Saturday, June 30, 2007

Old Nick

Apart from the legacy images and maps etc, is now running on Google's servers. The old site can still be found at

All in all the change went pretty smoothly and according to plan.

I can now manage the template by manipulating "widgets" rather than getting down to the HTML level. The new label section on the left is an example, as is the Training Diary (which is an RSS widget). The wish list and blog roll have been added back in as code widgets.

I've moved from Haloscan back to the native Blogger comment system, but old comments are not lost as they can still be read on "Old Nick".

Search is now in the top left hand in the standard Blogger header. I may move it down into the main body as the syntax looks pretty simple. The search term is just appended to a standard URL: e.g.

All in all, an interesting little exercise. Onwards to the future!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Enak Enak

Nancy Lam lives in Colliers Wood. A circumstance that, when I discovered it, made Enak Enak - the Indonesian restaurant that she runs in Clapham - a natural choice for the last Eat Your Way Around the World in London before we shut up shop for the summer and AbbeyFest.

The Profit Burglar and I shared mixed satay and picked vegetables. I followed this with beef rendang and rice, while Paul had a prawn sambal. We drank house white.

Enak enak; yummy yummy.

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

(P.S. I cannot tick Indonesian food off our list without also giving a shout out to the stall that serves it up in Merton Abbey Mills. Their spicy lamb with fried rice is my fuel of choice if I ever have to work over the weekend.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Blair's Blare

I'm not very often moved to comment on politics, but it's difficult not to brood on the democratic deficit as Brown seamlessly succeeds Blair at 10 Downing Street, the governance of the nation apparently having been sorted out over dinner between them thirteen years ago.

Hasn't Tony Blair's performance lately been extraordinary? I wouldn't be surprised to hear that NASA are investigating using his ego to power a mission to Mars next time I turn on the TV.

Back last September we had that leaked memo on the plans for leaving office:

"He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end he must focus on the future."

For the last few weeks we've endured - and paid for - the continent spanning, glad handing, back slapping Legacy Tour.

Finally - lest he be out of the headlines for five minutes - observe the unseemly haste with which his appointment as the UN Middle East envoy has been engineered and grabbed. A role in which he "faces a challenge winning Arab confidence". Really, you think so? Perhaps the recent halting of an investigation into claims BAE made improper payments to Saudi Arabian officials was a geopolitical master stroke to boost his credentials in the Gulf.

I can't help but wonder if he read the small print on the sin of pride before his flirtation with the Catholic Church?

How can I miss you, if you won't go away?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Normal Service Will Be Resumed

I manage this weblog via Blogger, but host it on a server of my own or, more accurately, my company's own. I run my own hosting service in effect, and in day-to-day operation Blogger updates my server via FTP publishing.

Now that I'm starting to use labels more regularly, I was looking to add some sort of widget that displayed them to my design when I learned:
Blogger Layouts customisation is not supported for blogs hosted on non-Blog*Spot servers. To use Layouts, you'll need to host your blog on
(Blogger's free hosting service) or a
custom domain (point your own registered domain name to your blog).

I've often thought that if we were launching the company today rather than a decade ago, we wouldn't invest in any infrastructure at all but would simply build products on industrial scale services hosted in "The Cloud". Looking at Google's plans for Blogger - such as video upload - at Blogger in Draft, I think that this may be a good time to move "A Welsh Born Icon" over to them.

So, how do I go about moving it with as little friction as possible? I want to keep the same address so I will have to create a DNS CNAME record for it, associating with This should be simple enough as I manage the domain via (another cloud service if you like and a lot less hassle than managing

There's a problem though, when I move from FTP publishing to a custom domain - "computer says no":
Images (or other files) from your server are not copied over to the Blogger servers. If you leave your server up and running, then the image tags and links in your posts will continue to work. Alternatively, you can re-upload your images to Blogger so they're hosted on our servers.
I've got plenty of images, certainly too many to reload, and the odd custom file like

The way around this seems to be a missing files host:
If you choose to specify a missing files host, it will be used as a fallback server whenever someone tries to access a file that cannot be found on your blog.

What I will have to do is set up DNS (and IIS) to serve up the blog to date on, say, and set that up as the missing files catchall.

There is a further problem with Google Maps though, the API key in the code that I use to generate the maps is only valid for a single "directory", so I will have to update that code when I move the blog.

Today is due to be the last episode of "eat your way around the world in London" before we shut up shop for the summer and go to AbbeyFest instead, so I will get that out of the way and then move the blog next week.

I can always move it back if it goes wrong, but remember service may be a little flaky for a day or so as any DNS change propagates around the globe.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A world without sin

Why when I talk about faith, do you always assume I'm talking about God?

I got a DVD of Serenity for my birthday, and watched it over the weekend. Back when Rob got me hooked on The West Wing, he also gave Chris a boxed set of the TV sci fi series "Firefly", and Serenity is the movie that Joss Whedon the series' creator made as a follow up set in the same universe.

So what did I find when I sat down to watch it? It's an action adventure story set in outer space, but weirdly - and just like some episodes of The West Wing - the plot is driven by theological ideas. Specifically sin and free will.

"The Operative" who is the villain of the piece, wants to create a "world without sin", and accuses his victims of "the sin of pride". The hero is Mal, the captain of the ship, and according to Wikipedia:
Whedon has stated that the most important line in the film is Mal's snarl to the Operative at its climax: "I'm going to show you a world without sin." Whedon's point is that a world without sin is a world without choice, and that choice is ultimately what defines humanity.

This is a sentiment that could have come straight out of St Augustine's Confessions. I'd be tempted to think I was imagining this if it wasn't telegraphed so directly in the script. It's not even an allegory, just as I noted about President Bartlett in "Two Cathedrals", the words didn't get in there by accident.

Isn't it amazing? I'm starting to imagine authors reaching for the Summa Theologica if they're ever afflicted with writers' block. I'll have to watch the Serenity DVD again with Whedon's commentary on to double check I'm not going off my head.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Return of the Geek

My Qosmio seems to have given up the ghost so my mind is turning to the vexed issue of digital media again. We've built an XP Media Center PC that I'm going to take home, and we've got Vista Ultimate Edition running on a 64 bit box in the office.

My Movies won't run on the 64-bit OS, so we've been digging around for a way to play backed up DVDs from the hard disk.

From the SDK, it seems that - from an HTML page registered in Media Center - the call:


Plays the passed strUrl as a DVD.

An strUrl encoded as, say "DVD://C:/DVD/DVD1/VIDEO_TS" will play the default opening file on DVD backed up to C:/DVD/DVD1/ on a local hard disk.

This also seems to work with UNC filenames, so using "DVD://SERVERNAME/C$/DVD/DVD1/VIDEO_TS", for example, as the strURL would enable you to play a backed up DVD over a network!

Adding a ? after the URL, enables you to pass parameters:

?2 Plays Title 2
?5/13 Play Chapter 13 of title 5
?6/2-8 Plays Chapters 2 to 8 of title 6
?7/9:05-13:23 Plays title 7, from 9 seconds 5 frames to 13 seconds 23 frames (times specified as hh:mm:ss:ff)

There doesn't seem to be any reason why this technique wouldn't work in the XBOX 360 Media Extender which suggests to me that we might well be able to knock up some code that will give me online access to all my movies via the games machine.

I've created a new label for this type of musing, even though I don't seem to have done much of it lately.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

There is nothing like a dame

Difficult as it may be to imagine the fantabulosa fantasy of Shirley Bassey against the mud, the blood and the beer of Glastonbury, that is where Tiger Bay's favourite daughter will be knocking them in the aisles later today.

I hereby officially elevate her to the pantheon of Welsh Born Icons. It is long overdue. Indeed with a Nigerian Dad and a Mum from Yorkshire, La Bassey epitomises my inclusive notions of Welsh identity.

I saw her perform years ago, when I took The Mother Of My Child to the Royal Festival Hall. We had seats at the side of the auditorium and I can vividly remember massed gays politely rushing the stage armed with bouquets and other tokens to present to Dame Shirley. I have an indelible image of them sitting cross legged in front of the stage, looking for all the world like a group of primary school children, after they had been asked to calm down, but were still too pumped to return to their seats.

If he was alive today, I feel sure that the excellent Welsh pirate Bartholomew Roberts would have had a front row seat.
If anyone deserves the title ‘the real pirate of the Caribbean’ it was the Welshman Bartholomew Roberts, who captured an astonishing 400 ships in a brief two-and-a-half-year career between 1719 and 1722 — a figure that dwarfs that of any of his contemporaries. Roberts was living proof that reality is always far, far more intriguing than fiction. He drank tea rather than rum. He organised his ships along strictly democratic, egalitarian lines. A third of his men were black. And he was probably gay.
I am press-ganging him into the icons as well, and I defy you to resist reading more.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Leather on Willow

Perfect Britain - a land where warm beer is served to the distant echo of leather on willow and the tring-a-ling of bicycle bells rung by spinsters on their way to Holy Communion.

Pete - of AbbeyFest and The ColourHouse Theatre fame - organised a social cricket match in the week. Twenty overs for each side, everyone except the wicket keeper bowls two overs, and batsmen retire once they've scored twenty five runs. We fielded first, then - even though I'm useless - I opened the batting. I only got two runs, but the way I figured it once I was out I could get straight on the booze without waiting for the match to finish. This is the stage at which I got Ray to take the photo above with my camera phone.

Britain. .. We've had running water for over 10 years, an underground tunnel linking us to Peru, and we invented the cat.

(As John was gracious enough to point out, the old school Corinthian centre stage above is noticeably slimmer than either The Sin Eater or Hotei circa 2005.)

Update 12:25: Just bumped into Pete who told me that he has arranged another game for mid July. I will need some time in the nets before that. (When I was in Bangalore, I remember Michael telling me that because Indians are all so cricket mad, the only slot his team could book for net practice was 6 am on Sundays.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Next! Next!

Oh, it was not so tragic
and heaven did not fall
But how much at that time
I hated being there at all, Next! Next!

"Happy Birthday to me" today, and an opportunity to reflect on progress since the annus horribilis of 2005.

I seem to have to have got my brain and body back in reasonable shape.

Concerning the cognitive function, I'm happy with what I think I reveal writing "A Welsh Born Icon". I've been doing it for a while now, and I like what I see on the odd occasion when I look back through the archives. Didn't Chesterton observe something along the lines of "saying that a man shouldn't laugh at his own jokes is like saying that an architect shouldn't pray in his own cathedral"?

Physically, training has done me a power of good. I dropped below 13 stone this week which is more than two stone off my peak. I imagine that I'll be down to my 80kg target by the time of the Swansea 10km run three months tomorrow and getting fit has done wonders for my state of mind as much as anything.

I've also kept and deepened a great relationship with my little boy, and really found out who my friends were. (Thanks if you're reading this and I know that a lot of you do.) Oh, and just to prove that I still keep the salt and vinegar handy, the exit of herself's fag hag cronies from my life has been no bad thing either.

Next year's to do list needs to be prosaic. I took some tremendous financial damage in 2005's meltdown and I imagine that if I ever recover any of those assets - not that I've even tried - it will only be pennies in the pound. And my business - while well established - has really been treading water rather than progressing while my energies and attention have been elsewhere. I need to focus on filthy lucre for a while.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Papa Hemingway's Dispatch from Thermopylae

He was laconic, he knew that. He had been born in Lacedaemonia so he had no choice. Some people talk about choice, but he had chosen. A wounded bull will know when it is time.

His name was Leonadis and it was dawn. His men knew about death in the afternoon. Today he would teach and then he would learn about dying at dawn.

He picked up his old shield. It was a good shield. Then he picked up his spear. There were shields that were new and good, and there were spears that were old and bad. His shield and his spear were both old and both good. That felt right..............

Sorry, I couldn't help it. Another in a continuing series.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cut to the Chase, David

"The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they have been in."
I watched the first series of the Sopranos when it was broadcast in the UK years ago, but I haven't really followed it since so all the hoopla about the final episode has rather passed me by.

I did read a profile of David Chase - the prickly chief creator-writer-producer of the show - in Vanity Fair a month or so ago, however, and was tickled by this anecdote:

There's a famous story about an actor who said to Chase what actors often say, "My character wouldn't say this." Chase responded, "Who says it's your character?"

I can't help but note is passing that Aaron Sorkin was a similarly triple-hyphenated creator-writer-producer on The West Wing. Interestingly it seems that neither directs.

Maybe the old joke about the Polish starlet is getting out of date? (Google it if you like.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

So It Goes

I finished "Slaughterhouse 5" last night, which means that I've read all the books for the next El Grupo with nearly a month to spare. So this is what it would have felt like in school if I'd done all my homework and revision when it was assigned rather than at the last minute. I would have been an insufferably smug little twerp, or perhaps more accurately an even more insufferably smug little twerp.

Rereading the book after a quarter of a century, I was struck by how concise it was, exactly the sensation I had last year during a decades overdue second canter through Brideshead Revisited. I note that both are on Time's 100 best English-language novels list. Size isn't everything, as I've often consoled myself.

A few stray remarks follow (I am sworn to keep my profound observational powder dry until July):
  • Billy Pilgrim adrift in time, c.f Chrono-Displacement Disorder in "The Time Traveller's Wife" and Martin Amis' "Time's Arrow".
  • Vonnegut's folksy patter misdirects you from the sophistication of the arrangement of the piece, c.f. the structure of that other great WW2 book "Catch 22" which tells the same story again and again.
  • Valencia's car has a "Reagan for President" sticker on the bumper. In a book published in the 60s! Well I never. I know I could check this out in Wikipedia in a heart beat but I can't be bothered.
  • "The Destruction of Dresden" by David Irving gets name checked. Yes, THE David Irving.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rhododendron is a nice flower

"let us cultivate our garden"

Voltaire: Candide

I was back to the terra incognita of horticulture yesterday afternoon.

I mowed the lawn in the back garden, then discovered from discarded labels that I have Rhododendron and Hardy Lily to go with the similarly identified Red Dragon in the front. The plant in the photo is to the left of the Red Dragon. Does anyone know what it is? I think that the bush on its left is lavender with yellow flowers. Again, any clues?

I cut back the overgrown rose bush because I had permission from

Finally I gave up on the wormery and emptied its disgusting contents for digging in later. For all that it wouldn't drain through the tap there was a fair amount of liquid in it and I seem to have killed off all the worms somehow.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Wai Kru

I went up to Birmingham yesterday to watch Adam fight at the K-Star Promotion.

To my surprise, we stopped at the Wat Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon on the way so that the monks could bless the fighters. As we hangers on were milling around outside, we were invited into the gardens to eat. From what I can gather - and I may easily be wrong - the congregation brings offerings of dishes which are shared among everyone else once the monks have finished. As I grazed on this generosity, I decided that I definitely must start doing some more Thai cooking mysef.

We got to Birmingham for the weigh in, then killed time until the show started in the early evening. I'd been a bit aprehensive as I'd never been to anything quite like it before, but I found that I really enjoyed it. I naturally supported the fighters on the bill from a South Wales club called the Eagles as well as the people I was officially there to see.

The picture on the left is Adam performing the Wai Kru before his fight under the gaze of Kru Jonny. I'm pleased to report that he won. The Thai boxing rounds were only two minutes long, but each one seemed to last an age.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why did the Anarchists drink herbal tea?

Because all proper tea is theft!? BOOM! BOOM!

From which you may gather that I have finished reading "Winter in Madrid". MacGuffin: a passionate Communist in the International Brigades who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama.

Briefly, I thought that the covers of this book were too far apart and the plot was strangely dependent on characters coincidentally bumping into each other , but that the denouement and epilogue were neatly done. Beyond that El Grupo omerta applies until July 13, but the publishers do helpfully provide their own reading group questions:
1) Does C.J. Sansom lean more towards the historical side of the novel, the fiction or create a delicate balance between the two?
2) Have you read any Spanish civil war literature before (Orwell, Auden, Spencer, Day Lewis)? If so, how does Winter in Madrid compare?
3) Sandy and Bernie are strikingly different characters. Why does Barbara end up in a relationship with Sandy? Can you sympathise with the reasoning behind her actions in the novel?
4) What did you think about the conclusion of the novel? Did you think it was fitting?

I am off to Birmingham in a minibus later today so I will slip a copy of "Slaughterhouse 5" into my pocket. Once I've read that again, I'll have finished the syllabus for the next meeting

Friday, June 15, 2007

Born Welsh

To be born in Wales,
Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,
But, with music in your blood
And with poetry in your soul,
Is a privilege indeed.

Your inheritance is a land of Legend,
Of love and contrast.
A land of beauty so bright it burns the eyes.
Of ugliness that scars the Spirit
As the Earth.

Wales is an old land with wounds
That weep in hills.
They wept before in the bodies of men
And in the hearts of women
And time will never heal them.

The stigmata of sorrow,
Of pain and poverty,
Of lonely crucifixion in the dark,
Remain our lives to feed.

This Land of our Fathers was built on coal.
Its rivers of mingled blood and sweat
Have forever darkened it,
Relieved only by death.

We are a sad people.
Our sadness being wrapped in harps and music
And praise to God,
For the lovely, yearning light
That feeds the Spirit as well as the eyes.

The first part of a poem, "In Passing" by Brian Harris, that I stumbled upon by googling "Welsh Born". Serendipity indeed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

La Bodeguita

We went to a Colombian restaurant in Elephant and Castle last night. Just like last week, I picked it out to put a marker on a sparsely populated part our map. The profit burglar and I decided what we were going to eat before setting out after comparing the Wikipedia entry on Colombian food with the menu.

I had Aborrajados then Bandeja Paisa.

Aborrajados were plantain with cheese and sweet guava deep fried together in a batter. Bandejas Paisa - practically the national dish - was rice, pork belly, red kidney beans, minced beef, sausage, fried egg, fried plantain, avocado and garnish. Lost for words, I photographed it in all its glory when it arrived on a dish the size of a tray. This cholesterol fest was washed down with the Chilean house red.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Death and Dishonour

I remember Mark Steyn quoting the the leathery General Sir Charles Napier's contribution to the debate on "suttee" in the subcontinent:

''You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

Good for him, and I note in passing that the Moslem Mughal emperors discouraged it as well.

I also remember reading this pseudonymous memoir of Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago:
"The desert is full of voices," Ali said.
"Of people buried out there."
"You think he killed her?"
"What else? He was the father or husband, probably her father. She did something to dishonor the family. Maybe the tribe," Ali said. "He lost face. He had to get it back."
"That's crazy."
"I know. It happened in my family."

Memories stirred by this from The Times yesterday:
After her father Mahmod Mahmod, 52, and her uncle Ari Mahmod, 51, were convicted for murder yesterday at the Old Bailey, The Times can reveal that Miss Mahmood had told police on at least four separate occasions that the men were going to kill her because she had fallen in love with a man they disapproved of.

She was done away with at home in Mitcham, just around the corner from where I sit typing. For some reason I find the detail that she was found buried in a suitcase almost unbearably poignant and sad.

I don't want to write any more but you can probably imagine what I conclude regarding our spinelessness; "four separate occasions".

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Richard Rorty's passing and Grumunkin's belated setting out of his stall, have prompted me to wonder if I might be able to begin clarifying my own evolving philosophical position on these spindrift pages.

What I start from is an almost visceral loathing of positivism, analytical philosophy and all the other manifestations of the reductionist critique that seemed almost to dominate that 20th century, and held that "propositions" that had possessed the best and bravest thinkers for millennia were "meaningless" because they were not amenable to strict scientific method.

That said, I also resist Platonic idealism, Cartesian dualism, and Kant's categorical imperative.

(I'm entirely aware, by the way, and comfortable with the fact that most of my rejection and advocacy is based quite simply on what I find congenial.)

These days, I've set up my tent under the flag of pragmatism, and Rorty ascends to the Pantheon (other misgivings of mine notwithstanding) for dealing crisply with the notion that pragmatism is little more than a species of postivism. Follow the link if you like.

I realise that I haven't defined pragmatism or compared or contrasted it with positivism. Stay tuned. Maybe I will in future.

But then again maybe I'll just post about gardening or Thai boxing. Go figure.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Graveyard of Ambition

As a regular exerciser (though unfortunately even keener eater and drinker) I was impressed like everyone else with how fit all the cast in the movie "300" looked. The miracle that is Google told me that a guy named Mark Twight trained them and led me to the website of his gym.

As I wrote before, the greatest transformation was accomplished by Swansea's own Vincent Regan - the Captain in the movie. See the pictures above from week 0, week 4, and week 8 of his training.

I was talking to John about this over the weekend when he was exerting us to greater efforts putting up his decking by shouting "Shpartans!" in a peculiar Scottish accent, and we have agreed that Vincent Regan is worthy to join his countrymen as an official Welsh Born Icon.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Country Matters

I never do anything in the garden apart from mowing the lawn and cutting back the foiliage. Yesterday I found a label "PERSICARIA Red Dragon" that had been stuck in the ground next to one of the plants when it was planted yesterday. This post is an attempt to recruit my obsessive compulsive tendencies by writing and see if I can't learn more about the great outdoors and green my fingers.

(PS The wormery has been a bit of a disaster as well. It's generating flies and I think all the worms may be dead as I put all the lime mix in at once.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Why are we here?

We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.

A motto, courtesy of Bukowski, for this and every weekend.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mise en scène

Can you even conceive dear reader of someone so monumentally stupid that he could address a cashpoint machine, slide in his card, tap out his PIN, order £100, retrieve and trouser said card, and then stride away intent on collecting his offspring from school, leaving the hundred uncollected, limp and flaccid in the slot whence it issued?

I am afraid to say that you are reading words typed by just such a ninny. Someone is going to have a good weekend at my expense, I guess.

Oh well, as Zarathustra spake "that which does not kill me, makes me stronger"?

If anyone needs me I may be found playing piano in the office with my elbows and singing madly.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Red Red

We were joined by old friend - and trained chef - Jason last night for Ghanaian food at the Accra-Nima restaurant in SW8. I picked out a West African establishment as it seemed to plug a gap in the world map that I am maintaining to organise the record of our adventures in food.

I had "Red Red" a mashed bean stew served with fried plantains, simply because I fell in love with its name when Jason sent me this Wikipedia link. He had a meat stew which he gamely ate by hand, rolling starchy rice into balls that he dipped into his bowl as they do in Ghana. The profit burglar dined on talapai, largely I think so that he could tell me several times during the course of the evening that it is sometimes called St. Peter's fish from the account in the Bible (Matthew 17:24−27) about the apostle catching a fish that carried a shekel coin in its mouth, with the dark spots on the sides of the fish being the fingermarks of the saint.

Jaw lubricated by red wine and African beer, I had a chat with the proprietor about the boxing photo on the wall and learned that he was a retired cruiser weight prizefighter. The picture was a souvenir of his last bout, so we decided to pay after all. Only joking; it was great food and great value. You should go there as well.

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

(I also found the excellent Wikipedia list of cuisines via Jason's link. Nice one mate, if you're reading this.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cynic's If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,

Though you may fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
You've lost the race, you goose, ere you begin it.

You're shipping out tomorrow, clean your gun.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Two Cathedrals

More4's screening of the entire West Wing opus reached the end of the second series on Sunday evening. "Two Cathedrals", the climax of season two is a tour de force. I have created a new label to celebrate this milestone.

I don't want to precis it, so the following won't make a lot of sense if you are not an aficionado, but I was particularly struck by what a high-wire act it must be to write, perform and produce such a complex and allusive piece. The script takes so many risks that it might seem ridiculous if the production didn't manage to pull them off.

First off the bat, it seems to me that the device of having Mrs. Landingham playing Jiminy Cricket in flashback to the youthful Jeb's Pinocchio could have gone horribly wrong (never mind her Ghost of Christmas Present act from beyond the grave a the end of the episode) and yet ...... it didn't.

Second, although we are left wondering "will he, won't he?", I am assuming that Bartlett does decide to run for a second term. (The fact that there are several seasons' worth of episodes still to watch seems to be a clue for me here.) And his motivation for rising to the challenge? We hear him say as a boy:
Catholics don't believe man is saved through faith alone. Catholics believe that faith has to be joined with good works.

This is a remarkable peg to hang motivation on in a prime time TV show. It didn't get in the script by accident. Luther and Calvin did contend that salvation is won by faith alone. This issue (called justification in theology) was a key dispute in the Reformation. And it is implied as the President strides off to the press conference that closes the season that he will soldier on because there is still work to be done.

MRS. LANDINGHAM: I don't know numbers. You give them to me.
BARTLETT: How about a child born this minute has a one in five chance of being born into poverty?
MRS. LANDINGHAM: How many Americans don't have health insurance? BARTLETT: 44 million.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: What's the number one cause of death for black men under 35?
BARTLETT: Homicide.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: How many Americans are behind bars?
BARTLETT: Three million.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: How many Americans are drug addicts?
BARTLETT: Five million.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: And one of five kids in poverty?
BARTLETT: That's 13 million American children.

Don't get me started on the shadowing in Jeb's school friends smoking in the chapel, of Bartlett sparking up in the Cathedral after berating God in Latin.

What a show.

As we sit down to Big Brother this week, let us remind ourselves how unsophisticated Yanks are compared to the highfalutin' Brits.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Get it While It's Hot

The BBC World Service broadcast Robin Soans' The Arab-Israeli Cookbook over the weekend.

You can listen to it at until 7 pm GMT on Saturday.

I don't normally link to content that I know will expire, and I haven't listened to this production, but I did see and blog the play in 2005, and recommend it on that basis.

Food for thought on the solemn and dispiriting 40th anniversary of the Six Day War.

(I wonder if the idea of the play inspired our own eat your way around the world in London project in some small way. I can't remember, but I did catch it on stage before I embarked on my quest.)

See also: Jews, Muslims, Hindus Agree On Chicken.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The boy stood on the deck

Arriving at my brother's to find him in the middle of installing thirty square metres of decking in the garden, the new ninja bomber and I abandoned the idea of an Afan Argoed dry run for August's off road triathlon yesterday, putting our shoulders to the wheel instead, rather than our wheels to the track.

Upper left, my Padawan begins his drilling apprenticeship under the eyes of his Uncle John.

Middle left, attention wandering he recreates an escape from Stalag Luft III.

Bottom left, he finds his true role at last, testing the structural integrity of the nearly completed construction by running around on it playing football.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I Do Solemnly Swear

We were in Swansea last night for a barbecue graciously hosted by Chris, Kim, Hari, Dan and Dylan.

Let it be known that in the telephone conversation confirming our invitation, Chris agreed to take part in next year's Childline Challenge; the deal being that he and I will enter as a team, he will do the cycling leg I will do the swimming and running.

Recorded for posterity here lest it slip anyone's mind.

(P.S. I was also delighted to see how well Ben and Dylan got on given that they have only rarely met. It seems that the Be Cool Army was, likely, no flash in the pan.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Wreckers of Wick

A story from the "The Plough and Harrow", a pub recommended by my brother yesterday:

The bar is now one large room and all traces have been removed of the partitioned chamber which stood at the far end, along the dartboard wall. Perhaps this is a good thing, for there are gruesome stories told that this room was use to store the shipwrecked bodies washed up on the beach after having their ships captain confused by the infamous "Wreckers of Wick". They would tie lanterns around sheeps' necks and then let them wander the cliff tops so the captains would think they were nearing the docks of Barry or Cardiff and not the jagged rocks of the coastline or the deadly Nash sandbank.

It is said that the bodies were stored until the coffins were made in the carpentry shop next door before burial at the church just up the lane.