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?

(source: kierenmccarthy.co.uk)

(source: bobsob.com)

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.