I think I need help.

If it's possible to fall for a cartoon lesbian fish, well, I just may have.

Yesterday saw me looking after Thomas's de facto little one, Thea, for several hours in the middle of the day. With Finding Nemo having recently opened in Blighty, it seemed the obvious diversionary tactic for entertaining an eight-year-old girl. Sure, she may have seen it already, but that never stopped a kid lapping up repeat viewings of favourite films, most notably Josh with Dumbo, and The herself with... well, just about anything.

It was my first experience of daytime kiddie cinema since my own childhood - and haven't things changed. I'd barely had time to get over the cynical off-peak pricing for children (80% of the adult price - unashamedly preying on the pockets of parents), before the ads had begun - and the predators really sank their teeth in.

Like most adults, I'm accustomed to the familiar mix of half a dozen or so commercials for booze, cars, mobile phones and the like, which serve as a brief but useful window of opportunity for latecomers to get settled in before the trailers.

Kids, on the other hand, get the real hard sell. I swear we must have sat through a solid 20 minutes of appeals for our cash, including various toys, videos, console games, at least two kinds of breakfast cereal plus other miscellaneous foodstuffs and, for mum and dad, ads for three different makes of car - big old family-sized ones, natch.

Follow these with a good half-dozen "Forthcoming Features" and we'd been subjected to at least half an hour of consumerist campaigning before we got to see what we'd paid for.

Finding Nemo is every bit as wonderful and witty as I've been told, another inspiring movie from the already legendary Pixar. Indeed I think I laughed more than Thea, and though before seeing it, I'd felt resentful about it being the clear front runner for next year's Best Animated Oscar, come the night it will probably be one of the better decisions the Academy makes.

And then there's the delightful Dory, a funny, adorable, little blue breath of fresh air, without whom all the Marlin bits would have been horribly earnest and schmaltzy. So I find myself thankful for the existence of Ellen DeGeneres and a little bit taken with this fish.

But of course it would never work. Even if we were able conquer the species divide and making the patronising assumption I was able to "turn" her, she'd still have trouble adjusting to my extra dimension, and when all's said and done, I'm not the world's strongest swimmer.

So I'll just have to wait for the DVD release, and dream of what might have been.

Keep on swimming, keep on swimming...


I suppose I'm obliged to give you a 72-hour notice of intent.

On Friday night, I'll be handing over the blog's password to my nocturnal alter ego, the oracle Nightshift Ben. Nothing I can do. Blame my unit manager.

If there's anything you need answering, whether it's of a personal nature or of more universal concern, physical or philosophical, he claims to be the man for the job. He's a know-all, and ain't afraid to talk about it.

Just to remind you, on his last time out, he tackled such diverse topics as tequila, fickle women, green skies and, of course, "Why?".

So should you wish to submit a question, either leave a comment here, or use the "Ask the nightshift" e-mail address, being sure to remove the square brackets.

But don't say I didn't warn you.


Wait 'til you see the whites of their eyes boys
More than once in the last week I've said something that's got me an odd look from friends and colleagues.

I think it's interesting that Arizona, among other US states, doesn't use daylight saving time.

What's so wrong with finding that interesting?

One can understand why Hawaii, floating in the middle of the Pacific, doesn't feel the need to shift. It's so far behind New York and DC anyway, what's another hour?

But why does a state on the mainland choose to be out of step with the rest of the states in their time zone? Isn't it confusing to suddenly find yourself further behind the east of the country? One day you'll be eating dinner with Denver, and the very next finds you taking high tea with Hollywood. And perhaps most importantly, all your favourite TV shows are on at the wrong time for half the year.

Mind you, at least Arizona's consistent. Indiana, on the other hand, can't make its mind up. Most of the 77 counties in the Eastern Time Zone stay on standard time throughout the year... except for the two that change to daylight time along with the rest of the country, which is the approach shared by the western counties in the central time zone. Wouldn't that mess with your head?

What, I ask you again, is wrong with finding all that interesting?

And if like me you weren't already aware, the whole summertime clock change can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin who, while serving as the US minister to France, suggested in a letter to the Journal de Paris that millions of pounds could be saved each year by using fewer candles during the days of summer, daylight being much easier on the pocket than candle wax.

Franklin recommended that the party town of Paris, accustomed to rising at midday throughout the year, should make better use of summer's early sunlight and that church bells and cannon, plus liberal use of taxes, should be used to encourage people from their beds soon after dawn throughout the year.

Eventually it became obvious that while this was all well and good during the winter, in the summer the hour of rising became so early and the days so long that everyone was knackered by mid-afternoon. So clock hands were put forward an hour in the spring to give folks the chance to doze on that bit longer and consequently make better use of the long evenings.

Which is all my way of saying don't forget to put your clocks back to Zulu time at 0200 tomorrow morning. Unless you're in Arizona.


The next few months are promising to be the most exciting in cinema-going for some time.

Last night alone before Kill Bill Vol. 1 (itself a work of beautiful, bloody genius, proof - if proof be need be - that while Tarantino may have lost his marbles, he certainly hasn't lost It), they ran trailers for the Director's Cut of Alien (still able to make me jump after all these years), The Matrix Revolutions (Get 'em Neo!), and Return of the King (Get 'em Samwise!) - three major movie events in the space of six short weeks.

And if those weren't enough to see me through the long, dark winter, tomorrow sees the release of Intolerable Cruelty (the Coens have never made a bad film - FACT! - and I'm counting on them not to start now), while next week we get In The Cut (Meg Ryan naked - chide me all you want, but am I really expected to forego this?).

I might even be persuaded to see SWAT and Love Actually before the year is out. But then again, maybe not.

Then January gives us A Mighty Wind, while February sees Dogville before Q and U get their freaks on for Volume 2 as The Bride finally tries to Kill Bill.

If you want me, I'll be down the front...


Hate is a very strong word, yet it's one I feel able to use when discussing Northern Ireland, and one which could provide a solution to the whole sorry affair.

(Bear with me, please, while I set out my stall.)

Hatred and fear seem to be the most powerful, motivating forces in the make-up of the province's establishment. Fear that the status quo will be challenged and positions of privilege will be lost. Hatred of the enemy drives many of the most prominent players currently trying to determine the province's future: Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, David Trimble are all guilty of one or the other.

When the peace process features in the news agenda, as it currently does, I can barely contain my contempt for those - mostly hardline unionists, best embodied by the Reverend Ian Paisley, not to mention his own personal Mini-Me - who stubbornly refuse to let the nation move on, seemingly concerned only with protecting their own personal interests, and quite willing to let the rest of society continue suffering.

David Trimble, on the other hand, seems to be as decent and honourable a man as you'll find in Ulster politics, yet he's allowing fear to rule his thinking. Unfortunately, he believes that if he concedes too much ground to the Republican movement, he will hand the initiative, and the populist Unionist vote to the fossilised bigot Paisley, a turn of events that would set Northern Ireland back several hundred years. So he puts up a tough front, when he should just take the plunge in the hope that his principled stand will be preferable to decades more of suspicion and semtex.

(Hang in there. You're almost at the clever bit.)

The IRA are no better. They're happy for General John de Chastelain to report on the decommissioning of arms, but why on earth do they insist on a lack of detail or physical evidence? Would it kill them to hand over an inventory and a few Polaroids of the knackered Kalashnikovs and rogered rocket launchers?

Gerry Adams at least has a legitimate cause on his side, however despicable the methods used by some of his associates. Britain stole Ireland, and should have returned the six counties of the north along with the rest of the Republic. But realism rather than pessimism is the order of the day when I say that's unlikely to happen.

Having seen many press conferences over the last couple of days, one of the greatest problems would appear to be the body language continually adopted by the respective parties. Whenever a party leader makes a statement on the talks, he is backed up by a motley crew of like-minded lackeys, as if to say, "This is what I think, and if you don't like it you can take it up with my mates."

It's a political version of the Jets and the Sharks, and as long as it continues, each side will feel it has to participate in these shows of bravado. The testosterone-fuelled posturing will always get in the way of finding a real, peaceful solution to Northern Ireland's sovereignty.


(Here it comes.)

Seeing as no one appears willing to back off and cool down, I suggest harnessing the hatred to solve this problem along with another that seems even less likely to find an agreeable resolution, namely Israel vs the Palestinians.

Simply put, the answer is for the global community to sponsor a fully-funded, winner-takes-all military play-off.

Each side would be given an equal amount of money and a set time in which to recruit and arm as large a fighting force as possible. Furthermore, the US, Britain and all other major military manufacturers would be obliged to sell weaponry to which ever side came shopping, so as not to favour one faction over another. A suitable uninhabited area would be selected as the location for each engagement.

Israel would then take on the Palestinians, and Republican dissidents and Loyalist paramilitaries would kick off against each other, each "match" continuing until it had a clear winner. These two victorious semi-finalists would then meet in a decider, for the title of "Undisputed Disputed Territory Champion of the World".

Of course, the format of such a competition could be subject to negotiation. Another possibility would be a mini-league with each team playing the others in limited-over hostilities, four points for a win, two for a draw, bonuses for numbers killed, et cetera.

So my solution to the problem is either that, or follow the advice of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley: "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. That's the only way to be sure. "

Maybe faced with these alternatives, the intransigent bastards on all sides would decide that conversation and compromise wasn't all that bad.


How to keep four thirty-something journalists happy

Single malt whisky? Check.
Monte Cristo cigars? Check.
Fine port and stilton? Check.
Intelligent, articulate company? Check.
Mary Poppins DVD? Check.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you one of the strangest Saturday nights I've had in a long while.


The current trial of pop star Cheryl Tweedy for racially aggravated assault for some reason reminded me of my own brief, shameful and, thankfully incompetent, contribution to racism as a teenager. It reared its head on two separate occasions around the age of 14 - one unwittingly, one unfortunately not.

The former was just a case of me joining in with the laddish heckling of an Asian woman, who was actually the best (or at least the most effective) physics teacher I ever had. Her name was Mrs Khan, but the bad influences in my class (spoiled, streetwise, middle class lads the lot of them) decided it would be a hoot to shout "Mrs Coon" in the middle of her lessons.

Me, I was seeking approval from my peers, and very much like the others - except for the streetwise bit. I had no idea that coon meant what it did, and it was the last thing this kind, patient, intelligent woman deserved. I just thought I was saying something funny and buying credibility by fitting in. When I found out what I'd been saying... well, I don't think I need to tell you anything other than I didn't feel good.

The second incident came just a few months later. Despite having my own friends, I wasn't one of the in crowd, the cool guys, still an outsider. I was walking by myself through the school grounds, and passed three lads from my year, one of them bouncing a tennis ball. Several seconds passed as we walked in opposite directions. And then suddenly the tennis ball hit me in the middle of the back.

Furious, I turned and screamed, "You black bastard!" at the lad who I'd seen with the ball, and threw it back at him (though, this being me, it missed). I've no idea whether Tanveer Raja, the fairly reserved Bangladeshi boy I was accusing had actually thrown the ball, or whether it was one of his far less palatable and more aggressive white friends. Feeling persecuted, my pride hurt worse than my body, I lashed out at the first thing I could latch on to, the one time I've picked on someone's colour for pejorative purposes.

What I do know is this: not only did I insult Tanveer with a general racist slur, I also disrespected his personal ethnic background and lumped him in with all people of colour. And although he didn't retaliate in any way, the resulting self-inflicted shame and guilt were far too much for me to cope with. I had to confess to my parents the same evening, and they were every bit as appalled as one might hope.

Eventually, Raj and I were able to talk again although we never were (but never had been) close.

But the whole. sole experience was more than enough to teach me a lesson I shouldn't have needed to learn.


Hallelujah! America has spoken. And she has said, "This US remake of Coupling is absolutely no good at all."

NBC hasn't quite canned its ill-judged version of one of the best bits of British TV to have been made in the last 10 years, but by moving it out of prime time, it's as much as ensured that this bastard child of comedy genius will not survive.

I saw a few minutes of the show on holiday - and really that was all Jen, Dunc and I could stomach. In their vain attempt to translate the show's success in Britain to a lowest common denominator Middle America, and despite relying heavily on the original British scripts, the producers seemed to have stripped the programme of all its charm, wit, and edge.

Daily Variety made a most damning judgment, and showed just how much the US team missed the mark, when it wrote: "The cast has no likeable characters, motivation for every act is sexual, and the theme of moronic men versus wily women has been played out".

Our own original had an entirely likeable cast, the women were just as capable of being moronic as the men, and the whole point of the show was both to ridiicule and celebrate the motivating power of sex. Why else, for goodness sake, would it be called Coupling?

The big networks should have learned from their experience of Men Behaving Blandly. As most of the TV I watch originates in the US, I know there are many things they can do well.

But ripping off comedy from a country more comfortable with public airing of sex, excess and bodily functions is not one of them.

The lesson is clear: sanitise and be damned.


The only bad thing about two weeks having fun thousands of miles from home is the post-holiday blues that always set in at the end.

I mention this not because I expect anyone to feel sorry for me now I'm no longer taking it easy in the Georgia sunshine, but by way of explaining my lack of anecdotes. When returning from a trip to be faced with the same old same old, I'm always afflicted by a severe and hollow melancholy.

The fact is that some of my favourite people live on the other side of the Atlantic, rather than at the other end of a short bus ride, and after two weeks of easy access and constant exposure, I miss them. Why, as I'm sure Jen said just before I left, can't everyone live in the same place?

(Although I'm told that the entire population of the world could fit on the humble Isle of Wight, all six billion of us, the practical answer is that even if we chose somewhere with a little more space it would all be a bit cramped. But it's the thought that counts.)

So I've not felt in the least bit effusive and buried my melancholy in sessions of Sports Night, seemingly the only thing capable of lifting last week's gloom.

Well, that and autumn cleaning.

Yes, the flat is cleaner than at any other point in the last 12 months. It would not be unfair to say that during the 12 months of Joe's residence some aspects of domestic hygiene suffered, and I'm as much to blame as my erstwhile flatmate. For two hard-working young guys with beer to drink and TV to watch, housework doesn't hold much allure.

Awful, I know, but let him who is without filth cast the first sponge.

But the prospect of new co-habitees prompted me to give the whole place a thorough seeing-to including corners that, to the best of my knowledge and deepest of shame, have never seen even a hint of a duster.

Having swept the cobwebs away from both bedroom and brain, I'm now ready to resume abnormal service.

You're reading Nota Benny, so stick around...


Happy Birthday Jim. May the beer be beautiful and the women be plenty. :)

(Of course, it's not yet your birthday for you at time of writing - so just consider it an extra seven and a half hours celebration for free.)


On my flight to the US, I found myself waiting outside one of the aeroplane's lavatories for quite some time. In order to distract myself from the increasingly urgent task at hand I let my eyes and mind wander. They all found their way to the external door which I was standing by, and its big, shiny handle.

The possible danger involved in flying has always been slightly titillating. Take-off and landing are my favourite parts, partly because of all the things that could go wrong. People find their thrills all over the place - amusement parks thrive on the lust for danger that a good roller coaster can satisfy. It just happens that I get my kicks from a big metal roller coaster with wings.

So faced with this handle, how easy, I thought, how easy it would be to just turn it and open the door at 38,000 feet. And what fun it would be to jump out. Fly. Drop towards the earth from more than seven miles high. I normally have no great fondness of heights, but one this large felt intoxicating. The sky called to me.

Of course, the fact I'm here, means I didn't give in to temptation. As mentioned before, I have no particular wish to stop living, and if that hadn't been enough to stop me, the knowledge that several hundred other people would have been dumped in the shit certainly was. Besides which, I'd never have got to see my friends in New York and Atlanta (including Jim).

But what a way to go.


Okay, so the effort to blog from Stateside petered out somewhere around Hoboken. Thanks to Jen and Dunc and also Michelle for giving me such a great time. I was even able to cope with not having a bathroom when I got back (long story), such was my mood.

More will follow in the coming days and weeks, but pirates aboard me vessel (Yaaar!) and half a bottle of gin ensured a good flight back. If only everything in life was so pleasing...