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.