Tube tales

The Victoria line, midnight. A train pulls out of Oxford Circus, heading north.

Eye contact.


"Sean. Shane! I had a moment remembering your name..."


"Sorry, I had you confused with somebody else there. How are you?"

Identity established, conversation ensues.

A stranger smiles, happy with his new story.


Treaty sweeties..?

One wants to be understanding but this picture (which led the BBC News website for most of Saturday) makes it look like there are closer ties between Spain and Germany than anyone thought.

In the words of the dear, departed Jeff Murdock, there is "Definite N.A.T." going on between the German chancellor and the European Commission president.

I don't wish to start any rumours, but is this a case of Señor Barroso and Frau Merkel taking the phrase "European Union" a little too literally?

Clearly mischief is alive and well in the BBC interactive newsroom.


Baby shower

Welcome to the world Luca Sam Wilding, one week old today.

Dearest Luca,

I'd like to think that at some point in the distant future, should the technology still exist in this primitive form, you'll search for your name and find this message. If so, hello from 2007 and a few random thoughts brought about by your arrival in the world.

Firstly, know that your birth was one of the happiest days ever, not just for your mum and dad, but for all your uncles, aunties, grandparents, greats grandparents, great uncles, great aunties, and even some people you've probably never met.

You may have heard this previously, but while we were waiting for you there was some controversy about your name.

I realise you think of yourself as Luca, and indeed that's what your birth certificate says but as far as all your uncles are concerned, your true name is Thor. We almost had your daddy on board but, sensible man that he is, he gave into your mother.

Indomitable woman, that one. Little firecracker. Goes with the hair. Not fierce, as such, but definitely not one to be crossed. Remember that when you're weighing up just how much you can get away with.

In spite of the disagreement over your name, your folks are two of my favourite people in the world and you should listen to them because they are kind, clever, sensitive, wise and fun.

On your father's side, at least, you've become part of one of the most wonderful, loving, intelligent families in existence.

It was my honour and pleasure to grow up with Auntie Frances, Uncle Joseph and your father, and to have your grandmother as a second mummy, even though my own family was (and still is) perfectly wonderful and all I could hope for. You'll doubtless have heard stories by the time you read this - some of them, hopefully, about What the Dragon.

And your Uncle Hugh, well, he's a very dear friend, and I'm sure he'll teach you all the things your parents don't want you to know.

I'm afraid I don't know your mummy's family terribly well, but they helped make her who she is, and that should speak for itself.

I also think it's important for you to know just a few of the people with whom you share your birthday.

Ben Jonson
Julia Margaret Cameron
John Constable
Max Shreck
Jackie Stewart
Vince Lombardi
Jacques Cousteau
Hugh Laurie
and (my personal favourite) Gene Wilder

(Had you been born exactly one calendar month later, you would have shared your birthday with Suzanne Vega. If, by some small wonder, you've got any appreciation for the music of the 1980s, you may come to find this as funny and ironic as I - and presumably your parents - do).

Most of these names will probably mean nothing to you at first, but hopefully you'll want to find out. They're all important or significant in their own way. I could provide links to them all for you, but that would make it too easy. :)

Because if there's one thing I hope to teach you, it's this: keep asking questions, and only stop when you get an answer you understand and accept. Then find something else to ask about. It's the best way for you to learn and a good way of making other people respect you.

And before I sign off please join me in welcoming another little person to the world, a Swedish girl by the name of Astrid Barrett, born to some other friends of mine just a couple of weeks before you. Maybe the two of you will never meet, or maybe you'll fall in love. Please understand that I'm projecting a couple of decades into the future here, and her father won't appreciate me saying this, but I'm sure you could do much worse. :)

Finally, whatever life holds, Luca, please know that you are, always have been and always will be loved.


Your Uncle Ben


Not everything in black and white makes sense

It's all go at St James' Park at the moment. New manager, new owner, new players, and new controversy over old ones.

Taking these issues in no particular order:

Shady transfers
Although the club and its officials have been cleared of wrongdoing by Lord Stevens' inquiry into irregular transfers, almost a quarter of those 17 league-wide player transfers about which there's still some concern came into the club during the Souness era.

And knowing that, it really comes as no surprise that these include three of the worst footballers to have signed for Newcastle United in recent years, namely Jean Alain Boumsong, Amady Faye and Albert Luque. Whiter than white? I think not.

New manager
Also mentioned by the former chief of the Met was our new boss, "Big" Sam Allardyce. I wasn't a particularly big fan of his clod-hopping football at Bolton, unlike many I had no wish to see him take the England job last year (although now I'm wondering whether I'll wish he had) and didn't like his tendency to stick by one of the league's nastiest players, El-Hadji Diouf.

Speaking of which...

New arrival
After it having been threatened for six months, we've finally got Joey Barton. Oh happy day.

How do I love him? Let me count the ways.

* He ended last season out of favour at Manchester City after an alleged training ground assault on team-mate Ousmane Dabo.

* In 2004, Barton was fined a club record six weeks' wages after stubbing out a cigar in team-mate Jamie Tandy's eye during City's Christmas party.

* During City's pre-season tour of Thailand in 2005, Barton physically attacked a schoolboy Everton fan and had to be restrained.

* Not forgetting the fact that his brother's doing life for being a racist murderer.

It's just a shame that the similarly admirable Lee Bowyer left the club just 12 months ago.

Forgive me if these words disguise my true feelings about this fine, upstanding member of the community from good stock pulling on the shirt of the team that I love. Sarcasm is notoriously difficult to convey in text.

New owner
The only change I'm remotely happy about is Mike Ashley's arrival. Hopefully he'll finally oust Fat Freddy Shepherd and bring in a chairman who actually knows something about football and treating a club, its players and, most importantly, its fans with the respect they deserve.

I've said it every time we've had an alleged new dawn since Bobby was sacked, but it will take a lot to convince me that there are better times ahead.

Sam, Joey et al, it's time you proved me wrong.


Thought for the day

How much faster would the flow of pedestrian traffic be along central London's thoroughfares if they were cleared of all the people handing out free crap like papers, flyers and phone cards? With all that free space, maybe people would be able to walk around all the slow tourists.

I'm just saying...