Sunday, April 30, 2006

BBC 2.0

When did Margaret Thatcher first appear on the BBC? Which was the last
to appear in session for John Peel?

The BBC has put a searchable catalogue of details of 946,976 BBC radio & TV programmes dating back 75 years online.

Imagine if they do succeed in putting much of this online and available on-demand as their Creative Future project envisages.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

To love, youth, and good arguments

Za milosc, mlodosc i dobra awanture.

I'm taking my Polish Vodka collection on its first road trip down to see my brother in Wales today, and I have found some more calls to arms at Toast a Drink in Polish.

Vodka is your enemy, so pound it in the gullet.
Wódka to twój wróg, wiec lej ja w morde.

To the drunkard: who lives half as long, but sees everything twice.
Pijany zyje dwa razy krócej, ale widzi dwa razy wiecej.

Drink up, the glass is getting spongy.
Pijmy, bo szklo nasiaka.

For my own contrubution, I put "Until The Incredible Hulk takes up Macrame - Make Mine Marvel!" into and came up with:

Przed Niewiarogodny Kadłub statku bierze *Macrame* - Wyrabiają Kopalnia Podziwiać !

Calling out around the world:

A votre sante, to France!
Alla Salute to Itlay!
Cheers! to Britain!
Egé szé gé re, to Hungary!
Kanpai to Japan!
Na Zdrowie, Poland!
Ooogy Wawa, for the Zulus!
Prosit, Germany.
Salud! Spain.
Saúde! Brazil.
Skal! Sweden.
Slainte! Ireland.
Wen Lie! China.
Yasas! Greece.
Za vashe zdorovye! Russia.
Zivili! Serbia.
Zum Wohl to Austria.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bubonic Plagiarists

Kali Amanda, New York representative for the Browne escutcheon, has been telling me about a controversy raging there about a Harvard University freshman who has plagiarised huge portions of her first novel.


Amid all the pursed lips and furrowed brows, and perhaps because I have actually been to a call centre in Bangalore, I can't help but smile at the idea that a South India born wunderkind has turned a multi million dollar trend on its head by outsourcing her work to a literary sweat shop in the Big Apple.

You go, girlfriend!

Coincidentally, in one of the first developments for years that might restore my faith in the British judiciary, the judge who presided over the failed Da Vinci Code plagiarism case at London's High Court hid his own secret code in his written judgement.

Seemingly random italicised letters were included in the 71-page judgement given by Mr Justice Peter Smith, which apparently spell out a message.
Mr Justice Smith said he would confirm the code if someone broke it.
"I can't discuss the judgement, but I don't see why a judgement should not be a matter of fun," he said.

A Cocklecarrot for our age and not before time. (The judgement is here if you want to try and crack the code yourself.)

(By the way the post title 'bubonic plagiarists' is shamelessly plagiarised by me from Peter Cook's assessment of David Frost.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

End of an Era

I see from the BBC that Councillors in Cardiff will be voting today on proposals earmarking six secondary and 11 primaries for closure.

St Illtyd's, the secondary school where I was corralled for seven years up to 1979 is one of those singled out for the chop. It is also the place where all my brothers and uncles and most of my male cousins served their time under the stewardship of the de la Salle brothers.

I can't honestly say that I have any overwhelming nostagia for the establishment, but it is still a bittersweet development.

Something that amazed me at the time was that we had a stirring school song. Do many places?

So - for old time's sake - once more with feeling:

To green fields set with golden flowers
In ancient days St. Illtyd came
And there he set his college towers
Where scholars flocked drawn by his fame.

Green and gold, green and gold
Strong be our hearts and bold
To keep unsullied our great name
Adding to ancient glory modern fame
And ever honoured hold
The green and gold.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Every Day, Every Day .....

Lion Man

Arsenal fan that he is, I let my five year old stay up until half time watching the second round of their semi final clash with Villarreal on the telly last night.

His parochial ranting and raving at the serial injustices done to the gunners was hilarious when you consider that he has only the most tenuous grasp of the laws of the game. That said, his pronouncements when watching sport are to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from mine, and from my father's in his turn. Perhaps there is a gene for it.

His team won through , and in the process I was delighted to learn that he thinks that the singular of linesmen is Lion Man. A misapprehension to be sure, but one of which I approve; lion men they shall be to me henceforth.

I watched the first round in the Mayfair Tavern last week and remarked on what a friendly place it was. Not too far away, in the early hours of Saturday morning, Mohammad and Hayder Ali, 23 and 24, were pulled from a white Mercedes van and stabbed to death by a gang of about 15 Asian men.

I know nothing whatever of the circumstances of this tragedy, but I demand that we must keep on keeping on learning from and about all the people who live around here. And about and their food and their culture.

Insignficant as my sympathy must be in the scheme of things, I offer my own condolences to the Ali family: Bismillahir-Rahmanir-Rahim.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Voysey Inheritance

I generally try to catch most of the stuff that Peter Gill directs, at least in London, and I'm just back from watching a preview performance a new National Theatre production of Harley Granville Barker’s 'The Voysey Inheritance'. The press night is Tuesday.

There has been a lot of noise lately about the fiftieth anniversary of 'Look Back in Anger'. Barker's play is is hundred years old - as it was first produced in 1905 - but its concerns seem a lot less dated to me than Osborne's rant does.

Here is Peter Gill on directing Voysey. Googling around I have discovered that Gill is going to direct a revival of 'Look Back in Anger' in Bath later this year as well. Best of luck to him. I can't see that the brattish Jimmy Porter has much to say to us in the 21st century.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mistress of Spices

I went to see Mistress of Spices yesterday. It got at best lukewarm reviews, but since I could quite happily while away an hour and a half looking at a poster of Aishwarya Rai, that carried very little weight with me.

The real problem with the movie I think is the voice over. When Rai's character - Tilo - converses with the spices it is difficult to suppress a giggle. I think the film would have been a lot better if that narration was cut completely. You'd lose a bit of exposition but I think the mystery might add to the experience.

I enjoyed it a lot however, and Rai's performance was luminous. I'm sure she will have a big hit in the West one day.

Old School

Local Beat Officer job description:

I know a fat old policeman
He's always on our street
A fat and jolly red-faced man
He really is a treat
He's too kind for a policeman
He's never known to frown
And everybody says he is
The happiest man in town.

A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo hoo hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo hoo hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo hoo hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

He laughs upon point duty
He laughs upon his beat
He laughs at everybody
When he's walking in the street
He never can stop laughing
He says he's never tried
But once he did arrest a man
And laughed until he cried.

A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo... ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo... hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo hoo hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

His jolly face was wrinkled
And then he shut his eyes
He opened his great mouth
It was a wondrous size
He said 'I must arrest you'
He didn't know what for
And then he started laughing
Until he cracked his jaw.

A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo... ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo... ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ooo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

So if you chance to meet him
When walking round the town
Just shake him by his fat old hand
And give him half a crown
His eyes will beam and sparkle
He'll gurgle with delight
And then you'll start him laughing
With all his blessed might

A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo... ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo... hoo hoo ha ha ha ha ha ha
Ooo hoo hoo, oo hoo, ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Literature Map

I finished looking at Birds Without Wings again this morning in preparation for Chris's grupo libros. It is very disheartening to be plunged into the horrors of a war - the latter stages of which I was previously completely unaware.

I noticed that Drosoula and Mandras escape to become protagonists in Captain Corelli's Mandolin and that the omniscient narrator notes Italian soldiers who occupy Eskibahce arrive uninclined "for playing mandolins and singing choruses from operas".

To be honest I was a bit unnerved by de Bernieres' abrupt changes of tone (from tragedy to comedy, or from fiction to history) throughout the book and by the way he wears his heart so clearly on his sleeve.

I am going to read something lighter before I go on to Brideshead.

Check out these literature maps for the four writers we are looking at:

Evelyn Waugh
Louis de Bernieres
Khaled Hosseini
Javier Marias

I've got no opinion on the relations but they are intruiging.

The Evil of Two Lessers

I had a meeting at a client's office in Victoria on Friday and noticed that the building still housed the Conservative's Campaign Headquarters.

This got me thinking about the fruits of David Cameron's first few months leading the party: sod all.

No wonder folk are disenchanted with politics in the UK when we have, to adapt a US observation by Lewis Black:

  • Labour - the party with bad ideas

  • The Conservatives - the party with no ideas, and

  • (The eternally parenthesizable, Liberal Democrats - the party with no idea).

Saturday, April 22, 2006

New Brain, New Broom

It is probably says more about me than about them, but I was surprised when I blogged about his Live Clipboard initiative lately by how few of the people I spoke to about it had heard of Ray Ozzie.

Here is a profile from Fortune Magazine. I must admit, I hadn't realised he had become quite so significant as he seems since taking the Microsoft dollar.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pizza the Action

I called up Pizza Hut last night and ordered a thin crusty supreme.

Half an hour later they turned up with Diana Ross.

(Hat tip, my brother Vince.)

Set 'Em Up Tom

I spent a rare evening noodling round on the piano last night.

Back in my youth I developed a sort of ersatz cocktail bar style in which I hit the keys largely at random. My left hand plays four note harmonised block voiced chords (leavened with chromatic passing chords) and my right hand plays blues inflected runs and trills.

I've found that Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's 'One for My Baby' is a handy tune for this style as you can do the bulk of it as a sort of Cmaj7, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7 vamp without the substitutions getting too ridiculous.

Nowadays, I'm never - if I can help it - more than a heartbeat away from an internet connection so it is difficult to resist the myriad online fake books even when you are at the (ebony and ivory) keyboard. Last night among all the dross (chord progressions are surprisingly slippery) I found a 'One for my baby' transcription that seemed to be quite closely based on the classic version from 'Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely' so I ponied up the four or five bucks required to download it.

This inevitably lead to further involuntary research.

It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place
Except you and me
So set 'em' up Joe, I got a little story
I think you should know.

According to Wikipedia, Mercer wrote the lyrics sitting in bar called P J Clarke's on Third Avenue in midtown Manhattan, while being served by a barman called Tommy Joyce and apparently called Joyce up the next day to apologize for not being able to make his name fit.

That seems a bit lame to me. I propose:
It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place
Except you and me
So set 'em' up Tom, just like back in high school
No date for the prom.
Was that so hard? But wait, P J Clarke's has another claim to fame. It also stood in for Nat's Bar in Wilder's 'The Lost Weekend' in which Ray Milland (born Reginald Truscott-Jones in Neath January 1905 and hereby inaugurated Welsh Born Icon) declaims:

It shrinks my liver, doesn't it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I'm above the ordinary. I'm competent. I'm walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I'm one of the great ones. I'm Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I'm Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I'm Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I'm John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I'm Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I'm W. Shakespeare. And out there it's not Third Avenue any longer, it's the Nile. Nat, it's the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.
I've already had a Bloody Mary in Harry's Bar in Paris. Do I need to pencil in a nervous breakdown in PJ's before I die, I wonder?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Craic

Waxing weary of the King's Head, we ended up watching the Arsenal game in the Mayfair Tavern last night

Although I've not spent much time there, I've always liked the idea of the Tavern - an Irish, or perhaps more accurately Galway, boozer - being in the same building as the Tooting Islamic Centre. This speaks to me of a relaxed live and let live attitude that seems to be in peril from all the humourless grievance mongers in the modern world.

Also, as a proponent of aspirational, non-exclusive ethnic groups I was very pleased to see a good proportion of black Irish, Mediterranean Irish, Asian Irish and even Oriental Irish among the clientele, united at least in appreciation of the craic.

I'm not concerned with mundane and quotidian reality. My Irishness is the Irishness of blarney, or The Quiet Man, or of a story Budd Schulberg tells about the 1941 Billy Conn, Joe Louis fight.
Conn was leading and had only three more rounds to go and his corner was telling him to stick and move, stick and move, you can't lose if you stick and move. And Billy's saying, "Nah, I'm going to knock him out." And he came out in the 13th and started to mix it with Louis and down he went. And in his corner - it's a classic - the manager's saying, "Goddammit, Billy, didn't we tell you to stick and move?" And Billy, lying there on the ground, says, "What's the use of being Irish if you can't be stupid?"

All of which brings me in a meandering Irish way to the problem of your man Flatley. That'll be himself , the Lord of the Dance, the Celtic Tiger to be sure. George Clooney excepted, is there another cat on the the planet who thinks he has got more cream?

He is an oik and a cad and i diskard him from the Ireland I choose to imagine.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

England, his England

Now that my five year old is in school and subject to peer pressure, it seems that all my work on inculcating Welsh chauvinism in him may come to nothing. Soccer is in the ascendancy over rugby and he has become - of all things - a precociously dyed in the wool gooner. (A gooner, for my New York readership, is a supporter of the Arsenal football club.)

Does this mean that I have to back the Gunners in their semi-final clash with Villarreal in the European Champions League tonight? Being a parent is hard.

I suppose I could get used to supporting Arsenal with him, but what about England?

I started muttering darkly about fate when I was half watching a BBC programme on Monday about Pierro della Francesca's famous Resurrection fresco. The risen Christ is carrying what appears to be an England supporters' flag.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I emerged from my house just before 8 am on Good Friday - on my way for a swim before hitting the road with my five year old on an Easter Holiday trip to see family in Wales - to find that some scum sucking sons of bitches had thrown paint over my car and the cars belonging to about half a dozen of my neighbours on a rampage through our street.

My first thought was that I should report the incident to the Police so I called the local station and was put on hold for ten minutes. I hung up and dialled the emergency 999 number. This was answered crisply but I was told that I had to call my local station to report the incident.

I tried the local station again and waited again for ten minutes before giving up. Bear in mind that during the twenty plus aborted minutes of this attempt to report the incident I was fretting about house paint drying on and ruining the finish of my car.

I spent the next two hours or so cleaning my car. After I had finished the obvious surfaces, I had to open the doors and the boot and rinse the paint that had leaked into and through the seals and over the internal paintwork and mounts. This second cleaning produced a new set of drips over the rest of the body. I was not best pleased.

A cameraderie developed between us neighbours as we wiped and sluiced and it became clear that pretty much all of us had given up in trying to report matter to the Police. One guy made me laugh by saying that if the gendarmes had deigned to turn up they would probably have arrested him for washing his car in the street during a hosepipe ban.

I didn't want to let the matter drop though, so after I had cleaned myself up I went to to report the matter online.

This system - to my utter bewilderment - asked me to decide if my report should be classified under any of the following categories:
Hate Crime Any hate incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate.
Hate Incident Any incident, which may or may not constitute a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate.
Racist Incident Any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.
Homophobic Incident Any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person.
Transphobic Incident Any incident which is perceived to be transphobic by the victim or any other person.
Faith Related Incident Any incident which is perceived to be based upon prejudice towards or hatred of the faith of the victim or so perceived by the victim or any other person.
Sectarian Incident Any incident which is perceived to be sectarian by the victim or any other person.
Disablist Incident Any incident which is perceived to be based upon prejudice towards or hatred of the victim because of their disability or so perceived by the victim or any other person.

I don't know where to start on how perverse this is. An incident need not be a crime remember, so what is to stop the list being extended again and again and again?

Firstly, can I draw your attention to the ludicrous codicil "or so perceived by the victim or any other person" which extends - potentially infinitely - the coverage of every incident covered by every verse of this ludicrous catechism?

Secondly, why do I have to jump through all the hoops of this taxonomy just to report hooligans pouring paint on my car? I neither know nor care if they think that my car is gay or heretical.

Thirdly, I have never even heard of transphobic, but if I Google it the majority of hits I get from the whole world are from UK Police sources. This speaks eloquently about priorities.

When I got to Wales I remarked to my Dad that this unholy partnership of administrative incompetence and bien pensant contempt for anyone outside the new establishment's current list of pet groups of victims is what drives people to vote the the BNP.

Hey presto, what should emerge yesterday? Research carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has suggested that up to 25% of people have thought about voting for the far-right party.

I have decided to coin a new word Billophobic for the those of us who are frightened of the UK Government's tidal wave of legislation targeting opinions with which they disagree, and the cynical use of the Police to publicise, legitimise, and enforce these policies at the expense of doing their real job.

Expect Billophobic incidents.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Little Water?

More, from Joseph Tartakovsky in the LA Times, on vodka:

Etymologically, vodka in Russian means 'little water.' And because the average Russian guzzles a world-best 5.2 gallons per year, a little water has gone a long way in damaging the collective body politic. A few years ago, the Finnish physician directing the Russian office of the World Health Organization explained: 'If you did this in Finland, half the population would be dead in a year. This is clearly not normal.'

The Russian people disagreed. 'It's our way of life. How can we stop drinking with a climate like ours?' said one. From another: 'Our people are willing to live in poverty, but if the government tries to make them stop drinking, it might lead to social unrest. Nobody can make us stop drinking.'

Not that the powers didn't try. In 1917, the Bolsheviks banned vodka and condemned drunkenness as a 'social evil irreconcilable with the proletarian ideology,' perhaps because they believed, as Friedrich Engels had stated, that drinking was the bane of the working classes. It is probably closer to the truth to say that work was the bane of the drinking classes. No vocation without intoxication, cried the workers, and in 1924, the ban was reversed - an early instance of Soviet utopianism succumbing to Russian reality.

Vodka Etiquette

No that my vodka collection is coming on nicely, I am starting to turn my mind to etiqutte and tradition:

So, if you want to drink like a Pole how should you go about it? The simple answer seems to be to consume everything you can get your hands on, and then some.

I quite the idea of toasts. Here is a suggested series:

First glass (standing up): Your health!
Second glass: Now one for the other leg.
Third: God likes a Trinity.
Fourth: A good table has four legs.
(Etc. etc. until you are drunk.)
Last glass: See you under the table!

With the noble exception of the Tatanka, forget about using vodka in cocktails. In Poland vodka is drunk neat, not diluted or mixed. Regardless of the size of the glass, though, it is drunk in one gulp, or 'do dna' ('to the bottom'), as Poles say. A chunk of herring in oil or other accompaniment, or a sip of mineral water or juice, is consumed just after drinking to give some relief to the throat, and the glasses are immediately refilled for the next drink.

Russians seem very similar, usually cleansing the palate with a sip of coke, or fruit juice but most often, beer. "Vodka without beer is money thrown in the wind", they say. Like the Poles, Russians nibble between shots of the hard stuff; grazing on zakuvski. Zakuvski is varied: caviar on blinis, smoked fish, black bread, pickles etc.

At a Russian session, an empty bottle should always be placed either beside the leg of the table on the floor. An empty bottle on a table is a bad omen for drinkers.

Russiann group drinking is synchronised and it is considered an offense to drink before somebody makes a toast.

I could live with that, but the tradition in which the drinker grabs the nearest person's head and takes a deep sniff of hair after downing a shot of vodka is too weird even for me.

(Refs 1, 3)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Eppur, si muove

In one of the splendidly baroque meeting rooms of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, the 263rd successor to St. Peter as Vicar of Christ hobbled slowly to his presiding chair before an assembly of bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was 1994. John Paul II had fractured his right thigh in a bathtub fall, triggering a news-media torrent of frail-Pope-is-dying stories, but, more accurately, ending the 73-year-old Holy Father's getaways to the ski slopes.
The bishops watched him in silence. John Paul sat. He spoke. 'Eppur, si muove,' he said. 'And yet, it moves.' One wonders how many bishops got the joke.
Allegedly this was Galileo's defiant declaration to his Inquisition judges in 1633 after they sentenced him to life imprisonment for declaring the Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around as implied in Scripture.
Think of all the subtle meaning of that joke in those circumstances and then imagine having to explain it to someone incorrigibly literal-minded.

"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly," in Chesterton's phrase.

More and more I think that humourless fundamentalism (whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Atheist or any other stripe) is a common denominator of many of the threats we have, do and will face.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Behold the Man

Not long ago, I read in the Weekly Standard:
ONE OF THE LEAST VISITED memorials in Washington is a waterfront statue commemorating the men who died on the Titanic. Seventy-four percent of the women passengers survived the April 15, 1912, calamity, while 80 percent of the men perished. Why? Because the men followed the principle 'women and children first.
The monument, an 18-foot granite male figure with arms outstretched to the side, was erected by "the women of America" in 1931 to show their gratitude. The inscription reads: "To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic. .
. . They gave their lives that women and children might be saved."
Today, almost no one remembers those men.
Perhaps we can remember them today, nintey four years after their sacrifice. The valour of Flight 93 notwithstanding, similar solidarity is difficult to imagine today and something valuable has been lost.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Saladin at Easter

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a Christian church now within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. The ground on which the church rests is venerated by most Christians as Golgotha, the Hill of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. and it also is said to include His burial place (the sepulchre).

After Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187 there was some discussion about destroying the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to take away Christian pilgrims' reason for returning to Jerusalem. In the end, Saladin insisted that it was to be respected.

Since Saladin's time, two Moslem families (the Nusseibehs and the Joudehs) have been the guardians of the key to the Sepulchre managing the rivalry of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox custodians.

That is my story for this Good Friday.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God


Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Classic Blunders

My five year old is watching 'The Princess Bride' while I'm working from home again.

Vizzini's taunting of the Dread Pirate Roberts resonates with the news today:

You only think I guessed wrong! That's what's so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha-

Sohrab and Rustum

I finished reading "The Kite Runner" last night but I don't want to comment on its merits and demerits here as that is a discussion for another venue.

Something I do want to remember though is the way a couple of nooks and crannies in the book were illuminated by the meanderings upon which the blog has taken me.

Stories of Mullah Nasrudin featured, as did nihari, and I was interested to see the state's encouragement of children to spy and report on their parents - subject of a recent rant of mine - used to illustrate the depravity of the Russian imposed Afghan regime.

The tragic story of Sohrab and Rustum also plays a central part in the book's story arc. I was pleased and surprised to find that I knew it already as I had studied Matthew Arnold's poem in the classroom as a boy. (Perhaps my lamentable state of education is more related to my being jaded when I was in school than to the school itself?).

There is a an annotated version of the poem at "Sohrab and Rustum: An Episode" (1853) which might be of interest to other Kite Runner readers.

He spoke; and Sohrab smiled on him, and took
The spear, and drew it from his side, and eased
His wound's imperious anguish; but the blood
Came welling from the open gash, and life
Flowed with the stream: all down his cold white side
The crimson torrent ran, dim now and soiled,
Like the soiled tissue of white violets
Left, freshly gathered, on their native bank,
By children whom their nurses call with haste
Indoors from the sun's eye; his head drooped low,
His limbs grew slack; motionless, white, he lay--
White, with eyes closed; only when heavy gasps,
Deep, heavy gasps, quivering through all his frame,
Convulsed him back to life, he opened them,
And fixed them feebly on his father's face;
Till now all strength was ebbed, and from his limbs
Unwillingly the spirit fled away,
Regretting the warm mansion which it left,
And youth, and bloom, and this delightful world.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Le Mot Juste

Curiously satisfying - given the tabloid caricature of his habits - that the Sandhurst graduation ceremony of Prince Harry, and lap dance habitue confreres, as army officers should rejoice in the given name a Passing Out.

Live from Iraq

I'm not really much of a pimped out thug - no homies on lockdown last time I looked - but I do feel compelled to throw a mad props shoutout to Neal Saunders.

Joking aside, this album written and recorded by US soldiers in Baghdad is so raw and vivid that consideration of it being good or bad seems superfluous.

(Update: P.S. I imagine that the title "The Man with the Ho" would have a different implication coming from a rapper than it did coming from Edwin Markham, as well.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Last night as part of our continuing campaign to eat your way around the world in London after work, Paul and I lit on the Lebanese Cedar Restaurant.

(A stray thought; why is it always The Lebanon rather than just Lebanon. You never hear of The Switzerland. Answers on a postcard please.)

I had fattoush(which is a variety of chopped vegetables and fried Lebanese bread infused with mint, vinegar, olive oil and sumak) as a mezza and then a mixed grill (which is a selection of lamb and chicken cubes, shish kebab grilled on skewers served with onions and tomatoes).

Paul had Arayes - Lebanese bread filled with finely ground lamb, onions, parsley, cinnamon and allspice then toasted on the charcoal grill - then Kafta Kheshkhash (lamb with parsley and garlic grilled on skewers and served with a hot tomato sauce.
We also shared some rice and finished with Baclawa.

A particular revelation was the wine. We had a bottle of Clos St. Thomas and then got talking to Elia - the proprietor - about Lebanese wine. He put us on to some real good stuff called Massaya, a blended red from the Bekaa Valley. He told us that many people make their own wine and spirits and gave us a complimentary glass of what he called arack, which tasted more like Pernod than the Sri Lankan stuff I am most used to drinking.

What a great friendly place.
Since the beginning of time, everyone who stepped onto the Lebanese soil has paid tribute to the fertile land called : The Bekaa Valley. This stretch of land has been known as the cradle of the biggest empires. The Bekaa Valley is where the Romans chose to build one of the biggest jewels of Lebanon - The Temple of Bacchus - holding within its walls the hymn of love and the mystery and secrets of wine Winemaking is an art.

Monday, April 10, 2006


After discovering Hanami recently I was delighted to see the vision on the left when I opened the bedroom curtains this weekend.

As I celebrated with a glass or two in Japanses style, I decided to compose my own haiku tribute.

Here is the skinny from Wikipedia on how you go about it.

"Haiku is a mode of Japanese poetry, a late 19th century revision by Masaoka Shiki of the older hokku (発句), the opening verse of a linked verse form, haikai no renga . A traditional hokku consists of a pattern of approximately 5, 7, and 5 morae, phonetic units which only partially correspond to the syllables of languages such as English. It also contains a special season word (the kigo) descriptive of the season in which the renga is set. Hokku often combine two (or rarely, three) different elements into a unified sensory impression, with a major grammatical break (kire) usually at the end of either the first five or second seven morae. "

I came up with:

Through my front window
Spring blooming cherry blossom.
Where is the corkscrew?

A 5,7,5 syllable pattern wth the kigo at the beginning of line two, the kire at the end of that line, and a contrasting yet complementary element introduced in the third.

As I was quite happy with it I decided to translate it into Japanese with Alta Vista's babelfish. That gave me:

On a whim I translated it back into English again:
Through the cherry tree where the spring of my frontal window blooms.
As for the cork plug pulling out it is somewhere?

Pure Zen.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Land of my Fathers

I demand that you listen as Bryn Terfel delves into the history of one of the most stirring national anthems in the world, Land of My Fathers.

The words were written by Pontypridd weaver Evan James beside the river Rhondda, and set to music by his son James on a harp in 1856. Some 50 years later, it became the secret weapon that helped to defeat the all-conquering 1905 All Blacks, and in doing so became the first national anthem to be sung at an international rugby match.

Many anthems express the desire to slaughter enemies. Land of My Fathers expresses a love of home and the hope that Wales and its language will live forever. Bryn concludes that Land of My Fathers is the greatest national anthem in the world...ever."
Listen and learn Wales' lesson to the world: limitless self assertion coupled with hugeness of heart. Hence, "our anthem is the finest in the world by a long chalk" is married with "it doesn't matter if you don't understand the words".


There hasn't been any crowing here for a while about my weight loss because, quite frankly, it has stopped.

I'm still exercising almost every day although I am now alternating days of aerobic and weight training because I find that I've moved up to a level of intensity with resistance work that requires a day of rest before I work my muscles in that way again.

It may be that I'm not ready to try and lose weight as opposed to noticing that I'm losing weight through exercise.

Exhibit A: Yesterday I watched Saturday Kitchen for the 45 minutes I was on the cross trainer and then went to a Polish deli in Streatham to enhance my vodka collection and pick up some cold meats.

Exhibit B: I've done my dips, pull ups and presses etc. this morning but now I'm off the the French market that is being set up in Abbey Mills.

Do you begin to see a pattern emerging?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Something to Remember

I worked from home on Thursday looking after my five year old who is off school for the Easter holiday. I took him swimming lunchtime - after he had watched Harry Potter and then played in the garden in the morning - and he persuaded me to let him ride his little bike, stabilisers and all, to the pool.

We had a falling out on the way back when he earned a telling off by cycling over a road rather than waiting for me on the pavement at a junction.

He cried a bit and was still sulking for the hundred or so yards back to the house. When we got there he sat in the front garden said he didn't want to come in.

"Fine," I said, "stay outside if you like."

I went in, leaving the front door open, sat down at my desk and started work.

Five minutes later he glided in wordlessly, placed a flower beside my right elbow, and went and sat on the couch.

Thus we were reconciled in a perfect moment.

The stones will cry out

The abject end of Denis Donaldson and the sordid catalogue of like atrocities enumerated by Jenny McCartney in this week's Spectator, reawakened memories of the murder of Robert McCartney and the inimidation of his brave family.

His sister had a baby she is naming after him earlier this month, but says:
"Fifteen people were involved in Robert's murder, the attempted murder of Brendan Devine, and the clean-up operation. Only two people have been charged. There's still a lot of work for us to do."

It is too easy for things like this to slip our minds among the day to day clutter of our lives...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Harry Potter and the Brokeback Mountain

Men kissing and cuddling? You must think I'm daft.

The Sun Online has brought a fun new internet meme to my attention; spoof 'Brokeback Mountain' trailers made up from other favourite films.

I bought "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" for my five year old yesterday. He is on holiday for Easter and I watched it with him, so the example below is my current favourite.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Live Clipboard and Microformats

I'm intrigued by Ray Ozzie's work on extending the clipboard user model to the web by building on XML, RSS and Microformats, and I had a bit of a play with it after work and before the football last night.

The two established microformats that he has built initial examples on are iCal for Events and iCard for Contacts so I used Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor Restaurant and our visit to its Vodka University earlier this week for my implementation.

If you right click on the event or contact below you will be able to paste it in to the empty "holder" below. More impressively if you visit the Microsoft sample page you will be able to paste the data from my blog directly into it, and conversely take data from the sample and paste it back into "A Welsh Born Icon".

Imagine the possibilities if you could paste contacts and appointments directly from the web into Outlook.

I'm going to follow developments closely.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Na Zdrowie

Well, we bowled up for Vodka University in Harvey Nicks on Monday and it was absolutely great.

I've been surprised to find that - with the exception of Zubrowka which you can pick up in Sainsburys and the post office in Colliers Wood - other Polish vodkas are elusive. (Which is odd as Zubrowka - as an anti coagulant and mild hallucinogenic - is not at first glance the most respectable of Polish offerings.)

It was among the sixteen vodkas that we tasted, but we also got a chance to sample three other Polish brands; Belvedere (sic), Wyborowa, and Luksusowa.

Until fairly recently, vodka was confined to the Poles, the Russians and the Scandinavians. From my brief experience I would say that Russian vodka is all about alcohol, Scandinavian vodka is about pretending not to be alcohol, but Polish Vodka is far richer, stressing texture and weight. I intend to continue my pursuit of it.

The Fifth Floor Restaurant put on a meal for the graduates of the Vodka University that we took up at £39.50 for three courses and unlimited Harvey Nichols own label wine. Memories after that as you can imagine are hazy.

There is one peripheral incident that may be worth remembering. On a trip to the loo I noticed a bloke in an eccentric hat at the bar. On closer inspection this turned out to be Chris Evans in the centre of a sycophantic entourage. He really struck me as an arse ; drawing attention to himself as the only person in the building with a covered head which I bet if challenged he'd claim was camouflage.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Man with the Hoe

I had meant to be blogging Vodka University today, but I've left my notes at home and I can't remember how to spell most of the East European brand names.

Unafraid of dramatic changes of tone, I'm filling the hole with a poem by Edwin Markham that enjoyed a brief vogue as the 19th Century turned to the 20th.

On some dark days I wonder if it is not more prescient of the 21st, "when this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world" and a companion piece to Yeats' 'The Second Coming':

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back, the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this--
More tongued with cries against the world's blind greed--
More filled with signs and portents for the soul--
More packed with danger to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of the Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time's tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--
With those who shaped him to the thing he is--
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Gnarls Barkley

Perhaps the BBC headline "History made as song tops chart without selling a single CD" is a trifle hyperbolic but yesterday is likely to be remembered as the day the torch was passed (at least for the UK) from objects to bits as the standard mechanism for music distribution.

There is an Official site for Gnarls Barkley that plays the track and they are on as well. (I must make time to look in more detail at myspace. News Corp's $580 purchase of it last year put it on my radar, but a profile I read in Vanity Fair was so inane I got discouraged.)

I'm vaguely pondering my home set up in light of the convergence of computing, communications and entertainment technology. At the moment I've just got an 802.11g wireless router ADSL modem and I am carting my Toshiba Qosmio back and for to the office.

Maybe now is the time to add some storage from the Buffalo Linkstation range. I could connect it to the router with the ethernet cable and use it to serve media all around the house via the wireless network. Possibly if I combined it with something like the SlimDevices Squeezebox3 I wouldn't need a PC at all.

It is certainly weird to be considering what is essentially a NAS device as a consumer home entertainment component.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


The arrival of spring raises an important question. Is it better to admire the cherry blossoms drunk or sober? In Japan, the consensus is 'drunk'. When the sakura bloom, Japanese people sit in parks getting raucously sloshed and contemplating the transience of life, as symbolised by those briefly spectacular flowers. Everyone agrees that alcohol heightens the experience.
This week's Economist introduced me to a Japanese festival - Hanami - of which I was previously unaware.

According to Wikipedia: Hanami was first used as a term analogous to cherry blossom viewing in the Heian era novel Tale of Genji.

What a great idea, if I can find some cherry blossom next weekend I will plant myself under it with a bento box, a case of Kirin, and a bottle of saki and get quiety sloshed meditating on Basho's haiku.
Come out to view
the truth of flowers blooming
in poverty

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Reading List

I've finished 'Written Lives' so I'm moving on to 'The Kite Runner', as I've read the other books ('Brideshead Revisited' and 'Birds Without Wings') that we have set ourselves for May.

'Written Lives' was great, though let down by the final section; 'Perfect Artists'. Most of the book was delightful and frivolous, but the last twenty or so pages was frankly trivial. There is a difference.

I note in passing that there is an Official Website of Khaled Hosseini, Author of The Kite Runner.

New Age Neo Krypteia

Regular readers will know that there is a strong chance that I am going to end my days hoarding canned goods against 'The Rapture', and discount my millennial ravings accordingly but I was irritated to read a press release issued by Cleveland Police yesterday.

Police Chief Rounds Up A Posse Of Seat Belt Sheriffs
Thousands of youngsters are being recruited by Cleveland's Road Policing Chief - to ride "shotgun" in the family car.
Insp Eric Robinson wants posses of Seat Belt Sheriffs to ensure that the clunk click rule is followed for every trip.
Around 8,000 letters are being sent out to nine and ten-year-olds asking for their help in ensuring family and friends always wear seat belts - and the drivers don't use hand-held mobile phones when driving.
Insp Robinson said: "We want to save lives, not deal in the aftermath. We all know that not wearing a seat belt is an offence, but more importantly is that children and their families are safe - and who better to make sure everyone belts up that the children themselves."
In his letter Insp Robinson asks youngsters to ensure their mums and dads, brothers and sisters wear seat belts for every journey - even if just to the shops or on the school run.
"Crashes can happen at any time so I need some Seat Belt Sheriffs to keep an eye out for me," he wrote. "We all know it's against the law not to wear a seat belt, but it's more important that you and your family stop yourselves from getting hurt."
Insp Robinson plans to recruit his first posse at Rossmere Primary School in Catcote Road, Hartlepool on Monday April 3rd 2006 at 11.00am.
My distaste - in its intricate image - strides on two levels.

The first is simply visceral revulsion at such a nakedly blatant attempt to turn a cadre of children into prissy sneaks and teachers' pets. I am fortunately convinced that human nature is sufficiently immutable to condemn it to failure notwithstanding the appeal of 'Spike the Road Safety Hedgehog'.

The second objection is more profound. What on earth gives the Police the notion that it is acceptable for them to set children to spy on their kith and kin in order to further their policies?

The example may be - from a civil liberties perspective - comparatively trivial, but the principle - especially in the context of the current regime - is of paramount importance.

Remember that Tony Blair really said, when launching his Respect agenda:

"I can't raise people's children for them...but what I can do is provide the right system of sanctions and support for families where they need them."
The supercilious arrogance of that remark and its implicit contempt for ordinary - though I prefer the adjective 'normal' - people is so hair raising that I thought at first that it must have been a slip taken out of context. Not so. It is trumpeted on Downing Street's own website -

For Blair, and the fatuous ideology he represents, it is self evident that it would be better if he and his acolytes could raise our children for us (thus inoculating and protecting them from the countless viscious unthinking phobias and isms with which the ordinary working stiff is so clearly infected) rather than letting us muddle through on our own.

Here's a history lesson on where thus style of thinking can lead. You draw the dots, I'm tired:
When a male child was born in Sparta soldiers came to the house and examined it carefully to determine its strength. The baby was bathed in wine rather than water, to see its reaction. If a baby was weak, the Spartans exposed it on the hillside or took it away to become a slave (helot). When the child reached the age of seven, he was taken from his family. Boys were organized into age groups or Agelai (meaning flocks ) and lived communally in dormitories. Once assigned the Agelai, the child became subject to the Agoge. The Agoge was what allowed a Spartan child to become a citizen. The training that went on throughout the Agoge was brutal. Always under the control of someone older than themselves, the specific Agelai were subjected to numerous competitive events and staged battles. After the Agoge, the Agelai, were reintegrated into society slowly, by undertaking the krypteia. The krypteia was undertaken by select individuals rather than by the entire agelai, during it, armed with a small knife, but without shelter, clothing, or food, the youths hid during the day, and in the evening as a sort of 'secret police' patrolled the helot land plots in search of potential revolts, and roamed the mountainside.