Is There Anyone Out There?

December 11, 2008 -

John Heald

Apparently, the jails here in the UK are over crowded and, therefore, our Prime Minister Gordon Bush has decided that he will grant early release for hundreds of “white collar” criminals who will be able to return to their fraudulently purchased homes to make way for the murderers.

Honestly, the jail system here is ludicrous and today, I had to go to jail myself. Well ……..I had to go to the courthouse to sign a form and give proof that I worked abroad and would not, therefore, be available for jury duty.

It was while I was waiting for the man with the beard to see me that I read Court News. This newspaper lists all the sentences handed down each day from the major courts in London and it shows that even if you are sentenced to life……you could be out in just 15 years.

For example, yesterday a man who killed and ate his lover was sentenced to 30 years behind bars. Which means, after he gets out next Tuesday, he’s going to come round to your house, sprinkle you with some herbs and pop you in the oven. Plainly, this is unacceptable and something must be done to keep cannibals out of our houses and our schools. But what?

Of course, I’m sure there are a great many people who think that if someone chooses one day to cook his best friend, he has demonstrated fairly clearly that he’s resigned from the human race and must be shot in the forehead immediately, like a lame horse.

However, I do not agree with capital punishment. But because I find the idea of state execution is too risky should proof later discover that the person you have just given a Don King hairstyle to was innocent, I’ve spent the day dreaming up new ways of ensuring that people who can’t behave properly are kept away from society for an appropriate length of time.

The problem right now is that all our prisons are full; and while there are plans to increase the number of cells over the coming years, few imagine for a moment that the supply will even remotely keep up with demand.

In Holland, Heidi tells me that they are even talking of not putting anyone in jail for less than three months. This, say the clog-wearing Dutch, will free up space for those who really need to be there.

It’s a nice idea if you are a wishy-washy liberal, but it does mean that young men in who run about town centers at night stealing mobile phones and drawing large penises on the sides of buses cannot be punished at all.

You can’t fine them, because they have no money. You can’t confiscate their belongings because everything they have is stolen anyway. You can’t give them an electric ankle bracelet because that is seen as a mark of respect – and if you can’t send them to prison, society is completely stuck.

The obvious solution is to build more prisons, but for a number of reasons, this isn’t possible. First, my sister and her banker friends have spent all the government’s money, so there’s bugger all left. And second, the new prisons would have to be built somewhere. And everywhere is someone’s backyard.

In the olden days, when I was rash, I dreamed up a plan that involved many more prisoners being housed in the jails we have already. The idea, in a nutshell, called for “massive overcrowding.”

If there are currently four to a cell, shove in another 30, and don’t worry about the cost of feeding them. Simply fit a window box and explain that they can eat only what they can grow. And if the harvest fails for any reason, well, they could take a leaf out of the cannibal’s book and eat each other. The lavatory would be a bucket, the central heating would be the bucket, too, and for entertainment, there would be daily games of “hide the soap.”

I’m afraid, however, that I went off this idea because I actually know someone doing some jail time, and I don’t like the idea of them sitting around all day trying to stop someone from eating them.

Don’t worry, however, because now I’ve come up with another plan – and it’s brilliant.

At present, the government is doing a great deal to ensure that people who are struggling to pay their mortgages are not evicted from their houses by the recently nationalized banks. This is very noble. But the idea that you can borrow money to buy a house and then not pay it all back undermines the very essence of capitalism.

People must be made to understand that if they have dug themselves into a financial hole, they have to earn their way out again. And so, I believe the government should pay these people a small rent each month, which can go toward covering their mortgage, if they agree to have a prisoner staying in the spare room.

I admit this is a bit of a lottery. You could get a cannibal who creeps into your bedroom every night with a knife and fork and some A1 Steak Sauce.

I’m not sure, though, that this is any different from the chance you take when you hire an au pair. You could get a Judge Judy look a like who wants to practise her karate on your children or you could get a raving nymphomaniac who has an allergy to wearing underwear.

And anyway, let’s be honest, it’s a lottery for the prisoner as well because he could end up at my house, chained to a radiator for 26 hours a day in the O.J.Simpson suite. Or he could end up staying with a woman who bakes him apple pie, lets him watch TV all day and on Sundays allows him to chew on her bingo wings.

Plainly, an idea this radical needs to be tested before it’s rolled out on a national scale, and I’m happy to be a guinea pig. Simply send me the chap from AIG who took my money and bought a private jet with it and now won’t give it back, and I’ll be happy to see how he likes being a prisoner in my attic for a year or two.

I should imagine, after the being forced to listen to Barry Manilow 24 hours a day, having a cattle prod put up his bottom twice daily and being fed nothing but dog food, he’ll be fully rehabilitated and able to go back into the world of international finance and give me and the thousands of other poor buggers our money back.

It seems that yesterday’s collection of some of my favourite Caribbean treats were quite popular yesterday so here then are a few more.

Tulum

Cozumel is fast developing a reputation as the party capital of the Mayan Riviera. The town is currently Mexico’s fastest- growing, and it really feels that way — there’s an incredible pace to the place. All manner of feverish activity — selling, eating, drinking and building, building, building — goes on in every direction. The frenetic nightlife feels is safe and fun and watching guests who have been drinking all night at Carlos and Charlies is very entertaining. It’ amazingly clean and well tended, given its urban location — is buzzing day and night. The shopping is wonderful and oh how it has changed since the first time I went there onboard the Holiday in 1987. Then there were maybe three or four shops and a few nightclubs where Corona was 50 cents a bottle, a lobster dinner for two costs less than $20 and the legal drinking age was seven. Many guests head straight off for the shops which is a real shame because a must see are the ruins of Tulum on the mainland of Mexico. At the far end of the Mayan Riviera, a 50 minutedrive from Playa del Carmen, Tulum is most famous for its collection of Mayan ruins. For more than a millennium, this was their land, a jungle tableau on which their culture written. There were cities of temples, castles and grand, stepped pyramids; pools for sacrifice and courts for elaborate games. Then the Spanish came, with their Christianity, weapons and disease. The indigenous people were killed or enslaved, their cities lost to the forest.

They are not as spectacular as Chichen Itza, certainly, but their location – with the ancient temples almost overhanging the cliff – makes them aesthetically unbeatable. And remember the people of Tulum were the first ever people to wear underwear ……Fruit Of Tulum. Seriously, you really have to see this astonishing place and check with your shore excursion manager or cruise director who will tell you how you can do so.

Roatan
I’d cruised to the island of Roatan just once but I really want to go again. Together with other islands, whose names I can’t remember, it makes up the Bay Islands, off the north coast of Honduras. Long and thin, like a miniature Cuba in a hidden corner of the Caribbean, Roatan is an island that tourism is just waking up to but as usual Carnival was there first. Like its more established nautical neighbors, it has pristine white beaches, swaying palms and a tropical interior, home to parrots, iguanas, monkeys and hair braiding. I remember the laid-back atmosphere that comes with an average annual temperature of 80F and year-round sun. On Roatan, though, the atmosphere has a Latino twist, a product of being simultaneously part of the Caribbean and Central America.

The twist — “Yeah, maaan” one minute, “Si, si” the next — runs through everything on the islands and makes it ethnically a diverse mix, some speaking Spanish, others English, with many speaking a strange hybrid of both……..as they do in parts of Miami….Ask a Roatanian what he’s up to and more often than not the answer will be: “Nada-much.”

Have any of you been there……….as I have only been once I would appreciate any feedback as would others I am sure.

Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios
As many of you will know Jamaica is one of my favorite Caribbean destinations ……….. especially Ocho Rios. I always said in my travel talks that you haven’t experienced the real Jamaica until you climb Dunn’s River Falls, and for sheer fun and exhilaration this unique attraction is hard to beat. These 600 foot falls were made for climbing, with huge boulders to scramble over, tempting pools to plunge into and waterfall after waterfall to stand beneath – letting the warm, clear waters wash over you. It takes about 40 minutes to negotiate the falls and climbers start from the beach, led by an ably footed guide. You need to be reasonably agile and have to concentrate, especially at some of the steepest points, but the pools provide a great relaxation stop. It’s a refreshing and entertaining way to spend a morning or afternoon and once you reach the top and dry off, you can wind down in the craft village where you can buy a six-foot wooden giraffe for $20………this will be a brilliant buy and you will cherish it right up to the moment when you have to pack to go home. Many of our excursions go to Dunns’s River Falls and many can be combined with shopping, dolphin swims and island tours.

The Bob Marley Experience – Ocho Rios
No cruise to Jamaica would be complete without a visit to the place where reggae legend Bob Marley was born and spent his formative years. To add an extra authentic flavour, we offer an excursion the Zion Bus, a traditional Jamaican country bus complete with roots music, for the trip inland to the tiny village of Nine Mile where the reggae king was born and is now buried. Zion Bus Line tours depart from Ocho Rios and are for adults only. ………. this is because the nearby residents sometimes partake in the local custom of smoking joints the size of palm trees. This tour is a chance to meet locals who knew Marley as a boy, and some of his relatives, and an opportunity to experience rural Jamaica at its best as you travel into the mountains to the parish of St. Ann, passing tiny tucked-away villages and local markets.

Trunk Bay, U.S.V.I.
St. John, another must see while your ship docks in St.Thomas. Most of it is national park was donated by the Rockefeller family in the 1950s, and the coastline is blessed with beach after beach of stunning beauty. One, Trunk Bay, is a pristine ribbon of sand where all the facilities – changing rooms, loos and snack bars – have been kept out of sight under the trees. I am not much of a snorkelist but, as I mentioned yesterday, one of the very best places I have ever snorkeled was Trunk Bay. The government has created an off-shore “Underwater Snorkeling Trail.” Snorkelers are provided with equipment, given a list of strict rules (“Follow the trail; no standing on the coral”), then sent into the shallow water, where stone plaques on the ocean floor lead you around a “trail” of coral and submarine life. You follow underwater signs telling you to turn left, then right and every time a fish swims past it will be holding a little sign telling you what kind of fish he is and whether or not he will taste good with chips. My favorite tour here is the 5 Star St.John Tour and again we have many for you to choose from.

OK, more Caribbean top tips soon.

I wanted to say a big thanks to all of you who continue to read the blog despite the fact that I am not on a ship at the moment and also because I know how busy everyone is at this time of the year. We have raced past 3.5 million readers and as always I am lost for words……..so for now, let me again say “Thank you.” Tomorrow, I will be posting an interview with a cruise ship captain……..can you guess which one?

I am off to the movies tonight to see Kean New Reeves in the remake of the classic Sci-Fi Movie “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” I only hope it’s better than the “War Of The Worlds Remake” in which Tom Cruise had the acting skills of a chair leg. I am a firm believer that we are not alone and that in his wisdom God did not just create us but others as well.

In 1977, men and women with beards launched the Voyager space probes began their endless journey into space carrying messages of goodwill from Jimmy Carter, night chants from the Navajo Indians and, oddly, a note from the Chinese which translates into English as “Have you eaten yet?”

Some, I know, thought it a bad idea to let other life forms know we were here in case they deciphered the Chinese message and thought: “Now you come to mention it, I am a bit peckish. So I’ll pop over and try some of that Jimmy Carter.”

As a spotty teenager and when I had finished reading the old copy of Playboy that I found in a nearby bush I liked to imagine that within my lifetime people from other planets would drop by to say hi.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t really done the math. Although the probes are screaming through space at 40,000 mph, making them the fastest machines made by manthey are now leaving the solar system thingy and of course….they haven’t discovered life on Mrs or Uranus or anywhere else for that matter.

I have no doubt that there will already be many people claiming that the $500 million that this mission has cost could have been spent on saving baby polar bears. It’s easy to sympathize with this argument. On Earth, everything is finite and very, very small. We think it’s a long way to Australia and that Everest is large. Which is why I thought the Voyagers would be broadcasting to Mr. Spock within my lifetime.

As I got older I started to realize that sending a probe out there hoping it will pass near to an alien is like……. actually I can’t think of anything to sum up how improbable this happening actually was.

And yet, what are we supposed to do now we know every last detail about our own planet and that even the nastier bits like Paris are better than the best bits of our own solar system? Do we just sit here, picking our noses? How far do you think we would have come as a species if Christopher Columbus had decided not to bugger off and discover America because Portugal was nice enough?

So we have to keep on building more Voyagers and we have to keep on firing them out there. Only let’s stop bothering with the messages of goodwill and Navajo noises. And let’s forget the political correctness of getting the Chinese to chip in with an invitation to eat Kung Po Chicken. If we really want the Klingons to come all the way over here we have to make their journey worthwhile. So next time, send photographs of Jessica Simpson’s bottom.

Goodnight
Your friends
John, Heidi and the Thingy

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.