Wednesday, May 31, 2006


We are told that jPod - Douglas Coupland's latest novel - updates his earlier Microserfs for the age of Google. I thought Microserfs - as well as being hilarious - was an extraordinary zeitgeist capturing book and I am surprised pondering it today:

1. That is was not in the Top 20 I published on the blog last year.
2. That - having appeared in 1995 - it is more than a decade old.

If he does manage a similar achievement for the 21st century it will be an Isaiah Berlin supplanting shoe-in for my next nomination at Chris' book club, but there is also a chance that it will be dire (Girlfriend in a Coma anyone?).

I'm not likely to be able to make it to see Coupland at the Bloomsbury Theatre tonight. Perhaps this time I should actually read the book I am going to recommend before nailing my colours to the mast. (Written Lives seems to have been something of an acquired taste.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My Back Pages

Six months ago yesterday, Paul and I began to eat our way around the world in London. Half a year of reasonably regular effort later, we've scarcely begun to scratch the surface of what is available in this town. Although we have pegged the peripheral Spain, Greece, Sweden and Ireland for example we haven't had a single meal from the heart of Europe. I'm amazed at the scope that is available to us and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the project had another eighteen months left in it.

Tomorrow - by way of contrast - will be the first anniversary of my entering the hallowed portals of the gym, and I've been there five or so times a week ever since.

I've been vaguely uneasy for a while about the apparently contradictory - or even schizophrenic - implications of exercising, eating and boozing, and applying myself to each with equal energy and enthusiasm, but this weekend I had an epiphany.

On Saturday morning in Bradford On Avon when we topped up our hangovers with a vigorous, hilly cycle ride followed by a cholesterol laden fried breakfast and pints of 6X, I realised that we were at each stage relishing being alive, and that is a much better and more generous way to fill one's allotted span than the nannyish, parsimonious, mean spirited recommendations we get from the dispatch box, the editorial column and even the pulpit in this lily-livered age.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Leg Press

Noodling the 'net over my morning coffee earlier I came across the following in Slate:
In a New York Times Magazine interview last month, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright mentioned that she can leg press 400 pounds. Now evangelical sparkplug Pat Robertson is shilling protein shakes by claiming he can leg press 2,000 pounds. That's right, one ton—about four-fifths the curb weight of a Mini Cooper.

Although I don't do leg presses regularly, it was not really possible for me to go the gym today without attempting to get some perspective on this. The Technogym leg press cable machine in Virgin Active has a maximum load of 190kg which is 418lb. I can handle that reasonably comfortably so I am proud to say that I am at least in Madeleine Albright territory.

I've got no way of testing it but I imagine I could get some way into the 200+ kg range. Let's assume generously that I might be able to get a few reps out at 500lb, that is still only 25% of Pat Robertson's mark.

Although Robertson does claim to have got God to do some rather odd things in the past, such as revising the paths of hurricanes, I note that this particular athletic achievement, in the eighth decade of his life, is credited to a protein wonder-drink rather than divine intervention.

"Unless I see the marks in his hamstrings and put my finger where the quads are, and put my hand on his glutes, I will not believe it."

Friday, May 26, 2006

New Malden

No one seems to know why, but there are about 20,000 Koreans living in New Malden supporting, among other things, a thriving restaurant trade. So lacking a teetotal designated driver and having found it was accessible from our offices via the 152 bus we set off this week to add Korea to our destinations as we attempt to eat our way around the world in London.

The actual restaurant that we chose was Asadal (KT3 4ES on the High Street) and our first great surprise and delight was to find that each table had a gas fired metal hob in its centre (see photo) where food could be cooked in front of your eyes.

Being completely unfamiliar with Korean food we chose a set menu, starting with a clear dumpling soup, followed by a couple of fish dishes served with vegetables and condiments including Kimchi, then marinaded beef cooked at the table that we wrapped - along with chilli paste and boiled rice - in lettuce to wolf down as parcels. This latter dish was particularly delicious and we finished off with fruit.

Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations as we eat our way around the world in London.

I've only ever really known one Korean socially in my life and, luckily for you, a story goes with it. He turned out for our team back in the day when I was playing social rugby up in London. I remember that he was watching on the touchline - when we were playing the Bank of England I seem to recall. He had been drawn by the sight of the posts as he had been a keen player before he came over to England to study, and as he was big and scary looking we signed him up straight away.

The next week he turned up to play and came into the changing room wearing a three piece suit and with his kit in a brief case. He had promised his wife, he explained, that he would retire from the brutal game. Now that the lure had become to great he had come out in this get up on Saturday afternoon having told her that he was going to the library. This subterfuge did not last long after he returned that evening three sheets to the wind, with his fair share of bruises and lacerations, but it was a valiant effort none the less.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Clock is Ticking

AN urgent email from the National Theatre reminds me that this is my last chance not to see Mark Ravenhill perform his acclaimed one-man show PRODUCT at the Royal Court Theatre.

By following his career closely I am proud to say that I have managed not to see his previous plays Faust Is Dead, Handbag, Some Explicit Polaroids, Mother Claps Molly House and The Cut.

The only work if his that I didn't get not to see was his "serious and remarkable debut", an oversight I have long regretted.


According to the BBC:
Community websites MySpace and Bebo are fighting to see who is most popular among young people, reveals research.
Analysis by Nielsen NetRatings shows the two companies have regularly swapped the top spot in sites that give people space to blog and post pictures. Nielsen said the pair are the fifth and sixth biggest brands on the net when measured by page views.
(The first sentence, by Yoda seems to have been written reveal I do. Shurely shome mishtake, Ed.)

Despite being one of those who live and move and have their being online, I have never heard of Bebo.

I've whizzed through it and noted that it has a group for my old school, but doubt I'll ever return.

(Strange days indeed, most peculiar momma.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Podcasting and Broadcatching

Now that I have finally got round to plugging my Qosmio into the television and hi-fi at home I am starting to run Microsoft Media Center from the so called "ten foot interface", lounging in an armchair and waving a remote rather than pecking at a keyboard.

This has meant - inevitably I think - that I have started to collect content via podcasts. As I am already a Newsgator user, I have gravitated to FeedStation as my podcast client (note that I still gather content via the mouse and keyboard driven "two foot interface" and haven't even looked at Newsgator Media Center Edition yet).

I noticed today that Newsgator/FeedDemon gives me the opportunity to publish an RSS feed of my podcast downloads here. There is only one item in it as I write as I emptied out the folder before I realised exactly what it was, but anyone who subscribes to it will be able to follow along with my peregrinations in this new publishing paradigm.

I've also been fooling around with BitTorrent (mostly to get shows from Rev3).

BitTorrent explain themselves as follows:

The BitTorrent peer-to-peer file transfer protocol was created and introduced in 2001 by BitTorrent Inc. co-founder Bram Cohen. Bram began his mission to solve a problem experienced by the online community since the birth of the Internet. While it wasn't clear it could be done, Bram wanted to enable effective swarming distribution - - transferring massive files from server to client with the efficiency of peer-to-peer - - reliably, quickly and efficiently. By 2003, BitTorrent had sparked a global revolution in file distribution on the web. Today, we are providing millions of users worldwide with a valuable platform to publish, search and download popular digital content.
It has long been clear to anyone with half a brain that the BitTorrent protocol's elegant exploitation of network effects to provide scalability was showing the way forward for digital distribution, but it wasn't until I was actually using it in anger that I realised exactly how much of a marriage made in heaven the union of RSS enclosures and BitTorrent was.

It seems that as long ago as December 2003, Steve Gillmor coined the term podcatching for the combination - though it looks as if it might have been Scott Raymond who realised that using RSS to deliver BitTorrent rather than vice versa was the bullseye. I'm starting to think along the lines of RSS being above BitTorrent in a protocol stack, though I am aware - smartalecks of the world - that RSS is delivered over HTTP.

So what I need now is a Podcast client with a built in BitTorrent client. I've opened up port 6881 on my ADSL router at home but managing multiple ports by manually configuring it on behalf of BitTorrent would be a pain in the neck so my client also needs to implement UPnP.

Where can it be? I'm amazed that there isn't one that has taken the world by storm.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

L'heure verte

During my investigations of Polish vodka, I have come across a source of Absinthe Polski. I'm very tempted to get a bottle and take it down to Bradford Upon Avon as a tribute to the fin de siecle figures like Wilde and Rimbaud in Written Lives.

The serving of absinthe is something of a ritual, involving as it does pouring water over lumps of sugar sitting on special spoons. The ritual arose because vintage absinthe was unsweetened and slightly too bitter for some palates, and the sugar needed to sweeten it would not dissolve in the liqueur’s 68% to 72% alcohol content. By the time the drink was banned there were over a hundred different designs of spoons.

Step 1: Pour a measure of absinthe into a tall glass.

Step 2: Place a slotted absinthe spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube on it the lozenge-shaped French cubes work best)

Step 3: Slowly pour 4 to 5 parts of iced water over the sugar and let it drip into the glass. The absinthe will turn from emerald green to a milky white.

Step 4: Sip slowly and imagine yourself in a Belle Époque Parisian café
Step 5: Propose Barnaby Conrad's Absinthe: History in a Bottle for the next meeting.

(Don't fret, I've bought an absinthe spoon on eBay which - with a following wind - should be here by the end of the week.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

More Local Heroes

Surrey Strings have started organizing and promoting free music on the Abbey Mills bandstand every Saturday and Sunday lunchtime.

I happened to be there on Saturday this week when SW20 - a very young blues band were on - and I have to hand it to the 'Strings people for arranging it and giving the kids somewhere to play.

Next weekend The Mergatroid will be playing on Saturday and apparently featuring "a strange man called Turtlenoise occasionally showing up to hit some bongos, suck off a mouth organ, or play graceful notes on a stylophone".

I don't think I will be back from Bradford Upon Avon in time for that, but I fully intend to be present and correct for the Mop Top Beatles lunchtime on Sunday.

(Can't help but note that both The Mergatroid and SW20 are promoting themselves through

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Original and Still the Best

Chris left a comment on my last post, telling me about Orkut, yet another friends system.

I've had a bit of a root around in that system as well installing Chris as a friend etc. but again I'm unimpressed. The running there seems to be being made by lunatic exhibitionists.

I can't help but think as I browse these systems that the Playmate Data Sheet seems to have been a major inspiration to a lot of the contributors. (As Gore is to the internet, Heff is to social software it seems.)

Here's my Playmate Data Sheet - no pictures yet I'm afraid.

Name: A Welsh Born Icon
Bust: a move
Waist: of time
Hips: Hops, Bebops, Don't Stop, Planet Rock
Height: of fashion
Weight: of the world on my shoulders
Birthplace: I was born in a trunk in the Princess Theatre in Pocatella, Idaho
Ambitions: should be made of sterner stuff.
Turn-ons: a dime
Turnoffs: New Scientist

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer

I finally managed to take a look at myspace as I've been intending. The dig in the ribs that I needed was a poster advertising the Lexapalooza Festival at GJ's a local boozer and promoting it via the URL

I set up a free account at and started noodling around. I can see that it potentially brings together almost everything that one might need to socialise online (with the possible exception of messaging) but I'm unimpressed by the way that it is walled off from everything else on the web. I can't see how you might get an RSS or Atom feed from it to subscribe to a blog for example.

There is a funny article here from the LA Times about the intense, hot house flower culture that is evolving on myspace. Maybe that is why da yoot like it, I'm more of a red wine, good cheese, Elgar, Auden and slippers man myself these days. Take a look at one of the myspace dilemmas:

LET'S begin with an exercise. First, name the eight most important people in your life — friends, family, rock stars. These are your Top 8. Now rank those people in order of importance. Finally, send a copy of this list to everybody you know, including people who didn't make the cut. Be careful not to hurt the wrong feelings, or you may end up getting bumped from other people's Top 8s.Go ahead and bite your nails. Realize the magnitude of these decisions.
J.D. Funari is hoping that clarity prevents offense. A week after logging onto MySpace, the 24-year-old TV editor from Studio City posted a disclaimer above his Top 8: "Since this 'preferred' listing of friends can quickly become unnecessarily political, I'd like to briefly explain my sorting technique," he wrote."The first spot will always be my brother (for obvious reasons) and the second spot will always be my friend Katie (for reasons obvious to Katie and I). The third and fourth spots are reserved for music and movies of interest. Five and six are wild-cards which may be related to how well I know the person and/or if I'm dating them (opposite sex only) and/or if they've paid me for inclusion. The final two spots are, to be perfectly honest, the two most attractive current female photos from my list of friends."

My test account on myspace says "you have 0 friends". and will probably stay that way as I can't see myself going back.

I quoted Tim Berners Lee the the other day, advising us to set up FOAF pages. It turns out that the Friend of a Friend (FOAF) project is about creating a Web of machine-readable homepages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do.

I think I'll have a look at that in a little more detail If its a more accessible version of the myspace friends system I might use it to keep a record of the different folk I have met online.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Andy - stout fellow that he is - has got tickets for Wynton Marsalis at the refurbished Ronnie Scotts for the first week in August, and one is earmarked for me. Forty five notes is a bit steep for a ticket for anyone, but an opportunity to see the best trumpeter in the world in as intimate a venue as Ronnie's is not to be passed up.

Strange about me, trumpets and Andy. I first struck up an acquaintance with him years ago when we were working on an oil rig design at Bechtel's offices in London, and I noticed that every lunchtime he would pull out his horn, pop a mute in the bell and find an empty office for half an hour's practice.

He was responsible for me seeing Arturo Sandoval in Ronnie Scott's as I tagged along to support Andy's brother Phil who was in the support band.

And he was also at the kill for one of my key musical experiences when we were in the front row at the Hammersmith Odeon watching Miles Davis, so close to the great man himself that I could hear his trumpet's valves tapping as he played.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fusion Confusion

Look at the starters on this menu?

Have I stumbled upon the ultimate in food fusion? I am certainly thinking of changing my plans for next Burns Night.

– by Lorna M. Angus

Fair fa' yer honest sonsie face
Great chieftain of the curried race.
Aboon them a' ye tak' yer place
Wi' herbs an' spices.
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace-
But this suffices!

The groanin' trencher there ye fill
Now - after culinary skill
Gastric delights for which I'd kill
Arouse my greed.
While through the door the family spill

Wi' unco speed!
The chicken tikka's sheer delight,
For onion bajjis, we would fight,
The rogan josh we praise outright

But hopes still soar - ah. ...
If we could only taste tonight
Haggis pakora!
Aye, -mark the chiel, pakora fed
The trembling earth resounds his tread
For gie tae him his daily bread-A
large chapati
Wi' meat and sauce sae tasty spread
An' ne'er a tattie!
Oh - kitchens, dishing out this fare
Jist min' tae tak the greatest care
For Scots are wantin' mair an'mair
Meals in a hurry.
So if ye want their gratefu' prayer
Gie them a curry!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Captain's Log: Supplemental

Even though North West Spain has been officially covered in "Eat Your Way Around The World in London, we have booked a table at the Barcelona Tapas bar tonight to watch Arsenal play Barca in the European Championship final; a typically daft, futile and generally agreeable Coraider gesture. See Catalan Cuisine: Europe's Last Great Culinary Secret for a lowdown on the grub. I don't see why it shouldn't be quite good in a chain, I've always found that Old Orlean's tucker matched pretty well with the stuff you actually get in the Big Easy.

Speaking of "Eat Your Way Around the World in London" misfires we went to Masaledar in Tooting the other week, but I couldn't figure out where to put it on the map.

It is East African/ Gujerati cooking so I started off with Mogo - which is deep fried cassava chips sprinked with chili and black pepper and accompanied tamarind chutney; African I guess.

For the main course I had Haleem which is a a Nihari like dish seldom seen on menus. Mixed lentils, barley, lamb and whole spices cooked overnight for a wonderfully soft and rich texture, and best mopped up with a naan.

This was one the of heartiest things I have ever eaten. I felt like hiking off to Baluchistan and wrestling a black bear myself after I got outside it.

Two conclusions:

I really must find out more about the food form what is now Pakistan.
I must find out why so many Asians left Kenya in the 70s.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

She still works for me

I added a comment to my MP's contribution to the NHS debate on I agree that all too often the NHS...: 9 May 2006: House of Commons debates (

It is innocuous and contains a typo but as a worked example I think it shows the potential value of the service.

I suppose that in a way is a social network just like It is still early days but I think I am beginning to understand where Marc Canter's Digital Lifestyle Aggregator might fit into this picture.

Update: I see that in this view of the speech in context comments are included as well.

she probably lives in Tahiti

When I was a young boy
My mama said to me
There's only one girl in the world for you
And she probably lives in Tahiti

I'd go the whole wide world
I'd go the whole wide world
Just to find her

One of the great charms of the googlified web is that I can pop any of the random phrases and recollections that bubble up from my subconscious into it and follow any serendipitous hits.

So yesterday, "theresonlyonegirlintheworldforyouandsheprobablylivesintahiti" lead me to Wreckless Eric's own website and his own comments on the song.

He's playing the Half Moon in Putney later this year on June 28th. I lived in the flat over the clock shop next door to it when I first moved up to London and used to be woken by the hoofbeats of the dray horses delivering beer early in the morning. Sounds unlikely for the latter part of the 20th century but it is true.

I bear many an honourable scar from that house of madness. I wonder whatever happened to Nick, John and Rod, my flatmates. Last time I heard - many years ago - Rod was working in a refugee camp for Afghans in Pakistan. That was in the time when it was an obscure, out of the way posting.

Chris and I first met Rod and John in Bilbao when we were on our way to Pamplona. They asked us to look after their luggage while they argued with the police.

Happy days.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo

English PEN's Writers in Prison Committee has taken up the case of Iranian academic and writer Ramin Jahanbegloo.

Here is Janabegloo on 'The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin'.
One of the most important aspects of Berlin's philosophy is his liberal theory of pluralism. His defense of value pluralism as the most essential conception of moral and political philosophy has achieved classical status. He also elaborated with considerable originality a conception of freedom that supports his philosophical view of human ideals. According to Berlin these ideals are inherently rivalrous by nature and they collide in practice. In other words value pluralism is a moral foundation for the political ideal of toleration and peaceful coexistence among genuine goods, since it affirms that there is no one right way of life for men. Berlin’s commitment to a pluralist philosophical anthropology is in fact a rejection of the idea of a perfect society or a perfect human life.
For him there is no process of individual self-creation in society without choice-making. As a matter of fact, for Berlin, choice-making is not a subjectivist account of human identities. On the contrary, individual agents who are practitioners of diverse cultural traditions are conceived by him as being conditioned by common forms of life possessing an objective dimension. This commits Berlin to an idea of belonging which he holds not as a political participation, but as a membership in a common cultural tradition.

Bearing witness to that is a very brave thing to do in contemporary Persia. I wish there were more people who understood it over here to be honest.


Please send appeals:

- expressing concern for the safety of Ramin Jahanbegloo, who is detained incommunicado in Evin prison;
- seeking immediate assurances that he is not being tortured or ill-treated;
- seeking full details of the reasons for his arrest, including any charges that may have been brought against him;
- calling for his immediate and unconditional release if held in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.


Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: ,

Head of the Judiciary
His Excellency
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Salutation: Your Excellency

His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency,
Palestine Avenue,
Azerbaijan Intersection,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: Via Foreign Ministry: 00 98 21 6 674 790
(mark: "Please forward to H.E. President Ahmadinejad")

She Works For Me

Not so long ago I added an RSS feed produced by to my blogroll. The feed tracks my local MP's contributions and last week I got my first hit from when she contributed to a 9 May House of Commons debate on the health service.

I was interested to see how they present the debate like a weblog, so you can review the whole thing or look at each contribution as a separate "post" on which you can comment as you might on any other blog.

That is very clever, because what they are essentially doing is subsuming some of the bread and butter of the UK political system into the blogosphere and - as importantly - allowing it to be monitored and manupulated by our evolving software tools.

I am going to subscribe to the site news feed to keep track of how the service evolves into the future.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Local Heroes

Abbey Mills did me and my guests proud yesterday the kids had a great afternoon painting with Tess and ARTTess, and then Garfield fed us five adults and six children and hosted us into the evening at Ting 'n Ting.

It is difficult though for me to give either of them the mad props they are due because neither has a website. Here endeth the first lesson.

Did you know that Tim Berners-Lee - the father of the web has a blog? In a recent post he said,

Do you have a URI for yourself? If you are reading this blog and you have the ability to publish stuff on the web, then you can make a FOAF page, and you can give yourself a URI.

This has been nagging at the back of my mind, because I have no very clear idea what he means, which is something I ought to own up to before I start nagging people to set up web sites so that I can link to them.

In general I must admit that everything that TBL is trying to do with the Semantic Web and Resource Descriptor Frameworks has left me floundering in its wake.

I've been brooding a little on the Semantic Web today, after I got a call from my brother at Colliers Wood tube station early this morning to say that the line to Waterloo was closed and that his party were going to have to get two cabs to hustle them to town to get their Eurotunnel train on time. I felt a bit embarrassed about this becaue it was me who had advised them to get the tube when the information about engineering works was available all the time from Transport for London.

Later on I got hugely delayed driving into London because I hadn't heard about the Chelsea Victory Parade or the Strokes Association's London Bridges Bike Ride 2006. It does seem ridiculous that our networks and computers can't warn us about problems like that. I suppose that is the promise of the Semantic Web, which also reminds me that Bill Gates called for a directions microformat in his speech at Mix06. (It is also worth knowing that the Transport for London Journey Planner knows about the engineering works and tells you that the best route around them for today so it should be quite simple to double check a route automatically against that before setting off for example.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sapphic Session

This week we arrived at Greece in our ongoing campaign to eat our way around the world in London.

I came across the Sappho Meze Bar (9 Clapham High Street, SW4 7TS) a couple of weeks ago when I had to walk back to the office from Stockwell when the Northen Line was out: I couldn't help but be intrigued by a restaurant with no menu, for that is what it is.

After we walked in, the governor showed us to a table, explained that there was a £9.50 a head charge, quizzed us about our likes and dislikes, and then disappeared to go about his business.

First he brought us the wine along with two little spinach and cheese filo pastry parcels, and then shortly after a tray of about a dozen small dishes along with a freshly baked loaf of Greek bread.

"Food to make you live better and longer", he said about half an hour later after we had worked our way through it.

"I feel better already," I said. "When will I start to feel longer?"

Five minutes later, the table was groaning under the weight of the main course; a chicken dish, a lamb dish, and a pork dish plus vegetables. We hunkered down and worked our way through them - delicious.

A honey laced desert arrived. We did our duty by that and courteously declined coffee.

It was a great meal and great value for money. Placing yourself in the hands of an expert who decides on your behalf as opposed to guessing from an unfamiliar menu is a good idea when you are exploring a new cuisine.

As we left I told the chef what a fine old time we had had. "I know what I'm doing", he replied with no hint of false modesty.

Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations as we eat our way around the world in London.

(I wonder if I will get more traffic than ususal in a post with "Sapphic" in the title in these prurient, "safe search is off" days?)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Hoff Invaders

And so a torturous, round-about refugee trail sprang up. Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train or auto or foot across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here the fortunate ones through money or influence or luck might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Wimbledon, and wait and wait and wait.

A treat from the David Hasselhoff Arcade, to help to pass the time as we wait and wait and wait for Panto.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Admiring, along with the rest of the world, the Crocodile Dundee, Ocker insouciance with which miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb exited the Beaconsfield mine (read a transcript of live coverage here) after a rescue that Australian Prime Minister John Howard described as a "wonderful demonstration of Australian mateship", I couldn't help but wonder, not for the first time if the much derided institution of national and cultural stereotypes might not have some positive aspects.

It is an idea that struck me - if you'll allow me to leap from crag to crag like a mountain goat - ages ago when I was watching Billy Wilder's masterpiece movie 'The Apartment'. Most of the personalities in the story are unmitigated swine, and even the two sympathetic leads - Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine - are weak characters who are largely responsible for their own problems.

The only two fully formed people among the dramatis personae are Dr ("Be a mensch!") and Mrs. ("The best thing for dizzy is a little noodle soup with chicken") Dreyfuss, the couple next door who are so Jewish they are almost caricatures yet personify adult sympathy, warmth, generosity, charity and neighbourliness.

My ideas aren't fully formed on this yet, but I suppose a weblog is for these shavings from the bench. Maybe I should start collecting or even inventing positive stereotypes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Having already addressed the nation on the general topic at the time of the Buttiglione affair last year I was hoping to steer clear of the Ruth Kelly controversy that takes up the entire front page of the Independent today.

Now that even Chris is thinking of running a book on how long she will last I have decided to have my tuppence worth to the extent of clarifying the postion of the Catholic Church vis a vis how "men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should be treated.

It is pretty easy to find as it is in the Catechism which says:
"They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."
Couldn't be clearer really, yet how many people know it and how many commentators refer to it?

"Homosexual persons are called to chastity" granted, but so is everyone else apart from married couples.

You can agree or disagree with it but it is not confused or hypocritcal. Ruth Kelly - as a practicing Catholic is bound to think that homosexual acts are sinful, but she is also bound to think that adultery is sinful along with envy, sloth, gluttony, wrath, pride, lust, and greed and many others.

Let's be frank Gordon Brown and John Prescott have got the last seven pretty much wrapped up between them and she manages to work with them.

Losing it

Mark “3-in-a-Bed Rent Boy Shame” Oaten, the former Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman has invited further derision in an article penned for the Sunday Times by announcing that he blames his fall on the onset of baldness.

"I don’t think I would ever have had reason to reconsider my sexuality had it not been for a combination of factors and events at a difficult period in my life," he reveals.

"I doubt that, on its own, my dissatisfaction with politics would have prompted me to act as I did, but it coincided with something of a mid-life crisis. I was turning 40 and I really felt that I was losing my youth. The problem was undoubtedly compounded by my dramatic loss of hair in my late thirties. This really knocked me for six. I started to look noticeably older.
"Any television appearance would result in a barrage of e-mails, not about the issues I’d raised but about my lack of hair. Whether supportive or not, they all asked what had happened to my hair. It’s perhaps not surprising that I became more and more obsessed by its disappearance. For me it was a public sign that my youth had ended.

Poor, poor bunny, had he but realised. Exhibits A (Billy Zane) and B (Jason Stratham) above reveal that - in matters of the heart - Britain's sweetheart Kelly Brook is a serial, slaphead succubus.

Bald as I am, I should be so bald. If only she kept her blog more up to date.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Prohibition Inhibition

It is a month ago today that I noted that I had stopped losing weight, and over the last few weeks I have been putting it on again.

As I am still working out all the time, I have come to the unhappy conclusion that I will have to look at my diet.

The first change that I am going to make is to give up drinking at home. I decided this on Friday so - being me - I spent the last few days drinking all the booze in the house (with the exception of my Polish vodka collection which I only bring out on special occasions).

We shall have to see what difference that makes. It was quite odd to be revisiting Sebastian Flyte's alcoholic decline in Brideshead Revisited as I was putting the stuff away with grim determination.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Shade of Bale

For some reason I have got out of the habit of inducting Welsh Born Icons.

2005 was the year of the Welsh superhero, so now that Warner Bros have commissioned a sequel to Batman Begins for release in 2008, I have decided to add Christian Bale (born Haverfordwest 1974) to the august WBI body.

Did you know that he was so thin and weak after making The Machinist that he could only do one press up - and that with his trainer holding the back of his t-shirt - when he started bulking up for Bruce Wayne?

He must be bonkers. If he was cast in my life story - unlikely I agree - would he drink 20 cans of Stella and a box of red wine every day?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Et in Arcadia ego

After dawdling over Rohan Candappa's Picklehead, which I enjoyed a great deal not least because the author is a pretty much exact contemporary of mine, I have taken up Brideshead Revisited. ( Candappa was captivated at university by the TV series just as I was by the way.)

It is strange to be immersed again in the book's autumnal recollection of gilded youth, when both Charles Ryder - its narrator - and Waugh himself when he wrote it are younger than I am (or indeed than Rohan Candappa is) today.

I had forgotten quite how accomplished a writer Waugh was. From the Prologue, this:

I had played every scene in the domestic tragedy, had found the early tiffs become more frequent, the tears less affecting, the reconciliations less sweet, till they engendered a mood of aloofness and cool criticism, and the growing conviction that it was not myself but the loved one who was at fault. I caught the false notes in her voice and learned to listen for them apprehensively; I recognized the blank, resentful stare of incomprehension in her eyes, and the selfish, hard set of the corners of her mouth. I learned her, as one must learn a woman one has kept house with, day in, day out, for three and a half years; I learned her slatternly ways, the routine and mechanism of her charm, her jealousy and self-seeking, and her nervous trick with the fingers when she was lying. She was stripped of all enchantment now and I knew her for an uncongenial stranger to whom I had bound myself indissolubly in a moment of folly.

As CS Lewis noted, "We read to know we are not alone."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo

Once again via Normblog, I see that there is now a blog carrying updates on the arrest of Ramin Jahanbegloo in Iran. There is a feed we can use to follow development here.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Little Local Difficulty

I see that Labour lost control of the London Borough of Merton in yesterday's election. The Conservatives have 30 seats, Labour has 27 and there are three independent councillors so no one has overall control of the Council.

A poor reward indeed for an administration that succeeded in making SW19 so cool that Boradway is buzzing with the news that David Hasselhoff himself is coming to the New Wimbledon Theatre to appear in Panto this Christmas.

(In my Colliers Wood ward though, Labour swept the board and the Greens beat the Tories to a poor third.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006


We jumped aboard the number 93 bus to Putney last night to check out, what seems to be the only South African restaurant in London, though God knows there are plenty of of Springbok boozers.

I started with boerewors and chakalaka which was described on the menu as "traditional South African farmer's sausage served with chakalaka - a spicy tomato and onion salsa - and sweet corn miele pap."

(I ordered it by pointing at the menu because it seemed to me that Boerwores must almost certainly be pronounced Boer Wars and I didn't want to get into a Basil Fawlty and the Germans scenario with the waitress.)

Interestingly enough the chakalaka had a strong tang of harissa, and miele pap seemed to be grits. The further we get eating your way around the world in London the more tangled things get, which in a way is the point of the whole exercise.

Paul - entering into the spirit of the thing for once - had a special (crocodile tail salad) to start then kingclip (South Africa’s favourite fish) served with savoury rice, seasonal green vegetables and topped with seafood bisque.

I had grilled springbok loin (which tastes like beef) garnished with red onion marmalade and served with with roast root vegetables and a spinach puree.

We drank a 2002 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another continent is blooded in our campaign, follow the links for its real and imaginary destinations.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I went along to see Marc Canter at the bean feast Ian Forrester organised on Monday night and I had a blast. He really is a provocative, larger than life character. (You get a tast of his tone by reading him arguing the toss with various prodnoses about his Wikipedia here)

He was talking about his plans for a new category of software called Digital Lifestyle Aggregators that he is working on with his company Broadband Mechanics.

They are going to be launching their software - perhaps in Beta I can't remember - in June. It seemed to me, in essense, to be a kind of clearing house that could be used for importing and exporting weblog posts, social networks, playlists and preferences etc. between differerent commercial environments or hosts.

Armed with this insight I asked him, "Is it a kind of clearing house?"

"No," he replied, so I guess we are going to have to wait for it to come out to understand. He seemed smart as a whip to me though, so I shall certainly stay tuned.

(PS I approve of the Polar Bear as a venue. £2.55 for a pint of Stella a stone's throw from Leicester Square is not to be sneered at.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ramin Jahanbegloo

I take the liberty, below of republishing an entire post from Normblog.

<<Ramin Jahanbegloo has been arrested by the Iranian intelligence services. Jahanbegloo is a liberal intellectual who has invited western intellectuals to Iran. Michael Ignatieff mentions him here:
I was invited not by the mullah-dominated universities but by the Cultural Research Bureau, an independent center in Tehran that publishes books and runs its own gift shop, gallery and lecture hall. My Iranian host, Ramin Jahanbegloo, works in a tiny shared office at the bureau, inviting foreign guests and building up a small circle of free-minded students whom he lectures on European thought. He and I had never met, but he has published a book of conversations he had as a student with Isaiah Berlin, the Oxford philosopher of liberalism, and I have written a biography of Berlin. We are Berliners.

There is a picture of Jahanbegloo here (scroll down). These two links refer to the arrest (so I'm told). >>

I've got a copy of Jahanbegloo's 'Conversations with Isaiah Berlin' (an old edition picked up for a song from a bargain shop as I recall) a coincidental connection that shouldn't but does amplify my reaction to his plight so I'm posting this immediately to make some small contribution to passing the message along.

'Fitness for Purpose'

LONDON: Responding to "Closing the Gap", a report - by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary - on the ability of the current structure of policing in England and Wales to provide effective and sustainable services in the future, a leading figure in organised crime has voiced his approval of plans to reduce the number of police forces in England and Wales from 43 to 12.

Supporting police modernisation, British crimelord Harold Shand said, "Modern organised criminals are sophisticated, organised and well-resourced entrepreneurs trafficking in drugs and people, engaging in fraud and extortion. We run business empires that reach from the other side of the world to the dealer on the street corner".

Pointing to efficiency gains over the last decade , Shand noted that the price of an ecstacy tablet has fallen from £20.50 a ten years ago to only £7 today and that prices of heroin and cocaine both fell by 30 per cent over the same period.

"Ten years ago, the price of one ecstasy pill would have bought 14 pints of lager or 222 cigarettes. Today, the £7 street price for a tablet of ecstasy is the equivalent of 3 pints of lager or 30 king-size cigarettes.

"We work in a competitive industry. Dealing with 43 separate Police Forces fragments our business processes, reducing efficiency, and hindering our work in delivering value to the customer. We welcome the proposed streamlining."

While this endorsement will be welcomed by the Home Office, serial Labour rebel MP Paul Flynn struck a dissenting note saying: "This is a decision that is rushed. It's not based on any rational basis. It will help only the criminals and it will harm the whole structure of the police. It's reorganisation for reorganisation's sake."

Monday, May 01, 2006


Via Normblog, this report:

Joined by senators from the left and right, Oscar-winning actor George Clooney used his star power on Thursday to focus attention on Sudan's Darfur region, where he said the first genocide of this century was taking place.
Clooney told heart-breaking stories of visiting the border area between Chad and Sudan's Darfur region last week, where he watched refugees spilling into sordid camps and women foraging for food who faced the threat of rape or death.

As a rule, I'm not very keen on Mr Clooney's political initiatives, but when you're right, you're right, so more power to his elbow on this one.

As for my inconsistency:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)