There's no holiday, there's no election, and the war in Iraq is over (theoretically).

But walking along seven blocks of a residential street in Hoboken, New Jersey (birthplace of Frank and my vantage point for attacking NYC), I counted 23 unique properties displaying the stars and stripes (excluding commerical premises and cars). Some of them weren't just flags either, the house-owners building ornate shrines to the American standard.

Another interesting observation is that they seldom seem to be one-offs, and the star-spangled banner appears in clusters, a kind of super-patriotic keeping up with the Joneses.

And it struck me that as hotbeds of nationalism go, Hoboken probably isn't anywhere near the top of the list, compared to say, Stupidsburg, Minnesota.

So what this unassuming little English boy is really saying is: huh? What gives?

I suppose it's just one of those things that emphasises that for all their similarities, how different the UK and the US really are.

New York makes me smile, though, and I've got a date with a big, bronze lady.

(Atlanta: T minus one)


It's too late to do anything about it now, but having a final look through my flight itinerary, I noticed that Continental Airlines, cheapskates that they are, now charge for in-flight alcohol on international flights.

This is disgraceful! It's an infringement of my rights. When I fly I expect at least two hefty complimentary gin and tonics. But these buggers expect me to pay. That's just rude. Considering the price of an airline ticket, would the couple of quid it would cost them to mix me a couple of drinks really set them back that much?

Anyway, I'll post when I can, but in the meantime, here's a little something to keep you entertained:

The David Blaine Assassination Game (worth it for the lengthy death scene)

See you on the other side...


Top 12 North American experiences to date (in no particular order)

* First time up the Empire State (New York, 1996)

* Walking round the Stanley Park sea wall - glorious sunshine, beautiful mountains - on the phone to mum and dad getting ready for bed at home in Wales (Vancouver 2002)

* Jen and Dunc's wedding - despite that damn yellerjacket (Clayton, GA, 2002)

* Catching a 20-yard touchdown pass in the end zone at Texas Stadium (Dallas, 2002)

* Fuddruckers - never have hamburgers held such an air of wonderment (Miami, 1987)

* Hunting for giant maple leaves with Frances, Morgan, Polly, and a killer hangover (Seattle, 2002)

* My first hockey match (Vancouver, 2002)

* Michelle and Arthur's wedding reception - and, uh, afterwards... (New Jersey, 1996)

* Seeing Dan Marino in the flesh - and almost hyperventilating (New York, 2002)

* Dunc's stag night (Atlanta, 2002)

* Going down to the Keys - papaya milkshake and glass-bottomed boats (Miami, 1987)

* Watching U-Dub's Huskies beat Stanford (Seattle, 1996)

NYC: T minus two days
Atlanta: T minus five days


Hmm. Missed out on meeting a blog legend today. Discovered - too late - that "Salam Pax", the author of the Baghdad Blog, was in the office for an interactive forum. Had I known, I'd have introduced myself as a fellow blogger and tried to get a scoop or a word for Nota Benny.

Instead I'll just have to offer the opportunity to test your Arsehole Quotient.

I scored 24. Apparently this means I have quite strong twattish tendencies, and am likely to behave like a complete arsehole on occasions.

I'll let you make your own judgement on how accurate that makes it.


It's still more than a year until the next US election, yet I couldn't help feeling a little surge of hope upon hearing that General Wesley Clark was putting himself forward for the Democratic nomination.

Although I've no more to go on than a gut feeling, his opening rally and a handful of profiles, his opposition to the war in Iraq, apparently liberal stances on gun control, social inclusion, abortion, taxes, and other issues, all make him appealing.

Plus he's the one credible Democratic candidate I've seen who appears to have that extra electable something. It's a long road ahead and much though it galls me to put such faith in a career soldier, I'm hoping that Jefferson's old boys are finally beginning to get a clue about what it might take to get Junior out of the White House.

But then what do I know? I voted for Blair. Twice.


NYC: T minus seven days.
Atlanta: T minus 10 days.

Feeling almost tangibly excited. Must calm down or I'll never make it onto the plane.


Peculiar weekend. Always knew the Sunday was going to be strange, but didn't bank on rolling a score of 116 at Hugh's birthday party (three strikes, couple of spares, my first ever three figure performance).

Then came the realisation on Saturday night that everyone in London seems to know immediately to whom the phrase "Twat-in-a-box" refers, regardless of whether they've heard it before, even if used outside the context of the aforementioned Tosser of Tower Bridge. And judging by our cab ride of the other evening, if the ultimate objective of his exercise is to further screw up road traffic in east London, he's succeeding brilliantly.

Finally, Sunday, and a family thing the likes of which our clan has never seen before.

Earlier this year Graham Godfrey died, quite suddenly. Graham was the husband of Pattie, my mother and Aunt Juliet's cousin, and she herself has been in the grip of Alzheimer's for several years. All this was news to mum and Jui, but especially Pattie's condition. It seemed to bring mortality into focus, so Jui decided to do what she does best: throw a party.

Essentially she and mum thought it would be a good idea to bring together all those descended from their maternal grandparents (William Richard Lander and Mary Eleanor Ridley) while they still could.

William and Mary had seven children. Diddy, Emily, Jack, Eleanor (my gran-gran, who died when I was four), Dick, Lena, and Cubby (the baby of the bunch, and the great family tragedy: a Wing Commander in the RAF, he was ambushed and killed in Burma shortly before the end of World War II).

They, in turn, had seven between them, including my mum and her sister. The next generation saw 12, including myself, and so far another nine have come from them to continue the family line.

Despite William and Mary's children now having passed on, their descendants - or the majority of them - gathered at Jui's house for a grand reunification of the blood line.

Never having met approximately 80% of these people, and not being at my best with strangers, especially when there are great expectations of kinship, I felt a little overwhelmed. For a journalist, feeling uncomfortable about speaking to new people in social conditions is probably a significant flaw.

It perhaps says a lot about the occasion that apart from immediate family and my mum's cousin Brian, whom I'd met a couple of times before, the easiest encounter was with a 10-year-old called Jackson as we bonded over a game of Marvel Super Heroes Top Trumps, disagreeing with various attribute scores and trading titbits of character information.

So I don't think I made the best of the occasion, although I think it did the trick for mum and Jui, and helped all of us see where we fit into the family tree.

My extended family seems to be made up of good people and I do hope that I get to meet most of them again - just maybe not all at the same time.


Getting home from work this evening was decidedly difficult. The police appear to have locked down a large swathe of the neighbourhood, including my regular route back from the tube station. Traffic diversions, circling choppers and tons of coppers - they've got the lot.

The reason for this is, at present, a mystery. Police in London are a notoriously tight-lipped bunch, even - or possibly especially - when you flash them your press card.

However, my source (unreliable though it may be) insists the blame can be taken by a naked madman with a knife dancing on the roof of the local bank.

Rumours of David Blaine's escape from his box are, as yet, unsubstantiated.

More as we get it...


People who know me will appreciate that religion and I rarely see eye to eye.

I used to be happily agnostic, but now proudly rank myself among the godless. Maybe it's down to the six years I spent working for BBC Religion and the somewhat unpalatable nature of my departure. Like so many good Catholic schoolgirls before me, familiarity bred contempt, and I needed to rebel. But rather than that atheism's probably just what makes sense to me. Whatever the reason, all I know is that this is my one shot at the universe.

Sure, folks can believe what they want - an individual's personal faith is none of my business, and I have no right to expect them to agree with me on the world's rights or wrongs. Yes, the majority of ancient scriptures have a great many things to teach humankind, but I don't believe any single one to have all the answers. I'm more than happy to co-exist with a whole world of faiths, just as long as they let me get on with writing my own moral code.

My problems start when religions cross that line I've drawn in the sand. Almost always the fault of large gatherings or ceremonies rather than individuals, the more a particular doctrine is shoved down my throat - or even the throats of other unwilling people - the harder I find it to stomach. For example, the fact that BBC2 gave the best part of a day's broadcasting over to the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this year had me almost apoplectic with outrage.

So when Sam suggested I try the Belief-o-matic quiz(Catholic, Quaker, Hindu, Protestant, Scientologist, Muslim, Neo-Pagan - guaranteed to choose you the right religious pigeonhole or your karma back), I was surprised to find that rather than condemning me to eternity in limbo, it suggested I was a perfect, top-scoring, 100% bona fide candidate for the Unitarian Universalist movement.

Naturally a little shocked to find myself prime fodder for any religious organisation, it was only when I did a little more digging that I found that this needn't be seen as a challenge to my identity.

It seems UUs allow their members plenty of wriggle room when it comes to the topic of tenets:

Want to believe in God? Cool! We can dig that. And you needn't stop at one - the more the merrier. In fact Barry over there has wanted to get rid of his for a while. Hey, if he wants to hang out with us, who are we to insist he believes in a higher power? Come one, come all.

What about the origins of life? What with the creation and the science, it certainly gives us a lot to talk about. Who really believes that Adam and Eve stuff anyway? You do? Yeah, well, once you put it that way, who am I to argue?

And how about this Jesus thing? Yeah, we're not sure either. Tomayto, tomato - it's all good. Maybe you can sort it out in your next life - if you want one that is.

And so on. All in all, they have the appearance of being a pretty inclusive bunch - not so much a concerted movement as a relaxed gesture.

Still, I don't think I'll be joining them all the same. Fortunately I'm also a pretty damn near perfect secular humanist. And despite the many wretched things that we've done to this world, people's all I want to believe in.

It's just a question of faith.


The President wants you to know he's thinking of you:

"Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand [in Iraq], and there they must be defeated. "

Couldn't agree more, George... but must you really refer to your administration in the third person?

"Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat. "

And if that ain't a big old danger sign for the American public about current US foreign policy, well... they'll re-elect you.


So farewell then, Joe Duirwyn, fine and noble flatmate.

The separation from your daughter finally became too much, and not even the fact that you worked in Keira Knightley's home town could keep you away from darkest Wales.

(Imbecile! You'll kick yourself when she reveals her love of musical roofers in an exclusive interview for Cosmo).

But London's loss is Lampeter's gain. Let's face it - it needs all the help it can get.

It's been a fun and interesting year, to be sure. But now it's over.

No more Tuesday Club (although its heyday went long before you). No more avid viewings of the dodgy movies that creep into the late-night TV schedules, both knowing full well it's past our bedtime. No more self-deprecating confusion about liaisons with lovely ladies. No more diet consisting solely of pizza, easy-cook noodles, ice cream, tortillas and taramasalata. And no more having to put up with the likes of them distracting you from far more important things while walking the streets of west London.

When you moved in, I was really just accommodating another of Thomas's friends. When you moved out, I lost one of my best mates to this metropolitan horror.

I'll miss your music, your liveliness, your language, your constantly evolving hair, and plenty more things I haven't even realised yet.

But I won't miss your feet.

Come back soon and often.

Hawddamor, chyfaill. Dangnefedd, cariad ac noeth arglwyddesau beunydd.


Multiple choice
There are too many stories on starvation in the news. Can you guess which one is getting more coverage than it deserves?

Item A: Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Item B: Ethiopia
Item C: Twat-in-a-box


Watching the Test Match this morning, and thinking about batting, run chases, and the like, I suddenly remembered something that happened to me while I was at school, which not only sums up my sporting ability, but also said much about my place in the social structure of Crossley & Porter.

One summer afternoon in the mid-80s, when I was about 12 or 13, the boys in my year were taken to the school's cricket pitch for a quick limited overs match, something like 10 overs a side. Being the second least sporty boy in my class (the least being Paul Meredith, who suffered from MS, and therefore exempt from most athletic disciplines), I was always going to be picked last. Which is fair enough. I couldn't bat, I couldn't bowl, I couldn't field. Still, one of the teams had to have me.

So our captain, having lost the toss and been put in to bat, decided to get rid of this useless player as quick as he could. Flying in the face of cricketing convention, which dictates one's strongest batsmen take the field first, I was sent out as half the opening pair. My captain's hope was that I'd get myself out in a couple of balls and then a real player could take my place. He just didn't want to risk his best batsmen against a new ball and their best bowlers.

But in a game where the object is to use the limited opportunity to build up as big a score as possible so your bowlers have something to defend, even now I can't see how that was ever supposed to work.

And it didn't.

The other team's bowlers knew that every ball I spent at the crease was a bonus for them. So they just bowled outside my off stump, while I played and missed.

Pretty soon the exasperation of my teammates began to show, and within a very short space of time they were calling on me to throw my wicket away. Obviously, I didn't want to let the team down, and such was the peer pressure, that it even got to the point where I tried hitting the stumps deliberately.

Of course, the PE teacher umpiring the match (I can't remember which: either Mr Fleming, an alcoholic whose thirst eventually killed him in his early fifties; or Mr Teggin, definitely ex-Army and none too bright, who once tried strangling me with my own rugby shirt) knew exactly what was going on, and quite reasonably refused to give me out when I was so blatantly trying to fix the game. Eventually, after eating ever further into our allotted overs, some (un?)lucky bowler on the other team managed to trap me leg before wicket, and I was finally out.

Having wasted so much of our time, though, we ended up scoring far fewer runs than we could have done, and it was little trouble for the other lads to chase our total and win.

Who got the blame? The divot who'd decided to reinvent the rules of cricket despite a century of international play saying otherwise? Nope. The sacrificial lamb that took its time about being slaughtered? Of course.

And that was considered normal.

Just one of the reasons my schooldays were not the best of my life.


Strange but true: when he's speaking English, the Mayor of Paris sounds just like me.

Oh, and am I alone in thinking the late, great Jim Henson would turn in his grave if he knew about this?


Jeremy Paxman is, of course, best known for being one of the most biting, cynical and tenacious journalists on the BBC's books. I would use the word rottweiler or pitbull, but they've both been done to death, and he deserves better than tired old cliches from me.

Paxman's performance with former Home Secretary Michael Howard, when he asked the same question 17 times, is still mentioned in revering tones by young hacks in the newsrooms of Television Centre, marvelling at his determination to get a particularly tricky answer out of a notoriously slippery character (although how many of them heard the story that it was only because he had been asked to fill time is another matter).

What's less well known, however, is his blossoming second career in comedy. Every night, he treats the subscribers to the Newsnight daily e-mail to a gag.

Tonight's is worth sharing:

Finally, among the 1,217 emails in my inbox was the following news of CIA attempts to recruit an assassin. I may have passed it on before, but it's more suitable for repetition than most of them.

After carrying out the relevant background checks and interviews the CIA was left with a shortlist of two men and one woman. Each was approached for the final test by the assessor outside a locked room. First up is one of the men.

The CIA man says: "We must be sure that you can follow orders whatever the circumstances. Inside this room you will find your wife sat on a chair. Kill her."
"You can't be serious," shouts the man. "I could never do that."
"Thank you sir," says the CIA agent. "You're not suitable for this job. Please leave via that doorway."

The second male candidate is more resolute, takes the gun and enters the room. After a long five minutes of silence he walks out shaking his head. "I just couldn't do it - sorry." He too is dismissed.

Finally the agent gives the woman the same instructions, ordering her to kill her husband. The woman enters the room, from which emerge screams, crashes, bangs and groans. Silence eventually falls, the door opens and the woman walks out, wiping the sweat from her brow. "The damn gun was loaded with blanks," she says. "I had to beat him to death with the chair."

Boom, as they say, boom.


Listening to George's Labor Day speech (theoretically an ode to America's workers, but in reality the same old tired lines about loving freedom and hating taxes almost as much as terrorists), it struck me that he's going to keep on and on like Sergeant Pepper on vinyl until someone forces him to change.

Whenever he turns up for a speech in the open air, he wears a large puffa jacket and looks much bigger than usual - presumably it's the bullet-proof vest beneath the jacket that makes the difference. What I find odd is that if he's so worried about being the target of a lone gunman, he makes no effort to protect his head.

Surely any self-respecting assassin would know that a bullet to the body can leave so much to chance, whereas a couple to the noggin - even in George's case - would put Dick Cheney in charge (maybe that's why no one's ever tried taking Junior out - although it says a lot about the VP's profile that I had to think really hard to remember his name).

Of course, I couldn't condone such a course of action. Even with someone as deeply unpleasant as POTUS, I can't bring myself to actively wish harm upon people. Not deadly force at any rate.

But if anyone else out there felt different, well it'd give us poor old journos something new to listen to...
Just for the record, and not at all for the purpose of gloating (much), I thought I'd better mention how much I kicked both Robin's and Joe's arse at pool on Saturday night.

I posted a Nine Ball record of Won 6 Lost 1, and with the exception of one game between myself and Joe where Robin wasn't on hand to officiate on lesser-known rules, all victories were completely fair, skilful and, most importantly, honourable. That just made being the daddy all the more satisfying. In short, I owned them.

Now that I've had my moment of glory, I'm fully prepared to return to form and lose every single game of pool I play from now on.