Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Sith Sense

Darth Vader is waiting to challenge you. Watch as he reads your mind and tells you what you are thinking of - all within 20 questions.

I was thinking of a camel. I could not shield it from him.

I am active

Hello world. This post comes froma terminal inside the Virgin Active club at Abbey Mills where I have just been on my induction course. All the exercise gear seems very geeky. It runs something called the Technogym system. You have a key that you load up with your exercise program and then plug into each machine so it can record what you do.

It also looks as if I can make bookings etc. from the Virgin Active website once I activate my account.

All I have to do now is actually do some exercise. Tomorrow will be soon enough for that I think.

Feedback: Vada Pav

Ah, the joys of having readers and feedback - with the emphasis on feed. After this morning's post about my six month Vada Pav odyssey a recipe has turned up in my inbox.

Bun - 2

For Mint Chutney:

Mint Leaves - A bunch
Coconut(grated)-1 cup
Green chilli-2
Tamarind- a little salt

For Vada:

Potato - 1
Chilli Powder- 1/2 tbsp
Coriander Powder - 1 Tbsp
Garam masala - 1 Tsp
Gram Flour (Besan)- 1/ 2 cup

Preparation Method
Mint chutney Preparation method:

Heat a pan and fry the coconut.Keep aside. Heat oil in a pan and saut� the green chilli and mint leaves. Grind with salt and tamarind into a smooth paste.

For Vada:

1. Boil, peel and mash the potatoes. Add chilli powder, coriander powder, garam masala powder and salt.
2. Make balls out of this and flatten them to the size of the bun.
3. Mix the gram flour with salt and water into a thick batter.
4. Dip the flattened vadas into the batter and deep fry them.

Making the Vada Pav:

1. Spread one side of the bun with mint chutney.
2. Sprinkle little garam masala powder, chilli powder and salt on the other side.
3. Keep the vada in-between the bun.
4. A tasty Indian Burger is ready

On reflection, I wonder if the Vada is the same stuff that is in a Masala Dosai?

Eight Courses

The coincidence of the return to our televisions screens of Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares (9pm Channel Four tonight) and the arrival of my credit card bill for last month has reminded me that I haven't written anything about our April visit to Verre, Gordon Ramsey's Dubai outpost.

The reason may well be that - while moaning comes naturally - I find it difficult to find much to say about a flawless evening.

The restaurant design is simplicity itself; brilliant white tablecloths against minimalist dark seating and decoration. There is nothing to distract from the food, and as soon as we sat down, canapes were served in a tiny pair of brilliantly polished copper saucepans.

For the meal itself we selected the Menu Prestige; seven courses which include small degustation portions of selected dishes and a choice of two main courses for an all-in price. We had:

Vine tomato minestrone with roasted langoustine
Pressed foie gras and game terrine, marinated fig with a salad of artichokes
Pan-fried halibut with etuvee leeks and a lobster risotto
Best end of lamb with pommes boulangeres, shallots and baby artichokes served with a tarragon jus

Selection of French cheeses with walnut bread
Pre dessert
Raspberry and basil bavarois with a salad

Apart from supplying the detail that the pre-dessert was a palate cleansing passion fruit jelly and cream chantilly topped with an icily-refreshing lemon granit, I have nothing more to say. It was perfect in every way.

As our hotel was in the Bur Dubai district, we travelled to Verre by walking down to the Creek and catching an abra - one of the traditional taxi boats - across the water to Deira. On the way I stumbled on a vendor of Vada Pav. I couldn't pass this up - as I have been searching for this Bombay street food ever since Jane went there - so I suppose I really had eight courses that night and ranged from the most basic to the most exalted. It's all good, baby.

(There is quite a significant South Indian and Mumbai presence in Bur Dubai and I must write about the bar-line girls in the club in the hotel some time. That really was straight out of Maximum City.)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Unorthodox Elephants

To celebrate the Bank Holiday I present, for the first time in public, some lines of verse that I have written myself.

Unorthodox elephants live by their wits
On a diet of chocolate and beer.
They're often invited, and never decline
but seldom if ever appear.

These excellent animals all want careers
But not if it spoils their fun,
They turned up their trunks at a three album deal
Preferring to lie in the sun.

Unorthodox elephants affect disdain
For whim, for the caprice of fashion
And yet their opinions are constantly sought
By those who appreciate passion.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Common Cormorant

This favourite, remembered from my treasured paperback Faber Book of Comic Verse, is a wonderfully unlikely effort from Christopher Isherwood.

The common cormorant (or shag)
Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
The reason you will see no doubt,

Is to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds
Have failed to notice is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Workman's Friend

This weekend's posts wil be devoted to verse to make you smile. As I have now finshed my teetotal week, we shall kick off with Flann O'Brien, my only man.

When things go wrong and will not come right,
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night -

When money's tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt -

When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare -

In time of trouble and lousey strife,
You have still got a darlint plan
You still can turn to a brighter life -

Friday, May 27, 2005

"Big Scary" Paul Fright

If you know Paul Fright of Coraider, this BMWF transcript from 1999 will be the funniest thing you have read all year. If you don't know him, you may as well skip it to be frank.

BOB: This contest is scheduled for one fall. It is a first round U.S. Title tournament match. Hailing from Parts Unknown...Weighing in at 500 pounds..."Big Scary" Paul Fright
His opponent...Led to the ring by Nancy...From Charlotte, N.C....Weighing in at 243 pounds... "The Nature Boy" Rick Flare (2001 plays as the Nature Boy struts to the ring.)
CHUCK: They lock up.

Paul Fright nails Rick Flare with a forearm smash.
Paul Fright executes a powerslam on Rick Flare.
Joe Finch counts: One, kickout.
Paul Fright throws Rick Flare out of the ring.
Joe Finch counts: one, two, three, four, five, six, Rick Flare reenters the ring.
Paul Fright executes a dropkick on Rick Flare.
Paul Fright runs into the ropes.
Paul Fright hits a chop on Rick Flare.
Paul Fright takes Rick Flare down with a kick to the midsection.
Paul Fright puts Rick Flare in a hangman.
Rick Flare reaches the ropes after being trapped for 11 seconds.
Paul Fright whips Rick Flare into the turnbuckle.
Paul Fright nails Rick Flare with a clothesline.
Paul Fright whips Rick Flare into the ropes, but Rick Flare reverses it.
Paul Fright whips Rick Flare into the turnbuckle, but Rick Flare reverses it.
Rick Flare runs shoulder-first into the corner, but Paul Fright moves out of the way.
Paul Fright whips Rick Flare into the turnbuckle.
Rick Flare comes back and rocks Paul Fright with a back flip over top rope and clothsline. No effect!
Rick Flare executes a beg for mercy and eye gouge on Paul Fright.
Rick Flare whips Paul Fright into the turnbuckle.
Paul Fright comes back, but is met with a kick to the midsection.
Rick Flare takes Paul Fright down with a kick to the head.
Rick Flare takes Paul Fright down with a hair pull.
Rick Flare hits Paul Fright with a fist to the midsection.
Rick Flare hits Paul Fright with an elbowdrop from the second turnbuckle.
Joe Finch counts: One, two, KICKOUT.
Paul Fright runs into the ropes.
Rick Flare uses a fist to the midsection on Paul Fright.
Paul Fright takes Rick Flare down with a shoulder block.
Paul Fright goes for a chokehold, but Rick Flare counters it with a face rake.
Rick Flare goes for an eye gouge, but Paul Fright blocks it.
Paul Fright goes for a dropkick, but Rick Flare side-steps and Paul Frightonly hits air.
Rick Flare hits an elbowsmash on Paul Fright.
Rick Flare takes Paul Fright down with a kick to the midsection.
Rick Flare nails Paul Fright with a boot to face.
Rick Flare uses a fist to the midsection on Paul Fright.
Rick Flare executes a facerake on Paul Fright.
Rick Flare goes for a hair pull, but Paul Fright blocks it.
Paul Fright hits a shoulder breaker on Rick Flare.
Paul Fright runs into the ropes.
Rick Flare hits Paul Fright with a kick.
Rick Flare is going for the pin.
Joe Finch counts: One, two, thr... kickout.
Rick Flare goes for a clothesline, but Paul Fright counters it with a Gorilla Press.
A fan at ringside badmouths Paul Fright.
Paul Fright whips Rick Flare into the ropes.
Paul Fright misses with a clothesline.
Paul Fright hits Rick Flare with a shoulderblock.
Rick Flare begs off.
Paul Fright executes a punch on Rick Flare.
Rick Flare bumps into Joe Finch.
Paul Fright runs into the ropes.
Paul Fright misses with a kick.
Paul Fright misses with a clothesline.
Rick Flare misses with a shoulderblock.
Paul Fright hits Rick Flare with a clothesline.
Paul Fright yells, "YARRRRRRRRR!".
Paul Fright is starting to get under the crowd's skin.
Paul Fright uses a chop on Rick Flare.
Paul Fright hits Rick Flare.
Paul Fright is starting to get under the crowd's skin.
Paul Fright punches Rick Flare.
Paul Fright is starting to get under the crowd's skin.
Rick Flare hits Paul Fright.
Rick Flare punches Paul Fright.
Rick Flare runs into the ropes.
Rick Flare hits Paul Fright with a shoulderblock.
Joe Finch is back on the job.
Rick Flare executes a facerake on Paul Fright.
Rick Flare goes for a hair pull, but Paul Fright blocks it.
Paul Fright executes a dropkick on Rick Flare.
Paul Fright whips Rick Flare into the ropes, but Rick Flare reverses it.
Rick Flare goes for a kick to the midsection, but Paul Fright blocks it.
Paul Fright nails Rick Flare with a powerslam.
Paul Fright pulls the tights.
Joe Finch counts: One, two, thr... shoulder up.
Paul Fright runs into the ropes.
Paul Fright hits Rick Flare with an elbow.
Paul Fright uses a dropkick on Rick Flare.
Paul Fright goes for a chokehold, but Rick Flare blocks it.
Rick Flare uses a fist to the midsection on Paul Fright.
Rick Flare gets a chokehold on Paul Fright.
Joe Finch warns Rick Flare to let go.
Joe Finch counts: One, two, three.
Joe Finch counts: One, two, three.
Rick Flare whips Paul Fright into the ropes.
Paul Fright misses with a shoulderblock.
Rick Flare nails Paul Fright with a kick to the head.
There are lots of chants for Rick Flare.
Rick Flare hits a beg for mercy and eye gouge on Paul Fright.
Rick Flare hits Paul Fright with a beg for mercy and eye gouge.
KING: What a big goof! Hhe fell for it twice in a row! HA HA!
CHUCK: Paul Fright gives him the long leg boot choke in the corner. He's going for the choke slam!
Fright nails flare with the Choke Slam!He goes for the pin.

Joe Finch counts: One, two, three.
CHUCK: Paul Fright is eliciting a sizable round of boos. The winner is Paul Fright.
KING: The officials are helping Flare out of the ring. He's out of it!

Time Management for Anarchists

Click on the image above to get a eccentric little flash slideshow that does a good job of summarizing the principles of time management using examples drawn not from the MBA world of business but instead from Emma Goldman and Bakunin.

Jim Munroe who produced it says, "it's based on the paradoxical notion that anarchists have to be more organized than average if they don't want to depend on power structures". I think there may be some leg pulling going on there, but he also invites enhancements:

It has a Creative Commons licence, so if you want to expand it somehow or simply improve on my extremely rudimentary Flash, feel free to grab the .fla file and remix away. Let me know afterwards and I'll be happy to link to your version.

I can't do one myself, I'm running late.

WBI Wannabee?

Back in March, I wrote about the abomination in the sight of God and man that is the Brown and Root building in Colliers Wood. (Note to self - as Brown and Root are owned by Halliburton, is there not some conspiracy theory angle that may be teased out here?) The tower was in the news then as it was topping polls to decide which of the country's most hideous buildings deserve to be demolished as part of a Channel Four programme.

This week the Wimbledon Post reports more Channel Four inspired shananigans under the headline 'BLACK TOWER' STUNT PLUNGE.

SOME people have called the Brown and Root Tower an eyesore so ugly it makes them want to hurl themselves off a tall building.

But last week one daredevil did just that - jumping off the top of the block, known as the Black Tower, in Colliers Wood High Street.

TV presenter Steve Jones was on the scene as a volunteer leapt from the roof as a stunt for the pilot episode of a new TV show called Chicken.

Is it possible I wonder that Welsh Steve (born in Tylorstown, Rhondda, Wales, in 1977) has an ulterior motive, in staging the stunt at a landmark I pass on my way to and from work each day? The rumour mill suggests that he may have impressed himself on Halle Berry and Pamela Anderson, but I am made of sterner stuff.

If he had jumped himself, I may have judged him less harshly but for now, he is no Lawrence of Arabia and he has failed to satisfy the examiners that he is a worthy to be judged a Welsh born icon.

Sports Map

Stephen Miller has posted details of his sports map prototype to the BBC backstage site.

This prototype allows a user to centre the map on their home town, or anywhere else in the UK, and find out which local team and which premier league team is closest.

BBC feeds for both teams will then be shown (unless a premiership club is closest, in which case only the one team is shown).

I have checked it out (for Cardiff naturally), and it seems to work a treat.

He says, "this is not targeted solely at providing a sport release, but at showing what is possible to stimulate more ideas!"

I think it is a wonderful worked example that demonstrates that the ideas that I outlined a week ago today for a similar system for Police appeals are certainly no pipe dream.

You can try his system for yourself by clicking here.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Barbed Comment

.......... there is no need to go on. Enough of the text has been quoted to identify the highly successful procedures employed by Reviel Netz, which can easily be imitated - and perhaps should be by as many authors as possible, to finally explode the entire genre. First, take an artefact, anything at all. Avoid the too obviously deplorable machine gun or atom bomb. Take something seemingly innocuous, say shoelaces. Explore the inherent if studiously unacknowledged ulterior purposes of that "grim" artefact within "the structures of power and violence". Shoelaces after all perfectly express the Euro-American urge to bind, control, constrain and yes, painfully constrict. Compare and contrast the easy comfort of the laceless moccasins of the Indian - so often massacred by booted and tightly laced Euro-Americans, as one can usefully recall at this point. Refer to the elegantly pointy and gracefully upturned silk shoes of the Orient, which have no need of laces of course because they so naturally fit the human foot - avoiding any trace of Orientalism, of course. It is all right to write in a manner unfriendly or even openly contemptuous of entire populations as Professor Netz does with his Texans at every turn ("ready to kill. . . they fought for Texan slavery against Mexico"), but only if the opprobrium is always aimed at you-know-who, and never at the pigmented. Clinch the argument by evoking the joys of walking on the beach in bare and uncommodified feet, and finally overcome any possible doubt by reminding the reader of the central role of high-laced boots in sadistic imagery.

That finally unmasks shoelaces for what they really are - not primarily a way of keeping shoes from falling off one's feet, but instruments of pain, just like the barbed wire that I have been buying all these years not to keep the cattle in, as I imagined, but to torture it, as Professor Netz points out. The rest is easy: the British could hardly have rounded up Boer wives and children without shoelaces to keep their boots on, any more than the very ordinary men in various Nazi uniforms could have done such extraordinary things so industriously, and not even Stalin could have kept the Gulag going with guards in unlaced Indian moccasins, or elegantly pointy, gracefully upturned, oriental shoes.

Edward N. Luttwak wields the stiletto in a review that is well worth reading and quoting, of a book which is probably not so worthy.

Prodnose: What do you mean stiletto?
Welsh Born: Oaf! I refer simultaneously to both a switch blade and a woman's shoe with a thin, high tapering heel.
Prodnose: Why?
Welsh Born: The first meaning furnishes a conventional rhetorical trope where a comparison is made between two seemingly unrelated subjects. The authoring of a book review is described as being the expert and dangerous use of a flick knife. In this way, the former is economically described and praised because implicit and explicit attributes from the latter can be applied to it by the general reader, though not I imagine by you.
Prodnose: So it saves time?
Welsh Born: Not if I have to spend my lunch break explaining it to you.
Prodnose: There is no need to be rude.
Welsh Born: Silence fool and attend to the second meaning. Luttwak's review satirizes Professort Netz's book by pretending to admire its "highly successful procedures" and suggesting ironically that if the history of barbed wire may be understood in terms of �structures of power and violence� the same analytical technique may reveal the true history of shoelaces. I concur and, by the deceptively simple expedient of appending the stiletto shoe to his whimsical enumeration of styles of footwear, I simultaneously commend and extend his labour in the bestowing of my literary benediction. What could be more transparent, earthworm?
Prodnose: Isn't that rather a lot of work for one little word?
Welsh Born: No clod, merely for your one little brain.

WBI's: Bedouin Division

As I wrote something that mentioned him earlier this week and I am going back home to Wales during the Bank Holiday weekend it seems only right and proper that I should take a little time out to induct Lawrence of Arabia - born in Tremadoc, Caernarfonshire on August 16, 1888 - into the Bedouin Division of Welsh Born Icons.

At his funeral, Winston Churchill said: "He was one of the greatest beings of our time. Whatever our need, we shall never see his like again."

Close readers will remember that he is member number two after Hugh Griffith's Sheik Ilderim.

Microsoft RSS

Wow, Microsoft just turned on scores and scores of RSS feeds.

I am sure that I will ultimately be vindicated for having been banging on about this for the last few years.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Hey, Stella!

Half way through my teetotal week on antibiotics, for some reason Streetcar's Stanley Kowalski is much on my mind.

Hey, Stellllaaaa!!! Hey, Stellaaaa!!

Click on the image above to see Marlon Brando showing how to shout them up, old school. (Quicktime plug in required.)

I went to see The Peter Hall Company production of 'A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 1997. Jessica Lange as Blanche Dubois was the name on the marquee, but I especially remember Imogen Stubbs as Stella and Toby Stephens as Stanley.

Imogen Stubbs played the famous "there are things that happen between a man and a woman in the dark--that sort of make everything else seem--unimportant" scene that takes place between Blanche and Stella in the morning after the "hey, Stellaaa!" episode in a really striking way.

In the film, Stella is resigned, as if, for all of Stanley's imperfections and their problems, and she thinks that she has to knuckle down and make the best of things. In this production she was almost light hearted, jumping onto the bed , laughing and feigning cringes as if her sister was warning her about a fairytale bogeyman rather than the real threat we saw the night before.

Toby Stephens, I particularly remember because - and this may seem an odd tribute to acting - when he came on for the curtain call at the end he was so completley different as himself to the morose, glowering character he had been portraying for the last couple of hours that it was difficult to credit that it was the same body walking onto the stage.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

KO'd by vibrating pants

Chris Howell has brought a disturbing story of Welsh depravity fromThe Sun to my attention. You may follow the link at your own discretion.

Perhaps the heroine should team up with the knife wielding Welsh Rugby fan that I wrote about in February?

Fog machine

Sussex Police are selling a fog making machine on the Police online auction site that my company runs. It will only be up for a week. Do any budding film makers fancy it?

According to the manufacturers, you can use it to stop the spread of epidemics (e.g. to combat DHF or malaria mosquitos), to disinfect stables in animal husbandry, or to inhibit potato germination, as well as to to produce special effects for the film industry.

How did you ever manage without one? Bid here.

The Police tried to find the owner for over a year, after it really fell off the back of a lorry. The lorry was travelling North on the A283 at Northchapel, West Sussex. When the lorry went over a bump, the machine fell off but the driver didn't stop. Perhaps it was foggy?

(Here is a primitive attempt to show where it was lost on a Google map.)

If the Buddha Came to Dinner

My brother John, has responded to "What would Jesus eat?", with "If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body to Awaken Your Spirit". This really is getting very odd.

I must get my proposal for "No Water with that Wine!: Drink your way to world domination like Alexander the Great" submitted to a publisher before Blair and co. decide a UK Volstead Act would be good for us.

For now, know that I am an Amazon Associate, click on the link below, and invite the Buddha to dinner! Great will be my reward.

Happy Hour

Not for the first time, I find my self agreeing with the estimable Tom Paine of The Last Ditch. This time I am quoting him in full on the news that more than half of Britain's pubs banned happy hour promotions yesterday in a bid to combat binge drinking and antisocial behaviour.

Is it legal for a Government to influence trade associations to fix higher prices? If the French government was influencing a cartel of wine producers to indulge in anti-competitive practices, how would our Government react? Why is it any different for a cartel of publicans to agree not to offer discounts than it would be for a cartel of car dealers, lawyers or undertakers? Why should responsible, well-behaved drinkers pay more for their drinks because some idiots make fools of themselves when drunk?

Will someone please tell this Government that we are not its children?

Note also that for the next few days at least my reaction is entirely disinterested as I have had to foreswear the demon drink for a week while I am on a course of antibiotics after a visit to the dentist.

Monday, May 23, 2005

What would Jesus eat?

I have to post a link to this BBC story as real life continues to outstrip satire today with regard to grub.

It seems that a Florida doctor has published a diet book called 'What Would Jesus Eat?', saying, "if you truly want to follow Jesus in every area of your life you cannot ignore your eating habits.

"Jesus ate primarily natural foods in their natural states - lots of vegetables, especially beans and lentils.

"He would have eaten wheat bread, a lot of fruit, drunk a lot of water and also red wine.

"And he would only eat meat on special occasions, maybe once a month, just like the parable of the prodigal son who ate fatted calf."

Although I was hoping for tips on what to do if surprise guests drop in when you have only loaves in the larder and fish in the fridge, this is great stuff.

The best quote in the story however does not belong to the book's author Dr. Don Colbert, it comes from the Reverend Dr Gordon Gatward, director of the Arthur Rank Centre (!), who observes "some of the stricter religious people have accused Jesus of being a wine bibber and a glutton because Jesus did like parties".

I love the idea of some Ned Flanders figure deprecating the Lord for an indulgent lifestyle, but I can't help wondering if Dr Gatward's imagination has not run away with him on this one.

I would want not be so uncharitable to accuse him of an inconscious Porkie Pie; another item unlikely to feature in the "what would Jesus eat?" diet.

The Chickpea and the Middle East

The last thing I posted was a joke from The Onion. I should have guessed that that there would be a crazier true story.

The last time you bit into a falafel sandwich you were probably thinking about nothing more than the warm spice and crunch of the chickpea fritters and the way they played against the soft bread, crisp vegetables and nutty tahini sauce.

Unless you're Palestinian, in which case you may have had weightier culinary issues on your mind.

Many Palestinians believe that Israelis have stolen falafel, a traditional Arab food, and passed it off as what postcards at tourist kiosks all over Israel call "Israel's National Snack."

"We always sort of look at each other and roll our eyeballs when we pass a restaurant that says `Israeli falafel,' " said Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American and a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago.

Some do more than roll eyeballs. Aziz Shihab, a Palestinian-American and the author of the cookbook "A Taste of Palestine," once picked an argument with the owners of an Israeli restaurant in Dallas that served falafel. "This is my mother's food," he said. "This is my grandfather's food. What do you mean you're serving it as your food?"

read the whole thing ......

Jews, Muslims, Hindus Agree On Chicken

GENEVA - After years of sectarian violence, a coalition of Jews, Muslims, and Hindus signed an international resolution Monday, confirming their mutual appreciation of chicken dishes. 'Whether it is breaded with matzo, served as shwarma, or covered in tikka masala sauce, chicken is the one meat upon which all faiths can agree,' said spokesman Jerome Maliszewski, addressing an assembly of rabbis, mullahs, and shamans. 'Let this friendly exchange of recipes be the first tentative step toward everlasting peace.' Attendees at the combination summit and potluck dinner labeled it a qualified success, regretting the altercation that broke out between factions with differing views on skewer length.

The Onion | America's Finest News Source


When I was a boy (a gentile boy I should add) I had an image of the the kibbutz as the fulfillment of the idea "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" and a home available to anyone who chose it. Indeed when I went to University at 18 I remember being a little in awe of a 19 year old first year contemporary who had lived in one during a gap year after school.

So in my lifetime, the popular perception of Isreal has changed from a Utopian socialist project to an oppressive, even vindictive, insular state. Why has the image changed? How inaccurate was the old image, and how accurate was the new? I don't know. I have never been there and I am not sure that I have earned a publishable opinion.

What I have learned is this. There is nothing inevitable and eternal about the current conflicts in the world and conventional opinion is no sort of guide to anything.

Look at the photograph above. It shows a future king of Iraq and the President of the World Zionist Organization. Early in 1919, Emir Feisal and Dr. Chaim Weizmann signed the Faisal Weizmann Agreement which established Arab acceptance of the Balfour Declaration.

Feisal was the friend and brother in arms of Lawrence of Arabia. (They were portrayed by Alec Guinness and Peter O'Toole respectively in David Lean's film.) He was also the son of Hussein ibn Ali, the Grand Sharif of Mecca.

How might the world have been different if the Arabs hadn't been sold down the river (to the accommodate the French I might add) in the Paris Peace Conference later that year?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Brahn Boots...

"We didn't know... he didn't say, he'd give 'is other boots away." John my brother has reminded me that Weston & Lee's 1940 monologue for Stanley Holloway seldom went unquoted for long chez Browne.

Our Aunt Hanna's passed away,
We 'ad her funeral today,
And it was a posh affair,
Had to have two p'licemen there!

The 'earse was luv'ly, all plate glass,
And wot a corfin!... oak and brass!
We'd fah-sands weepin', flahers galore,
But Jim, our cousin... what d'yer fink 'e wore?

Why, brahn boots!
I ask yer... brahn boots!
Fancy coming to a funeral
In brahn boots!

I will admit 'e 'ad a nice black tie,
Black fingernails and a nice black eye;
But yer can't see people orf when they die,
In brahn boots!

And Aunt 'ad been so very good to 'im,
Done all that any muvver could for 'im,
And Jim, her son, to show his clars...
Rolls up to make it all a farce,

In brahn boots...
I ask yer... brahn boots!
While all the rest,
Wore decent black and mourning suits.

I'll own he didn't seem so gay,
In fact he cried most part the way,
But straight, he reg'lar spoilt our day,
Wiv 'is brahn boots.

In the graveyard we left Jim,
None of us said much to him,
Yus, we all gave 'im the bird,
Then by accident we 'eard ...

'E'd given 'is black boots to Jim Small,
A bloke wot 'ad no boots at all,
So p'raps Aunt Hanna doesn't mind,
She did like people who was good and kind.

But brahn boots!
I ask yer... brahn boots!
Fancy coming to a funeral,
In brahn boots!

And we could 'ear the neighbours all remark
"What, 'im chief mourner? Wot a blooming lark!
"Why 'e looks more like a Bookmaker's clerk...
In brahn boots!"

That's why we 'ad to be so rude to 'im,
That's why we never said "Ow do!" to 'im,
We didn't know... he didn't say,
He'd give 'is other boots away.

But brahn boots!
I ask yer... brahn boots!
While all the rest,
Wore decent black and mourning suits!

But some day up at Heavens gate,
Poor Jim, all nerves, will stand and wait,
'til an angel whispers... "Come in, Mate,
"Where's yer brahn boots?"

Friday, May 20, 2005

Safe, and feeling safe?

In March last year, as I was taking my 3 year old to Nursery, we walked past a large CRIMESTOPPERS notice asking for information on or witnesses to the armed robbery of a pedestrian that had occurred in that street at 9:50 in the morning.

Now, I am pretty obviously interested in gunplay yards from where my little boy spends much of his waking hours, so it struck me that there is no mechanism in place at all - apart perhaps from the local paper - that would let me find out if, how and when this incident was cleared up. In fact, I never heard anything about it at all, so in my particular case all that the police achieved was to alarm me.

I've written here many times about how I think the Police could benefit from presenting appeals in the form of weblogs. This is because the chronological presentation of blogs (with the most recent information first) and the subscription mechanisms (ranging from RSS and ATOM feeds to email) make them tremendously well suited for keeping people up to date with developments on any sort of issue.

I don't think that I have explicitly stressed before that appeal and investigation blogs could be used to reassure the public by letting them know about ultimate outcomes.

Reassurance is a set priority in the UK. There is a National Reassurance Policing Project with a website and my local Police at Merton are piloting the Met's initiatives to plug the "Reassurance Gap". Merton's efforts have got a website as well. There's just no way for me to be reassured that our local stick up merchant has been banged up.

Are these ideas relevant, practical and achievable? Look at the screen shot above. We are living in a time when Google local can conjure up a map and details of the pubs convenient for my office in the blink of an eye.

Remember that RSS awareness and subscription mechanisms are built in to Firefox browser as well as the latest offering from Apple, and that I have heard (off the record, from the horse's mouth) that the next version of Internet Explorer will at least catch up.

Why can't I look up Crimestoppers appeals in Google Local, identify appeals that I might know something about, and subscribe to be informed of progress on disturbing incidents on my doorstep.

The issues aren't technical It is just a question of the vision, will and commitment to do it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Episode III

I quitting early today to take the kids to an early showing. As Sandy Franks has noted, movie makers should really learn to check their titles for bad acronyms before they release them. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see Star Wars: Episode III ROTS.

Hi, my name is Nick and I am a ....

A fine joke about the game I am in (from normblog).

A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the shepherd, 'If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?'

The shepherd looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answers, 'Sure. Why not?'

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his AT&T cell phone, surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany. Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored.

He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of complex formulas. He uploads all of this data via an email on his Blackberry and after a few minutes receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and he turns to the shepherd and says, 'You have exactly 1586 sheep.'

'That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my sheep,' says the shepherd. He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as he stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the shepherd says to the young man, 'Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?'

The young man thinks about it for a second and says, 'Okay, why not?'

'You're a consultant,' says the shepherd.

'Wow! That's correct,' says the yuppie, 'but how did you guess that?'

'No guessing required,' answered the shepherd. 'You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked, and you don't know squat about my business. Now give me back my dog.'


Sussex Police report that - among other benefits - they make three times more money using Bumblebee auctions than they did with local auctions. That should be good for business, see the Coraider Services website for more details.

With regard to Virtual Bumblebee they also say:

By matching seized property to victims of crime and by opening new lines of enquiry, it is helping to increase the number of offenders brought to justice.

I'm really very pleased about that. Perhaps it is the first sign of the logjam moving on the topic that I have been banging on about since 2003 when I wrote:

It is intended that the Virtual Bumble Bee system will grow into a comprehensive UK database of lost and recovered property. When this happens, secure RSS feeds from this database could be a valuable investigative tool.

The poster that Surrey Police produced to support the Milly Dowler investigation says

Officers are also keen to find Milly's clothes and possessions:
School uniform of navy blue blazer, light blue V-neck jumper, white blouse, short grey skirt, navy and light blue striped tie.
Pair black 'Pod' shoes.
Nokia 3210 phone with silver front and blue back marked �Milly�,
beige and black Jansport rucksack and
white plastic purse with red heart motif.

It would be comparatively straightforward to provide an RSS feed that would notify appropriate officers if whenever a phone or a rucksack matching this description was found or seized.

Its also heartening to read reports that Charles Clark is to make encouraging collaboration between Police forces a priority. Even though I'm scarcely disinterested, Bumblebee is exactly the kind of thing into which they should be putting resources.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Taking your life in your hands

Here is an amazing and uplifting story from the Washinton Post.

Last year, Natalia Dmytruk was working as a sign language interpreter for Ukraine's state-run television. Her face and hands would appear in a little box at the bottom of the screen as she sent out the news on the mid-morning and early afternoon telecasts to the hearing-impaired.

During the tense days of Ukraine's presidential elections last year something snapped and she staged a silent but bold protest on live television, ignoring the official script and informing deaf Ukrainians that official results from the November contest were fraudulent.

"I am addressing everybody who is deaf in the Ukraine. Our president is Victor Yushchenko. Do not trust the results of the central election committee. They are all lies. . . . And I am very ashamed to translate such lies to you. Maybe you will see me again ....."

None of her superiors admonished her and she returned to work for the 3 p.m. news. When she had finished that she went to the technicians and told them what she had done. "You are terrific, Natalia," she said they told her.

As we now know, hers was one of the acts of courage that further emboldened protests that grew until a new election was held and the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko , was declared the winner.

A couple of weeks ago, Dmytruk and three other Ukrainian women received the Fern Holland Award the Vital Voices Global Partnership's fifth annual ceremony honoring women from around the world who have made a difference.

Compare and contrast Craig Murray, formerly the United Kingdom's Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

In October 2002, upon becoming concerned that torture and extra-judicial killings were taking place in Uzbekistan, he made a controversial speech at a human rights conference in Tashkent, in which he claimed that "Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy" and saying of the boiling to death of two men, "all of us know that this is not an isolated incident."

Although it is true that Murray seems to have been imperfect, there is very little doubt that he was ultimately hounded out of his post by a Foreign Office establishment that was embarrassed by his outspokenness.

This week the Uzbekistan regime has been responsible for gunning down hundreds of demonstrators in the street.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Give me Liberty

We visited Liberty in Regent Street on Saturday so that Jane could pick up some haberdashery supplies.

Ben was rather taken with a camel saddle that he and I came across on the third floor as we were killing time while his mum was loooking at ribbons. He remembers photos of her riding a camel in the Dubai desert, so he insisted that she came to see it when she had finished her shopping.

The saddle is in the carpet department, and I imagine it is intended to add to the exotic, Eastern ambience that comes from a profusion of hand made rugs hung from the ceiling, pinned to the walls and piled sky high in every available space.

After admiring the saddle, Jane was rather taken with a carpet that she had noticed on top of a pile of similar rugs. I'd say that the carpet was about twelve feet by four, and there were about twenty five rugs laid on top of each other.

I asked a nearby member of staff how much it would cost. "Thirty five thousand pounds," came the deadpan reply. I looked more closely. There were in fact price tags on the rugs. The second one in the pile was a comparative bargain at �28,000.

At this point I became acutely aware that my four year old, possibly with his nose unwiped, was in close proximity.

"So this pile of rugs is worth hundreds of thousands?"

"Yes, the carpet that you are interested in was made in central Persia around 1890. There are probably only a dozen similar in the world. An example came up in Sotheby's recently, but it was more worn, not of this quality."

"Is it a pre Islamic design?" I asked. (All that I knew about Persian carpets - gleaned from Dan Cruickshank's estimable Around the World in Eighty Treasures on the TV the other week - was that the designs were regional and could be traced back to a time before the Moslem conversion, but I thought I might as well chance my arm.)

"Not really," he said and went on to describe a famous mosque inlaid with a very similar pattern.

I wondered out loud if it was symmetrical.

"It is that sort of design, " he said, "but obviously a handmade item can never be perfectly symmetrical.

"In fact Persian weavers have a strong belief that only God is perfect in all that He does. Therefore a rug made by a human must have an imperfection because the belief is that only God can craft something that is flawless, and it would be arrogant for man to seek and aspire to the same.

"A perfect carpet would offend God, therefore the imperfection symbolizes man's imperfection in this world. The finer the pattern, and the more perfect its execution, the greater the need to insert a purposeful flaw of one sort or another."

I told him that with regard to inserting a purposeful flaw into a perfect accomplishment of mine, I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

We chatted away for a while longer. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of knowledge about the weft, the weave, the silk and the thread. It was all fascinating but finally I had - shame faced - to admit that I didn't have thirty five grand to blow on a carpet that afternoon. He couldn't have been more gracious.

I have looked up the Liberty website since we have been back. This is what it says.

The third floor is a must for any Liberty customer, absolutely nothing in here has been mass-produced. Everything is handmade with a label on the back denoting country of origin. No brands, no companies just a country � Iran, Persia, Pakistan, Afghanistan. We have friends there who make the best carpets in the world in a way that no machine can replicate. If you want to know the story behind any carpet you are buying � ask any member of staff and they�ll be happy to help and of course Bruce is usually on hand. He�s our buyer and always willing to share a tale or two. He bought every one of those carpets and he (and the team) know exactly who made them and how they did it. He is an education and if you had no interest in carpets when you arrived you can guarantee you will be fluent in �carpet� by the time you leave.

It is all true.

Monday, May 16, 2005


I went out for something of a pub crawl in London's Bankside on Friday night.

Deriving its name from one of the medieval causeways built to hold back the Thames, the early history of Bankside owes much to its riverside location. Beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London, but only a short ferry-ride away, Bankside became home to a number of boisterous establishments that could not be located within the City bounds as they were considered too cheap, too unsavoury or were simply illegal. The main entertainments that drew crowds to Bankside were the 'stewhouses' (brothels), animal-baiting pits and public theatres, sometimes all at once, as prostitutes would trawl the playhouses, which doubled as bear-baiting arenas. The Rose, the Swan, the Globe and the Hope were the four Bankside playhouses of the Tudor era, and some of the first ever in London (the very first theatre was in Shoreditch and was dismantled to built the original Globe playhouse).

That made it sound like I would fit right in, so I took the tube up to London Bridge.

We kicked off in the The Barrowboy and Banker (6-8, Borough High Street, London, SE1 9QQ) and then had one the The Old Thameside Inn (Pickfords Wharf, Clink St, London, SE1 9DG).

Then we checked out Vinopolis and had a glass of red in their bar, The Wine Wharf (Stoney Street, Borough Market, London SE1 9AD).

After that we slipped round to Borough Market for a swift one in The Wheatsheaf (6 Stoney Street, London, SE1 9AA), and then walked around to the Hop Cellars (24 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TY) for another glass of wine.

Decided to finish off with dinner (not stew) at The Peoples Palace Restaurant (Royal Festival Hall complex London SE1 8XX), but were tempted into The Founders Arms en route (52 Hopton St, London SE1 9JH) for a stiffener on the way.

Thence home on the tune from Waterloo, tired but happy, and with many valuable hostelry addresses for me to play with as I try and get my ideas on geoblogging straight.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Phil Blood's Leap

After yesterday, here is another character forming piece remembered from my youth.

'Phil Blood's Leap' by Robert Buchanan

There's some think Injins poison, and others count 'em scum,
And night and day they are melting away, clean into Kingdom Come;
But don't you go and make mistakes, like many dern'd fools I've known,
For dirt is dirt, and snakes is snakes, but an Injin's flesh and bone!

We were seeking gold in the Texan hold, and we'd had a blaze of luck,
More rich and rare the stuff ran there at every foot we struck ;
Like men gone wild we tiled and tiled, and never seemed to tire ;
The hot sun beamed, and our faces streamed with the sweat of a mad desire.

I was Captain then of the mining men, and I had a precious life,
For a wilder set I never met at derringer and knife;
Nigh every day there was some new fray, a bullet in some one's brain,
And the cussedest brute to stab and to shoot was an imp of sin from Maine.

Phil Blood. Well, he was six foot three, with a squint to make you skeer'd,
Sour as the drink in Bitter Chink, with carroty hair and beard.
With pick and spade in sun and shade he labour'd like darnation,
But when his spell was over... well, he was fond of his recreation!
And being a crusty kind of cuss, the only sport he had,
When work was over, seemed to us a bit too rough and bad;
For to put some lead in a comrade's head was the greatest fun in life,
And the sharpest joke he was known to poke was the point of his precious knife.
But game to the bone was Phil, I'll own, and he always fought most fair,
With as good a will to be killed as kill, true grit as any there.
But his eddication, to his ruination, had not been over nice,
And his stupid skull was choking full of vulgar prejudice ;
With anything white he'd drink, or he'd fight in fair and open fray ;
But to murder and kill was his wicked will, if an Injin came his way!
A sarpent's hide has pison inside, and an Injin's heart's the same,
If he seems your friend for to gain his end, look out for the sarpent's game;
Of the snakes that crawl, the worst of all is the snake in a skin of red,
A spotted Snake, and no mistake!' that's what he always said.
Well, we'd jest struck our bit of luck, and were wild as raving men,
When who should stray to our camp one day, but Black Panther, the Cheyenne;
Drest like a Christian, all agrin, the redskin joins our band,
But tho' the rest look'd black as sin, I shakes him by the hand.
Now, the Injin's cuss was known to us, and I knew that he was true,
I'd have trusted him with life and limb as soon as I'd trust you;
For tho' his wit was gone a bit, and he drank like any fish,
His heart was kind, he was well-inclined, as even a white could wish.
Food had got low, for we didn't know the run of the hunting-ground,
And our hunters were sick, when, just in the nick, the friend in need was found;
For he knew the place like his mother's face (or better, a heap, you'd say,
Since she was a squaw of the roaming race, and himself a castaway).
So I took the Panther into camp, and the critter was well content,
And off with him, on the hunting-tramp, next day our hunters went,
And I reckon that day and the next we didn't want for food,
And only one in the camp looked vext... that imp of sin, Phil Blood.
Nothing would please his contrairy idees! an Injin made him rile!
He didn't speak, but I saw on his cheek a kind of an ugly smile;
And I knew his skin was hatching sin, so I kept the Panther apart,
For the Injin he was too blind to see the depth of a white man's heart.

Well, one fine day, we a-resting lay at noon-tide by the creek,
The red sun blazed, and we lay half-dazed, too tired to stir or speak;
I lay and dozed with eyes half-closed, and felt like a three-year child,
And, a plantain blade on his brow for shade, even Phil Blood looked mild.
Well, back, jest then, came our hunting men, with the Panther at their head,
Full of his fun was every one, and the Panther's eyes were red,
And he skipt about with grin and shout, for he'd had a drop that day,
And he twisted and twirled, and squeal'd and skirl'd, in the foolish Injin way.
To the waist all bare Phil Blood lay there, with only his knife in his belt,
And I saw his blood-shot eye-balls stare, and I knew how fierce he felt
When the Injin dances with grinning glances around Phil as he lies,
With his painted skin and his monkey grin... and leers into his eyes!
Then before I knew what I should do Phil Blood was on his feet,
And the Injin could trace the hate in his face, and his heart began to beat,
And, 'Git out o' the way,' he heard them say, ' for he means to hey your life!'
But before he could fly at the warning cry, he saw the flash of the knife.
'Run, Panther, run!' cried every one, and the Panther turned his back;
With a wicked glare, like a wounded bear, Phil Blood sprang on his track.
Up the side so steep of the canon deep the frighted Injin sped,
And after him ran the devil's limb, till they faded over head.

Now, the spot of ground where our luck was found was a queerish place, you'll mark,
Just under the jags of the mountain crags and the precipices dark ;
Far up on high, close to the sky, the two crags leant together,
Leaving a gap, like an open trap, with a gleam of golden weather.
If a man should pop in at that trap on the top he'd never rest arm or leg,
Till neck and crop to the bottom he'd drop, and smash on the stones like an egg.
A pathway led from the beck's dark bed up to the crags on high,
And along that path the Injin fled, fast as a man could fly.
Some shots were fired, for I desired to keep the white cuss back;
But I missed my man, and away he ran on the flying Injin's track.
'Come back, you cuss! come back to us! and let the Injin be!'
I called aloud, while the men in a crowd stood gazing at them and me...
But up they went, and my shots were spent, and at last they disappeared
One minute more, and we gave a roar, for the Iniin had leapt... and cleared

A leap for a deer, not a man, to clear... and the bloodiest grave below
But the Injin was smart and mad with fear, and he went like a bolt from a bow!
Close after him came the devil's limb, with his eyes as dark as death,
But when he came to the gulch's brim, I reckon he paused for breath.
For breath at the brink! but-a white man shrink, when a red had passed so neat?
I knew Phil Blood too well to think he'd turn his back dead beat!
He takes one run, leaps up in the sun, and bounds from the slippery ledge,
And he clears the hole, but Heaven help his soul! just touches the tother edge!
The edge he touches, then sinks, and clutches the rock... our eyes grow dim
I turn away... what's that they say?... he's hanging on to the brim!
On the very brink of the fatal clink a ragged shrub there grew,
And to that he clung, and in silence swung betwixt us and the blue,
And as soon as a man could run, I ran the way I'd seen them flee,
And I came mad-eyed to the chasm's side, and what do you think I see?
All up?... Not quite. Still hanging? Right!... But he'd torn away the shrub;
With lolling tongue he clutch'd and swung-to what? ay, that's the rub!
I saw him glare and dangle in air... for the empty hole he trod
Held by a pair of hands up there!... The Injin's! Yes, by God!

Now, boys, look here! for many a year I've roam'd in this here land,
And many a sight both day and night I've seen that I think grand;
Over the whole wide world I've been, and I know both things and men,
But the biggest sight I've ever seen was the sight I saw jest then.
I held my breath... so nigh to death Phil Blood swung hand and limb,
And it seem'd to us all that down he'll fall, with the Panther after him,
But the Injin at length put out his strength and another minute past,
Then safe and sound to the solid ground he drew Phil Blood, at last!
Saved? True for you! By an Injin, too!... and the man he meant to kill!
There all alone, on the brink of stone, I see them standing still ;
Phil Blood gone white, with the struggle and fright, like a great mad bull at bay,
And the Injin meanwhile, with a half-skeer'd smile, ready to spring away.

"What did Phil do? Well, I watched the two, and I saw Phil Blood turn back,
Bend over the brink, and take a blink right down the chasm black,
Then stooping low for a moment or so, he drew his bowie bright,
And chucked it down the gulf with a frown; then whistled, and slunk from sight!
And after that day Phil changed his play, and kept a civiller tongue,
And whenever an Injin came that way, his contrairy head he hung;
But whenever he heard the lying word, "It's a LIE!" Phil Blood would groan,
"A Snake is a Snake, make no mistake! but an Injin's flesh and bone!"

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle

One of the functions of a commonplace book is to organise and reinforce memory. This weekend I�m going to add some verse here that my Dad used to read to me when I was a little boy.

The first is �Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle� by John Hay (1838�1905). It was easy to find in the age of Google because I remembered Jim�s immortal cry, �I'll hold her nozzle agin the bank till the last galoot 's ashore."

Wall, no! I can't tell what he lives,
Becase he don't live, you see;
Leastways, he's got out of the habit
Of livin'like you and me.
Whar have you been for the last three year
That you haven't heard folks tell
How Jimmy Bludso passed in his checks
The night of the Prairie Belle?

He warn't no saint, - them engineers
Is all pretty much alike, -
One wife in Natchez-under-the-Hill
And another one here, in Pike;
A keerless man in his talk was Jim,
And an awkward hand in a row,
But he never flunked, and he never lied, -
I reckon he never knowed how.

And this was all the religion he had:
To treat his engine well;
Never be passed on the river;
To mind the pilot's bell;
And if ever the Prairie Belle took fire,
A thousand times he swore,
He'd hold her nozzle agin the bank
Till the last soul got ashore.

All boats has their day on the Mississip,
And her day come at last,
The Movastar was a better boat,
But the Belle she wouldn't be passed.
And so she came tearin' along that night -
The oldest craft on the line -
With a nigger squat on her safety-valve,
And her furnace crammed, rosin and pine.

The fire bust out as she clar'd the bar,
And burnt a hole in the night,
And quick as a flash she turned and made
For that willer-bank on the right.
Thar was runnin' and cussin', but Jim yelled out,
Over all the infernal roar,
'I'll hold her nozzle agin the bank
Till the last galoot's ashore.'

Through the hot, black breath of the burnin' boat
Jim Bludso's voice was heard,
And they all had trust in his cussedness,
And knowed he would keep his word.
And, sure 's you 're born, they all got off

Afore the smokestacks fell,�
And Bludso's ghost went up alone
In the smoke of the Prairie Belle.

He were n't no saint,�but at jedgment
I 'd run my chance with Jim,
'Longside of some pious gentlemen
That would n't shook hands with him.
He seen his duty, a dead-sure thing,�
And went for it thar and then;
And Christ ain't a going to be too hard
On a man that died for men.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Hoody Menace

Yesterday, even as it �emerged� that his government has created 1,018 new criminal offences since 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair found time � while outlining a 'bold' legislative programme for reform and renewal of public services in his third term in office � to join the war on the 'hoody' gangs which are terrorising the public.

According to the Daily Mail, he said people were 'rightly fed up' with yobbish behaviour and backed the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent which has banned youths wearing hooded tracksuit tops from its premises.

The menace is real. I remember that nice Anakin Skywalker as a kind, selfless child. How can he have grown into the hoody clad ruffian pictured above? If this can happen to child born of prophecy, possibly conceived by the will of the Force itself, how are our children to be saved?

We�ve ignored warning about youth, garments and respect before and paid a terrible price. It�s just over 40 years since the national newspapers reported that, on the 9th April 1965, the headmaster, Mr. E. H. Roberts, of the 1,000 pupil Grove Park Grammar School at Wrexham attacked those parents who allowed their children to wear Rolling Stones 'corduroy' trousers. 'It was a disservice to the young if adults interpreted freedom as a complete disregard for the rules' he said.

As we all now know, Mr. Roberts� brave call to action was ignored. An entire generation � personified perhaps by the eleven year old Master A. Blair � was lost to taste and tailoring. The result is plain in the photo below which was taken in 1975 of the then 21 year old lead singer of Ugly Rumours. It is as a horrible warning from history. It must never happen again.

More seriously, this "policy" is utterly witless and vacuous pandering. I think I will get a hoody tomorrow in protest and I buy clothes so seldom that I often wonder why I am not nude. I agree with Tom Paine, the "Me generation", which is surely the most pampered, spoiled, self important, and selfish in British history is aging in an ugly way "increasingly afraid of its youth (most of whom are perfectly decent people) and far too inclined to repress superficial and irrelevant behaviours".

I wonder if I can get Hugh MacLoed to bring out hoody versions of his t-shirts.

A company called Indigo can produce custom hoodies for us, but we have to buy at least 8. Anyone got any ideas?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

for the want of a shoe

I was at the Thames Valley Police HQ last night presenting to the Police and to Horsewatch on how they might use Virtual Bumblebee to alleviate thefts of horse tack as Sussex Police have done with Operation Saddle.

As can easily be imagined, all of the Thames Valley force's resources are currently bent on bringing the creatures responsible for the torture and murder of 16-year-old Mary-Ann Leneghan to justice.

Saddles, bridles, blankets and weblogs seem very insignificant compared to that task, but I was struck yet again by an intuition that the Police in general are missing a trick by not using Blogs and RSS to:
  • communicate with the public about investigations
  • channel intelligence that the public can give them
  • keep long running investigations in the public eye.
I wrote about this before back in March, when Surrey Police thought that they may have made a breakthrough in the murder of 13 year old Milly Dowler who was abducted nearly three years ago. On that occasion the local Runnymede & Weybridge Labour Party picked up the picture of the car that the Police were trying to trace from my weblog/RSS feed and republished it on their own site. All of this is grist to the mill and I do not think that it would have taken much effort for the Police to take have distributed their own appeal through new media channel that is the blogosphere.

(After the Police made their appeal, I created a "Milly Dowler" watchlist on Technorati so that I could see if people were commenting on it. Quite a while later, this search picked up an entry posted to an MSN Spaces blog written by a school friend of Milly's describing how badly bewildered and disturbed she still was several years after the disappearance. I don't want to link to that because I felt as if I was intruding somehow when I read it even though it was available publicly. I want to mention it though because, for me, it was yet another indication of what a significant social phenomenon this new type of writing and publishing is.)

What haunts me I think about the importance of these appeals and the need to put and keep them before the public is something that I learned from a Sussex policeman about the Sarah Payne tragedy. Sarah Payne was a little girl who disappeared from her grandparents house in summer 2000. She was murdered and her body was found a few weeks later.

That case was cracked largely because a member of the public who was aware of the investigation found one of Sarah's shoes when out walking. The Forensic Science Service managed to link fibres on the shoe to a red sweatshirt belonging to one Roy Whiting who was subsequently jailed for life for her murder.

It seems so amazingly fortuitous that someone would see a single small black shoe in a hedgerow and wonder if it belonged to a missing little girl that it makes you brood on how many other cases did not get that stroke of luck because someone blithely and in all innocence passed by some crucial evidence.

Jacko used chimps as cleaners

Michael Jackson used his pet chimpanzees to clean Neverland ranch, his trial heard yesterday.

The creatures would help the star by dusting, cleaning windows and brushing the toilets, the jury heard.

In a clip of outtakes from Martin Bashir's ITV1 documentary Living With Michael Jackson, the singer described how he got his animals to help with household chores.

'They are very smart. Their DNA is identical to humans when you look under a microscope,' he said.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I have been playing about with Google's new mapping and local information services and I have been interested to see that they seem to return information from this weblog. You can see the result of searching for "A Welsh born icon" around the postcode of the office here.

Funnily enough, the overwhelming majority of the results are local pubs that I have written about. Empirically, it seems that the posts are picked up whenever I include a full address in the post.

A lot goes on at GJ's (62 High St, Colliers Wood, London SW19 2BY) so I am writing this post to let me test what Google map and local searches will return a link to it based on my text over the next couple of weeks or so.

GJs - bizarrely - is Colliers Wood's own ski bar, run along with its sister pub in Wandsworth by people who cut their teeth during 8 years runnng the reportedly legendary original GJs of Val d'Isere in the French Alps.

All through May, chalet girls will be flocking to SW19 to see the cream of the bands who have entertained them in the Alps over the last few winters playing live. You have missed Superfly aka The Feeling who played last Friday, but you can still catch Mowgli this Friday and Mullit on Saturday.

On Friday 20 May 20 May - The Noize will be playing for the Ski Workers Reunited and Natives 6th Birthday.

(No, I have never heard of any of them either.)

On Sunday evenings, GJs plays host to BB's Blues Club. The eponymous BB is Bob Brunning who was a founder member of Fleetwood Mac, and went on to join Savoy Brown. I try and get along to "enjoy the best British and American blues bands around" as often as I can, and I have always had a great time.

On the second and last Thursday of every month there is a stand up comedy at GJs. Roar with Laughter entertain with some well known and up and coming acts. I seldom go because whenever I ever encounter some self righteous clown performing edgy and provocative material they inevitably succeed in in provoking me to thoughts of violence. Mark Thomas is playing there tomorrow. "You wanna talk about cutting edge comedy? In the real world it begins and ends with this man. He's prepared to make people uncomfortable about things that really matter". On his website you can vote on what you would like him to do next. I have voted that he "shut his big mouth up". I suggest you do the same. Let's just leave it at that.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Quotations Strung Together

It has apparently been said in jest of Hamlet that it is "nothing but a bunch of quotations strung together". That is the way I've thought for many years of 1977's Annie Hall.

Alvy addresses a pair of strangers on the street
Alvy Singer: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?
Female street stranger: Yeah.
Alvy Singer: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?
Female street stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.
Male street stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.
Alvy Singer: I see. Wow. That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something?

Alvy Singer: In 1942 I had already discovered women.
[Young Alvy kisses girl in school]
Alvy's Classmate: Yecch. He kissed me, he kissed me. Yecch.
Miss Reed: That's the second time this month. Step up here.
Alvy at 9: What'd I do?
Miss Reed: Step up here.
Alvy at 9: What did I do?
Miss Reed: You should be ashamed of yourself.
Alvy Singer: Why? I was just expressing a healthy sexual curiosity.
Miss Reed: Six year old boys don't have girls on their minds.
Alvy Singer: I did.
Alvy's Classmate: For God's sake, Alvy, even Freud speaks of a latency period.
Alvy Singer: Well, I never had a latency period. I can't help it.

Alvy at 9: The universe is expanding.
Doctor in Brooklyn: The universe is expanding?
Alvy at 9: Well, the universe is everything, and if it's expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!
Alvy's Mom: What is that your business?
[she turns back to the doctor]
Alvy's Mom: He stopped doing his homework!
Alvy at 9: What's the point?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Pandora's cushion

Mooching around near Tooting Railway station on Saturday we passed Coppin Bros butchers and I was reminded me that some years ago, this family-run South London establishment reintroduced the 'Pandora's Cushion' from a recipe which had survived from the current proprietor's grandfather.

Better know as a 'Victorian Stuffed Goose' this rare dish consists of a boned Goose stuffed with a boned chicken stuffed with a boned pheasant with a boned quail at the centre. Each bird is separated with a thin layer of homemade forcemeat and then the whole thing is then hand stitched back into the size and shape of the original goose

We had a 'cushion' at Christmas one year. It is quite an experience to cook and eat it.

Now, if only I could get them to stuff one of these into a sheep and then a camel ....

We also popped in to a West Indian cafe called Lighthouse Cafe Kook 2000, and had some fried dumplings with plantain. I will definitely be going back there for something more substantial some time soon.

Broke another duck by going into the pawn shop on the corner to look at silver jewelry. I'd never been in one before. I was surprised to see that there are cubicles where the real clients can go about their transactions. These little private boxes were, for me at least, curiously reminiscent of confessionals.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

State of Grace

I have signed on the dotted line for membership of the new Merton Abbey Virgin Active health club.

Is there any greater tonic than joining a gym before it opens?

I can sit round all day imagining how fit I am going to get come June, but I don't have to do anything about it yet.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Saturday Thought

Every dog has his day, but those with short thin tails have weak ends.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Dinner with Microsoft

I went to my first London Geek Dinner last night and I will certainly be going again.

I learned about the bash from Microsoft's Sean Alexander, who I think was instrumental in putting it together as he was passing through London on the way to Greece with his wife. There were quite a few Microsofties from the UK Media Center team there as well.

It was held in the Nakon Thai, and - of the unassimilated - I was sitting opposite Ian Forrester and next to Julian Guppy.

It was good to get a chance to natter away about my Tosh Qosmio G10 with people who might possibly understand what I was talking about, and to see - and fondle - a selection of the new media knick knacks that are in the pipeline.

I also got some hints that IE7 will be RSS aware. That will be a huge boon. Everyone was tight lipped about Longhorn though.

I was surprised and delighted at the end of the evening when Microsoft picked up the tab. Although this morning - having learned what a hit it is chez Alexander - I have splashed out �33.05 on a Microsoft Fingerprint Readerso maybe we are just about even on the deal.

Old Labour

So Blair and co. are returned for a third successive term. I watched the coverage deep into the night after I got back home at just after eleven. My God it was dull. I found myself yearning for MPs more like George Brown, the deputy leader of the Labour Party during the 1960s.

A noted drinker, George's finest - though very likely apocryphal - hour came at a London diplomatic reception. As the band struck up the first number, he approached a potential conquest in a long, red velvet dress and asked, "Beautiful lady in scarlet, may I have the next dance?"

"Certainly not!" came the reply.

"Why not?" asked George.

"In the first place you are drunk. "In the second, this is not actually a waltz but the Hungarian national anthem; and, thirdly, I am not a beautiful lady in scarlet, I am, in fact, the papal nuncio Archbishop Mancini."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Boy finds snake in cereal packet

A five-year-old Shropshire boy discovered a live two-foot snake in his box of breakfast cereal.

Jordan Willett, from Dawley, found the corn snake inside the packet of Golden Puffs on Bank Holiday Monday.

His mother Theresa, 23, said he was still in shock and not eating.

Ms Willett, who was eating breakfast with her son at the time, said she first thought the snake was a free gift.



I cast my vote in the UK election this morning on the way to the office. I didn't do it with any great enthusiasm and found myself thinking fondly of the Russian ballot option 'against all', but done it I have.

I was convinced that it was important that I should vote by my memory of the Iraqi lady that I met earlier this year who was so thrilled to have had the chance to vote in her own country's election.

I live in the Mitcham and Morden constituency. In the last election in 2001, Labour got 60.4% of the vote, the conservatives got 24.1%, the Liberal Democrats got 10.1%, and others got 5.4%.

I have voted for Labour for two reasons:

1. I think it was right for the UK to support the US regarding Iraq.
2. The sitting MP Siobhan McDonagh, who was born and has lived most of her life in the constituency, seems to be a conscientious local representative.

I am very uneasy about this however as I am completely disillusioned with Labour's performance in running the country.

My particular b�te noire is the government's propensity to introduce ludicrous, incompetent legislation. I have written about the proposal to make a crime of incitement to religious hatred here, and about the hate crime law in general here and here.

This is an administration that can't remember why it repealed the 1795 Treason Act! And I - God help us - have voted to have them back again because I can't see any credible alternative.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Song Against Grocers

Peter of the Massive Pub Co who have just acquired a local of ours called the Victory has been complimentary about this site, and further to my post this morning I have been brooding on the perfidy of a supermarket plonking down a huge Temple of Mammon on top of a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

G.K. Chesterton's Song Against Grocers, which is also a salute to the "righteous minds of innkeepers", covers both bases.

God made the wicked Grocer
For a mystery and a sign,
That men might shun the awful shops
And go to inns to dine;
Where the bacon's on the rafter
And the wine is in the wood,
And God that made good laughter
Has seen that they are good.

The evil-hearted Grocer
Would call his mother "Ma'am,"
And bow at her and bob at her,
Her aged soul to damn,
And rub his horrid hands and ask
What article was next
Should be her proper text.

His props are not his children,
But pert lads underpaid,
Who call out "Cash!" and bang about
To work his wicked trade;
He keeps a lady in a cage
Most cruelly all day,
And makes her count and calls her "Miss"
Until she fades away.

The righteous minds of innkeepers
Induce them now and then
To crack a bottle with a friend
Or treat unmoneyed men,
But who hath seen the Grocer
Treat housemaids to his teas
Or crack a bottle of fish sauce
Or stand a man a cheese?

He sells us sands of Araby
As sugar for cash down;
He sweeps his shop and sells the dust
The purest salt in town,
He crams with cans of poisoned meat
Poor subjects of the King,
And when they die by thousands
Why, he laughs like anything.

The wicked Grocer groces
In spirits and in wine,
Not frankly and in fellowship
As men in inns do dine;
But packed with soap and sardines
And carried off by grooms,
For to be snatched by Duchesses
And drunk in dressing-rooms.

The hell-instructed Grocer
Has a temple made of tin,
And the ruin of good innkeepers
Is loudly urged therein;
But now the sands are running out
From sugar of a sort,
The Grocer trembles; for his time,
Just like his weight, is short.

Higher Mind

I've written before (here and here) about the long vanished Merton Priory in whose grounds our offices would have stood.

It turns out that it was consecrated on May 3, 1117, so I just missed its 888th anniversary yesterday. I always find it strange as I am walking to work to imagine that there was once a church as big as Westminster Abbey on the same site as , and of approximately the same dimensions, as the enormous Sainsbury's SavaCentre that has been thrown up there now.

Henry VIII's men demolished it in 1538 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. When you consider that Henry VIII was pretty much a contemporary of Michelangelo it really is sickening to imagine how much of our heritage was lost in the Reformation.

The Taliban's dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas seems to me to be a modern desecration on the same sort of scale as what once happened in the view from my window.

P.S. Googling around for something fun to write about the numerology of the 888th anniversary of the consecration I have come across an embarrassment of riches.

In the Greek mysteries, the number 888 represented the "Higher Mind." The Greek variation of "Jesus," "Iesous," equals 888. The number 666 represented the "Mortal Mind." In the New Testament, 666 is called the number of "the Beast."

Which is at least vaguely diverting, but how about the following for any techies out there:

Http = 8 + 400 + 400 + 80 = 888, the number of Christ. Messiah = 888 in ancient Hebrew/Mesopotamian numerology. The internet is a false Christ. The world wide web confirms this, as www = 666.

You can read the whole batty thing at http://www.wizardofeyez.com/666.html.

I am off to record myself saying Tim Berners Lee and then play it backwards.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Robot jockeys to ride Gulf camels

The United Arab Emirates says it will use robots as jockeys for camel races from next season.

The move comes after widespread international criticism of the use of young children to ride camels during the long and often hazardous races.

Officials say a prototype of the robot was successfully tested on Saturday.


Welsh Born Bedouin Icon

As Bedouin Feasts have been on my mind, I have remembered Hugh Griffith's Oscar winning turn as Sheik Ilderim in Ben Hur. The great man - centre above - was born in Anglesey in Wales in 1912. At least he looked like he might be able to eat a camel stuffed with a sheep.

Although he got the nod from the Academy for Ben Hur, I think his real claim to immortality is his portrayal of Caradog Lloyd-Evans in the BBC Wales 197os play Grand Slam. Unfortunately I don't have time to do any more than mention that grand achievement today.

Bedouin Feasts

According to my brother John;

Bedouins have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the largest item on any menu. This mammoth item is stuffed camel. Chickens are stuffed with rice and hard-boiled eggs, then a lamb is stuffed with the chickens. The skinned, cleaned camel is then stuffed with the lamb, broiled over a charcoal pit and decorated with nuts. Legend has it that this dish (serving 80-100 people) was served at Bedouin wedding feasts.
Nobody is quite sure of the veracity of this story, despite its entrance into the record books.

My guess would be that to be authentic, the chickens should be stuffed with gerbils, which in turn should be stuffed with locusts.

Gulf Cooking

I've been in the habit for quite a few years now of buying a cookbook as a souvenir of any new country I visit. I couldn't find anything at all in Dubai, though and one of the guides who took us round told us that there was no local cuisine at all, and until the Fifties people got by on dried fish and dates.

Although I did come home empty handed, I have ordered Cooking of the Gulf: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates from Amazon to fill the gap in my library, but I have also been looking at Alan Davidson's magisterial The Oxford Companion to Food.

Davidson has got significant entries on Arab Cuisine, Arabian Food, and Bedouin Food. In the Oxford Companion, Arab Cuisine refers to the rich and varied food of the entire Arab world; Arabian Food refers to the fare of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman; and Bedouin Food is the stuff eaten by the nomadic herdsmen who lived in the deserts.

Although the Bedouin are legendary for their hospitality, their grub does indeed sound quite forbidding. The routine fare seems to have been a fairly monotonous diet of milk, bread and dates; and small game was simply thrown in the fire to cook in its fur and was eaten in its entirety. Locusts were prepared by roasting over the fire. If not consumed immediately the dried flesh could be ground up into a meal and stored in a skin to be added to stews at a later date.

On the coasts however influences from, and trade with the Ottoman Empire to the North, the Horn of Africa to the West, and India and Iran to the East made the food a lot more varied.

Hopefully the book I have ordered will focus more on this tradition than the old school Bedouin recipes. I am not sure that powdered locust is available even in Tooting market never mind Tesco or Sainsbury's.

(When we were in Dubai, I noticed a poster advertising skiing holidays in Iran. That skewered a few preconceptions although I knew that were strong links between the countries.)

Monday, May 02, 2005

Constitutional Matters

On the plane to and from Dubai I read Niall Ferguson's Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. It is a book - as the title suggests - with an intriguing premise, and I found it convincing. I think the last 35 pages or so are remarkable, but what I want to note here is one of the quotations that preface chapter 5.

"[T]ake Constitution Jesuits if obtainable and insert English Empire for Roman Catholic Religion."

Cecil Rhodes, outlining the original concept of the Rhodes Scholarships to Lord Rothschild, 1888.

This made me laugh because - as I have written before - it is exactly how Chris Howell and I created the constitution of the Swansea University Jazz Society from the constitution of the African Society in 1980. I wish now that I had thought of using the constitution of the crack troops of the Counter Reformation as a basis for our efforts.

Nothing new under the sun I suppose.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Gold and Frankincense

When we were in Dubai we did actually buy gold in the gold souk, and frankincense in the spice souk. What a pity we didn't pick up any myrhh.

Looking at the word frankincense, I wondered if its etymology was from the Crusades as both Muslims and Christians referred to the Crusaders as "Franks", but apparently the name refers to its preeminence as the �true� or �frank� incense. It is also known as olibanum, which is derived from the Arabic al-lub�n (�the milk�), a reference to the milky sap tapped from the frankincense tree.

I haven't burnt any of it yet. I wonder if I will recognise the smell from my days as an altar boy.