Sunday, December 31, 2006

I'll Drink To That

So, Hazel Blears thinks we Brits will never enjoy the so-called "continental cafe" culture of drinking responsibly.

She's damn right, of course.

Firstly because, as she says, we have an Anglo-Saxon heritage of alcohol-fuelled marauding that we have to live down to. There's no way we'll ever give up our ancient birthrights of a pint of bitter or a yard of ale for some frosty, metricated, European nonsense, is there?

Well, perhaps not, and this brings me to my second point: we won't and in fact, can't, drink in a European way because there aren't any continental-style cafes in the whole of the UK. Not one.

In most European countries if you want a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, you go to a cafe. You sit at a table, a waiter takes your order and you feel sophisticated, n'est-ce pas? You probably have a freshly made pastry to go with your drink. You can even get beer in McDonalds.

In Britain if you want a glass of beer, you go to a pub; if you want a cup of tea, you go to a tea room; and never the twain shall meet. (If you want a cup of coffee, you go to France - what else are cheap flights for?)

The pub is always dark and dingy, and you have to stand at the bar for 10 minutes while they change the barrel before you spill your pint all over yourself trying to carry it to a table wedged under the loudest speaker this side of the Tannoy factory. The tearoom is full in equal numbers of elderly women keeping warm and children screaming in prams and buggies. You suspect the fiver you paid for a pot of Earl Grey and a scone might not have been worth it.

If this gap in the UK's licensing laws were closed - so that normal cafes with their sofas and newspapers (e.g. Starbucks, Costa etc) could sell normal drinks (e.g. beer, wine, Irish coffee), might it not normalise the consumption of alcohol in the UK?

People drink to get drunk because that's the only way most pubs are bearable these days and nowhere else offers a place to have a quiet, relaxing half.

Just a thought.

Footnote: It's interesting that this interview is published on the daddy of all drinking days in the calendar. I'll be celebrating my Viking roots in the traditional manner tonight, with much whisky and carousing. If I survive, I'll see you all in 2007.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Made to make your eyes water

*WARNING - Male Readers Take Care*

Wince-inducing stuff from Raleigh, North Carolina:

Police continue to investigate a Christmas party they say ended with a woman trying pull a man's genitals off.
That kind of opening line just makes you want to read on.

The victim's name is Kevin Russ (38) and the accused is called Rebecca Arnold (34).

It all started Monday night at a Christmas party hosted at the home of Tanya Nicole "Niki" Gardella, 32. Russ is Gardella's boyfriend. Arnold, who also goes by her married name, Rebecca Dawson, is a friend and was a guest at the party, Lillington Police Chief Frank Powers said.

The party continued into the early morning hours. The three had been drinking and were intoxicated, Powers said.

Drinking at a Christmas party? I think Chief Powers could be on to something there, don't you? Anyway, the juicy bits:

At some point, Gardella, Russ and Arnold got into a fight, and Arnold allegedly grabbed Russ' genitals with her hands. When police arrived at the house on Summerville-Mamers Road about 2 a.m., they found a disturbing, bloody scene.

"[Russ] was in pretty bad shape," Powers said.

Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow. Such understatement from Mr Powers. I daren't use my imagination. Did anyone actually see what happened?

"We are interviewing witnesses that were a little less intoxicated," he said.
Smart thinking. Nothing gets past this guy. "Super" Powers, they call him at the station.

I should say that if you're not quite sure what sort of disturbing, bloody scene to visualise, the article includes this useful paragraph:

Castration refers to cutting off the testicles, said Raj Pruthi, a urologist at UNC Hospitals. The testes are soft tissue where testosterone and sperm are made.
Ah, right. Ouch. Thanks, Doc!
Pruthi said it's unlikely Arnold could have pulled Russ' testicles off with her hands. "I've never heard of it," he said, explaining that the testes are attached deep into the pelvis. "It's pretty much impossible to do."

That, I guess, is a relief to know.

So what happened to this woman?

Arnold was charged with malicious castration and assault inflicting serious bodily injury. She also was charged with malicious conduct by a prisoner and injury to personal property because she allegedly spit on the arresting officer.
Clearly a classy lady.

But isn't this the oddest bit of all? They actually have a specific offence of "malicious castration" in North Carolina. Is it not covered by "assault inflicting serious bodily injury" as I'm sure it would be in Britain? How many cases do they get each year?

On second thoughts, it doesn't bear thinking about. Happy Hogmanay!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Worst of 2006

There are several reviews of the year around at the moment, but if you want to know which vlogs (that's video-based blogs) you should avoid now and at any time in the future, check out the list at 10zenmonkeys.

You certainly won't want to look at "", which comes top (bottom?) and does exactly what it says on the tin. I urge you not to watch this sample video:

Didn't I warn you not to watch it? Honestly, some people just can't resist temptation.

Shitty Academy

In the Independent, another "Labour MP is hypocrite" story:

A former Labour minister has withdrawn her 13-year-old son from a city academy in protest at its "appalling" standards of accommodation and teaching facilities.

Karen Buck, who resigned as Aviation minister in February, said she had been "torn apart" by a "personal dilemma" over withdrawing her son, Kosmo, from Paddington City Academy, but denied "hypocrisy".

I dunno about the hypocrisy, but Kosmo? I'd have thought the school was the last of his worries.

Apparently he will now be moved to the same City Academy as his elder brother, Dibs.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Red Square

Here's a stupid addictive game. Try to keep the red square from touching the blue rectangles or the walls. My best so far is about 19.2 seconds.

The Ashes - 9

Well done, Australia, another crushing victory. The spirit of Yuletide generosity from the England team is something to behold ("Here, have another wicket, go on. Oh, you've had enough, perhaps you'd like a long hop or two to smash to the boundary, come on, tuck in. Now, don't forget those thankyou letters").

Anyone care to add to my list of adjectives to describe England?

"Hopeless, hapless, gutless, guileless, brainless, spineless, clueless, useless, chinless, witless, listless, thoughtless, aimless, headless, senseless, gormless, toothless, Vaughanless, mostly harmless..."

Of course, you can sum up the Aussies in similar language:

"Timeless, ageless, peerless, fearless, ruthless, relentless..."

The Sydney test starts next week. A whitewash is on the cards. Not even I will bet against that now.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Accidental President

What's the post-Boxing Day juice?
Gerald Ford is dead. He was the longest lived US President, at 93 years and 122 days, and achieved the office (which he held from 1974 to 1976) without winning an election (a precedent set for Republicans to follow in 2000).

How'd he get there then?
Well, Ford, as vice-President, took over from Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon, when the latter resigned in disgrace after the Watergate affair.

Hang on, wasn't he voted in as VP?
Nope, GF wasn't originally elected as Richard Nixon's vice-President. That privilege belonged to Spiro Agnew (amusing anagram: "Grow a penis"), who discharged his duty with honour and integrity until, er, he resigned in disgrace amid tax evasion and money laundering charges. Who says lightning never strikes twice, eh? Perhaps Ford was the grass...

Did he do a good job?
Well, he was the original "safe pair of hands" to take over in a crisis, and heaven knows America had enough of those in 1974. As well as being the honest caretaker manager who manned the fort in the wake of Watergate, he also presided over the end of the Vietnam War and the infamous flight from Saigon (helicopters taking off from the US embassy roof). In those circumstances he did admirably and restored an amount of dignity and self-respect to a beleaguered nation.

And in '76?
He lost to former peanut baron, Jimmy Carter. So he wasn't a miracle worker.

Anything else of note?
Not much, I think he thought the longevity record was his most likely legacy and he invested most of his time going for it, but some people might remember the Simpsons episode where George and Barbara Bush move in opposite Homer and Marge. Homer and Bush Sr don't get on, and a serious feud develops. In the end, the Bushes move out and Gerald Ford moves in. Happily, he and Homer are like two peas in a pod - both tripping on the kerb as they walk off for a beer (D'oh!).

His wife inhaled, right?

Damn straight. Inhaled, imbibed, injected etc.
Gerald Ford was married to Betty Ford, she of the drying out clinic. She conquered her demons and helped others beat theirs. I'm sure there's a joke about ex-alcoholics and drug users in the Whitehouse to be written somewhere.

Clearly not here! A final one-liner, perhaps?
An oldie, but that's probably appropriate: Being a Ford, you know what to wear for the funeral (any colour as long as it's black).

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Godfather of Soul

RIP James Brown.

They don't make 'em like that any more:

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Seasonal Message

Whether you're chewing carp tonight, or gobbling turkey and mince pies tomorrow, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And that Pai Natal brings you all you wished for.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a James Bond film, so enjoy this clip with your mulled wine:

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2006

P-p-p-p-pick up a...

The Independent on the rise of the penguin motif in popular culture.

It mentions the new Happy Feet film, the familiar chocolate biscuit, the paperback publisher, Pingu and the Batman villain.

I think they're missing something, don't you?

Yes, there's absolutely no mention of Sister Wendy Beckett. For shame!

Ho, ho, hola!

From a forum, somewhere, a reworking of a seasonal favourite for you Spanglish speakers:

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa,
Not a creature was stirring -- Caramba! Que pasa?
Los ninos were tucked away in their camas,
Some in camisas and some in pijamas,

While hanging the stockings with mucho cuidado
In hopes that old Santa would feel obligado
To bring all children, both buenos and malos,
A nice batch of dulces and other regalos.

Outside in the yard there arose such a grito
That I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito.
I ran to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world do you think quien era?

Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero.
And pulling his sleigh instead of venados
Were eight little burros approaching volados.

I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre
"Ay Pancho, ay Pepe, ay Chucho, ay Beto,
Ay Chato, ay Chopo, Macuco, y Nieto!"

Then standing erect with his hands on his pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chiminea,

Then huffing and puffing at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala,
He filled all the stockings with lovely regalos--
For none of the ninos had been very malos.

Then chuckling aloud, seeming very contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.
And I heard him exclaim, and this is verdad,
Merry Christmas to all, and Feliz Navidad!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fog Blog - Update

Latest news on the fog afflicting the south of England is that domestic flights from Heathrow (and several other airports) are likely to be cancelled tomorrow. I guess I was lucky to fly back on Tuesday - I might have been stuck in sunny Portugal for the whole holiday. Hmm.

For those who live outside the afflicted areas and the mention of fog does not yet cause a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, I refer you to the following fog-related video, which I can't believe hasn't been aired on any of the major media channels:

Drive safely, folks.

The Father of the Turkmen

There are several voices in the blogosphere who rave and rant, quite appropriately, at the centralisation and bureaucracy in Britain caused by Messrs Blair and Brown's infatuation with the nanny state. Spare a thought though, for the people of Turkmenistan, who have endured a far worse leader for the past 21 years (facts and quotes from here and here):

Saparmurat Niyazov, the hardline president of Turkmenistan, died from a heart attack early today, bringing the curtain down on one of the world's most eccentric personality cults.

Niyazov, 66, had turned his former Soviet central Asian desert state into an object of international ridicule through a series of bizarre decrees that left Turkmens living in an isolated world where fact and fantasy were blurred.

How so?
During a 21-year rule he turned his country into a hymn of praise to himself: kindergartens, towns, factories and a month of the year (January) were named Turkmenbashi.

He has also renamed April - and bread - after his late mother.

He erected a revolving gold statue of himself in the capital Ashgabat and giant billboards of the leader hung all over the country.

Interesting. "Chris, February, March, Mum, May, June..." Actually that's got a nice ring to it. But surely no ego could cope with this?

He often feigned embarrassment at the adulation. "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want," he once said.

But the pressure to worship the leader was relentless. Children in the gas-rich state were forced to learn his book of poetry, the Ruhnama, at school, and a copy of the book was sent into space for good measure.

The book is required reading in schools, where children must pledge allegiance to him every morning.

Pledge allegiance every morning? What kind of ridiculous brainwashing is that? No free country could tolerate such thing, surely. Oh, right.

Did he have any good ideas?

Niyazov outlawed ballet and opera and banned men from listening to car radios; he also banned the use of recorded music at weddings and other public events. When he gave up smoking after major heart surgery in 1997, all his ministers had to follow suit, and he banned smoking in public places.

I'd probably vote for all of those measures, but they're perhaps a bit draconian. Any chance of a cheap ideological comparison with Ross Perot?
Young men were banned from having beards or wearing long hair.

What about old men? Are they allowed beards? I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, it sounds like the world is better off again for the departure of another old despot. Let's hope the people of Turkmenistan can elect themselves a better leader very soon and enjoy a 2007 full of opera, car radios, beards, gold teeth and months with traditional names.

Shane Keith Warne: He scared batsmen and he scarred me

I want to add my own quiet voice to the chorus of tributes pouring in for Shane Warne, who has announced his retirement from cricket.

My first reaction (as an England fan) was thank God for that, he won't be tormenting our poor batsmen (and bowlers much of the time) any more after the end of this series.

Since he emerged on the Ashes scene in 1993 (follow the link on this page to "Warne's Wonder Ball to Gatting"), Warnie has consistently flummoxed and bamboozled English players - as if he were bowling hand grenades or sea urchins, rather than the familiar red leather cricket ball. Before Warne appeared, Australian cricketers were mainly of the big moustache variety (Merv Hughes, David Boon etc) and beat us by virtue of their outback spirit and strength derived from chasing kangaroos around the bush to grill on the barbie. They saw English cricketers mostly as effete ladymen whose public school educations were nothing compared to the grounding in life one gets from consuming 52 cans of beer on the flight from Sydney to London.

Warne added a new diabolical malevolence to their attack. Rather than just being tougher and grittier than us, they now had a player who could mesmerise and confuse us, something that only the mysterious spinners of the Orient had managed before. In fact England had been utterly confounded by Pakistan's Mushtaq Ahmed the previous summer and Anil Kumble of India in the winter (another disastrous tour). In order to prevent this happening again, we recalled the experienced Gatting, who despite a mediocre test record, was said to be good against spin. Well, Shane Warne debunked that particular myth by pitching one miles outside leg stump and hitting off. Making a ball turn past Gatt's bulky frame is no mean feat and the delivery later became dubbed the ball of the century (perhaps a touch hyperbolic, but incredible to watch nonetheless).

Warne's arrival that year was greeted gushingly by Richie Benaud, a former great leg-spinner, who happily demonstrated the different hand positions required to produce leg breaks, flippers, top-spinners and the devilish wrong'un, or googly. All this was fascinating to observe: I suspect most of the variations were as new to the England team as they were to a nation of callow youths watching the proceedings on television. Actually, Warne didn't bowl that many googlies, but the psychological effect he had on the England players was such that he could have bowled a beach ball underarm and they would have misread the line of the thing.

As a fifteen year old that year I imitated Warne's wizard-like sleight of hand as best I could and managed to bowl some legbreaks that turned square (an ability sadly lost due to a later broken finger). Unfortunately, a la Ian Salisbury, I'd only hit the mark with one in six, so could only claim a very weak association with the great Victorian. However, later that summer I was on holiday on France, staying in a gite with my family, when, while practising the whirling motion of Warne's greatest deliveries, my hand smashed into a low hanging glass light fitting, breaking it into a thousand shards, one of which lodged in the back of my hand. After the screams had died down and the cut been cleaned up and attended with a sturdy suture to keep it closed, a small but quite visible scar formed. I gaze at it fondly even now. Shane Warne is the only cricketer to have such an effect on my person and I imagine I am not the only fan he touched in this way.

Warne's great strength has been his consistency (at least on the field - he's wavered somewhat off it with various sex and drugs scandals, not to mention the hair commercials) and for 13 years he has plagued England teams (and the rest, he has great records againt South Africa and New Zealand too) with monotonous ease. He was written off in some quarters before the 2005 Ashes, but came up with 40 wickets (almost half the Australian total) and over 200 runs, enough to keep the series competitive when around him his teammates were floundering. This time around, England have played him a little more successfully but he still has the knack of tearing through us at the right moments.

I'm not that surprised that he's announced his retirement now: I think this will be the last test series for a few more of the Australian over 35s. Damien Martyn has already gone, and I suspect Glenn McGrath and probably Matthew Hayden will also call it quits after the Sydney test. Warne has done some commentary work already and is an intelligent and engaging observer of the game (more Mark Taylor than Bill Lawry) so I'm sure he'll have a great career ahead of him behind the mic. Australia will miss Shane Warne badly - he's such a massive part of their team - but so will cricket fans everywhere. I'm glad to have seen one of the all-time greats at his peak and will definitely try to catch him in the flesh at Hampshire over the next couple of seasons.

In the immortal words of Ian Healy:
"Bowling, Warnie"

Flying the flag

From my friend, Jon, via email comes an entertaining post from a Japanese blog. Anyone who thinks full employment is a good idea should take a look at these chaps. The video at the bottom is particularly amusing.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fog Blog

Well, this is exciting. I'm posting this from Lisbon airport, on my way back to England for Christmas. I was supposed to be on the noon flight, but it's been cancelled, due to fog in London. I'm sure anyone reading this from the UK's fair capital will be able to vouch for the Dickensian pea-souper that is undoubtedly hanging over the city.

What's odd is that my flight wouldn't have landed until 1445 anyway, and in all my years of living 15 miles from Heathrow, I've never seen fog at that time that would prevent a plane from touching down safely. Perhaps there's a backlog of flights or something.

It's actually been a bit of a stressful journey so far this morning. I got off the bus from Torres to Lisbon only to find there was a tube strike (fantastic) so yomped avec baggages about a mile to the airport bus stop. There was, of course, nary a bus in sight with all the disruption so, after hanging around for a fair old spell, (oh the irony) I grabbed a cab so as to not be late. Could have walked it and still been on time.

For those who are interested, Lisbon airport is not a particularly pleasant place to while away 3 hours, although the bar does serve pints, rather than the tiny standard measures of beer one normally finds in Portugal. And it's 5 euros an hour for wi-fi access.

Monday, December 18, 2006

One for the dog lovers

Analysis of my visitor statistics (a quick process, I'm sad to say) reveals that there are a significant number of surfers who come to this blog in search of information about dogs, specifically Russian wolfhounds. This blog is called "The Russian Wolfhound" for a hard-to-explain personal reason which I don't wish to go into in detail. That makes it sound dodgy, but I promise it's all above board. In fact, I didn't even realise there was an actual Russian wolfhound before I started this. I have to admit that although I like dogs, I have never owned one and know very little about them, except that one end bites and barks, and the other end has a tail. As far as wolfhounds go, my preference is for the Irish flavour - if I ever get a dog, that would be top of the list.

Anyway, I feel that I should provide some links at least to proper content about the Russian wolfhound (also known as the Borzoi) for those readers who want it. There don't seem to be many blogs devoted to the breed, which is a shame, as it is a handsome and graceful beast.

So, if you are interested in the Russian wolfhound (or wolf hound), you might be better off trying one of these links:
History and breed standard (Chest-The Borzoi’s chest will appear narrow but will have depth in the thorax area.)
General info (US)
General info (UK)
Nutritional requirements
RW/Borzoi T-shirts
Borzoi ornaments (more t-shirts, ornaments and miscellanea)
Borzoi pics (Japan)

My statistics reveal that most people who search for "Russian wolfhound" are from the USA or Canada, so hi to you guys across the pond and I hope the links I've posted are helpful. I also hope that you might check out some of the rest of my (extremely parochial) blog and enjoy it - although there's nothing about dogs outside this post. If you know of any other Russian wolfhound or borzoi sites that you think are worth linking to, please leave a comment and I'll be happy to add them to this page for the benefit of future accidental visitors.

It's a wonderful turkey

Another December, another poll to find the worst Christmas film and again, Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1996 effort, "Jingle All the Way" takes the top spot.

Other contenders in the top 10 included Santa Conquers The Martians (which sounds bad) and two efforts from the execrable Tim Allen (The Santa Clause and Christmas with the Kranks). Now, in the face of such competition, I feel I must speak up for Jingle All the Way. It's certainly not the worst, ahem, holiday movie I've ever seen. There was something on Channel 5 a couple of years ago starring John Boy from the Waltons about a scientist investigating flying reindeer. Now that was truly appalling.

JATW's redeeming features are, in my view, legion. Not only does it star Arnie (this must rank as his best comedy) as a father attempting to get his son the last Turboman (a Buzz Lightyear-esque must-have toy) in his city, it also features the comic, Sinbad (a hero of mine since I first saw him in A Different World), as a rival dad after the same doll. If memory serves, the film also sees the late great Phil Hartman (you may remember him from such Simpsons roles as the washed-up Hollywood star, Troy McClure, and the hapless lawyer, Lionel Hutz) as Arnie's neighbour, who outdoes the Governator at every turn.

There is something to be said for a film you've seen in the cinema. Somehow they are always more special or memorable than those you only see on the small screen. That's one of the reasons why National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is so close to my heart (though clearly any movie with Chevy Chase is a cut above the usual fare). Now, I didn't actually see JATW in a cinema. In fact I watched it on a plane from Tokyo to Okinawa on about the 22nd of December 1997, but that's close enough to a big screen for me. You still have the sense of not seeing properly because of seat backs in front of you. Naturally, I was very happy to be able to watch it again on the return journey on Christmas Day itself.

As an aside, that Christmas holiday was worthy of a short film in itself - somehow I ended up spending Christmas morning translating at an asylum hearing for a paranoid Taiwanese submariner who thought numerous faceless enemies were trying to run him over or poison him. He slept with ear defenders on. It's amazing who you meet in youth hostels. Needless to say his attempt to claim political asylum was rejected. I had my Christmas lunch in a pizza parlour that day. It was all you could eat for 600 yen - yummy.

Back to the defence of JATW, the important thing is that you don't take it too seriously and I defy anyone not to chuckle when Arnie punches a reindeer on the snout in the Christmas parade. The film, set in Minneapolis (with a starring role given to the Mall of America), also provides a positive view of a Minnesota winter, something that the grimmer, yet better received Fargo and A Simple Plan singularly fail to do. There are many worse films with sickening "holiday" messages that make you want to vomit. Love Actually, anyone? Ernest Saves Christmas? Home Alone 2? Home Alone 3? Lord of the Rings? These are the real Christmas turkeys, which you can go and stuff, as far as I'm concerned. Any Sinbad fan who's ever lived in Minnesota will have a soft spot for JATW: I know I do.

The Ashes - 8

In American parlance, the boys in the Baggy Greens are 3 and 0.

Australia deservedly won back the tiny sacred urn this morning; something all too predictable for England fans from the moment Steve Harmison's opening ball of the series went straight to second slip. As always used to happen (i.e. before 2005) England have played well in patches in the three tests so far, but haven't consistently been able to put pressure on the Australians. When we won the Ashes last year, there was no let-up from England. All the bowlers did well, and not once did Australia make a total of more than 400 or declare an innings.

I still don't think that the Australian team, although very strong, is all that much better than England, but they have got players who are fit and in form, which has made the difference. I personally backed the England selectors in two of the key decisions they made: I supported the reappointment of Flintoff as captain, because I thought he would be able to lead from the front and inspire the players, as he did in India last winter. I also backed Jones as the wicketkeeper, a little harsh on Chris Read perhaps, but Geraint has looked a proper batsman at times in his career (albeit infrequently) and his glovework is test class, despite what his detractors might say.

In hindsight, those decisions will be questioned by the media and fans for a long time to come, and I think they were probably wrong. Andrew Strauss was doing well as captain, and his form had improved with the increased responsibility - perhaps the burden of batting, bowling and captaining was too much for Freddie's broad shoulders to bear. Read's supporters will point to his good batting against Pakistan in the summer and I suspect he will play for the final two tests here, although playing Australia away is a tough assignment and I don't know if he'll score more runs than Jones has (mind you, he could hardly score fewer).

The decision I thought the selectors got wrong from the start was the non-selection of Monty Panesar. Whether for Ashley Giles or James Anderson, he should have been in the team from the first test in Brisbane. It's Geoff Boycott's second favourite aphorism (after "batting is easy, my gran could score a hundred against this lot wi' a stick of rhubarb") that "you need to take wickets to win matches". Monty has been doing this since he arrived in test cricket in February and dropping him was a big error of judgement. Giles and Anderson took 5-565 between them in the first two tests. Panesar took 5-92 in the first innings in the third. If we'd batted better in our first innings at the WACA, we might be looking at a different scoreline now. Sadly, Ashley Giles has left the tour to care for his wife, who is seriously ill. Whether this had any effect on his form is hard to say.

The Ashes are back in Australia, and in the words of an old show tune, England need to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. The gamble of reuniting the majority of the 2005 team has failed and we need to stop resting on those particular laurels. I suspect we'll pick the same team for Melbourne, but with Read in for Jones. Jones had never made a duck in 33 tests before this one, but bagged a pair in this game. I think that speaks volumes about his confidence. There's a chance that we might play Ed Joyce as the extra batsman, for Mahmood, but I reckon he'll stay on drinks duty. Jamie Dalrymple might come in as the second spinner at Sydney.

There are thousands of England fans in Australia already, with thousands more flying out this week to watch the final two matches in Melbourne and Sydney. The players owe it to the fans, who have forked out massive amounts of money to watch the team, to put in better performances over the next two weeks. With the pressure off, I hope they'll do so. The Australians are now all talking about a whitewash, but even they will find it hard to sustain their levels of intensity over 5 tests. Let's try to win the second half of the series and take something positive into the New Year.

Because if you think this tour has been depressing, just wait for the World Cup.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What's the only country named after a mountain?

Here's your starter for ten:
What better for Christmas than a lovely quiz?
The answer? Why, nothing, of course - and few holiday pastimes can be as enjoyable as reading out quiz questions to one's family after they've scoffed the turkey and trimmings and marvelling at their general ignorance of the world around them.

Trawling the net (funny, nets used to trawl, now they are trawled) for something to blog about, I came across the San Francisco Chronicle's geography quiz which is rather a good'un.

Here are some sample questions:

1. Name the only nation in the world with Latin as an official language.
9. Is South Africa among the five largest nations in Africa?
13. What is, by far, the most common three-color combination on the flags of the world's nations?
23. If you crossed the bridge over the River Kwai, what country would you be in?
50. True or false: Kazakhs play a traditional game on horseback called Kuuz Kuu - "Catch the Bride."

The rest of the quiz can be found here (only 50 questions), with the answers underneath. No cheating, now.

Oh, and the only country named after a mountain is Mounteverestlandistania, but then you knew that anyway.

Friday, December 15, 2006

UEFA Cup Draw

Bloody hell, this is more complicated than it need be. They've drawn the last 32 and the last 16. British clubs are as follows:

Sporting Braga or Livorno v Feyenoord or Tottenham

Zulte Waregem or Newcastle v Fenerbahce or AZ Alkmaar

Hapoel Tel-Aviv or Rangers v Bordeaux or Osasuna

Lens or Panathinaikos v Bayer Leverkusen or Blackburn Rovers

What an assembly of second-raters - good luck to the English teams and Rangers, but let's face it, no-one really cares about this competition anymore, do they?

Champions League Draw

Porto v Chelsea - a return to a familiar stomping ground for Senhor Mourinho. Will his old club get one over on him?

Celtic v AC Milan - tough draw for Strachan's men. Let's hope they give Berlusconi's boys a good working over.

PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal - not too bad for M Wenger and co. I'd expect them to come through that.

Lille v Manchester United - a third winnable tie for an English team. Fergie's lot will be hot favourites.

AS Roma v Lyon - I'd tip Lyon to win this.

Barcelona v Liverpool - tie of the round, I think. Can Benitez engineer a victory against his countrymen? (Come on Rafa!)

Real Madrid v Bayern Munich - another big game. Very hard to call, and could go to away goals or even penalties.

Internazionale v Valencia - The Spanish are struggling at home, Inter are top of Serie A. Got to go for the Nerazzurri here

No More Truffle Shuffle

The NHS may go bankrupt from treating big-boned Britain.

Experts, including government A&E tsar George Alberti and Glasgow University professor Naveed Sattar, said obesity treatment took up 9% of the NHS budget. But they warned this would rise as the number of obese adults rose from one in five to one in three by 2010.

A&E tsar?
Anyway, so many Britons will be indistinguishable from the whale that beached in Moray that drastic measures are being proposed, including an advice hotline for the obese on XXL clothes:

The number should be promoted on the labels of all clothes sold with a waist of more than 40in (102cm) for men, 37in (94cm) for boys, 35in (88cm) for women, and 31in (80cm) for girls.

This is all very well, but I don't think it goes far enough. If you're going to humiliate people, do it properly. What about these ideas to stop the lardarses in their tracks?

  1. Have all the sugary, fattening food in supermarkets kept in very narrow aisles, so that fat people cannot physically access the turkey twizzlers and chocolate coated fishfingers they gorge themselves on.
  2. Keep clothes for fat people (in the sizes described above) on solid iron - let's say 5kg - coathangers. As they struggle to lift them off the rack, they get a free workout.
  3. Put all the large sizes at the end of a long corridor so that chubby and friends have to walk further to get them. Or, better, on the top floor of a department store and set all the escalators to "down" so they've got to run up to reach them. You could do the same with the sweets.
  4. I'm picturing a large seesaw, or similar Crystal Maze type contraption, on the edge of a pit or similar abyss. At one end is the fat person, at the other is their target food or clothing. They shuffle (waddle?) closer to the pivot, but the seesaw starts to tip away from them. What should they do? Something like the end of The Italian Job.
  5. Bouncy castles in gyms. Let's make exercise fun!
  6. Offer everyone who is obese £2000 to lose the flab: £1000 to be paid after a few months, when they reach their target weight and another £1000 a year later if they keep it off. That'll cost less than a stomach staple. Actually, that's not such a stupid idea.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Obama-watch - 1

In the Chicago Tribune:

Saying he finds himself at "an interesting moment in time," U.S. Sen. Barack Obama said today he believes he would be a "viable candidate" if he runs for the presidency but said he is not going to let public hype dictate his decision.

Obama (D-Ill.) also said he has no interest in being "the un-Hillary" — a reference to Democrats who may be looking to coalesce around a single opponent to challenge New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is considered the early front-runner for the 2008 Democratic nomination.
Can anyone tell me what the former First Lady's appeal is? Would she seriously have a political career if she weren't Bill's wife? Think for a few seconds about this line of successive Presidents: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. That's what the Hillary supporters are advocating. Perhaps Jeb Bush could run after that. And then Chelsea in 2020?
There's an amusing article about the dynastic nature of politics in the US here, but I'm digressing:
Neither Clinton or Obama has announced a presidential bid. Obama, a Chicagoan who was elected to the Senate in 2004, said he expects to announce a decision next month after a family vacation in Hawaii.
A two year campaign won't be easy, but will give him the time to raise a decent warchest. I'm fairly sure he'll go for it. Carpe diem and all that. His considerations?
"Do I have something that is sufficiently unique to offer to the country that it is worth putting my family through a presidential campaign?" he said.

"Politically, I think I would be a viable candidate. That's a threshold," Obama said. "I wouldn't run if I couldn't win." He said a presidential victory was "conceivable."

He called Sen. Clinton a tough, disciplined and smart politician who would make a "capable president." But he said her campaign money and infrastructure advantage was "not my concern" and expressed confidence that he could raise money and assemble a potent campaign team.
The big "viability" question is whether America would vote for a non-White President or not (Obama is mixed-race), but I'm optimistic on this score. I don't believe the colour of Obama's skin is as significant to his candidacy as either his inexperience (he's only been a Senator for 2 years) or his "liberalism" (his voting record ranks him as one of the most liberal members of Congress). Black candidates have tried and failed before (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Alan Keyes) but all were far too extreme politically to ever be serious contenders - Jackson and Sharpton to the proper, bonkers left; Keyes (who coincidentally Obama crushed in the 04 Senatorial race) to the religious right. Although on the liberal side, Obama is still firmly in the mainstream.

In many ways, Obama now is much like a fresh-faced Tony Blair a dozen years ago: dynamic, passionate and a master of oratory (remember those optimistic days?). Naturellement, JFK is the other easily drawn parallel - handsome, well-spoken Senator etc etc. American politics is ripe for a change at the top and it will be fascinating to see if the young Hawaii-born hopeful can make it all the way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Peter Boyle 1935-2006

RIP Peter Boyle.

Most people knew him as Frank Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond. But how many others, like me, only started watching ELR because Peter Boyle was in it? Several who loved him in Young Frankenstein or Taxi Driver, I suspect.

This is Boyle at his best, in Young Frankenstein, as the monster. Gene Hackman plays the blind man:

You don't see that at Heathrow

News from Istanbul.

Workers at Turkish Airlines celebrated a job well done by sacrificing a camel at Istanbul airport and their boss has now been suspended.

The national flag-carrier said on Wednesday maintenance staff killed the camel at Turkey's busiest airport after sending a batch of aircraft back to the supplier ahead of schedule.

I think it's a shame the boss has been suspended. Can't a manager reward his staff for their good performance anymore? Perhaps Wembley would be up and running if everyone involved had a similar incentive to get the job done.

The Ashes - 7

And so to Perth.

The England team is teetering on the brink of another humiliating Ashes series defeat.

To be honest, the Adelaide debacle has left me quite depressed about the state of English cricket. Perhaps Marcus Trescothick had a premonition. The only hope we have is to draw some "improbable comeback" inspiration from the likes of Lazarus, Liverpool and John Travolta. The fact is that only Bradman has inspired a team to win a series from 0-2 down (in 1936-7).

I'm not sure what the team will be tonight, but for my money, we should drop Giles and Anderson for Panesar and Mahmood. We've got to start bowling a hell of a lot better than we have been and surely the Montster must be given a chance. Mahmood can't do any worse than Jimmy and he'd be able to take the King of Spain's place at number 8.

By several accounts, the pitch at the WACA is less fearsome than it was and a draw is the likely outcome. But then we all said that after day 4 in Adelaide, didn't we?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Borat: a brief review

I went to see the Sacha Baron Cohen road movie this afternoon.

My verdict: Easy Rider for the MTV generation.

The dinner party scene is very funny.

This be the verse

Jackie Ashley on child-rearing in the Guardian:

Everyone, it seems, agonises about the condition of modern childhood. ... On all sides there is a ferment of interest in the childhood question.

Some of that is useful, some less so; but it omits the biggest influence on modern children, which is not the school curriculum, the lectures of the faithful, panics in the press, ministerial initiatives or even family ethos. No, the biggest influence is marketing; the power of brands that invades the minds of the youngest. If you think that's a bit of an exaggeration, try this finding by the National Consumer Council: 70% of three-year-olds recognise McDonalds but only half of them know their own surname. Or how about this, from the same research: the average 10-year-old has internalised 300 to 400 brands?

I looked Ms Ashley up on Wikipedia. It says she went to Oxford and has three children. So I'm surprised she could she write such a load of old nonsense.

Did she know her surname when she was three? I'm not sure I knew mine. I'm fairly sure I couldn't even pronounce my first name properly ("I'm Cwiffer"). And so what if a 10 year old has internalised 400 brands? What difference does that make? I knew about Transformers, Star Wars and He-man when I was that age, but that didn't mean I got given the toys (some hope). I just learned to make friends with boys who did. If anything, such "internalisation" suggests a good memory for facts or names, which could be harnessed to store useful pieces of information such as the countries of the world or cathedral cities of England.

Obviously toy companies and junk food manufacturers want parents to buy their products. But come on, if you're a parent and you don't think you're the biggest influence on your child, then you should look long and hard at your position. How much time do you spend with your little one? Does the family sit down to meals together? Do you go out together at weekends? Do you leave your kids for hours every day with a childminder? Or on their own? Do you let them watch as much TV as they like? Do you ever say no?

Very young kids might recognise McDonalds, but they can't really tell the difference between that and Burger King. The thrill they get when you take them there is not the delicious taste of a Happy Meal (although they are, er, yummy) but the fact that you are with them. Would they enjoy it if they went there without you? I doubt it - the best bit is watching mummy eating a hamburger with her hands and slurping milkshake through a straw. Spending "quality time" with your children is much more influential on their world view and personality than brands and expensive toys.

Ask anyone (not just adults, but young people too) what the biggest influence in their lives is. Or who they look up to most. Or even, who they most want to emulate.

I bet most will still say their parents. Even Philip Larkin. And I haven't even mentioned genetics (which probably influences more than anything else).

No-one would say parenting is easy, especially given the long hours that most people in Britain seem to work these days, but to blame your child's bad behaviour on branding seems a bit lazy to me. As long as we live in a capitalist society, companies will find ways to market their products to potential consumers, even children. That's a fact. Rather than try to change that, why not try to expand their mind without succumbing to the dreaded corporate dollar? If you think there are too many adverts, chuck out the telly from little Jack or Chloe's room and take your kids for a nature walk instead. Show them how to identify trees or native birds. Or buy them an atlas and test their knowledge of the countries of Africa. I bet a ten year old will know more than you. Or ask them to find ten things beginning with 'W' in the supermarket next time you go shopping. That might stop them chucking a wobbly.

Branding is ultimately targeted to people with money - i.e. adults. As adults, we can vote with our wallets and eschew the Bratz dolls and Ninja Turtles, because we know that they're overpriced plastic tat. Let the friends have the toys and send our kids round to play with them if they really want to. We should try to spend as much time as possible with our offspring, and spend it wisely. If we do so, they will probably thank us in the long run.

Slightly Controversial...

...but are you not just a little bit excited by the prospect of a serial killer in Suffolk?

I have to admit I am.

I probably watch too much Morse and Midsomer Murders, but I'd say there's nothing the great British public enjoys more than a ripping ripper yarn, and this one's brewing into a Christmas cracker!

Not So Far From The Madding Crowd

5.5 million Brits now live abroad. Including 38,000 in Portugal.

What does a man have to do to get away from you lot??

Sunday, December 10, 2006

For generous eyes only

Here's a list of 10 "Holiday" gifts for EFL teachers.

Hmm, if anyone got me a dehydrated turkey meal I'd be less than impressed.

Here's a much more realistic list of what us educators want:

1. A Nintendo Wii (but don't get one before Christmas - wait until January when the prices are lower and the stocks replenished). This is on the list in hope rather than expectation.
2. Jumpers (it's cold here in Portugal). Not Noel Edmonds novelty ones though. Plain, warm, respectable jumpers. Or sweatshirts. I'm a medium.
3. Socks (see Jumpers. I'm a large)
4. iTunes vouchers or Skype credit. I've taken this from the other list because they're good ideas, although as with Katie, I don't actually want them.
5. Amazon gift certificates. That way I can get the book I want. And like number 4, they're ultra green, because they're e-gifts.
6. A subscription to a magazine. You decide which, but it's a proper gift that keeps on giving.
7. A donation to the RNLI. Really, no-one should buy Christmas presents and everyone should help the lifeboatmen, but this is an imperfect world.
8. Anything that you've taken more than 5 minutes to think about. Ultimately I'm happy to receive any gift, but I do analyse the thought that's gone into it. So that means no more books of facts, Dad. Or kites.

If I am lucky enough to be on your Christmas list, I hope that's a solid set of ideas to help you find something. I am serious about the RNLI though - I'd rather you gave money to them than buy me something I don't need (it's what I'll be doing if I can't find you anything!).

Bedtime for Bonzo and co

A group in America has successfully campaigned for the retirement of two acting chimps (no, not Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell).

I think this is positive, as although apes have given us some great screen moments with California Republicans (Clint Eastwood, sometime Mayor of Carmel, with Clyde the orang-utan in Every Which Way But Loose, and the happy couple in the picture below), they can be at risk of being exploited for our amusement.

I'm a bit worried by this paragraph though:

The Animal Legal Defense Fund was set up by a group of primatologists, lawyers, scientists and actors who have started a campaign called No Reel Apes - to call for an end to the use of primates in entertainment.

Surely the someone at the BBC knows what a primate is? (the group actually campaigns against the use of non-human Great Apes, as do this lot)

From Wikipedia:
A primate (L. prima, first) is any member of the biological order Primates, the group that contains all the species commonly related to the lemurs, monkeys, and apes, with the latter category including humans.[1]

Obviously they're cutting back on their sub-editors. Still, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys, I suppose.

Political Football

So, Manchester United are going to play a European select XI next March to celebrate 50 years of the Treaty of Rome (if my sister's reading this, that established what is now the EU), as well as their own half century of participation in European competition.

1. Why choose Man U as the team with 50 years of European tradition? Why not Rangers, who debuted in the same season? Or Fiorentina, Nice, Dortmund, Anderlecht, or Spora Luxemburg, who were all from original Treaty of Rome nations and also appeared in 1957? Or Real Madrid, who won the first 5 European Cups, and have the best record of any team in UEFA Competitions over the period? Perhaps the Red Devils marketablity is stronger than some of those names, but that surely isn't the motivation for this, is it?

2. Why choose an English team at all? We didn't even enter the first European Cup in 1955 because we thought we were better than all those perfidious garlic eating foreigners (ironic that Chelsea, the multinational dreamcoat of a team in 2006, would have been our representative that year) and we've not had the best reputation on the continent since. Five year ban for Heysel, anyone? Hardly the greatest advert for European harmony, especially when you consider the "special" ways we do things an die Insel off the football pitch (why Britain's membership of the EU is not rescinded for disservices to coffee is a fly that frequently buzzes around my brain).

3. The match itself will probably be a damp squib. About a year ago I watched a "friendly for peace" between Barcelona and a combined Palestinian-Israeli XI from the Camp Nou. The best bit was Sean Connery doing the ceremonial kick-off; the game was a terrible bore: the Israelis didn't attack, they just defended their territory, and the Palestinians were powerless to take on a much stronger opponent. And peace in the Middle East is still as far off as it ever was. This time, there will surely be restrictions on the players participating: I'm guessing they won't let non-EU players join in, which means no Vidic, Heinze or Solskjaer for United and no Ronaldinho, Messi, Drogba, Shevchenko or Adriano for the select XI.

4. If I were in charge of the selections (don't worry, they've given the yacht-dwelling Marcello Lippi that arduous task), I'd try to get Jean-Marc Bosman out of retirement, as it's through the ruling that bears his name that the EU has had the biggest impact on football. Actually it would be great to have him introduced to the teams before the kick-off: all the millionaire stars of today's game should shake him by the hand - without his court case, they wouldn't have the massive contracts that so dominate the top European leagues now.

On the other hand:
Hmm, it's bound to be a crappy match, so it's bound to be on Eurosport, which means I can watch it. Hurrah! (everything on Eurosport is crap, but football is better than snooker with Portuguese commentary)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What's the Australian for Clingfilm?

There are some seriously stupid people on those late night quiz shows:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dedication's What You Need

If only Roy Castle were still alive to see this, right here in Torres Vedras. The world's largest Father Christmas marionette:

Click on the image to enlarge it

It's 10 metres high and can be moved around using a complicated system of ropes and pulleys. You give 1 euro to the guys in the little hut to the left.

Certainly no danger of the local council abandoning Christmas here.

You know what they say about men with small feet...

As if their national cricket team's humiliation against South Africa wasn't damaging enough to the average Indian man's pride, this article really sticks the boot in.

Pass the Brussels sprouts

The Telegraph: Christmas is being destroyed by "secular" political correctness.

The Guardian: No, it isn't. That's just right wing scaremongering.

In my experience, only about 5 or 6 people in Britain actually use Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus anyway. The rest of us are just glad of the time off work or school, the films on telly, the presents, the chocolate, the booze and the chance to see our families. Or am I missing something?

Seasonal Latest

Has the crime problem in Maidenhead got this bad?

Santa requests police escort through estate

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Flights of fancy

I take a keen interest in aviation news, and there are a couple of stories on the Beeb that caught my eye.

The first gives a glimpse of the technologically safe future of flying that we can expect soon:

Passengers at Heathrow airport are being invited to take part in a trial of high-tech biometric scanning equipment, which aims to make the travelling process easier by getting people through identity checks faster than ever before.
This sounds like a good idea, no? Here's how it works:
The biometric system, called miSense, comes in three stages. The first sees the passenger use a self-service kiosk to register their passport and a fingertip before checking in using the same machine.

Then, when they approach the departure lounge, they simply press the same digit on a panel at the gate and also feed their boarding pass in. Now they are able to browse the duty free.

Gimme, gimme, gimme...

Finally, when they are about to board the aircraft, they offer their finger, boarding card and passport, confirming they are the person who is supposed to fly.

So, despite having submitted your biometric details, you still have to show your passport to get on the plane. Yeees, it must save a lot of time. Nooo, it's certainly not a waste of money. But perhaps I'm too cynical. The story continues:
In addition there is miSenseplus, whereby a person's 13 biometric measurements are taken - ten fingerprints, two irises, their face - and then submitted onto a card. If you haven't all of these then you offer what you can.
What ever happened to the "Distinguishing Features" section on passports? Didn't spy and adventure stories revolve around them in days of yore? Surely the restoration of that to the passport would be adequate for keeping track of people with fingers or an eye missing who might have terrorist links?

Are there any weaknesses in the system?

When asked about the possibility of the system being fooled, by wearing contact lenses with fake iris impressions for example, the spokesman smiles.

"You can never say you can develop a system that's 100% secure. No-one would ever claim that."

So, it isn't entirely foolproof. Why bother, then?

"If someone presents a plastic finger with a fake fingerprint, for example, the machine can detect that."

I'm sure terrorists around the world will be abandoning their "let's use a plastic finger" ideas even now. It's like the US Immigration Service's "Are you a terrorist?" question: a surefire way to stop plotters in their tracks.

The whole unveiling was manned by Liam Byrne, a government stooge spokesman, who came out with a much anticipated line:
"If you've got nothing to hide then why are you worried about ID cards?"
Well, Mr Byrne, like most people, I've got lots of things to hide, which is why I think this illiberal data-gathering stinks.


And talking of planes and people trying to hide things that stink, the second BBC story:
An American Airlines plane made an emergency landing in Nashville after passengers reported the smell of sulphur from burning matches.

The matches were found on the seat of a woman who had attempted to conceal the odour of flatulence with the matches, Nashville airport authorities said.

Nashville? Home of country music? What would Johnny Cash have said? Altogether now:
"And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, the ring of fire."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The definition of a Wissensl├╝cke

I read this amusing post over at The Yellow Duckpond illustrating some of the perils of being an English teacher.

It demonstrates perfectly that you can know what something is, describe it so that everyone else knows what it is and yet have no idea what it's called or, come to that, what it's used for.

Fortunately, the correct name appears in the comments (and I'd like to find anyone who can tell me they knew that before reading the piece).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New lead in Litvinenko case

Scotland Yard and the security services are very busy investigating any possible avenue in connection with the radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

I think I can help them. A friend sent me a link to this website, which seems a good place to start.

Presumably the chef would have some ideas on how to make the best dish for ingesting the polonium that killed Litvinenko. And the sister site might offer leads regarding its transportation into the UK from Eastern Europe.

The Ashes - 6

I very nearly threw my laptop out of the window when I turned it on and saw the score this morning. It didn't get any better after that:

24.6 Flintoff to Clarke, 7 runs, this time Clarke finds the gap to Pietersen's right and Hoggard chases ... he throws to Pietersen who then flings the ball at the striker's stumps ... the ball hits the stumps and from there to the boundary.

Here is the official England team photo from Adelaide. Only we could lose after scoring 551-6.

I now reverse my 3-1 prediction to the same score in Australia's favour.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Not Coming Soon to Specsavers

Auntie reports that "beer goggles" effect is not only caused by alcohol:

Researchers at Manchester University say while beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder (sic), the amount of alcohol consumed is not the only factor. Additional factors include the level of light in the pub or club, the drinker's own eyesight and the room's smokiness. The distance between two people is also a factor.

In what is a worthy attempt to get an Ig Nobel Prize next year, the scientists have even come up with a formula to explain the phenomenon:
A formula rating of less than one means no effect. Between one and 50 the person you would normally find unattractive appears less "visually offensive". Non-appealing people become suddenly attractive between 51 and 100. At more than 100, someone not considered attractive looks like a super model.
If this is true, there must be a potential market for prescription eyewear that reverses the beer goggle effect. Surely opticians will now be able to test their patients for the effects of alcohol, smoke and darkness on their perception of beauty.

Imagine: you go in to get your eyes tested, the optometrist gives you a couple of cocktails, sparks up a pair of fat Cuban cigars, and sits you down in the big chair. Instead of the traditional charts of letters and numbers, she shows you a series of pictures of celebrities (insert male names if you prefer) and asks you what you make of them.

This is a picture of Margaret Beckett. Does she look like Kirsten Dunst to you?
Er, no, I wouldn't say that. *Hic*

Now, Ann Widdecombe. If I dim the lights, could you confuse her with the new Bond girl, Eva Green?
No, not yet. *Cough* It's smoky in here, isn't it?

How about the singer from Everything But The Girl? Could she be Shakira's sister?
Mmm, move her a bit further away. *Hic* Yes, now I've had my third caipirinha, I can see the resemblance.

Very well, sir, and if I put this lens in?
Aaaagh, oh my God, noooo! Oh the humanity. Take the lens out, take the lens out! Phew - thanks, doc, I'll take a pair - that should save me the empty feeling of regret on a Sunday morning. Now, where can I get another drink?

Naturally, the second implication of the research is on the cosmetics industry. Instead of us all spending millions every year on makeup, haircare and male grooming products to attract members of the opposite sex, we just have to get our potential belle or beau drinking, and stand in a dingy corner on the other side of the room next to a man smoking a pipe. That way they're bound to find us irresistible! (Of course, if they could take their contacts out first, that would be a bonus)

UPDATE: Just checked the timestamp on the BBC page and this story's over a year old. Latest news, my arse.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Ashes - 5

Hurrah! Finally found an online radio broadcast. Fairly poor quality (they're clearly just watching Sky - or not, depending on what's happening), but kudos to Stan James. A big obrigado from Portugal.

As to the Adelaide action, well done to Paul Collingwood. I turned over my Ashes calendar this morning and the Durham man is Mr December. How appropriate that he should score a century to mark the occasion. Perhaps he can be the next David Steele - unassuming, but an Ashes hero. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bless you!

My friend Steve is staying with me this weekend, so I probably won't be posting that much.

But here's a funny video he recommended:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You've got to worry for the real baby

Overheard in South Africa:

"Where were you last week, Charles?"
"I was sick, boss. Throwing up every morning."
"Oh yeah? Got a note from the doctor, I suppose?"
"Right here..."

Lies in Religion

Truth in Science (sic) supporter, Nick Cowan, as quoted on the BBC and Wongablog:

There's a sense that if you criticise Darwin you must be some kind of religious nut case.

Yup, that's right, Nick, if you peddle the lies of ID/Creationism, you're nothing but a big, bonkers, God-bothering fruitcake:

(This is over 2 hours long, but you should be in tears of laughter way before that. Link originally found in this Guardian discussion)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Diana's Death an Islamic Plot?

Stephen Tall speculates how Princess Diana's death would be reported or handled by the media today. He raises the point that the blogosphere would present a new forum for those who weren't all that bothered, or who thought that everyone in general had overreacted:

The 44 per cent of us who had no voice, and began to wonder if we were the only ones with any sense of perspective, would have soon realised how widely shared was our reaction. Blogs, Internet forums, newspaper websites - all would have reflected the spectrum of public opinion.

That, in turn, might have prompted the media to take a step back, to look with rather more cool analytical detachment at the varied response of the public, rather than assume an entire nation had lapsed into a self-absorbed stasis of group-think emotional incontinence.

I was in Japan when she died, and avoided most of the hubbub, although the media coverage there was probably as comprehensive as at home. People were shocked when I told them I wasn't particularly upset by the tragic events.

Iain Dale was one of those emotional types "howling" during the funeral. I howled too, but with laughter (the Japanese broadcast was unintentionally hilarious). His comments on ST's piece:

I am not sure that much would have been different. Stephen is right that those who felt the public reaction was out of all proportion would have had more of a voice nowadays, but I doubt whether that would have had much of an effect on the mainstream media coverage.

I think there would be a big difference now, certainly with regards to explanations for the cause of the crash. Many people then bought into conspiracy theories saying that the British government, or the Royal Family, or the security services, or some combination of all three was responsible for the crash. That they didn't want a Muslim to marry the mother of the heirs to the throne.

At the time, the theories weren't so outlandish. But now I'm sure the Muslim angle on the story would be the complete opposite. Either Dodi would be fingered as a suicide candidate, somehow engineering the crash from inside the car, or (more likely, perhaps) Islamic extremist groups would be linked to the accident - wanting to target a high profile figure to make some political point. Precisely what point would of course be hypothesised by the press and investigating police. Either way, the mainstream media in 2006 could not portray Muslims as victims so easily. If they didn't think it a pure accident, people would assume an Islamic hand was guiding events (well, unless they thought Vladimir Putin was behind it).

Here's a point to finish with. We remember Di and Dodi, but let's also not forget Jemima Goldsmith marrying Imran Khan a couple of years earlier. Their relationships were all over the papers a decade ago. Two proper, establishment ladies, with Muslim partners. Could we see such a thing now? I doubt it very much. In the 1997 media, Muslims were wealthy playboys whose yachts and summerhouses were exotically alluring to British society. Now, if we believe what we see, Muslims are introverted, would-be martyrs who live in semis in Luton or High Wycombe, plotting the best way to nobble a bus.

Think I'm wrong? Try this then:
Say "Muslim" to yourself.
Who do you picture? Omar Sharif or Abu Hamza.

Killjoy Kops

So, the police want powers to curb what protesters can write on their placards. This is clearly nonsense, and needs no further comment. But it did remind me of this unlikely slogan from a few years ago:

Say it ain't so, sisters!

(hat tip to Norm)

The Ashes - 4

Ok, so we lost.

Let's not get too discouraged - we showed quite a bit of fight in the second innings and no-one ever beats Australia at the Gabba anyway. Remember, England haven't lost two consecutive matches in the same series since the last Ashes tour in 2002-3 and I'm still confident we can hold onto the little urn.

Adelaide is the city of churches - what better place for England's resurrection?

"Wolfhound. The Russian Wolfhound"

At least there's one thing the English still do well: play James Bond on film.

I went to see Casino Royale yesterday (we're in the same time zone as the UK here, but films still take a week longer to open) and thought it was very good - a gritty cut above the gadget-heavy Pierce Brosnan outings. In fact Q doesn't even put in an appearance. Presumably John Cleese's fee was too high.

Daniel Craig is an excellent Bond, bringing hope to all us shorter, fairer-haired men who might bid for the role in the future. I'm not ashamed to say that on the tube back from the cinema I made my hand into a gun and pointed it at the passengers I thought most likely to be henchmen or goons. And in the stations I made sure to take cover behind the advertising boards and chocolate machines so they couldn't get a clear shot at me as I made my escape. I guess if DC goes for another 8 years or so, I'd be about the right age to take over. Remember, you heard it here first.

One more thing: if you're going to see the film, watch out for the bad guy, Le Chiffre. Just think of Jools Holland, but with Nasser Hussain's mouth. Anyone agree?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Ashes - 3

As usual, Simon Barnes sums things up perfectly.

'Twas ever thus though, and there must be a few England fans darkly muttering Wally Hammond's words from 60 years ago.

What's more, there's no live audio from the ABC, so I'm reduced to the text commentary online:

The Beeb: "England are lumbering on like a clown's car, with square wheels and bits falling off at every juncture."

The Guardian: "No sign of a declaration, or any declaration batting: Australia are just carrying on pretty sedately towards a lead of 12 million."

Cricinfo: "21.2 Harmison to Langer, 5 runs, good line from Harmison - he's been much better this afternoon - but, oh dear. That's hapless and careless from Pietersen who tried to throw down the stumps - completely unnecessarily as Langer was in his crease - and it races away for four. Harmison really needs that"

If only we had a certain wicket-taking left arm spinner who can't field too well:

Thursday, November 23, 2006

10 Things I would never do? Hmm.

I saw this on Iain Dale's blog yesterday. He says he wants to start a meme. Effectively he's listing the limits of his ambition and his moral boundaries. Strangely he rules out going to White Hart Lane, but not killing a shop assistant for giving him the wrong change. Clearly not a man to cross.

The idea comes from the Daily Torygraph, which has been running its own version of the popular alcoholic parlour game "I have never...". Fortunately I didn't have bottle of vodka to hand when I read the list, otherwise I would have been completely hammered. Never worn jeans - swig. Never been to Disneyland - glug. Never used a mobile phone - chug-a-lug.

Anyway, it got me thinking. I'm only young, but I've seen and done a few crazy (a bungee jump in NZ, still wear the T-shirt), morally dubious (eaten whale meat in Japan, actually it's rather yummy) and utterly indefensible (voted Republican - for Bush, Sr, in 1988) things in my time.

With a track record like that, it seems there's not much I'd never do, but here's my shot at a list anyway. Only a top 5, 'cos the other places are taken up with the big no-nos like incest and killing shop assistants:

  1. Buy a fat-looking Mercedes. The thinner old ones are OK.
  2. Rule out a blaxploitation version of my life story (should a biopic ever be on the cards).
  3. Get married in a church or other place of worship.
  4. Take a bus, if a train is a viable alternative.
  5. Order a plate of dobrada in a Portuguese restaurant again. (I discovered, the hard way, that dobrada means tripe.)
Apparently with these things, you're supposed to tag someone else and encourage them to join the fun (like chain letters, woo!), so I'll tag my friend, Tom.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Ashes - 2

So, tonight's the night it all kicks off. I don't know about you, but I'm almost trembling with expectation. I hope I'll be able to pick up the ABC broadcast online, but if not I'll still cope by watching Cricinfo (feverishly refreshing the scorecard every 10 seconds or so).

As far as the cricket itself is concerned, I feel quite confident about England's chances. If the batsmen don't get nerves when McGrath and Warne have the ball in their hands, we're capable of posting some decent scores. I have a feeling Strauss and Pietersen especially will like the Aussie conditions. And Geraint Jones, too, should justify his selection with a couple of decent scores. Let's just hope he doesn't drop too many behind the stumps. With the bowling, I hope Monty gets the call ahead of Giles (unlike Aggers), and that the others can stick the ball on the spot enough to put pressure on the Australian batsmen. Harmison should do well in Brisbane if he can put his balls in the right place (so to speak).

The most important thing is to remember this is a five match series, with plenty of time to ebb and flow. So although momentum will be gained by the team that wins in Brisbane, the loser will have time to come back (remember 2005). The schedule is punishing, with 5 games in six weeks. This should stand in England's favour, as Australia's aging warriors (six 35+ year olds) will find their fitness levels harder to maintain.

My prediction is a 3-1 win for England (how bold!), but if the whole thing is even half as tense as last time, it will be a great series.

"Come on you Pommie Bastards!"

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Villain of the Day

Michael Richards

Check this vid from his set on Friday night. There are some hecklers and he responds with a powerful, but ill-judged attack. Looks like his career could be over.

*strong effing language warning*

Not sure what's going on in the mind of Seinfeld's Kramer, but clearly all is not right. Not even the worst of my lessons have gone that badly. Perhaps he should start a double act with Big Ron?

Silver medal too, for this bookmaker. All in the best possible taste.

Hero of the Day

Brian Lara

With most eyes on Brisbane for the start of the Ashes tomorrow night, it's easy to forget that another test series is going on in Pakistan. And Brian Lara, the West Indies captain, is showing he's still got it at the age of 37. Having hit a hundred in a losing cause in the first test, he's smashed another one today in the second - becoming only the sixth man ever to hit a century before lunch.

What a player - he will be sadly missed when he finally retires.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Religious Symbol Latest

The British Airways check-in woman who was suspended for wearing a cross has lost her appeal. Perhaps she could consider working for Swiss? I imagine crosses there are seen as effective promotional tools.

Hiding a massive brain

Check out this article about the West Ham takeover. Is that the biggest bonce you've ever seen?

I guess Eggert must be Icelandic for Egghead.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Make Love Not War

Peace activists have been exhorting this slogan since the 1960s, but it's only now that anyone has actually tried to harness the idea productively.

The Global Orgasm project hopes that if the world's population can channel its energy through one giant shared moment of ecstasy, international peace might ensue.

I'm willing to test the theory, and if any single girls out there share a desire to end war and suffering, they can contact me through the usual channels.

(with a nod to Tim Worstall and England Expects)


Hi all,

I've finally managed to get my camera out and take a few pictures of Torres Vedras:

The somewhat phallic memorial to the Peninsular War and the lines of Torres Vedras in the Jardim de Graca.

The Praca Municipal, just down the street from where I work.

A view from the castle. My flat is in the white block right in the centre of the picture.

Another view from the castle - note the wind turbines on the hills in the background.

The castle itself - not much to look at these days.

The church of Santa Maria do Castelo, inside the castle precinct.

The church of San Pedro - I walk past this on my 200 metre stroll to work each day.

One of the car-free streets of the old town. Also pedestrian -free on Sunday mornings, as you can see.

Another of the narrow streets of the old town. You can see the castle in the background. Note the typical Portuguese tiled paving - every old town here is paved with a mosaic of tiny cream and black squares, often in intricate patterns.

The oh-so exciting view from my window. Note the beautifully tied washing lines. Knot fans will recognise the tautline hitch.