Saturday, December 31, 2005


My attitude to this last year is pretty much summed up by the graphic on the left.

I started 2005 as a rather austere, remote, laconic figure of whom Jane said she had never seen such a large vocabulary employed to so little effect, and then in the keeping of this journal came down with a severe case of loggorhea as the words came tumbling out.

My attitude to self expression was still essentially that the deeper the emotion, the broader the farce until she gave me the bum's rush, but since then I have turned into such a touchy-feely, problem-sharing cry-baby that I am practically lactating.

Such are the contradictions and paradoxes of the 21st century geezer.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Robert Sheckley

I was sad to read an obituary of Robert Sheckley in the Telegraph yesterday.

I was a real fan of his quirky work when I was deeply into SF as a teen and I have always thought that 'Mindswap' - my favourite novel of his - was the template for 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. It seems to be out of print now which is a ridiculous state of affairs in this technological age and shows what headroom there still is for 'print on demand' and e-publishing.

Thinking back on my days of fandom, I was amazed to discover the other day that the Robert Conquest who used to edit annual "Best Of" SciFi story collections with Kingsley Amis is the same person as the Robert Conquest - the historian who did so much to expose the horror of Stalin's purges.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


A little known but tremendously cool fact is that Vindaloo - a curry originally from Goa on the West coast of India - derives from the Portuguese vin d'alho a wine and garlic sauce. (I got some genuine vin d'alho when I was in Portugal a few years ago and it was absolutely disgusting, but then again I might not have understood how to cook with it properly.)

As I was knocking up a Vindaloo from my handy jar of Patak's paste the other night I noticed that Tamarind and Chilli are the two main featured ingredients. That got me to thinking.

Tamarind is native to Africa and was almost certainly introduced to India by Arab traders while Chilli is native to America and was introduced to India by Europeans.

That makes vindaloo Euro-Afro-Arab-Ameri-Asian which doesn't really leave many people out.

So next time you are tucking into one on a Saturday night raise your lager and drink a toast to the world's pre eminent, globalised, multicultural dish. (It is also a good response to the bores who insist that chicken tikka massala is somehow not authentic because it was dreamed up in Birmingham.)

In the words of Fat Les:
Me and me Mum and me Dad and me Gran
And a bucket of Vindaloo
Vindaloo Nah Nah
Vindaloo Nah Nah
And we all like Vindaloo

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


My brother met a British Hindu policeman of Pakistani descent at a social function over Christmas and I was flattered and delighted when he told me that my blog had given him plenty of things that they could chat about.

One of the things that they discussed was the Aum symbol that I wrote about back in July when I was working on my cycle of harmony. It is interesting that John's new friend was pleased and surprised that he knew about it and keen to tell him more, while some of the company were subtly aghast that he had the temerity to bring religion up at all.

John is right and his timid companions are wrong.

Looking back now I've been conscientiously posting for a year, I think that this quote from Vikram Seth probably inspired, subconsciously back in January, many of the little projects I have set myself over the last twelve months. learn about another great culture is to enrich one's own life, to understand one's own country better, to feel more at home in the world, and indirectly to add to that reservoir of individual goodwill that may, generations from now, temper the cynical use of national power.
Every word of that is right on the button - which is why I am so opposed to Said's perversion of Orientalism, but that is a subject for another day - and the copper made his own contribution to the "reservoir of individual goodwill" by talking John through his own speciality. This was a slow cooked lamb dish that sounds to me like it may well be Nihari, a favourite curry often taken for breakfast with a naan.

I've tried it for brunch on the weekend occasionally at the Lahore Karahi in Tooting where it in turn has contributed to my reservoir of goodwill even before I was eating my way around the world in London formally.

A couple of months ago I changed the blog to use charset=UTF-8, which means that I ought to be able to display Unicode on it now. The Aum is Unicode U+0950. Here is a test: ॐ. Can you see it?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Kicking Against the Pricks

When I was young and even brattier than I am now I used to delight in the phrase "kicking against the pricks" because it sounded vaguely offensive, but it was in fact according to the Acts of the Apostles - what the risen Jesus said to Paul when he was converted on the road to Damascus.

I must have been, to use one meaning of the word, an annoying little prick in those days. The prick in the Bible appears to have been a wooden shaft with a pointed spike at one end that a man working an animal would use to exert control. Sometimes a defiant ox or horse would kick back at this goad, but only succeed in causing itself more pain, so to "kick against the pricks" is to indulge in a futile gesture of rebellion.

I was amazed to read the other day that Dionysus uses the same phrase in Euripedes' The Bacchae which was written four hundred years before around the time that the Athenians surrendered to the Spartans at the end of the Peloponnesian War. A similar timespan would take us back from today to Shakespeare.

Yet more proof (in a year in which I learned a little of the Bacchus in Donna Tartt's The Secret History and the Peloponnesian War in Victor Hanson's A Ward Like No Other) that culture is richer, stranger, more resilient, deeply entwined and universal than we credit in these educationally self-abnegated days.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Raybs caught his foot jumping over a wall on Thursday and fell onto his knee splintering his patella in four so he has been in hospital over Christmas. He had a three hour operation on Christmas Eve and we hope that he will be out today or tomorrow.

When I brought his brother back a little early from Wales to see him, Ben insisted on entering the ward brandishing the cap gun that he had won (hooking a penguin) and the Cardiff Winter Wonderland.

When Rayburn noticed the firearm, we exchanged the following hard-boiled dialogue.

"I bit a cap once when I was small, " said Raybs.

"Why?" I asked.

"To see if it would explode."

"Did it?"


"Hurt much?"

"I won't say it didn't smart a little."

I don't think that would disgrace Rick in Casablanca.

He made me laugh when I visited him yesterday as well by telling me that after he had been given him some morphine for the pain he had accidently pressed the button to call the nurse.

"Are you buzzing?" she asked when she arrived.

"Buzzing?" he replied. "I'm high as a kite."

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Gift of the Magi

My present to you all this year is a story from a writer who should be better known.

Merry Christmas!

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve in the Drunk Tank

I watched a TV show about the genesis of the Pogues' Christmas classic "Fairytale of New York" recently. Shane MacGowan comes across - at least on the box these days - as a barely sentient being. It seems a miracle he can - or could - write so well. Here are the lyrics to the only great song about the day before Christmas:

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
And I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They've got cars
Big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old

When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on the corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing 'Galway Bay'
And the bells were ringing
Out for Christmas day

You're a bum
You're a punk
You're an old slut on junk
Living there almost dead on a drip
In that bed

You scum bag
You maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God
It's our last

I could have been someone
So could anyone
You took my dreams
From me when I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

Friday, December 23, 2005

They May Not Mean To

Been back in Wales a couple of days now...
They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old style hats and coats
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can
And don't have any kids yourself.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dancing Dan's Christmas

Hello folks. I'm still in Cardiff and we went to the pantomime in the New Theatre this afternoon. It is early hours of tomorrow morning now. Everyone else is asleep, but I am committed to posting everyday.

Today's seasonal story is Damon Runyon's Dancing Dan's Christmas:

Now one time it comes on Christmas, and in fact it is the evening before Christmas, and I am in Good Time Charley Bernstein's little speakeasy in West Forty-seventh Street, wishing Charley a Merry Christmas and having a few hot Tom and Jerrys with him.
This hot Tom and Jerry is an old time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.
But anybody will tell you that there is nothing that brings out the true holiday spirit like hot Tom and Jerry, and I hear that since Tom and Jerry goes out of style in the United States, the holiday spirit is never quite the same

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Child's Christmas in Wales

I'm in Wales for a few days this week - a road warrior with only dial up access - so I have collected a few seasonal stories to keep the blog ticking over.

First A Child's Christmas in Wales

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. ............

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Pulled Pork

We hit North America last night as we continued our mission to eat your way around the world in London. Bodean's BBQ Restaurant in Clapham was the venue. I'd read that they serve up authentic Kansas City BBQ there, but Paul - perverse to the last - came over all Cajun and had Smoked Chicken Gumbo followed by Crayfish Jambalaya.

I had Clam chowder to start and very fine it was too. I know that it is really a New England speciality but the pure BBQ theme had already been traduced. (Clam chowder is a sore point with me because the recipe for it was torn from the copy of "Hometown Cooking in New England" that I bought as a souvenier of skiing in North America in 2000.)

For the main course I had baby back ribs with pulled pork, fries, and 'slaw. Pulled pork is shredded shoulder and I think that this must be the slow smoked meltingly tender BBQ of legend.

Portions were so generous that I may not eat again in 2005. For the sake of completeness all was washed down with a bottle of Argentinian Santa Julia 2004 Fuzion which was a blend of tempranillo and malbec.

(Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Someone to Watch Over Me

I've found a transcription of Keith Jarrett's version of Someone to Watch Over Me, from The Melody at Night With You album.

I've followed it through by eye listening to the track (something that I was pleasently surprised to find that I could still do after all these years). It looks like it might be manageable although I will have to rearrange some of the chord voicings to suit my little baby hands.

I've a New Years resolution to dust off the Kurzweil, then, and see if I can't add this to my repertoire.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Similarities and Differences

While never denying that the differences are real, I have always thought that there should be more emphasis on the similarities and overlap between the great world religions and less on their antagonisms.

Here is a fine Yuletide essay on the same topic from William Dalrymple. I can't think of a better thing to point to on the Sunday before Christmas.

There is a 16th-century manuscript in the British Museum which contains a painting of what - at first - looks like a traditional Nativity scene. In the middle is Mary holding the Christ child, whose arms are wrapped lovingly around his mother's neck. In the foreground, hovering nervously, are the Three Wise Men, ready to offer their gifts. So far, so conventional.
But look a little closer and you begin to notice just how strange the picture is. For the wise men are dressed as Jesuits, Mary is leaning back against the bolster of a musnud, a low Indian throne, and she is attended by Mughal serving girls wearing saris and dupattas. Moreover, the Christ child and his mother are sitting under a tree outside a wooden garden pavilion - all strictly in keeping with the convention of Islamic lore, which maintains that Jesus was born not in a stable, but in an oasis beneath a palm tree, whose branches bent down so that the Virgin could pluck fruit during her labour.
Read the whole thing.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

In Denial

I want to compare and contrast some things that happened in the week with regard to my special hobby horse of the insanity of laws against expressing opinions no matter how ridiculous or even bad these opinions may be.

Firstly, the Istanbul trial of Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk - who faces a possible three-year jail term for "insulting Turkish identity" by saying that a million Armenians were killed in massacres 90 years ago and 30,000 Kurds in recent decades - was adjourned on Friday to give the Justice Ministry time to decide whether the case was in line with judicial procedures.

Secondly earlier in the week, the new Iranian president gave vent once more to his views on Israel and the Jews:

Speaking at a gathering in the southern Iranian town of Zahedan (Sistan va Baluchestan Province), Ahmadinejad said, "Today, they have created a myth in the name of Holocaust and consider it to be above God, religion and the prophets".
"The Europeans say that during the Second World War six million Jews were killed, and they are determined in their claims to the point that even when scientists question them they deal with such scientists and jail and punish them", he added.

I checked out his assertion about jailing and punishing, well at least as far as looking at Wikipedia which says:
Public denial of the Holocaust is a criminal offence in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland, and is punishable by fines and jail sentences.
I simply can't understand what essential difference there is between those laws and the Turkish ones that are exercising the EU so. Why should such a denial should be a crime? Indeed it seems to me that it is more likely to lend some sort of mad credence to the claims of lunatics, rabble rousers and conspiracy theorists.

What am I missing?

Further I feel a sort of pressure after writing to words above to demonstrate that I'm not a holocuast denier myself. Can that be healthy?

To pluck a random and trivial illustration from the air, when I was a boy I read Michael Bentine's autobiography and was amazed to find that he was among the troops who liberated Belsen and that a man could go on to a career as a comedian after witnessing such horrors. I deny the Holocaust not.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Want Ads

Messrs Bond and Bearryman are throwing, and have been kind enough to have invited me to, the Tighten Up Christmas Dinner tonight. Bondy having been my host and Hugh a fellow guest at last Sunday's Bacchanalia, I think I can expect something of a ribbing. I remember very little of its later stages and have little idea of what hi jinks occurred between mid afternoon and my waking up in the hotel at the Winning Post next morning. It seems likely that I may have well have lived up to the Kerouac paean to madness that I invoked before I set off.

The cup of Bernard Shaw's wants having been dashed from my lips, I have decided to adopt, for today at least, D.H. Lawrence's - as cribbed from The New Yorker:

The real way of living is to answer to one's wants. Not "I want to light up with my intelligence as many things as possible" but "For the living of my full flame-I want that liberty, I want that woman, I want that pound of peaches, I want to go to sleep, I want to go to the pub and have a good time, I want to look abeastly swell today, I want to kiss that girl, I want to insult that man." Instead of that . . . we talk about some sort of ideas. I'm like Carlyle, who, they say, wrote 50 volumes on the value of silence.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The New Taboos

Andrew Sullivan, writing from the perspective of a gay rights campaigner, makes a series of spot on observations that I think have general applicability and are widely relevant to the inimical nature of all hate crime legislation and the new official and unofficial thought policing that it is engendering.

There is a troubling aspect to the otherwise laudable campaign to provide basic civil and legal equality to gay citizens in this country and around the world. That aspect is the attempt to prevent or even criminalize the expression of hostility to homosexuality, or gay rights, or indeed any other form of anti-gay speech. This is inimical to the principles of freedom on which the campaign for gay rights must rest. For centuries, the First Amendment was the only security for gay people; without freedom of speech, there would have been no gay rights movement. The idea that that movement would now attempt to restrict the rights of our opponents is truly disgraceful. You see it in Canada, and there is a recent grotesque example in England. It seems to me that gay groups need to end their silence about this and rigorously defend the free speech rights of our opponents, as well as their right to practice their religious faith in any way they see fit, and to proselytize within the law as aggressively as they want. We need to defend the free association rights of groups like the St Patrick's Day parade organizers and even the Boy Scouts, however repugnant their views of gay people. Words cannot harm people; in fact, because those in favor of gay equality are telling the truth, we have every incentive to magnify and extend the debate. Silencing opponents is a sign of weakness, doubt and intolerance. Gay groups can and should do better.

I recommend that you follow the link to his grotesque example from England and wonder at this sinister quote from a Police spokesman:
"All parties have been spoken to by the police. No allegation of crime has been made. A report has been taken but is now closed."
It is an utter outrage that the Police have been reduced to intimidating members of the public simply for expressing unfashionable views. Am I homophobic for raising a quizzical eyebrow at a government that reduced the homosexual age of consent to 16, but is now proposing to "consult" on raising the age at which a youth may enjoy a post coital cigarette from 16 to 18? How are we going to have any meaningful discussions of anything at all in the forest of new taboos?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

dedicated to small-busted women

I went along to the Merton Chamber of Commerce Christmas Lunch yesterday to do a bit of networking. Although for most of our decade in business we have worked for large organisations we are starting to pick up more jobs for smaller businesses who generally seem to be at the mercy of rogues and charlatans when it comes to databases and web applications.

The first Chamber of Commerce networking do I attended was at Jim Thompson's Flaming Wok about six months ago. I well remember meeting the charming founder and proprietor of AA Lingerie the online store dedicated to small busted women.

The challenge of keeping your gaze horizontal and steady, and not even glancing south when a woman describes such an entrepreneurial venture to you face to face is one I am ashamed to say I failed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


The first esoteric fact that I ever learned on the World Wide Web was that tempura came from the Portuguese influence on Japanese food, which brings me rather neatly to yesterday's destination - as Paul and I attempt to eat our way around the world in London - makiyaki, a Japanese restaurant in South Wimbledon.

We shared sukiyaki which was cooked at the table.The main ingredient is thin sliced beef (not yak, the word "yaki" means "sautee" or "grill" in Japanese) which is simmered in a pan in the sukiyaki sauce with vegetables. You dip the cooked beef in raw beaten egg before popping it in your mouth if you are brave like us.

(Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Stocking Filler

Here is a great idea from jurygeek (via Clive Davis).

This year for Christmas, I'm promoting the idea of buying New Orleans music for Christmas presents. I can't think of a better way of using the market to help out the musicians from that great city. And let's just make one thing clear -- there is no point to rebuilding New Orleans without its musicians.

New Orleans is (was) one of the few cities in which being a musician isn't considered self-indulgent, but in which musicians are seen as the cornerstones of the community. It is (was) also one of the few cities in which the lines between 'black music' and 'white music' are pretty much ignored.

New Orleans is the home of American music - jazz, ragtime, swing, dixieland, blues, rhythm & blues, rock and roll and more hail from there. But today, New Orleans musicians are dispersed across the country, as the rooms in which they made their livings and honed their chops remain closed.

I've put a couple of suggestions below. The links to Amazon use my Associate ID and I'll donate any commission I get if anyone buys using them.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I am off to Bondy's Christmas drinks party this afternoon. I'll be on my own for the first time in years and years and ironically it was at one of these parties in the late Nineties that I well remember deciding quietly to myself that Jane was the one for me.

Please note that I wish the querulous, garrulous drunkenness that will inevitably ensue to be interpreted, not as something squalid, but rather - a la Kerouac - as a vivacious, life-enhancing affirmation:
the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace things, but burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes "AWWW!"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

1,000,000 kg

The Merton Abbey Virgin Active gym is fitted with Technogym equipment and uses Technogym's Wellness software to manage exercise programmes and track progress.

I noticed back in July, that the system keeps a running total of how much weight you have lifted, and I am very pleased to announce that, as of today, I have now shifted in excess of 1,000,000 kg.

Further, due to the wonder that is Google, I can tell you that this represents nearly nearly ten times the capacity of a Boeing 747-200 freighter aircraft, and is also the amount of highly enriched uranium that was estimated to be in the former Soviet Union at the beginning of the 21st century, enough to manufacture ten thousand atomic bombs.

It is also 11,364 times my body weight, even when that mass has been boosted by a £4.25 celebration 'big breakfast' at the Commonwealth Cafe.

Friday, December 09, 2005


I am off to Nigel's funeral today so I won't have much time to write.

Scope is an organisation that contributed a lot to his life.

You can use this link to make a donation if you like.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Among the New Films

Beerfest is a heartwarming saga of two brothers who go to Oktoberfest and stumble upon a super-secret centuries-old beer games competition. Like Fight Club, but with beer games.

These guys get their asses kicked by the Germans, and come back to America, where they assemble the greatest collection of all-star beer games dudes, in order to go back to Germany and kick the shit out of the Germans.

Pretty cool, right?

SO goes the pitch for a new movie that, according to The Hollywood Reporter, has been given the green light by Warner Bros. Pictures (who acquired the project from Sony) to begin filming in January in New Mexico.

Perhaps I should work up a script or two as well and save the British film industry.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Harry Lime

I'm still reading 'A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Sparta Fought the Peloponnesian War'. Poster boy that I am for comprehensive education I had no idea at all that the Greek Golden Age was so brief or so burdened with strife. It puts me in mind of Orson Welles' classic speech from The Third Man.

In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and what did that produce - the cuckoo clock!
Or perhaps the ancient Chinese curse:
May you live in interesting times!

P.S. Victor Davis Hanson (author of 'A War Like No Other') is often caricatured as some sort of loony paleoconservative. This is baloney. Read him here on why the McCain Amendment should be supported. I was so disappointed to hear Condoleezza Rice apparently supporting rendition on the radio yesterday.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

La Tasca

We were working at a clients' near Victoria yesterday and everything went so well that we were looking for somewhere to eat earlier than we had thought and before many restaurants were open.

In the end we found a place called La Tasca one of a chain of Spanish tapas bars and restaurants founded in, of all places, Manchester in 1993.

When we ordered a Paella de Carne (with chicken and chorizo) we were told that it would take about three quarters of an hour to prepare. I was quite impressed with this because it showed that it was really being cooked to order. (I might have preferred a paella Valenciana or a paella de Marisco, but Paul is allergic to bivalves.)

We whiled away 45 minutes over a bottle or two of Las Camapanas Crianza, fresh bread with extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar, and pan a la Catalana - lighlty toasted bread topped with garlice tomato and coriander - and the paella was well worth the wait.

I suppose that paella is Valencian, our bread was Catalan and the wine was Navarran so I have classifed the meal as North West Spanish as we attempt to eat our way around the world in London. (Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Foodie Maps

Monday has come around again, so it is time for part two of our ongoing project to Eat Your Way Around the World in London. I thought it might be a good idea to keep track of this on both a local and global scale by using Google Maps to show the locations of both the restaurants where we eat and the regions that they represent. I've had a first crack at it below. I plan to fine tune master maps as we go and to have a link to both included in each write up.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

No More "I Love You's"

I am brutally sad to have to say that after six very hard months Jane and I have split, or perhaps more accurately she has split from me. There's a lot more I could say but this is not really the time.

I used to be a lunatic from the gracious days
I used to be woebegone and so restless nights
My aching heart would bleed for you to see
Oh but now
I don't find myself bouncing home
Whistling buttonhole tunes
To make me cry

No more "I love you's"
The language is leaving me
No more "I love you's"
Changes are shifting outside the word

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ugandan Discussions

Less than a week after complaining that - while the rest of the world seemed to be falling into line, no one was looking at "A Welsh Born Icon" from the entire continent of Africa - I have noticed via Google Analytics that it has now been viewed from Kampala in Uganda.

The internet is truly an amazing phenomenon.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Actor Prepares

I did my MBA in the days before the City University Business School metamorphised into the CASS Business School and moved into swish new premises.

In those days the school was spread over a couple of floors of the sprawling Barbican Centre which was also, in those days, the Royal Shakespeare Company's London home.

A year or so into my studies the RSC put on a production of a deeply obscure sixteeth or seventeenth century Spanish play in "The Pit", their small Barbican theatre. It was, and indeed remains, so obscure that I can't remember what it was called, but I went to see it because an actor called Anthony O'Donnell - an Old Illtydian like me - was in the cast.

At the end of the performance, I applauded, got up and walked straight to my regular post-lecture pub. The Barbican can be a confusing labrynth but as I was attending it three times a week I knew it like the back of my hand and flew like an arrow to the bar.

When I got there several members of the cast - who moments ago had been on stage in full make up, false beards, ruffs and full Elizabethan rig - were already there washed, changed and drinking happily. Outstanding. It made me wonder if "Exit; theatre to pub" was perhaps available as an advanced course in RADA.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Feb 86 Intake

I (front row center) was delighted to get a phone call out of the blue from David (second row left) to say that he is organising a get together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our starting out on the MBA programme at, what was then, the City University Business school. The dust subsequently being stirred by a confirmation email that he sent out to everyone he had contacted, Dierdre (middle row second from right) came up with this photo of the 10th anniversary reunion.

Doing a degree in the evenings was a long hard slog, although some of the firmest friends I made among the 'Feb 86 Intake' were the other folk who used to bale out of economics at the mid evening break and retire to the pub. As the picture shows, intake was indeed a fine collective noun for us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Social Clubs

As befits and becomes a man born in 1961, I find that I am becoming more reactionary practically by the minute and it strikes me that I haven't contributed to Sir Ian Blair's call for a debate on the role and duty of the police.

Any long time reader might guess that I recommend that Sheriff Joe is appointed to a senior role in the Met forthwith and also - hat tip Clive Davis - I'm quite taken with this old school approach to neighbourhood policing:
When George W. Walling was appointed captain of police late in 1853 and assigned to the command of the district, he found the entire area terrorized by the Honeymoon gang. To suppress them he organized the first Strong Arm Squad and inaugurated a method of attack which was used very effectively in later years. Walling had always been impressed by the fact that the gangster would seldom stand up before a policeman armed with a heavy club, and that there was nothing a thug feared so much as a sound thumping. So he chose half a dozen of his bravest and huskiest patrolmen, and sent them forth in the guise of citizens. They simply walked up to the gangsters and knocked them senseless before the thugs could get into action with their sling shots, bludgeons and brass knuckles. After a few nights of this warfare the gang leader withdrew his men from their accustomed posts, but Captain Walling gave them no rest. Every patrolman in the precinct was provided with the names of the Honeymooners, and whenever one was sighted he was attacked and beaten. Within two weeks the Honeymoon gang had been dispersed, and its members had fled south into the Five Points and the Bowery, where the police were not so rough.
From Herbert Asbury's book "The Gangs of New York", not the misfiring film.

I'm also reminded of an old joke of my Dad's.

"Are you in favour of clubs for boys?"

"Only when the cane has failed."

The idiosyncratic blogger at Chase me .. has been considering criminal justice and deterence Stateside as well:
The annual execution rate for prisoners on death row in the US is 2%. The death rate for street-level drug sellers is 7%, so they would be safer on death row.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Eat Your Way Around the World in London

Our regular drinks after work having become somewhat samey lately, Paul and I have decided to embark on a long gestating project: Eat Your Way Around the World in London.

The idea is to dine on fayre reflecting as many of the capital's communtities and residents as possible. This is our own small nod in the direction of multiculturalism and inclusion, but it should be friendlier than other more po-faced initiatives because restaurants are by their very nature convivial places and, when it comes to grub, yumminess is more important than authenticity.

We kicked off last night at Sree Krishna a Keralan place in Colliers Wood.

I started on masala dosai which is a rice and lentil flour pancake filled with potato masala and Paul had a vada which is a deep fried black gram doughnut with ginger, onion, curry- leaves and chopped green chillies.

For the main course Paul had a Karaikkudi chicken stir fry and I had a chicken Chettinadu. We shared a cabbage Thoran (which is fresh sliced cabbage with coconut, turmeric and spices) and some bog standard pulao rice.

When I was in Kerala I ntoiced that the people there ate their own local fluffy rice which is quite different to the hard grained basmati that we are used to, but I've never seen any Keralan rice in the UK.

(Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.)

Monday, November 28, 2005


Nigel passed away last night. This morning Jane asked me to think of a cheerful song for him, and its true that he was indeed a cheerful soul and that he loved his music and songs.

One of my most abiding memories of him was how content he was at the cottage in Kent. I remember his string. I remember following it up the drive where he had laid it to guide me. I remember him fishing out of windows with it. And I remember him lost in reverie twirling it joyfully round and round his head in the field.

So regardless of his learning disabilities, Nigel's great gift, and it is a gift not granted many, was the gift to be happy I think.

For me a song from Ken Dodd evokes him. It's from his era and I am sure he would know it.

I can't remember him ever playing it, but I can easily imagine him listening to it, laughing, and conducting - as he so often did - with both hands.

Happiness, Happiness
The greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness.

To me this world is a wonderful place
I’m the luckiest human in the human race
I’ve got no silver and I’ve got no gold
But I’ve got happiness in my soul

Happiness to me is an ocean tide
A sunset fading on a mountain side
A big old heaven full of stars above
When I’m in the arms of the one I love

Happiness, Happiness
The greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness.

Happiness is a field of grain
Turning its face to the falling rain
I see it in the sunshine, breathe it in the air
Happiness, happiness everywhere

A wise old man told me one time
Happiness is a frame of mind
When you get to measuring a man’s success
Don’t count money, count happiness.

Happiness, Happiness
The greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Do Go Gentle

I went to see Nigel in the hospice yesterday afternoon. The nurse at reception told me that although he would recognise me, he can't speak anymore. At first when I looked through the door of his room I thought that the bed was empty, but he was there. It is just that he is so shrunken he barely ripples the bedclothes. He was only diagnosed on October 6.

I said hello and saw, I think, in his eyes that he was aware of me. No one else was there and I stayed for quite a while, sometimes talking to him but mostly quiet.

It was peaceful and dignified, and I sensed again the grace that I have been aware of on each of my visits. It is something that I can't explain, but it is real, and when I left, although I was sad, I felt that there was comfort.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Far and Wide

I was lucky enough to sign "A Welsh Born Icon" up for Google Anayltics before demand forced them to pull up the drawbridge while they add new capacity.

One of the reports that they provide is a geographical breakdown of site visitors and I have posted a Geo Map Overlay of a few days worth of data on the left.

Who would imagine that people would be looking at this site from all over North America, from Tokyo and Moscow, from Australia and New Zealand, from China, Bulgaria and Malta etc. etc?

What a strange new world this is! People being what they are though, after looking at the map for a while I find myeslf sulking that I have only got one reader in each of South America and India, and none at all in Africa. Must do better.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Binge Peeting!

Stepping gingerly through the broken glass, the discarded prophylactics and syringes - not to mention the comatose bodies - on my post apocalyptic journey to work now that the licensing laws have been relaxed, I find myself daydreaming in Nadsat o my brothers.

Youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. But oh, but now with the tonyblairs' alldaylong firegold.

"Not to our blame," sterns the goloss of the millicents.

"All the poor malchicks; all the poor ptitsas; nothing but pyahnitsas," fret the poogied pee and em's. "Alldaylong peeting, a tolchock on the rot, and then - unprotected my bog - the drunken consented in out, in out."

Now, and more responsible like, the tonyblairs governing govoreets, "late licences will curb baddiwad behaviour by stopping peeters from heading domy at the same raz," ha ha ha ha.

(Appy polly loggies to Anthony Burgess.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005


When the Daily Telegraph opines that the Tory party should be more like Linux and Wikipedia than Microsoft and the Encyclopaedia Britannica the world has changed more than even I - a confirmed infomaniac - imagined.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Along with several other voters from the constituency, I met with Paul Goggins MP last night to discuss the “Racial and Religious Hatred Bill”.

His manner was emollient, and I did indeed find him rather a slippery character to be honest. If you’re familiar with the Bill you’ll know that the notion of intent has been central to the discussions. When the minister was speaking to us, he was asserting that for an offence to be committed the provocation must be intended to be threatening, abusive or insulting and intended to stir up racial hatred. Which is all very well, but it is not what the Bill said originally. When I asked him if he was talking about the original Bill, the Lords Amendments, or what might be in the draft for the Third Reading, he just tried to glide past me leading me to lose my rag a little and accuse him of sophistry.

In all honesty, and although I was there to damn the Bill, it is impossible to have a discussion about it when it is such a moving target.

There was another revealing moment, when the minister observed that it was “only a small gap” in the law that the legislation was required to close, someone asked him to explain exactly what this gap was. He appeared to answer in that he opened his mouth and words came out but no explanation was forthcoming.

All in all, I was very disappointed but not surprised by the quality of argument from the Government. On the other hand I was pleasantly surprised by the eloquence and attention to detail evident in the contributions of the other voters who attended with me.

I will just sign off with a couple of other small observations.

We were told that religion is not defined in the law as this will be left to the courts to do. This is madness. Case law and precedence will ultimately make something ridiculous of this.

The Governments estimated costs of the Bill for the criminal justice system are £225,000 in the first year and £109,000 in subsequent years. Yeah right.

Let’s take those numbers for a walk. There are 43 police forces in England and Wales giving them a budget of £211.24 a month each once the system is up and running and assuming that the Crown Prosecution Service don’t spend any money at all. Does that sound feasible at all for support of a system where any decision to prosecute will be taken by the Attorney General personally?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A War Like No Other

I always find Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers an interesting read, so I lobbed them a donation a couple of weeks ago. In return I got an signed hardback copy of his latest book, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Sparta Fought the Peloponnesian War, that arrived in the post today.

I'm very interested in the Greeks at the moment. I bought a 6CD audio version of Persian Fire recently. I think that I'll listen to it in the car the next time I drive to Wales and back.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Buddha Joke

From the eccentric, but ever diverting, Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry:
Anyway, so the Buddha goes into a pizzeria and says, "Make me one with everything."

Attention blowhards of the world: Religious Hatred not deliberately incited above.

Stopped Beating Your Wife?

After brooding last night, I've slept on the issue of my chance to lobby on the Racial and Religious Hatred bill and I have decided to go down with all guns blazing condeming the whole thing out of hand.

Strangely the clincher has been the proposed PEN freedom of expression amdment that nothing in the bill "shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system.

Let's imagine for a second how that would read to a pious Muslim for whom Islam would be to all intents and purposes synonymous with religion. Such a person would be entirely justified in reading the amendment as saying that nothing in the bill "shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of Islam or the beliefs or practices of their Muslims, or proselytizing or urging Muslims to cease practicing their religion or belief system.

Why on earth should we enact such a law? A law that by failing to prohibit or restrict, permits "expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse"?. Why can't the Government just shut up for five minutes? Putting such a thing on the Statute Book as an amendment is an act of lunacy comparable to the original tabling of the legislation. It is clear to me now that once one gets involved in the detail of drafting such laws, almost every wording carries a risk and threat like the unanswerable "have you stopped beating your wife?" question.

The Victorian prime minister Lord Salisbury's maxim on foreign affairs seems apt for this situation: "Whatever happens will be for the worse, and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

What is to be done?

My meeting with Paul Goggins on Tuesday is fast approaching so I guess I need to start to think about what I am going to try and achieve.

First off the bat I believe that all hate crime legislation is an insidious dead end, bad for society and disastrous for jurisprudence. I would like to see it all overturned tomorrow. Specifically:

1. Many if not most crimes are committed with an element of hate, so defining a specific subset of laws as 'hate crimes' is meaningless
2. These very laws in fact imply the inequality of citizens before the law (as they grant 'castes' of special sub-groups privileges other groups do not enjoy).
The government should outlaw actions, not thoughts or states of mind.

That position, however, is unlikely to get me very far in the current climate of opinion. (I'm scarcely hiding it though as I'm publishing it here.)

I've been corresponding with PEN about the NO Offence campaign. The line that they are taking is that because Labour has made this a manifesto commitment, it is unlikely to get voted down completely so they have been working with the House of Lords to try and make sure that the Bill is amended so that its nastier implications are strictly contained.

So, while they purport to recognize the government's good intentions in putting forward this bill, they say its very loose drafting means that it is open to a great many abuses which will cost society a great deal as the bill is likely to be read as a de facto extension of the blasphemy law that will have to be tested time and time again in court cases and police investigations of complaints; and further that it will be used to intimidate writers, directors and performers.

So they support the Lords amendments which spell out in great detail requirements for
  • the protection of free expression
  • the need for an 'intention' to incite hatred to be written into the face of the bill
  • the words 'insulting and abusive' to be removed so that what is criminal is what is threatening.
They think that the last is the least important, but they're adamant on the first two.

There are negotiations going on in the upper house at the moment and quite soon there will be a third reading which will include some amendments as concessions.

The PEN Amendment for the Protection of freedom of expression reads as follows: Nothing in the Racial or Religious Hatred Bill "shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system."

Which seems reasonable enough until you start going round in circles thinking, in that case why have the blasted bill in the first place? Which is of course where I started off.

So again, while not deluding myself that I have any influence, should I decry the whole deluded misadventure or soberly boost the first two PEN objectives? As of today I just can't decide.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What are the Police For?

Sir Ian Blair in this year's Dimbleby Lecture (transcript here) has said that the public must decide what they want from the Police.

What the police are for is a surprisingly difficult question. The first time I ever saw it addressed was in a a remarkable article called "Broken Windows" published in the Atlantic in 1982.

Broken Windows has cast a long shadow. It is really the inspiration behind "zero tolerance", neighbourhood policing, and all sorts of initiatives.

You can read it (in Adobe Acrobat format) at

Friday, November 18, 2005

On Acting

I'm off with Andy - younger than me, erstwhile Thump the Clouds stalwart, brother of Phil and widower of Sara - tonight to see Kurt Elling in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Elling's 'Flirting with Twilight' is one of my most treasured albums, and Moonlight Serenade - the opening cut - is one of the tracks I would take to a desert island.

I can't remember how or why I became aware of Elling - I bet if I was blogging at the time I would - but I'm really looking forward to this evening.

I remember that back in 1989, Andy's father was working at Matthew Hall in London, pretty much opposite the theatre where Dustin Hoffman was playing Shylock in a production of the Merchant of Venice directed by Peter Hall. The show was sold out, but Andy's Dad decided to check for return tickets at the end of each day on his way home. When he eventually got a ticket, I remember him comparing the production to a recent RSC version with Anthony Sher ans saying that, although Anthony Sher convinced him, he wasn't really convinced that Hoffman wanted the pound of flesh.

At the time I took that as a criticism of Hoffman's performance. However, as it happens, the South Bank Show shot a documentary around the rehearsal's for the Hall/Hoffman show, and in that when it was screened several months later I remember Hoffman saying that - in his take - Shylock didn't actually want Antonio's pound of flesh; he just wanted to humiliate him; a point of view he evidently managed to communicate on stage in character.

Note to self: what I had taken for criticism was in fact the success of a precisely articulated and achieved performance,

Thursday, November 17, 2005


I asked my five year old this morning why he was always starting fights with his older brother.

"I don't start the fights," he said. "It's just that whenever I punch him he starts a fight with me."

Out Come the Freaks

For anyone who doubts that the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill will aggravate community relations, spur bigots and loonies to stir up trouble and waste our institutions' time with vexatious complaints and campaigns; for anyone who doubts, in short, that it will have precisely the opposite effect to that intended and promulgated, this from Christian Voice.

Christian Voice opposes the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill as an illiberal attack on freedom of speech. It actually does nothing about racial hatred, that’s already on the Statute Book, but it brings in a subjective law against religious hatred which we say will stop legitimate criticism of religions. We want the freedom to preach the Gospel, to say Jesus Christ is The Way, The Truth and The Life, and that the gurus and prophets of other religions lead nowhere except to hell.

Odd but true: the Bill was only brought in to buy Muslim votes at the last General Election. Muslim leaders see it as a Bill which will stop anyone criticising Islam. The Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, Home Secretary, wrote to every mosque in the country before the election promising to bring in this Bill if re-elected. We shall continue to fight the Bill, by the grace of God. However, if this Bill is passed, we shall do two things, God willing and as He gives us strength and courage:

(1) Report Islamic Bookshops for selling the Quran and Hadith, which, if they aren’t hate speech, nothing is. In fact, Muslim leaders have already tried to have the Quran exempted from the Bill - and failed. (2) We shall be quick off the mark and fearless in His strength alone in pointing out what is wrong with other religions and what is right with Christianity. If anyone is going to be a ‘hate speech martyr’ it must be a Christian, and not the leader of the British National Party, who would love that distinction.

Though I wouldn't presume to offer any advice to Christian Voice about reporting Islamic bookshops for selling the Quran, perhaps I can pass on some from St Augustine: "hold thy peace".
Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.
I don't hear a great deal of love in the tone of Christian Voice.

(Bizarrely St Augustine has been in the back of my mind since, channel hopping the other night, I stumbled across Robbie Williams, apparently paraphrasing the great Church Father, singing, “Oh Lord, make me pure . . . but not yet,” on a track from his new album.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Weighty Matters

Let's take a break from the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill for a moment or two.

When I finished in the gym today I was pleased to see that I weighed 88.9 kg, essentially dead on 14 stone. That is a milestone and, I think the lightest I've been for a long time. I'm not really sure how long however, which - in a way - is why I'm recording it here. In the future I would like to know what I weighed in November 2005.

When I started recording my weight towards the end of September this year I weighed 14 stone 9, so apart from the occasional lapse, I've been shedding pounds at a steady but not spectacular rate. When I think that I've been working out since the beginning of June, however, I shudder to think how much I might have weighed then. Wobble to think might indeed be more appropriate than shudder, as I'm not dieting and I still drink like a fish so I've probably been shrinking for all of the over five months that I've been training.

Projecting trends into the future is always hazardous - I remember my friend John Carter warning me, in the early 80s, that "at the present rate of growth every other man in the USA will be an Elvis impersonator by the year 2000" - but my current rate of shrinkage would take me down to 80kg in another five months.

I'd be happy with that, hence I am officially adopting 80kg as my target weight even though I'd still like to think that the Lobster Challenge has a place in my future.

Power and Responsibility

Further to my post yesterday, I have found that Parliament published the the text of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, as introduced in the House of Commons on 9th June 2005 here, along with Explanatory Notes to the Bill, prepared by the Home Office.

I've also been looking at the Press Release that Charles Clarke issued back in May introducing his new team at the Home Office.

This is interesting as it clarifies more about the range of Paul Goggins responsibilties in supporting Hazel Blears. He has particular responsibility for:

Serious and organised crime
Asset Recovery Agency
Security Industry Authority
Public order, sex offences, roads policing, animal extremism, internet crime, child pornography and football disorder
Voluntary and community sector, community cohesion, faith and race equality

Another Minister at an equivalent level in the Home Office Fiona Mactaggart - the Parliamentary under Secretary supporting Patricia Scotland - has particular responsibility for:

CJ system including race, victims and witnesses, inspection and IT
Criminal law
National Offender Management Service casework and restorative justice
Criminal injuries compensation
Criminal Cases Review

Which is also interesting to me because the bulk of our work is in Criminal Justice (CJ) Information Technology (IT).

I've found it interesting over the last couple of days to discover what a good tool a 'blog is for supporting research. I hadn't realised when I just used it for odd jotting and musing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Free Expression

It seems that PEN and Penguin are bringing out a book of essays 'Free Expression Is No Offence' containing essays by, among others, Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, Hari Kunzru, and Howard Jacobson that will try an coalesce opposition to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill and explain why such opposition is necessary. It isn't coming out until a couple of days after my meeting unfortunately.

Hansard's account of the progress of the Bill in the Lord's on Novemebr 8th is given here. I imagine that what I need to track down next is the complete text.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I stand by my words

I'm reading Istanbul at the moment, Orhan Pamuk's impressionistic meld of memoir, history and guide to his birthplace. Still living at the age of fifty in the same apartment block in which he was raised and his extended family has long lived, Pamuk comes across as something of a homebody.

A simple orderly life is now a thing of the past. According to The Observer recently:

It began with an off-the-cuff remark in an interview with a Swiss newspaper. While discussing curbs on freedom of expression in Turkey, Pamuk said that 'a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in this country and I'm the only one who dares to talk about it'.
Last August, an Istanbul public prosecutor charged him with the 'public denigration of Turkish identity'. The trial is set for 16 December. If convicted, Pamuk faces three years in prison.
There was a time when an offence like "public denigration of Turkish identity" would have sounded sound preposterous in the United Kingdom. That time is long gone, and the 'Racial and Religious Hatred Bill' is going to take us further down the slippery slope.

Paul Goggins is the Home Office Minister who has the unenviable task of steering this bill through Parliament. He is the Parliamentary Under Secretary who assists Minister of State Hazel Blears who is responsible for policing, security and community safety under the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

As I wrote yesterday, I'm going to get a chance to meet him later this month to talk about the Bill. As part of my research, I've found an interview and brief profile of him in the Tablet.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Paul Goggins MP

Any long term reader of this weblog - if such a creature exists - will know that the Government's proposals to enact laws against "Incitement to Religious Hatred", are a particular bete noire of mine and that I have had a couple of exchanges about it with my MP.

I got a letter from her this morning however which said:
I am writing to invite you and a guest to meet the Government Minister responsible for a new law to outlaw religious hatred, Paul Goggins MP. This is an important subject, and I want to thank you for drawing your concerns to my attention. I have organised this special event in the House of Commons to give you a chance to raise your concerns about the new law directly with him, and to listen to his reasons for thinking it is so important to press ahead.

The meeting is later this month and I have replied accepting with alacrity, but I can see I will have to do some preparation over the next week or so.

This is a development I wasn't expecting. It does seem a very positive feature of a parliamentary system.

More later.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


It is strange and disturbing that the day following Armistice Day is the anniversary of the 1938 meeting where Herman Goering announced:
I have received a letter written on the Fuhrer's orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another... I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today's meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy, and to submit them to me.
This was to be the Final Solution. It is indeed salutary and sad to note that Armistice Day is bookended by Goering's exhortation of 'competent agencies' and the preliminary horror of Kristallnacht on the 9/10 November.

When I was younger these events seemed impossibly distant, but now I remember that in 1938 my father was was five years old. That is the same age that my son is in 2005. For some reason that strange symmetry brings the Nazi horror into my compass in a way it has never been before.

Friday, November 11, 2005

swords to help combat violent crime

According to their website and RSS feed:
Cleveland Police are launching a two-week Weapons Amnesty to encourage people to surrender firearms, ammunition, knives and swords to help combat violent crime.

I know times are hard but you really would think that the police would be able to buy their own weapons rather than rely on donations.

Epitaphs of the War

It is Armistice Day today. 87 years since the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front that ended the Great War.

Try reading Kipling's Epitaphs of the War.

I often think of the bleak 'Common Form'.

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

It is difficult to read the heartbreaking 'A Son', knowing that Kipling lost his own boy in the trenches.

My son was killed while laughing at some jest. I would I knew
What it was, and it might serve me in a time when jests are few.

I read that Hilaire Belloc lost a son, Louis, in the First World War and then another, Peter, in the Second. which led him to quote Herodotus.

In peace sons bury their fathers; in war fathers bury their sons.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Woody Allen once said,
If I were to come back in another life, I would like to be Warren Beatty's finger-tips.
Well, 'The Melody at Night With You' has finally arrived from Amazon. It is indeed as sublime as I hoped, so if I were to come back in another life, I would like to be Keith Jarrett's finger-tips.

I've read somewhere that Warren Beatty is a competent piano player, so perhaps - as a compromise - I could come back as his left hand and Jarret's right.

Laughter in the Dark Part II

Now that Tony Blair has been defeated over proposals to extend the time that the police could detain terror suspects without charge from a fortnight to three months, it may be a good time to tell a story about a terror suspect who turned out to be innocent.

Apparently after Jean Charles de Menezes had been gunned down in Stockwell tube station, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police phoned the Home Secretary.

"Terrible news," he said. "We've shot a Brazilian at a tube station".

"Oh no," answered the Home Secretary. "How many is a brazzillion?"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Consider the horror

Christopher Hitchens writing in Slate quotes Johann Hari:

At last, some good news from Darfur: the genocide in western Sudan is nearly over. There's only one problem - it's drawing to an end only because there are no black people left to cleanse or kill.

Then, in his last paragraph he nails it.
Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens. Our policy in Darfur has not just failed to rescue a stricken black African population: It has actually assisted the Sudanese Islamists in completing their policy of racist murder. Thank heaven that we are tough enough to bear the shame of this, and strong enough to forgive ourselves.

Something so evil has gone on quietly yet unabashed while the guitars were strummed at Live8 and the UN shmoozed Mugabe, that in a strange way black humour - the laughter in the dark epitomised by words like Hari's - is, perhaps the only way to approach the horror without abandoning faith in the human race.

"Sudan Must've Worked Itself Out", The Onion laughed through the tears in June. I smirked that "Sudan and Wales Protest" back in March, but now I feel ashamed.

I read and researched and concluded that nothing had changed.

Sometimes I just feel like I want to dig a hole in the garden and bury my heart in it.

I would like to be able to vote that we should intervene; intervene directly and militarily. Does that sound naive or even neo colonialist? Who cares?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Another No

I left a comment over at the Another Constable blog yesterday, pointing to some of my old ideas about how the Police could take advantage of RSS feeds.

He's not convinced and says:
Nice idea, but in practice, police IT is so far in the past, I bet nobody that matters in the procurement game has even heard of RSS. We're still using Windows NT4 with products designed years and years ago running on it (some of them still have the windows furniture from version 3). Coming from an IT background myself, I'm shocked at the state of our IT. Our new Chief is more forward thinking on IT (giving us mobile data terminals in all vehicles to access PNC, is very pro ANPR, etc) so hopefully things will improve.

I'm still hopeful. I've noticed that Wiltshire, Cleveland and ACPO all have feeds on their sites now. The latter courtesy of us.

Avian Flu Evolution

I found what I think may be a good overview Avian flu and the possibility of a pandemic, or maybe I'm just reasssured that the guy who wrote it thinks the pandemic unlikely.

Here's part of the section on evolution of new strains of flu. Avian flu is an example of Type A influenza. Type A has the potential to be so very deadly because it can mutate in a host through an astonishing process called genetic reassortment.

If a cell is simultaneously infected by two different strains of type A influenza, the offspring virions may contain mixtures of each parents' genes!


These newly created mixed genomes are very different from their parents and (probably) have never been "seen" by your immune system - or for that matter, anyone else's. This form of viral evolution is called antigenic shift, to differentiate it from antigenic drift (which occurs slowly and without a change in the gene associations). These new combinations present us with such a unique strain of virus that our immune system has to start all over to make new antibodies to combat it.

As if that weren't amazing enough, influenza A can infect other mammals (other than humans) and even birds! It's VERY unusual for a virus to have such a wide host range, but influenza A somehow manages this trick. It probably has to do with the fact that the virus gains entry using receptors common to many species. That means a strain of influenza A may worry one species for decades and then suddenly jump to a new species! This sudden jump, due to antigenic shift, can produce a very serious epidemic. For example, about a decade ago many seals washed up on the eastern seaboard of the USA dying from a strain of influenza A that, until then, had only been found in birds! Horse and swine influenza A have turned up in humans. Influenza A is the nightmare of science fiction - a virus that normally causes only a slight illness, undergoes genetic recombination with other species and comes back as a killer virus! Fact is, influenza A has been conducting random, unlicensed recombinant genetics "experiments" for centuries and will continue to do so regardless of our feelings on the subject.

Monday, November 07, 2005

From the Tup Stammtisch

We made it to the Tup, so I'm, posting this over a lager while waiting for my Chilli burger.

We've got 48Mbs over the free wireless connection and I can get onto the office VPN and access Terminal Services. In essence no ports seem to be blocked, so I could work from here if my liver could stand the strain.

Thus, on a local note, I have read that the sale of Colliers Wood community centre has been discussed by Merton Council. No details about selling it to Cynthia Payne or Max Clifford though.


I've had yet another purchase on Amazon from this site. I'm pretty sure it was my brother buying Shoalin Soccer.

Amazon provide an online wizard that you can use to build Associate links to their site, but it is a bit of a rigmarole so I have been doing a bit of research on making it easier and there is a much simpler method.

If I search Amazon for Shoalin Soccer, the full URL that I get is:

If I remove the session ID and ref tags that follow the ASIN number I am left with just:

All I need to do then is to append my ID to give:

The link above takes me to a purchase page. I can go to the exact original page that I started with by adding ref=nosim after the ASIN number to give:

I turns out then that all I have to do to get a link is navigate to the product and replace the portion of the URL after the ASIN number with:

Couldn't be easier.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Stammtisch Table

I've stumbled on a great new - or at least new to me - German word in, of all places, the print version of Time Out; Stammtisch.

Stammtisch is a 'regular's table' where people meet week after week after week and discuss what's going on in the world. Apparently, most large bars and restaurants in Germany even have a Stammtisch Table with a 'Stammtisch' sign on it for the regulars. The word 'Stamm' is very old, it means tribe or clan. One could say tribe's table or clan's table.

A Welsh Born Icon was originally subtitled 'Nick Browne's Commonplace Book' then, earlier this year, it became 'Nick Browne's Spindrift Pages' in homage to Dylan Thomas.

Lately its become a much more social space. Comments, trackbacks and links from elsewhere are much more frequent, Simon Brunning is proposing that the Colliers Wood blogger's meet up, and the blog has even turned up on Norman Geras' blogroll (honest, it is there between Welcome to the Breakdown Lane, and What is Liberalism).

In honour of this I have decided to change its subtitle - at least for a while - to 'Nick Browne's Stammtisch Table', a change I intend to launch officially by posting from the Collier's Tup lunchtime tomorrow.

PS I suppose it is worth reiterating that 'A Welsh Born Icon' is an anagram of Nicholas Browne rather than incipient megalomania.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Penny for the Guy

I'm taking my five year old to the firework display at Morden Park later. A prospect which has inspired a curmudgenly meditation on why it is that "Trick or Treating" on Halloween - an American import unknown when I was a boy, has replaced "Penny for the Guy", the more venerable British tradition for kids putting the bite on adults at this time of year.

It used to be that we would make make a Guy by stuffing some old clothes with newspapers, craft a head out of material, and either draw a face on it or buy a special cardboard Guy Fawkes mask and then push it around in a pram or pushchair demanding a "a penny for the guy" from passers by. The pennies were spent on bangers. Ordnance that is now illegal I think, never mind banned from sale to kids.

(I remember my father saying that when they were boys they dressed my Uncle Joseph up as they guy to save assembly time and some bloke started poking him with a stick claiming such a poor Guy wasn't worth a penny.)

The British have been burning effigies to mark Guy Fawkes' treason for almost 400 years. The tradition started in 1606, the year after the Gunpowder plot failed. In these first bonfires, called 'bone fires' at the time, it wasn't an effigy of Guy Fawkes that was burned, but one of the Pope. It was not until 1806, two centuries later, that the people started burning effigies of Guy Fawkes instead. Even as a cradle Catholic, I do hope that they burn a Guy at Mordern rather than defer to some imaginary sensibilities. I never met a Catholic who could give a monkey's about it, never mind get offended or mount a high horse.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By god's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

The only thing I can grudgingly say in favour of the shake down custom imported from our cousins in the US is that - much to my delight - Raybs used to think it was called "Trickle Treat".