New Year parish notices

In an attempt to enter 2006 with a slightly shorter backlog of things to say, here are a few points of order...

Normal service resumed a couple of weeks ago when Team Albatross won the final round of the pub quiz and the season title along with it by the whopping margin of 33 points, more than most teams scored in a whole week.

I'm sure the world will be relieved to hear this, if not out of good will, then just to save itself from more of my bellyaching (although that did prove most cathartic in that it got the quiz monkey off my back).

Mind you, there was very little good will when it was announced we'd won - the boos and hisses being rather unsporting even in what may have been the best of natures.

In the same mean spirit, it was good to see the Colts' winning run brought to an end by the Chargers, thereby ensuring that the '72 Dolphins' perfect season remains unique in NFL history for at least one more year. You stay classy, San Diego.

Reporting Slipper's death back in October, I gave the impression that every member of the family heralded her arrival with unbridled joy, even the dog.

I have to confess that this version of events is not quite the one that my mother remembers. The way she tells it, Boot had to be tied to the kitchen table, frothing at the mouth, while Mum held Slipper out of his reach. This continued for a week or thereabouts. So not quite a inter-species vision of harmony, then. Hopefully this won't undermine my journalistic credibility too seriously.

The funny little barcode and his fifth metatarsal ensured that the next year will start as miserably as this one ended for those of a black and white persuasion. Who knows. Maybe we'll have a new manager to look forward to.

I'm thinking about my most memorable moments, movies, music of 2005. I'll let you know when more of them come to mind. The word favourite is bandied about far too lightly these days. These things take time. :)

Happy New Year everyone. See you on the flip side.


I didn't think it was possible but I now have even greater admiration for Ben Folds.

At another great gig on Tuesday, he took a couple of minutes to explain the inspiration for The Ascent of Stan, a song about a hippy who abandons his principles in order to get on in the world.

The idea for the song came to him when he got a lift from said far-out groovy guy in a car adorned with peace stickers and witnessed a bout of near road rage from the driver.

Not that it had anything to so with the song, but at the end of the journey, the hippy told Ben he'd been "dialoguing" with his girlfriend.

At this point in telling the story, Mr Folds stopped to make a comment about people who use the word dialogue as a verb, a comment unsuitable for reproduction in a family environment such as this. Actually, that's not true. The truth is I can't remember exactly what he said because I was too busy screaming to process the precise words. Cheering grammar lessons at a rock concert - geek much?

Don't give me any BS about the evolution of language - although nouns like focus and parent have already been lost for ever, the further development of such practice is just plain wrong, and I'm damned if I'll give up any more ground.

But with all the dialoguing, incentivising, disincentivising, tasking, transitioning and actioning that goes on in popular speech there's little doubt that we're unlikely to win this war.

At least now I know that with Ben on our side, we're definitely going to have the better sounding argument.


I know how Alex Ferguson and Bill Belichick must feel. It's funny how addictive winning can become. I've never really experienced it before, at least not on a long-term basis.

And now... loss. It's almost too much to bear.

A few weeks ago, disillusioned with the chronic mediocrity of our performances in the Harringay Arms quiz, Team Albatross decided to try out another pub. An experimental competition saw us come fourth, and it was generally decided that with a change being as good as a rest, we might see an upturn in our fortunes.

Sure, the questions seemed a little easier than at the old place, but with the chance to prove our mettle over a six week season, the move - even if only temporary - seemed too good to resist.

Aided by the relative easiness of the questions, the results were immediate. We won the first week of the season with a record score. We won the next week too. And the third, with a total beating our own record.

It was starting to get embarrassing, partly because we were so obviously punching below our weight. We were quickly becoming the least popular team in the pub. The first week we won we were warmly applauded, the second less so, but still a polite congratulatory ripple. But the third week? Nothing. Tumbleweed. And by the fourth victory on the trot, people were asking the quizmaster whether he was going to ban us.

Short of deliberately giving the wrong answers we'd done everything we could to reduce the likelihood of us winning, even going so far as to demand our paper be remarked when we were sure we'd got points for an incorrect answer that had been misread by the scorer.

But all to no avail. Our winnings kitty continued to grow, and the lead over other teams in the race for the end of season prize reached 26 points - more than some competitors score in any one week.

So when, last Monday, we turned up with more than the regulation limit on players, Team Albatross had to split in two. This, we thought, might finally see us lose and regain a little bar cred. Certainly the first half of the quiz felt a little shaky for our depleted forces, and the half-time score confirmed it, putting us in joint second place.

Despite redoubling our efforts in the second half, when the final scores were in revealing a three-way tie we knew our time may well have come. And indeed we flunked the tiebreak question. Our crown went to another group.

But while we were generous in defeat and enjoyed the boost in morale and hope it gave to the rest of the teams in the pub, our loss has haunted me all week.

Why? Because this week's picture round was on British political figures, and while I got nine of the featured individuals immediately, the other one left me agonising: a black female Labour peer. There are only two that I knew of , but which one was it - Baroness Amos or Baroness Scotland? I went with the latter and resisted several urges to change the answer before handing the paper in.

And when the answers were revealed? It was Amos, of course. Bloody Amos. Something I guess I knew all along. The two of them don't even look alike.

I'm still gutted.

I know I ought to be big, that spreading the wealth and ability to rejoice in a win can only be a good thing, and that everyone on Team Albatross felt some sense of relief at finally losing. I also know that we're still long odds-on favourite to take the title in the final round.

But bugger magnanimity - I'm hooked on this victory high. Winning most of the time isn't good enough. We could have had a pefect season, and we blew it. I blew it.

Next week there'll be no surrender. It's clobberin' time.


Hey folks, please excuse the trumpet-blowing but it's a Ben Fell exclusive.

As I've said before, so rarely do we get to do anything truly original (and by that I mean 100%) that when this guy brought us some video footage of the massive explosions at one of Britain's biggest fuel depots, I just had to interview him about the blasts he'd seen from the air. It was our chance to scoop not just the rest of the media, but our own TV and radio colleagues too.

Phil was a nice guy, he needed a bit of coaching to get the best out of the story and was clearly a little nervous about being on camera, but I don't think I'm fooling anyone by saying the final product was worth it.

News 24 clearly agreed, because they used the interview when we offered it to them.

Not bad for a day on which I wasn't even supposed to be at work.


Wasted (even if I do say so myself)

Just occasionally, when something comes along like this piece of video featuring Dubya's latest comic blunder, I think I'm really in far too straight a line of work.

The obvious, scream out loud, killer line is one about the president showing that of all the lessons he may have learned from Iraq, the importance of developing a proper exit strategy isn't one of them.

I suggested a severely toned-down and much more circumspect version to colleagues writing the text story and while they cooed and shouted "Yes, thank you! That's got to be our line" in the end they took a safe route, as I always suspected they would.

Hopefully Jon Stewart and friends will think along similar lines and I'll be able to feel smug, clever and witty vicariously.


Slipper came to us in December 1989, a tiny stray by way of a student who'd been temping in mum's office. Slipper

She was such a wee scrap of a thing that we thought she was only a matter of weeks old. The vet told us she was actually a few months, just small. And she never grew into the biggest of cats.

At first we worried about how she'd get on with the dog, Boot. Or more to the point, how he'd get on with her. But it was never a problem. In spite of his natural disdain for all things feline, he seemed to understand that she was part of the family. Indeed, there were times we thought she was being brought up more dog than cat. Even when Boot died and Boggart arrived on the scene, she was the boss. Sure there were times when the pup would try his luck, but he'd never push it too far, fearing a scratched nose or worse.

When my parents moved to Wales in the mid 90s, she stayed with me in Yorkshire to look after their house. During this period of a year or so, we became particularly close, forming a bond that was never really broken, even after she moved down to Wales and I struck out on my own.

We could always pick up where we'd left off. We had this routine, wherein she'd lick my fingers and I'd use them to stroke the crown of her head. I never knew exactly what she got out of it, but I like to think it reminded her of being groomed by her mother.

She was fearless for such a small thing. She took on foxes in the middle of the night, warning them away from her territory. Once she even jumped on the back of my grandmother's dog, Sally, after she attacked Boggart. She knew where her loyalties lay.

In later years, she seemed to go a bit dappy. Mum was convinced she lost her marbles a couple of years ago. But she was always in good spirits, happy to come on late night walks with the dog - a habit which always mystified and amused us.

And the end came quickly, in a matter of a fortnight or so. Apparently she probably had end-stage kidney failure. Her muscles had wasted away, so that in recent weeks she'd barely been able to walk. She ate very little, Mum feeding her her last couple of tiny meals on the end of a teaspoon.

Slipper died this morning at the age of 16, the vet's doing, but something he didn't have to talk my parents into. A cat of such calibre deserved something of a dignified ending, and it seems that's what she got. Quick, peaceful, in my mother's arms. I'm only sorry I didn't get to say goodbye when I last saw her in August.

So goodbye princess. I love you.


The reason for the current silence is that I'm currently on retreat, recharging my anecdotal batteries. High time, some might say. I'm inclined to agree. Stories aplenty when I return in a couple of weeks. So if you wouldn't mind popping in to water the plants, I'd be ever so grateful.


More animals for you. This time, dolphins - fitting, considering my American Football allegiance. My modest contribution to the flood of Hurricane Katrina stories. Short and sweet, quick and easy.

And fluffy is not the sum total of what I do, honest, however much that might appear to be the case. My other, bigger contributions to the newsroom's effort are just less tangible.

One of these days I promise to share something people don't automatically want to cuddle...


Who needs football?

Kylie, Skippy, Rolf Harris, Chopper Read, Bob Hawke, John Howard, Mick Dundee, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Bradman, Harry Kewell, Olivia Newton John, Harold Bishop... your boys took one hell of a beating, I said your boys one hell of a beating.

(With thanks to a certain Norwegian football commentator.)


It's not big and it's not clever

It struck me last night that I've not had a hangover in more than a year. This has been through choice, admittedly, but for someone who used to suffer quite badly on more than a strictly healthy regular basis, it's still quite a lifestyle change.

So in honour of the headaches and DTs that I've consigned to the past, and in no particular order, here are my top five most memorable hangovers:

Warning: graphic description of shameful drunkenness and bodily functions follows.

Yorkshire/Manchester, January 1995
It had been Thomas' last night in the family home before he and Lizzie were due to set off for six months in Tanzania. The two of us decided to mark the occasion - a school night - with beers and vodka depth charges. It got messy, natch. And unsurprisingly I didn't feel much like work the next day. But I managed to make the hour or so's journey from home to the office - just about five hours late. Finally rocking up at New Broadcasting House in Manchester at about 2pm, I slumped in my corner for a couple of hours before excusing myself, blaming a bug or something. But these were hard-bitten and sozzled media people I was working with - I'm fairly sure not a single one of them was fooled.

Sweden, July 1995
Officially my Worst Hangover Ever. Developed while on holiday with University friends Andy, Matt and Chris, at the latter's grandfather's log cabin in the woods of back of beyond Sweden. Mix a very hot summer, closed windows to keep the mosquitoes out, no TV, several hundred hands of pontoon (matchsticks one credit, 10 matchsticks = one bottle top, five bottle tops = one loo roll) and two litres of duty free. With two of the boys already nursing a hangover, much of the drinking fell on me. When I went outside for a pee and fell over backwards with the force of zipping myself back up (my head missing a breeze block step by a matter of inches) they decided it was time I should go to bed.

Several hours later I woke up lying across the bed, my head lolling backwards, unaware I'd just escaped death for a second time that night, this time Hendrix-style. However, I had just managed to, err, revisit the bedroom's interior design during the night (and as a former library student, I'm still quietly proud of the fact that I managed to miss the bookshelves completely).

Although my friends tried taking me to the seaside for some fresh air, I couldn't actually handle being anything other than horizontal until late afternoon, Chris nursing me with tonic water, fruit salts, and blueberry soup - traditional Swedish hangover cures.

And when my dear friends decided to clean up my mess, they found that the combination of alcohol and stomach acid had eaten away at much of the bedroom wallpaper. Chris' father had to drive the 100 or so miles from his home to redecorate. And while Chris' parents must have known what had happened, I'm not sure whether they knew exactly which of the four of us was responsible. Even if they did, publicly at least, they just smiled and put it down to the high jinks of young men.

I've not drunk Southern Comfort since.

Yorkshire, March 1996
Not so much memorable for the hangover as the manner in which I got it - locked in during a snow storm with Paul and Laura waiting up for the Tyson-Bruno fight. Paul and I worked our way through a box of bottles of French lager, plus one shot short of two bottles of Bourbon - all supplied by me. Well, I had said I'd bring drinks.

I can't remember whether we actually saw the fight (I've never actually liked boxing), but we were still going at six the next morning, and after nodding off for an hour or so, I decided that what with it being Mother's Day, I'd better go home. My mum's first comment? "You reek of booze. Fresh booze." The fact I'd left her card and present at Paul and Laura's didn't help. Not that she appeared to mind, particularly. The day with her, dad, the brothers and my grandmother felt pretty gruesome, but I made it through in one piece.

Paul, on the other hand, stayed on his living room sofa all day, before eventually deciding he had the strength to stand up at about midnight. Problem was that once he'd achieved vertical status, he couldn't stop going, falling over and breaking his ankle.

This has been known ever since as "the time I hospitalised Paul."

Yorkshire, Summer 1998
Another one of the many sessions with Paul and Laura that ended far too messily. I was due to meet Thomas and his then-girlfriend Gina at a pub in Hebden Bridge, half an hour or so's bus journey from Laura's house. Everything was going fine until we got halfway, and I had this urge to be sick. I hit the bell requesting the next stop. But it didn't come quite quickly enough. Although I attempted to stem any flow by putting my hands over my mouth, unfortunately my fingers only served to act as a kind of spray attachment. This must have been particularly gruesome for the two elderly ladies sitting in front of me, presumably off to something nice, sociable and wholesome on a Sunday morning.

I managed to get off the bus at a small industrial estate, find a tap and clean myself up a little. I think I may even have had a change of clothes with me. Still, nothing could disguise the fact that I must have met Gina for the first time smelling of vomit. It was something of a strained meeting, and as it happened, our only one. I'm not saying it was anything to do with me, but Thomas and Gina didn't last long enough for me to meet her a second time.

Wales, November 2003
Possibly the best hangover ever, the day after my mum's surprise 60th birthday party (and England's rugby world cup victory). A group of very old friends - Joseph, Lizzie, Robin, Hugh - who mum just happens to love, waking from our slumbers all around the living room (we'd been left where we fell), being very silly, playing word games (fish-based quiz shows), being scared by modern television for pre-school children, and generally just laughing until our sides were fit to burst.

Of course, this list is not to be confused with the top five times I've been plastered (as if such a compilation could even exist). There are many drunken afternoons and evenings I've enjoyed - weddings, stag nights and birthdays included, as well as spontaneous sessions, very special (and sometimes somewhat hazy) memories all - which would otherwise be recorded here.

Now I'm more about restraint, quality not quantity, the quiet pint or two of something good, rather than litres and litres of whatever gets the job done quickest. Yeah, I sometimes miss those raucous days and splitting headaches. But not really enough to want them back.


Oh glorious day.

Cue manic laughter.


Look, kittens!
At work it's good form to create the odd "original" package occasionally, taking pictures fed by one of the agencies, knocking out a short script and putting it all together to provide something the rest of the Beeb doesn't have time or possibly interest to cover. It mixes up our work, helps us hit our objectives for creativity, and sometimes proves very popular with the site's users.

This piece about a pair of baby snow leopards born at Berlin Zoo is my first production in 18 months. Not exactly hard news, I know, but it's the first offering since the Great Gorilla Disappointment of 2004, which knocked my confidence and put me right off packaging material.

I'm something of a reluctant broadcaster, feeling much more at home expressing myself in type. I tend to seize up in front of a microphone. Strange for a kid who grew up on the stage, I know, but there you go. Besides which, I think there are people better and more naturally suited to this kind of work - Sam, for one.

Despite the fact I hate listening to my voice, and think there's still room for improvement, I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out. Hopefully the next thing (for next there must certainly be) will be another notch up the scale. After all, practice makes adequate.


Oh please!
Pleasepleaseplease, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease, PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE!


If all has gone according to plan then today Mr Danny Fantastic should have set off on his journey to India.

"Big wow," some might say, "India's so 90s." Or, "Terrific! What a place to visit. Not the best weather at this time of year, but hey, who needs the sun?."

But for those who don't know the thing that makes Dan's trip a little different is that - but for the little matter of the English channel - he's planning on cycling pretty much all the way from Barnet to Bombay (and maybe a little bit further) with just 40GB of iRiver music and a big book to keep him from losing his marbles.

Having packed in his job with the evil Murdoch Superglobomegacorp, he'll ride through Europe, Turkey, Iran, and on to India, camping where he can, relying on the kindness of strangers when necessary, and maybe giving the odd dusky local beauty a story or two to tell about her night with the strange English boy who rode through town one day.

He even has the ambition of providing local news outlets with the occasional outrageous "And finally..." along the way.

Whatever he gets up to, he's promised to document at least some of it along the way, on his specially built blog.

We're not expecting him back for about nine months, and he'll leave a big hole behind. As a founding member of Albatross his reliability, intelligence and steadying influence will be missed at the pub quiz. And it's strange to think that we won't be seeing his big smiley face, listening to another of his seemingly endless supply of fresh anecdotes, hearing him play sax, or just talking crap over beer for a long while.

I think I'm right in saying we're still building our friendship after a fairly slow, tentative start that dates back several years, but this much I know: he's a good man, a good friend, and he'll be missed.

God speed, Dan. Travel safe, and come back soon.


Things I mistakenly never thought I'd do (number something in an occasional series)

Play the voice of Diego Maradona in a professional broadcast. Honest.

Hello, by the way. Sorry about the lengthy silence. I've had a lot on my mind. Hopefully that's all out of the way, though. Good to be back.


Wot no terrorists?
According to the house style guide at work, use of the word "terrorism" and derivations thereof should be avoided in copy on the BBC News website unless attributed to a reported individual or organisation. One man's terrorist, the thinking goes, is another man's freedom fighter, especially on a site read the world over.

So yesterday's attacks on London were apparently not the acts of terrorists. Yes, more than 50 people are thought to have died. Yes, they came out of the blue. Yes, a self-proclaimed affiliate of al-Qaeda has admitted responsibility for them. But is it terrorism? Apparently not.

The anti-terror line of editorial thinking obviously has some merit. In the case of most Palestinians, for example, they are simply fighting for autonomy and equality in a land that used to be their own. The methods employed by Hamas and their like may be deplorable, but they are born of frustration and hatred of the people they see as their oppressors. Ordinary Israelis, on the other hand, are being made to pay in blood simply for occupying the land they were taught was theirs by divine right, however archaic that may seem to those who don't share their faith (as well as some who do).

And the British people were clearly against the US-led invasion of Iraq, even if Mr Tony didn't appear to give a toss what we thought.

Al-Qaeda's main aim, on the other hand, appears to be devoted to anything but increasing liberty. Yes, they want to end the West's involvement in the Arab world, but they want to replace Muslim secular states with a single Islamic leadership. Government on their terms, not those of the people.

Not exactly my definition of freedom.

And just as the Crusades weren't exactly a great idea, I don't think the slaughter of innocent Britons is how the majority of Muslims would really want to achieve an Islamic utopia, however desirable an ideal that may actually be.

As for the people who attacked London yesterday and what we call them, well if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck... it's probably got explosives strapped to its chest.
My friend Chris, in Malmö, Sweden, sent me this message after hearing I was okay.

It’s a violent world.

Today, during my lunchbreak I walked with Ulla-Karin, Signe and a Client on the main shopping street in Malmö.

We walked into a crowd of people who were looking at a murdered man on the street.

He was shot by two guys as he sat having a cup of coffee.

The Client works with marketing at The Sydsvenskan Daily News and took this picture with his mobile which is now a news picture on the web.

Violence is everywhere.

Idiots are everywhere.

I won't include the picture.

Times like this make you realise how much you miss your friends.


For anyone worried about me and the bombs, I'm okay. At work, busy, but okay.


Fuckin' yes!

Please pardon the French, as the unfortunate saying goes, but this has to have been one of the most exciting days I've ever had in the newsroom, if not my whole time in the BBC.

All morning we'd been hanging on every word to come from the International Olympic Committee meeting in Singapore, as we caught the tail end of the presentations. At first glance Seb Coe's very simple presentation looked almost apologetic next to the extravagance of Luc Besson's mini-movie for the Paris bid. I wthought we were sure to lose.

Then the painful minutiae of the voting system explained time and again for all those IOC members who hadn't quite caught it the third time over.

And the votes themselves with hearts in mouths as one by one Moscow, New York and Moscow were knocked out of the competition.

Then nothing but silence for an hour or more, as the bastards kept the results of the final ballot to themselves until they could set up the big reveal. After the break: if it's good enough for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, it's good enough for the IOC.

So when Jacques Rogge announced the games would be coming to London, it was just a magical moment.

Cries of "Yes!" and applause went up spontaneously across the office. (This has to be one of very few places of employment where the watching of television at one's workstation is actively encouraged.)

For months, battles have been raging between those excited by the prospect of London 2012, and the doom merchants and naysayers who could see only congested public transport, irritating tourists, and inevitable humiliation as incompetent Britain drops the most keenly contested Olympic ball in front of a world audience.

But I believe London 2012 will be phenomenal. Apart from the compelling sport, massive urban regeneration, radically improved infrastructure and very likely rise in house prices, the truly exciting thing is the fact that the whole world will be arriving in our city. The already cosmopolitan nature will be magnified a hundred fold as the entire globe focuses on our backyard. What could be more exhilarating than that?

In the long run, I'd very much like to be part of the Games, even just a tiny speck, hopefully from within my current organisation - host broadcasters, of course.

Seven years and counting. There's a lot to be done. And I want to see that it's done right.

But for now, just fucking yeah...


Puny creatures, tremble before your destroyer!
The unfortunate thing about trying to keep a garden in shape is the number of battles in which one gets involved.

Mum gave me a lovely little rose bush for my birthday. "It's disease resistant," she advised me. Not being that green of finger, I took this to mean it would be relatively low maintenance - regular watering and feeding during summer, maybe the odd bit of dead-heading, but otherwise something that could be left to its own devices.

Oh no.

Having been back to Wales for a long, hot weekend, I thought my garden was in need of a little attention. Most of the rose bush's flowers had died as a combined result of the sun and the fact that they'd come to the end of their natural life. So this morning's task was the removal of dessicated blooms.

Something else didn't look quite right, though. Didn't the bush used to have more leaves? Looking closer, I found the little culprit responsible - green, squirmy and enjoying a feast of foliage.

And he wasn't alone. Why dine on your own when you can throw a party? Upon thorough inspection I found dozens of the little buggers had stripped several of the branches as good as bare. Evidently I was facing the massed ranks of the caterpillar army.

So dead-heading became bug-chasing, as I scoured the rose bush for my herbivorous foes, picking them off and throwing them onto the decking for birds to find, or maybe for an appointment with the frog/toad/amphibious thing that seems to be resident in my garden (of whom more another time, hopefully). But eventually, much like sniffer dogs with drugs, a kind of caterpillar blindness develops, and the initial sharpness fades. Even so, by the end of the session about 50 had been forcibly evicted.

And still I can't be sure I got all of them, can't be sure that my rambling rose will be allowed to recover without the threat of being eaten alive. I read the Very Hungry Caterpillar enough times as a child to appreciate the scale of the appetite I'm facing. And why can't they eat something ugly and useless like weeds? Why does it have to be the pretty, delicate stuff that gets devoured?

Yet, knowing that the caterpillars are just following the course of their nature as flutterbys-in-waiting, I can't help but feel a little guilty. I didn't squish the little critters, but by separating them from food and camouflage I can't deny being guilty of conspiracy to murder. Genocide, even. Insecticide!

But what else can I do? It's them or me.

In the words of another great bug hunter, I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.


Will's squeeze Kate Middleton, copyright APThis might appear very cheap of me, but...

My, if young William's squeeze Kate Middleton isn't a very attractive young woman.

With genes like those on show at Buck House, I could be persuaded to put the Republic on hold for a year or two.

Hang on, though. Is this actually just a monarchist ruse to quell the people?

Brothers, sisters (although mostly just the brothers), it is vital that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted from the cause.

(I strongly deny any allegation that rather than being discussion of a serious constitutional issue this post is actually just a thinly-veiled excuse for publishing a picture of a hot girl.)


A Sunday stroll
Arrive at the National Theatre on the South Bank at 1330. Despite the formidable heat in London (33c/91f) the place is thronging with people ready for Crusaid's annual Walk for Life fundraiser. A crowd

Hotties for people of all persuasions abound. DJ is playing a medley of tunes with the word walk (and derivations thereof)in the title: Bangles, Mellencamp, Aretha, Katrina and the Waves, Run DMC and Aerosmith of course, to name but a few, but no Nancy Sinatra or Johnny Cash, as far as I notice.

The appointed departure time of 1400 approaches and people make a last dash for the loo, eager to balance the intake and output of fluids correctly. Two o'clock comes and goes. Still, the collection of gay activists, charity workers, compassionate corporate teams (in t-shirts which delicately balance understanding and branding), and other concerned individual seem to be happy enough.

The compere keeps promising we'll be under way in "just five more minutes", but the DJ's run out of fresh tracks to play. Ignore Susanna Hoffs' advice. Emulating Egyptians for 10km is not viable.

Eventually, quarter of an hour late, the MC introduces the guest "stars" who are to cut the ribbon and start the walk. Sir Ian McKellen's place in history is assured and I'm suitably in awe of his presence. Dannii Minogue's presence is less inspiring, but I have a soft spot for her as Kylie's sister. AS for the others, we have a ghost of Big Brother past, Captain Jack from Doctor Who, and some bloke from Eastenders. Good job I'm here for the exercise rather than the autographs.

Finally, at 1417, we're sent on our way. But with thousands of people trying to filter out of the narrow exit from the National's square it is, as one wag observes, more like the shuffle for life.Footlock

The early going proves heavy as the crowds prevent me from setting my own pace. If there's one thing I hate, it's walking slowly. I have an optimum rate, and much below that I start losing my balance. But as we move past the tourist traps on Westminster Bridge, I get the chance to start cutting through the dawdlers.

Turning east onto Whitehall, I start getting into my stride. As we pass a protest outside Downing Street, a mother and son who'd obviously been at the front of the group are arguing about who was going to carry the child's silver scooter. There's about 9km to go. Will these people never learn?

Passing through Trafalgar Square, we turn down Northumberland Avenue towards Embankment. As we reach the north bank, a group of corporate girls enjoy a flurry of excitement.

"We're halfway there," says one, "that official lady just told me." I look at my watch. 1450. We've been walking barely half an hour. Either we're breaking records or these girls have a nasty surprise in store.

The Embankment goes by without much worthy of comment, although I notice more than a few fellow walkers taking a rest or grabbing an ice cream. Every now and again we pass the walk's stewards who greet us with varying degrees of enthusiasm, ranging from disinterest to a one-woman extravaganza of whooping, applause and encouragement for each participant who passes.

We cross the Thames for a second time, over Southwark bridge and back onto the South Bank, where the buildings are starting to provide a little more shade for the savvy to walk in. It's about this time that I notice I'm regularly trading places with a couple of girls, a veritable Little and Large. As patronising as this may sound, the big girl's pace and stamina are impressive.

Another volunteer, a lovely lady of Latin extraction, assures us we're over halfway by this point. It's good to know, but I think she's missed her cue. Wonder how the corporate girls are doing.

Then back across the Thames over Tower Bridge. This is the start of our trip back west. The heat's really beginning to tell now. I'm thirsty, in spite of the litres of water I've drunk, my legs are tired, and my eyes are stinging from all the sweat that's run into them.

But there's fresh impetus when the girls ask a volunteer how many people have already passed her. A couple of hundred, comes the reply. The girls seem surprised and a little disappointed that it's so many, but I'm quite pleased with my position - not that it's a race, of course.

My pre-race banana has worn off by this point, so it's time for number two as I approach Cannon Street and pass St Paul's. A cheery Irish fella assures us we've passed the three-quarter distance mark, another piece of good news.

And so it's one last crossing of the river, south across the Millennium Bridge. I still rue the day they decided to amend the architect's original plans and de-wobble it. The big girl gets caught among sloth-like pedestrians, and I make a little ground on my adopted rivals.

But then we all fall victim to the tourist traffic that surrounds Tate Modern and the Oxo tower, and hit much worse when we get to the charming wharf near Coin Street. Which just happens to be having its annual festival.

Can't really blame them, but with less than a kilometre to go, extra crowds and stalls to avoid are the last thing this walker needs. However successful this Walk for Life may have been as a fundraiser, the practicalities of the route seem to have been given surprisingly little thought.

Still, with the National looming, the finish line is in sight. Despite having lost ground to the girls around the festival, the celebratory balloon arch is a welcome reward.

Walked footMy time? Two hours, 10 minutes. Not too shabby, especially considering the conditions and the cattle-run nature of the start. And confirmation that I've come home "well within the first 200" is cause for extra celebration.

But my journey's not quite over. It's off to Battersea Park (my first visit, and a pleasant surprise to find it beats Hyde Park - reminds me of Vancouver's Stanley Park, but with less ocean and mountain) to meet Thomsk, Josh, Jane and Thea, and finally relax.

As a result of the schlepping, I've managed to raise more than £400 for Crusaid to put towards various HIV and Aids causes, thanks in no small part to many of you.

I've been warned not to make a habit of it. Possibly good advice, but never say never again.


As Naomi said...
I don't get out of bed for less than 10k.

Me, post-Walk for Life

Full report to follow.


Good night last night watching Danny Fantastic's new jazz combo play their debut gig. First time I've actually heard him play his sax - and he's good. Particularly pleasing that he failed to keep it together during the closing reggae version of a Mingus classic (at least I think it was - but my jazz knowledge is poor).

Unfortunately with Dan's impending cycle path cycle to India (yes, two wheels all the way), it seems like it's the only set they'll ever play. Stories will be told in hushed voices of the Rhythm Centre sax man who wowed the lucky two dozen brave enough to venture to a little basement bar in Stoke Newington, and then disappeared, never to be heard blowing his horn in public again. (Until he comes back, of course). And we finished the night eating in a Turkish cafe in a borderline dodgy area at one in the morning, discussing Scientology. Only in London. Or Istanbul, of course.

Also, why do people say "I could care less" when what they actually mean is that they couldn't? Presumably the saying had its original meaning (i.e. that it would be possible for them to care less than they actually did, that they actually cared quite a lot), but some lazy people thought it sounded cool, and the fact that they ended up talking nonsense was an acceptable price to pay. Don't cite evolution of the language. It's not going to wash. These people should be stopped.

And if this post seems a little lacklustre, it's because I'm not writing what's on my mind. But that's maybe just as well because, as Jane once remarked, throwing up on a public street may provide instant relief for the one doing the chundering, but in the long run things rarely work out for anyone.


I recently started swimming again, and I'd forgotten how much of a hub for the community a local pool can be.

But over here are mothers, babies and toddlers (some showing early signs of transvestism - "It's very impressive that he knows about Snow White," says one mum. "Oh yes," comes the reply, "Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, he knows them all. We've been to fancy dress parties as them."), over there the schoolkids learning to swim, out of the pool just in time for the water aerobics with accompanying megamix of pop favourites (Durannies and Kylie vs New Order), with a big German girl floating up and down one of the lanes on her back.

In fact, even when one times one's visit to hit the quietest periods, there's so much vitality that there's very little room for those of us who actually want to put in a few good lengths.

I've never been the strongest swimmer. I think I was about 11 before I was able to keep myself afloat independently, and even now I wouldn't be any kind of challenge for Ian Thorpe, even in terms of shoe size. Hell, I'd struggle to keep up with Equatorial Guinea's Eric the Eel in the pool, even without the added hazards provided by the occasional escaped sticking plaster. And my repertoire's pretty much limited to the breast stroke (insert your own double entendre here).

You'd hope that a swimming pool would provide more than a quarter of its capacity for actual swimming. But that's proving to be a rare treat. So those of us who want exercise rather than indulge in a bit of splashy-splashy are forced to share two lanes, squeezed out to the edge of the pool, going up one and down the other, with me playing the role of tractor on a long Cornish country lane, all the family saloons trudging in my wake.

All of this is tolerable, when compared with the worst affliction of public baths: teenage boys. The less said about them the better, other than they ought not to be allowed. Anywhere. If we ignore them, they might go away.

Is there a point to any of this? Not really. I'm just getting it off my chest. Except to say the one unbeatable aspect about the pool is that it's where Mum used to take us after school when we lived in north London more than 20 years ago.

I like it when life goes in circles. Unlike swimming.


A word for our sponsors
You can't believe how incredibly sordid I feel doing this here, but...

In a little less than two weeks I'm going to be participating in a sponsored Walk for Life around London, in support of the Aids charity Crusaid. They exist principally to generate cash for Aids projects in the UK and around the world: vaccine research, education programmes, poverty relief - you name it, they'll throw money at it.

Now this walk is quite a big deal for me. Not because of the distance - I shouldn't find 10k on hard streets too taxing even on a sunny summer day - but owing to the fact that I've got considerably fitter over the past year, and this was the first opportunity I had to put that progress to good use.

Problem is, after a good start, the fundraising's temporarily dried up well short of my target. Of course, I have a lot of people to go to cap in hand nearer the time, but having e-mailed them all once (to some benefit - thanks Sam and Jane, particularly), I don't want to be too much of a nag.

I abhor people using their blogs to beg for money, particularly when it's just for themselves, but the thought that the charity might miss out on a few quid because I didn't pursue a potential source of revenue, well that's worse.

Hence the shameless plea here.

So if any of you benevolent souls do feel like adding to the coffers before 19th June, you can do so by visiting my sponsorship page, where absolutely anything would be gratefully received (it all goes directly to the charity - none of it passes through my hands, either physical or virtual). Plus, you should get a warm glow from the knowledge that you've done A Good Thing.

While I don't expect to come out of it challenging Maurice Greene or Haile Gebrselassie for honours, I do promise to post an illustrated account.

Many, many thanks in anticipation, and we now return you to your regular programming.


I've been trying to construct a paean to Ben Folds after seeing him play last night, but I'm so much in awe of the man, that all I can manage is wow.

I'd been waiting years for this gig, the chance to see one of my favouritest artists perform live. But when he toured in 2000 I couldn't see him, then in 2002 I was in the US (at some wedding or other :) while he was in the UK, and finally the original November date for this show was cancelled because Ben had a serious chest infection.

But it was worth waiting for.

It was just fantastic, everything I had hoped. The mix of old tunes and new, the slowies and crowd-pleasers, the mandatory audience participation on tracks like Army and Not the same, the ironic cover of Dr Dre's Bitches Ain't Shit (with melody specially penned by Ben), the slightly country acoustic guitar support act (who may or may not have been Ben - a topic of fervent debate), Folds' mastery of the keyboards and the proof that pop and piano can mix without being bland (Dame Elton he ain't), the seemingly improvised riffs ("The Barbican is not your bitch/The Barbican will not be rocked"), the humour and humanity running through his work - it was almost three hours of pure joy.

If I had one criticism, it would be that the staid London crowd were far too slow to get out of their seats and on their feet.

But the guy just has fun on stage, and eventually it proves infectious.

And judging by the way my legs were shaking with excitement by the end of the concert, I think I'm about ready to have his children.

More please...


This is a little behind schedule, but on Monday Gary asked, "Are you striking today Ben? If not, how may people are at work with you. If so, tell us why you're striking."

In short, yes I was striking on Monday, so I have no way of knowing exactly how many people were in the office. However, from what I've heard and can guess, my section of the BBC News website was hit pretty hard by the action.

On a normal working day there should be approximately two dozen people on shift in our team over the course of the 24 hours. On Monday, their jobs were being done by maybe five or six staff, none of whom was a union member.

Whether it had much of an effect on the output as far as users are concerned, I'm not sure. On the internet, unlike TV and radio, it's much easier to paper over the cracks and present an illusion of normalcy. Of course, I could tell that we weren't doing everything we'd normally do, and that the staffing level could only provide a minimal service, but then I know what to look for.

As for our more senior siblings, the gogglebox and the wireless, it was clear there was something definitely rotten in Denmark: makeweight presenters standing in for household names, middle managers voicing tracks for tv packages - despite obviously not having been near a microphone in years, whole programmes replaced with highlights and fillers.

Of course, not every division is as highly unionised as news - journalists are nothing if not bolshy buggers - so there were certain offices and elements of output where the day passed without incident.

But still, I think people noticed.

So why were we striking? Well, it's basically because Mark Thompson - the director general, the top man at the BBC - plans to cut almost 4,000 jobs over the next three years. That's almost one in five of the UK public service workforce - a pretty big chunk in anyone's money. Thompson wants to plough the money that's saved through the cuts back into programme-making and improving existing services.

The unions want to negotiate certain issues, such as guaranteeing there will be no compulsory redundancies. The BBC also says it's happy to discuss certain issues, but the unions claim they are being talked at rather than with (in as much as I hate the neologism talking with, it's important to use it here to make the distinction).

If I was being completely honest, I'd say I wasn't initially wholeheartedly behind the strike. I've always thought industrial action on that scale is something akin to nuclear weaponry - mutually assured destruction, good for no one.

And I think that some of Thompson's plans will be good for the BBC. But then I work in one of the areas that stands to gain from the extra money, a growth area, and have the benefit of knowing that as far as anyone can make temporary assurances, my job and those of most of my direct colleagues are safe.

But a lot of people feel much more strongly about these job cuts than I do, and the fact is that eight out of ten union members who expressed a preference voted in favour of a strike. A lot of people (including some I know) are going to be hurt if Thompson's plans go through.

And that's why I joined a union. You shouldn't just be a member on the offchance that things go pear-shaped for you. It's about supporting those in a less fortunate position, regardless of one's personal fortune.

It's the least I can do to respect the decision of my peers, and honour the strike. It's the democratic way.

I just hope we find a good solution soon, so we can all get back to doing what we do best.


Have I done a bad thing?

On my way into work I noticed that the seat next to mine on the tube had an empty sandwich wrapper on it. Rather than one of the traditional Marks and Sparks plastic efforts, it was a very American-style open wrapper, enabling better access to the food within. It also seemed to contain the remnants of someone's lunch.

At King's Cross, with all other seats taken, I noticed a large-ish man angling for the seat. He was carrying a couple of bags, and quite clearly needed to take a load off. I assumed he'd see the wrapper and discard it, but no, he turned round and slowly lowered himself into the seat, seemingly oblivious to the lunch up his backside.

I stayed quiet, not wishing to be associated with the offending article should blame become an issue.

So I'd seen all this happen, had it within my power to prevent trouser spoilage, and chosen not to.

The question is, would I have done anything different had I failed to notice the bloke heading for arse-sarnie interface was carrying a rucksack emblazoned with the Manchester United shield?


Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:

Liberal Democrat

Your actual outcome:

Labour 12
Conservative -31
Liberal Democrat 50
UK Independence Party 11
Green 3

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

No suprise there then - just unfortunate that I'm traditional Labour by nature. What's a little worrying is the strong showing for UKIP - can't think what caused that. Aside from the fact that I was just a handful out in the office sweepstake to predict the final Labour majority (I said 63, the final tally clocked in at 67), it seems to have been a good result. A greatly reduced majority should help keep Blair's more maniacal leanings in check. Could Laura have been right when she said we'd elected something close to a socialist government? I hope so. Now we just have to wait and see.


Heavens, I'm smooth.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting Wendy Darling of Magic Short Bus fame.

In London for a working holiday, and having been an online acquaintance for some time, she suggested we meet: put faces and personalities to names, show her a bit of London, have a drink, that sort of thing. So we decided to meet at Tate Modern, perfect for a couple of intelligent young media professionals.

It's a while since I've had a close encounter of the web kind*. Not since Jen have I met someone I got to know in text mode. Needless to say, then, I'm a bit out of practice.

It was an interesting, enjoyable afternoon, with a smart, wry person, and I hope I get the chance to meet Wendy again next time she's in town.

Although I'd understand if the feeling isn't mutual, because inbetween the discussion of her work, my work, the absurdity of the British electoral process, and the relative merits of Giacometti (cool), Mark Dion (intriguing), Bruce Nauman (huh?) and Mark Rothko (absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever) these are my most memorable moments from the afternoon...

* Forsaking the familiar route to the museum, in favour of a "clever" new one, and consequently arriving 15 minutes late, hot and flustered. Oh, and 11 hours out of the shower.

* Asking my professional stop-frame animation companion whether she was familiar with the work of renowned stop-frame surrealist Jan Svankmajer. Not at all patronising.

* Discovering the awe-inspiring breadth and depth of my ignorance as regards the city in which I've lived for four years, and been familiar with for most of my life. From the historical, to the architectural, to the culinary, when meeting someone wishing to learn more about London, the stock reply "Err... I don't know" really doesn't cut the mustard.

* Frantically trying to remember sketches from hit animation series Robot Chicken and hoping they were ones on which Wendy might have worked. Usually without success.

* Splashing out for a whole pot of Earl Grey. Drunk standing up.

* Sam Taylor-Wood's fascinating time-lapse film of a bowl of fruit decaying, which appeared to be Wendy's favourite thing in the whole place. We watched it twice.

Mouldy fruit and tea.

Never let it be said I don't know how to show a girl a good time.

*Actually, the nerd kind sounds better, but I don't think it's a fair description of Wendy or, for that matter, myself.


Morto un papa, se ne fa un altro

My idle thoughts?

1. I was writing something else, something remotely personal, but that will just have to wait til tomorrow.

2. In Joseph Ratzinger, or Pope Benedict XVI as he'll be known, the cardinals seem to have gone down the route of the hard bastard. So don't expect any hippy liberal tree-hugging out of Rome any time soon. But he's old, so maybe he won't time to do that much damage.

3. It's also annoying because I was quite confidently proclaiming in the office just the other day, "It won't be Ratzinger. He's too old school." I hereby give notice of my resignation as religious pundit.

Screen grab 4. My dear colleagues, bless them, actually had the audacity to call the live web feed of the Papal chimney "Vaticam". We'd all been using the phrase in the office, but actually to publish it? I love 'em to bits.

That's enough Catholicism. Ed.


Gobby gallic sulkpot that he is, Laurent Robert is right: Newcastle United are not as good now as they were this time last year.

April 2004 saw us fighting for a Champions League spot. April 2005 sees us scrambling for a place in the top half of the table.

April 2004 saw us in the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup. April 2005 has seen us dumped out of the competition after rolling over in Lisbon.

And heaven knows how we've made it to the semis of the FA Cup.

I was reluctant to welcome Graeme Souness' arrival as a new dawn for the Toon, mainly because I'd never particularly liked the man. But I was willing to give him a chance, and was starting to come round once we'd strung a few good results together. Now the rot's set in again - best displayed by the fight between Dyer and Bowyer.

And while Robert was wrong to mouth off to the press, especially as he only performs to his ability in one game out of every three, Souness was wrong to leave him out of the squad for the European match. That's where Robert is at his best. Yet when we went behind, we couldn't ask him and his phenomenal left foot to save us.

This is all because Souness is a macho bully. Discipline is important, but he takes things too far. Bellamy was a little gobshite, but good for the club. Yet when he publicly questioned the manager, he was out. Now it looks as if the same thing is happening with Robert.

This is not a team that can afford to lose the level of athleticism or talent that the likes of Robert and Bellamy brought to Newcastle United - but that's precisely what Souness' ego is depriving us of.

Punishing a player for telling the truth? He needs to get a grip on reality before it's too late.


There can be few things more frustrating for a journalist than waiting for a story to happen. So has it been these past few weeks as Pope John Paul II's health rapidly deteriorated before his death last night.

We knew it was going to happen. We were as ready as we could be - the obituary prepared, the archive material sourced, related stories written, the plan for reaction to his death being refined further and further to make sure our response was as smooth and comprehensive as possible. The only thing holding us back was one very poorly old man.

Indeed, my 10.5 year career at the BBC has been defined, in part, by the Pope's health.

From virtually my first day with the Corporation helping to organise the biggest ever Songs of Praise, I was aware of John Paul's failing health, and the Pope Kit that was passed earnestly from one week's producer to the next.

But he pulled through all the scares and survived.

And when I joined BBC News Online, the Pope was still there, and we were still waiting for him to die.

So it came as a relief when, just before 9pm BST last night, word finally came of his passing.

If this sounds uncompassionate, please don't think of me as unfeeling.

I didn't agree with what he believed, the doctrines he preached which were informed by those beliefs, or the subjugation of people and their rights that came about as a result of his teachings.

Despite the fact that his works led or aspired to much good (an end to poverty, the end of the deeply corrupt Communist bloc, the betterment of the developing world, and more), they also perpetuated many wrongs (overpopulation, disease, poverty again, suppression of women, etc.)

So neither did I consider his place in society nor the unquestioning faith and devotion he inspired in hundreds of millions to be well founded.

But my greatest problem was with the fact that this frail, confused old man was not allowed to withdraw from the public eye when the Parkinson's disease and related illnesses finally proved insurmountable, nor did it seem he wished to. Instead he lived his final days tending a flock who demanded the presence of the same shepherd who'd looked after them for almost 30 years.

Instead of being able to retire gracefully and die in dignity, the whole world witnessed the debilitating disease take a man of undoubtable charisma and character and turn him into little better than a freak show or just more reality programming.

And for that I blame the intransigence of the Catholic Church.

Too often people of faith mistake piety and devotion for morality and compassion.

Coming from a follower of an alternative belief system (that there is no supernatural higher power, nothing holy, no afterlife, no grand plan), that shouldn't come as a surprise.

I realise that I have no place to tell others that what they believe is wrong, just as others cannot deny me what I believe to be true. The problems only start when people tell each other that they're wrong.

However, the reality is that a great many people, whether Catholic or not, are mourning the loss of a spiritual leader. And it's a hard man who'd fail to feel compassion or sympathy at a time such as this.

But the Italians have a saying: morto un papa, se ne fa un altro (when one pope is dead, they make another one).

For the sake of the man, Karol Wojtyla, rather than Pope John Paul II, I think it's a shame they didn't remember that a little sooner.

For despite all the garb, the ceremonial robes, the scriptures and tradition, this was just a human being, flesh and blood, breathing his last.

He should have been allowed to rest in peace.


My CATS test resultBefore writing anything meaningful, I just have to mention another of the seemingly infinite number of online quizzes that exist. This one I picked up from the ever-wonderful Sherm (if I'm still allowed to call her that) while catching up on her blog, which thankfully seems to have been given a new lease of life.

It's the Canine Algorithmic Transfer System at Gone 2 The Dogs i.e. it tells you what kind of dog you are. The questions are thorough and the interface is more fun than most - almost worth trying the quiz for that alone. And as for the results, at the risk of sounding smug and self-congratulatory, I think it got me pretty much spot on. Have a go.

And I'll write something substantial once I've figured out what it is I want to say.


Your Icecream Flavour is...
Cookies 'n Cream!
Smooth and creamy with a few rough bits mixed in, you are a real treat! You are probably very popular amongst your friends. Remember too much of a good thing is not always good! Don't lay it on too thick!
What is your Icecream Flavour?

Find out at Go Quiz


Touched by balls of greatness
I've never been that much of a fan of rugby union.

This is probably because of its place as the sport for the great and the good at dear old Crossley Heath school. Being short, plump, slow and generally physically underdeveloped when I arrived at the age of 11, it will surprise few to know that I was not part of the elite.

No place in the first fifteen for me. Nor the reserves.

No, by the second year it was widely accepted by both the fascists who ran the PE department, as well as my peers, that I was more suited to spending gym class with Paul Meredith, the kid with MS.

So I got my kicks from rugby league (egg-chasing of choice for West Yorkshire's working class), along with American football, cricket and, eventually, the Beautiful Game.

I carried my disdain for the elitist code of my schoolday enemies into adulthood, never really bothering to learn the rules.

Even now, I struggle to muster any enthusiasm for the sport, occasionally watching an international match, but caring little for the domestic game (although I did, of course, welcome 2003's World Championship as eagerly as most, simply for the reason that as a Newcastle United fan of less than 35 years old, celebrating silverware in any discipline is something of a novelty).

So Sunday's trip to watch Newcastle Falcons play Harlequins was, for me, more of an experiment than a foray into genuine fandom.

That said, the appearance of England hero Jonny Wilkinson (in his first game back from the most recent injury) was definitely exciting.

What I certainly didn't expect was for one of Jonny's successful kicks to sail over my head. Bound for the man in the row behind me, he knocked it forward, from where it bounced off my back, and into the opportunistically-positioned hands of Thomas.

(And that little sequence says a lot about my relationship with the older of my two brothers, as well as our relative approaches to the world - but that's another story).

Shortly after this happened, Jonny went off. Injured. Again. And Newcastle ended up losing.

But a ball kicked by Jonny Wilkinson hit me, me. You certainly can't say that every day.

So while I can't say my first taste of live rugby union acted as any kind of Damascene conversion in overturning my deep-seated prejudice against the code, it would be equally false to say that my brush with one of the greatest left feet in international sport left me that bit closer to admitting that maybe, just maybe, this game ain't all that bad...


I know I've been quiet for a while - I've had nothing much to say. Or maybe it's just that I've not felt the need to say anything. Everyone needs a rest from time to time.

But I can't let this piece of news (Kaplinsky wins big at TV awards) go without mention.

All I want to know is how can this happen? What kind of industry am I working in? Is there a new, derogatory definition of the word best with which I'm unfamiliar? And did the judges ever watch Kaplinsky stumble through the easiest of two-ways at seven in the morning before casting their votes?

The dancing girl's not a great journalist, certainly not a great broadcaster, she's tits and teeth for those who don't like to think about their news, and she's not even that attractive to boot.

Is it a coincidence that Kaplinsky's partner, Dermot, handles most of the heavy-hitting interviews, while Natasha is quietly ushered towards the human interest and fluffy stories?

Sky's Julie Etchingham (who we traded for Natasha) is worth half a dozen Kaplinskys, as are many of the winner's less well lauded BBC colleagues: Fiona Bruce, Mishal Husain, the superlative Lyse Doucet, Zeinab Badawi, Joanna Gosling, Anna Jones, Sophie Raworth, Sarah Montague, Kirsty Wark and others, not to mention the likes of Kirsty Young on five and Sarah Smith on 4. And that's just the ladies.

"Despite all the sequins and other exciting things I have done this year, I'm so thrilled to still be considered a newscaster," she said.

By some love, maybe, but no one I know.

The sooner she makes the permanent move to light entertainment the better. Then maybe we'll get a Breakfast of substance rather than being fobbed off with a Pop Tart.


The one that didn't get away

Despite enjoying my work as a journalist, the nature of my job means I don't often get to originate stories, mainly feeding off what the rest of the BBC is doing.

This morning provided a welcome break from the routine.

Going through my e-mails I noticed a piece of spam that had negotiated its way through the two filters I have on my work account. It claimed to come from the Disasters Emergency Committee, seeking donations for the Asian tsunami relief fund.

I immediately smelt a fish. Or a phish, as the parlance has it.

The e-mail in question put me in mind of the internet banking scam that traps so many people, coming as it did from an unrecognised address.

And the link directed users to decuk.org which had subtle but important differences from the real DEC website.

Most details seemed correct, but these operations are always very clever in mimicking the authentic sites. I didn't trust it at all.

It bore all the hallmarks of a get-rich-quick-at-the-hands-of-the-naive-and-compassionate scheme: spelling errors, out of date information, dodgy urls.

Also I couldn't believe the DEC was actively spamming mailboxes - keen for cash they may be, but they surely know spam loosens no one's purse strings.

But was it a story? Had I missed the boat? Was it genuinely from the DEC? Or was it a significant and distinctly unsavoury twist on the tsunami story?

A word in a couple of senior editorial ears, and a couple of hours later the technology section of our site has a new lead story. Turns out the site is indeed completely bogus and the DEC have asked the police to investigate.

I can't claim credit for writing the story, or even the phone-bashing done by the Tech team. I was too busy keeping my own section ticking over to follow up my lead.

But I do have the satisfaction of knowing that thanks to me, the BBC News website is carrying a story that no one else appears to have picked up yet, and a significant and distinctly unsavoury twist on the tsunami tale at that.

So if you'll excuse me, I'll just sit here in my justifiably smug, warm glow, knowing that some good has come of my day's work.

And in the spirit of charity, I hope the bastards cynically cashing in on the misery and misfortune of millions get absolutely screwed.

STOP FTP: Checking the scam site within the last few minutes, I notice it's been suspended. I love it when a plan comes together.


A little less than two years ago, shortly after nota benny started, I published this post celebrating the news that Ivan Noble, a colleague who had been battling a brain tumour, had been responding well to his treatment.

Sadly, Ivan died last night.

Meanwhile, the newsroom seems to retain its usual eerie calm. But heaven only knows how my colleagues are feeling. And it's clear from the response of the site's users that many feel they've lost someone important.

There's much more I could say, but it all seems frivolous and inappropriate.

At the time of the original post, I wrote: I probably should have said more to Ivan than I have over the past two years - especially since the diagnosis - but it looks like I'll have the chance to rectify that now.

I never did, and for that I'm sorry.


Entertainment people are evidently a very special kind of journalist.

In the entertainment loop running on the BBC's interactive news service, they refer to the villain of Team America: World Police as Kim Jong the Second. Easy to see how you'd turn Kim Jong-Il into that (even though Parker and Stone managed to get it right) but it would have been nice if they'd checked with the grown-ups first.

Then I suppose if it doesn't wear Manolos and air-kiss Scarlett, it doesn't matter.


New year, new look.

And it's not finished yet.

But at least people can comment again.