Sunday, December 31, 2006

Man of the Year

Since 1927, TIME Magazine has chosen a man, woman, or idea that "for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year." You can see the list here. I particularly like back to back 1938 and 1939 winners Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

This year's winner is YOU:

The "Great Man" theory of history is usually attributed to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men." He believed that it is the few, the powerful and the famous who shape our collective destiny as a species. That theory took a serious beating this year.

To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened in 2006. The conflict in Iraq only got bloodier and more entrenched. A vicious skirmish erupted between Israel and Lebanon. A war dragged on in Sudan. A tin-pot dictator in North Korea got the Bomb, and the President of Iran wants to go nuclear too. Meanwhile nobody fixed global warming, and Sony didn't make enough PlayStation3s.

But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace.

It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

The piece is worth reading and it would be nice to think so, but I've got my doubts.

My nomination is Jack Dromey, the Labour Party Treasurer who - to all intents and purposes - blew the whistle on the cash for peerages scandal. I'm sure the powers that be will try and smear him as an ingrate as Scotland Yard tighten the noose in the new year, but it seems to me that his call for the Electoral Commission to investigate the issue was an act of great moral courage. Events may prove me wrong, but that's my take on it at the moment; without his intervention the whole thing might have blown itself out.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Throne of Reason

I've made a start on The Unquiet Grave. Thirty odd pages in I can't help but wonder if Palinurus is not suffering from a surfeit of education and a deficiency of application. It is certainly staggering to think an exact contemporary and school mate of George Orwell could evolve such a tortuous prose style.

Apparently, Nancy Mitford sent Evelyn Waugh a copy of the book just after he had completed Brideshead Revisited. "Waugh read and reread Connolly's book and scribbled his reactions on the margins."

The marginalia are extensive, full of insight and full of self-delusion. Waugh used the opportunity both to excoriate and to analyse his old acquaintance ("friend" is too loaded a word for their complex relationship) and the comments he made on the book are fascinating, not just for what they say about Connolly but also for the light they throw on Waugh himself.

I'd certainly love to read a facsimile edition of Waugh's copy. (Box 7, folder 1 in the University of Texas collection of his papers.)

Failing that, I can't see myseslf sitting down and reading it from cover to cover, so I'm going to install it in the smallest room in the house; a venue where its episodic presentation - aphorisms, quotes, short digressions, though no jokes alas - may work to its advantage. "A marvelous book to dip into". That way, at least, I've a decent chance of finishing it by April, rusty O Level French and extensive quotations from Pascal et al in their original language notwithstanding. Oh for the soi-disant bien pensant!

In the interests of historically accurate reportage, I might as well record that I gave up on the book for last night on page 37, where I was amazed to read a precursor of Richard Dawkins' selfish gene bait and switch, to wit: "What grape, to keep its place in the sun, taught our ancestors to make wine?"

Nothing knew under the sun eh? It also didn't help that my subconscious was continually murmering:

Half-a-bee, philosophically
Must ipso-facto half not-be.
But half the bee, has got to bee
Vis-a-vis its entity ... d'you see?
But can a bee be said to be
Or not to be an entire bee
When half the bee is not a bee
Due to some ancient injury?


La di di, a-one-two-three
Eric The Half-A-Bee
Eric The Half-A-Bee
Is this a-wretched demi-bee
Half asleep upon my knee
Some freak from a managerie?
NO! It's Eric The Half-A-Bee!
A-fiddle-di-dum, a-fiddle-di-dee
Eric The Half-A-Bee
Ho-ho-ho, tee-hee-hee
Eric The Half-A-Bee
I love this hive employ-e-e
Bisected accidentally
One summer afternoon by me
I love him carnally
He loves him carnally
Semi-carnally. The end.

Cyril Connolly?
(Sings): Cyril Connolly

Friday, December 29, 2006

Geocode Postcode

I know what you're thinking, it's been too long since I made any comment about geocoding.

I have been pondering it in stealth mode, but the problem with noodling about with it in the UK is that the database which turns a postcode to a latitude/longitude and back is not free. The Post Office owns it and licenses it to various third parties.

In order to produce my map of the London establishments that we have patronised as we eat our way around the world after work, for example my ugly workround was to search Google maps for the postcode, then double click very nearby, and select "link to this page" to give me a URL that contains the data I need.

It's not really satisfactory, but I 've stumbled today on a service from postcodeanywhere that will return coordinates from postcodes programmatically.

We already have an account with postcode anywhere as we use their service to produce addresses from post codes in Virtual Bumblebee.

Now that Operation Antique (and other associated initiatives) are starting to reveal intriguing patterns as we help return stolen items to victims of burglaries throughout England, often a long way from the area where the police have recovered the property, I am sure that we could produce some interesting geographical analysis if we started geocoding the data.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


I finished reading Freakonomics yesterday, but I didn't find it quite as entertaining or enlightening as I'd hoped. A lot of the revelations appeared to be along the lines of announcing how remarkable it is that there are two holes in your skin just where your eyes are.

Then again, I suppose that it was advertised as a discursive and accessible popularisation, and all the academic references were available in the notes if I wanted more rigour.

As an exercise in the deconstruction of "conventional wisdom", it reminded me of my days as a Corporate Development Executive in George Wimpley PLC back in the days when the group was a multinational, multi-division construction colossus rather than the etoliated housing company it has become today.

Wimpey had a mineral division, and I came up with the following unpopular line of reasoning - (simplified below):

  • demand for construction aggregate is positively correlated with the economic cycle
  • in all developed economies since the second world war however the construction aggregate intensity of economic activity (pounds of sand and gravel per £ of GNP) has been in constant secular decline
  • therefore - all other things being equal - a construction aggregates business will inevitably over time grow more slowly than economy at large
  • it follows that the share price of such a business will underperform its peers in the FTSE 500 over time (stockmarkets notoriously tending to reward growth over dividend generation)
  • which means that a large public UK company can't justify such an operation even though it might be a nice little earner for a private company.
I still think it is right all these years later.

I also came up with the idea that in the housing boom of the late 80s, the company wasn't making money from selling houses. It was making money from buying land and then selling the land later with a house on it, and that it might have been just as lucraative to omit the housebuilding part and just trade land. Again, not a conclusion likely to endear itself to the board of the housing division.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Bill" Sipple

Ex President Ford has passed on I see. I'm old enough to remember watching the news in the UK in the days when he survived two assassination attempts in a couple of weeks.

I didn't know the sad story of Bill Sipple before. Supply your own moral.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Camels and Currans

As the bombs rain down on Mogadishu, here's a story about a Somali man that I found a couple of days ago when I was googling around my Dad's early employment.

Cardiff. Only connect

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Selfish Giant

Just like last year, my Christmas present to any reader passing by in 2006 is a story. This year, from Oscar Wilde.

Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children used to go and play in the Giant's garden.

It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. "How happy we are here!" they cried to each other.

One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden.

"What are you doing here?" he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away.

"My own garden is my own garden," said the Giant; "any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself." So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board.


He was a very selfish Giant.

The poor children had now nowhere to play. They tried to play on the road, but the road was very dusty and full of hard stones, and they did not like it. They used to wander round the high wall when their lessons were over, and talk about the beautiful garden inside. "How happy we were there," they said to each other.

Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. Once a beautiful flower put its head out from the grass, but when it saw the notice-board it was so sorry for the children that it slipped back into the ground again, and went off to sleep. The only people who were pleased were the Snow and the Frost. "Spring has forgotten this garden," they cried, "so we will live here all the year round." The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down. "This is a delightful spot," he said, "we must ask the Hail on a visit." So the Hail came. Every day for three hours he rattled on the roof of the castle till he broke most of the slates, and then he ran round and round the garden as fast as he could go. He was dressed in grey, and his breath was like ice.

"I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming," said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; "I hope there will be a change in the weather."

But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. The Autumn gave golden fruit to every garden, but to the Giant's garden she gave none. "He is too selfish," she said. So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind, and the Hail, and the Frost, and the Snow danced about through the trees.

One morning the Giant was lying awake in bed when he heard some lovely music. It sounded so sweet to his ears that he thought it must be the King's musicians passing by. It was really only a little linnet singing outside his window, but it was so long since he had heard a bird sing in his garden that it seemed to him to be the most beautiful music in the world. Then the Hail stopped dancing over his head, and the North Wind ceased roaring, and a delicious perfume came to him through the open casement. "I believe the Spring has come at last," said the Giant; and he jumped out of bed and looked out.

What did he see?

He saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees. In every tree that he could see there was a little child. And the trees were so glad to have the children back again that they had covered themselves with blossoms, and were waving their arms gently above the children's heads. The birds were flying about and twittering with delight, and the flowers were looking up through the green grass and laughing. It was a lovely scene, only in one corner it was still winter. It was the farthest corner of the garden, and in it was standing a little boy. He was so small that he could not reach up to the branches of the tree, and he was wandering all round it, crying bitterly. The poor tree was still quite covered with frost and snow, and the North Wind was blowing and roaring above it. "Climb up! little boy," said the Tree, and it bent its branches down as low as it could; but the boy was too tiny.

And the Giant's heart melted as he looked out. "How selfish I have been!" he said; "now I know why the Spring would not come here. I will put that poor little boy on the top of the tree, and then I will knock down the wall, and my garden shall be the children's playground for ever and ever." He was really very sorry for what he had done.

So he crept downstairs and opened the front door quite softly, and went out into the garden. But when the children saw him they were so frightened that they all ran away, and the garden became winter again. Only the little boy did not run, for his eyes were so full of tears that he did not see the Giant coming. And the Giant stole up behind him and took him gently in his hand, and put him up into the tree. And the tree broke at once into blossom, and the birds came and sang on it, and the little boy stretched out his two arms and flung them round the Giant's neck, and kissed him. And the other children, when they saw that the Giant was not wicked any longer, came running back, and with them came the Spring. "It is your garden now, little children," said the Giant, and he took a great axe and knocked down the wall. And when the people were going to market at twelve o'clock they found the Giant playing with the children in the most beautiful garden they had ever seen.

All day long they played, and in the evening they came to the Giant to bid him good-bye.

"But where is your little companion?" he said: "the boy I put into the tree." The Giant loved him the best because he had kissed him.

"We don't know," answered the children; "he has gone away."

"You must tell him to be sure and come here tomorrow," said the Giant. But the children said that they did not know where he lived, and had never seen him before; and the Giant felt very sad.

Every afternoon, when school was over, the children came and played with the Giant. But the little boy whom the Giant loved was never seen again. The Giant was very kind to all the children, yet he longed for his first little friend, and often spoke of him. "How I would like to see him!" he used to say.

Years went over, and the Giant grew very old and feeble. He could not play about any more, so he sat in a huge armchair, and watched the children at their games, and admired his garden. "I have many beautiful flowers," he said; "but the children are the most beautiful flowers of all."

One winter morning he looked out of his window as he was dressing. He did not hate the Winter now, for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting.

Suddenly he rubbed his eyes in wonder, and looked and looked. It certainly was a marvellous sight. In the farthest corner of the garden was a tree quite covered with lovely white blossoms. Its branches were all golden, and silver fruit hung down from them, and underneath it stood the little boy he had loved.

Downstairs ran the Giant in great joy, and out into the garden. He hastened across the grass, and came near to the child. And when he came quite close his face grew red with anger, and he said, "Who hath dared to wound thee?" For on the palms of the child's hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.

"Who hath dared to wound thee?" cried the Giant; "tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him."

"Nay!" answered the child; "but these are the wounds of Love."

"Who art thou?" said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.

And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, "You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise."

And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Billy Boston

All the parks games were off in Cardiff yesterday, so I didn't manage to find out how the Illts got on against Uplands back in August.

I did however tell my Dad the yarn about the CIACS getting their first rugby ball by swapping it for a football with Currans Sports Club, because I had an idea that he used to work at Currans as well as turn out for them at cricket. I was right about that, and he was tickled by the tale.

He also offered the observation that Brian Ashton - who has just been appointed head coach for the national team (at the ripe age of 60) by England RFU grew up idolising the CIAC's most famous alumnus Billy Boston when he was playing rugby league for Wigan.

Billy Boston's is a great story (see the Rugby League Hall of Fame). He's already got an MBE and an entry in 100 Great Black Britons, but I hereby elevate him to Welsh Born Iconhood as well.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Uplands v Illts

Back in October, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his captaincy, I posted a photo of my father playing for the Old Illtydians in the 1956/57 season.

This prompted Chris to post a contemporaneous picture of his Dad helping to dig the foundations for Swansea Uplands RFC.

We've now found out that these days the clubs are on each other's fixture list and that we could have gone to see them play in the first game of the year back in August.

I'll be back in Wales later today, so I'll try and find out the result.

Since I found out the that the Swansea club enlisted en-mass forming a “sportsman’s platoon” in 5th Battalion The Welch Regiment in 1939, I have considered them an august and venerable body of men.

I'm sure that there is a wealth of social history to be discovered in the stories of Welsh rugby clubs.

Here, for exampe, is the legend of the CIACS.

Friday, December 22, 2006


All three major candidates for President in 1992 were left-handed, President Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot.

Good Heart

Everything slows down over the Christmas holidays, and my six year old was the only one who showed up for Kids' Muay Thai earlier this week. Johnny Boon was sick as well, so Benny got an hour's personal tuition from Woytek Nartowicz - a graduate of the Sitpalang Camp at Ayutthaya and a currently active fighter as well as instructor.

Woytek is from somewhere in Eastern Europe and after the lesson - while Ben was changing - he said to me in his accented English, "your boy has good heart, never gives up".
I was deeply chuffed. I felt that we should have toasted "Good Heart!", drained our vodka in one shot, and dashed the glasses into the fireplace.
Not that there was vodka or a fireplace, but you get my drift. There is no other accent that could have delivered the sentiment with the same panache.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Haji Blair

According to Tony Blair, the policies of the government in Tehran are "based on a warped and wrong-headed misinterpretation of Islam."

Here, regardless of the merits or demerits of the Iranian regime, we see once more the extraordinary empty headed arrogance of the man. Now it seems we are supposed to imagine that, among his other achievements - he is a sublte and profound Islamic theologian. If only Haji Blair could get five minutes over the Koran with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he could put him straight I suppose.

What business has the Prime Minuster of the UK got announcing anything at all about the correct way to interpret the scriptures of the religion revealed to the Prophet Muhammad?

Should we expect him to start adjucating between the Sunni and Shiia or expounding on the minutiae of Wahabbism for the benefit of the House of Saud?

The hubris is Blair's, but he seems determined to bring the nemesis down on the rest of us.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Scratching an itch

After complaining on December 4, that I couldn't do it, I've finally stumbled on the method for associating Haloscan comments with the title of the weblog post to which they refer.

Setup Weblog Post Retrieval replaces the incomprehensible thread number with the title of the post.

Now if I find that someone asking me "did leslie gore ever record this song?" at least I can figure out that they mean "I won't send roses", though I've still no idea of the answer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Seconds Out

I got a call from herself on Sunday asking me if I could keep our six year old overnight today so that she could go to some Christmas do. This was fine with me as I don’t drop him off until about 7:30 on Mondays, and the more I see him the better as far as I am concerned. She then appended an announcement that she would be keeping him on Christmas Saturday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day and that I could see him “after that”.

Unsurprisingly I refused to play ball with this ridiculous idea. When we were arguing I got the usual Goebbels treatment, but it is a trick I recognise easily these days. She explained that I always went to Cardiff after Boxing Day to spend time with my family, so she was in essence doing me a favour by keeping him the four days before. This was news to me (because it is incorrect), though she did assure me that was how I had arranged the holiday period for the last eight years.

“What did I do last year?” I asked, pulling an example out the air. It was scarcely a trick question, but surprise, surprise she couldn’t remember. I remembered. I especially remembered because Ben and I were in Cardiff the week before Christmas last year when Raybs shattered his knee. The circumstances of his spending the festive season in hospital and my visiting him each day possibly also eluding her capacious memory.

After half an hour’s debate, we agreed that I will take Ben down to Wales on Saturday morning to see his cousins and exchange presents and that I will bring him back on Christmas Eve, and it was explained to me – not for the first time – that all the problems in the world come from my failure to communicate. The letter that I sent her a while ago proposing this arrangement doesn’t count as communication apparently.

It’s not all that important in scheme of things but I want to record it here so that I will always remember how unreasonable she can be.

PS She has now decided in a fit of pique that I can’t have him tonight, and I am to drop him off with Raybs.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


After a lot of street pounding, I've managed to pick up a pair of this year's Christmas must-have for my six year old.

They're so rare and flying out of the stores so fast that the girl on the counter in Sports World, was actually clutching a list of the few styles and sizes of shoes with built in wheels that they had in stock. There was a sticker on the list for each individual pair, and she peeled off and discarded one of the few remaining when I snaffled the last available set in my boy's size and aimed at his gender. (When I think of the row we had when I bought him a sparkly toothbrush, I don't think he would have relished girly pink and white footwear.)

It is a strange illustration of how children change you that I was so utterly thrilled that I had pulled it off, and when I got home, "I just sat and hugged myself in my own mind," Boswell-like.

I am aware that by any objective criteria this is ridiculous behaviour.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

a corrupted country

There's nothing wrong in being a physical wreck, you know. There's no moral obligation to be Postmaster-General or Master of Foxhounds or to live to walk ten miles at eighty.
What with the police questioning the Prime Minister in the ongoing cash for peerages investigation, and the Attorney General putting the kibosh on the Serious Fraud Office investigation into a multi-billion pound Saudi arms deal, there's a powerful smell of mendacity in this country at the moment.

The leader in the Daily Telegraph savages Tony Blair today, saying that his "belief in the superiority of his motives leads him to reason that, when the New Labour project is at stake, the ends justify the means". That strikes a chord certainly, but I think that another contibutor to the collapse of probity and integrity in public life is the mania for presenting every issue in moral terms.

If everything has a moral dimension, then nothing does.

Public heath issues are my particular bete noire in this regard, hence the quote from Brideshead Revisited at the top of this rant.

The government expends so much of its virtue on nonsense like persecuting smokers and rubbishing parents who might have the temerity to feed their offspring the odd jam doughnut, that it doesn't have any moral fibre left to apply to itself and its own nefarious schemes.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Misogynist Moment

Historically, while the males were engaged in hunting and brute combat, the females were evolving differently. They gathered, kept the hearth, raised the young and learned how to deal with their larger and threatening mates. They evolved superior multitasking, language and sensing abilities.
I am drawing a line in the sand. Henceforth I will no longer nod sagely, as if it represents profound psychological insight, when I'm imparted warmed over Marie Claire-type gibberish

The ability to talk to a friend on the telephone while painting your toenails - God forbid that someone should ring the doorbell while you're about it - does not indicate that millions of years of evolution have endowed you with distinct cognitive and behavioural traits (you multitask hurrah!) that make you especially well adapted to thrive in the information age.

It is true that I can only do one thing at a time, but most people in my experience can't do that many.

Thanks for listening.

Kirk out.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gone but not Forgotten

I was saddened to read this morning that Peter Boyle has died at the age of 71. For me, he first ascended into the pantheon as the creature in Young Frankenstein - "from what was once an inarticulate mass of lifeless tissues may I now present a cultured, about town" - but cemented his place there as Ox Callaghan in the unjustly neglected While You Were Sleeping, which is one of my favourite films of all time.

Speaking of obituaries, compare and contrast two that appeared in The Times earlier this week - General Augusto Pinochet and Father Angelo D'Agostino. It is hard to comprehend that these two men belonged to the same species. I got my visceral loathing of Pinochet from my Uncle Joseph three decades ago when I was a boy. I remember this mildest of men being furious about the case of Sheila Cassidy (don't follow the link unless you've got a strong stomach) and I can't recall him ever even getting worked up about anything else at all.

It is also worth noting that the Labour Government of the mid seventies displayed a lot more backbone with regard to Cassidy, than the current one seems to be showing with respect to the Litvinenko affair, though I do hope ultimately to be proved wrong about that.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Key Stage 2

My six year old is in Year 1 in Primary School.

In the UK, the latter portion of primary education is called "Key Stage 2". It covers children up to the age of 11, in years 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Kids get assessed in May each year at the end of the stage and the results are published in league tables. The 2006 results came out last week, and my boy's school's results deteriorated for the second year in a row against a background of year on year improvement since 2004 at both Local Authority and national level.

What to do, what to do? I pay a lot of attention to his homework and his progress, and both seem OK to me. There's a newish head at the school who stikes me as competent, and he won't even start Key Stage 2 for another two years. Maybe they've just had two bad cohorts in a row. It might not be right to cut and run; a school that languished below his when we were looking at them has had two great years that leave it way above our choice in the league. Who's to say that the roles won't be reversed in another two years, never mind another five.

Something else to worry about anyway:

And if you ever have to go to school
Remember how they messed up this old fool
Don't pick fights with the bullies or the cads
'Cause I'm not much cop at punching other people's Dads
And if the homework brings you down
Then we'll throw it on the fire
And take the car downtown

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Hypothetical

London born, Italy supporting Welsh candidate Joe Calzaghe having been beaten to the 2006 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award by the royal Zara Phillips, I can’t help but wonder if the people of Wales wouldn’t have been better served by matrilineal primogeniture when it comes to the Royal family of late.

The Principality would have been much better of with the abrasive, grafting, sport loving Anne as Princess of Wales in place of the milquetoast Charles, and we would have been spared “the Queen of Hearts”.

Princess Anne would have learned Welsh fluently and courted controversy by using it to swear at journalists to delight in Cymru. Her obvious love of rugby would be vested in Wales rather than Scotland, and her son would have got schoolboy international caps at flanker for us rather than them.

By the 21st century she would have been the most popular person with the most popular family West of Offa’s Dyke with the succession assured by a daughter who had won World and European championships in a difficult and dangerous discipline.

It would work for me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Get thee to Gloucester, Essex

Our Virtual Bumblebee site seems finally to be coming of age.

Over the last few months we've managed to arrange the return of antiques stolen in burlgaries across the South of England, by serving as a clearing house for related operations, seizures and claims from Sussex Police, Surrey Police, Hampshire Constabulary, Essex Police, Suffolk Constabulary and Thames Valley.

Thames Valley Police in turn comprising Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, and geography never being my strong suit, threading the counties together is starting to make my head swim.

As ever illustrative quotes from Pete 'n Dud swim up from my subconscious, this time the cod Shakespeare from "Beyond the Fringe", back in the day when they were teamed with Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller.

Get thee to Gloucester, Essex. Do thee to Wessex, Exeter.
Fair Albany to Somerset must eke his route.
And Scroop, do you to Westmoreland, where shall bold York
Enrouted now for Lancaster, with forces of our Uncle Rutland,
Enjoin his standard with sweet Norfolk's host.
Fair Sussex, get thee to Warwicksbourne,
And there, with frowning purpose, tell our plan
To Bedford's tilted ear, that he shall press
With most insensate speed
And join his warlike effort to bold Dorset's side.
I most royally shall now to bed,
To sleep off all the nonsense I've just said.

As an aside, while Bennett's place in the Pantheon alongside Cook and Moore is secure, I have always found Jonathan Miller utterly unfunny even in his 1960s pomp, viz. the droll saga of the blue trousers ....... Gawd help us.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Modern Manners

I took my six year old Christmas shopping this weekend so that he could buy his presents, and let him decide - within reason - what he wanted to get for whom.

He told me that he wanted to get "a fighting film" for his brother and picked up a copy of the latest Tony Jaa DVD in HMV, then started looking for a "Mummy film" and eventually decided - I know not why - on My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

This is not a bad choice actually as his mother his big fan of both Uma Thurman and Eddie Izzard. I haven't seen it myself, but IMDB summarises the plot as follows:
Our boyfriend (Luke Wilson) is coerced into asking a seemingly harmless, pretty young lady (Uma Thurman) out on a first date. Little does he know that she is a vengeful, spiteful, rather overbearing woman masquerading as a normal citizen

That's probably going to be mined for hidden significance come Christmas morning.

Another very modern dilemma I had to confront on the same trip is how to react when your little boy decides that a quick game of hide and seek is just the thing to break the monotony of a shopping trip, and conceals himself in the erotica section at Waterstones.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

High Roller

I've been exercising five or six days a week for coming up to eighteen months now.

I'm not losing weight any more, which is not surprising when you consider that I devote so much of the time that I'm not in the gym to drinking lager and roasting pork bellies, but I am pretty fit.

A good thing about writing a regular blog is that it helps to keep track of long term changes, and I've realised lately that the kyphosis and bad shoulders that I was complaining of back in March have now cleared up. It seems that I was tending to rust up as I was getting older which - while bad - is at least better than wearing out.

I stretch every day that I exercise, and now that I seem to be beginning to succeed in loosening my hip flexors and adductors, Gordon has announced that the next rate limiting step that I have to address is my I (for Iliotibial) Band.

It seems that we are going to treat this via self-myofascial release (SMR) on a foam roller, basically, you just use your body weight to sandwich the roller between the soft tissue to be released and the floor. You roll at a slow pace and actually stop and bear down on the most tender spots ("hot spots").

All I can tell you so far is that it certainly hurts so much that I am convinced it must be doing me good. (How people who weren't raised as Catholics motivate themselves to do it I can only wonder.)

It's worth noting that , just as was the case with kyphosis, the best article I could find on SMR was published on a website called Testosterone Nation. Not an obvious internet hangout for me, and thus a good lesson against snobbery and sneering.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bar Estrela

As promised, "Eat your way around the world in London" alighted in Stockwell on Wednesday night intent on mingling with the Portuguese while Manchester United entertained Benfica, and Arsenal took on Porto.

We were delighted to be joined by Neil - who runs as a side project - for the second week in a row, and settled on Bar Estrela as a venue. This hub of London's Portuguese community consists of a bar/cafe on the ground floor and a more formal restaurant on the first.

We arrived just before seven, to promising football auguries; each TV in the place was tuned to a native Portuguese feed rather than the bog-standard Sky Sports, and each bore a handwritten label indicating if it would be showing the Porto or Benfica game later in the evening.

We got just about the last remaining berth in the restaurant upstairs, and took our places with the profit burglar - crafty to the last - claiming the only seat on the table with a view of a cathode ray tube.

To start, I chose the dressed crab from the specials menu, Paul got calamari, and Neil picked sardines, but when this extravaganza of fruits de la mere arrived we democratically (and fuelled by the excellent house red) decided to share. These seafood starters alone (plus good bread and olives) amounted to one of the best meals that I have had this year, but we still ploughed on to mains.

During the intercourse (phnaar phnaar!) interregnum Benfica's Marcos Nelson drilled in a stunner from 25 yards to put the Portuguese one up against United and the clientele of Estrela's restaurant exploded with extravagant delight.

Time passed and I chowed down to lobster and spaghetti, Neil to pork and clams, and Paul to pork and peppers.

"Guess what just happened?", said Paul; the football had kicked off again and we were early in the second half.

"Dunno", I replied.

"Man U just equalized", he said. There hadn't been, as far as I could tell, even a twinge of reaction from the Benfica fans who had been dancing on the ceiling when their team scored earlier.

Twice more there was nary a twinge when Utd when two one, and then three one up to carry the day.

We finished - at Neil's recommendation - on white port, then staggered homewards.

Henceforth Estrela shall be where I watch any and all football with a Portuguese dimension.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Speaking of Heather Mills, did you hear about the one armed waiter?

He can take it, but he can't dish it out.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Bodegas of Stockwell

With Arsenal and Manchester United both facing Portuguese sides in crucial European Championship times tonight, it seems to me that Stockwell is the place to be in London.

According to a report in the Guardian last year, there are some 27,000 Portuguese in this part of London - the largest community outside Portugal.

Santos's cafe on South Lambeth Road is a shrine to Benfica, and round the corner, on Landor Road, is the headquarters of FC Porto's official London supporters' club.

I wonder if Mr Mourinho will be out with his countrymen for a drink, a laugh and a bite to eat?

Probably not. On a more sombre note it also explains why a lusophone Brazillian Jean Charles de Menezes might have been doing there before he was shot.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


After a shaky start three or so months ago, my six year old Jackapong Tiger has got keener and keener on his Muay Thai lessons and nags me to take him as often as I can.

As a result, I spend a couple of hours a week watching kids being taught kick-boxing techniques; experience that caused me to raise a quizzical eyebrow over the weekend when I read the following in an interview with Heather Mills McCartney in the Sunday Times.

“Do you know what? The only thing that upsets me is the risk to my daughter. I’ve worked in war zones so I can deal with whatever comes at me. And as long as I’m in a healthy condition I have my martial arts. I just believe everything happens for a reason, like losing my leg . . .”

I’m sorry, did you just say martial arts? You mean in case things turn nasty? “Yeah. After George Harrison was stabbed I needed to be able to protect myself and my family. I do jujitsu and a lot of kick boxing.”

Notwithstanding the well known British idiom of something being "a much use as a one-legged man in an arse kicking contest", this has convinced me that she must be some sort of fantasist. I could quite easily believe that someone with one leg might practice a sub-set of some other style of martial art (Aikido or Wing Chun for example), but you just can't do kick boxing with one leg.

Specifically, in order to execute the Thai roundhouse kick she would have to have her good leg grounded (in order to pivot on the ball of the foot) and deliver the blow with the false leg's shin. I grant that this may well hurt the person she kicked, but it seems to me that it would also be likely to inflict such trauma on her at the point where the false leg was attached that it would either fall off or injure her stump, or both.

I can't help but conclude that she is talking nonsense.

Pete and Dud worked through a similar conundrum all those years ago:

Cook: Mr Spiggott - you are, I believe, auditioning for the part of Tarzan.
Moore: Right.
Cook: Now Mr Spiggott, I couldn't help noticing - almost at once - that you are a one-legged person.
Moore: You noticed that?
Cook: I noticed that, Mr Spiggott. When you have been in the business as long as I have, you come to notice these little things almost instinctively.

Cook: Need I say with over much emphasis that it is in the leg division that you are deficient.
Moore: The leg division?
Cook: Yes, the leg division, Mr Spiggott. You are deficient in it to the tune of one. Your right leg, I like. I like your right leg. A lovely leg for the role. That's what I said when I saw you come in. I said, "A lovely leg for the role". I've got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is - neither have you.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fair Comment

A long time ago I changed the blog's comment system from the native Blogger version to Haloscan. I did it to investigate Trackback which - at least here - has never really taken off, so I've always mildly regretted it.

I monitor the comments with an RSS feed that Haloscan provide, but I've never figured out an easy way of relating the comment to the post it has been made against.

Normally this doesn't really matter because the comment will be about a recent post and the content will give me a good idea of which one.

This morning however I find that someone is asking me "did leslie gore ever record this song?" and I've no idea what song they mean.

If anyone could tell me how to connect a comment thread to the post via Haloscan I would be eternally grateful.

Noodling round the Haloscan site, I found that they have produced a "recent comment widget" that I can use to display the latest contributions. I've added to my template so you should be able to see it on the left. I'm undecided about how valuable it is but I will leave it there for a while.

I've also removed the auto optimising Amazon ads as they were getting on my nerves by displaying nothing but "Pete and Dud" material.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Rodney Branigan

Rodney Branigan performed in the interval at one of the AbbeyFest gigs over the summer and pretty much stole the show. One of the things he does is to play two guitars at the same time. It's difficult to describe, but you can check it out on the YouTube video below.

Surrey Strings have brought him back from the States to London for a mini tour over the next couple of weeks.

6 Dec 2006 21:00 The Troubadour Earls Court
8 Dec 2006 20:00 The Watershed London
9 Dec 2006 21:00 The Hammersmith Irish Center London
13 Dec 2006 20:00 The Prince Albert London (Brighton)
16 Dec 2006 21:00 The Colourhouse Theater- Abbey Mills London
18 Dec 2006 21:00 The Borderline London
19 Dec 2006 20:00 Smollenskys on the Strand London.

I'll be at the Watershed performance on Friday.

I love the fact that according to his myspace page the next two gigs when he gets back to the States are Amarillo, Texas then Wichita, Kansas.

When the day is dawning
on a Texas Sunday morning
how I long to be there
with Marie who's waiting for me there
every lonely city where I hang my hat
ain't as half as pretty as where my baby's at

Is this the way to Amarillo
every night I've been hugging my pillow
dreaming dreams of Amarillo

and sweet Marie who waits for me
show me the way to Amarillo
I've been weeping like a willow
crying over Amarillo

and sweet Marie who waits for me


I am a lineman for the county.
And I drive the mainroad.
Searching in the sun for another overload.

I hear you singing in the wire.
I can hear you thru the whine.
And the Wichita Lineman,
is still on the line.

Brilliant. It seems an impossibly romantic pair of venues from this "Half Man Half Biscuit" side of the pond.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Los libros nuevos

The nominations are in for the reading for the next book club meeting. I present them below in a handy form that allows me to get a cut when they are ordered from Amazon.

I picked Freakonomics for balance. Thus we have a novel, a memoir, literary criticism, and popular social science in our esoteric collection.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The West Wing

RobM of El Grupo Libros has sent me a DVD set of the first season of The West Wing to thank me for hosting the last get together.

I like to send tokens of appreciation for hospitality myself - though I'm ashamed that I still haven't thanked Mark and his family after three months because I still can't think of an appropriate present - but this is a very generous gesture.

Rave reviews for the West Wing wherever I look, and I have only the vaguest idea of how the US executive and government is actually constituted.

An entertaining Civics 101 awaits.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

South of the Border

Word on the street is that the best Mexican food in London is served at El Panzon a guerrilla operation currently hosted at the unlikely venue that is Brixton's Dogstar.

There must have been a Mexican aroma in the air last night. "Eat your way around the world in London" was headed South of the border, and herself - when she came to pick up our six year old - asked if she could borrow my copy of Tortilla Soup.

And so to the Dogstar where the profit burglar and I met up with Neil MacPherson - who lives around the corner.

As an adjunct to my jerk pork research (do I ever stop working?), I went for CHICHARRON CON SALSA VERDE: slow roast belly of pork served with a salsa of fried green tomatillo, fried ripe plantain, and rice & beans.

Great food; so much of our best eating has been at places that appear unpreposessing.

We also noticed an Eritrean place on our way back to the tube station. Sometimes I think there may be no better city in the world than London for real and imaginary destinations.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In Search of Perfection

There's an old joke that says, "pizza is a lot like sex; when it's good it's really good ...... and when it's bad it's still quite good."

Before it started playing at 8:30 on Tuesdays, I thought that Heston Blumenthal: In Search of Perfection, in which our self taught, culinary expert hero turns his attention to the nation's staple dishes would drive me nuts, but - truth be told - I've been riveted. I've been guilty in the past of dismissing Blumenthal's uber-geek attention to detail as affected , but when you see his laser beam concentration applied to something as apparently prosaic as frying the perfect chip you realize that you should just shut up and pay attention.

Which brings me in turn to jerk pork, I've been working for some time - and with the odd combination of obsessive-compulsive disorder and procrastination that seems to be peculiarly my own - on a version of this that I can ask Garfield to taste with my head held high.

The joy of this project, of course, is that my failures are a far better chowdown than almost anything else I am likely to get to eat.

I think I'm getting close, but on my last effort I found the meat a little dry (crisp skin and moist flesh is tricky) and the jerk seasoning too intense.

The next iteration I try is going to look like this:

Place the single piece of pork belly in a saucepan and cover with fresh water.
Bring slowly to the boil and skim the scum from the surface.
Simmer gently for 40 minutes and then allow to cool.
Pat the pork dry and then score the rind with a sharp knife.
Boost Walkerswood traditional jerk seasoning with extra garlic, cut with honey and oil, and then massage into the meat.
Wrap the pork in foil, place in a baking tin, put another baking tin on top and weight it down, then leave overnight in the fridge.
Pre heat the oven to maximum.
Open the foil so the skin is exposed.
Give it a ten minute blast at maximum temperature and then turn the oven down to 140 for two hours.
Knock up a jerk table sauce by boosting more Walkerswood seasoning with grated ginger, heating through with a cup of water and thickening with cornflower.
Carve the pork into 1cm segments and serve with the sauce.

We'll see how it goes. Last time I cubed the pork before marinating it and didn't serve a dipping sauce.

For all that I am using store bought jerk seasoning I am on the brink of greatness, and also - now I come to think of it -moving further from Garfield whose marinade is much wetter than mine.

He is still better than me, though I am damn good.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Generation Gap

The brouhaha over the question of whether or not Britain should apologize over its role in the slave trade, and especially Tony Blair's vacuous expression of his 'sorrow', is all just so much grievance mongering, pandering, issue dodging hooey.

I would have thought that the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery was something to celebrate not beat your breast over. You can tell the extent to which debate in the country has been hijacked by serial loathers, fellow travelers, and sneerers from the fact that this is not acknowledged at all in the meejia.

Are we supposed to imagine that that Abolition was historically inevitable?

It doesn't seem impossible to me that if the Clapham Sect hadn't campaigned (based just up the road from here to my delight) and the Royal Navy's 'preventive squadron' hadn't (unilaterally without a UN mandate) enforced, there could still be a slave trade in the West today.

Oh, by the way even the jealous God who inspired William Wilberforce to take up cudgels against slavery only proposed "punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation".

Two hundred years is eight generations.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

his jumble sale of parochial antipathies

The, telling it like it is:
No civilised person knows who John Humphrys is. I’ve looked into it and I discover he’s rather a sad case — an insomniac who telephones politicians at dawn and interrupts them while they’re still half asleep. This strange career has won him celebrity among the restless multitude who, like him, insist on getting up in the middle of the night. It has also won him a book contract. His last work was about sloppy English. So is the new one, but as he unfurls his endless series of hastily written gibberish it becomes clear that he’s less interested in inarticulacy than he is in his jumble sale of parochial antipathies. He mouths off about all kinds of things: advertising, the lottery, Liz Hurley, train announcements, meetings at the Beeb, leaflets that slither out of your newspaper, Blair wanting to be called ‘Tony’. On it goes. Humphrys is like a taxi-driver; he’s only sure of himself when he’s telling you what he hates. Flash a bit of optimism at him and he’ll tell you it’s bound to end in tears.

Welsh-born son of Cardiff he may be, but I cannot abide John Humphrys. I find it impossible to listen to his vapid, self important hectoring without imagining setting the dogs on him.

I avoid the Today programme on Radio 4 just to minimise his chances of assaulting my eardrums, so I suppose that it was him who drove me into the arms of The World Today on the BBC World Service of a morning.

He's due thanks for that, but otherwise nada.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Creeping Featuritis

I see that the Merton Abbey Mills website has been relaunched, written in cold fusion with plenty of bangs and whistles, but also the odd error message and link that doesn't work.

I knocked up a website as a favour for ARTTES 4 KIDS simply by editing a blogger template. Simpler is better.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Answered Prayers

Earlier this week, I posted a rant complaining about a parking ticket that I got while picking my six year old up from school. The gist of my complaint was that whoever issued the spot fine must have been hiding around the corner in order to do the dirty deed and show a clean pair of heels before I reappeared.

Yesterday - exactly a week since I had been nobbled - I came out of the gate to see a handful of uniforms in the street. Much to my delight however I found that, rather than demanding money with menaces, they were engaged in a hearts and minds mission courteously explaining the regulations to cheekily parked mums and dads who promised - in turn - to try and do better in future.

Back in August when I published a post about coming back from holiday to find that my house had been turned into a fox den, I got a call from a local journalist, so I suppose that - unlikely as it appears - it is not impossible that moaning played some part in this change of modus operandi with regards to parking enforcement.

If it did and the person responsible is reading, thank you very much.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Eat your way around the world in London.

Cuba: Cubana.

2 large Mojitos.


Camarones con gabardina y salsa de mango y chilli

Boniatos fritos con tostones y salsa


Pollo Criollo - a classic Cuban dish and a Cubana favourite: free-range chicken cooked in fresh orange, garlic, onions and sherry, served with fried plantain and black bean rice.

Congri Santiago - a spicy dish from Cuba's far south: Red beans casseroled with free-range pork, chorizo, tomatoes, chillies and vegetables.

(A busy day and no time to write, but recipes here.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thai Food

Given my new found enthusiasm for all things Thai, I have started looking at my copy of David Thomspon's magnum opus seriously for the first time. (I bought it as a souvenir after eating at Nahm when I stayed at the Halkin a few years ago but I never sat down and read it thoroughly.)

What a remarkable book it is. I'm already over a hundred pages into it and I am still on Thai history and culture. I haven't even got to a recipe yet. I've cheated and peeked at a few dishes and the accent seems to be on accuracy, authenticity and tradition, rather than convenience. All a far cry from the days not that long ago when I didn't even know what galangal was.

It looks like Ken Hom's Simple Thai Cookeryis still going to be the book I use to knock up a supper after a hard day's work, Thompson's book is still food for thought.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Casino Royale

I went to check out the new James Bond move last night. It really is very good despite its lame theme song and title credits and some longuers in the third act after the poker showdown.

Paul Haggis seemed to have punched the screenplay up a notch or two, and it was fun to see the movie having some fun with Bond's development of the vodka Martini and introduction to the 1964 Aston Martin. There was more than a hint of Basil Exposition (from Austin Powers) though in Giancarlo Giannini's Matthis character's running commentry on the card game, but I suppose that the intricacies of poker are difficult to dramatise.

It also ocurred to me that for the first time in my life, I am older than the actor playing James Bond; an unwelcome intimation of mortality over the popcorn.

A true story: Dave Bond's older brother Jim was born about as late as it was possible to be born and christened "James Bond" without irony. In the late Seventies he and his good friend Paul Newman (I kid you not) were stopped by the police while driving a car with a bust tail light or something equivalently trivial. You can imagine how the incident escalated though when the officer who had flagged them down asked for their names.

"Are you two taking the p.......?"

Monday, November 20, 2006

What's he like?

For some reason the other day, my six year old began comparing what he considered his catholic range of interests and hobbies with the dry sticks I use to pass my time. "I like riding my bike, pizza, Thai boxing lessons, popcorn, adventures, tuna with sweetcorn, and getting medals", he said. "You only like the boring news."

He should have added that I like films, because I was deeply tempted to reply a la Crash Davis in Bull Durham:

"Well, I believe in the soul, ................., the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days."

But on reflection I think we need to wait a decade or so before embarking on the Ron Shelton back catalogue.

(Sorry 'bout the "...................." but I'll get the "weighted phrase limit exceeded" finger wagging from the Virgin Active internet cafe if I quote the actual dialogue directly.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Meat Space

El Grupo Libros nursed their hangovers with Pro Evolution Soccer 6 on XBOX360 in my house this morning before I dropped them off at the station.

When you are in need of solace, PE6 provides a strangely comforting parallel world where David Beckham is still the captain of England and Michael Owen is still scoring for them (although I am pleased to announce that Ben and I powered Wales to a victory over England that was decided in a nail biting penalty shoot out earlier this week).

I've tried to sweat my own "gentleman's head" away in the gym and now I'm taking a brief pit stop at the Mills to clear away last night's debris and settle with Garfield who fed us, before I head off on the tube to do it all again with Paul and Hugh.

"If I had all the money I've spent on drink — I'd spend it on drink."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Insolence of Office

I got a parking ticket when I was picking my six year old up from school one day this week - a £100 Penaty Charge Notice issued at precisely 15:15.

By a strange coincidence, my boy finishes school at a quarter past three, and it is true that I am guilty of stopping on the red line (because there was nowhere else to park) for the time that it took me to walk into the school, collect him and return.

I can't see however how the official could have got to my car, issued the ticket, and then disappeared into thin air in the couple of minutes that it took me to get in and out of the school unless he or she was, to all intents and puposes, hiding somewhere waiting to ambush a hapless parent or two.

It gets worse. When we pick our kids up from the primary school, we parents enter by the main gate and then turn around the corner of the building to collect the children from the individual classroom doors that open out into the playground. This system has only been reintroduced in the last couple of days however. For the last term and a half - because of building work and improvements - the class teachers have been bringing their charges round to the front of the school at the end of the day and we have been meeting them there at a vantage point from which the road where we park is visible.

I can't help but observe that the enforcement officers didn't have the brass neck to undertake a three fifteen raid at any time in months that that system was in place, and neither had they the decency to speak to us on any weekday afternoon over those fifteen weeks to see if there was not some compromise that could be worked out.

The only conclusion I can come to is that I have been the victim of institutionalised banditry by local government. I have been nobbled not in a attempt to keep the streets clear in the interests of all the body politic, but as milch cow to feed their coffers.

Would it spoil some vast eternal plan to suspend some of the more onerous parking restrictions for fifteen minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon?

Disgusted. Tunbridge Wells.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I know because I subscribe to the RSS feed from his teachblog (my journey from pupil to teacher in 18 months) that my friend Chris is very interested in teaching nanotechnology and I've learned today (via RSS again) from TechCrunch UK that:

PlayGen a London based game development studio with a strong and growing track record in developing serious games for training and learning purposes is developing their latest video “learning” game NanoWars.
The idea is that the game should be based on fact as it’s meant to be an educational tool to make learning about nanoscience interesting for 12 to 18 year olds.
A development that is bound to be right up his street.

Further, because I know that he is subscribed to my blog's RSS feed and even though he is coming up from Swansea to London to visit tomorrow, it is as easy and convenient for me to tip him the wink by posting to A Welsh Born Icon as it would be to email or call.

It also enables to to pass on to anyone else who alights here, Playgen's messages:

We are seeking sponsorship for the game in order to fulfil our vision of making it available at no/minimal cost to pupils and teachers. To find out more about sponsorship please contact us.

We've had an enormous response from schools and teachers so far, if you represent a school and would like to participate in the beta testing program, please fill in the school registration form.
Which I am pleased to do.

RSS is powerful voodoo for communication and collaboration. No wonder I have been banging on about it to our clients for so long.

P.S. Chris as a long time player of Rome Total War will also be delighted to learn that Playgen are the people behind the TV show Time Commanders.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bo nhung Dam Cuon Banh Trang

"Eat your way around the world in London" took the Northern Line up to Waterloo with the intention of carving a notch for Cubana on its bedpost last night but it wasn't to be. The place was fully booked and packed to the gills so we wandered off into the twilight looking for fresh prey and concocting elaborate conspiracy theories in which everyone who had got to the "genuine Cuban-Latino place run by the people who own it" before us had been sent by Red Ken on expenses.

The Fates were smiling however because nearby we came across the Vietnamese Ha-Noi cafe. We tried ordering Bo nhung Dam Cuon Banh Trang from the specialities section of the menu (largely because I liked the name of it so much) but were told that it was unavailable, because they had run out of pancakes(?) so we didn't get to find out what Vietnamese beef fondue might be like, but we did fall into conversation with the waitress about our project. She told us that her father was the chef, that she had come to help him out "temporarily" five months ago, and that in the first couple of months she was there she had gained 9kg; weight that she had only managed to shift - she seemed svelte enough to me - by giving up eating after 6pm, and took us in hand with regards to the grub.

Garlic fried cubes of fillet steak was the kind of thing that her father would cook for family apparently, so we had some of that with a special Saigon prawn curry along with rice and noodles, after deep fried squid and Tom Yum Koong (a prawn soup.)

Thus entirely by chance we had come across a great place to eat run by a warm and friendly family. It struck me as we were walking back to the station that I don't think that I have ever had a conversation with a Vietnamese person before, and that these sort of encounters are one of joys of this mad scheme for Wednesday nights.

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Power, Limitless Power

Traffic on our auction site is continuing to grow rapidly. Yesterday was its fourth busiest ever and there is only one day outside November 2006 in the top ten. This means that we are forever upgrading, tweaking and generally managing our infrastructure.

It is a chore that I could do without to be frank, and this is one of the reasons that I was so intrigued by Amazon's EC2, "a web service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud", when I blogged about its Beta launch back in August. You can get an idea of how attractive scaleable, pay as you go, access to effectively limitless capacity would be to Coraider by the fact that Bumblebee Auctions served up more than three times as many pages yesterday than it did on August 25, the day that I wrote my post.

For better or worse however we are effectively a Microsoft operation. I speculated that EC2 might provoke a competitive response from Redmond, but we haven't heard anything yet, which is why I was so intrigued to read on the Amazon Web Services blog that someone has succeeded in installing Windows Server 2003 on an Amazon EC2 instance.

There's a how-to document available here. The hack is based round an open source processor emulator called QEMU. I wonder what sort of performance you get. We may well have a little fiddle about with this. I would love to push our apps out into the cloud if I could be certain we could get reliability and performance. I think it is an idea whose time has come.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Downfall

I finished Berlin: The Downfall 1945 last night; an epic and tragic account of the end game of World War II in Europe. I have to discuss it on the weekend so I am going to keep my powder dry for that but it has sparked some amorphous ideas about publishing that I want to try and begin to shape.

Antony Beevor published Annexes to the book, details of his cuts, plus Errata and Addenda on his website. This is great and useful, but I could have done with more.

It is difficult to see how a computer screen will ever compare to the printed page for ease of reading, espeically in my default mode; deep in an armchair or feet up on the couch with a glass of something fortifying to hand.

What I found with a book on a topic as complex as the last days of the Third Reich was that paper was best only for linear reading. Whenever I marked my place to look at a map, check a note, or backtrack to identify a proper name about which I had got confused; whenever I stepped out of the flow of the narrative, in other words, I felt that it would have been easier and better to go to the PC for elucidation.

I'd like to see comprehensive maps and glossaries online to support the book.

I wonder if - taking a leaf out of the DVD market - if there is not a place for an extended edition of a publication like Berlin: The Downfall 1945 which would include all of the above and, perhaps the audiobook version in one package?

I'd certainly be prepared to pay a couple of quid more for it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Buddhapadipada Temple

When I was watching my little boy in Muay Thai last week, one of the other fathers told me that he had done a little Thai boxing when he was younger - "I remember the training simply as pain", he said - and told me that the classes that he took were held in the courtyard of the Thai temple in Wimbledon.

I googled it when we for home, and there - sure enough was the home page of the Buddhapadipada Thai Temple, SW19.

We went to take a look at it yesterday, and found the beautiful building on the left. I would have liked to go inside but I didn't know if that was appropriate.

The celebration of monastic boundary, held on October 30, 1982, enabled Wat Buddhapadipa to become a formal temple according to Thai tradition: in fact, the only Thai temple ever built in Europe.

How marvelous to find the complex incongruously located on a site in a Parkside residential road.

The website has a couple of RSS feeds including the Daily Dhamma ....... subscribed!

In a not unrelated development, I did manage to edit down a version of Warrior King that I was happy to watch with a six year old. What next? Emmanuelle repackaged as a Bangkok travelogue perhaps.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


At his behest, I bought a poppy in the library yesterday and pinned it on my six year old.

Five minutes later as we were walking back along the High Street, he said, "I can't remember the people who died in the war yet."

"I don't understand," I said.

"They said in school that the poppy made you remember."

As we talked it over I found that he seemed to have got the impression that the little red flower would imprint visceral knowledge of the horrors of the Great War in his head by some sort voodoo.

Would for the world that it could.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bargains and Sensible Menus

.......... there are stellar bargains to be had on the wine front - I can think of nowhere else where you can sit down in comfort and uncork a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee for £105. The menu is a sensible one: smoked eel with brandade and a light horseradish cream; game pie with wild mushroom salad; a charcuterie combo that teams San Daniele ham and white truffle salami with olive tomato and parsley salad on toasted ciabatta; warm spinach and ricotta tart with Autumn salads and walnut dressing..........

Aspirational reading from Charles Campion's Evening Standard Blog on the opening of a new wine bar along with Fortnum and Mason's new food hall.

"A bargain at £105". I wish.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Come off it

It was a relief for me to read Boris Johnson's "Come off it, folks: how many paedophiles can there be?" in the Telegraph yesterday.

I'm not going to paraphrase his piece here - I recommend that you read it - but now that he has stuck his head above the parapet, I may as well wade in with my tuppence worth as well.

I first came to understand the unholy terror of the reflex stigmatisation of any adult male with an interest in children as some sort of weirdo when I realized that I had been brain washed by this tawdry conventional wisdom myself.

My own Damascene revelation was a profile I read years ago in Wired Magazine of Steve Wozniak , the co-founder of Apple computers. In the profile, I learned that "The Woz" - having made himself independently wealthy at an early age - turned his back on full time employment and "went into teaching (he taught fifth grade students) and charitable activities in the field of education".

The photograph that accompanied the article was - as I recall and I can't find it online - a group shot of Wozniak and a bunch of smiling kids with computers; kids he was teaching and computers provided to education by the Apple shilling.

I distinctly remember thinking - or perhaps more accurately- mentally sneering, "that's odd", but fortunately realised moments later that it was not odd at all. It was admirable and perhaps even selfless.

It was me who was ridiculous for reflexively traducing his motives.

We do it all the time nowadays, but - unfashionable as it may be - boys need guys to learn from, look up to, and emulate.

Lou Reed - of all people - nailed it in Coney Island Baby. (I do hope I won't find out that it was ironic.)

You know, man, when I was a young man in high school
You believe in or not I wanted to play football for the coach
And all those older guys
They said he was mean and cruel, but you know
Wanted to play football for the coach
They said I was to little too light weight to play line-backer
So I say Im playing right-end
Wanted to play football for the coach cause, you know some day, man
You gotta stand up straight unless youre gonna fall
Then youre gone to die
And the straightest dude
I ever knew was standing right for me all the time
So I had to play football for the coach
And I wanted to play football for the coach

When youre all alone and lonely
In your midnight hour
And you find that your soul
Its been up for sale

And you begin to think bout
All the things that you've done
And you begin to hate
Just 'bout everything

But remember the princess who lived on the hill
Who loved you even though she
knew you was wrong
And right now she just might come shining through

And the glory of love, glory of love
Glory of love, just might come through

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Not a Very Likely Contingency in Belgium

"Eat your way around the world in London" managed to rev its engines again last night, and this week our dance card was marked by the Clapham Bierodrome.

My life, on discovering that Stella was Belgian, was more or less complete as I tucked into cheese and beer croquettes followed by moules mariniere.

It is practically impossible for a member of my generation to think of Belgian food without remembering the "Not the Nine O'Clock News" sketch in which Rowan Atkinson outlined to Mel Smith the various belches and farts that were used to indicate gastronomic appreciation in that fine country. I am amazed that I can't find any transcription of it on the Internet. I do hope that I haven't made it up.

Anyway, it is good to be back in harness. Always remember, "the silent waft is highly prized."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

virtually dinnertime

We're hoping to get "eat your way around the world in London" back on the road tonight after a couple of weeks layoff due to:
  • this and that
  • one thing and another.
Coincidentally, I have also installed Microsoft Virtual Earth today and finally opened the Google Earth Placemark that Chris sent emailed me a few weeks ago. Competition with these 3D geographic interfaces is really hotting up, and it has struck me me, in light of last night's post, that in plotting our real and imaginary dinner destinations I have developed two great data sets with which to road test these important new products.

It has been an investment. That's my story anyway.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Do Is To Be

Kurt Vonnegut thinks that:

We do, doodley do, doodley do, doodley do,
What we must, muddily must, muddily must, muddily must;
Muddily do, muddily do, muddily do, muddily do,
Until we bust, bodily bust, bodily bust, bodily bust.
I started blogging here because I work with IT and I wanted to understand the phenomenon via learning by doing.

Thus I play with affiliate marketing programmes on A Welsh Born Icon, but I'm lucky enough to make money with them elsewhere.

Today I can refract the BBC's coverage of Microsoft's initiatives in delivering multimedia content to the 360 via XBOX Live through our test drive of the earlier version. (It still seems pretty lame.)

And if the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud succeeds - as I think it just might - to the extent of provoking rivals to produce competitors, then my blog will migrate to a hyper-virtualised environment before any Coraider product makes the jump.

So far, so mundane but it struck me this morning when I was reading Kali's musings about voting today in the USA, that the discipline I have evolved of writing something or other here every day gives me access to what I was actually thinking at the time when I voted in last year's general election in the UK, and at another step's remove learning at a five year old boy's birthday party what voting meant to an Iraqi lady.

Maybe if I keep this record of my prejudices up it will stop me being quite so shameless a gold fish memoried, flag of convenience flying, path of least resistance treading chameleon.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Contra Mundum

I haven't read the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change yet, and - while I must praise HM Treasury for making it available online here - there is some perverse impulse in me that whispers that anything that appears to have won the cross bench blessing of so many of the great and good must be wrong.

Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, weighs in for the opposition in the Wall Street Journal here.

I sympathise with his point about discount rates. I've seen these plucked from the air - in the way that carbon dioxide isn't - and used to prove almost anything in terms of net present value for cashflows projected deep into the future, but as I said I have a lot of background reading to do before I can even begin to have a robust opinion about this.

Later, data; I propose a period of quiet contemplation, an idea that will probably be an anathema to the hot house flowers of the blogosphere.

If the first section of Yeats' 'Second Coming' was brought to mind when I brooded on Sudan last week, the second part fits climate change apocalypse with which we are being threatened:
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight; somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Getting to Grips

I'm off for a drink with Hugh - who has featured in these pages before - as well as Dommy and his partner June - who haven't - at lunchtime. As this could get messy I've decided to feed the blog now.

Dommy and June are from Clitheroe in Lancashire and Dommy - who is still built like the proverbial outhouse - wrestled internationally when he was younger.

I'm pretty certain that that Dommy did greco-roman wrestling. I don't know a whole lot about grappling, but I've got quite intrigued by Lancashire catch wrestling lately as it seems, like Muay Thai, to be one of the styles that has proved itself in the cauldron of mixed martial arts.

I wonder what Dommy will be able to tell me about it. It seems typically careless of Britain that the discipline is better known in Japan than it is here.