Wednesday, February 28, 2007

food in the land of chavez

I'm a really big fan of BBC4's excellent Cooking In The Danger Zone, which is perhaps the best programme on TV at the moment. I really like Stefan Gates' passion for food, eagerly devouring rotten uncooked walrus and poached testicles. I like the way he occasionally gets carried away with his descriptions, although I was a bit disturbed just now when he pointed to a large hog-sized rodent in Venezuela, exclaiming; "unfortunately we're not allowed to eat them, because they're very rare - but apparently they taste very good. Sort of a like a big guinea-pig".

He's eaten guinea-pigs?

Suddenly I feel a bit sad.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

i hate musicals but...

Ha ha - i didn't watch 'The Applicants' tonight, which is a kind of opera-lite interpretation of The Apprentice, which is presented in the UK by Alan Sugar. I did just catch the closing credits, however, waiting for Match of the Day 2, and witnessed a frankly hilarious closing there purely, it seems, because they could get away with it. Given that the show's prime influence is clearly Stewart Lee's Jerry Springer Opera, which raised such a furore for it's colourful language, I'll bet that the writers of this enjoyed ending the show with an operatic tune ending with the cast singing, in a typically histrionic manner, 'Applicants! Applicants! Applicants!'. For the final three lines the opera vocal is restricted to merely 'Appli', leaving John Thompson, doing a convincing impression of Alan Sugar, to finish each word, deadpan, in a sarf london accent. Hence:

Chorus: Appli...
Thomson: cants.
Chorus: Appli....
Thomspon: Caaants.
Chorus: Appli...
Thomson: Cunts.

Show ends. Remarkable.

wine and mirrors

Michi just sent me this photo from Friday night - I really like the fact that on first glance it only shows half the people around the table, but then you notice Dave and Eleanor reproduced in the mirror behind us. Unfortunately Michi, being behind the camera, could not find a way to get in the shot herself. Because there's quite a lot of space in the middle of the photo, I cropped it to make the following - if you are one of the people who has been brutally chopped, I am sorry, no offence is intended, and I hope that no mysterious supernatural voodoo deaths ensue as a consequence.

Friday, February 23, 2007

the sharpening of knives

Another successful week for Laura Barton as she continues her bid to be mentioned here every Friday; another beautifully calibrated 'Hail Hail Rock and Roll' piece today:

"There is a small yet glorious moment in which a band sits before you perfect as a poached egg; hopeful, and unpunctured. This is the morning of your relationship, full of promise, and miles to go before you sleep. Then slowly the knives come out, and your bright yellow bubble is burst by the opinions of your friends, by the snoots in newspapers and magazines, by the snarls and sniffles of bloggers and radio commentators, by the fact that a song is commandeered by a car commercial and played relentlessly on prime-time television. On and on it runs, until you feel the soft flush of embarrassment whenever you are reminded of how much you liked that band, that song, and the embryonic hope that you once felt so keenly trickles away and grows tired and sticky."

britain's greatest living writer

The temptation to categorise and canonise writers is, frankly, a bit of a waste of time, but the Guardian's decision to describe Martin Amis as 'Britain's greatest living writer' last week caused a mild furore and inspired the paper to run a feature today titled Who is the greatest of them all?. No clear winner from their polling emerges but the names bandied about are interesting.

Amis is obviously a polarising figure and while everyone seems to agree that his technical skill is unrivalled, few claim that he is much more than the best novelist of the 1980s, which he surely was. He's obviously waned since then (although his latest book, 'The House Of Meetings', was certainly his best in over a decade) and his reputation has declined accordingly, but not as much as Salman Rushdie's, who, astonishingly, is barely mentioned in the critics' deliberations. Considering Rushdie wrote 'Midnight's Children', 'The Satanic Verses' and 'The Moor's Last Sigh', this is a pretty dramatic downturn in fortunes.

The writers who do garner most praise are Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and VS Naipaul, with Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan the more populist choices. It's hard to argue against any of those, except for the fact that I've only read one Lessing novel ('The Golden Notebook') and plenty of bad, as well as good, offerings from Ian McEwan (it just isn't possible that someone with the title 'Britain's Greatest Writer' could come up with anything as toe-curlingly bad as his 'Saturday').

What Martin Amis has achieved is the feat of seeming to be Britain's best living author, even if he isn't; every time he writes he does just enough to elevate himself above his peers in technical - and publicity - terms. But he badly needs to write a grown up book. It's perhaps worth mentioning that Philip Roth, who you get the feeling Amis aches to emulate, wrote 'Portnoy's Complaint' in his thirties, just as Amis produced 'Money' in the same decade, but didn't produce his true masterpieces until his sixties and seventies. So Amis has plenty of time.

But I'm not sure I can name anyone who is actually better. I think probably Tim Parks and Maggie Gee, two names I've not seen mentioned so far, are the best contemporary writers, along with Kazuo Ishiguro and perhaps Michael Frayn. Harold Pinter, widening the search beyond novelists, is clearly up there. Julian Barnes is a super writer, and the likes of Ali Smith and David Mitchell may yet write enough of worth to be considered. Stepping into genre fiction, I don't see why John Le Carre shouldn't merit a mention, although he's a very different kind of writer obviously.

In the end, I'm afraid that no-one writing today is comparable to the likes of the relatively recently departed Iris Murdoch or Muriel Spark - or indeed Martin's father, Kingsley Amis; much less Orwell or Greene. Who will be remembered as the finest writer of our time? I dunno - what do you think? Comments please.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

currently listening

Here's what I've been listening to this week:

1. Tinariwen - Aman Imen LP (amazing desert blues from Mali - wonderful)
2. Field Music - Tones of Town LP (far out prog-pop from the North East)
3. LCD Soundsystem - 'North American Scum' (amazing return from James Murphy)
4. Replikas - Avaz LP (at times lovely, blissful Turkish indie rock - like Pavement with an arabic twist, if you can imagine that)
5. Dinosaur Jr - 'Almost Ready' (they're baaaaaaaaack!)
6. The Long Blondes - 'Giddy Stratospheres' (Pulp meets Blondie, with an equally captivating frontwoman)
7. Showbiz and AG - Runaway Slave LP (classic early hip hop - forgotten how good this is)
8. Circus Lupus - 'Unrequited' (re-living my teenage obsession with dischord records at the moment - hard, brittle punk rock, and still fantastic)
9. Vieux Farka Toure - S/T LP (gorgeous and delicate Malian pop)
10. Pale Saints - In Ribbons LP (more teenage reminiscences, although of a slightly more ethereal nature)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

three changes

I've been meaning for a while to write about the recent album by Damon Albarn, Tony Allen, Paul Simonon and Simon Tong, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, but if you've seen reviews elsewhere they'll most likely have summed up what I want to say, which is that it's an absolutely marvellous record, doomed and romantic, and yet another superlative project from Damon Albarn. Simonon's basslines are gleefully monochrome and monstrous, Allen's drumming sparkles and in 'Nature Springs', 'A Soldier's Tale' and the devastating 'Herculean' Albarn is arguably writing the best songs of his career. But rather than go into more detail, and sling around familiar turns of phrase/praise, I'm just going to look at the album's densest, most interesting songs: 'Three Changes'.

Firstly, it's the most successful collaboration on the record, by which I mean it's the song where the diverse talents of the band are most evident. Albarn is at his lyrical best, pinning England as 'dull and mild, a stroppy little island of mixed up people', Simonon does what he does best all over the record, which is pick out the simplest, most effective bassline he can and stick ruthlessly to it. But trying hardest are Tong and Allen, the latter producing the most dazzling, unpredictable rhythm track I think I've ever heard on a pop record and the former impressing simply by virtue of pretty well keeping up.

It's actually Albarn who lays down the first rhythmic challenge, thinking about it - his frantic hammond organ intro (which maps out most of the song, in fact) sounds simultaneously influenced by the Small Faces and arabic scales, setting a pace much faster and more frantic than the rest of the record. Tong and Simonen both take turns replicating the riff, but do so to Allen's almost unbelievably difficult yet precise drumming. His sound, which drops the beat down to a crisp click, so that you almost lose it, is somewhere between free jazz and afrobeat, and - I confess - initially utterly bewildering. You have to wait 'til you can pick out the bass drum and almost force yourself to nod along before the rhythm begins to make sense. When it does, it makes the drum track on every western rock record sound almost obselete.

Albarn's sonic adventurousness never quite lets the song settle down, fizzing along on an increasingly aggressive bent 'til the song vanishes amongst a fury of white noise and is replaced by what sounds at first like Albarn crashing around in a kitchen and then like badly taped Ethiopan jazz. Then the organ riff returns and the song drops back in, transformed. Tong weighs in with a more melodic riff but - crucially - this time Allen plays it straight, replacing his detailed clatter with a punchy 4/4 beat that could have come straight from a Gorillaz record. The final minute of the song is number one material. It's an amazing, hilarious transformation and it heralds the shift of the album's tone from fraught to celebratory. 'Green Fields', one of Damon's sweetest songs follows ("above all things I've learned - it's the honesty, that secures the bond in the heart") before the album's knees-up finale.

Were Albarn's restless, relentless spirit not immediately obvious in the path which Albarn has taken from 1999's soupy and disappointing 13 - the kraut-funk of 'Music Is My Radar', the delicate West African love letter to Mali, Mali Music, the dub-pop and hip-hop of Gorillaz, the thrilling Think Tank, TGTB&TQ - then 'Three Changes' would be a perfect summary; it showcases everything awkward and irritating about Albarn, as well as his unparallelled talent.

And some fucking amazing drumming, too.

my new hero

"For me, it's shameful that [Iraq] was destroyed. And now they say: 'Oh, actually, no, there weren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction after all but we're going to stay here a while because there's such disorder'. But, that disorder was created by you! It's clear that there are imperialistic, economic and strategic interests behind the war but the news moves on and everyone focuses on something else. We have to stop and reflect a bit on where we are going, about imposing a more sustainable type of development, with genuine cooperation."

I have a new favourite footballer; step forward Barcelona defender Oleguer Presas - an unusually sensitive and intelligent breed of defender. Consider, Graeme Le Saux's career was blighted by rumours that he was homosexual - for what reason? Because he once admitted to reading the Guardian and had a nice middle-class accent. What would Robbie Fowler have made, one can't help wondering, of Mr Presas? According to Sid Lowe,

"The Barça right-back is a committed campaigner, an economics graduate who contributes to cultural and political journals with carefully elaborated articles, he supports Catalan literacy crusades and Catalan independence, and dedicated the only goal of his career to a fourteen year old from Sabadell who had been arrested for protesting against the mayor. He is the author of a book called Camí d'Itaca (The Road to Ithaca), which deals with everything from the Franco years to the war on terror and even anorexia."

My favourite footballer, before I discovered Oleguer, was Robbie Keane. He says things like this:

"We are all really looking forward to [the game] and Arsenal have to get beaten some time at home, why not on Wednesday? If anyone thinks this tie is over for one second they have another thing coming. People will probably say that they have the advantage but ask anyone in our dressing room and they are really up for this game and raring to go."
Spurs lost that game 3-1. This is the kind of thing Oleguar Presas says:

"The State of Law - that phrase that has been repeated so many times you would think it was an advertising campaign - does not permit the death sentence nor life imprisonment. Likewise, there is no room for euthanasia. I will allow myself to be guided by good faith and will therefore presuppose that the State of Law has not stopped trusting in its own laws and still does not want to impose the death sentence or life imprisonment. Guided by that same good faith, I will assume that there is no political intention to make euthanasia legal. I will suppose, again guided by good faith, that the content of De Juana Chaos's articles is sufficiently explicit and unambiguous as to keep a man in jail, despite the risk that he may die there. I would like to believe that in the State of Law freedom of expression exists and that in this case, just as in the Egunkaria case or in the case of the actor Pepe Rubianes (to cite just two examples), there is sufficient evidence to try those involved. If that were not so, everyone would be protesting long and loud like they do when freedom of expression is denied in other countries, such as Morocco, Cuba or Turkey. Good faith obliges me to believe that in the State of Law, justice is equal for everyone, that political pressure has no part to play and that judicial independence really does exist; that when the Minister of Justice Lopez Aguilar announces, in reference to the De Juana case, that "the government will construct new punishments and sanctions to avoid such releases", those words have no influence on the judicial sentence."
How's that for dressing room banter!? And he drives a van!

this week's free-writes

This week's free-writing is starting to emerge over on DanceDanceDance - three entries so far - in case you missed previous rounds, the idea is to take two or three minutes to write whatever you like, unedited and ill-considered, and publish it as it is. We've done a few so far, and there'll be more to come.

Here's a sentence from each of the ones Kat's published this week:

"It all seems so plausible from mid afternoon to sleeping time. But then morning comes."

"i feel like finally the heaviness is dripping out of my bones"

"the chores, which had seemed suddenly weightless and without complexity in the day just feel like a bit too much, too much for tonight"
I wonder if the fact that we write the free-writes on Mondays and Tuesdays effects the timbre of our contributions - certainly so far there's been a lot of introspection; all the feelings of beat-up mondays, hungover from weekends and dreading the week.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

embarrasing admission

I'm rather ashamed to say that I thoroughly enjoy Harry Hill's TV burp, but I do. It's certainly as good as Charlie Brooker's TV Burp, over on highbrow BBC4 (or do I mean Charlie Brooker's Screen Wipe? - can't be sure). Hill is occasionally very funny - for the last few weeks he's been picking on the TV show Weird Creatures, presented by Nick Baker - wherein the protagonist goes looking for rare animals... and never finds them. What's the point, Hill asks? This week Baker was looking for a basking shark. Here's a bit of dialogue from his analysis:

Hill: But hang on, he's found one! Hasn't he?
Footage plays of Baker spotting something in the sea.
Baker: "We've hardly left Penzance harbour and we already have what has to be the second weirdest fish in the world after the basking shark. It is the sunfish".
Hill (disappointed): Oh, no, it's the sunfish. What about over there?
Cut back to the footage
Baker "Well, that's our consolation prize - we have a grey seal".
Hill: A seal? I thought we were looking for a shark?
Back to the footage.
Baker: "The otters more than make up for our limited success with the shark".
Hill: No they don't! I tuned in to see a four and a half metre shark. It's a shark programme. If you'd have told me it was a seal and otter programme I wouldn't have bothered!
Cut back to Baker pointing out specific breeds of gulls, circling over the sea.
Hill: Seagulls!? You're just filming anything now!
Cut back to a bit of Baker's film - he's filming another boat and there is a dog aboard.
Hill (incredulously): That's a dog!
Now Baker's film shows him swimming in the water. He points at the coast.
Baker: "That's Cornwall".
Hill (outraged): That's not even an animal!!!

Maybe that doesn't work unless you saw it, but it was very funny - certainly now that David Attenborough has filmed everything beautifully in one series or other, TV nature shows these days all seem to be about filming the unfilmable and the obscure - jaguar hunting in South America or whatever. Never mind that - just show us some cute monkeys. Don't bother with the sharks, though, we've given up on them.

Monday, February 19, 2007

artistic skills needed

Regular readers will no doubt be surprised to see so many posts on a Monday, as it's well known round these parts that Mondays are normally a bit of a creative write-off, as our regular appearance at Brighton's best pub quiz (which you can play at home here) every Sunday night tends to reduce me to a gibbering or bad-tempered wreck just in time for the start of the week. Made it through last night's unscathed, however, although we only managed to come third. Which leads me to the following.

Wanted: art student / professional animator
With experience / expertise / enthusiasm for clay modelling
to take part in a weekly social exercise / drinking marathon.

One of the better rounds in the quiz is one of the only ones which offers the lucrative reward of instant gratification - in other words, if you win the plasticine modelling round you get four free drinks there and then. The only problem, then, is that we're bloody rubbish at it, and the only person we know with the necessary skill to do it has got a broken arm and so is fundamentally useless. Worse still, our main rivals for the prize each week have suddenly recruited someone absolutely brilliant at modelling plasticine. This means their beautifully crafted and very funny entries win them not only alcohol and the right to boast (which I can just about handle) but also notoriety and admiring compliments from all and sundry (which makes me burn with rage). So I figure we need to broaden our skillset to recover some pride. Naturally we could do that by buying some plasticine and practising, but I was kind of hoping someone might just wanna come and do the hard work for us. Any applicants drop me a line.

In the meantime, this is our best effort so far. Sadly, it didn't win.
Although we did take maximum points the week before for this little number. Ignore the bloke in the background - that was just some guy in the pub.

careful words

Because I am a pedant, I really enjoy reading the corrections and clarifications in The Guardian, and I particularly enjoy the always interesting 'Open Door' feature, by Guardian Readers Editor Ian Mayes. Take today's, for example, with it's two interesting examples of careful language in areas of great sensitivity. Well, I find this dead interesting, even if you don't...

An email I received a few days ago read: "Just so you know, the Iranian community worldwide is about to boycott your newspaper solely because you have decided arbitrarily to use the term 'the Gulf' in place of 'the Persian Gulf' in your articles." The writer, tacitly acknowledging the global reach of the Guardian, may have been reading the style guide, which is specific on this point: "The Gulf - not the Persian or Arabian Gulf." This is the form used on most occasions, as in "America is building up its naval and air forces in the Gulf to put pressure on Iran ... "

Despite the urging of the style guide, it is still referred to occasionally as "the Persian Gulf", for example when it is mentioned in a historical context, or when it is necessary to distinguish it in some additional way from any other gulf. The Guardian's favoured default dictionary, Collins, supports the idea that when we say "the Gulf" we generally know which gulf we are talking about. Its first definition of the word, with a capital G, is "the Persian Gulf".

The preference for calling it "the Gulf" is not something that the Guardian has suddenly or arbitrarily introduced...
The article goes on to explain why, so click here if you want to read on. The article then goes on to discuss the term 'friendly fire', which is just as fascinating for the pedantically inclined:

In a leader about Matty Hull, the same day, the Guardian referred to "so-called friendly fire". The Guardian's security affairs editor told me that he always puts the phrase in quotation marks to signal that he is using it without adopting it as his own. The quotation marks, he says, are nearly always removed in the editing.

Whether its origin is among soldiers in the trenches of the first world war or not, for many it is perceived as carrying the taint of military propaganda, and they therefore believe that quotation marks should be used as a distancing device, treating it like other euphemisms of our time: "axis of evil", "war on terror", "collateral damage".

The style guide editor believes that friendly fire has entered the language, and he thinks using it without quotes is all right. Collins says it succinctly: firing by one's own side, esp when it harms one's own personnel.
Fascinating stuff.

understanding iran

"Mad mullah, hostage taker, warrior brother, veiled sister—these are just some of the images of Iran prevalent among Americans. The Fall 2006 Reed College Public Policy Lecture Series brings together speakers with a remarkable depth of experience and understanding of Iran. They will explore the issues behind the images, and address what is likely to be a central foreign policy challenge in coming months: U.S. relations with Tehran"
These lectures look really interesting - there's over seven hours of audio material available to listen to, addressing issues like 'How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other', 'Is a Military Clash Inevitable?' and what looks like a fascinating lecture on Islamic Nationalism, Fundamentalism and Patriarchy. We understand terribly little about Iran in the West, and could do with learning a great deal more. On an accessible level, it might be easier to read Rageh Omar's journalism, which is fascinating at the moment, but - although academic discourse is often rather dry - Iran is an exciting enough place to make these lectures look like promising listening. So check them out.

kiss and make up

Thanks to Dustin for sending this picture on to me - towards the end of 2006 me and Sam fell out and he spent a week or so refusing to talk to me, the moody bugger. Now all is well and we are chums once more, but that would never have happened if we hadn't had a serious and furrow-browed conversation at Dustin's place just before Christmas, which ended with a drink-sodden making-up. Not sure where in the process of our rapprochement this photo finds us, but judging by the sozzled and wine-stained looks of us, we were at the tail end of the temporary frostiness. Sam still looks a bit pissed off though, and I am either penitent, or asleep. Not sure which.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

free-writing redux

Another week has flown past, which means that the next set of scribblings in the ongoing free-writing meme will be posted somewhere on one of the participants' blogs in the next few days. In the meantime, here's a taster for the new contributions or a late entrant to last week's flurry...

"i am too numb too think. so maybe that's good. my whole body aches. there is pain in my lower back and my legs. my eyes are lying inside two cushions of cotton and i'm feeling slightly sick. i should not drink half a dozen cocktails when i'm not used to drinking alcohol anymore. i will never ever drink alcohol again. haha. have i mentioned that i'm too tired to think and that my lower back really hurts. it's a pity i didn't manage to take part at this week's free writing thingie because i haven't managed so far and today i'm just too fucking tired good night, that's actually been 2,5 minutes now"

More free-writing soon...

Friday, February 16, 2007

life on mars

The brilliance of Life On Mars - and it is brilliant - is the simplicity of the story line. Despite a tricksy, fascinating first series, the tagline actually tells you everything you need to know, meaning that every episode, while part of a wider story arc, is brilliantly self-contained. "My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident, and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever's happened, it's like I've landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home."

Actually, scratch that, the brilliance of Life On Mars is that Philip Glenister's character, Gene Hunt, is the best TV character ever.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

new malkmus material soon

Longstanding Assistant Blog readers will be familiar with my linking to the excellent fluxblog, and anyone who's paid particularly close attention will note that Matthew Perpetua loves Pavement and Stephen Malkmus as much as I do, if not more. I've lost count of the times he's posted essential SM stuff, although if you trawl through the music category on this blog you'll find plenty of references to his posting.

At the moment he' s got a nice early version of new song Dragonfly Pie, which is well worth a listen, although I'm most excited by his enthusiasm for the current Jicks line up, which sees Sleater Kinney's Janet Weiss on the drums. "She's an unstoppable force", Matthew notes, "with a distinct, hard-hitting, fill-heavy style that complements Malkmus' post-Pavement songs so well that it seems as though they were made to play together, and pose creative challenges to one another". The new SM album is on its way soon, apparently; I can't wait, and I really hope they get over to the UK to promote it.

So, go download the new SM/Jicks tune here, chums.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

the brits. live.

What's happening at The Brits, lame celebration of lame british music? Well, I'll tell you, cause I'm watching it.

8.05: the show opens with The Scissor Sisters, who are dressed like airstewards and doing some predictably kitsch dance routines; I'm reminded of the opening credits of the very underrated early 90s BBC2 comedy, The High Life. Except the Scissor Sisters song is not as memorable, just sounding like George Michael's (admittedly quite good) 'Freedom'.

8.08: Mr Brand, our host for the evening, arrives on stage to the strains of The Smiths. That'll be the best music we hear all night, then. He makes a few jokes about David Cameron ("he's got a face like a little painted egg") and the camera pans to a very pretty looking Lily Allen looking nonplussed. Then he introduces Keith Allen, who now mentions his daughter with every sentence, increasingly desperately.

8.13: Muse win best live act. Fair enough if you like that sort of thing. In their acceptance speech they make the first of doubtless many references to Valentines Day. Is it Valentines Day?

8.15: Oh, look, it's Snow Patrol. I begin to wonder what 'Dragons Den' is like over on BBC2. Would anyone mind if I switched over to that?

8.18: This year The Brits is going out live, so - as Mr Brand has already reminded us - anything could happen. Consequently, half way through Snow Patrol's 'Chasing Cars' it all fucking kicks off. Not really, most of the crowd are probably grabbing a quick nap.

8.20: They're doing a phone vote for single of the year now. I'll vote for any of them if it means that 'America' by Razorlight won't win. There aren't actually any good songs to choose between. Where's Lily Allen's 'LDN'? She's Keith Allen's daughter, you know.

8.26: After some enjoyably dirty jokes from Russell Brand (the next band, apparently, broke down the hymen and ejaculated "into the uterus of popular culture"), Jarvis Cocker, harking back to his Michael Jackson baiting days, introduces best british breakthrough act. Faced with the piss-weak likes of James Morrison and The Kooks, Lily Allen really should win it, but I bet she doesn't.

8.27. Nope, she doesn't, The Fratellis win. Hopeless.

8.30. They're going for danger in this show, as Russell keeps telling us. Anything could happen. Accordingly, when a clearly rat-arsed bunch of Fratellis make their thankyou speech the show lapses suddenly into silence. It appears the little tykes might be swearing. Rock and roll.

8.33: Orson win something. They're very American. I think Americans are fucking brilliant. Not this type of American, though. "I love you baby", they shout.

8.35: Brand introduces Amy Winehouse as having one of the best voices in the world. "When she's singing. When she's talking she sounds like a cab driver". She sings 'Rehab' and it's just so much better than everything else so far as to be almost embarrasing.

8.39: Joss Stone presents an award and struts around the stage talking in a strong American accent. Truly truly bewildering. I think she tried to tell a joke. Weirdest moment of the show so far.

8.41: James Morrison wins something. He says that he just can't believe that he's here. Guess what James, neither can we.

8.48: Lots of stuff in the news recently about size zero models. I know, think the Brits organisers, we'll get Erin O'Connor to present an award. She's like, tall and thin. Cool.

8.49. Best international male award. Dylan and Beck are up for this one. If it goes elsewhere I'll scream.

8.50. *screams*

8.51: Justin Timberlake won.

8.52. Not a bad performance from The Killers, who do a lively rendition of 'When You're Young', equal parts synth-pop and Bruce Springsteen. They're the first people to perform with anything approaching passion.

8.56: Another snub for Lily Allen, although Amy Winehouse is a deserving winner in the best british female artist category. Jo Whiley is the recipient of Russell Brand's first decent gag of the night, and she's the first decent presenter too. Meanwhile, Ms Winehouse fails to say anything controversial. "I'm just glad my mum and dad are here", she says. What!? We want controversy. Yeah, I know, fat chance.

8.58. Ricky Wilson is introduced by Brand as "the new Princess Diana", ha ha. He introduces best international female solo artists as 'best international girl'. Cat Power is one of the nominations! Yeah, Cat Power to win! C'mon.

8.59. It's Cat Power!!! No, it's Nelly Furtado - fair enough, she managed a pretty ace few singles last year. 'Maneater' was awesome.

9.03: Take That try my patience with their rubbish come-back single. Poor old Gary Barlow really is quite rotund. I guess he's accepted it now. Couldn't they have done 'Pray', just for old times' sake?

9.11: They're doing best british group now, which I suppose is the key award. Loads of rubbish like Kasabian up for this one, so it's a minor triumph that the Arctic Monkeys deservedly win. They're not there of course, cause they're too cool, but they have thoughtfully submitted a video of themselves dressed up as the characters from the Wizard Of Oz. A rare moment of class.

9.14: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (no, me neither) present best international album to the Killers. Shrug. They performed live so I guess you've gotta give 'em something.

9.18: Comedy Rock from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, groan. Lily Allen's still not won anything. No-one's mentioned Pete Doherty or Kate Moss, either. This won't last, surely.

9.25: Another award for The Killers as they win best international act. The award is presented, weirdly, by Steve Tyler from Aerosmith and an emaciated looking Sophie Ellis-Bextor. It's followed up by a performance by Corrine Bailly-Rae, who does that song with the 'go put your records on' refrain. It's a great song, but does she have any others? No. It's another nice performance but such a safe option, again. Couldn't they have got at least one unpredictable act on? God knows he's overrated, but couldn't they have got Mr. Doherty and his Babyshambles mates on to do a song, or The Long Blondes, or Jarvis Cocker, or Mika, or anyone?

9.34: Take That win best single. As I said, if it ain't Razorlight, I'm happy. They might have mentioned Robbie, mind, seeing as he's now a universally recognised drugs-loon.

9.37: Sean Bean makes a football joke. The best bits of the Brits are the music they play when the guest presenters come on stage. We just had a snippet of 'Over and Over' by Hot Chip. Oh for a song that good to be played in full!!

9.38: They're doing best british album now - it's the Arctic Monkeys. Quite right. This time they're dressed as the Village People. "Hope you're having a good time", Alex deadpans. "We are, as you can see. Just rehearsing. For the year ahead".

9.40: Oh blimey, that's it! That all went very quickly - the rest of the show will be taken up with a live performance from Oasis, as they've won the lifetime achievement for making one decent album twelve years ago award.

9.49: Russell introduces Oasis as 'glorious beautiful hooligans', and says he's "a bit worried about Joss Stone, poor cow", which made the whole night worthwhile. Her brief involvement was clearly the best moment. Amy Winehouse might well sound like a cab driver, but at least she doesn't sound like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.

9.50: An Oasis tribute band, meanwhile, are doing a passable rendition of 'Rock 'N Roll Star'; Liam seems to have adapted his live approach to anger and agression rather than insouciance. It doesn't work as well, and his voice is shot, sadly. Shades of Ian Brown at Reading. It's funny how Noel looks pretty good, despite being the older brother, where Liam looks, suddenly, old.

9.57: The sound keeps cutting, giving the impression that bits of the song are being played underwater. When they accepted their award a few minutes ago the nervous TV execs again cut the sound so we couldn't hear them swearing. What's the fucking point? Now the band have moved on to play some other stuff, something so bad it must be new, and a particularly grim churn through 'What's the Story, Morning Glory'. Noel's a better guitarist that I normally give him credit for, mind.

9.59: Well, that's it. Sad that in the end there was nothing for Lily Allen, although it's not surprising that there was nothing in the way of controversy, nothing of note. Russell Brand wasn't very funny, either, apart from the odd flash of wit. Ah well. See you next year, perhaps.

The Idea of Europe

In an article published in the journal Foreign Affairs during the summer of 1993, Harvard political scientist Prof Samuel P. Huntington hypothesised about what he saw as a possible emergence of a new source of conflict in the Post Cold War world. He famously called his idea ‘The Clash of Civilisations’.

In his article Huntingdon explored the likelihood that with the halt of the geopolitical clash of ideologies and interests that had characterised the Cold War, conflicts of the future would instead more likely occur where there was simply a fault line of culture. His argument was that where in the past political ideology and geo politics had divided the major powers they still retained the essential bond of all being of the same ‘Civilisation’. In a future, with the near annulment of all global ideologically-based confrontations, fault lines may emerge instead where other differences occur, most notably of culture, religion and even race.

It seems that recent history is unfortunately proving Professor Huntington to be largely correct. The ethnic divides leading to the wars following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the continuing failure of the warring parties in the Middle East in finding a peaceful solution and the Iraq catastrophe are all examples of sorts of ethnic/civilisation divides resulting in horrific outcomes, as before all were in one way or another pinned down by an overarching global rivalry.

It is one such divide that is currently causing debate across much of Europe. The issue is that of Turkey and its claim of a European identity. It is clear that what is causing the procrastination in many (mostly Western) European Capitals is not whether or not Turkey is politically ready or willing for Union, militarily allied to or even geographically Europe, but the unease felt by many towards what differentiates Turkey from much of the rest of the Continent.

The Turkish population is overwhelmingly Muslim and numbers over 80 million, roughly the same as Germany. What many Western politicians openly fear is an influx of migrant Turkish labour upon membership being achieved, following trends seen after the admission of the first states from the former Eastern Bloc. Politicians in France, Italy and Austria have openly stated their belief that Europe is a Christian continent and must stay that way.

The subject of eventual Turkish accession to the Union and full European rights being given to its populace has become a political football within the Union itself. Traditionally sceptic states such as the UK and the Scandinavian members are generally in favour of Turkish membership. Many believe this is because it may lead to a diluting of the Union and that therefore the more Euro sceptic states back Turkish membership as they know that the ‘core’ members who traditionally back further integration will resist if confronted by the fear of a ‘Turkish influx’ of people and Islamic culture - if Turkey ever gains full membership.

This wavering by the 27 member EU is having damaging consequences for the Union's relations with the Turkish state. Some opposition parties in Ankara have already begun to seize on some of the more negative comments coming from Brussels as a sign that the recent, sometimes painful, changes Turkey has made to bring itself in line for membership have not been worth it as they will never be accepted by a Christian Europe. Instead, certain right wing groups are calling for closer ties not with the West but with the East and with a rededication to the Muslim heritage of the state. This will be clearly in contrast to the moves made by recent Turkish governments to draw clearer distinctions between religion and government activity.

What is surely clear since the end of the Cold War is that what Europe has represented to those outside it is not just the formation of a ‘United States of Europe’, a lucrative new trade bloc or secure membership of a military alliance, but essentially the liberal and co-operative ideals of its founders forged as they were from the ashes of the Second World War. It is in truth this liberalism that caused the disolvement of the Spanish and Portuguese Dictatorships of the late 1970s and early 1980s, helped hasten the end of the Cold War, and speeded the liberalising reforms since introduced by a vast majority of the former Eastern Bloc which now act as a beacon to countries once thought far beyond Europe’s boundaries.

In 20 years Europe could include Turkey, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, and Albania and maybe even Georgia and Azerbaijan, including all that these rich and diverse populations have to offer the old continent. Europe with Turkish membership would even border Iraq. The effect of having a large, liberal and inclusive neighbour to the north of that most troubled of nations can only be seen as being positive for Iraq, Europe and the wider world.

The ability to show that the religion or the culture of a state should not bar membership to the European Union is surely essential in maintaining the ideals and dynamism of the European Project and at the same time in a wider context showing that Samuel Huntington’s theory of a cultural divide occurring in the world remain just that; a theory.

[Blogging by Dan]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

free writing

Last week Ali hosted a series of short bits of writing on her super Split Down The Middle blog, which is something we're going to do regularly - the idea is to spend two or three minutes writing in an uninhibited fashion, writing what you feel and not editing it afterwards. We've had - or will have in coming weeks - short submissions from a variety of friends and bloggers including myself, Victoria, Dan, Ali, Natalia, Kat and Anne-Sophie. It's not the easiest thing to do, writing in an un-selfconscious manner, but hopefully we'll all get better. Next week it'll be hosted somewhere else so if you like the idea keep an eye out here and I'll mention it when it goes up - if you want to contribute then do please do so - just email me or leave your effort in the comments box. The more the merrier. Here are five to get started for this week - hopefully more will follow.


"Like a bad dream that has gone away, the air is cleared by rain and the whistling noise that fills the night air in the street outside sounds just fine from safe indoors. Now waking in the middle of the night and walking from room to room within known territory, the creaking board that comforts and does not alarm, the swerving here, reaching out with sideways-turned hand there, to dodge the curve of the wall in the darkness, not needing a light, not needing to navigate the path in any way but from memory: this is home, and this is the right place for now."


"I'm paying the price of being too honest, committed, nice
You say 'get over me', how easy can it be?
While I'm crying and tearing my hair apart
You're in her arms
How can you forget about us so quickly
And the misunderstanding grows with the pain, was I so mistaken all the way
When you smiled it was only a bag of lies
I'm the fool and you're the adult...

Love switches to hate so easily
I wish you all the worse my love
I hope your life turns badly
I wish you suffer and cries
You don't deserve the slightless glimpse of happiness
And if there was a justice, I'd be happy and you'd be down
I'd be loved and you'd be alone

But right now you're in her arms
And I'm working at it right
Working at my little revenge
I wish you all the worse my love
Loneliness above it all
As lonely as I can be right now
Feeling betrayed, being solo
Then I'll be the adult and you'll be the child scared of the dark."


"there's a little green light flashing infront of me and it tells me that the world is at peace and that no-one wants or needs me as soon as the light becomes red I will become compelled to stop everything and grab and find out what and who only to find no doubt it is something or someone deathly dull and I'll wish i hadn't bothered. the rain is falling on the roof today and it's been doing so all day, quite fitting for a monday really, and the grey clouds as well. and tonight I'm heading over for dinner with the family and I'm wondering wherther I can be bothered to deal with polite chit chat and laughing in the right places and looking lovingly at Steve when actually I want to murder him for being 2 hours late again and keeping me waiting again, and then there's all the stuff I want to do other than that. I want to go home and catch up with news and work out what my new clothes will go with. I want to think about what a single life would be like and whether i could cope with it and whether I'd crumble and I'm sitting here dishing out this advice like some fucking gospel to my friends saying cope with it and you'll be better off without them knowing full well that if each day someone didn't hold me close and squeeze me and tell me I'm worthwhile I'd be left feeling empty and hollow and wondering what life held and what to do with my time."


"Another freewriting exercise, another occasion to trawl the depths of my mind and see whats there... I can't help but wonder how the paper towels in the gents at work are so absorbant. They not only dry my hands of any water that may have been left having washed them but they suck up all moisture that may have been there in the first place leaving my hands feeling clean but very dry. Its weird alien technology deployed in those towels I'm sure of it. Still, I am working at Kimberley-Clark I suppose so we are likely to get the top of the range products in our own loos... Damn its late.. I want bed and Radio 4 till I sleep - if I time this to finish when the Shipping forecast begins that should then do the trick..christ am I really only 28!? The wierdist thing is I've being like this for years. I hope no attractive women are reading this and then realising who is writing it. /// Do I know many attractive women? A few I guess and I wouldn't mind if they read this as I guess they've known for some time that I'm a little odd. Right is that 3mins.?? I don't know - near enough.... night!"


"i lift my foot from the ground, having compressed it into the snow - lifting it I see that it has left an indentation in the white carpet - it makes me think of potato waffles, the shape of it. in fact the whole experience is mouth watering, because next the snow is sorbet or icing and then, as I bend down and scoop it into a snowball, well-cooked rice; it's not that powdery snow which just kicks up into the air, it's damp and clingy, and when I roll it it rolls perfectly, as if my hand were an ice cream scoop - it rolls into a curl of turf and then progressively, as I push it along the ground, a snowman's body. the grass beneath is exposed cleanly as if I were shaving my face and leaving a furrow of smooth skin. i lift up the snowman and shake off"

poirot in egypt

Lots of interesting posts at The Arabist lately, but the one that caught my attention was a bit lighter than the others. It seems that there have been problems with a serial stabber in Egypt's well-heeled Maadi neighbourhood, and the events have provoked the following letter to the Egyptian Gazette. Great stuff.

Monday, February 12, 2007

relating to people

"Went to buy some shoes today- so that I feel like a normal human being. Didn't work- oh well. Bought some shoes- still feel like I can't relate to 99.9% of the earth's population. Hmmm, why did I think buying shoes would make any difference?"
It's funny, this thing of relating to people – naturally as we go through life we encounter all sorts of people in all sorts of situations, and sometimes we are open, generous, sympathetic and warm, and other times we close ourselves off because of some prejudice or vulnerability or hostility we harbour. Sometimes when we want to be part of things we can't force ourselves out, because we're scared of it not happening. At other times, we buy shoes or something, like Nat. And we either fit then or we don't fit.

Do I relate to other people? I think I do, but I don't think that rationally. Just as Natalia has decided that she can't relate to 99.9% of the earth's population, I have decided that I can. I think I am like everyone else, and hate the idea that I’m not. No idea why I think this, or why I tell myself to think this, when it plainly isn't true, when it's impossible. The truth is that rules don't apply when we talk about our way of interacting with the world, or at least the only rules that do apply are largely self-imposed, although I suppose that if you're grossly overweight or outrageously attractive there are certain societal restrictions which are hard to fight. But if I relate to people it's largely because I choose to; I'm sitting on the train, for example, listening to some kid talking shit, trying to impress his mates. I didn't have friends like his when I was a teenager, nor want them, and nor did I talk like him or think like him. But I don't feel alienated listening to his bragging and machismo – I feel affectionate towards him – I was totally different, but still a boastful and arrogant kid in many ways. I remember wanting desperately to impress too, so he's alright by me, even if I would have hated him then.

Talking of the grossly overweight and the outrageously attractive – I watched several programmes about stick-thin models and diet-culture last week, some good and some bad. It's hard not to feel awful for teenage girls and the bodies that they are supposed to emulate. I saw Sophie Ellis Bexter on TV on Sunday. I like her a lot, and not just cause I think she's tasty – she's had a lot of criticism about her looks too, specifically the shape of her face, but she's bright and engaging. She's got, I note, the most amazing legs you'll ever see – they're magnificent in a kind of Darwinian sense; each one is about six feet long and absurdly slim etc. Obviously these freakish pins are a kind of miracle, not something you can work towards, but I couldn’t quite figure out if she was making things worse by wearing a miniskirt and allowing the popworld cameras to linger over them at every opportunity – nor of I was betraying my values by being happy to look at them. Any teenage girl who sees them is liable to just give up and head straight for the comfort-eating stash. On the other hand, why shouldn't she make the best of a great figure? It's a hard one, especially when you’re talking about a celebrity who you know is clever and thoughtful, rather than one equipped with not much more than an attractive face/body. I dunno. Anyone?

x ray specs

Spent the afternoon and evening with Dave and Lisa yesterday – Dave is now officially really really cool, as he is part-robot. Or at least, he has a metal pin in his arm after an impressive snowboarding injury sustained in France last week. Cue much cooing over his X-rays and hospital photos (“that’s my drip”). It reminded me of going to see the solar eclipse with my lovely cousins in the mid-nineties. Everyone trekked up to Alexandra Palace, with just a few people armed with the specialty glasses you needed to look at the sun. I treated this stipulation, then, with careful disdain, although I’ve since met enough people who complained of after-effects to know that it ain’t a good idea to look at the sun, after all. On this occasion there weren’t many glasses about, but a good few people had thought to bring their old X-rays, and were peering at the eclipse through them. It had the odd effect of looking like a spontaneous meeting of North London’s hypochondriacs, comparing injuries. Dave’s X-rays show a clean snap in his upper arm, like a broken bamboo cane. He has to rest his arm for six weeks. During this time, I will be harder than him, and can challenge him to arm wrestles whenever I like.

lunch with a tangerine

One book I've been reading slowly, long-term, and enjoying thoroughly (but not exactly speeding through, granted) is Tim Mackintosh Smith's excellent 'Travels With A Tangerine', the story of his recreating part of the journey undertaken by the great Muslim scholar Ibn Battutah in the 14th century. It's a stunning read, by turns funny, profound, learned and inspiring. Last night BBC4 aired the first episode of a new three part series on the same subject - it was similarly wonderful - more on it later, but in the meantime, a nice anecdote from Rob, who is not only a fan of Mackintosh Smith too but also someone who has met him, and shared an enjoyable afternoon with him in Yemen. Rob writes:

"Roughly twenty years ago, Hilary and I visited her cousin (and cousin's husband) in San'a in what was then the Yemen Arab Republic. We spent a fascinating couple of weeks exploring Yemen, which even now doesn't attract many tourists. The place reminded me forcefully of the pictures that used to illustrate Bible stories; it had only recently begun to bother with the twentieth century (San'a still had fairly complete city walls, and up to the mid-1960s the gates were closed at sunset in best medieval manner). Anyway, Hilary's relatives taught English at the British Council, and one of their colleagues was an Oxford Arabic graduate who had very definitely gone native. He lived in a wonderful house in the old part of San'a, [...] spoke fluent Arabic, and (like the Yemenis) spent his afternoons sheltering from the heat and chewing qat, which resembles privet leaves and contains a natural amphetamine. Come the afternoon you'll be hard pressed to find a Yemeni male anywhere whose cheeks aren't bulging like a hamster's with a wad of psychoactive privet.

He took us into the depths of the suk, where we had a very fine lunch in a restaurant none of the rest of us would have found, eaten sitting on the restaurant's roof along with packing-cases and a number of cats. Then we went qat shopping, then we retired to his flat and chewed away. I can't say it did very much for me, but as Tim says in the TV programme, it's a taste that needs to be acquired, rather like real ale. So it was very evocative to see Tim tonight, twenty years older, but still in the same house (at least it looked the same) and selecting his qat with the same care. He was very good company back then, and one feels he would be very good company still."
Interesting stuff - I'll try to get round to writing up the stuff I scribbled down while watching the show soon.

Friday, February 09, 2007

toby young and plaigiarism

The following extract is from Rob Long's 2005 book, 'Set Up, Joke, Set Up, Joke':

"Walk through the various spots in Los Angeles, and it's easy to spot the out-of-towners. They're the ones reading the trades in public. Out-of-towners think that Variety and the Reporter are filled with interesting news - stock quotes, reviews. box-office figures, that kind of thing - and, of course, they are. But the more practised reader, the Industry denizen, reads the trades for one reason and one reason only: to find out how much other people are being paid. And as this leads almost inevitably to violently obscene language, reading the trades is something to be done in private".

The following extract is from a piece which Toby Young - who is described on Wikipedia as "England's heretrosexual Truman Capote - wrote for the Guardian on the 16th January 2007:

"It's a well-known piece of Los Angeles lore that you can always spot the out-of-towners because they're the ones reading Variety and the Hollywood Reporter in public. Out-of-towners are under the impression that the trades carry all sorts of interesting information about showbusiness - stock quotes, reviews, box-office figures, etc - and that reading them in public will make them look like keen-eyed industry veterans. The only reason people actually employed in the entertainment business read the trades is to find out how much their competitors are being paid. That's why people read them in private - because discovering this information is nearly always accompanied by a string of expletives."

Young is one of our most famous journalists; author of several very successful books, a co-founder of the Modern Review and, besides writing for the Guardian, is the drama critic at the Spectator. It's well known that he is a bit of a shit, as the title of his best-selling book 'How to Lose Friends and Alienate People' suggests, but that doesn't stop me being really really shocked at the extent of the plaigarism above - take a look line for line - it's quite amazing. It's pointed out without fanfare in this week's Private Eye, who apparently consider it par for the course: I don't - if I was editor of the Guardian I'd sack Toby Young for that.

rest amongst the snow

Cambridgshire has been beautiful draped in snow for the last couple of days, although it's melting now, which is a shame, although at least it means I won't have trouble with the trains tomorrow (hopefully). It does mean, however, that I have to say goodbye to my new friend

Here's looking at you, kid.

Friday, February 02, 2007

tessa jowell and supercasinos

I noted on Question Time last night that Harriet Harman met Andrew Rawnsley's suggestion that Tessa Jowell said that she wanted to make the UK 'the international centre for online gambling' with a great deal of scepticism. It certainly doesn't sound like the kind of thing a sane person would say. So, to double check, I just pulled out the original articles surrounding her speech at Ascot in 2006 and I can't find any quotes, although she's certainly still supportive of the ridiculous supercasinos, as the hilarious photos right and left demonstrate. The quote does have an origin, however, so for clarification, here's the only time I can find it used by a politician and it is, happily, refuted. From Hansard:

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Following the previous question, I, too, read the press report suggesting that the Government are seeking to make Britain a centre for online gambling and I am much more concerned about that than even Front-Bench Members. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to think about reversing that policy and not make Britain a centre for online gambling?

Tessa Jowell: As I think the Daily Mail pointed out today when it made that claim—[Hon. Members: “And The Times.”] And The Times. It is certainly not our intention that we become a world centre for online gambling. Do not confuse that, Mr. Speaker, with our aim to get online gambling companies to register and to come on-shore. If we do that, we will have better powers and those companies will be in a better position to act in a socially responsible way, so we will ensure that, in a rapidly increasing area of gambling, we can keep down the proportion of problem gambling. We are not marketing the UK as a centre. We are marketing the UK as having the toughest regulatory regime in the world and as being the safest place for people to gamble. It is a public interest test.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

caring sharing tories are a myth

A good point about David "Dave" Cameron's support for Labour's decision to not back an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies was made in the Guardian today. What a progressive chap he is!

"How heartening to hear young Dave Fotherington-Cameron so solidly behind our leader on gay adoption and the Equality Act this week, and how very satisfying to realise just how far he's come! Why, back in 2000 it was the considered opinion of the soon-to-be MP for Witney that scrapping Section 28 was part of a "deeply unpopular ... fringe agenda", and that St Tony had not only "moved heaven and earth to allow the promotion of homosexuality in schools", but also removed "the last recognition of marriage in the tax system" by abolishing the married couples' tax allowance. What's more, two years later, Dave actually voted against gay adoption, and then for an amendment to allow all unmarried couples except gays to adopt. So hasn't he done well!"
Ha ha.

5 minutes of electrical rest

This is almost certainly pointless, but quite a nice idea anyway:

Participate in the biggest mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming!

The Alliance for the Planet [a group of environmental associations] is
calling on all citizens to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the
planet. http://www.lallianc

People all over the world should turn off their lights and electrical appliances on the 1st of February 2007, between 1.55 pm and 2.00 pm in New York, 18.55 for London, and 19.55 for Paris, Brussels and Italy. 1.55pm in Ottawa, 10.55 am on the Pacific Coast of North America, 1.55 and 2.00 am in Vietnam.

This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.

Five minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

Why February 1? This is the day when the new UN report on global climate change will come out in Paris.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.
That's in about half an hour's time. I would take part, but I'm just about to have a bath, and I'm scared of bathing in the dark. Creepy.

no more gauloises

Interesting to see that France is the lastest country to introduce a smoking ban - as of today it is prohibited to smoke in airports, railway stations, hospitals, schools, shops and offices . Smokers can continue puffing away and pretending to be Serge Gainsbourg in restaurants and bars until December, but that's it - smuggles of smokers on the streets of Paris will be a strange sight, but obviously it's a good move. Funny how momentum is really picking up on this now. We've got 'til July in the UK, of course.

buckets of fresh blood

As I was explaining to Dan the other day, prior coverage of piranhas on this blog briefly made me a popular haunt for aficionados of the toothy fish - so I always feel duty bound to report on any developments in the field. Although truthfully, on the subject of piranhas (and dinosaurs, incidentally), I still feel the same way I did as a child, in other words I find it increasingly hard to not follow the word with a mental exclamation mark. Piranhas!! Dinosaurs!!

The Guardian news blog carries an interesting story today. A 52 year old Slovenian, Martin Strel, has previously "swum the 1,867-mile length of the Danube before building up to the Mississippi two years later and then, in 2004, the 2,488 miles of the Yangtze". Now he's turning to the frankly terrifying and spiky-fish infested waters of the Amazon.

He's not too worried about the pain:

"As a young boy, I was beaten a lot by my parents and schoolmasters. This no doubt contributed greatly to my ability to ignore pain, and [to] endure."
...but he's taking a few precautions regardless:

"My escort boats will carry all the time buckets of fresh blood to pour in the water in case the piranhas or other fish attack me."
Yikes. I hope that'll be enough - all good piranha fans remember Obidos 1981:

"it is thought a shoal of the fish devoured up to 300 people when their boat capsized and sank near Obidos in Brazil in September 1981."
Oh yeah, and he's "swimming for peace, friendship and clean waters".