22.12.04

Another scary online quiz



How to make a ben fell
Ingredients:

5 parts anger

3 parts crazyiness

5 parts leadership
Method:
Add to a cocktail shaker and mix vigorously. Add a little cocktail umbrella and a dash of curiosity


By the way, I don't know where the commenting system has gone. Apologies if anyone really wants to say something.

21.12.04

I should, perhaps. mention that the medical fraternity of north London has so far been unable to diagnose me with anything big and scary.

No diabetes (a relief), no anaemia (despite low haemoglobin levels), no leukaemia (always a long shot), no carbon monoxide poisoning (although I have Paul the Gas to thanks for that), no glaucoma (or so the optician told me), and no Aids (of course).

The abnormality proved not to be a surprise. Raised urates, better known as the cause of gout. But I've suspected this for some time - occasionally painfully. Now's not the time for that, though.

Yet despite the good doctors drawing a blank, I'm still getting headaches at work. Shouldn't be the glasses, because I've just got a new pair, and the opticians swear blind that it's the right prescription. And it doesn't feel right for eye strain anyway. It's more brainy. Dietary maybe. Or it could be sick building syndrome - the BBC's nothing if not renowned for its dodgy aircon. Or maybe posture, and ergonomics. Who can tell?

So it'll be back to the doctors in the new year. They haven't given me bad news yet, which is good. But I have a feeling we haven't hear the last of this.

7.12.04

I have a slight abnormality.

This may not come as news to those who know me, but coming as it does on the back of a couple of tests (right there with you, Erik), it might offer a clue as to why I've been under the weather for several weeks.

It's been a marvellous adventure in hypochondria. Since the middle of November, I've given myself diabetes, glaucoma, carbon monoxide poisoning (that was fun), leukaemia, very briefly and somewhat foolishly Aids, a brain tumour, and now anaemia. But we're close to deciding a winner.

Unfortunately, I don't know any more than the A word, accompanied by the medical opinion that I "shouldn't really worry".

Apparently it's not the sort of thing that needs to be discussed over the telephone - it can wait until I see the doctor in person. If it had been serious, they'd have called me, rather than waiting for me to chase them, as they nonchalantly added.

I realise that this is meant to set my mind at ease. But how reassuring is it that a profession that's supposed to dedicate itself to the preservation of life and health is quite happy to let it charges go on being a bit ill for as long as they want?

Within the realms of taste and decency, I'll share more when I know it.

4.12.04

It's surely not absurd to say that all of us who love film have one special movie from childhood, capable of cutting through the life-hardened exoskeleton of a jaded adult to release the untainted, raw emotion of the four-year-old.

Such a film is Mary Poppins, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this week.

In the tale of the Banks family, 17 Cherry Tree Square, and their short time in the care of Mary Poppins, are combined all the elements required to make a piece of Disney magic.

A flawless cast. Captivating performances across the board from Jane, Michael, George and Winifred, their servants, neighbours and people met along the way.

Such adventure. Tea parties on the ceiling, jumping through pictures to win the Grand National, creating an unprecedented run on the bank (all for tuppence), and up on the rooftops 'tween pavement and stars.

Then the songs. Melodies that bond themselves with the soul. Lyrics that tattoo themselves into the psyche. Jolly Holiday, Spoonful of Sugar and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious may not offer any great insight into man's condition, but they burst with joy at their own simple existence.

Little matter that it all takes place in one of the most poorly disguised sound stages in Hollywood's history.

And at the film's centre, Mary Poppins herself, with Julie Andrews the very embodiment of the perfect nanny. Enough of a carefree spirit to allow Jane and Michael all the excitement they need, equally ready with suitable discipline when they stray too far across her well-worn line, but not too stern to fail to realise when a soft word will achieve ten times the hard one.

It's an outstanding performance from Andrews. Maria may have defined her career, but it's Mary that gave the future dame her first real taste of fame.

In their 25 Most Magical Movie Moments published last year, Empire nominated 'Feed the Birds' as the one which best represented Mary Poppins. All well and good if this alien moment of saccharine in an otherwise streetwise movie is to your taste.

But for real fans of the film, surely there can be no moment more beautiful than 'Stay Awake' as MP sings her stubborn charges to sleep. Andrews' enchanting voice casts her in the role of siren as she lures her victims onto the down-stuffed rocks to meet their slumbery fate. There are few things more likely to drive me to tears.

But what would Mary Poppins be without her Bert?

Dick van Dyke's turn is beyond fault. His much-criticised cockney accent may grate on some, but in the words of Mr Banks, kindly do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts. His charm, his charisma, his stonethecrowswithapplesandpearsguvnor mugging just serve to make the tale all the more intoxicating.

For while Mary and George Banks may lay down the law, Bert is the true moral compass of the film, and the one with whom the viewer can most easily identify: an object of affection and source of constant attention for Mary Poppins, a comforting shoulder for Jane and Michael following their scares in the back streets of the City, some well-judged advice on parenting for the unreconstructed Victorian Dad Mr Banks.

Bert is our mouthpiece, our guide, our friend.

But of course, this film is about the lady. And what a lady.

Yes, there is something sensual, even sexual, about Mary Poppins. Maybe it's the attraction of a supremely self-confident yet tender woman, but long before the Swedish au pair got her hands on the husbands of Britain, which man could honestly resist the charms of the English nanny with a twinkle in her eye?

Mary Poppins, practically perfectly in every way.

(Apologies for the recent silence - I've not been feeling myself).

16.11.04

Twenty years ago, when the first Band Aid single came out, my dad was so overwhelmed by the concept that he bought about 40 copies of the single and gave them to many of the people who'd been working on his TV show. It was one of the earliest memories I have of really being proud of my father.

I doubt he'll feel quite the same way about the new version. It lacks passion. It lacks conviction. And maybe I'm being cynical, maybe we've seen so many African catastrophes over the last two decades, but the plight of the Darfur people just doesn't seem as big as the one which Ethiopia faced in 1984.

Nevertheless, this is quite funny.

12.11.04

A little less than 24 hours ago, Yasser Arafat died. Not meaning to sound callous, it was the most intoxicating time I've had at work in weeks, if not months.

When the story first dropped, we were a little sceptical - after all, it had broken on al-Jazeera, a fine broadcasting institution, but first and wrong too often to be trusted as a sole source.

And coming just one day after AFP had buried the Palestinian leader, we wanted something more credible to work with. Fortunately, the most reliable agencies piped up with confirmation within minutes.

With the office all but empty at four in the morning, there was just myself and a colleague to handle our share of the site's response to the story. And although I say it myself, we played a blinder, giving the day team the best possible platform on which to build. I was so wired on the rush of a breaking story, I couldn't get to sleep for an hour after getting into bed.

So what of the news itself?

It's mixed fortunes for the Palestinians.

Arafat was not a good man - anyone who at least allowed the various bombings, hijackings, assassinations and Munich Olympics massacre to happen, however noble the cause, can not be described as good.

But he had a righteous (and, for my money, correct) belief that he was fighting a great injustice - Israel's suppression of the Palestinian people.

That shouldn't be seen as an excuse of Palestinian terrorism, but it's certainly a valid rationalisation. After all, on the other side Ariel Sharon has so much blood on his hands as to be immeasurable. The two men were as bad as each other - Arafat just didn't enjoy the unquestioning support of the world's most powerful nation.

The death of Abu Ammar, as he was known, undoubtedly provides the opportunity for movement in the Middle East peace process - the deep, personal hatred between Sharon and Arafat was always going to be an insurmountable obstacle - but three things have to happen if there is ever going to be peace in the region:

The new Palestinian leadership must stop the paramilitary factions - an Israel under fire is never going to surrender the gift of a free and autonomous Palestine, and it's no one else's to give;

Israel's leaders must move past the 2,000 years of persecution of Jews, put theological and cultural idealism to one side and be prepared to negotiate with their counterparts in Ramallah - despite what scriptures might teach, all the killers and the victims have got the same basic DNA;

And, perhaps most importantly, the Bush administration has to stop being so biased towards the powers in Tel Aviv. Junior has the power, the influence, and the political capital to stop this - what better legacy could he enjoy than be remembered as the man who brought peace to the Middle East?

Not much to ask, I know, but short of genocide, it's the only way the Holy Land will be anything other than Hell on Earth.

10.11.04

Continuing the fallout from last week's election, Dunc wrote Bush won by convincing Mid-Westerners that if Kerry won they would be forced into gay marriage to terrorists and their offspring butchered by the pro-choicers or the stem cell scientists.

He appealed to those who were least informed but most reactive. We liberals are not so knee-jerk. And while many of the usually apathetic democrats turned out to vote, it was the threat of a gay terror bomb being exploded in Sevenhills, Ohio that took the vote for Bush.


Couldn't have put it better myself, old chum.

Terror was at the heart of the election campaign, just as it had been the focus of Bush's presidency for the preceding three years. Another key theme was freedom. The freedom that generous old America was taking to the rest of the world.

Terror and freedom. Freedom and terror. Lovely.

So it's quite serendipitous that John Ashcroft chose today to step down as Dubya's Attorney General. After all, when it comes to freedom and terror, very few knew more about it than him.

What better way of cutting down on terrorism than limiting personal freedoms?

Just ask New York District Judge Victor Marrero who found Ashcroft's beloved Patriot Act to be a violation of the constitution.

Or Judge Audrey Collins, who found the same Act inhibited freedom of speech.

Or the Supreme Court which rained on Ashcroft's parade when it ruled that terror suspects could use the US judicial system to challenge their incarceration.

Talking of parades, how about the gay staff of the Department of Justice whose pride event was cancelled by Ashcroft last year.

And he'd also be quite keen on limiting the freedom of women to choose whether they could have an abortion.

These freedoms, presumably, are precisely the kind President Bush always wanted to offer to the great unwashed of the Middle East.

Ashcroft signed off by saying he'd secured the safety of Americans from crime and terror. To be fair, bare facts make this difficult to argue with. Not since 9/11 has an American citizen been killed by an act of terror on American soil. And I'm sure the repeal of the ban on public ownership of assault weapons makes everyone feel a whole lot safer as well.

But to borrow a phrase from John Kerry (or possibly Jack Tanner), declaring mission accomplished doesn't make it so. Bush and Ashcroft let their guard down once in the first nine months of the administration. Why do I get the feeling they're doing so again?

9.11.04

A week on from America's bad decision, and I haven't really had chance to write about it. Now I think, why bother, really? Better informed and better motivated people have already said it all.

I will say this, though: the night itself was one of the bleakest experiences I've ever had in a BBC newsroom.

I'd volunteered to work the night shift and contribute to the coverage as the results came in. I was pumped, I was excited. And, perhaps surprisingly, this was the first Presidential election I'd seen run its course.

For someone raised on the grand British General Election, with all its crowded town halls, drunken party supporters, and memorable victory speeches this was going to be a new experience.

Of course, early on I was putting all my hopes in the curse of the Redskins and various other superstitions that were calling the election for Kerry. It had to go our way.

But as the hours ticked by, and the networks called the projected result in each state, we could see that the night was playing out all too similarly to 2000, just with any vote-rigging better hidden. And that could only point in one direction.

Doom.

By the time California and the Pacific North West pitched in on the side of Good, even the newsroom's resident American had dropped his regular refrain of "It's too early to call".

And the US election - or at least this one - has none of the drama of a British vote. Just a never-ending stream of perma-grinning talking heads, spinning results both good and bad. But no humanity, no money shot, so to speak. Until someone looks like winning the whole deal, it's just all speculation and conjecture played out in television studios. By the time things really started happening, I was at home. Or, more accurately, in the pub. And that made the red tide of George W Bush all the more difficult to cope with.

So yeah, I can retread the stuff about how it's left a divided states of America - but there's really nothing new there. Very little changed hands on election night. Iowa and New Mexico turned to Bush, New Hampshire swapped sides to Kerry - but then it came as a surprise to many that the state wasn't considered a Democratic safe seat. I've probably been watching too much West Wing. So the same states were shouting the same things as always - everyone just shouted a lot louder this time.

Then there's the doom-mongering. Bush winning the popular vote. More Republicans in the House and the Senate. Likely vacancies in the Supreme Court opening the door for evangelical nutters to legislate - bye bye Roe vs Wade and all that.

Add likely chaos in the Democratic party as it picks up the pieces in replacing defeated Senate leader Tom Daschle, and you've got a mouth-watering opportunity to fashion a very conservative US.

Bush may say he's going to reach out to Democrats in a bid to heal America's bitter divisions - but will he? Does he really need to? Has this man ever shown himself to do the right thing? Has he really proven himself to be more than a neo-con puppet? He went against global opinion enough times in his first term to show that he doesn't really care what other people think - with four more years and no case to answer, is he really going to give a damn about opinions on the liberal east and west coasts?

Call me a pessimist, but I'm guessing no.

To be continued...

4.11.04

Oh, really?

News 24 screen grab

3.11.04

Okay America, I'll make this easy: which part of John Kerry didn't you understand?

I shall return to this after some well-earned and much needed sleep.

31.10.04

Happy Halloween or, rather more traditionall, Super Samhain. Maybe not sure about the super bit, but hey, a boy's got to alliterate. Hopefully the witches will forgive me.

Want to see something scary?

I mentioned Thomsk had been acting with wolves.

Well, here's his new friend Maja. Maja the wolf

Who says they're not just dogs...

Their key scene involved her jumping out of a tree and going for his neck.

His other new best chum in Romania, meanwhile, is equally alarming.

While affording this gentleman a modicum of anonymity, a certain elder statesman of Hollywood has allegedly taken to sidling up to my brother on set, farting, and then running away like, as I've heard it told, a giggling little girl.

I'll never watch Bodysnatchers in the same light again.

29.10.04

Alleged American Al Qaeda Warns of U.S. Attacks
From ABC News
A videotape obtained by ABC News shows a man describing himself as an American member of al Qaeda. He threatens a "new wave of terror attacks" against the United States.

So close to election day?

Please, please tell me I wasn't the only one whose thoughts immediately turned to conspiracy theory and scare tactics upon hearing this.

26.10.04

Regrets (first in an occasional series)
I should have listened to more John Peel.

Now he's gone.

I'll admit I didn't like a great deal of the music he played, or the acts he discovered, and never got into the habit of listening to the exploration of British idiosyncracy that he seemed to enjoy so much in his later years.

But he had a brilliant ease and charisma as a broadcaster, enabling the listener to at least understand his passion and perspective, if not always agree with it. A colleague called him the champion of the unsigned and the unsung.

The words great and legendary are overused, especially at times of death. And maybe it's folly to use them for someone famed for playing records. But John Peel was so much more than a mere disc jockey, and in his field, few, if any, have ever been more worthy of the epithets.

I should have listened to him while I could.

20.10.04

It had to happen eventually. Team Albatross finally won the pub quiz.

Even so, I can't help feeling it's a slightly hollow victory.

Firstly, the win didn't come in our regular pub, which has frustrated us for the past six months, but another we were trying out. We'd moved on the grounds that a couple of team members were getting bored with the long waits between rounds and blatant cheating in the cosy snug of the Harringay Arms.

Me, I was happy to keep on going back until we won, or died trying. Two second places in recent weeks and consistent top six finishes indicated we were getting closer. I don't like giving up on something I can think I can do. I reserve that for the things I think I can't do.

Last night's win at the Old Dairy was also slightly tainted by the fact that the scoring was far from perfect. It's difficult to prove now, but we were almost certainly underscored, despite being given full marks for a round in which we failed to answer one of the 10 questions, and got another partially wrong.

I feel no shame in revealing that that round required us to identify quick-fire bursts of Kylie tunes, and that I more than held my own (all those years of education proving their worth now). But the fact that we didn't earn those full marks galls slightly, as does the thought that other teams were probably mis-marked. How credible can the system really be?

Can we really be sure we won at all?

Probably. And the free beer we won will almost certainly taste sweeter than usual. I'm just not going to be completely happy until we win again.

14.10.04

I'm not used to wearing more than one pair of shoes at a time. Now I'm confused.

I currently have four pairs of shoes, all fully functioning and watertight. But I'm not accustomed to having more than one or (occasionally) two road-worthy pairs at a time. So I've become used to wearing a pair until they become fatally flawed, and need to buy some more.

This is, in great part, due to the size of my feet. When walking into shops in search of a pair of size 14s, I've usually got anything ranging from polite refusal to incredulous laughter. But rarely shoes. Even those shops which agree that foot sizes are increasing and size 14s are in more demand than ever turn me away. I believe my record is 17 shops in central London in one day - all without success.

But recently the cobbling gods have smiled on me.

Now I have two pairs of trainers (footwear I thought I'd left at university), a pair of brown leather shoes, and some black boots.

But I can't bring myself to wear anything other than the trainers I've had on since April.

What am I supposed to do with them all?

5.10.04

Five Things
1. Walking back from the cinema this afternoon (Collateral - Tom Cruise in acting shocker - the shock being that he's acting... quite well at that) I spotted the most perfect rainbow I've ever seen. Usually you get to see half at most. This was a glorious arc. And close too. I could almost hear the leprechauns. Magical.

2. Thomas is currently in Romania. Filming. With Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek. And wolves. It's a film about the Bell Witch. Not this one, though. In fact, no IMDB listing yet. Which worries me. Much more than the wolves. Thomsk believes it won't be a dodgy TV movie with the likes of Donald and Sissy on board. But then he doesn't watch as much bad telly as I do.

3. This has to be seen to be believed.

4. I'm gradually (and grudgingly) giving way on this statement. I'm not yet willing to admit it was the right thing for NUFC to hire Graeme Souness, but it no longer appears to be the end of the world. Long season, though...

5. There is no fifth thing. This space for rent.

2.10.04

When it comes to blogging, the key to a really good read (and, for that matter, a good write) has, for me, always been emotional intrigue and turmoil. And ever since I romantically cauterised myself following last year's Woman/Elf/Fencer/Whatever debacle, I just haven't had any.

Indeed since moving into the Biscuit in April my life has hit a nice, safe routine... or is that just rut? I enjoy work, quizzing with the Albatross, seeing a few friends (while missing others), the odd trip away, watching too much TV, deciding what to do with the baked goods I call home (without actually doing very much about it). But I don't feel emotionally involved. I don't feel I'm doing anything exciting.

Which is why posts here have been few and far between in recent months. I'm not bemoaning my lot, it's just that there's been little I've felt the need to share. Who wants to read (or write) about a life when it's so extraordinarily ordinary? Isn't it just a waste of everybody's time?

So I'm going to try harder, in all aspects of life. Professionally, domestically, personally, I'm going to start being bolder, either in the way I express myself, or in the decisions I make and actions I take.

At least that's what I'm aiming for...

25.9.04

Oh, this is glorious.

Haven't been half-cut on a Friday night in months. Now we jus have to see how the Big G reacts to an evening of white wine.

Must apologise. Really haven't felt in the blogging mood of late. Head fuckage. But am getting back in to the swing of things. Normal service will resume this week.

Stay tuned.

13.9.04

And now here's Fidel with the weather...

And now here's Fidel with the weather

Castro writes off Hurricane Ivan as just another American scheme to blow him away.

6.9.04

No. Just no. No, I say. This is a big fat hairy mistake which can end in nothing but tears. Mostly mine. So no.

4.9.04

My openness to conspiracy theories is no secret: Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone; the Bush administration knew an attack on America would suit their objectives; international football friendlies are fixed to suit domestic political objectives; that sort of thing.

But my new favourite is the one behind Bill Clinton's sudden illness.

Everybody's favourite philandering ex-president was expected to play a key role campaigning for John Kerry in the run-up to the US election. Now, just two months before polling day, he's been scheduled for a quick spot of quadruple heart bypass surgery.

The Bush team has nobbled him. In line with a finely balanced schedule of food-spiking, for the past four years Bill has been secretly fed large quantities of lard, in an effort to build up the fatty deposits in his arteries. The doses were calculated to accumulate over the years, and scheduled to go boom right about now.

Now Bill's suddenly breathless and clutching at his chest.

The Republicans have the motive (four more years of their chimp-like nincompoop fronting the Axis of Evil - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rove), they have the ability (who's at the end of the chain of command for Bill's secret service detail?), and they have the form (they can't rig this election the same way they set up 2000, so they had to dream up something new).

Oh yes. You may laugh and call me crazy. But consider the facts and you just may see a little too much coincidence.

So when the confidential files are opened to the public in 75 years, don't say I didn't warn you.

Disclaimer: There is no evidence to support any of these claims*. But isn't it fun imagining?
*Except Oswald and 9/11

1.9.04

In other news...

Three killed in rush for IKEA vouchers in Saudi
JEDDAH, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Three men were trampled to death in a rush to claim vouchers at the first IKEA furniture showroom in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, hospital officials said. Sixteen shoppers were injured at the Sweden-based furniture store's showroom in Jeddah. Medics revived some 20 customers who had fainted in the crush.

The stampede was triggered by an offer for the first 50 shoppers to received $150 vouchers. An official at IKEA's Saudi agent said more than 70,000 people showed up at Jeddah. Hospital officials said two dead were a Pakistani and a Saudi national.

IKEA is known for simple, reasonably priced products.

Any reference to the phrase "flat-packed" would presumably be inappropriate.

30.8.04

Bye bye Bobby
"We're in a dog-fight, so the fight in the dog will get us through - and we'll fight." - Sir Bobby Robson

I knew Sir Bobby's days were numbered on Saturday when he left St Alan of the Gallowgate on the bench for the game against Aston Villa. Poor, muddle-headed old fella. Didn't he know his Newcastle United history? The faithful had seen it all before.

Wednesday 25 August 1999. Sunderland v Newcastle United. Magpies' manager Ruud Gullit, attempting to settle a score with Alan Shearer, leaves the St James' Park icon out of the first XI for this bitter match against their local rivals. Newcastle lose 2-1 in the pouring rain. Three days later, Gullit is resigned from his post.

Five years and two days later, we're looking for another new manager.

"What he found out on Wednesday night was that football is chalk and cheese, and it will be the same on Sunday. I don't know whether it will be chalk or whether it will be cheese." Bobby on Kieron Dyer.

Things have been going pear-shaped at NUFC for some time. The bad start to the season (two points from four games), the string of poor results that goes back much further, the rows between Bobby and Alan, Bobby and Dyer, Bobby and Robert, Bobby and Bellamy. The bizarre outbreak of conjunctivitis in pre-season. The sale of the club's only top-flight centre half. The ludicrous chase for Wayne Rooney, a trophy player, sure, but not one who'd stop the leak of goals at the back, something that amounts to a betrayal of our world-class goalkeeper. And the chubby chairman, Freddy Shepherd (remember him?), a loathsome man who models himself on Ken Bates and Doug Ellis, and fancies himself as being the real boss of the team. That's Bobby's real downfall. That's where the real story lies.

"Robert said I was picking the wrong team. At the time I was - because he was in it."

For all the fact that we've never been anything other than a top-six also-ran during his time, Bobby was loved by the fans. We were able to forgive him the odd miscalculated South American purchase, the inability to remember his own players' names, the lack of any silverware during his reign. Because he was Sir Bobby. Probably our biggest failing, but one that I was happy to live with - at least for the time being.

Usually there's some sense of closure - often even joy - when a failing manager is sacked by one's club: Dalglish and Gullit being the two most recent examples for the Gallowgate faithful.

Not this time. Not surprise, either. Just emptiness.

It's probably best for the club. The new man will get the chance to buy a couple of players, offload a couple of deadweights, maybe even string a few results together. Who knows, we could even win a trophy - something that's never been done in my lifetime. Whatever happens, I've no doubt that however successful Newcastle is in the future, Bobby will be missed and fans will look back on his tenure as a happy time.

Maybe he had to go now, maybe this time he wouldn't have been able to turn round our traditional poor start, maybe we'd be struggling to stay in the big time come season's end. We'll never find out.

But this much I do know: the grand old man of English football deserved better.

"It's over, forget about it, it's gone. We've enjoyed the ride, brilliant. We've paid the money, got the ride, got off the tramcar - let's go again."

Wise words.

27.8.04

Thomsk and I play a game with celebrities. Actually, two games.

The first one came second, and actually only serves to keep us in touch when we've not seen each other for a while. It's celeb by text. London being a good place to see the odd C-lister and Heat magazine regular, it's only polite to alert one's sibling when such a spotting takes place. The more obscure the better. And only by text message. Verbal reports of sightings are not recognised by the game's official body (i.e. us). My latest score was Liza Tarbuck, actress and daughter of Jimmy, at the check-out in front of me in Oxford Street Marks & Spencer's food hall. Thomas was suitably impressed.

Which reminds me, if anyone wants to see Louis Theroux, I have a spare. Thomsk refuses to swap me one of his (the lovely) Sally Phillips in return, as he says he's already seen Louis. So if you're interested, drop me a line.

The second game, which really came first, is Celeb Mis-spotting. Anyone can be a celebrity. That gaunt, bald bloke pulling a pint? Definitely Michael Stipe. The hefty redhead in the next aisle at the library? Bette Midler. The cute brunette with a squint in Tesco's? Watch out boys, it's Winona Ryder. The mixed-race guy limping towards you down the street? Can only be shamed athlete Ben Johnson.

And the worse and more contrived, the better. Bonus points are awarded for over-extension and derision. Marks are deducted for too much similarity to the named celeb. And the judge's decision is final.

Laugh if you must, but try it, and I guarantee that you'll soon start seeing the rich and famous everywhere.
Housekeeping notice: Not content with keeping this place going, I've just joined the blog collective that is Freaky Trigger. I'll be doing some of the sporty and cultural stuff there, making more room here for the personal, the anecdotal and the polemic. But you can still expect some crossover. And of course, I'll be kept afloat by a crowd of interesting writers.

Choose your poison. :)

25.8.04

I think I may just be reaching Olympic saturation point. A third day of wall-to-wall sport was not what I had planned for my last day off after night shifts.

Following Team Albatross' magnificent second place in Tuesday night's pub quiz (a result I felt we could appeal on the grounds that the winning team shared its name with the quizmaster's newborn daughter), Wednesday was to be my day for getting things done.

There were movies to be seen, potential purchases to be assessed, and general out-and-aboutness to be pursued.

A mis-set alarm put paid to all that.

Perhaps it's masochistic punishment, but anyone who sleeps in until 1pm doesn't deserve to take part in the human race. So rather than escape the biscuit, I've trapped myself with life's athletic overachievers.

And they really are driving home their point that I'm desperately under-achieving.

I really need to get off my arse.

23.8.04

Kelly Holmes wins Gold in AthensThis'll wake a chap up.

Of all the great moments there have been in these Olympics, the one that happened about half an hour ago is my favourite.

Kelly Holmes, Olympic Champion, Women's 800m.

My first standing, yelling, "Come on you beauty!" moment of the games (having been asleep for the Coxless Fours).

And then as she struggled to take in what she'd just done and looked for someone to celebrate with: "Give her a flag! Give her a bloody flag!!"

Enough adrenaline coursing through my veins to let me run the 800 myself.

No consolation for yesterday's harrowing disappointment of Paula Radcliffe (on whom I have a terrible crush, possibly even more now than ever before), but a fantastic event in itself.

Congratulations Kelly. You've done your country proud.
Well, folks, it was short and not that sweet. Once again you've wasted the chance to learn from me.

But it was ever thus.

In the words I let Joni Mitchell use (I'd just jotted it down on the back of a post-coital fag packet, and the girl needed a break) , you don't know what you got til it's gone.

Luckily for you kids, though, I'll be back on duty in a couple of weeks' time, so you've got a little while to perfectly phrase all those questions to which you want answers.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with Ben and his stories of foxes and squirrels spotted gallavanting about the streets of early morning London, interspersed with bouts of anti-Bush polemic.

Don't know about you, but I wish he'd fall for a girl again. It makes far more interesting reading.

22.8.04

Little interest in self-improvement and edification, it would seem. Jim asks:

O Great and Noble Nightshift Ben, I have but this humble inquiry to make of you: Don't you mean "...is in the hizzouse"?

I know what I mean. Don't correct me. Not if you value your livelihood. Or your life, for that matter. Much though it would pain me. You're a friend of Ben's. But I make things happen. And people can't be allowed to get in the way of that. There's a bigger picture to think of. But not everyone has to be in it.

Like the whole Olympic three-day eventing thing. Jen wanted it sorted. I sorted it. Anything you ask, darlin'. Justice is done. The Germans didn't stand a chance. The Court of Arbitration for Sport know which side their bread is buttered. But I'll be having words with the IOC. Don't be surprised if you see a few changes after Athens.

But you don't want to hear about me. You're here to learn. So ask me stuff. If you value your livelihoods. Or your lives, for that matter. Much though it would pain me...

20.8.04

Hear ye! Hear ye!

The honourable Nightshift Ben, oracle to the masses, is in the house. Let all those who wish to drink from his cup of knowledge come forth and boogie.

Represent.

18.8.04

Just a brief break from the football (dull, pointless England friendly) and the Olympics (whoever thought I'd find three-day eventing, archery, or sailing exciting?) to comment on the very fishy Kenteris/Thanou affair.

While there's absolutely no evidence to support any kind of allegation that the Greek pair had ever taken performance-enhancing drugs, it does, in a way, lend support to my idea that the IAAF (the sport's governing body) and the International Olympic Committee should bite the bullet and legalise drugs. Kind of.

There could be two divisions in athletics: one for "clean" athletes, the people who wanted to test their own limits, with the most rigorous testing regime ever seen; and a separate class for the dope fiends. No holds barred - they could pump themselves up with as much stuff as they thought they could take, and then compete in a drugged-up freak show.

Of course, governments and health organisations would call such a sanctioning of drugs irresponsible, but with the amount of business such a move would undoubtedly create (tickets, drugs companies, broadcast rights), such protests probably wouldn't make too many waves.

And anyway, I actually think a lot of people would still want to go down the clean route.

There's still a lot of stock in good, old-fashioned honour.

15.8.04

Five Go Mad in the Barbarian Lands
Sunday
Leave parents in charge of baking biscuit and head north in search of week of sun and fun with Team Albatross and Dr Bob. Traditional British summer pastime of chugging slowly through countryside on train, quietly steaming to death in malfunctioning train carriage. Six hours later arrive in rainy Dumfries. Weather no problem, though, as Lizzie and Joseph meet at the station with promise of adventure. And curry.

Monday
Downpour fails to shake good mood upon waking. Excitement abounds in the little house on the Old Bridge of Urr. This is quite obviously good walking territory. Much to be done when rain stops. First, though, small matter of Peter's arrival to complete the Gang of Five, swiftly followed by thorough investigation of the local brewery and its wares. Used to want my own pub. Now want my own brewery. Hatch plot with Robin, very much banking on assumption that Hugh will become very rich and equally benevolent.

No pressure, kid.

Then home for late lunch, and a stab at Scrabble while we wait for the rain to stop. Pete robs me of a win in the endgame. Still the tiles and ales pass the time, and we look forward to Tuesday and better weather for hope of escaping the house.

Tuesday
The rain is, if anything, heavier. This is starting to get slightly disheartening. Still, it gives me the opportunity to finish my first book of the holiday (On The Road: Desperately want to call it over-rated, dull, pretentious bullshit, but appreciate that may be a little unsympathetic, and from too much of a post-Kerouac perspective. So I'll just settle for over-rated, dull and pretentious).

Then the unthinkable happens: a break in the weather. We decide to stride out over the 2.5 miles to the nearest pub, in Haugh of Urr. It is when we are halfway there that the rain returns. With a vengeance. Rarely have people on so-called dry land been wetter. Still, the ale is perfect preparation for dinner (chef, yours truly) and the home-made pub quiz.

Unfortunately my specialist round on the BBC (which I'd thought fair) proves a little too hard for most, especially my team-mate. Fortunately, everyone else proves equally tricky in their line of questioning. Quite how I'm supposed to know the details of Dirty Dancing and GNU, I'm not sure. Next time I'll set them questions on the finer points of Mary Poppins. That'll learn 'em.

And what follows a pub quiz? Yes, karaoke until four in the morning, of course, courtesy of Joseph's home-made empty orchestra. Particular highlights are Pete doing his Lost In Translation bit with Jealous Guy, and Jos's Piano Man. But my habit of sticking to '80s Madonna tracks suffers a blow when weak voices among the usual stalwarts mean I'm required to perform the Big Finish: We Are The Champions, followed by New York, New York. Despite giving them my all, I'm not sure whether Freddie and Frank would approve.

Wednesday
Waking late, we're presented with a novelty. Not only has everyone survived the night after my chillied eggs, but what's this? Surely not sun. Yes! No sooner are we up and brunched (3pm) than we set off for the beach, eager to stretch our legs in pursuit of featherball and top up on the old rays. But not 40 minutes after our arrival, old faithful also turns up. Truly, it would not be a British summer holiday without the chance to eat ice creams in the rain at the seaside.

Returning to the house, Robin and I create a new game (Sofaball): two comfy seats, two badminton racquets, one foam ball, and one rule - only apologise if the other player has to leave their seat to retrieve the ball. It's collaboration, not competition. And completely addictive. Expect to see it in Beijing in four years' time.

There then follows a hotly contested (and occasionally heated) game of Triv, carrying on far too late into the night as people refuse to win.

The only break from '80s trivia comes in the form of 142-year-old shooting stars, an astral spectacular keenly anticipated as we're nowhere near any major roads or cities, vomiting their light pollution heavenwards.

We see two before it clouds over.

Thursday
Another late and rainy morning. But we decide to bite the bullet and stride out whatever the weather. We've been cooped up long enough.

So it's a nice surprise when we arrive at our chosen walk outside the little town of Gatehouse of Fleet, and the rain stops for the duration of our woodland ramble.

In the evening we dine on haggis, lovingly prepared by Robin, before adjourning to the pub in Haugh again. We have learnt from experience (and benefit from an unfortunate fall for Jos) ordering a minicab, which turns out to be driven by possibly the most trusting and co-operative cabbie in the world. We're not in Kansas any more.

More ale is supped, silly games played, and the concept of the pint portrait is born, before we return home to mark Pete's final night with another karaoke marathon.

I am the walrus. Oh yes, indeed.

Friday
The sun rises well before we do. No surprise there.

The odd thing is old Sol sticks around. It doesn't leave with Peter. It doesn't leave when I want to finish my second book of the holiday in the garden (Being Dead, by John Crace. Highly recommended). It doesn't even leave when we go in search of the fabled Laundry Bay (through the wardrobe, click your heels, third star on the right and straight on til morning - but don't expect to be able to do your laundry), and only gives way to a gentle sprinkling after we start thinking about leaving the beach.

Barbecued mini calzone pizzas, passionate debate, a box of wine and a little single malt ease us to bed for one last time.

Saturday
The regular clear-out rush goes surprisingly smoothly, and we're off the premises by the allotted time. I'm dropped at Dumfries station in glorious sunshine - one last little snook cocked by the British summer - and before parting ways we fortify ourselves for the trip south by indulging in the festival of meat that is the station cafe's Breakfast Plate.

My train crawls back through England, bringing an end to a wonderful - if somewhat wet - holiday. The people made up for the rain one hundred fold and more.

Just don't be surprised if next year's vacation involves a little more sun.

7.8.04

The presence of my parents in London always seems to have a detrimental effect on my ability to waffle online.

At the moment mum's in the kitchen, dad's barbecuing meat and sardines (not at the same time, obviously), and Josh is out at the local Italian deli (new favourite food shop) picking up some fresh ciabatta.

I have a new futon (or rather an old one, inherited from Charles, to replace the one that broke on moving day), a completed desk arrangement, freshly pruned hedge and tree out front, much less cardboard and general rubbish in the house, a Chrysler gargoyle in my living room, and a dog outside my bedroom window.

Sounds like a fair trade.

2.8.04

This is alarming.

The first poll of the US electorate conducted since Kerry's speech to the Democrats, and Bush has got himself a three-point lead. What's worse is that the same polling organisation gave Kerry/Edwards a four-point advantage as recently as the beginning of July.

Dubya and Co didn't even need today's oh-so-conveniently-timed terror alert to The Johns' post-convention bubble.

So what's gone wrong?

It's easy enough to pick holes in the polling methodology. A sample of 763 likely voters in a country where more than 200million have the right to cast their ballot? It's 0.0003815 of the possible electorate. Surely anything they say can't accurately represent the mood of the nation. It's like forecasting the outcome of next year's UK general election based on the opinions of 100 or so people.

But despite the dodgy data, I can't believe this happy few have turned away from Kerry after hearing what he had to say. What speech were they listening to?

Despite the ill-advised, stage-managed, embarrassing and, quite frankly, embarrassed "reporting for duty" opening salute (which would never have got past CJ and Toby), the man staked a powerful claim to Pennsylvania Avenue's most sought-after property.

He said many good things and made many pledges - not only to resuscitate the economy, create jobs, and win back the world's trust, but also to invest in the health and education of the American people.

More than Osama's head on a stick, all the oil in Arabia, or even peace, love and understanding, this is what the United States really needs.

So what if the prodigiously privileged have to pay a little extra tax before they can see the difference? They have to realise it's not about the difference between "the favoured" and "the freeloaders", it's about the commonwealth shared by the needy and the greedy.

It's about whether a citizen wants a better America for Americans, or a better America for themselves. Only one of these can call themselves that most American of words: a patriot.

John Kerry may not be the most charming, charismatic person ever to run for a country's highest political office, but the more I see of winning personalities, the less I trust them. Tony Blair smooth-talked his way onto my voting form twice and now, like any scorned lover, I curse myself for letting him talk me into bed.

Similarly, Bush may have seemed like a pleasant, goofy, down-home kind of guy four years ago (although, I'd like to stress, never to me), but he's been harder on the ordinary American than any of his recent predecessors. And he's storing up more problems for the future, whether he wins a second term or not.

Kerry may be dull, but I'd rather a boring thinker with a conscience was running the world's most powerful country than a Wild West icon of questionable intelligence and morality.

It goes against conventional political thought (as well as being hopelessly idealistic) but voters have to learn there's more to leadership than a smile and a soundbite.

America deserves better, and help is on the way, says John Kerry.

He's right.

Let's just hope someone's willing to let him in.

30.7.04

UPDATED!
The keen-eyed out there will correctly identify this as the top of my head.

I know it's a sight some don't get to see that often, being as it is roughly 6'3" off the ground.

The reason I bring it into conversation is that today my hairdresser (I've never felt comfortable around barbers, for some reason, so for years I've been coiffured by women. My current is Chris, a Chinese Malay woman who tends to engage me in conversations about Premiership football) said I was going grey.

I strongly disputed this, saying that since birth I've always had a natural blonde streak at the back, and that must be what she could see.

But Chris was insistent. Definitely grey, she said.

And you know what? She might be right. Sure, centre of shot there's the blonde patch, all present and correct, and probably more pronounced because of the summer sun.

But the bit above it looks a different colour altogether. Kind of white. A definite ashen hue.

A chap could worry...

Update: A reliable source who has inspected said barnet confirms that the offending area is platinum blonde rather than white or grey. So that's all right. Not that I was worried. Not me. Oh no.

25.7.04



Hmm...  I want you to like it here. I wish we could stay here forever... and ever... and ever.

23.7.04

"I'm sorry. This has never happened to me before," I said, dumbfounded, struggling to understand what had just occurred.

"Don't worry," she said, offering a sympathetic smile. "It's okay. Really."

We'd attempted it this way and that, and she even tried something I'd never had done to me before. But it always ended in disappointment. Not even the nurse's uniform could help.

"But I've done it so many times, and never once failed," I pleaded.

"In that case, it's not surprising. It's about time this happened. Because it's not the first time I've seen it," she assured me. "It can happen to anyone, you know. We expect it occasionally."

"I'm just so sorry. I feel like I've let you down."

"Look it doesn't mean you'll never be able to do it again. You say you're feeling fit and healthy. I'm sure you'll be fine next time," she said.

But her kind words didn't stop me feeling shameful, guilty, less of a man.

There was no escaping the truth. I knew she'd have to let me go.

For the first time in more than 10 years' experience, my haemoglobin level wasn't high enough for them to let me give blood. I just missed their cut-off point by two measly points.

And it leaves me feeling emptier than you could possibly imagine.

I guess I'll just have to eat more spinach.

21.7.04

DangermooseMeet Dangermoose, my newest friend.

Another city has fallen to the bovine infestation that is Cow Parade and this time it's Manchester, as I discovered last week.

Yeah, I know he's only a fibreglass cow, and that any conversation would be pretty much a one-way thing, but he caught my eye, and I think we're going to get along fine. After all, we've both got the city's best interests at heart.
 
Shamefully it was my first trip north for a couple of years, ostensibly on grandson-type duties, but also giving me the chance to catch up with a few old faces from my early days at the Beeb, and see what progress had been made in redeveloping the city I'd seen virtually every day for almost seven years.
 
After meeting Dangermoose outside Piccadilly station, I wandered through the city centre. It was the first time I'd seen the redeveloped Piccadilly Gardens. And though I hate to say it, I can't say I'm impressed.
 
Although they've obviously tried to banish much of the mid-20th century civic planning nightmare that dominated the area, there are still visible signs of old, poor Manchester hanging around. The Gardens area still seems to be a magnet for some of the down-and-outs who populated it before the facelift.
 
And despite the lift the cows are supposed to bring to the city, most of them in this area seem to be on the roof of what appeared to be the new bus station shelter. Isn't that defeating the object? Call me jaded, but it's probably for their own good. One or two more accessibly situated in other parts of city are certainly showing signs of wear and tear.
 
It's not just the cows who are suffering. It used to be the case that you could walk a good distance without being offered a copy of the Big Issue, but the vendors seem to have multiplied. The afternoon I was there, I found four within a 50 metre stretch on Market Street. Surely that can't be a good portent.
 
I hate sounding down about the place - I have good memories, and good friends still there, and I know it's come a long way since the IRA forced the issue of refurbishing the Mancunian landscape.
 
But despite all the money that's been pumped into it since the '96 bomb, to someone coming back, the city still feels like it's struggling to shake the decay and deprivation that swamped places across the north throughout the 70s and 80s.
 
Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe a couple of afternoons isn't enough time to judge a city, however well you used to know it.
 
I just feel that there's something deeper haunting Manchester that won't be cured by a Harvey Nick, 100 trendy new bars, or even a herd of colourful cows.

19.7.04

Thirteen "classic" movies I've never seen (in no particular order):
Citizen Kane
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
A Clockwork Orange
The Godfather (or Part Two, for that matter)
Edward Scissorhands
Casablanca
The Shawshank Redemption
Apocalypse Now
There's Something About Mary
Arsenic and Old Lace
Akira
The Great Escape
The Exorcist

(plus anything by Bergman or Kurosawa)

The awful thing is that I actually own more than one of these.

15.7.04

caveat - noun - warning or proviso of specific conditions. ORIGIN Latin 'let a person beware'

Such is my anger and sense of injustice at the outcome of the Butler Inquiry, that I find it difficult to articulate.

But basically it boils down to this: Tony Blair's government deliberately misled the British people and the wider world about why war should be declared on Iraq. Yet he still fails to admit it.

Without retreading too much of what Lord Butler and his crew said (there are people better qualified and more willing than me to do that), the inquiry found that between leaving the intelligence services or the Joint Intelligence Committee and being unveiled to the nation by Tony Blair, important reservations and caveats were omitted from the text.

According to Butler, some of the intelligence gathered by spooks was "vague", "ambiguous", "unreliable", "open to doubt", "limited", "sporadic", "unproven", "patchy" and, of course, "seriously flawed". It would appear that MI6 and JIC were quite open about this. But making the case for war in September 2002, Tony Blair didn't let the caveats in the intelligence stop him being "satisfied to its authority."
 
In fact he didn't think to mention the caveats at all.

Why were they removed? It's not like a document of this gravity should need a low word count. But no one seems to think that we need to know why the misgivings and provisos were excluded.

After Butler Blair said,"No one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services."

This may be true. But what is also true is that someone, somewhere in the Blair regime deliberately took things out of the document that the intelligence services had meant to be there.

By removing the ifs, buts and howevers, someone significantly and purposefully changed the tone and meaning of the intelligence agencies' findings. As the former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said, "They put exclamation marks where there should have been question marks."

Someone decided the war would not have widespread support if any doubts were expressed by the government. Someone decided the British public could do without the full story. And so somewhere along the line someone - whether elected representative or political appointee - distorted the truth. Call me old fashioned, but isn't that pretty much the definition of lying?

And whether he knew about the changes or not, shouldn't Tony Blair be responsible for such gross malpractice within his administration?

The report vindicated BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan over his claim that the dossier on WMD was sexed up (even if a little of the detail was incorrect). It vindicated the Today programme's decision to run the story, and Greg Dyke's decision to back his man to the hilt. And it meant all the upheaval the BBC endured at the beginning of the year was unjustified in its origin, if ultimately good for the Corporation. The BBC was right about the dossier being sexed up, and the government punished it for its impudence.

Unlike Hutton (which you just know I loved), I don't think Butler was a whitewash. The committee was able to suggest that all was not perfect in Tonyland. It just didn't have the courage of its convictions when it came to deliver its judgment. When compared with the (reasonably) honest way in which America has so far dealt with fessing up to lousy intelligence, Butler makes me ashamed of my country and its institutions.

I'm sure I'll be accused of being hopelessly naive, but despite its old school tie, don't rock the boat mentality, I had hoped that there was a shred of honour left in Whitehall.

Obviously not.

There's a lot more that can be drawn from the Butler report, most notably Blair's style of decision-making, and the suitability of John Scarlett as Britain's top spy, but one truth is inescapable...
 
We've been lied to, folks. And no one's willing to take the liars to task.

11.7.04

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Seventh Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Low
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)High
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)Very High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

Level 7? A little harsh, I feel.

Before taking the test, I'd reckoned limbo would be the worst I could hope for, what with me being a non-believer of even just the slightest bit of virtue. Even wrathful and gloomy wouldn't have been that bad. Sounds kind of cool, you've got to admit, although I have to confess I'd probably be most at home in the City of Dis on Level 6. Not too hot, but not too cold either.

But maybe it was the charities gag that consigned me to a fate worse than, err... well a very bad fate after death. Dante's obviously got me pegged as someone who'd get on with the multi-cultural society of usurers, blasphemers, sodomites and tyrants. How bad can these people be? After all, those names are just labels. It's not for me to judge.

So if you need me, I'll be looking for an apartment with a nice view of the river Phlegethon, not too far from the wood of the suicides, ideal for those lazy Sunday afternoon picnics.

8.7.04

One story doing the rounds today was that of the father of one of the little girls murdered in Soham two years ago. Kevin Wells, dad of Holly, was talking to the media in his capacity as the patron of a new charity established to help children cope with bereavement.

The name of the organisation? Grief Encounter.

Now I'm not seeking to make light of the tragedy that befell Kevin Wells and his family, as well as that of Jessica Chapman. Nor do I believe that the work of the charity in question is anything other than very valuable.

But I can't help finding it morbidly funny that the founders have chosen a bad pun on an iconic film for their name. It strikes me as wildly inappropriate, something that was dreamed up and passed during a meeting which had dragged on late into the night, and had gradually been fuelled by more and more booze.

Surely it was only ever a working title, an in-joke that accidentally made its way onto all the letterheads?

But more importantly could it start a trend for more new charities to follow?

The Born Identity and Foetal Attraction - two new pro-life groups?

Attack of the Clowns - a support network for coulrophobes

Bruise Almighty - haemophiliacs' charity

End of Daze - post-amnesia support group

Tomorrow Never Dice - anti-gambling network

The Hoarse Whisperer - promoting further research into throat infections

Apocalypse No - Council for end-time mythology counter-education

The Jungle Buck - African investment lobby

Fur t'go - speaks for itself, and affiliated to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Speaking of which, am I flogging a dead horse? :)

Unless anyone else can come up with some stronger suggestions, I think we'll just let the whole idea slide. Help!

7.7.04

Could Tuesdays be the new Fridays?

Since the brethren of the dear departed Tuesday Club championed the cause of early midweek drinking binges, the practice seems to have become a lot more common among the professional classes. Not that I'm claiming credit for the boys, but when such an influential group of individuals come together, there's got to be something in the way of repercussions.

These days my own Tuesdays are somewhat more sedate, engaged in a tussle with some of the toughest quizmasters in North London. More on the adventures of Team Albatross another time, save to say we came in a slightly embarrassing 7th last night, all the more regrettable considering we aced the first round to take a clear lead.

But last night, my quiz duties caused me to miss the BBC's party celebrating 50 Years of Television News. It's a big deal round here, and from some of the office chit-chat it sounds like it was a decent bash. With all the tales of general falling over, there must have been a few sore heads in the Corporation's newsrooms this morning.

Apparently there were one or two household faces (no names, sorry - I'd like to retain a little journalistic integrity among my colleagues, or at least my job) chasing miniskirts or throwing very peculiar shapes on the dancefloor.

Not that I don't love every minute I spend with the Albatross, but us mouse jockeys in Online so rarely get to mingle with the TV and radio lot that it would have been nice to get a taste of the more established broadcast media.

Still, it's probably just as well I didn't get along. After a few glasses of wine I'd have ended up hopelessly lusting after some on-air totty and gone home maudlin and miserable.

And trust me, none of you would have wanted that.

5.7.04

Jen had done this quiz (although in the interest of correctly attributed props, Jim apparently found it first). It branded Jen an evil genius, which was amusing, because she is. It just takes someone with cojones to tell her. So then I took the quiz, and this is what it gave me:

You are an SRCF--Sober Rational Constructive Follower. This makes you a White House staffer. You are a tremendous asset to any employer, cool under pressure, productive, and a great communicator. You feel the need to right wrongs, take up slack, mediate disputes and keep the peace. This comes from a secret fear that business can't go on without you--or worse, that it can.

If you have a weakness, it is your inability to say "no." While your peers respect you, they find it difficult to resist taking advantage of your positive attitude and eagerness to take on work. You depend on a good manager to keep you from sinking under the weight and burning out.


Online quizzes are rarely accurate. But this one is scary.

Now I'm going to start doing a little housekeeping around here. Maybe it's all the newness of the biscuit, but that blue-ish colour is suddenly looking a tad tired.

Oh, and NSB is back on bed duty. When will he return, I hear someone cry. All in good time, my dear, all in good time.

2.7.04

Greetings, fact fans, welcome to another dose of enlightenment with me, Nightshift Ben.

Coming up later, we'll be conducting experiments on Hollywood DNA, with disturbing results. But first, thanks for the memory...

Dear Jane, from behind the wall of Corn, writes:

My question relates to failing mental faculties which are a feature of the over-fifties as you will no doubt one day discover yourself. It is.... er... I've forgotten actually... Oh, yes. I remember. Is the human brain digital or analogue, and if so when will I be able to buy a new memory card for myself?

Hmm. Tricky one that, Jane dear thing. Much more your husband's area of expertise. If you plug it into Google, you get dozens of hits arguing one way or the other.

Much of the debate seems to centre on how one defines digital - whether it deals simply in on and off, zeroes and ones, or whether it's something more subtle, allowing room for shades of grey between the black and the white.

But reading the arguments makes my brain hurt - probably in an analogue way. After all, it's hurt more, and it usually hurts less. There's a scale. So I'm saying analogue.

Maybe if I just ignore the question, you'll soon forget you ever wanted to know the answer.

Time for a quick joke: There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don't.

Well, I still think it's funny.

Meanwhile, Paul, on a Godforsaken rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, asks:

How do you register a piece of writing/poetry for copyright and ownership purposes? Just to get the little symbol? Maybe… An Island waits…

Basically, dude, under British law (and that of most other countries) copyright's yours as soon as your poem, novel, song, whatever, is on paper (or whatever storage medium you choose), and you can use the © to your heart's content. Copyright stays with you until you die and for 70 years after, at which point your work enters the public domain and can be used freely.

Some might say "end of", and legally it is.

But say someone comes along, nicks your creation, and then passes it off as their own. You could try sueing them solely on the basis of your word against theirs... but you probably wouldn't get very far in court.

So, what to do?

There are two main options. The first is to register a copy of your work with someone like the UK Copyright Service for a small fee. They'll look after it for you and be an independent voice in your favour if a dispute should ever arise.

On the other hand, you could send yourself (or solicitor, or bank) a copy of the work by recorded delivery, taking care not to unseal the envelope it arrives in. The record of delivery should be proof enough that you wrote something when you did, thus defining you as the author in the eyes of the courts (unless, of course, someone produces tangible evidence that they created it first). The copyright registration people advise against this, but as they don't get paid this way, their stance on the DIY routine isn't exactly surprising.

Of course, if your work is ever published in book form, or on the web, or any other medium, any integrated copyright notice you have should be protection enough that you don't have to keep on paying the registration service.

And it's worth remembering that for the sake of the written word or artistic manifestation, an idea can't be copyrighted (which is why there are so many bad love, formulaic songs out there). In the event of you and another having the same great idea independently and concurrently, you've just got to remember that sometimes dumb coincidence bites you on the arse.

You can find out more at the UK Copyright Service site.

Finally, to Sam, who's getting something for which she's been waiting a very long time:

Where's the research into my original question on Tom Sizemore? You know, the top secret hush-hush stuff about him being the strange genetic clone mix thing offspring of George Clooney and Michael Madsen (which could explain the whole Heidi Fleiss thing)?

I've had a look into this and you know what? You might be on to something. After months working on DNA harvested from Ross and Blonde, my team of scientists has managed to cobble together this unsettling cloned mutant. I could have done better myself, but I have more important things than movie star genetics to concentrate on. The world doesn't run itself, you know.

Anyway, have a look for yourself. It's Tom on the left and weird Clooney/Madsen mutant on the right. Or something. Uncanny, no?

Cloosen creature Girlfriend beater











1.7.04

Hello campers.

You had me worried last night that your thirst for knowledge was so profound in my absence that you'd dehydrated and died. But fortunately Jim from the less than dry Pacific North West decided that asking questions was good.

Why must the company Wizkids taunt me so by making the Galactus Heroclix a summer convention exclusive, meaning they go on eBay for upwards of $200?

Just between you and me, there were actually a lot more of the Galactus Heroclix models produced, but while being shipped in from M64 (the labour's so cheap there), they were, somewhat ironically, caught up in a sneeze from the real Eater of Worlds himself. True story.

It is not, I repeat NOT, part of a cynical long-term marketing ploy designed to create a frenzied demand among Marvel fanboys for a vastly overpriced product to be launched in the not-too-distant future.

Mind you, this one is only at $10.50 atow.

Why is Guinness so tasty?
Because you haven't tasted Porterhouse Plain. Yet. Come to London. Then you'll know tasty.

Who thought up the idea of gay Republicans, and why don't they explode when they come in contact with themselves (like a matter-antimatter reaction)?
Gay Republicans don't actually exist. They're actors hired to make the GOP look good, like with all alternative or minority groups. Why do you think you can never get served at an LA restaurant these days?

Why is Football called Soccer, and vice versa?
Back in the day, there was only football. It was played with the feet. Hence the name. Then a young man from Rugby named William Webb Ellis decided he wasn't very good at kicking and would rather pick the ball up. Rugby Football was born. In order to distinguish themselves, the round-ball lot decided to call their game Association Football. As was often the case in those days of malnutrition and leprosy, people got tired when required to utter five-syllable words, so decided to shorten it to Assoc. Meanwhile rugby types had decided they were much happier being thought of as playing rugger. After a little more thought, someone over at Assoc HQ realised that their game had a silly name, and that something like rugger sounded much more with it. So they turned it on its head and got socca.

Now, can you tell me why American Football is known as Gridiron?

Why would people who travel thousands of miles across the country/globe want to go somewhere to see people throw fish around?

Because it's fun when you don't get it every day of the week. But I guess if you did your weekly shop at Pike Place, you'd just want your damn fish.

Why did Jennifer Garner star in a CIA recruitment video?
Because she stars as a CIA agent in hit show Alias, as I'm sure you know, and someone in the Agency's marketing department thought it would be a "pretty cool crossover, like life imitating art, yeah?". But for the most part it's because she's not too shabby on the eye. I'm sure even the CIA's top dog George Tenet would concede that in the sex appeal stakes, Jen's got him beat. And let's face it, the Agency's trying to recruit geeks for analysis, so I think they've got their target market pretty well sussed.

Sub-Question: Does the CIA really understand the difference between fiction and reality?
Judging by the presentation Colin Powell gave to the UN Security Council in the lead-up to the Iraq war (you remember - death, desert, weapons of mass destruction, dragons, and other dreadfulness), probably not, no. Perhaps, Jim, given your keen grasp of this distinction, you're pursuing your career in the wrong Washington.

Meanwhile Robin of Woking asks is it wrong/shallow/capitalist for me to be (if only slightly) happy that England are out of Euro 2004 because it means I have a good chance of making my bonus this year?

Bobs, your mother is, as usual right. Your treachery sickens me. You can not truly call yourself an England fan again from this day hence. If this seems harsh, Ben will be happy to adopt a more sympathetic position after having discussed it over several very expensive and potent drinks come year's end.

Any more for any more?

28.6.04

Just to prove the show's really back on the road, as Lucy Van Pelt would say, The Doctor Is In. And I'm waiving the 5 cent fee. After such a long lay-off, there must be loads of questions out there that need answering.

In the meantime, here's a cautionary tale about spoons. Could the dangerous Cutlery Lobby be Michael Moore's next target?

25.6.04

We woz robbed
Urs Meier is a very bad man. If not exactly evil, the Swiss pillock responsible for ending England's hopes at Euro 2004, put in one of the worst performances by a referee that I've ever seen.

Urs has a website. Which invites comments. Das Feedback, as he calls it.

It would be irresponsible of me to countenance hassling the fellow.

But it's a public forum, so he obviously wants honest feedback. It'd be remiss of fans not to give him a full and frank appraisal of his contribution to the beautiful game. After all, Kim Milton Nielsen didn't get off the hook when he sent Beckham off in the '98 World Cup. Consistency is expected of us, especially as this time we really didn't deserve it.

Not that England are entirely blameless for their early exit. They didn't play that well, and dodgy spot or not (the ball definitely moved - I smell a rat, or possibly a mole), Beckham's making a habit of missing penalties. But they did win fair and square, in everybody's eyes save those of Urs.

Urs is presumably his country's top ref, so how can he justify a performance like that? I have an idea. Perhaps Uefa wanted to ensure the hosts did well. Makes good sense politically and financially, as well as ensuring the country still has the Euro 2004 buzz.

Call me a conspiracy nut if you will, but stranger and more despicable plots have been hatched in the name of less important things than football...

24.6.04

Starting over
So, the machine's finally woken from its seven-month hibernation, it's been fed on a diet of fresh OS and hearty hard drive, and the wireless network is puttering away happily to itself. All the glory of a 750k broadband connection is mine to make the best of.

But all this time out of the routine of blogging on an almost daily basis has left me a little rusty.

I'm reluctant to bring the debate over the talent of young Wayne Rooney to this domain, even though it's the biggest issue over which I've ever seriously disagreed with two otherwise intelligent, discerning friends. I won't even tell them they're wrong. Which, for me, is showing the utmost restraint. (Okay, in short, Jen and Dunc really don't like England's new star, and while I accept some of their criticisms - best laid out here - I believe they're being as harshly biased against him as some sections of the country are absurdly weighted in his favour. The lad can play football, and he does it well. Just chill out a little.)

And George just isn't saying anything newsworthily stupid at the moment, not even his insistence that Saddam really was involved with al-Qaeda, when everybody else, including the 9/11 Congressional committee, knows full well that he wasn't. Fess up, George: you lied. Or if you can't do that, at least try to lie a little less.

There's also the publication of the Neil report into how the BBC can avoid landing itself in a mess like the Kelly affair again. One of the suggestions (page 12, "The Right to Know") is that while an anonymous source can be anonymous to the public, as well as the BBC in general, journalists should usually disclose identities to their editors, as well as the Director of BBC News if the story is big enough to merit such a move.

This does not seem to have gone down well with a lot of people. Keeping sources secret is something of a holy grail in journalism, and many feel it's unlikely people will come forward with sensitive stories if their identities are going to be spread all over the Corporation. It might sound precious of us to be complaining, about passing a name on to one or two higher up the editorial food chain, but it really is that big a deal. It'll be interesting to see how this one works itself out.

Now if only I could think of something to write about.

21.6.04


This is Robin very generously giving up his weekend to get my PC working at home (finally!). Not the greatest quality picture, but then what do you expect from a Nokia phone camera? Posted by Hello

13.6.04

The most frustrating thing about this continued exile from my home PC is not being able to blog whenever the mood takes me.

So when certain things happen which I feel I ought to reflect, by the time I reach Blogger the motivation and occasionally clever turn of phrase have disappeared.

In the immortal words of Graham Taylor, do I not like that.

Normal service should resume following the necessary upgrade of my machine next weekend, but in the meantime...

Reagan: It's sad that a death should be considered a good thing. But I'd be lying if I said I was sorry to see him go. Sure, Republicans have every right to mourn him, but the amount and sycophantic tone of coverage in Britain has been sickening. This was the man who put the whole world at risk with his acts of bravado. Granted, his tough guy stance against the crumbling Soviet Union ultimately proved successful. But even now, this is no consolation to those of us who grew up in fear of a nuclear holocaust. Ronnie played Russian roulette and won. But what if he hadn't?

Sexual etiquette: Does someone else getting it on ever become sufficiently public to be classified as anti-social behaviour? In other words, is it fair to let someone share their enjoyment with all their neighbours?

Troy: Very definitely a bad film and a waste of the story, although not without its entertainment value. The girls in the cinema actually cheered on Hector as he dispatched Menelaus. My real regret is that Paris doesn't get what he deserves (i.e. the wrong end of a Greek weapon). But then self-obsessed pretty boys who run all over the world sleeping with whoever they want without regard for anyone else so rarely do. That said Orlando was perfect for the role. Plus, Achilles' fictional (in context) girlfriend was far cuter than Helen. It did make me want to read The Iliad though.

Elections: Take that, Tony. You may think there's no difference between intervening in Sierra Leone and Bosnia (a line trotted out by John Prescott on the piss-poor Frost show) and invading Iraq, but there is. Learn your lesson. Now let's not let Howard take over the country.

American Idol: How come America's standard of contestant (and indeed winner) is so much higher than Britain's? I mean, Will has a good, quirky voice, Michelle can carry a tune, but Fantasia can really sing. Not fair.

Come on England!

1.6.04

I was going to say I'm getting too old for this shit. But two things stopped me. The first was the fact that my brain is too addled for me to credit the movie quote from memory, proving that I was correct. The second reason was that while searching for its origin, I discovered a myriad blogs that had commenced with the very same thought, making it just a little hackneyed.

But the shit of which I speak is the annual Birthday Falloverthon (or Felloverthon, as Sam suggested) which took place on Saturday. Nice mixture of work friends and those from real life. Well, I say mixture. As always happens on these occasions, different parts of one's life tend to separate, making a social butterfly of even the most reticent host.

All good fun, and shamefully cheap for the birthday boy.

But the 4am finishes, the copious regular drinks, the suicidal drinks - treble gin, treble vodka, kahlua, nip of Strongbow, topped off with OJ (Thomas' concoction which - with apologies to those of a delicate disposition - surely took longer to make than it stayed down) - not to mention the nagging worries about stains and breakages - it's all becoming more difficult with each passing year.

So at the age of 32, I'm facing the likelihood that one of these days I'll have to have a responsible grown-up party, that's merry rather than messy, and with more of an emphasis on dinner than drinks.

But when?

Forty would be a sensible cut-off point, if it wasn't such a big number. And 41's out on the prime number rule. As for 42 - well, I couldn't disown Douglas Adams.

So here it is folks: your ten-year warning. Get the drinks in while you can.

Roll call: Thomsk, Josh, Rebecca, Jack, Jos, Lizzie, Robin, Hugh, Sam, Richard, Polly, Simon, Emma, Carl, Peter, Danny Fantastic, Indy, Fiona, Laura, Cait, and Kim. Thanks to all for a fantastic night.

24.5.04

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Graduate
Of all the classmates I've forgotten over the years, Chantel Sankey is not one. An intriguing brunette is how I remember her, a woman with as many neuroses as curves, and as addicted to time as she was tobacco, had I not known better I could have quite fancied her.

Instead I made her the subject of one of my bitchiest comments of all time. Having got into an argument with her boyfriend, I compared her to a car with twenty-something previous careful owners. In a popular public online forum. Not one of my proudest moments.

Even if she never forgave me, Chantel certainly seemed willing to forget, as she later became my number two in organising a national conference. So she was one of the few people I was looking forward to seeing at the university reunion.

Pregnancies, prior engagements and surely a little reluctance to revisit the past had taken their toll on our numbers, so we were only expecting roughly a quarter of the class to paint the Toon red:

Lynsey, still a close friend and the woman who could drive me to write a hundred posts.
David, just as born again as he ever was, who excelled himself by throwing my own glass of red wine over me and then putting some very unwelcome moves on Lyns.
Samantha, who organised the whole thing, and led the revelry with just as much vigour as she had a decade ago.
Stephen, possibly the first openly gay bloke I knew, but not until I'd spent a year thinking he had something going with a girl with whom I was infatuated.
Emma, who had never really been my type, but turned out to have a certain breathtaking and enigmatic allure, which left me wondering about all that which went unsaid.
Beth, who confounded us all by revealing herself to be getting married.
Claire, Joanne, Jayne, Kerry, all something of an unknown quantity compared to the rest.

And Chantel.

As she wasn't everyone's pint of snakebite and black, Samantha, Lynsey, David (and myself by association rather than choice) had spent the afternoon trying to avoid her, even though we knew she was staying in the room opposite the girls.

But as the appointed times and venues came and went it became apparent that Ms Sankey was an absentee.

Had she overheard the whispering and giggling of people trying to avoid her? Had she suddenly regretted making a 500-mile trip to see a bunch of library school students of whom she wasn't particularly fond? Or had she simply got lucky (unlikely, as rumour had it she wanted to steal the limelight with news of impending nuptials and giant shiny ring)?

Lynsey and I were both quite worried, and even Samantha showed a modicum of concern. But not enough for her to join us in knocking on the hotel room door as part of a daring 1am inquiry into why we'd been snubbed. After about four knocks, a man stumbled to the door. Whether or not he'd been warned about the likelihood of two inebriated information scientists waking him in the middle of the night, he denied any knowledge of Chantel Sankey's whereabouts.

So why did she fail to turn up? I'd hate to think we'd upset her in some way. Should we just hope she'll join us in 10 years' time? Or should I try to elicit some response?

Stay tuned for more developments as the investigation continues...

21.5.04

For the past few days I've had the benefit of my father and his aptitude for all things DIY. Me, I'm not much good with molecules, and tend to end up breaking things either accidentally, or deliberately, because they refuse to do my bidding.

So with Dad in town, we've been able to advance the cause of the biscuit, and make it even more like a home than it was before: the first pictures on walls, particularly tricky flat-pack garden furniture built, bedroom remodeled to allow for a computer area, things like that.

Hence the relative silence (apart from the sound of frenetic hammering, sawing and screwing... so to speak).

But with the space created to allow me to set up my PC, the full Nota Benny home experience should be just a few days away. The old machine just needs a bit of housekeeping and remodeling itself before I can let it loose on the web.

Which will allow me to comment on things like the identity of my new boss at my leisure. (More on that next week, but as an initial reaction, this is probably a good thing).

For the meantime, though, I'm off up to Newcastle tomorrow for my degree course's 10-year reunion.

And that in itself will surely lead to a story or two.

15.5.04

I ask you: What kind of a name is Apple? Some people just show no mercy.

13.5.04

Every so often life provides one with the opportunity to feel like a completely heartless arse. I've never been one to reject such an offer, and made good on one just yesterday.

A colleague of mine was attacked recently, and the unknown assailant left his right eye looking very nasty indeed. He's a nice, dry, northern bloke, seemingly no more prone to rushes of testosterone than your average man, and not the kind of guy one expects (or hopes) to see sporting a shiner.

But he's a Mancunian of the Red persuasion, so attempting to lighten the mood, I say, "I know he's a United fan but not even they deserve that." As luck would have it, this is timed perfectly for him to hear as he walks into the room. Aforementioned arse feeling ensues. The embarrassed silence from other colleagues does nothing to help.

It's a force of habit. Maybe I'm a little more ready than most with the sassy remark, but just like those in the medical profession, journos make light of serious situations as a coping mechanism to desensitise themselves to all the death and destruction. Or maybe it's just people with sick senses of humour who are drawn to the job.

Either way, it's good to be reminded from time to time that in every act of violence the victim is a real person, and they probably don't find it that funny.