Saturday, December 29, 2007

Zebra in Hot Tub

Does anyone else get that frustrating feeling when you can't respond to major news events beyond making anagrams of the names of people involved?

No? Maybe it's just me then.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Songs 8 - Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

What's Christmas all about then? Is it a message of peace and hope for the New Year? Is it a time for religious reflection? Is it a chance to spend all our leftover money before it expires at the end of December?

Of course it's all of these and much more, but the most important thing we should remember at this time of unusual night visitors is that elderly relatives and too many glasses of eggnog can be a dangerous combination, so effectively summed up by this Dr Elmo song:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Songs 7 - Sleigh Ride

I was looking on YouTube for the hilarious version of Sleigh Ride by the Three Tenors, but unfortunately it's not on there. Presumably since the passing of Pavarotti, attempts are being made to erase his more embarrassing recordings from the public consciousness.

That was a shame, but short-lived, because I found this version instead, by Dennis Weaver! Anyone, who like me, loves Spielberg's early classic, Duel, starring Weaver as a man being chased by a nasty, noisy truck, will surely appreciate this duet with Amy Grant. If you look and listen closely during the video, you'll see our Dennis looking nervously over his shoulder and just about make out the sound of a growling artic in pursuit:

p.s. If you want an even better version, try this (no embedding - booo!).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Songs 6 - Mele Kalikimaka

Posting this from the airport, will soon be home in chilly England again. Hurrah!

Today's song is a bit smoother and more gentle than some I've posted so far. The video is taken from that holiday classic, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, with Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) fantasising about how he'll spend that year's bonus. The singer, I think, is Bing Crosby, and the song title is the Hawaiian way of saying, "Merry Christmas".

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Songs 5 - Santa Claus and his Old Lady

For many people of a certain age in the UK, Christmas comedy is summed up by a particular double act who would entertain the festive TV viewers in their millions. Whether accompanied by Angela Rippon's improbably fine legs or Andre Previn's gurning at the pianoforte, Morecambe and Wise were the undisputed kings of their trade.

Across the pond, though, the comedy duo schtick has always been a bit more competitive - one thinks of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Bob and Bing, Martin and Lewis almost immediately.

However, despite the fame of the aforementioned, I think no-one can come close to the antics of these two, who supply today's Christmas track (What have you been smoking? - ed.). Not really singing, but hey, it's Cheech and Chong:

As an interesting footnote, Cheech Marin is now a major patron of Mexican artists in the USA. Whodathunkit?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Songs 3 & 4 - The Australians

Going south for today's Yuletide selection folks, and what dichotomous treat it is.

First up is Aussie legend and adopted Maidonian, Rolf Harris, with his touching (and catchy) tale of the "Six White Boomers" (old man kangaroos) who pull Father Christmas' sleigh when he visits the lucky country.

In complete contrast, I also offer Aussie legend, Kevin "Bloody" Wilson and his, er, paean to the lost innocence of Christmas, wistfully reflecting in his inimitable unprintable way on the greed that dominates young people's thinking these days. NSFW, of course (indeed, not really suitable for anyone - Mum, please don't watch this), it's "Hey Santa":

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Songs 2 - Christmas at Ground Zero

The second in a seasonal series. Following the sublime (2000 Miles), we come to the ridiculous.

You don't see this on TV or hear it on the radio much these days. I wonder why?

All Wierd Al Yankovic was doing when he recorded this in 1986 was wondering what Christmas would be like after the bomb had been dropped (remember in those days a nuclear war was our biggest fear):

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Songs 1 - 2000 Miles

In the absence of anything better to blog about, here's a seasonal tune that I like. Probably to be followed by others over the next few days.

Monday, December 10, 2007


The best thing about Portugal, at least a definite advantage it has over several countries, is that imported TV shows are subtitled, rather than dubbed.

This is a huge boon for the Brit abroad, as all he has to do is open his ears to the telly, while he can focus the rest of his mind on something else (such as writing a blog post). It's also a useful way of picking up some Portuguese - I'm always intrigued by the way things are translated and learning while watching TV is always to be encouraged.

However, I am a little worried that corners are being cut in the subtitling programme and that the Portuguese viewer is not always getting the real message. The occasional rephrasing for reasons of brevity can be excused, with unnecessary details omitted so that the main message can be conveyed quickly on the screen. Some things, though, ought really to be universally recognised with no difficulty.

I ask you, in a documentary about the Beatles, can this really be excused?

"Lionel Rigby"

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Hoff

What's the definition of a mid-life crisis? Dancing with dachsunds has got to be pretty close.

Thanks to Michael.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Little missed

A quote from Liam Byrne, Immgration Minister, about the things people would miss if they left Britain:

"And so are the little things that sometimes mean everything; a cup of tea, pubs, cider, the BBC, queuing, proper chocolate, fish and chips, darts, fashion, the seasons and countryside, walks and clubbing."

Well, I've left Britain (more than once) and I take issue with some of this. Okay, I'll grant you a cup of tea, fish and chips, pubs and even darts. No-one does these better than the Brits, although with darts many would ask why they'd want to.

I'll also allow the seasons and countryside and walks, because there is something green and pleasant about Britain's land, and a summer's afternoon at a village cricket ground, or a ramble down some quiet dale is an experience rarely exceeded.

At a push we can include the BBC in things that we miss. Not because the TV series are always outstandingly brilliant - most of them are total rubbish (ever watched the Beeb during the day? Don't bother) - but because foreign TV really is awful and the only good things on most European channels are the expensive American imports (CSI, 24 and what have you). The BBC's real advantage comes in radio, which I do miss, although I listen online quite a lot.

But is Liam Byrne really suggesting that in Britain people eat "proper" chocolate? Has he been to Belgium? Or Switzerland? Those two countries know a thing about cocoa-based confectionery beyond the dreaded Dairy Milk. British chocolate is cheap by international standards, and there is a wide variety available, but let's not kid ourselves it's better than everyone else's.

And fashion?? Brits are terribly dressed, most of the time. You don't see thongs peeping out of the top of jeans in civilised countries, you know. Go to France to see fashion. Crikey.

What surprises me most, though, is that anyone could miss clubbing in the UK (I'll add queuing to this because at so many tacky British clubs, you need to queue for ages in the freezing rain at the whim of some jumped up doorman.). Perhaps if you go to a really classy joint (you don't see Liam Byrne in Chicago's) the experience in Britain is OK, but generally it's sweaty and unpleasant. The grisly attempts of every crew-cut drunk to pull the lariest secretary from the inevitable hen party pervade the atmosphere, the unpleasantness of which is only exceeded by the underlying booze-fuelled sense of violence and aggression, which generally spills over outside some nasty kebab/fried chicken shop. All to bloody Dancing Queen and assorted other "cheesy" favourites. Most people in Britain (i.e. those who live in soulless provincial towns and cities) only go to clubs because they're the only places you can get alcohol after midnight. The whole thing is ghastly: go out for a good time, come back with chlamydia.

Abroad, people actually go to clubs to listen to music, and dance, and have fun. And generally they succeed. No-one who's tried a decent night out in Lisbon would be seen dead in a club in the UK.

As for me, the thing I miss most is the British notion that every silver lining has a cloud. You know, making the worst of a situation: the Olympics will be a an expensive failure; all our politicians are sleaze-ridden fools; it doesn't matter who's the England manager, the players are overpaid and lazy anyway. It's as if British people have a masochistic streak, and are enduring life, rather than enjoying it. If Britain was a fictional character, it would be Eeyore. Everone else is Tigger, bouncing enthusiastically, except Scandinavian countries, who are Owl. And cos I'm a bit curmudgeonly, I quite miss that.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Not made like that anymore

You can imagine the view from the Pearly Gates: parked outside is a row of mid-70s Dodge vans, perhaps bulked out with a few yellow school buses and a flaming hoop or three. A ramp is assembled at the far end and way in the distance is a familiar figure, clad in a star-spangled red, white and blue jumpsuit, revving his souped-up motorcycle and waving to the cheering ranks of the heavenly choir, who have gathered to observe the goings-on.

St Peter calls out, "Mr Knievel, if you can make it over, you're in."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On Kosovo's possible independence

A line a Belgrade girl once gave me:

"You know, Serbia is like Nokia: every year they bring out a new model, and every year it's smaller."

Monday, November 19, 2007

An American Film Review

It is said there are two rules for Hollywood success as a director.

Rule one is that you do not employ Madonna as an actress (obviously none of my readers would have the bad taste to watch one of her flicks, but suffice to say they're all shite). Rule two is that you put the word "American" in the title.

I can't think of a film that falls foul of the second rule. Is there a bad film whose title features the word "American"? It's some roll of honour: American Beauty, American Pie, An American in Paris, American Psycho, American Gigolo, An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West. Each of them is brilliant in its way.

Thus we come to the latest addition to this line, Ridley Scott's new film, "American Gangster", which I saw this afternoon. It keeps strictly to the two rules, being set before Madonna's emergence as a star so neither she nor her music is present, as well as obviously featuring the "A" word. And the positive news is that the film is very good indeed. When Scott is on form, there are few better "big" film directors in the world, and this latest addition to his canon follows firmly in the tradition of Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator.

The plot follows the true story fortunes of the aforementioned gangster, Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, and his nemesis, good cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Both leads are extremely good, as one would hope from perhaps the biggest stars in Hollywood today. The last Crowe film I saw was "The 3.10 to Yuma", where he was the villain, a black-hearted piece of work. This time around, he's the purest, most incorruptible policeman you can imagine, working the mean, drug-riddled streets of New Jersey - Dixon of Dock Green meets the Beastie Boys' Sabotage video. Washington is equally excellent as Lucas, the black mob boss who outdoes the Mafia at their own game. In fact I reckon both could be up for a second gold statuette come the end of February.

American Gangster captures wonderfully the shadowy world of 1970s New York, reminding you of in turns of The French Connection, The Godfather, Midnight Cowboy and any number of other similar movies. I'd recommend it to anyone who's ever bought heroin and wondered where it came from, or anyone looking to spend a few hours out of the cold this winter.

p.s. Madonna has tried to claim "American" for herself, with the dreadful cover of Don McClean's classic, American Pie, but only succeeded in ruining a great song in a way few could ever have conceived of. Silly woman.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ne nostra in fundamenta subeamus

Matthew Parris on the alleged plan for a "national statement of values" (*shudder*):

It came to me while addressing a dinner given by the Birmingham Forward association of regional businesses. Birmingham is looking great these days, and I said how much nicer it was to encounter a city where people undersold themselves, than places (but let's leave Manchester out of this) that were up their own bottoms.

An MP and archetypal young thruster of a Government minister, Liam Byrne, had recently bewailed what he called the West Midlands' “malaise of modesty”. Modesty a malaise! How very new Labour. A pleasantly low-key attitude to themselves is one of the great assets of West Midlanders. So I suggested a new motto for Birmingham, which the audience seemed to like.

Philip Howard, the classicist of The Times, has helped me to translate it into Latin, and the five-word motto would be splendid, in fact, for Britain itself - except that it undermines the whole Brownite constitutional project.

Ne nostra in fundamenta subeamus: “Let us not climb up our own bottoms.”

Couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not name-dropping

So anyway there are those occasional nights, aren't there, you know, when something extraordinary happens and you go out and stay out and stay out and find yourself letting yourself back into your flat sometime in the morning not having slept and needing to go to work pretty soon after.

Monday night to Tuesday was one of those sleepless extraordinaries, like May 97 and Portillo, but without the politics, or the time in Western Australia with the garage party and the chicken sacrifice, when you have to go with it because to not go with it would leave a feeling of wistful regret (If only I'd done that when I had the chance...).

The setup was something like this: new colleague says we've got to see this MASSIVE STAR when HE comes to Lisbon, cos HE's fantastic and what's more I can probably get a free ticket cos last time HE was in England I pulled the tour manager and got backstage passes and met HIM and ohmigod it would be great if that could happen again.

So I say OK, let's do it, it's a schoolnight but there's always the 0020 last bus home which should be late enough, except when we're in the concert and HE's singing and the band are tearing the place up and the girls around are dancing so sweetly and the vibe begins to build and build, I think I'm going with this, stuff the bus, I'll find a hotel and get home in the morning.

Finally the show ends way past twelve and we queue at the stage door till the bassist comes out to fetch us personally and we're in the inner sanctum and it's exciting because there are cool people around, and the band and the dancers are shaking my hand and asking how I am and I'm saying great show and they're grabbing me a beer and then a birthday cake comes out for the keyboardist and I get a free slice.

HE shakes my hand eventually and I'm stoked cos HE IS cool, we joke we're all following HIM like the pied piper and the bassist cracks up and the beers get sunk and the cake left behind cos we're off to a bar now in the Bairro Alto, me and colleague in the band minivan, and I'm leading the band somehow cos I know the streets at least for the first few.

The bar is tiny and jammed and jamming, more music, more girls, more smoke, more beer and we squeeze in, HE's not coming, too cool, another solo gig tomorrow but the band are partying hard because it's their last night, flying home in the morning, they're not sleeping, why should we, and we dance and we sweat and we drink all the beer in the place and it doesn't stop until 5.

Colleague's gone off with the bassist and I think, ought to start making a move, and say ta-ra to the dancers and the girls and put my coat on and start walking cos the tube'll start soon won't it, maybe not, oh well, too cold to sleep I'll just walk all the way to the bus station to keep the blood flowing and my head is full of sounds and images as I shiver along.

Bus home at sunrise that's a classic eh, I'm not a party animal, how did I end up backstage with HIM, can I get enough sleep before work, maybe manage three hours that'll have to do, coffee here's proper so that's on my side, just want to drop off, must change Facebook status later, love these random evenings, love 'em.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Magpie watch...

About a year ago I posted on Maidenhead United's exploits in the FA Cup after they'd reached the first round proper for the first time in 35 years or so. Sadly they didn't get any further, but this year, still under the leadership of Johnson "Drax" Hippolyte, they've got back to the same stage and have a decent chance of further progression.

Tomorrow they are away at Horsham, one of the few teams in the competition from lower in the grand league pyramid. Not an easy game, to be sure, but a winnable one (at least they ought to be able to get a draw). Let's hope they show that, er, world famous Maidonian spirit and do the business.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


October 2006:

Breast milk 'does not boost IQ'

November 2007:
Gene 'links breastfeeding to IQ'

I love the way they use the same picture to illustrate each story. If only I could squeeze in some gag about the kid in the photo feeling a right tit...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Is it safe? (Er, apparently not, no...)

Here's one to turn us all odontophobic. In the nastiest piece of New York State dentistry since Larry Olivier's turn in Marathon Man, Brandy Fanning, a woman from Syracuse, is suing Dr George Trusty (inaptly named, I think) for $600,000 after the drill bit snapped off and lodged near her eye during some work.

The story:

Fanning said she went to the center's emergency dental clinic after pain in a left molar started getting worse. With a root canal ruled out as an option, Trusty gave her some Novocain and began drilling to break up the tooth before extracting it, she said.

So far so good. Hey doc, let's turn the radio on.
As Trusty drilled, he was "performing rhythmical steps and movements to the song 'Car Wash,'" which was on the radio, according to the lawsuit.

Hmm, a dancing dentist? No thanks. Not even to Rose Royce.
Then, Fanning heard a snap.

Uh-oh. There goes the drill...
Trusty tried to use a metal hook to pull the bit out, but that only pushed it farther up, driving it through the sinus and bone near her eye socket, the lawsuit alleged.

Ouch. As if a dentist's drill wasn't already the worst sound in the world.
After first minimizing the problem, Trusty talked to an oral surgeon to set up an appointment — and then told Fanning she needed to get to an emergency room immediately, according to the lawsuit.

She claimed he had initially told she would likely sneeze the drill bit out, but doctors said later that if she really had sneezed, the drill bit could have blinded her left eye.

Good thing she didn't sneeze, then.

Our cousins across the pond in general set a great stall by their oral care. And generally the care is much better than in Europe. Face it, we Brits have horrible teeth and the Portuguese ain't much better. But somehow this tale of mouthly woe just screams only in America, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What YouTube is for...

Via Wongablog, there can be little doubt that the prime function of the world's most popular video site, besides providing cheap blogging fodder, should be to disseminate the reinterpretation of the stand-up comedy of Eddie Izzard through the medium of Lego:

More here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Try something new each day"

This story is a sad one:

An 82-year-old Argentine woman who attracted media attention last month when she married a 24-year-old man has died as a result of heart problems.

Adelfa Volpes was admitted to hospital soon after she and her new husband, Reinaldo Waveqche, returned from their honeymoon in Brazil.

I hope they had a chance to consummate their relationship. Then again, maybe that's what finished her off.

Anyway, as a tribute, here is a trailer for the greatest love story ever filmed - a tale of illicit love blossoming between a young man and a woman sixty years his senior - which I guess Reinaldo and Adelfa would have loved too: Harold and Maude.

Worth seeking out on DVD, if only for the terrific Cat Stevens soundtrack.

Friday, October 19, 2007

It shouldn't happen to a dog

Despite the name, I usually avoid shaggy dog stories, but even I couldn't pass this up. Mr Eugenides draws our attention to the latest crazy ohmygodthatcantberealcanit event from America. In Las Vegas, of course, people are taking the art of dog grooming to bizarre levels (I say levels because I don't know whether these are heights or depths we're talking about) and are turning their four-legged friends into living, ahem, works of art.

Or the freakiest muts since Teenwolf.

There's a full story with pictures here, but I offer you a taste, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas:

Photo Daniel A. Anderson / Orange County Register

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Not dead, just sleeping. Now awake.

Hi all,

It feels like longer than a month since I wrote something. Delay in doing so caused by several reasons, but latterly the lack of internet in my flat here in Portugal (yes, made it back for another year) until yesterday. Now, thanks to the good people at Kanguru, I can communicate with the world again.

I promised in my last post that I would post some stuff about my trip to Northern Ireland. I've been all around the world, but I can honestly say I don't think I've ever had as pleasant a holiday as that one. I walked along the North Antrim coast, which was beautiful and met up with several interesting characters on the way (including a Swedish guy who had been on his country's version of Survivor - the first reality TV contestant I've ever met). The only negative thing was that I left my camera somewhere up there, meaning I don't have some of my snaps (and I need to get a new camera...). Compounding the prob is that my new Kanguru connection is too slow to upload pictures, so I can't even post the pictures I didn't lose.

I am now back in Portugal and enjoying the 26 degree sunshine immensely. Torres Vedras looks a picture in this weather and we even had the honour (I guess, do the likes of Blackpool and Bournemouth feel honoured?) of having the Social Democrat Prty conference here last week. This meant there were several men in suits wandering about the streets carrying orange folders and some shots of the inside of the conference centre on the evening news. The new shopping centre and cinema open tomorrow, so all in all things are looking up.

I'll try to keep you posted on whether they stay that way.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The pipes, the pipes are calling...

Hmm, off to Northern Ireland this afternoon for a week's walking. Am looking forward to it, as have never been before and always enjoy discovering new places etc.

However, weather forecast is not looking too good (yes, I know the Antrim coast is not renowned for its endless sunshine) so hope I'll survive. Of course, I'll try to put up some pics and stories when I get back.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Anita Roddick

Not sure about all these obituaries describing her as a pioneering entrepreneur.

Surely the correct word is entrepreneuse?

The other world cup

As armchair sports fans all over the world are settling down to enjoy the rugby in France (come on Portugal!), or the Twenty20 cricket in South Africa, or the vital European championship qualifiers, or the finale to the Formula One season, we should not overlook another sporting event taking place in China this month.

The women's football World Cup got under way yesterday and, unlike in the rugby, Argentina had a dreadful start. In fact they lost by a rugby score, 11-0, to Germany, who underlined their status as one of the favourites. The only representative of the home nations, England, are in the same group and will be looking to start with a win against Japan later today.

Happily all England's matches will be shown on TV, so it gives the uninitiated a good chance to find out about women's football, which has improved a lot in recent years. England are ranked twelfth in the world and have a decent chance of progressing from the group stages. Let's just hope they have a better opening match than the rugby boys did.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Edukashun, Edukashun, Edukashun

It's hard to know what to make of the next video. Is it the Government's latest absurd proposal for schools? Or the Tories' newest hare-brained scheme to raise the achievement of our young people?

Of course not! It's Miss Teen South Carolina pandering to all our stereotypes of bimbo beauty queens with an impassioned plea for more maps. Or something...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice...

Norm has a short post featuring an a cappella reworking of Dave Brubeck's classic, Take 5.

Seeing it reminded me of a similar group, Vocal Sampling, from Cuba, who use only their voices to produce the sounds of an entire orchestra. I saw them at the Proms about five years ago where they put on a remarkable show, including an extraordinary version of Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra (you know, the "monkey becoming man theme" from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

So, if you like your rock classics sans guitar, here are Vocal Sampling covering an old favourite:

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Furtive Tear

There are probably loads of videos of this guy being placed on blogs this morning so why should I buck the trend? This is Donizetti's classic "Una Furtiva Lagrima":

Class - good to see some pre-Nessun Dorma Pavarotti on YouTube.

RIP Big man.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hey, Mascarenhas, alright!

There has only been one England cricketer called Dmitri and he has just delivered a singularly brilliant performance at the Oval. Reminiscent of both my own long hop-laden bowling and a Stick Cricket innings, I give you the final over of England's innings at the Oval today (courtesy of Cricinfo):

49.1 Yuvraj Singh to Mascarenhas, no run, an ugly and not particularly effective mow
49.2 Yuvraj Singh to Mascarenhas, SIX, and he swings this over midwicket, high and handsome - but Piyush is lurking, and makes excellent ground to take a brilliant catch. However...such was his velocity that he slid into the boundary, and it's six! Tough luck.
49.3 Yuvraj Singh to Mascarenhas, SIX, he takes a step outside leg and smites him for six into the midwicket fence! Bosh!
49.4 Yuvraj Singh to Mascarenhas, SIX, and another one! This is marvellous batting here. Another step outside leg; another six into midwicket
49.5 Yuvraj Singh to Mascarenhas, SIX, he's done it again! And this has gone even further into the midwicket boundary
Where will he bowl now?
49.6 Yuvraj Singh to Mascarenhas, SIX, make that five sixes in the over! And the biggest of the lot, straight back over the bowler's head! Quite breathless cricket

Yes, that's five consecutive sixes, thirty runs, guiding England to a very respectable total of 316-6. Of course, we'll probably have a special from Sachin and India's batsmen now and they'll knock off the runs with ease, but it was pretty good listening while it happened.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sweet September

Has anyone noticed the weather?

It's been quite good for a change. In fact, I've almost forgotten how terrible it was during June, July and August (yes, I know, now I've put the mockers on it and it will rain until Christmas).

I am glad of this. Unlike most people, who go on holiday during the summer months and return to their dingy offices in September, I spent most of July and August working (not too hard, you understand, but I still had to turn up at nine every morning) and have this month as my "me time". The "Indian Summer of Chris" or something like that.

Anyway, the fair skies over Berkshire have allowed me to enjoy a few walks around my local area this week, and I think the best (so far) was today. I saw rabbits, pheasants, horses that look like Boris Johnson, and Timmy Mallett. At least I think it was Mallett - he was talking to someone, so I didn't intrude, but the oversized pink and yellow hammer he had in his hand gave the game away.

So, my summer is warming up nicely. I hope it keeps on for the next few weeks until I go back to Portugal.

p.s. Does anyone know where I can illegally download the Amy Winehouse album? I quite like the music ("They said I had to wear the niqab, I said no, no, no"), but I don't want to subsidise her crack habit, y'know.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Soul Limbo

Hello all,

It's taken a while for me to get round to posting this, but I wanted to reassure you that the pause in blogging here is only temporary. I'm taking a summer holiday, if you like (in actual fact I'm working, but don't have access to my own computer). It's quite relaxing here in Devon (don't ask - but at least we've avoided the worst of the wet weather) and I'm enjoying a cream tea even as I type.

Normal service, whatever that means, should be resumed around the end of the month. Keep the faith and watch this local documentary which I used with a class this morning:

Friday, July 06, 2007

A movie top 10

I noticed over at Chicken Yoghurt that the Groan has a list of the best thousand films ever and this week the Telegraph is also asking its readers for their 100 favourites.

I'm never sure what to make of these polls or lists - there are well over a thousand really good films (hell, there are 3 passable efforts in the Police Academy series) - and it seems stupid to rank them on something as objective as "best ever". Is the Godfather better than Dr Strangelove? Is the Godfather part II better than the Godfather? Is anything better than Tokyo Story? Has anyone actually seen Tokyo Story?

I'm going to offer a slightly different list, with a narrower remit. It's close to my heart, for reasons that will be obvious, and bound to cause a modicum of debate (I hope). If you have any comments, feel free to leave them.

In no order, 10 films starring people called Christopher:

1. Superman (1978) - Christopher Reeve. You've all seen this, I won't describe the plot. Note: there is no 's' on the end of Reeve.

2. Annie Hall (1977) - Christopher Walken. Only a minor role, but probably my favourite Walken. He plays Diane Keaton's slightly mad little brother.

3. The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) - Christopher Plummer. Every film should star Christopher Plummer. This one's got him and Peter Sellars. What more could you want?

4. Best in Show (2000) - Christopher Guest. Guest directed this dog show spoof, as well as starring in it. He's one of Ricky Gervais' comedy heroes, you know.

5. Short Cuts (1993) - Christopher Penn. Robert Altman at his multiple plot-weaving best. I don't think the late Penn was in a better film than this.

6. CB4 (1994) - Chris(topher) Rock. Rap's equivalent of "This is Spinal Tap", CB4 spoofs gangsta culture in Los Angeles. As a bonus it also stars Chris(topher) Elliot.

7. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) - Christopher Lee. One of the very worst James Bond films, but at least it had a proper villain. The third nipple idea has been copied, but never bettered.

8. Shallow Grave (1994) - Christopher Eccleston. I think this is Danny Boyle's best film, a proper dark, British thriller. Of course, Eccleston is always watchable.

9. Back to the Future II (1989) - Christopher Lloyd. Another Christopher with a faultless track record, this is my favourite in the Back to the Future series.

10. The Magnificent Seven (1960) - Yul Brynner. The observant amongst you will have noticed that Yul Brynner is not called Christopher. But his character in this classic western is, and that's enough for me to shoehorn him into this list.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sports News from Canada

Portugal Too Much For New Zealand

The headline in the Toronto Globe and Mail accompanying the match report of Portugal's 2-0 win in the Under-20s Football World Cup.

Somehow I think the Kiwis will have their revenge on the rugby field when the two nations meet in that World Cup in Lyon in September.

A century and a bit of flights

How many times have you flown somewhere? How far have you travelled? How many different airports, airlines or aircraft have you used?

I flew back to the UK for the summer yesterday (Lisbon to Heathrow, TAP flight 356, an Airbus 319, seat 5A), saying goodbye to the sun and hello to snowy London (so I thought - actually the white stuff on the ground was hailstones). By my calculations, it was my 104th air journey.

How did I work this out? Well, if you really want to waste a few hours, I can recommend a website called You waste the hours by filling in the details of every flight you've ever taken: the airports (natch), the airlines, the type of plane, which seat etc. The only detail it doesn't ask is whether you were next to a pretty girl or not, but you can add a note if you want (I sat next a pretty girl coming back from Florence when I was 18. I can't remember the airline, but the plane was a Bae 146. As I suavely tried to drink coffee like a sophisticated Italian, I spilt the little milk container all over my jeans, thus failing to make a very good impression. D'oh!).

As you enter the data, the website calculates the miles you have flown and marks all your journeys a on a map (which, if you are really enthusiastic, you can order as a poster), as well as compiling all the statistics you could wish for - a top 10 list of airports, airlines, aircraft and so on.

Here's my rundown:

  • My first flight (I think) was about 25 years ago, a short hop from Southampton to Guernsey.
  • That's not my shortest flight, however: that honour falls to the 38 mi helicopter trip from Penzance to St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly in 1986.
  • My longest flight is 5,966 mi, from Heathrow to Tokyo, a trip I first made in 1997.
  • I've been to 61 different airports, from San Jose to Sofia, Beijing to Bamaga (a tiny Aboriginal community in North Queensland), although never to South America or Africa.
  • My top 3 airports are: 1 - Heathrow, 2 - Gatwick, 3 - Boston (amazingly, I've taken off or landed there 9 times over the years).
  • Overall I've flown 149,993 miles, just over 6 times round the world.

I don't know how these figures would compare to any other 29 year old, although I'm sure they don't stand up against a hardened business traveller (my dad says he's been to the States over 75 times, which is some going). But if you are interested in stats or planes, as all great minds are, you could do worse than try to work your own figures out here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

"Nobody doesn't like Tony Blair."

Have you ever struggled to come up with a good slogan?

Perhaps you've got a new blog, or are thinking of starting a company or releasing a product?

It can cost thousands of pounds to come up with a decent tagline, particularly if you aren't very imaginative, but thankfully there is some help at hand.

This website is a slogan generator and although there are a few blatant ripoffs of major brands there is a wide range of suggestions. Happily, it works in German as well as English, so here are some rebrandings that we might see in the future:

The blog:
Russian Wolfhound, love it or leave it.
The best Russian Wolfhound in the world.
Have a break, have a Russian Wolfhound.

The man:
When you say Chris G you've said it all.
I'd walk a mile for Chris G.
There's a bit of Chris G in all of us.

The terrorists:
al-Qaeda - Think different.
There's lots of fun in al-Qaeda.
al-Qaeda - Alles Gute für Ihr Kind.

The rest:
North Korea? Yes please.
Call a friend, call Hugo Chavez.
Steve McClaren erfrischt den Kopf.
The EU - You see this name, you think dirty.
I wouldn't leave the house without George Bush.
Angela Merkel braucht keine Worte.

Upside down, boy you're turning me...

.ǝɹǝɥdsıɯǝɥ uɹǝɥʇɹou ǝɥʇ oʇ ssǝɔɔns uɐǝpodıʇuɐ s,oɔ puɐ sǝuɹɐq ʎɯɯıظ ǝʇɐ1suɐɹʇ oʇ ɹoʇɹǝʌuoɔ 1ǝsıɥɔ p1oɔ ɐ sı ʍou pǝǝu ǝʍ 11ɐ

.ɹǝpun uʍop suısnoɔ ɹno ʎq pooʇsɹǝpun ǝq oʇ ǝʇıɹʍ noʎ buıɥʇʎuɐ sǝ1qɐuǝ ɥɔıɥʍ 'ʇuǝɯuɹǝʌob uɐı1ɐɹʇsnɐ ǝɥʇ ʎq pǝpıʌoɹd ʇou 'ǝʇısqǝʍ ǝ1ʇʇı1 unɟ ɐ s,ǝɹǝɥ

.ʎʇıʌıʇɔɐ ʎɥʇɹoʍ ʇsoɯ sıɥʇ ǝʇɐʇı1ıɔɐɟ ʇɐɥʇ s1ooʇ puǝɯɯoɔǝɹ oʇ ǝʞı1 ı 'ɥɔns sɐ puɐ uoıʇɐ1suɐɹʇ ɟo p1ɹoʍ ǝɥʇ uı ʇsǝɹǝʇuı buıpuɐʇs-buo1 ɐ ǝʌɐɥ ı 'ʍouʞ 11ıʍ noʎ ɟo ʎuɐɯ sɐ

Hat tip: BoingBoing

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The real reason for the floods

Nope, not global warming, or el nino, or development on the flood plain, or a lack of investment in flood defences.

Renowned meteorologists the Bishops of Carlisle and Liverpool have the answer:

the Bishop of Carlisle, ... said that the introduction of pro-gay laws had provoked God to send the storms that have left thousands homeless.


The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, previously seen as a future Archbishop of Canterbury or York, said: "People no longer see natural disasters as an act of God. However, we are now reaping what we have sown. If we live in a profligate way then there are going to be consequences." God is exposing us to the truth of what we have done."

I love that "previously" seen as a future AB of C, don't you?

Fortunately, whenever a Bishop makes a stupid comment, there is someone rational to put him in his place:

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association's chairman Jim Herrick said:

"The Bishop's comments reveal a primitive, superstitious mind that belongs in the Bronze Age.

"If he thinks these floods are the result of pro-gay laws rather than global warming, then how come far more catastrophic floods afflict homophobic nations such as Bangladesh?

"People like Graham Dow bring religion into even more disrepute with such fatuous comments.

"No wonder people are abandoning the Church of England in such huge numbers when it is led by silly people like him."

Amen to that.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

That Brown Cabinet

One of the good things we can say about Brown's accession to the top seat is that it should spell the end of Charlie Falconer's frontline political career.

Of all the New Labour faces who have annoyed me over the years, "Lord" Falconer is the one who gets me shouting at the telly the most. Why? Well, say what you like (or don't like) about Ruth Kelly, Charles Clarke and co, but at least they were elected. Elected by morons, most likely, but that's the beauty of democracy.

Falconer, on the other hand, failed to get a seat in 1997 - the only Labour party member who didn't that year - and as result was elevated to the peerage by Tony Blair. What had he done to deserve this position of power? Er, um, well, he is a rich lawyer and oh, was also Tony Blair's flatmate in the 1970s.

Falconer was Blair's best mate and was a government spokesman on issues from the Dome to constitutional reform, before becoming Lord Chancellor. To see someone with so little apparent merit wielding such influence in public life wound me up no end and I'm thrilled to see him go.

Let's hope GB isn't tempted to make a legislator or cabinet minister out of any of his old school chums, and that Falconer and his bloated ego have blighted the Today programme for he last time.

Ok, rant over. Anyone see this about former Durham graduate, Jonathan Edwards? Finally I can fully respect him.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Not Gathering Moss

The fact that I have to work today (normally Mondays are a sacred free day of idleness) is a real bastard.

However, the suffering is somewhat mitigated by the fact I'm off to see these grizzled veterans tonight. 45 years and still rocking, not bad by anyone's standards - to think that about a dozen years ago I thought I'd missed my chance to catch them live (or alive):

I said "yeah, yeah, yeah, woo!"

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Maidenhead Story

Another evangelical Christian is whinging about her rights to express her primitive, misguided beliefs. Lydia Playfoot, of Horsham, wants to wear a "purity ring" to school, in contravention of its no jewellery policy.

My first reaction is, why don't just wait until you die and get to heaven, then you can have the last laugh. Bloody hell, sex is fun and nothing to be ashamed of.

Unfortunately that's not the attitude Lydia Playfoot (or more likely, her parents - daddy's a happy-clappy preacher) is taking on these things. The case is being heard in the High Court today.

If she wins the case, and girls are allowed to wear the rings, there could be some practical implications though: are there going to be hymen inspections to check that the girls really are as "pure" as they claim? If there are, who is they going to pay for them? Will schools start advertising for maidenhead monitors?

As a footnote, some people might be wondering whether teenage boys would be allowed the same dispensation to wear the rings, but this is a red herring. If anyone can find a teenage boy who "wants" to remain a virgin until he's married, I'll eat my slippers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Save the planet - move to Portugal

So, I finally calculated my carbon footprint, using the brand-new government website (as trailed by Dizzy and the Devil) - the good news is it's working now, boys; bad news is it's slow as a dog and quite flawed. I'm not sure why for the home section it doesn't just ask for my total electricity and gas usage as listed on my bills. Surely that's all that is needed to calculate my home carbon consumption as a whole. And as it takes about half an hour to go through the process, DEFRA could save some me and the planet some electricity by speeding up the website.

Anyway, the good news is that my footprint is about half the national (UK) average, probably because I live in a warm country, require no central heating and I don't drive. Considering it includes flights to and fro I think it's quite a good set of figures. That doesn't stop the government giving me an even more stringent target to aim for, mind.

Your carbon footprint

Congratulations. You've successfully completed the Act on CO2 calculator. This table represents your CO2 emissions from all three areas of your lifestyle.

Your CO2 result is 2.46 tonnes per year

Your target footprint total is 1.97 tonnes per year

Everybody likes to have a target to reach their goals. Here we have given you an aspirational 20% reduction target to reach. This is spread evenly through your three areas of Home; Appliances and Transport, however, if you can see that your transport CO2 emissions are high, you can concentrate on reducing that area.

The national average total is 4.47 tonnes per year

CO2 emissions from all three areas of your lifestyle
Your Carbon Footprint-------0.6-----------0.16------------1.7
Target Footprint------------0.48----------0.13------------1.36
National Average------------2.00----------0.68------------1.79

Tonnes per year

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

End of term's coming, let's watch a video

Sorry, more YouTube.

Is this the creepiest number one ever? Chain-smoking Bond villain serenades decapitated head:

via BoingBoing

Monday, June 18, 2007

Northern comics...

Bernard Manning wasn't funny, but this is:

La Dolce Vita

Via Norm, this is a very funny little animated piece about how life in Italy is a little different from the rest of the world.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The next few days

For the next few days I'll be entertaining guests, so I doubt I'll be posting much.

I suggest you go out and enjoy the summer weather while it lasts.

Until next week...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lisa Loves London

Someone has asked me to comment on the new Olympic logo. I don't think I can surpass this from Towcestarian on the Daily Telegraph's blog:

Once the organisers realise that it looks like Lisa Simpson doing something very rude on her knees, it will be dropped very sharpish.

Here she is:

Saturday, June 02, 2007

It was ninety years ago today...

I'm making a flying visit back to the UK this weekend to celebrate a special anniversary.

Not the birth of Edward Elgar, nor Thomas Hardy, nor the Waugh twins, nor the Marquis de Sade. Not the release of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, nor the first running of the Derby.

Nope, today is my grandmother's 90th birthday - which is about the age you should start really celebrating them. She is of course, partly to blame responsible for my existence on this planet, so I guess she could claim some hand in this blog (although I doubt she'd want to...).

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Nana, and I'll see you tomorrow at the party!

Friday, June 01, 2007

It's not sport, but it is incredible

Every Thursday, the Guardian's excellent online sports section has a YouTube blog. It features classic video moments from sport, with readers invited to send in their own favourites. It's a very cheap way of producing a "newspaper", i.e. getting the readers to write it for you, but sometimes the results are worth that risk.

Usually, the column descends into rival compilations of the greatest or most obscure goals from football leagues around the world, but amongst this today is a fascinating video that isn't really sport at all. Well, unless you count the tug-of-war in the middle.

From South Africa's Kruger National Park, the real "rumble in the jungle":

Lion v. Buffalo v. Crocodile

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Those Diana Pictures

So Channel 4 is at the centre of another media storm. Its decision to show pictures of Princess Diana as she lay dying in that Paris tunnel nearly a decade ago has managed to raise the hackles of both Anne Atkins and David Aaronovitch this morning - no mean feat.

I won't be able to see the programme here in Portugal, so what I'd like to know is whether the pictures are better quality than these, which were published in an Italian magazine last year and are easily available on the internet?



My personal opinion is that these are quite harmless pictures of Lady Di's last moments and the moral fabric of the UK will withstand their being broadcast on national TV.

The other question, of course is whether they are more offensive than these pictures of Britney Spears with no knickers on (NSFW).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Diabolical Defined

I had a stroke of good fortune yesterday. I went to Fnac in Lisbon in the hopes of perhaps picking up a bargain, and lo one presented itself in the form of Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary. I concluded that it was a bargain because the price in pounds (£12.95) was much higher than the price in euros (€8.91).

The book is one that I've known about for several years. Since my teenage afternoons watching Countdown, in fact. Sometimes the actor and director Philip Franks (best-known, to me at least, as Charley from the Darling Buds of May) would appear in the Richard Stilgoe dictionary corner chair and read Bierce's words for our edification. As a young cynic, I remember being quite struck by the dry wit of the entries, such as this for dentist:

A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.
More recently, I have seen the Devil's Dictionary referred to in numerous English coursebooks - presumably to encourage the humourists amongst the teenagers of Slovakia, Portugal and the rest of the world - although few include its definition of learning (with which I cannot disagree):
The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.
Reading the book now, it's very interesting to see that although it's over a hundred years old, many of the definitions have lost none of their edge:
VOTE, n.
The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.

A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.

Our prostrate brother, Homo ventrambulans.

As with everything these days, the Devil's Dictionary is available online. If you're interested, click here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A British victory in Greece?

Not sure if this should be taken as an omen for tonight's Big Cup final, but The Guns of Navarone was on telly here this morning.

If James Robertson Justice and David Niven can inspire an unlikely English victory in Greece, why can't Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard do the same?

My prediction: 1-0 Liverpool in a terrible "shit on a stick" match. C'mon you reds!

UPDATE: Oh well, from what I saw of the game, a narrow Milan victory was just about fair. I didn't catch the first half (some of us have to work, you know), and although Liverpool huffed and puffed in the second, they didn't really create many decent chances. One thing I did notice: the pitch was pretty poor. It played very slowly and seemed to have cut up a lot during the game (I assume it was in good nick at the kickoff). If it had been in better condition, I'll bet the passing wouldn't have been so erratic.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's on your iPod?

An interesting development from a department at the forefront of managerial competence:

Twenty top civil servants in the Home Office have been given top of the range iPods to provide them with lessons in leadership.

In a pilot scheme the department has spent almost £9,000 on the gadgets as part of a “constant” way of finding new means to give staff training.

Home Office officials were last night bracing themselves for a barrage of criticism over the purchase which was described by one source as “a wacky idea”.

Well, if the criticism is on the grounds of cost, I think it will be misplaced. In fact, if you look at the cost of a training session or a paintball weekend for a bunch of mandarins, it would be well over nine grand. As a spokesperson says:
“The capacity on one video iPod represents the equivalent of three days’ worth of classroom training. In addition, material on the video iPods can be recycled, whereas classroom training cannot.”

A Home Office official said that providing iPods to top staff was a much more economical means of providing leadership skills than sending staff on management courses which can cost £1,000 a day.

Fair enough.

However, I am not sure that using the iPod as a learning/teaching tool is particularly effective. I have an iPod and have uploaded a "Teach Yourself Portuguese" CD onto it. Have I listened to it? Well, er, actually guv, not yet.

And the other example of an organisation using the iPod to train its members is also less than convincing:

The Home Office decision to pilot the use of iPods as a way of training staff comes just two months after the England cricket team was able to study footage of the World Cup opposition on their iPods. Mark Garaway, the team analyst, uploaded packages of information about New Zealand on to a central base, allowing players to pick and choose the files they believed would be useful.

England lost that match by six wickets with nine overs to spare. In other words they were thrashed.

If government departments are starting to take their lead from the England one-day cricket team, they may be more badly run than we ever feared.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tonight's Fat American Story

It's been a while since I've posted about our weighty friends across the pond, but here's quite an amusing tale from Scotland:

An obese American tourist who fell ill on a cruise ship had to be carried off by helicopter because of his size.

The man, who weighs 32 stone (203kg), was onboard a luxury five star cruise ship anchored in the Firth of Forth when he suffered gastric problems.
(For Americans, that's 450 pounds)
Forth Coastguard realised he was so heavy that its usual rescue procedures would have been impossible.

It called in an RAF Sea King helicopter to winch the man off the boat before carrying him to hospital.
The Sea King Rescue 177 is often used for search and rescue, but was originally designed for military use - including anti-submarine warfare and general tasks including heavy lifting.

After winching the sick man from the Century Cruise Liner, run by Celebrity Cruises, it flew him to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where fire crews were on standby to transfer him into the building shortly after 0600 BST on Saturday.

The headlines write themselves really, but what I want to know is whether the man was the full 32 stone before he got to Scotland, or if he gained some of the weight as a result of the famous Scottish cuisine he encountered on his visit. One can see how a few deep-fried Mars bars or haggises, washed down with a few cans of Special Brew, might cause gastric problems.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dobry Den

This time last year I was fortunate enough to be working in Eastern Slovakia. It's a nice enough place, and the people were quite friendly, although it's not somewhere to save for your retirement.

Anyway, this piece in the Times just reminded me of the way people think in that part of the world, particularly in reference to their neighbours:

We start talking about which Eastern European countries are worth investing in. Kat gives me a quick rundown. "In Poland they are getting a bit cheeky, I think. They have already had their boom in telecommunications. The economy is more advanced. Prices are higher. But you must be very careful. Sometimes when you buy a house, you may also buy the owners’ debt. That would not be good." What about the Czech Republic? "They are always one step ahead. Everything is 20 per cent more expensive there. Before the split [of Slovakia and the Czech Republic] everything was made here. We are stuck with the factories. So the Czechs are ahead of us." She is not a fan of Romania: ‘"Ridiculous prices. Like London prices. Lots of Americans are going to Romania. I don’t understand it. Why? I would have thought the prices would be better than here. But they’re not. Ridiculous!" The Ukraine is another no-no: ‘The mafia will rip you off." Hungary? ‘Nice people. Nice wine. But not much work opportunity. I’m really not sure about Hungary."

She probably added that there are bloody gypsies everywhere, but I suspect that got edited out of the final article.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Shining in the shit

Most of the stuff on YouTube is rubbish. I should know because I regularly link to it on this blog. Usually if one looks for something, one finds only self-indulgent clips of midwestern teenagers playing air guitar to their favourite Linkin Park tracks. However, amidst the dross, there are videos that lift the spirits and make an ordinary Wednesday so much less boring.

From the golden age of television, I give you "What's My Line?", with Salvador Dali:

via Boing Boing

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Whoops, he did it again...

Philip Hensher should read this blog.

If he did, he would know that Patricia Hewitt did not make any comment about Seaman Faye Tunney lighting up during the recent hostage crisis.

Unfortunately he doesn't, so in today's Independent he makes the same mistake that Christopher Hitchens made yesterday. I quote:

The skewed thinking and bizarre sense of priorities which has driven so many of this government's initiatives was beautifully captured when Patricia Hewitt, commenting on the capture of the navy personnel in Iran, said: "It was deplorable that the woman hostage should be shown smoking. This sends completely the wrong message to our young people." Quite a lot of people went on wondering, in the light of this comment, whether Mrs Hewitt might actually not be human at all.

In fact, quite a lot of people might have seen the date of this quote (April 1st) and drawn their own conclusions.

Honestly, these columnists - they get paid thousands of pounds, and use an April Fool's joke to support their arguments.

Monday, May 14, 2007


The usually excellent Christopher Hitchens makes a boob in the Guardian today. Speaking against the upcoming English smoking ban, he says:

If I had wanted an encapsulating anecdote for my argument, it would have been provided by our glorious secretary of state for health, Patricia Hewitt, who commented on recent events in Iran: "It was deplorable that the woman hostage should be shown smoking. This sends completely the wrong message to our young people." Yes, I think that just about expresses the anti-tobacco mentality. It is all-enveloping and all-inclusive, utterly patronising and completely, laughably literal-minded.

Unfortunately for Hitch, Patricia Hewitt never said this. The quote was from an April 1st piece from Telegraph Columnist, Christopher Brooker. Many people took this literally and ended up believing it to be true. But as Brooker said himself a couple of weeks later:

On April 1 this column alleged that Patricia Hewitt had said, of a TV appearance by Leading Seaman Faye Turney, that 'it was deplorable that the woman hostage should be shown smoking. This sends completely the wrong message to our young people.'

This was quoted by other newspapers and even mentioned on Have I Got News For You. I am happy to offer Miss Hewitt my apologies for setting this fictitious hare running but suggest that she looks again at the date.

I hope the Guardian clears up this small error for its readers.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Little Maddie

I know it's very sad that she's disappeared, but I think the media reaction has been a little over the top.

The British press have sent all their journalists to the Algarve, and the Portuguese have sent all theirs to Leicestershire. Sky news is even more unwatchable than normal. There was a military coup in Taiwan yesterday and nobody's covering it.*

Yesterday there was an appeal from Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Portuguese national football manager, for more information. This follows previous appeals from Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham, who are presumably not famous enough to get the public's attention. The escalation of reward money to £2.6 million is frankly ludicrous: as if anyone who knows anything useful would stay quiet because there wasn't enough money on offer as an incentive.

I hope the police get a break, find a clue and catch the culprit. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is watch this and get some perspective on life:

Part 2

Part 3

*not really. Well, maybe there was. Who knows?

New look

Can you spot the difference?

Well, I've added a third column to the template, which gives me more space to display stuff, without you needing to scroll all the way down the page to find it.

At the moment I've put a google news feed in, with Portugal as its keyword, but I hope to find a few more interesting widgets to fill the space. Underneath the news feed I've got the archive, now a bit easier to use, and the categories of all my posts, so if you want to see all my posts related to one topic or tag, you can.

The right hand column still contains links. The number is a little depleted at the moment, as I have to re-enter them all individually, but I will tend to that over the next few days.

I hope you like the new layout - I'm still getting used to it myself and may well adjust things again if I find it user-unfriendly - but I'd be interested in hearing your views.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


You may notice some changes to the appearance of the blog today. I'm finally getting round to updating the template and incorporating some of the functionality of the new Blogger.

Please bear with me while I fiddle with the look of the thing.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Things could only get better. In some ways, they did.

A lot of people have been crowing about the departure of Tony Blair and saying that he achieved very little of real substance during his tenure. I'm not going to talk about politics, because I can't be bothered.

However, I'd like us to look back before he became Labour leader, in 1994, when life in Britain really was poor. Ace of Base got to number one, we were all wearing Global Hypercolour T-shirts (remember, the ones that changed from luminous pink to luminous green as your body temperature increased) and the England football team was a real shambles (yes, even worse than now).

Here's a documentary (about an hour, watch it tonight with a glass of wine) that reminds us of the bad old days. Under Blair, we never missed a World Cup. Under Major, and this man, we never made one:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Simon Heffer's got issues

The pompous uber-Tory boy on the "metric martyrs" and their pounds and ounces banana victory:

Many of us, too, are scarred by an earlier experience in these matters. People under the age of 40 cannot imagine how we coped with a monetary system in which there were 12 pennies in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.

Well, for a start (and this was in the age before calculators) we were all trained to be rather good at mental arithmetic, a skill largely unknown these days. How often did 6s 4d go into £123 9s 9d? No problem.

But it was more than that. We loved our coinage, for they were pieces of history in our pockets. It was not unusual, even in the 1960s, to have in your change a bun penny of Queen Victoria's, or a beautiful half-crown of George V with an opulent royal coat of arms bursting out of the garter that framed it. History, pageantry and substance seemed to be on every coin, and seemed to help root us in our past.

And then, at a stroke, it was cast away in the interests of "modernisation": and we were left instead with charmless little coins, insubstantial like the ones for which we derided other nations when we went abroad, devoid of history and oblivious to our culture: how very effectively they symbolised, and still do, the vacuity and ghastliness of the 1970s in which they were born.

I am sure it was the searing national experience of the infliction of a decimal coinage that made us hate, with the hate of hell in some cases, the imposition of metrication. Loathing of the EU, which has, ironically, stepped in to save this part of our culture, presumably also has something to do with it.

"...with the hate of hell..."

Quite, quite mad.

His whole argument - that we should go back to the good ol' days of pounds, shillings and pence - is roundly rebutted in the comments under his own article, but I will add one thing:

If using the old system made everyone so good at mental arithmetic, surely it would be easiest for those people to convert to metric units. What the hell are they complaining about? A pint, that's about half a litre; a metre, that's about 3 feet; 10 km, 6 miles etc.

I was born long after the conversion, brought up on metric and have no problem with using both (at home I'm 5'6", here I'm 1.85m). Come on, Heffer, man, get a grip!

Paul Hewson, a middle-aged man

I've just realised why there's so much U2 on the telly this morning.

Happy birthday Bono, born 47 years ago today.

Here's a video from the days before his best mates were the Pope and Mary J Blige.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Do Look Now

Here's a funny coincidence. Or perhaps it's the beginning of a trend.

There are two videos currently on VH1's playlist that owe more than a little to the classic Nic Roeg thriller Don't Look Now.

You will recall that the film, which stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, is about a couple who take a holiday in Venice to get over the death of their daughter. While there, they are haunted by a mysterious figure in a red coat, who could be the ghost of their child, and who they pursue through the watery streets.

So, when I saw Dolores "Cranberries" O'Riordan's new video ("Ordinary Day"), I figured that the director must be a Roeg fan: the figure in the coat is nicked directly from the film and the whole thing is a clear homage to the movie:

Imagine my surprise then, when I saw Sophie "Janet's Daughter" Ellis-Bextor on the box this morning. Her new vid ("Catch You") is also heavily influenced by the film. It's not as dark as O'Riordan's, but it is set in Venice, where our square-faced heroine hunts high and low for someone, not in a red coat, but a fancy frock:

Interesting that you'd get two videos using the same source in completely different ways within weeks of each other. At least I think so.

If you're interested in the original, I'd highly recommend it. Here's the trailer:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

More about the Magpies

I don't know if this is the only blog in the world which reports on the progress of Maidenhead United, but I'll make a bet that it's the only one based in Portugal which does.

Anyhow, there's good news (again): the Magpies have won their playoff final against Team Bath and managed to get promotion to the Nationwide Conference South. That's only two below the league and four off Leeds United. If current trends continue, they might be playing at Elland Road in a couple of seasons. Until then they'll have to take on the might of Eastleigh, Eastbourne and Yeading. The promotion is a pretty remarkable acheivement given the poor form at the start of the season and was based on a streak of 15 wins in the final 17 games. Not even Sunderland can match that.

Well done to Drax (that's manager, Johnson Hippolyte - a man whose nickname is less unusual than his real name) and the lads, and good luck in the Berks and Bucks Cup final against those interlopers MK Dons tomorrow.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Hoff his face?

This is today's big celebrity story:

Actor David Hasselhoff has said footage leaked on TV and the internet in which he appears drunk shows him relapsing from treatment as an "alcoholic".


In a statement, Hasselhoff has said he is now back on track with his recovery.

"I am a recovering alcoholic," he said.

"Unfortunately, one evening I did have a brief relapse, but part of recovery is relapse."

The tape's existence was first reported on Thursday by US TV tabloid shows The Insider, Entertainment Tonight and Extra. Clips were quickly posted on their websites.

The star said in the statement that he had asked to be filmed so he could watch himself back. However he insists it was never supposed to be made public.

But surely his drink was spiked? Watch and judge for yourself:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


For those who are interested, I've recently started using Picasa to manage my photographs. It seems to work quite well and I've put a few pictures online with its web album feature.

So far there are a few shots of the coast close to here, including the westernmost point in Europe. On sunny days (not today - almost Milanese precipitation this afternoon) it's really rather nice around these parts.

You can access the photos here.

Don't misunderestimate me...

Well, this is slightly worrying. Perhaps on my fortieth birthday, I'll become a teetotal born-again Christian with a gift for malapropisms. Check with me in 2018:

You Are Most Like George W. Bush

So what if you're not exactly popular? You still rule the free world.
And while you may be quite conservative now, you knew how to party back in the day!

hat tip: Nourishing Obscurity

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Magpies, Linnets and Schadenfreude

If there's anything more satisfying than seeing your team get through to a cup final, it's doing it in dramatic fashion at the expense of a trash-talking rival.

So congratulations to Maidenhead United, who beat bitter rivals, King's Lynn, for a place in the Southern League Premier Division play-off final this evening. Magpies' boss, Johnson Hippolyte (once of Yeading) has a fine record in one-off matches, so there is a chance York Road will see Nationwide Conference South football next season.

In other news, Chelsea were beaten by Liverpool in the Champions' League. But you're not interested in that.

Friday, April 27, 2007

International Navigation

1. go to
2. click on "maps"
3. click on "get directions"
4. type " New York " in the first box (the left hand "from" box)
5. type " London " in the second box (the right hand "to" box)
6 . click on "get directions"
7 . scroll down to step #24

Via email (ta, Pa)

Coming of age

Happy birthday Empire magazine!

The populist film title is 18 and in a very tenuous celebration of this fact, the good folk there have done a poll of the best "18" rated scenes in the movies.

Sadly, there is no mention of my favourite in this category: the scene from the Jamaican gangster flick "The Harder They Come" where Jimmy Cliff slashes the face of a policeman, saying "Don't fock wit' me" with each swing of the blade.

Nevertheless, there are some classic moments in the chart, from Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifux in the Exorcist to the decapitation of David Warner in the Omen.

The winner though, perhaps unsurprisingly, is one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, for adults only or not. Here, in its unedited glory, is the bit from Alien where the creature bursts forth from John Hurt's chest. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who's the daddy?

Who's the best grasscourt tennis player in the world?

Easy, Roger Federer.

Really, what about on clay?

Aah, well, Federer is still bloody good, but Rafa Nadal might beat him, that's true.

So, if Federer is best on grass...

No disagreement there, with his Wimbledon record.

...and Nadal is the best on clay,

Without a doubt, unbeaten in 60 odd matches on the red stuff at the moment. can we decide who's best overall?

Aha. Now there's a question. We need some sort of a contest.

Good idea. Do you remember Donovan Bailey?

The hundred metres runner with massive thighs? Yep, what's he got to do with this?

Well, after he won the 100m in Atlanta, and Michael Johnson won the 200m, they had a contest to see who was the best sprinter in the world. To make it, er, fair, they raced indoors over 150m - a rarely contested distance.

Who won that then?

Well, Bailey did, but only after his opponent pulled up. Take a look here and see. Rather spoiled the thing as a contest. Circus is actually the word that comes to mind.

OK, but how do we settle the tennis issue?

I don't know if you'll like this, but I think it's got some legs.

Go on.

How about we build a special court which has clay at one end and grass at the other and have a "battle of the surfaces"?

Oh, for God's sake that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, no-one would go for that in a million years...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


By now I'm sure you're all aware that the former Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, has died.

Opinions may differ on how much of a success he was, but my own view was that he did a fairly good job in almost impossible circumstances. Guiding Russia through the post-communist era would have been hard for anyone and I think history will probably look back on him as a success.

Of course, many people have memories of the other side of Boris Yeltsin, the slightly wayward figure, often outrageous in his public appearances. We've all watched the comedy montage on the news, with him conducting the band with Helmut Kohl and making Bill Clinton crack up on the Whitehouse steps. We also remember the hilarious time he hosted Have I Got News For You.

My own favourite of these Yeltsin moments comes from the reality TV show, "Boris and Co", that he made after he went into retirement. Here is our hero, with his sons, after he's been for a little drive:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Here's one I made earlier (after the we lost the Ashes in December, in fact):

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

How right I was (for a change).

p.s. if you want to see the official England World Cup team photo again, click here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Crunch time

So, it's come to this simple equation. If England lose today, they will (at long last) be out of the World Cup. If they win, they will put one foot in the semi-finals with just the final group game against the West Indies to come.

(I'm discounting the prospect of a tie, although South Africa have finished both their last two World Cup campaigns with such a result)

On the face of it, the match should be close: two underperforming teams, each mentally shot, lacking the confidence to go out and win matches they shouldn't have lost (England against Sri Lanka, SA against Bangladesh). The latest revelations about South African drinking after their defeat to New Zealand also have strong echoes of, er, pedalogate. Perhaps in the World Cup of boozing, this would be the final.

My prediction for the match is this: a South African will have a big impact on the result. Either one of the Proteas themselves, or England's own South African, Kevin Pietersen, who loves playing against his former countrymen. If he can score big, we might be able to win. Otherwise I think the lads will finally be on the pedalo home.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Not playing on Virginia Tech Radio

All the playing's stopped in the playground now
She wants to play with her toys a while.
And school's out early and soon we'll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die.

No-one does crazed gunpeople quite like the Americans, eh?

On Defence Secretaries

All the news today (well, some of it) is about Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence and whether he will get out of the mess caused by the recent Iranian hostage crisis.

I think a look at the history of the office he holds is likely to provide the answer.

There are basically two types of Defence Secretary: those who use the position as a stepping stone in their cabinet career and go on to much bigger and better things, and those for whom it is the high water mark of their political life and who disappear without trace after they leave the job.

In the first category there have been many luminaries over the years: Denis Healey (1964-70) went on to be Chancellor, Peter Carington (1970-74) became Foreign Secretary and then Secretary-General of NATO, Michael Heseltine (1983-86) was later Deputy Prime Minister, Malcolm Rifkind (1992-95) was another who ended up at the Foreign Office, George Robertson (1997-99) also went off to the top NATO job, and most recently John Reid (2005-6) who has been, er, a big hit as Home Secretary.

One could also mention Michael Portillo, who was Defence Secretary before he lost his seat in 1997 and has since (albeit after a brief return to the Commons) carved out a reasonably successful career in the media.

In contrast, the second type of Defence Secretary is best exemplified by John Nott, who filled the post from 1981-83. Nott famously walked out of a TV interview when Robin Day described him as a "here today and ... gone tomorrow politician". He was "gone" fairly soon afterwards. One could also include the fairly anonymous George Younger (1986-89) or Fred Mulley (1976-79) in the same bracket. Here's Wikipedia on Mulley:

He is best remembered for falling asleep during the Queen's Jubilee Review of the Royal Air Force at RAF Finningley in 1977 when there was considerable noise around him. Having a small sleep during exercise was referred to by members of the RAF as having a "Fred Mulley".
The question we ask when we look back at these politicians is not, "How did well did they do?" but, "How on earth did they ever become cabinet ministers in the first place?"

We will soon find out what type of Defence Secretary Des Browne is, but I suspect most of us already know which category we would put him in.

p.s. Am I the only person who finds the "e" on the end of "Browne" really annoying? I find it very hard to trust people with superfluous vowels on the end of perfectly normal names (e.g. Greene, Clarke, Cooke, Foxe, Younge etc).