreds of languages are spoken around us. We can meet and form friendships with people who, in an earlier age, we would never have mixed with in a hundred lifetimes. We live in an ‘other’ age and we need more than ever to live well in such a challenging environment. Dealings with others is far from easy. Otherness by its very nature is frightening. Difference is frightening but it is also an opportunity encapsulated in the possibility of dialogue. This is, the author maintains, the driving force behind his and others wandering across the world. While most stay at home rarely travelling more than a few tens of miles away from the place of their births there are those, like the author himself, who travel off the beaten track in order to meet the other face to face and, importantly, bring the fruits of that meeting back to share with those unable or unwilling to make the journey themselves. A must read and a quick read (at a mere 92 pages) for those with itchy feet. 

Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Protection Racket....? Only for some it seems.......

Music is my First Second Love………………

My father must have been very tolerant of me as a child. Not only did he let me play his records but he didn’t lose his temper when I broke some of them. Back in the 1960’s when I was playing with his 78 collection I had no idea how fragile they were nor of their sentimentality to him. This was the time that he introduced me to Nat King Cole and 50’s Rock ‘n Roll that, no doubt, he had grown up with. There always seemed to be music playing in the house I was born into and others I grew up in. We only had a small, and growing smaller, collection of records but we had several radio sets and listened to classical music and show tunes on Sunday’s. Later, in my pre and early teens, I listened to pirate radio and Radio Luxemburg on Long Wave as it faded in and out with atmospheric conditions. I often fell asleep at weekends listening to the latest pop songs unavailable on British radio.

In the 70’s I was lucky enough to be tolerated by my older brother and his friends who took me on record buying trips. Of course I couldn’t afford to buy any but I could look, dream and listen to whatever the shop was playing at the time. While the rest of them were off somewhere I seemed to naturally gravitate to the Prog Rock section populated by Rick Wakeman, Pink Floyd and Yes. In a friend’s house we played pool and listened to Wishbone Ash. One of my all-time favourites in still Argus by that band. I even listened to it a few days ago. Of course the 70’s was an era of massive change musically. I still have strong memories of my brothers cassette collection in the early 70’s made up of disco and Motown with tape after tape of Sister Sledge and Diana Ross. Then, almost out of nowhere everything changed. Punk had arrived with Souixsie and the Banshees and Toya Wilcox. I loved the new sound, the rawness and energy after the rather staid and repetitive sounds previously. Within the space of a few years we had Bubblegum Pop, Glam Rock, Punk, New Wave, New Romantic and Electro-Pop. It was a music lover’s feast. Then came MY decade. The 80’s.

There seemed to be an almost inverse relationship between how awful the decade was and how amazing the music was. I don’t know if any of us could have survived the political and economic upheavals without Duran Duran, The Thompson Twins and the Buggles. We even had glimpses of MTV (usually shown late at night on the more ‘radical’ Channel 4 – yes, we had FOUR channels back then!). I have so many 80’s compilation CD’s I probably have every song produced in those great 10 years. It certainly feels that way. But time & music wait for no man. As much as I loved the 80’s (and still do) I started to fall in love with 90’s music too – indeed I have a 90’s compilation playing right now – most of the more pop stuff I could live without but still gets my feet taping. But there was really good stuff back then. Not as good as the 80’s but close, damned close.

Again I credit family and friends for introducing me to music I may not have heard or spent much time with. I learnt to love Joy Division and New Order, U2 and Pink. My brother introduced me to Black Rebel Motorcycle Gang and other friends introduced me to Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers and Placebo. I was introduced to 30 Seconds to Mars and Train. Some music I stumbled upon myself in movies, adverts, in shops or various music channels on cable TV. There was Stained, Sneaker Pimps, Kidney Thieves, Avril Lavigne and Adelle. There’s First Aid Kit, Avenged Seven Fold and Alanis Morissette. About the only type of music that I’ve never managed to grow to love is Jazz. I’ve tried more than once but have never really ‘got’ it. Now Blues, that’s a whole other ball of wax. I truly LOVE the Blues. It’s CHILLS me completely no matter how I’m feeling. Listening to a few good Blues CDs and the world is right again.

Some people are amazed at how wide my taste in music is. I sometimes don’t know ‘technically’ what genre a bit of music falls into but I know, as they say, what I like – which is a LOT. I do like melody, the female voice, and words that you can actually hear. I don’t like much of the shouty stuff that passes for rock these days (Death Metal???) but even some of that is pretty good. I have a half dozen CDs of Avenged Seven Fold and Disturbed which can be pretty full on – at least in my world! I like old stuff (not even counting classical) and I like at least some of the modern stuff too. I experiment. I listen to what’s around. I take advice from friends. I keep my ear, as it where, to the ground. You never really know what you might turn up. Naturally I have hundreds and hundreds of CDs. I play music when I’m getting ready for work and turning on some music is one of the first things I do when I get home. From getting out of bed to going to bed over the weekend and holidays the house is full of music from multiple genres and multiple decades. I just couldn’t have it any other way. After all, music is my first second love……