Walking into work this afternoon I passed, as I always do, the Skiddaw pub, something of an old man's hang-out not two minutes from my front door. In recent weeks the Skid's been clad in scaffolding and surrounded by builders. Naturally, this being about half past one, a couple of labourers were taking some time out, propping up a bit of wall unobscured by their metal poles.

And as I ambled past, one of them looked me in the eye, smirked, and said, "Fatty!"

His friend found it hilarious.

I just carried on walking.

I could have nonchalantly replied with "Idiot". Alternatively I could have stopped and asked the smug, bigoted, moronic, and likely pencil-dicked arsehole exactly what gave him the right to comment on passers-by and whether I had the right to reply with a more lengthy critique. This could perhaps have included mentioning that if, as was likely, he conformed to the stereotype of the manual labourer his cholesterol and carbohydrate-laden eating, drinking and smoking habits would probably see him undergoing a heart bypass in his late forties or early fifties. At that point he might feel he could have used his life in better ways than the persecution of innocents.

Or, despite not being the size he thought I was, I could have put my nevertheless considerable heft into perpetrating the acts of extreme and savage violence that flashed through my mind. The bigger they are, the harder they fall on you.

But fortunately, I just carried on walking.

It's something I've had to deal with on a sporadic basis throughout my life, and while it still hurts a little, I know that despite being overweight, I'm hardly a major league fatty. Something of a Halifax Town, in fact.

I'm much more depressed and angry about the people who feel entitled to get their kicks by hurling uninvited abuse at perfect strangers. Why do they do it? What makes them think they have the right to belittle people who could well be trying to deal with the matter for which they're being berated? Do they consider the possible effect their words may have? And is it only done to help them feel better about themselves?

Body fascism is not on a level with racisim, sexism or homophobia, but it is an unacceptable and unjust form of prejudice all the same.

And it takes every ounce of my self control to stop myself from taking these bastards on for all those who they have ridiculed for the sake of a cheap laugh.

The funny thing is that rather than making me want to lose a bit of weight, their words make me more resistant to the overwhelming culture of being thin and beautiful. I conform for nobody, especially not ignorant, abusive fuckwits on London street corners. So if you've got a problem with the way I look in your perfect world, well fuck you, and pass me a Mars Bar.


You can't have helped noticing that Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the former Iraqi Information Minister, has finally tethered the dogs of war and resurfaced to be greeted by a jubilant Baghdad press corps.

But with his former employer currently on gardening leave, the man known as Comical Ali finds himself between projects. Mr Sahhaf says he plans to publish a kiss and tell book on his time with Saddam, but until then, how does he plan to fill his days?

For yet another Nota Benny exclusive, we've gone back to our source in Baghdad, and acquired a letter from Little Mo that gives a clue as to what he hopes to do next:

Dear President George W Bush,

It has come to my attention that the post of White House Press Secretary will shortly become vacant. I am hereby tendering my application in the hope that you may consider me for the role.

As someone who has had to perform a similar function for another sovereign nation, I am well acquainted with the duties the post will entail. Indeed, I believe you are familiar with my recent work in Baghdad, and very much appreciate the public plaudits you afforded me, while other members of our respective administrations and their citizens were taking part in a full and frank exchange of views.

I believe, therefore, that I can bring several lessons learned in my most recent position in succeeding Ari Fleischer as the public face of the White House.

Obviously, the most important aspect of the job will be the ease with which I am able to communicate the administration's thoughts, opinions and policies to the news media with conviction. It is widely known in this profession that these messages may occasionally include aspects of creative interpretation of the facts, be adventurously progressive when dealing with wider international opinion and domestic law, or require the messenger to disregard their personal philosophy. You will agree, I am certain, that my evident accomplishment in this field will allow me to transfer seamlessly from my old post into the new one.

Through my work and studies I have been fortunate enough to develop a highly proficient and colourful command of the English language. Enclosed is a transcript of some of the more memorable moments from my recent press briefings. I will, of course, always be on hand to assist you in becoming ever more articulate and eloquent.

My relationship with the world press, as demonstrated in recent months, is very amiable, and I would relish the badinage with the White House press corps that is clearly such an important element of the job.

I also possess a great personal knowledge of the geography of the Middle East - an area which, I understand from my contacts, will continue to dominate the news agenda over the coming months and years. Although it would not necessarily be directly relevant to my appointed role, I would be happy to act as a special advisor on issues pertaining to the region.

And finally, the similarity in the name of the incumbent - Ari - and my nickname - Ali - means I could slip into the post without the uncomfortable name-learning period that accompanies every new appointment.

So it is my belief that my skills and experience to date have been excellent preparation for this role, and I would cherish the opportunity to work with the team that has so successfully communicated its vision to the rest of the world.

It is only common sense, then, that we build on the serendipitous nature of the situation we currently find ourselves in, and use it to build a formidable partnership. I look forward very much to working with you.

Yours sincerely,

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf

P.S. Please forgive me calling you, among other things, an insane little dwarf. I hope you understand that it was merely proof of my professional dedication to the role I was then performing, and hope it will not impede my application.


Sometimes I just look at the US and wonder how it got into the position it occupies today.

It's been fairly widely reported that the US Supreme Court has overturned a Texan ban on sexual intercourse between two consenting adult men.

I beg your pardon? They had to do what? In the 21st century?

Although this ruling is A Good Thing, the fact that it was banned in the first place came as news to me - and I'm sure I'm not alone.

While it was always understood that the Bible Belt would look unfavourably on gay relationships, I never thought that such antiquated, bigoted legislation would be tolerated even in the most pious of states. But apparently restriction of "crimes against nature" has a very big following in certain parts of the land of the free.

Hands up all those who, before today, knew that gay sex was illegal in Texas. Or that more than a quarter of the states even see fellatio as felonious. And a few more have only become more tolerant in recent years. Like this piece said in 1998, "Go down on your date in Michigan and you could spend 15 years up the river."

Nine states ban buggering and blowjobs for everyone: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia. Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and, until today, Texas, punish only gays. (At the risk of stereotyping the southern states, how happy am I to see Georgia missing from that list.) I'm not sure whether this distinction between straight and gay sodomy makes The Gang Of Four more or less enlightened than the other nine - or whether they're all just as
bad as each other.

But fortunately, it seems that very few of the states actively enforce the laws, and today's ruling will hopefully lead to the universal repeal of such legislation. There shouldn't be much fuss - if they ain't using 'em, why do they need 'em?

I realise that the separation of federal and state legislature is very important to many Americans, but sometimes the less enlightened need showing the way. And yes, I know that's imposing my own set of morals on others, and makes me open to allegations of being a hypocrite.

However this ruling only serves to liberate a large group of people, and for me that's a big difference. While I don't see myself as taking advantage of the change in the law, I'll happily fight for those who want to. And although I disagree with the bigots to the point of fury, I'll not see their right to hold different beliefs extinguished, just their ability to oppress other human beings.

What Cowboy George will make of this move by the people who put him in power is hard to tell. But if the Supreme Court carries on like this, then one day they may just start making up for making themselves the only nine voters who got a say in the 2000 election.


Thought for the Day
Isn't it peculiar how American dates consistently follow the month, day format, except for the fourth of July...


This week I are been mostly...
1. Going deaf in my right ear, causing debilitating tinnitus which brought dizziness and nausea with it. Which made it impossible to concentrate. Thus difficult to blog. Hence the silence.

2. Reading Sick Puppy. To those who are virgin territory for Carl Hiaasen's way with words, I recommend an immediate deflowering.

3. Bemused by matrimonial courtesy.

4. Having dinner with Harriet Midgley, a good friend when I was eight years old, but who I've not seen or spoken to since leaving Plymouth. I recently discovered she was also in the employ of the Corporation. Given how much we've both experienced and grown in the past 23 years, plus the deafness, it's amazing how awkward it wasn't. It's probably too early to tell, but we could be friends again.

5. Feeling messy.

6. Browsing Atlanta's sporting calendar for late September and early October.

7. Not drinking. See 1. I was having enough trouble staying upright without the added complication of alcohol.

8. Being overcharged for merchandise. The idea of a Blogger-branded t-shirt appealed to me, especially at the knockdown price of $9. I was even willing to pay the extra dollar fifty to get an XXL shirt, and suspected they'd tack on a few bucks more for international shipping. But quite how Google Shop arrived at a total of $85.78, I'm not sure. Needless to say, the allure of the t-shirt quickly faded.

9. Marvelling at Rob McElwee's brilliantly enigmatic weather forecasts.

Oh, and for those who missed it, Homer held on for the win.


Homer Simpson looks set to win a BBC poll for Greatest American Ever by something of a landslide. With just three days left to go, at time of writing Homer leads the voting with a score of about 47%, with Abe Lincoln and Martin Luther King coming in at two and three respectively, yet only managing less than 10% of the vote. Further down the list, George Washington trails Bob Dylan, with Bill Clinton, of all people, taking the wooden spoon. Fourth place belongs to Mr T.

It's all part of an international broadcasting project to find out what the world really thinks of America.
Personally, I like it. I respect its history (bar the war on the indigenous people and its instigation of the Cold War). I enjoy its contribution to world culture (bar Mortal Thoughts). I've got over the War of Independence. That was a very long time ago. People move on. The problem is that the place just has some wankers running it at the moment.

So I'm not sure how to take these results. Obviously the dear old yellow buffoon is deserving of our affection, but even for the online community to put him so far ahead of people like Thomas Jefferson, King, Washington, and Lincoln, you've got to think there's something slightly awry. The aforementioned were all truly great men, who did much to change the world in which they lived and shape what is arguably a great nation, despite its many imperfections. But they did more than say "D'oh!" and make the occasional accidentally sage observation. This is like us calling Benny Hill the greatest Englishman of all time. And what about Matt Groening? Or Dan Castellaneta? Without them, Homer wouldn't be half of what he is today. Or any of it, even. Why aren't they in the poll?

Oh, it's too late to make any more of this.

There's one thing to be grateful for, I suppose - at least Little Bush didn't make the shortlist.


Teatime story
Second despatch of the day, but I just thought this item from the BBC Belfast newsroom ought to be shared with a slightly wider audience. Bear with us, and you'll get tea and biscuits at the end.

Carrickfergus Council has written to every council in the UK asking for its support for an inquiry into the death of Royal Irish Regiment soldier Paul Cochrane, who shot himself at Drumard Barracks in Armagh after complaining about suffering abuse.

On behalf of Peterborough Council, its Conservative leader Neville Sanders returned the letter scribbing a message which stated that "members of the armed forces do get killed, be it by accident or design, that is what they are paid for".

The Belfast Telegraph says Mr Sanders told them he was fed up paying taxes to cover for the lazy Irish, he did not know where - in his words - poxy Carrickfergus was, and he was annoyed at the council there for wasting his time. Mr Sanders engaged in a great more invective about NI.

His remarks have clearly embarrassed Conservative Central Office - the Tories' Northern Ireland spokesman Quentin Davies said the comments attributed to Mr Sanders were revolting and would be rejected with disgust by every thinking Conservative.

It's a very, erm, original way of resigning. Nice to see The Quiet Man's policies of social inclusion are really getting through to the Conservative Party's grass roots.

Oh, and this is the website that everyone's talking about...
God, I hate football. Especially international football. Especially qualifiers. They're just too painful.

Why do I put myself through the torture of events like last night? Frankly, we sucked, at least in the first half. Having David James in goal never helps. What a liability. And having a donkey running the line and disallowing good goals like Lampard's does us no favours either.

But still it seems the better-placed they are and the less significant the opposition, the worse England want to play. Sure we can take on the genius of Latin America or the traditional superpowers of Europe, but throw us an eastern European minnow and it all goes to pot. Maybe the likes of Slovakia see playing us as the chance to topple a giant. Imbeciles. Okay, we won eventually, but we had to do it the hard way.

No wonder we bloody drink...


Does this mean I get to die a painful death at the hands of a supposed friend?

You are Tank-
You are Tank, from "The Matrix." Loyal
till the end, you spare no expense in ensuring
the well-being of others.

What Matrix Persona Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

One of the better and more accurate Quizilla quizzes I've tried. Thanks to Sam for the heads up.

Actually, despite the fact that he's not in The Matrix Reloaded, it turns out Tank didn't die as a result of Cypher's treachery and was due to appear in the sequels. But this website sheds light on a bitter feud in the production of the movies that I'd not heard before. How petty is Hollywood...


The UK's Muslim community is upset about tonight's episode of BBC One's spy drama Spooks, the plot of which centres around a Birmingham mosque's attempts to run a fundamentalist terror campaign on British soil. As well as spokesmen for Muslim organisations doing the rounds talking about an unfair, imbalanced portrayal of their faith, the message boards on the show's own website have also attracted a vocal element accusing the BBC of trying to incite racial hatred.

If reports that Birmingham Central Mosque has been defaced with graffiti reading "bombers" are true, then that's deeply objectionable, an insult to the millions of law-abiding Muslims in the country, and gives both the local community and the country as a whole a great deal of cause for concern.

However, in demanding that the BBC pull the episode in question, I still can't help feeling some parts of the community are being just a little over-sensitive and unreasonable. Here we have a high-quality drama series, lauded for its tension and production values, which attempts to show all the possible threats to British security. In past episodes, the MI5 team have had to counter the dangers posed by dissident Irish republicans, Serbian warlords, murderous white supremacists, militant pro-lifers, and an al-Qaeda cell, so it's not like British Muslims are being singled out.

In order to be successful, a contemporary thriller has to be sufficiently grounded in reality to allow the audience to suspend its disbelief, while being careful not to stretch its credibility, and the threat from fundamentalist terrorists is one that the world currently has to cope with. American television is awash with it. Not only has Jack Bauer just thwarted a plot to nuke LA in 24 (we've only reached 11pm here in the UK, so no spoilers please folks) but even the sage heads in the Venerable Jed Bartlett's administration are making hawkish noises about the Middle East.

If the world situation means that Britain has to face a few uncomfortable home truths, so be it. The storyline in Spooks isn't claiming that all Muslims are bad, any more than its plot about pro-lifers claimed all Christians believed salvation lay in Semtex - indeed in tonight's episode an Algerian agent provides MI5 with the information that allows them to get their man. The show should not be seen as a rallying cry to be wary of the greater Muslim population, and especially not an excuse to run hate campaigns against them, an outcome which would only serve to divide the country, and make the minor possibility of terrorism more likely. But nor should we allow the passions aroused by discussion of religion to cloud our sight of possible threats to the UK and its people.

With incidents such as April's Tel Aviv suicide bombing, British prisoners at Camp X-Ray, shoe bomber Richard Reid, and the allegations against certain elements at the Finsbury Park mosque, it's clear that more young British Muslim men are becoming active in supporting the movements more traditionally associated with Islamic countries. With Tony Blair having angered a whole lot of people with his senseless war on Iraq, it's therefore not impossible that some day a militant group or a lone fanatic may conduct a violent act on the British mainland, however unlikely or frightening that eventuality may be.

None of this means, of course, that the debate over the episode in question can not be a good and useful thing. Discussion of the issues at stake allow all sides to state facts and dispel myths - something principally of use to the Muslim community, who still struggle to be accepted in some areas of the country. If they can use the argument to develop understanding and acceptance among the wider population, then I'm with them all the way.

One could argue that the BBC's use of a sensationalist storyline was trivialising a serious issue for ratings-grabbing hokum that risks inciting racial hatred - and there's probably a certain amount of truth in that. Even so, once we stop confronting possibilities in our popular media, we become less aware of them and, by logical conclusion, possibly more prone. At the risk of sounding like Blair, this kind of thing helps the public remain vigilant against the threats we all face.

Edge of Darkness in the 80s probably did more than most to stress the danger posed by nuclear weapons. Who could argue that was not a good thing? Similarly, if the row over this episode of a trivial TV show allows mosques across the country to examine whether their communities are being used for purposes of a less than holy nature, surely that too is something that must be done.


One of the greatest perks of my job is the opportunity to flirt with some of the weather girls who record the bulletins for our Interactive Television service. One can easily and anonymously employ wit, charm, sophistication, an occasional smidge of intrigue, and lashings of shameless flattery from the other end of a telephone line and get the instant gratification of seeing their reactions on camera. The voice can lie, but the eyes never do. It's so much easier than making cack-handed attempts at building real-life relationships.

Speaking of which, things seem to be back on an even keel.

Romantically speaking, The Woman is very much a thing of the past. Her recent troubles have allowed me to bury my previous confusion and focus on our friendship. They've also led to a significant adaptation in the way she acts towards me, which made my job all the more easy. We should be good friends.

The Propositioned is also gradually coming back into line. I can't help but feel that despite us assuring each other we were fine with what happened, she feels like she has to handle me with kid gloves. Asking if I'm okay, she seems to employ a little more concern in her voice than before the party. It's unnecessary, though, cos I still think she's great regardless of the scenario. I'm not about to get hung up on a drunken whim. She should just lean back and enjoy the ride.

I suppose, though, that what I'm missing at the moment is the instant access to a close female friend that I've been so used to throughout my life. I know I'm lucky to have so many women I can think of as close, but either they tend to be hundreds of miles away, or far too busy with their own lives to see that much of me. There's always been a girl who's been a rock for me, and for whom I've been a trusted, privileged confidante in return. And despite the fact that I think of certain people at work as good friends whom I trust, different people's shift patterns are so disparate that I don't believe many colleagues in our line of work can develop a close, lasting bond.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm feeling a little low. Or maybe I'm just different now.

Don't think of this as a wallow though. I'm fine. After all, I've got my weather girls.


"Come to Edinburgh for my stag night," said Alex. This was an invitation from an old chum who'd finally, after much searching and lack of luck, found the love of his life. How could I say no?

It all seemed so civilised in the afternoon, a dozen of us chaps driving up country for a couple of hours shooting clays. Granted, it was nothing I'd done before but, after overcoming initial nerves and a bad start, I managed to hit slightly fewer than half the targets. Not championship quality, but not too embarrassing either. And despite not being your regular shootin' type, I got something of a kick from the whole event.

Suddenly I saw the allure of the shotgun. Upon leaving the site, everything - moving or stationary - became a target, or could have done had I still been in possession of a gun. And far from softening my stance on gun control, it's probably strengthened it. Live ammunition is intoxicating, and that's as strong an argument for cracking down on gun ownership as I've heard. But by gum, that buzz...

Naturally, having not been allowed to be under the influence while using weaponry, upon our return to Leith we felt we had some catching up to do. After several beers and double Aftershocks (my goodness, what were we thinking? That drink surely has to be the most foul, evil concoction ever devised), we headed off to the esteemed Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a tasting and dinner. This was the top of a very slippery slope.

The poor lady who took the tasting in our private room should have sensed something bad in the air as she battled the heckling and questions in her effort to teach us about several fine whiskies. Despite the fact that a few including myself were eager to learn, the majority - shamefully - had no taste and no time for the water of life. And when Suzie finally reached the end of her presentation and left us alone, all hope was lost.

The groom could not remember anything after the first bite of his starter, including giving his pudding a rather unpalatable side order. The stripper, unsurprisingly, was not allowed into the society's rooms, collecting her fee in the car park without having to work for it, presumably having grounds to accuse the Best Man of breach of contract. The bar stopped serving us well before we'd drunk our allotted amount of booze.

And most fortunately and unfortunately by turn, the bills were thankfully paid before someone, either by mistake or by design, removed a holding clip or two from the table's underside, causing half of it to collapse, sending heaven knows how much glass and crockery smashing to the ground, and strewing bottles of red wine across the plush carpet. With the society having shown extreme restraint and good nature in allowing us to stay after the groom's unorthodox reaction to the chocolate pudding, our desecration of their tasting room was too much to take, and we quickly understood that our presence was no longer required.

And there I must draw a veil across the rest of the evening, for your own protection as much as that of some of those present...

I've not been on too many stag nights in my time, but I like to think that they've all been memorable, if not unique. For instance, there was Joseph's, which started with pitched warfare and ended up with me and the groom feeling the love (it was a harmless kiss as a favour for a very old friend). Then came Dunc's, which maybe he didn't enjoy so much, but there's no doubt about how good a time his bride had.

Excellent, unforgettable nights both but they do, I confess, feel somewhat muted when compared with the carnage of last weekend in Edinburgh.

But golly, we had fun.

Epilogue: Within 48 hours, the Best Man had had his membership of the Whisky Society revoked. I don't believe he'll be appealing this decision.


And so concludes an excellent weekend of expensive but definitely very manly pursuits. More when a) I don't have to sleep and b) I've figured out which bits are safe to share.