From Agence France Presse:
A 55-year-old Palestinian shepherdess was shot dead by Israeli soldiers guarding a Jewish settlement on the southern edge of Gaza City on Wednesday, while grazing sheep on her land, Palestinian security officials said.

Good to see the Israeli Defence Force are finally tackling the real threat to their country's security. Rumours that the woman had been preparing a crack squad of suicide Marino sheep for an attack on Jewish settlements have not yet been confirmed.


Sometimes I wonder whether the blogging software is programmed to stop people turning every single issue in the world into an opportunity to bemoan their lot. That it has a subroutine that kicks in whenever the bigger picture gets too far away, triggering the fatal error-inducing headuparse.exe.

I ask this because the bytes occupied by this question were meant to be an exploration of my feelings about many of my friends, and particularly those of my age, having had babies in the six months, and those who haven't seemingly taking great strides towards it (Alex - for so long my beacon in bachelorhood, my symbol of single solidarity, proof that I wasn't the only nice bloke to be ignored by the opposite sex - getting hitched in a matter of weeks. Glorious news - splitter!:).

There was naturally much celebration of the roll of honour (Signe Barrett, Molly Hulse, Thomas Woolhouse, Rachel Bean - welcome to the world. Enjoy your stay and listen to your parents - they're all good people. Hope to see you soon) and one or two nice turns of phrase, but mostly it was me feeling old and lonely again, like life is a spectator sport, and that I'm never going to be a father (which, to be honest, would be a shame, cos I want children - irritating, selfish, puking, argumentative, frustrating, intolerant, spiteful, noisy little bastards that they are).

In short, I said, these bundles of joy are rubbing my nose in their nappies just to remind me, once again, what a full life I'm missing.

And then my damn PC decides to crash. The one time it's really lost me a full-on blog entry - and it happens to be a serious case of introspective incontinence. Believe me, what's written here is light on the self-pity compared to what went before, so you get the story (happy time for my friends) without the bleeding heart - which is as it should be.

Coincidence? I think not. Technology wins again.
Due to popular demand (Sam):

PseudoDictionary NOW!
toasticle - The small particles of toast that accumulate in a tub of margarine or on a stick of butter.
e.g., I hate it when people leave their toasticles in the butter.


As a journalist, I feel it's only right to express my professional admiration for the work carried out by the Telegraph's team in Baghdad who seem more willing to get their hands dirty and rummage through the rubble of the fallen regime than the rest of the West's media. Their ability to outscore the combined revelations of the BBC, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse, CNN, Murdoch's News International, and hundreds of other hacks in the hunt for scoops from the ruins of Saddam's regime is quite inspiring.

After all, chippies across the country had barely had time to wrap fish suppers in Daily Telegraph exclusives about "socialist firebrand" George Galloway and his alleged bungs from the Iraqi government, before its Sunday sister title was revealing "evidence" of the link between Saddam and Osama bin Laden.

It is, you must admit, remarkable that the British establishment's record of choice should, in the space of one week, find documentary proof that not only probably cripples the political career and integrity of one of Parliament's strongest critics of the war but also enables Dubya to invoke the September 11 clause in claiming moral authority for the conflict.

What are the chances of that happening, eh? After all, without the journalistic prowess of Inigo Gilmore, David Blair, et al, Mr Tony and the Cowboy might have looked like their war was unjust, based on a fictional premiss.

And don't assume this is the last we've heard from the Telegraph's crack team.

It's breaking the journalistic code, I know, but I can't help but mention that I've heard a few things on the grapevine already. Things about further alleged discoveries in the ruins of Iraqi ministry buildings, which people ought not to be surprised to see in print in the near future:

* Minutes of meetings between Saddam and Yasser Arafat planning the assassination of Ariel Sharon and a full-scale invasion of Israel
* Envelope addressed to Hans Blix containing pictures of the UN's chief weapons inspector in intimate contact with various farmyard animals, along with a message crudely constructed from newspaper clippings which reads: "Remember, Fatty: if you find anything, then the press find the negatives"
* A greetings card bearing the message: "Dear Sadie. Thanks for the latest "special deliveries"; I'll be sure to keep them well hidden until it's time. They'll really be "blown away" (heh heh!) when we finally go public. Drop by Damascus whenever - my home is your home. We Arab leaders should stick together. Love to the kids. Big hug! Bashar.x."
* And most shocking of all, direct debit forms from the presidential palace in Paris authorising payment for regular shipments of honey-cured Kurdish baby meat

Believe what you will, but just remember: you heard it here first.


Okay, guys, let's take this outside. :)

Tripmeister wrote:

Having been brought up going to see Man United reserve team games in the early 80s, being named after the player who would have captained England in 66 had he not died in 58, and being well read about the history and tradition of my club I think I'm more than entitled to be a red...

And it's not about being over-defensive...it's about standing up to the endless bullshit that's spouted by people who couldn't tell you when their team was founded, when they won their first trophy, how agonising it was to have a remarkable comeback snatched away in the last minute of the cup final...I've lived the successes and failures of my team for nigh on three decades...and I'm not about to go getting ashamed of them just because they've been successful for the last ten years...that's just retarded...

No one's asking you to be ashamed of the team, old chum - certainly not me. Ashamed of some of the fans, maybe, but which of us can't say that?

Your earlier posts made my arguments for me. Yes, I hate the fact that you usually give us a tonking. Yes, I'm envious of your club's great run of success over the past 15 years. And another part is what I mentioned about United's tendency to belittle the Premiership a couple of years ago, by word, more than by deed - I think it was disrespectful of the organisation that's helped them get where they are today. They've stepped back from this position of late, but memories are long in football. Still, aren't those good enough reasons to dislike a team? But those are only mine - I don't expect anyone else to subscribe to them.

I never actually thought that all those trophies were why you personally support the club - after all, young Duncan Edwards never really had any choice, did he?

And you're right about my upbringing in Plymouth, London and Yorkshire - but my childhood never really involved football. My dad wasn't interested, nor were any of the few other male role models I had. So I was left to find my own way to football. And I found it when my home was in Newcastle, at a time the club was starting to have some success.

But I don't think that makes me any less of a fan than someone born on Tyneside. And even though we haven't won the country's top honour since 1927, I'm not going to give up hope.

I've never believed people should be expected to support their local team. My grandmother, bless her, would argue that clubs should only be staffed by people from the immediate area - not something that would particularly harm NUFC, I feel, unlike some other big clubs - although funnily enough, MU would do okay out of this rule too (of course my grandmother also recently observed that "the blacks will take over this country soon - just like they took over Africa." Erm.. think you'll find that it was theirs in the first place, Nanny). That's pretty unreasonable - after all, look at your good lady. Not exactly a Scouse accent but I don't think any less of her for supporting Liverpool. Nor do I really care that you're one of Fergie's boys. For a start, it's not my place to tell you who you should or shouldn't support.

I just wanted a bit of a rant about how the allegiances of people who'd normally root for United's domestic opponents suddenly change when they have national coat-tails to ride on. Liverpool had it that way before them.

What I will say, though, is that when your good run does eventually come to an end (as it surely must some day) Kenyon and Co will find their fan base depletes rather rapidly.

It's not really the club's fault, but for me, that just ain't football.


So Manchester United's European dreams are over for another year - cool! :)

Am I wrong to take so much delight in the defeat of an English team? Maybe. But let me explain.

The two legs of the Champions League quarter-final between United and Real Madrid made for 180 of the most entertaining minutes of football that I've seen in a long time, and despite the Spanish team definitely being the better of the two, the Mancs certainly played their part. Both teams did their sport proud.

But many of my colleagues were surprised to hear whoops of delight when Ronaldo slotted his first past Barthez, and my groan when van Nistelrooy levelled for the Reds. "Don't you want United to win? Why aren't you backing the English team?" they asked.

Well, I've never liked Manchester United. Ever. So why should I be expected to abandon my principles when they're playing Johnny Foreigner? Surely that would make me a hypocrite. Ryan Giggs made United's stance clear enough a few years ago when he said the Premiership title wasn't really important compared with the European Cup. Okeydokey Ryan - you don't want us, we don't want you. And don't expect me to back the team based on some misplaced, half-baked notion of patriotism.

One colleague suggested this was similar to Scots supporting whichever team was playing England. I quite agree. Although not usually known to be a big one for bigotry, by golly, this is football we're talking about and sometimes one just has to take a stand. The Scots obviously have their reasons for hating us, and I've always found them to be a highly principled people, so to equate my indiscriminatory prejudice towards Manchester United with such a well-established partisan tradition is fine by me.

Of course it's not the first time I've been placed in this position. Manchester's treble-winning season of 1998/99 was much worse, because people made it personal. Friends and family - people who would normally spit the words Manchester United - were among those who backed Manyoo against my team, my Toon, in the FA Cup final. And all because they wanted to see an English club win the biggest three trophies available.

What treachery! No wonder Newcastle didn't bother playing - they knew there was a country of bandwagon-jumping glory seekers stacked against them.

Then there's the other weekend's 6-2 drubbing to keep the fires of hatred burning.

Nope. Manchester United are Manchester United whichever way you read it, and they'll never have my backing, whoever they may be playing.

And I managed to get through that without calling them the Scum even once. :)

(With apologies to dear Duncan, sadly afflicted though he is)


Once again I'm mourning the loss of a musical colossus. And although Nina Simone's death is very sad, it's nothing compared to the passing of the mighty S Club. Not 18 months after the demise of Steps, pop has suffered this second - possibly more serious - blow. It seems they've finally tired of allegedly blowing their five figure Christmas bonuses on coke parties, much to the sadness of myself and millions of British teenyboppers.

My addiction to pop is well known. Admittedly "artists" like Sclub, Justin and Britney make completely disposable stuff, but that's part of their appeal. Sure I like good music of many different kinds, but I've always believed that quite apart from having musical merit, if a tune makes you feel happy - or indeed invokes any emotion other than rage - then that can only be a good thing. And a few manufactured groups have had a knack for hitting my sweet spot with every track.

But Sclub, with their TV shows and enduringly cheery pop, were always something special.

Jo had the lungs to keep the group afloat - but seemingly not the back to carry them; Bradley - although talentless on the surface - was given lead vocals on two of the band's biggest hits and much to everyone's amazement, carried them off with aplomb; poor Tina was the female spare wheel, lacking any charisma, but seemingly happy to sport one unflattering hair-do after another; Jon - blonde, blue-eyed, silky-smooth eye candy for those girls who like their men permanently adolescent; Rachel - intentionally alluring, undoubtedly talented, but unfortunately outclassed in every category; Paul - who set the break-up train in motion when he left last year to explore his rock bent but was no great loss; and Hannah. Delicious, dazzling, delicate Hannah. S Club's shining star who deserves success in whichever field she chooses to pursue.

Steps and Sclub were shining examples of the boy/girl combo's superiority over unigender groups - now only Liberty X stand between my sanity and totalitarian boy band hell. Westlife and their like are evil incarnate, feeding on the psyches of unwitting teenage girls. Sclub were a defiantly upbeat force for good.

I stopped listening to pop radio some time ago, and only occasionally tune into Top of the Pops. With S Club's passing, the Hit Parade has taken another great leap away - and I'm just feeling that bit more grown up than before.
The fog of war has finally lifted, which means fairly normal service is about to resume. But first, an explanation of sorts.

In short, the two anxiety dreams of 10 days ago got their man, I lost my temper for the first time in years (far worse than anything seen since my teen rages), did something instantly regrettable (but fortunately not so serious as to be irreparable) which shocked me more than anyone else present, and sent me into quite a dark spot for a week or so. I didn't want to open valves on my brain while it was in that condition, which is why I've been silent pretty much ever since. I may share the full story one of these days, but for now it's best if it stays under wraps.

For now, it's time to consign that to the past, learn from my mistake and move on. Anyway, there's far too much going on in the world for me to spend so much time in my head beating myself up for a little mistake.

So I'm back and I've got things to say. :)


I appear to be subject to the collective blogstipation that seems to be affecting the authors of many of my favourite haunts.

It's probably because I've got a lot of serious stuff going round my head which I don't feel able to write about - at least not yet - and that seems to be causing a blockage that's preventing my usual verbal diahorrea and occasional rage against the world.

So to ease me back into the routine, here's an easy one:

US President George Dubya Bush (Sunday): "We believe there are chemical weapons in Syria."

US Secretary of State Colin Powell (today): "With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (today): "Syria is a nation that has long been on the list of terrorist nations. They should not do that. They should not be that way. No nation should be. And that's a message the United States will not be shy about saying to Syria or other nations."

Journalist: "But then what?"

Fleischer: "I think that what's next is Syria needs to seriously ponder the implications of their actions in terms of harboring Iraqis who need not and should not be harbored. They should think seriously about their program to develop and to have chemical weapons. I think it's time for them to think through where they want their place to be in the world."

Journo: "Why shouldn't people take that as a threat?"

Fleischer (inviting a question from another journalist): "John."

One war's obviously not enough for this administration. Mind you, blowing the planet to fuck would certainly take a few things off my mind, so maybe I shouldn't be so damning...


Have spent much of the day being tense and irascible. So what else is new, you may ask. Thing is, I mean cantankerous even by my standards.

It's all to do with my night of anxiety dreams. Not one, but two. Slightly unfair, I feel.

The first was the standard exam stress routine. You know the deal:

Buggerbuggerbugger, my exam's tomorrow, I've done no revision, I've no idea what it's about and I'm stuck in the most inappropriate location (centre of Paris this time) with absolutely no access to any study material, and I'm going to fail and be a failure and be cast out by society. How could I have got myself into this situation yet again?

Breathe, Benjamin. What are you talking about? You haven't been asked to sit an exam in almost ten years. Calm down.

But my mind decides that's not enough stress for one night, and rolls out the Bizarro Angst Deluxe model.

Picture two women on a millionaire's superyacht planning a wedding. There are fountains of water arcing around and across the boat - somewhat akin to what you see when fireboats welcome back a victorious naval vessel from a warzone. The women are discussing what kind of socks should be worn at the wedding.

Intercut with their discussion, there's me - first person perspective - desperately trying on pairs of socks. But none of them are right. Either they're too small, or full of holes, or none of the pairs actually match - one green, one black; one patterned, one plain; one grey, one blue; one large, one small. And all the time the women are planning this wedding and my frantic attempt to find a matching pair of socks has to succeed or else something very bad will happen.

Fortunately I woke up before finding out what nasty fate awaited me. Of course rather than being relaxed and rested, I was tense and knotted. And even now, just thinking about the injustice of these dreams, I can feel my blood pressure rising.

Thomsk says it's because I've got issues about feeling out of control as regards my life. Maybe he's right. Either way, they're not welcome.


What is it about flags that make people whip them out at a moment's notice? Why such pride in them - especially at the most inappropriate moments?

This afternoon the world watched as US marines pulled down a massive statue of Saddam in the middle of Baghdad.

Cheered on by hundreds of Iraqis, they swung a noose around the giant neck of the colossus and prepared to heave it off - an astonishing, empowering symbolic moment of Iraqi freedom. A truly historic moment indeed, and one I won't forget for a long time.

But then came a moment more sickening than any other in this war. The marines unfurled their star-spangled banner and placed it over Saddam's head, like the hood of a condemned man.

Pardon my freespeak, but how fucking arrogant?

The Iraqis gathered around the marines gasped and booed. The diplomat being interviewed on News 24 - himself a native of Baghdad - spoke of his disgust and humiliation. The British forces spokesman said it was certainly inappropriate. And my stomach just turned.

Fortunately someone in the chain of command saw sense before the task was completed and the stars and stripes were taken down within a couple of minutes. After much tugging - and a brief appearance by an Iraqi flag around Saddam's neck - the statue eventually fell, unclad with colours of any nation. But the fact the episode with the US flag happened at all still speaks volumes about the attitude of many towards the war.

Yes it was a great move the marines were taking, but it should have been in the name of the Iraqi people, not the US military. This war has (hopefully) been about restoring the rights of a downtrodden people, not reasserting America's might.

I love visiting the US, I hold a good number of its citizens very dear, and I enjoy many of its contributions to world culture. So you could consider me a fan of the place - I certainly do.

But until a great many people learn that America is only one part of a wonderfully diverse world, and the country's establishment stops acting like it owns the place, it will continue to be a focus for the kind of hatred and resentment that led to 11 September 2001. And today showed just how far they haven't come in the last 18 months.


I promised to elaborate on the thought-provoking conversation I had in the pub with a colleague on Friday, and so I will.

Towards the end of our marathon sesh, talk inevitably turned to war and Karen, a wee slip of a thing, revealed she'd once been in the Territorial Army, and would die for her country if needed. I, however, said that apart from the safety of my own family, I couldn't think of a single cause I'd be willing to die for. Indeed, I can't think of a cause that would be furthered by my death. While I respect those who are willing to, and don't fear death, I believe it's negative and futile, and much more can be accomplished by staying alive.

"Ah, " said Karen, "but being a Christian I know I've got something to look forward to, it's just the beginning. But for you, being an atheist, death is the end."

And all I could think was how strange it was that a faith which stresses what a wondrous gift life is - despite the bonus round of heaven - how strange it is that people are quite so willing to give away that gift. Because despite the great foundations people have laid for such a decision I can't help but see it as bizarre, and just a little bit sad.

Anyway, here in the narrowband, confusing Mac hell that is South Wales, it's time for (irony of ironies) Christmas dinner. But that's another story.


"Shut up. I'm broadcasting!"
The American-led operation to liberate Iraqi fish has come to John Simpson's personal barrel. The BBC's World Affairs Editor was travelling with a convoy of US special forces and Kurdish fighters in the north of the country when they came under attack from American aircraft.

Although John was only slightly injured, and on air (RealMedia clip) minutes after the attack, a number of Americans and Kurds with him were not so lucky, initial reports suggesting that 10 people had been killed by the "friendly fire" incident. With this attack on its own special forces, the USAF is quickly developing a reputation as the country's Special Needs forces.

Thing is, I can't say I'm surprised. Just a couple of days ago I was listening to John on one of our audio traffic channels used to route reporters in the field through to studios. He was waiting to do a live question and answer session (or two-way, as we call them) with Radio Five Live from his position in northern Iraq. He was clearly quite nervous and wanting to get on with the report, as he said there was bombing going on around him, and that either planes or missiles (he wasn't clear) tended to gravitate towards mobile phone signals. Nobody - neither Helen operating the line, nor Simon Mayo doing the interview - seemed to appreciate his predicament. Doubtless they'll do so from now on.

This war "to disarm Saddam" (of all those weapons of mass destruction they've found) has already seen several journalists die, and we've just got to hope that all the BBC people come home safe. A valued and respected cameraman has already been lost, and I fear he may not be the last. This, of course, on top of the thousands of Iraqi civilians to have lost their lives.

Damn that Texan redneck sub-human piece of shit. If I'm wrong and there is a hell, I hope he burns in it.


The Crazy World of Television Centre (an occasional series)
It's a gloriously sunny spring afternoon, and some of London's millions have taken advantage of the weather to hang out and soak up the rays with us in White City.

Eclectic bunch they are too. Across the road are thirty people, give or take, yelling allegations of pro-US biased reporting and lie-telling by the Corporation's news team. Or at least that's what it sounded like, despite the lousy loudhailer technique employed by various shouty individuals. The three police officers overseeing the demo didn't seem too concerned.

Far more vocal were the alarming scenes on our side of the road - a throng of teenage girls reaching through the bars for autographs from Busted or some similarly talentless target market fodder, trying to catch a glimpse or snatch of fumble of these all-too-common creatures. Not unlike a zoo, considering. Except I'm not too sure who was exploting whose imprisonment.

We thought about dispersing the crowds by calling on our favourite new weapon - one that caused much amusement in the newsroom - but hell, it's sweet when people take such an interest in your work.


Seven hours in the pub with colleagues after work when I have to be up and at 'em six from now?

Propably not a good idea. Definitely too much basmati rice in that pan of water on the stove right now.

Ho hum! Fun all the same. Gave me plenty to think about. Might expand tomorrow. Sweet dreams! :)


Okay, so I changed the name. Apologies for any distress this causes, but there is a good reason for rebranding.

Why the new name? Principally because it's a clever one I thought up years ago, and I have absolutely no idea why I opted for Mutterings in the first place.

Nota Benny works on two levels, the first being the Latin one, natch, and the second being that with a few notable exceptions, I am not a Benny. Those of you who can get away with it know who you are, and I have absolutely no desire for you to stop. For the rest, though, it's virtually any other derivation of Benjamin, but definitely not a Benny.


Oh, please yourselves...

Not that I still have hang-ups about old Crossroads characters. Just because other children found reason for comparison to another unique person who spoke a little slower than the rest. The years of taunting haven't haunted me. Oh no... *sniff*
1984 and all that
"And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'" - George Orwell, 1984

Well, thank goodness Orwell's nightmare vision never came true.

Um, except did anyone else notice the following snippet in a speech by our esteemed Home Secretary David Blunkett this morning?

"For the first time in our history we not only have thousands of journalists with our troops, but we have broadcast media behind what we would describe as enemy lines, reporting blow by blow what is happening. We have it reported, by UK media on occasions, as though there were moral equivalents, when there are not. Those of a progressive, or liberal bent, in my view, egged on into believing that this is the right way to get to the true facts. Well it's hard to give true facts if reporters of Al Jazeera are linked into Iraq, and only there because they are provided with facilities and support from the regime."

Or in other words:

People of the world, only one side of the story should be reported. Only the coalition's account is tenable. Everyone else is lying. How do we know? Because we say so. Forget what you may have been told about balanced reporting - it's just a dilution of the truth. Big Brother is watching you.

Now I've been worried for some time about Blunkett's penchant for anti-libertarian policies and proclamations, but this seems to cast him in a harsher light than ever before. I had hoped the UK was above the kind of bias that has had American media desperately trying to avoid allegations of being unpatriotic, but with this kind of thing coming from such a senior member of government, that's apparently not so. Such a blatant denial of the media's right to report opposing views makes our government guilty of just the same kind of disinformation and propaganda as they themselves cite in their demonisation of Saddam.

Quite apart from this, by actively distancing himself from people of a "progressive or liberal bent" Blunkett freely invites the inference that he wants to be thought of as static - maybe even regressive - and conservative.

And this from one of the leading contenders for the top job in the event of Blair stepping down. At least Mr Tony tries to portray himself as having a modicum of compassion and a willingness to argue his point of view in open debate.

No such thing from Blunkett. Time spent arguing his case would just get in the way of passing draconian legislation undermining the fundamental legal principles that all people - no matter what their past contains - have the right to a fair, unprejudiced trial, and are innocent until proven guilty. And of course, if you're an asylum seeker, then don't expect Blunkett's Britain to welcome you with open arms. Don't expect anything except suspicion and intolerance. And you should be grateful for that.

This probably doesn't count for anything, and I don't want to be seen as bigoted against people with disabilities, but Blunkett's blindness only serves to amplify my distrust of him. With all other politicians, whatever their lips might say, one always has the second opinion of the story told by their eyes. Not so with Blunkett, and that makes me uncomfortable.

Balir's government is becoming increasingly controlling and restrictive in response to people growing more cynical about it, and Blunkett is among the worst perpetrators.

Where's the opposition - any kind of strong opposition - when we need it?


So I'm in the office chatting to The Woman about this and that, and she brings the conversation round to good hair/bad hair, whether men can tell the difference, and if I'd noticed that she was having a good hair day. Indeed, I tell her, entirely truthfully. She then goes on to tell me what she does with her hair at night, and develops this into what she wears to bed. Pyjamas, usually, and offers a description of various sets, asking whether I can picture her in them. I have to admit to her that I'm trying not to, it would compromise our professional relationship (omitting that I'd like to see said 'jamas and can I have a go at shagging her bandy). The Woman grins. Of course sometimes, she adds, it's too hot for pyjamas and she has to wear nothing. Very awkward moment. Not sure how to respond. Think about the war. Feel taunted.

Not that this matters, of course. I've decided this has been going on long enough, along with the two other girls at work. Time to do what I do best and smother the problem - the feelings, not the people.

Attraction dies pretty quickly if you cut off its oxygen of attention. I've done it plenty before, and while I usually don't even let people under my defences, I have done on this occasion, foolishly enough. I know I'm always happier if I don't want someone I can't have, and that's the way it's got to be. Nothing's beyond the power of the mind. Much easier not to find people attractive and be their friend. It might mean I feel lonely occasionally, but it's always been a price worth paying. Anyway, I've got family and friends. But you don't get hurt if you're not in the game, and that's the bottom line.

So hopefully you won't be hearing about Elf, Fencer and The Woman too much in future.