Author: Matthew Finnegan

You can die of boredom in the Civil Service

Writer and broadcaster Charlie Brooker once commented that, no matter how acute the case, it is impossible to actually die of boredom.  To realise you are in the process of kicking the bucket is in itself interesting enough to relieve you from a bout of terminal melancholy.

However, researchers at University College London have shown that Mr. Brooker overlooked one factor, namely a career in the civil service. 

Scientists Annie Britton and Martin J. Shipley studied data from over 7,500 civil servants, with ages ranging from 35 to 55, which showed the individual’s levels of boredom.

10 percent of those involved in the study, which focused on a period between 1985 and 1988, reported that they had feelings of boredom in the preceding month.

Upon investigating the data more recently it was discovered that those with high levels of boredom were found to be 37 percent more likely to have died since taking part in the survey than their more fulfilled colleagues, according to

One of the key reasons given for this by the UCL researchers is that boredom leads people towards feelings of despondency and emptiness, which can in turn encourage the development of health detrimental habits such as smoking, drinking and taking drugs to fill the void.

And if the labels on the front of cigarettes are to be believed then such activities can be bad news for one’s ticker.

Shipley said that the study illustrates how people with menial jobs should pick up hobbies rather than drinking and smoking themselves into oblivion upon downing tools at the end of the day.   

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Shackleton’s whisky uncovered in Antarctica

While Ernest Shackleton was awarded with a knighthood upon return from his record breaking expedition to the South Pole, proof has emerged that the trip could have been little more than one extended jolly, with the legendary explorer sailing three sheets to the wind the entire journey.

Five crates of whisky and brandy have been recovered from a hut built during the Shackleton-led Antarctica knees-up of 1908, and furthermore it is thought that the century old treasure trove of booze may still be drinkable.

Two crates were initially found by explorers in 2006 but it proved too difficult to dislodge the ice that had been surrounding them for over a hundred years.  Now a team of explorers have been sent out by whisky makers Whyte & Mackay to retrieve samples from the bottles, with the aim of recreating the blend.

In a statement Richard Paterson of Whyte & Mackay declared the find “a gift from the heavens” for whisky drinkers.

“If the contents can be confirmed, safely extracted and analysed, the original blend may be able to be replicated.

“Given the original recipe no longer exists this may open a door into history.”

The smell of whisky on the surrounding ice has led the heritage team who made the discovery to believe that some of the bottles have not survived undamaged. However, the sound of liquid moving around inside the crates indicates that there is a good chance that other bottles have remained intact.

It is also entirely possible that the whiskey will be suitable for consumption after all this time.  David Stewart, master blender at William Grant & Sons Ltd, believes that it all depends on how the bottles were kept: “If these bottles have been stored upright there is every chance they will be drinkable.”

The bottles were stashed during Shackleton’s aborted attempt to become the first person to reach the South Pole, back in the good old buccaneering days of British Imperialism.  Unfortunately after getting to only 100 miles from the pole Shackleton and co were forced to turn and head back to angry wives who they had presumably told that they were ‘just going out for one pint’ some two years before.


3D football shown in nine pubs

The world’s first 3D football game was televised yesterday in nine pubs across the UK. 

The screenings at top secret venues – withheld from public knowledge due to an expected stampede of punters – were overall deemed a great success. It is now likely that Sky’s pilot scheme will be followed by a roll-out of 3D sports events into viewer’s homes over the course of the year.

Sky logoWhile it was presumed by many that the sight of Wayne Rooney’s Shrek-like visage, in three harrowing dimensions, would provoke scenes of wide-spread panic reminiscent of the screening of the Hindenburg crash, such worries were quickly proved unfounded as viewers gawped in awe at the deep purple of hue of Sir Alex Ferguson’s nose.

Arsenal fan Alan Howe told the Daily Mirror that he was surprised by just how effective the new technology is:  “I have HD at home and I thought nothing could get better than that. It’s mind-boggling.”

With films such as Avatar ushering in the 3D era it is widely held that the technology will not be the play thing for mega-rich Hollywood producers for much longer.  While the first 3D camcorder is on sale from Panasonic at a prohibitively expensive $21,000, 3D TV sets will be available at more attainable £700-£1,000 prices in the near future, with plans from Samsung to mass produce the 3D glasses themselves likely to lower retail cost.

Sky plans to show 3D Premier League matches in hundreds more pubs before the end of the football season.

Driving affects language – no kidding

Raconteurs of the world beware: driving has a significant effect on language ability, according to researchers from the University of Illinois. 

An experiment conducted at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology tested the story telling skills of chattering motorists.   

Working in pairs, participants – one driver and one passenger – were tested on their ability to re-tell a story whilst behind the wheel.  Performance deteriorated when a participant embarked upon a session of chin-wagging either on the phone or with a passenger.

They were involved in dialogue either in the vehicle or via mobile phone before being asked to recount what they had discussed.  The experiment, published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, was repeated both while driving and during a period of inactivity. 

 The difference in stationary conversation and conversation in transit was significant: “The drivers remembered 20 per cent less of what was told to them when they were driving,” reported Professor Gary Dell.

So one can safely assume then that your average London cabbie’s ill-informed, semi-racist stream of consciousness warblings are likely to instantly turn into a lecture on the exciting use of symbolism in Thomas Pynchon’s novels upon taking his hands from the wheel.  Either way though, it still remains unlikely you will get a word in.

Of those involved in the experiment half were over 65; the rest in their late teens or early twenties.  Older participants fared worse at the multi-tasking experiment, with the whipper-snappers enjoying more accuracy.

“You might think that talking is an easy thing to do and that comprehending language is easy. But it’s not. Speech production and speech comprehension are attention-demanding activities, and so they ought to compete with other tasks that require your attention – like driving.” 

While emphasis is often on the adverse effects of speech on driving, the study shows that its effects are equally detrimental the other way around.

 “This study shows that various aspects of language go to hell when you’re driving,” says Professor Art Kramer, also involved in the experiment. Whether or not this effect is exacerbated whilst speeding back from a Romford Wetherspoons shortly after closing time is yet to be determined.

Monkeys eat bananas, primates are chiefs

It is a well documented fact that if you give a million monkeys a million typewriters, they will eventually produce the entire works of Shakespeare.  But what if you give just one video camera to a group of 11 chimpanzees?  Well I for one believe they could knock out at least a couple of episodes of Hollyoaks, maybe even an omnibus.

Now the BBC has endeavoured to answer that very question in the name of science.

As part of a study into how the world is perceived by man’s closest cousin, Betsy Herrelko, a leading primatologist, spent 18 months helping produce the first film shot entirely by chimpanzees.

Taking time off from more traditional monkey past-times such as cigar-smoking, roller-skating and very public acts of self-gratification, the chimps were first taught how to use a touch screen monitor to select a variety of images.

Initially the chimps were more interested in arguing amongst themselves, but they were soon captivated by the gift of a monkey proof ‘chimpcam’.

 The experiment took place in a special enclosure in Edinburgh Zoo.  Three areas of outside space were provided for the chimpanzees to film, as well as several small rooms in which the primates could be viewed more closely by researchers.

 The chimps gradually learnt how to select an image and watch footage from a variety of options.  Research, however, showed that they were often equally non-plussed by the provided views of the food preparation room or of the outside enclosure.  Had the chimps been forced to watch cable television channel ‘Babestation’ instead the results may have proved slightly different.

The chimps, who had never been involved in scientific studies before, gave further insight into how they can interact with objects and use them as tools.

 The documentary, which can only be described, amidst highly publicised budget cuts, as a thinly veiled threat to the Beeb’s production staff, will air on BBC2 at 8pm on Wednesday 27th January.