Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas List

Christmas is over; how did it go?

- Presents. Ms T gave me a GPS that straps to your wrist and tells you where you are, where you've been and how quickly you've been getting to where you want to go! Then it plugs into the PC, and generates a friendly map showing how fast (slow) my meandering around the park has been. This could be a hit if I marry it to an OS map; we'll never get lost during a Time Out Country Walk again.

- Eating. My God, how we did eat. A whole ham was demolished on Boxing Day. But while delicious it was all very rich, and I started yearning for some spaghetti.

- Cats. Losing Harvey has been like eating grit. I hate that he's gone and I won't speak of it to Ms T because she'll get upset. The other two cats are fine, and apparently sanguine about his disappearance.

- TV. Quite good. Liked Gordon Ramsay's American Kitchen nightmares, Catherine Tate made me crease up but I fell asleep during To The Manor Born. Loads of movies were on, but I missed them all.

- Friends. Saw whole squads, and it was good. A surprising number of people didn't leave London this year, despite the evidence of the startlingly quiet streets. Ms T cooked till she dropped, then got up and cooked some more.

- Work. The newsroom was actually quite fun on the night of Christmas Eve. I shall say no more on this, lest my observations are passed to the Daily Mail or something.

- Books. Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran; a gift from Ms T and a must-read for Iraqologists, ie me.

- Weather - scraping the ice off the car then suddenly all warm. Weird.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


We were on our way out of the house to pick up some parcels from the Post Office when we saw him. He was surrounded by a small group of people and still moving a bit, but when Ms T and I reached him I knew instinctively he was no longer with us. People said a silver car had hit him and not stopped, naturally.

Losing a cat is not straightforward; this is the second time it has happened to us in five years, and in the same place. I blame myself; a roving cat is always at risk when people drive so poorly and at such speeds. Perhaps having one is selfish. On the other hand the other two only go as far as the garden.

I'll miss him, though he could be a little sod. The mood in this house will be a little flat this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Understanding Children

It's very important to understand what's going on in childrens minds, and their motivations. So as we go up to Christmas I here reproduce a certain twelve year old's Christmas list, which arrived in my e-mail last week, and which I feel lends an invaluable insight.

Christmas list… (to Santa)

  • Hoosiers album

  • My Sims ds game

  • Mario cart ds game

  • Sims shipwrecked ds game (shipwrecked might not be the word)

  • Plain whites T’s album

  • The killers album

  • Hamster cage

  • Hamster cage stuff

  • Phone talk time

  • Ds accessories kit

  • Internet for my computer

  • Sims 2 extension pack

  • The feeling cd (album)

  • Chip for phone to give it more memory for stuff like music

  • A phone case

  • A case to put my panner in

  • Chocolate

  • Snappy snaps canvers picture of meee

  • Storage boxes to put my junk in

So now you know. But what is a 'panner'?

Monday, December 03, 2007

CNN and Youtube

The US election is well underway (not much covered here) and the candidates are debating (which they don't do here for the most part).
The latest gimmick is to have people record questions on Youtube, and play them to Hillary et al, presumably hoping they'll be wrongfooted.
I thought it was a great idea which brought the internet into the campaign in a vibrant way, but I don't now - not after reading this.

Monday, November 26, 2007

24. Why it Sucks

I used to really like '24', the hit US thriller series from Fox but I'm now in the middle of season 3 and have fallen out of love. There's no escape either, since Ms T has hacked my Lovefilm account so now I'm stuck till season 6. Anyway here' s Hendo's list of unfortunate things about this series, which everyone else in the whole world thinks is utterly brilliant.

1. '24' means doing 24 episodes per season. Because of the commercial formatting in US TV that's 45 minutes an episode. And the plotlines just aren't strong enough. By episode 15 it starts to feel like a sort of shaggy dog story, which is not far from the truth since the writers do the scripts as the crew are filming.

2. Jack Bauer. Not rounded enough as a character to support all this, because the format can't allow character development.

3. Kim Bauer, his hapless daughter, who rarely rises above victim status. In season two it was clear the writers were desperate to integrate her into the drama but couldn't work out how, resulting in a run of hilariously bad luck, ie she gets a lift, it's from a rapist, she goes into a 7-11, interrupts a robbery. If you were Kim you'd never leave the house. But the ceiling would collapse on you.

4. Torture. The first resort of the Counter Terrorism Unit. The frequency of this even makes the US military queasy. It's so unrealistic too, with people always giving things up after being brutalised a bit. Personally I'm fascinated by interrogation and recently uncovered this excellent collection of essays written by intelligence US experts when it became clear that simply abusing terrorist suspects was producing nothing much of value. Real questioning by spooks is a long long way from what you see on the telly.

5. It's as well all the terrorists are lcoated a short drive from Bauer's headquarters, and not in Iowa, or somewhere.

6. The President. The CTU never leaves him alone. Mr President shall we do this, shall we do that. If I were him I'd go ex directory or something. And he's always getting shot or blown up anyway! CTU are useless.

7. In 24, the US president spends all his time in LA. The real one takes his breaks in Texas, or at Camp David, nuff said.

8. CTU is mainly made up of people from terrorist units who've penetrated the organisation. And the staff wander around making mobile phone calls. In reality security service HQs are constructed to produce a Faraday Cage, which prevents mobile phones and radio eavesdropping devices.

9. Bauer makes phone calls while driving!! And never has a handsfree!! Haven't they heard of bluetooth?

10. Can't think of any more. But that's enough isn't it?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Footie Ticket Prices

Could the worm finally have turned? I used to think football supporters in this country would take any kind of ticket price nonsense. But now even Man Utd fans have seemingly had enough. Their season ticket schemes reportedly include a clause forcing them buy cup tickets even if they don't want them.

I can't think of a single other business that operates in this way. Ever been in a restaurant where they force you to have an apple crumble when you're not hungry? And yet fans put up with the high prices, the cattle shed conditions and stupid alcohol policy for season after season, all so we can watch overpaid underperforming millionaires perambulate for ninety odd minutes.

Man U Fans have now woken up to the fact that clubs effectively run a monopoly and have complained to the OFT, but in truth we as supporters have the power to stop all of this tomorrow morning. Just stop spending on football. Dump the TV soccer packages. Tell the kids there'll be no fresh strip till they actually get themselves an apprenticeship. Stay well away from grounds, clubs and their websites. The beautiful game would quickly re-assume normal economic proportions.

Now where's my wallet, I need to find £45 for Citeh's away fixture at White Hart Lane.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Few Machines

What can you do on a rainy day in Lincolnshire? I urge you to visit the RAF's Battle of Britain flight, where enthusiastic and informed volunteers will take you round a hangar. All the machines in it still fly, including a Lancaster bomber (above). Our guide told us that it only had the one pilot, because while a plane could be replaced easily, fliers were much harder to find. The designers had anticipated heavy casualties among the crews, and they weren't wrong; in total Bomber Command experienced huge losses; 55,573 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate).

She's back!

After a period of silence Ms North of London has returned to grace this internet once more. Head over there for cutting edge bloggery.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Importance of Pussycats

From the United States another example of the way cats are changing all our lives for the better. A cat called Cinnamon has been the subject of an intensive study, in which all her DNA has been mapped. This provides an opportunity for scientists to take a step forward in beating AIDS, and an opportunity for me to post a picture of one of our brood.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Very Annoying Historians

Over the last few years a new breed of intellectual has emerged to begin stalking all those comforting historical certainties you learnt at school and used to rely on. You know the type. 'Stalin was a cat loving family man', 'Louis XIV was Secret Marxist'. It starts a media flurry and people like me blog about it. The latest contribution to the pointless revisionist school of history comes from Dr Andrew Cumming, and this week he's chosen to junk the reputation of the RAF in the Battle of Britain.

He's spent his time analysing National Archive documents detailing the "kill/loss ratio" for the critical period of 24 August to 6 September 1940, and found the figures "unimpressive". He further claims the RAF's performance against the enemy during late 1940 was "ineffectual", and that Britain owes "far more to the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy than we are prepared to acknowledge".

I do not know Dr Cumming. Doubtless his research was assiduous. But climbing into a Spitfire, Hurricane - or something even less up to date in 1940 - required astronomic amounts of courage. The men who did it had just a handful of flying hours before facing combat at speeds of over four hundred miles an hour. They were sitting on top of a fuel tank, and knew that pilots in their position frequently burned to death. They were always outnumbered, sometimes absurdly so, but attacked anyway. They lost friends on a weekly or daily basis yet turned up for flying duties regardless.

Is Dr Cumming saying they should have stayed at home? Bollocks.


I gave up my Manchester City season ticket at the end of last season because I wasn't gettting up north enough at weekends to possibly justify it. But I've had cause to wonder this weekend if football is really for me. On Saturday I went to see Citeh lose six nil to the aristocrats at Stamford Bridge. It is the sort of thing that rocks your faith. The ticket cost £48.

The tube was in its usual parlous state with various line closures and delays, and people were massively crammed in the carriages and onto the platforms both before and after the game. I sense an accident down there is not too far off. And this is the city that claims to be able to host the Olympics. Well we shall see.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Maddie, the Last Word?

Everyone has a view on the Madeleine McCann tragedy, but for my money Paul Routledge, who writes for the Mirror, sums up my feelings exactly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

He's Coming Back, In A Way

No not me, Sir Trevor

Back in the 1990's I used to work at ITN, making pieces for the News at Ten. It was a great show to work for; when I joined NAT had some thirty years of breaking stories behind it. I'd grown up watching it, so to actually produce news for it felt amazing.

Then ITV decided to move it in the schedule with the result that it was christened 'The News at When'. People from the BBC came to the office to commiserate on the night we did the last one. The staff were in tears. I was heartbroken, and depressed about the way things were going, so I left the company.

ITV also cut the news budget. Currently it's reported to be around £30m a year, which sounds a lot till you start working out how much it costs to say, cover a Tsunami. Or a train disaster. Or indeed anything that involves sending a lot of people somewhere for several nights with equipment and expertise to produce television news.

The News channel which ITN did for ITV was launched to great fanfare, then closed.

BSkyB, which has its own news Channel, bid for Channel 5's News service and won against a rival bid by ITN. And every time the ITV contract came up Sky would propose doing it for some ludicrously small sum, making ITN pitch its budgetary requirements even lower in order to beat off the competition.

It looked like the end was nigh. If you starve a boxer he can't punch, no matter what his class.

Now Michael Grade, facing a massive scandal over phone in voting, says he wants to bring back News at Ten. He may get Sir Trevor to front it for him, but ITN needs some more cash, as other people are pointing out. A lot of really experienced reporters who brought massive class to the outfit, who actually made the opposition feel under threat, have gone. There's some strong talent there - guys like Geraint Vincent spring to mind - but it's on the young side, and a lot of people have stopped watching. It still has its fantastic editor, David Mannion. Given the chance he could rebuild News at Ten into something unmissable.

So come on Michael, ignore the advertisers for once and get your wallet out. Britain needs ITN.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hotels in Different Places

Here's what you can expect from a hotel, lets say in the town of Graz in Austria, for £70.
A pool in the basement.
A well equipped gym.
A very big bed.
A very big room.
Helpful staff, if a bit ditsy.

Here's what you can expect from a hotel for £80 per night in Guildford.
No pool.
Or gym.
Odd bed with a hard mattress.
A bathroom Keira Knightley would struggle to get into.
Breakfasts left outside the room until the afternoon.
Over a sports bar.
Staff that bring the Eastern European touch to British values of hospitality.

And the tourist authorities have the temerity to blame the weak dollar and the rain for the UK's underperformance in the tourist market. I think the rest of the world has caught on to the truth, which is our hotels are overpriced rubbish.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Still on Control.....

One of the (many) poignant scenes in Control depicts Ian Curtis in hospital after his first botched suicide attempt.
He is surrounded by his wife and friends after a drugs overdose. A doctor arrives and discharges him. There's no talk of follow up, monitoring or treatment for depression. Attempting suicide is regarded as simply an aberrant episode.

Today there's much more awareness, but suicide remains a big killer of young men - far more than young women. That's not because the girls don't try - more of them try it than their male counterparts. It's simply that the men are better at it.

In Control

Growing up in South Manchester in the late seventies I missed Joy Division by two or three years. Later at University I worshipped at the altar of Factory cool that was New Order, and thrilled to the dark lyrics and stark angular music of the band's previous manifestation. But while I saw New Order live, and interviewed them for a student paper, I never met the band's early tragic driving force, Ian Curtis. In depression, at a time when there was little understanding of it as a treatable illness, he had taken his own life at the age of 23.

But Anton Corbijn has filled the gap. His new (and first) film shows the self torture of Ian Curtis, and the depression that gave us the brilliant albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer.

Corbijn knew Curtis, and many of the survivors of those days had a hand in this intimate and searing film. The sweat and passion of the music is stunningly realised - these are the best rock music sequences you'll see in any movie. New Order did some of the incidental music, and I was moved to see that the producer credits include Tony Wilson, who allowed the filmmaker to depict him as totally missing the agony Curtis was experiencing. Wilson died this summer. I hope he saw the film.

Other things are here which I remember very well from those times - phones with dials, the crappy cars, the clothes. The dry wit of the band, and the big personality that was Rob Gretton are also captured.

But at the centre of the film are two towering performances by Sam Mills as the agonised Curtis and Sam Morton as his wife Deborah. Best film of the year, for my money.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Photo Opportunities

There are many unanswerable questions in life.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
But now we have to add a new one to the list.
Why did the Lord Mayor of Belfast attempt to vault his employee, who was dressed as a tomato?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Your Card In Their Hands

The phone rang last night and a man from my bank told me (after running though a couple of security questions) that there were some transactions on my credit card that required clarification.

Weightwatchers? He asked
That's legit, I replied. (Embarrassing).
That's the bill from the toerags who investigated my car while I was on my hols, said I. (Grrr)
£1.80 from itunes?
Er..I've never bought any mp3s off itunes - ever. (Wha??)
How about £1500 from the Natwest Currency centre in Peterborough?
That ain't me.(Jesu Cristus!)

Fortunately it was the massive currency trade that flagged it up, and the transaction was refused. But where was the protection from the much vaunted chip and pin system introduced with much fanfare two years ago?

The crims have stepped up their game, he told me. They get jobs in data handling centres, duplicate your credit card details into a USB memory key when nobody's looking then sell on the details to other crims via the net. It's rife, and so much safer than taking a sawn off to the local branch with Ed the wheels in the motor outside.

On reflection, this is how ID cards will fail. There'll be a chip, a PIN, your records in a sliver of metallicised plastic - but your details in some data handling centre staffed by kids and others on £6 an hour. The anonymous and ever increasing power of the net means that our details will be for sale in no time.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Tube Isn't All Bad

Everyone's seen this apparently but I love it. A group of students decide to stage a dinner party on the tube down from Harrow. A brilliant idea and due to a shortage of staff no jobsworth is available to tell them to stop. Hurrah!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Turn of the Season

It was definitely colder this morning; I noticed it on my run round the park. The wind was blowing a bit but thankfully no sudden downpours like Monday. There was bright sunshine instead, and I noticed my poor old limbs didn't hurt quite so much this time.

There's no virtue in this sudden exercise kick, it's all venal. I have joined weightwatchers online, and it seems you can eat a bit more if you run. So I had a steak sandwich and a pint this lunchtime. Two steps forward, one step back.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cycling? No Thanks

Lots of people look dubiously at my ever swelling paunch and ask me why I don't cycle to work.

This is why not.

Lycian Games

Ms T and myself spent the last two weeks in Turkey, in the village of Gelemis on the South coast. The sun shone all the time, and the water was warm, so much swimming was done. Eating was also a priority, and the food was excellent.
The most interesting thing about that area is the remains of ancient cultures dating back to when Gelemis was called Patara, and its ownership passed between the locals, to the Greeks, and finally to the Romans.
Their remains are everywhere. They're not fenced off or patrolled by men and women with tabards holding clipboards, as they would undoubtedly be if they were in England. You can go and sit where people sat two thousand years ago to get their entertainment, pass laws, walk where they did their shopping and venture into their baths.
There's writing everywhere, on stones and walls. The Lycians had an intensely literate culture, based on Greek, and some of their letters we still use today; a testament to their power living on long after they disappeared.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lost in West Sussex

These chickens thought we knew where we were going. They were wrong. If you're going to use the Time Out book of Country Walks to navigate the countryside on your day off, use the updates off the net. Or prepare to stand about for ages looking at stiles and saying, this isn't right is it, and asking when the pub shuts.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

He's back..

Hank, the venerable pussycat who'd traumatised friends and neighbours by disappearing has calmly returned. I'm pleased to report he's none the worse for his experience, wherever it's been. He is an old fraud.

That's not him in the washing basket, that's Dylan, who's sneaked into this post.

Friday, August 31, 2007

On the Tiles

As a high flying media executive nights out in town have to occupy a low priority. For who's to say when some media yup on the grab won't pick your hung over morning to slip a blade in during a meeting and usurp your place in the food chain?
But there must be some RnR and I'm recommending Hakkasan after a sumptuous experience this evening.

Here be Hank

This is Hank, a cat who lives near me on Milton Road. He's a bit ancient and scabby but he's endeared himself to lots of passing Herne Hillites by climbing on their shoulders and purring in their ear like some kind of jet engine.
He seems to have gone AWOL, which is a huge hole in quite a few people's lives. One expects the worst, inevitably, but do please leave me a message here if by some chance you've seen the old fraudster.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Running on Empty

It's been one of those weeks when blogging has been beside the point. Nightshifts don't help, because they tend to close down your thinking and conversation; you're just head down trying to get through.

The other reason why it's been nigh impossible to write has been hearing at second hand the agonies of my friend Rachel, who has just lost her mother.

I've also been thinking a great deal about eleven year old Rhys Jones, as I expect a lot of people have.

Anything I try to write or think about grief seems trite, which is strange because I don't think of myself as a particularly shallow person. But not to write about it, to blog about cats, or politics or the latest restaurant seems superfluous this afternoon.

Yesterday Lesley and I went for a long walk in Sussex. There was nobody about to speak of, and the fields went on for miles and miles, occasionally broadening to include a lake, or a small village with a pub in the middle. I get great joy from the fresh air, the greenness of our country, the ordinary texture of life.

So to Rachel and anyone else who is blinded and disorientated by loss I say, hang on, the flavour of being does return. And while life is altered, it remains an extraordinary thing, worth having and being in, at any price.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Quite Proud of Him

There are cats that cut it and others that can't. Dylan is the former. It's his job, dammit. That's his brother on the right of the frame, looking on while Dyl relaxes with his catch which he landed in the garden somewhere. Dude!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More Trouble

I was just setting off for work at around 4 yesterday afternoon when I noticed a police helicopter orbiting the estate near us, and by the time I reached the market near the tube police vans were piling into the street leading to where the helicopter was focussing.

The bush telegraph is operating at full pelt, and it now seems as if another young man was attacked with an axe.

In the meantime police have made an arrest in connection with the murder I mentioned in earlier posts - in Cambridge. Of a seventeen year old.

Research is now hitting ministers desks about the unfolding tragedy in our black community, but if you don't fancy a wade-through why not try this informative poster from urban 75, who hits the nail perfectly on the head.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

One of the Good Boys

Nathan Foster may not have been the intended target of Friday night's gunman according to the Sunday Times, which seems to have been alone among the national papers in sending someone down here to find out what went on.

This corresponds to what I was told by one of my neighbours yesterday, who told me when she had informed her teenage daughter who'd died the response was:

"But mum he was one of the good boys"

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Shooting at the End of My Street

I should have realised something was going on when my street, usually very noisy with kids, went very quiet around eleven last night. This morning as I headed for the gym, people were gathered in little clumps discussing what I had already heard on the radio: that another young man had been shot dead.

He's already been named to me but I shan't post that here at the moment. The bush telegraph says he was a nineteen year old youth worker murdered after he declined to intervene in a dispute over a gold chain.

There was very little police presence at the cordon this morning, and no senior officers on hand to brief the media. Perhaps efforts to reassure the jittery community, who are concerned about reprisals, may start on monday when the management return to the office.

My neighbours tell me guns are now freely available 'for peanuts'.

If there's been an arrest I haven't heard about it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

An Apprentice Writes........

In 'The Apprentice' (the hit reality show on BBC1) Sir Alan Sugar comes over as the businessman who must know everything about everything. He despises any shiftiness or lack of honesty in the contestants, and demands to hear the groundwork for any decision - no matter how trivial. It is his grasp of detail that made him such a success as this excellent piece running on The Register website shows so clearly.

There is no point in being the boss if you don't know what is going on, which is a point Sir Ian Blair, who was ignorant of the truth of the Menezes killing hours after even his cricket playing off duty constables knew it, may choose to reflect on.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Update on Rachel North's Book

I'm glad to say it's selling out all over. She was on Richard and Judy yesterday - somehow we have to get that on youtube...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Rachel Crosses The Line

Last night I came in from the pub and picked up Rachel North's book 'Out of the Tunnel'. It had been sitting next to the bed for a couple of weeks while I read some other rubbish (see other posts below). In point of fact, I had been putting off reading it because the subject matter seemed so dark in prospect.

But once I started reading it I found it impossible to stop and carried on into the wee hours. This morning I woke up and finished it. It is a trip to hell and back.

On the Seventh of July 1995 Rachel North got on a tube train to work. In a sense she's been trying to get home ever since. Horrifically raped by a passing stranger some years prior, she'd decided to tell her story to a magazine. She was reading her account of the attack when a bomb went off just down the carriage. This book is about her experiences and her recovery. It's also about the emergence of a radically different person, her attitudes changed and in possession of talents she hadn't known she possessed.

Here is the bombing in all its horror. The sudden darkness, the heat and the smoke. The foul taste, the blood and the filth. Here too the heroism of the ordinary people who rise above the carnage in the tunnel and reach out to help and support one another. There's the raw courage of emergency workers - the policeman who ran into the tunnel not knowing what had happened, telling his younger colleague to 'seal the station and report him missing' if he did not return.

And here is the crass and exploitative nature of some of my colleagues in journalism, whose behaviour I would not have completely believed had Rachel not written about it.

In this book Rachel crosses the line from normal life, where we kid ourselves we're in control, into the other place where it is more than clear that we are not the master of our destinies at all.
Here, extraordinary events shape your life in dire and unlooked for ways. On this side of the line you are not in charge. Loss and injury occur, often in a random way. What had seemed concrete will be disturbingly fragile, and your peace of mind, which you'd previously assumed was secure, will suddenly be lost. You will be angry. You will mourn fiercely. In this place you may not sleep. Horrific and powerful memories return, unbidden and unwanted.

In this book Rachel describes life on the other side, and her return to the rest of us. It's a book about gumption and backbone - she's a strong willed individual whose passion for life cannot be snuffed out. She's a different woman at the end, just as loving, but politically articulate and struggling for other people's rights as passionately as she struggled for survival in the darkness. She fights too for an official inquiry into the events of that morning; with the change of administration and the ending of the British presence in Iraq, she may get it.

Out of the Tunnel is an important book for everyone in my business to read. We have to understand that our unpopularity is sometimes well earned. Everyone else, and particularly those of us in dark tunnels of our own, will be able to read it and take heart from it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

How 'Reality' Television Works

If you like those property shows on Channel Four (and I'm addicted to them), then you need to head over to Adrian Monck's blog and read this.

The Spin Doctor's Diary

Just to make sure I wasn't missing any kind of perspective on the lobby during Tony Blair's era I also got this more lightweight effort by Lance Price, a former colleague at the BBC who was headhunted by Labour just before their landslide win in 1997.

Lance is a nice bloke, but that place and time was no place for that breed of individual. Recruited by Campbell he has a little desk in a corridor outside Tony and Alastair's office. He is, to put it frankly, their bag man. If, in the days of the Spanish Inquisition Torquemada had appointed a cheery vicar to keep the pokers warm and carry the braziers, then this is the kind of diary he might have penned afterwards.

At first suffused by mission and purpose he slips all to easily into the trench warfare of rebuttal and counterspin. Each little story has to be dealt with by 'briefing' some partial truth or another to a matey hack, each day a 'trivial' headline which somehow Number 10 has to get the better of.
A serious man with real intelligence, Lance spends some of the book lambasting the media for their obsession with personality and trivia, then finds himself worrying about the presentation of a Prime Ministerial photo op with Westlife. Eventually the powers-that-be move him to the Labour HQ at Millbank to work with a virtually bankrupt party split down the middle between the friends of Gordon and everyone else.

Important decisions involving billions of pounds and people's lives are being taken, yet somehow this journal of an eyewitness close to events comes perilously close to Brian Rix farce. Prescott 'in a dreadful moment' is suprised without his trousers by our hero. Other ministers are stripped of their auras - Mo Mowlem, for example, is revealed as playing a weak hand badly in her dealings with Blair.

To be honest it's not bad, and Amazon are offering a good deal on it. But Campbell's memoir, for all its omissions and obvious rewriting after the fact, must now be ahead of the pack. Until Tony does his book, that is.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

When Did You Last See Your Father?

It's a painting by William Frederick Yeames (which hangs in Liverpools Walker Art Gallery), but currently it's also the title of a discussion thread running on Urban 75. It's evoked a lot of debate, and I was suprised at the number of people who simply don't speak to their parents, or have at best strained relationships with months going by without contact or communication.

I've never met my genetic father; he's just a blank space on a birth certificate. I've never traced him, or my genetic mother, since two loving parents are quite enough for anyone in my opinion.

My adoptive Dad and I get on very well and I last saw him two weeks ago when I took him to hospital for a cataract op.

He lives in Manchester, and is very ancient. Indeed he can remember when most of East Didsbury was fields, when his Dad had a farm there! Now it's a sprawling suburb.

I was driving him through it the other week and he said:
"I remember hoses snaking all over here"
We were just at a busy junction, and I'm like: "Wha..??"
"I got a weekend off and a lorry driver gave me a lift up from London to see my parents, but the Germans had been bombing."
He did in no way consider it alarming, merely memorable.

These days it's a national crisis when someone manages to set a jeep on fire and drive it into an airport arrivals building. It sounds like a massive cliche, but frankly, we don't know we're born, etc etc, wheel me off now please nurse it's time for my meds.

More Floods

The misery goes on - and now there IS a death toll. Three people have been killed, according to The Sun newspaper. The BBC has issued this guide to sorting out your property after its been underwater, which serves to bring home the extent of the misery.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Tragedy of Small Things

We've not been flooded (yet) but I know a bit about what people affected this week are experiencing. There's the smell, the ruination of carpets, decoration and furniture. The damp hangs around and the dirt constitites a potent health risk; it can take weeks for a house to be fit for inhabiting after it's been flooded.
But people I've met who've been through this are filled with a sense of loss for little things. Gifts from their closest relatives, photo albums, books.
Our possessions don't define us - we are not our sofas - but some kinds of belongings are rightly closer to our hearts than others, and losing them costs so much more.
Flooding is temporarily replacing crime as the middle class worry of choice. I was offered 'flood gates' by my friend the other day - she was costing them for her basement flat. Am I alone in going home at the end of the day and breathing a sigh of relief that no freak inundation has wiped out my ground floor?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Alastair's Diary

I only ever met him the once, while I was producing items for ITN's News at Ten. It was in Basildon during the election campaign in 1997, and he'd arrived prior to the Blairs to walk the course.
The electioneering event was being held in a theatre crammed with Labour activists and fans. It was a few days before the vote and everyone knew the Tories were finished; Major had just done a ridiculous press conference on Europe in which he'd plaintively asked his fellow Conservatives not to 'bind my hands'.

But the country was ready for a change and everyone in Basildon knew it that afternoon. There was intense excitement. Campbell was this tall figure with piercing eyes who came over to us as we sat there, and I was treated to an early dose of New Labour suspicion about media they didn't totally grip - a twenty questions routine of who we were and what we were doing, and all this time a slightly sneering tone and on my part an awareness that this guy let NOTHING past him whatever and even now, on the eve of an enormous victory, absolutely zero was being left to chance.

Here are, we're told, his diaries and if you're keen on politics at any level they're a great read. Blair spends most of his time tense and anxious. Campbell stalks around, sits in cabinet, and moans about how hard he's having to work and how little his wife appreciates his absences.
He doesn't get on with Cherie at first, then better as she realises how crucial he is. There's lots of colour about Cook, who gets a decent press, Mandelson who at one points attacks him physically.

Ironically it was spun that Gordon Brown was an absentee from this book, but he's here all along and while clearly much has been omitted about the rows and general fireworks, its more than clear that he was a trucculent conductor on the New Labour Government Bus.

Lots here about Northern Ireland, which is fascinating, and about how much help Clinton was in obtaining peace. Then the Two Towers fall and Campbell witnesses at first hand how quickly the world changes into a different place.

His mistake, candidly explored here, is to give in to anger and hate - even he appreciates he goes 'over the top' sometimes, and his attitude to the media is shocking; he literally hates the press en masse and eventually finds he can no longer brief them.

Gordon Brown has already signalled a move away from the media tactics of the Blair era but we'll see if it sticks. Whatever the flaws, it worked for Tony.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Beefy Barbecue

The Meat and Livestock Commission is being done away with, its duties being absorbed by some other quango. Farmers and others in their industry will miss it, and so will parliamentarians for whom the MLC barbecue is a massive highlight. I was invited by a great friend from the glamorous world of Public Affairs and so was able to sample some of the best sausages and steak in the UK, while admiring the beautiful Westminster surroundings.

I was also able to witness a speech by the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn, who shamelessly told the audience of hard core red meat producers that he was a vegetarian. He can't know what he's missing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It's Still A Good Idea to Buy Your Home

I love Topcat's analysis on the excellent Urban 75 discussion board of the housing market which posits a 60% drop in prices followed by the rise of a right wing demagogue. We're in for a period of stagnant house prices and some misery in the job market, but there are factors working strongly against the boom + bust = fascist outlook for the UK.

Interest rates are now running at 5.75% and the Bank of England will jack them up in the autumn to 6%. But inflation has already begun to fall, and while this is a dishonest statistic which excludes housing costs, it is nevertheless the get-out the authorities need to stop increasing the pain and inducing a nasty slowdown.

Will we have a housing bust and terrifying recession as we had under Major in the early nineties? The situations are not equivalent, even though the country seems addicted to debt of all kinds, and is terribly exposed.

The eighties saw a housing boom as tax cuts and a half decent economy left people feeling cash rich and borrowing to buy their homes, which spiralled upwards in price as we're seeing today. And the decision by Nigel Lawson, Thatcher's key chancellor, to end double mortgage interest tax relief saw thousands climb on to the property ladder while they still had a chance before the measure came in. But a few months later interest rates were heading into the stratosphere - rising from 7% to 15%.

Thousands of people lost their jobs and then their homes (I met some of them and it makes me angry still), and many more faced negative equity - which in practice means being stuck where you are until inflation and economic recovery means you can move on.

So why not this time?

The decision by Gordon Brown - on Day 1 of the Labour government - to hand interest rate control to the Bank means sharp jerks on the economic steering wheel can't be made by politicians in response to falling poll numbers. It remains the best thing he's ever done. 6% will be as high as it gets. I remember a day when rates took off , rising several percent - people walked around the office I was working in saying: That's it, I've got to sell the house.

We won't be going there.

Except. As a country we've had a massive credit splurge, borrowing on masses of plastic to finance HDTVs, conservatories and the like. The saving to spend ratio is at its lowest since 1960. The BofE has to tread really carefully here it's true.

But Buy to Let people won't be throwing in the towel because something else has happened since the 1980's which means they can't. Those flats are the middle class replacement for pensions, the destruction of which is one of the less clever things Gordon Brown has presided over. They won't sell up - it would be suicidal - so no crash.

Sorry Topcat.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Bad News

Everything is bad for you, including life itself which as some sage remarked, kills you in the end.
But I choked on my museli this morning when I read that sausages give you cancer.
What's left?
Fortunately I've already accepted my invite to the Meat Marketing Board's barbie this week.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A brush with the NHS

My dad is 88.

It is a great age and marvellous for us both that he's reached it, particularly since he's compus mentis, independent of mind and establishment, and enjoys a rather good quality of life on the quiet.

They took his driving licence away a couple of years ago on the grounds that his vision wasn't as it should be. He was furious - I was quietly relieved - although I admit I posted his protest letters to consultants and government ministers.

Recently though his vision was well off the mark, he was missing a bit when he poured the claret at dinner, and the time had come to get his cataracts done.

I drove up to Manchester to be with him this week, but I needn't have worried. He refused to allow me to park the car and come in to the city's eye hospital outpatients with him. I rang the ward a bit later and was told to come and retrieve him.

I parked the car in a big underground multi storey next to the ward and walked in unchallenged until I got to the ward entrance where I was told to wash my hands in gel - clearly big efforts being made to stamp out MRSA and the rest of the nasty bed bugs.

Inside I found my dad tucking into a large dinner and a cup of tea. A nurse appeared with a big plastic bag of eye drops and cotton wool and I had him home by the close of play. He reports his vision much improved.

Why is this remarkable? I have a feeling this is entirely unremarkable because the NHS, while clearly plagued with all sorts of problems, has nonethless had a great deal of money spent on it and is now in better shape than it was under the Tories. My hunch is that there are lots of unremarkable little stories like this, and one day they might add up to some sort of feel good factor for Labour. But if they do, it will be after they leave office.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Terror, an Iraqi perspective

Disturbing and fearsome though events here in the UK are, spare a thought for the denizens of Baghdad. Some 8000 Iraqi civilians have died so far this year according to the latest figures issued by the government; the figures are apparently dropping as a result of the US military surge.

The following is a translation of an email doing the rounds in Baghdad, which I've borrowed from the excellent Iraqslogger site. It's a satirical analysis of where's safe and where's dangerous. The writer apologises at the end 'for racing the electricity supply'. According to the author, the safest neighborhoods are the ones where the odds of staying alive are 50%:

The situation in different areas of Baghdad in regard to takfiri gangs of the new age: Al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, and their spiritual leaders – the forces of liberation.

fall into four different categories: safe, relatively safe, dangerous, and relatively dangerous. They are classified as follows:

- A safe area: where the probability of you staying alive is 50%.
- A relatively safe area: where the probability of you staying alive is 40%.
- A relatively dangerous area: where the probability of you staying alive is 30%.
- A dangerous area: where the probability of you staying alive is 20 to 10%.

Here we go:
- The Bayya’ garage, the periphery of Bayya’: No one can ever reach them because the Mahdi Army is randomly abducting people and killing them for what they say is in retaliation for the husseiniya bombing a week ago.
- Shu’la: No one can reach it.
- Thawra (Sadr City): No one can reach it.
- Sha’ab: No one can reach it.
- Amil: No one can reach it.
- Jami’a and Khadhraa’: No one can reach them because Al-Qaeda fled Amiriya and Yarmouk and took refuge there.
- Mishahda north of Baghdad: No one can reach it because of the presence of gangs that collectively burn people alive.
- Jadiriya is relatively safe.
- Karrada is relatively safe.
- Mansour is relatively safe.
- Harthiya is safe (because of the presence of Kurdish militias).
- Yarmouk is relatively safe.
- Amiriya is dangerous.
- Adhamiya is relatively dangerous (in some parts of it) but there are constant clashes.
- Kadhimiya is safe.
- Grai’at is relatively dangerous.
- Utaifiya is safe.
- Haifa Street is relatively dangerous.
- The highway that connects Amiriya with the Baghdad gate is relatively dangerous.
- Ghazaliya is relatively dangerous because of clashes.
- Iskan is safe.
- Alawi is relatively dangerous.
- The Suq Al-Arabi area is relatively safe.
- Dora is not under the authority of the Republic of Iraq. It is currently an Islamic emirate complete with its own Islamic departments and ministers. Islamic CDs have been distributed to residents to explain the laws of the emirate.
- Saidiya is dangerous.
- Camp is relatively safe.
- Baladiyyat is safe.
- Jisr Diyala is dangerous.
- Arasat is safe.
- Masbah is safe.
- Baghdad Al-Jedida is relatively safe.
- Jezirat Baghdad is dangerous.
- Abu Ghraib is relatively dangerous.
- Mashtal is relatively safe.
- Qadisiya is safe.
- Hurriya is dangerous.
- Dola’i is dangerous.
- Adil is dangerous.
- Zayouna is safe.
- Washash is relatively dangerous.
- Bab Al-Sharji is relatively dangerous.
- Sa’doun Street is relatively dangerous.
- Waziriya is relatively safe.
- The Mohammed Al-Qassim highway is relatively safe.
- Bab Al-Mu’adham is dangerous.
- Fadhl is dangerous.
- The Baghdad International Airport highway is relatively safe.
- Hutteen or Qudhat is relatively safe.
- Ma’moun is relatively safe.
- The Dora intersection is dangerous.
- Abu Nuwas Street is safe.
- The Baghdad-Ba’quba road is bloody dangerous.
- The Green Zone is safe, and sometimes it is dangerous.

I apologize if I left out any areas of our beloved Baghdad but I’m writing and racing with electricity at the same time.

As to Iraqi governorates:
- The north of Iraq is safe, except the Ninewa governorate, which is dangerous.
- The northern center governorates are relatively dangerous.
- The southern center governorates are relatively dangerous.
- The governorates of the south are safe, except for Diwaniya and Basrah, which are relatively dangerous.
- The west is relatively safe, except for the western highway , which is dangerous sometimes.
- The governorates of the east are all dangerous.

Friday, June 29, 2007

FJL in the dock

It was in the movement of her hands....and the rest of this has had to be deleted for legal reasons!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

He's Back

Great news. British TV is about to see the return of 'The Shield', arguably the best cop series ever made with the possible exception of HBO's 'The Wire.'

Regulars based this side of the great water may well have missed this, since its on Five, which many still don't have, and it's usually on way late. This Friday it's on at 11 which is criminal in itself.

At the centre of this fast paced and shrewdly written series is the brooding Vic Mackey played by the stupendous Michael Chiklis. As The Guardian's Charlie Brooker remarked, Vic looks like an angry testicle, and he is simultaneously the victim and protagonist of the events in the show. Now he has met his nemesis in the form of IAD detective Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker).

If you haven't seen this, and you like cop shows, beg borrow and steal the DVDs and treat yourself to the some of most riveting drama on the little screen. It makes CSI and its progeny look like glitzy schlock.

Friday, June 22, 2007

After the Sopranos, a Mugging.

The thing about nightshifts is they reduce your willpower to actually go to bed on time. Once again I've becomne transfixed by the Sopranos, and it was after midnight last night, which is late when you're 42, when I heard a banging outside.

It was like someone thumping on something. And I was just cleaning my teeth in a state of horrific undress when there came a ringing on my front door bell.

Now the thing is, late at night, anywhere - never mind in Brixton - what do you do in this situation? I have a feeling that quite alot of my neighbours opted for the 'staying safely snug in bed' option. But I grabbed a towel and peeped through the peephole to see a youngish bloke in blue shirt and charcoal grey trousers.

"I've been mugged" he said "at the end of this road"

I told him to stay where he was and Ms T came down with my robe.

He came in and we made him a cup of tea. The story he told us was all too typical; coming home after a couple of drinks he'd been attacked by three men, who held a knife to his neck, and get this, a gun to his head - they'd extracted his wallet, his keys, his address AND his pin numbers.

"But what would you do?" he asked, and plainly there is no choice if you're in this situation.

The police turned up in about a minute - I really haven't ever seen them respond quite so quickly and the shaken bloke was led away. I asked them if they wanted to call a locksmith but the young policeman (they are all young these days, with hardly any hair) said they'd take care of all that.

Unsuprisingly Ms T and I lay awake for a while after this listening to the police vans moving up and down the street. What do you do and say about bullshit like this? That muggings have been happening since the seventeen hundreds? That there but for the grace of God? That this could have been another Tom Ap Rhys Pryce?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Finding Excuses

Nightshifts are terrible for motivation, and after just a couple on Radio 5 Live's Up All Night my willpower is shot. So much for going to the gym every day; I'm sat here facebooking and avoiding physical effort of any kind. Bad bad bad.

But tomorrow I will go to the Gym. I will, I will.

And I am not drinking at all, after my French excesses, which will make me boring but hopefully a bit thinner.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Places of Evil

I do a lot of thinking about the last World War for many reasons. Chief among them is my incredulity at the level of sacrifice and the heroism demonstrated countless times by ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

The other reason is that my mind boggles at the level of evil manifested by the Nazis. For sheer ingenuity nothing beats homo sapiens when they're destroying one another, and the Third Reich led the pack for years (although it was, as Nagasaki and Hiroshima remind us, the Allies who held the final horrific trump card).

Miss T frequently indulges me when we're on holiday in Europe and something 1939-45 presents itself, and last week in France we found ourselves at La Coupole, a sinister underground factory developed by the Germans to manufacture V2 rockets.

Forced labour was used to dig out a massive cavern covered by a thick concrete dome under which V2 rockets were to be constructed and fired at London. The invasion halted the work in 1944, but that didn't stop the Nazis loading the Soviet labourers onto a Germany bound train. They were never heard from again.

Dank, cold and haunted, despite the trapping of the modern museum, La Coupole is a reminder of how thin the ice was in those days.

History works in odd ways. La Coupole and other V2 related development forced the US Air Force to develop remotely piloted bombers that would literally dive into the targets. Remote control being in its infancy these flying bombs required some flying by pilots, who would take off but then parachute out when the knackered aircraft was safely on course. This was near suicidal work. Among the volunteer pilots was Joseph Kennedy Junior, JFK's older brother. He was killed when his drone exploded before he could parachute to safety.

In a weird circuit JFK can be seen in a video display in the concrete bunker announcing America's dash for the moon. It would use the very same scientists and basic technology used by the Nazis and which his older brother had given his life attempting to destroy. The irony can't have escaped him, but when it came to the progress of his country JFK wisely put any squeamishness he may have had on the back burner.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On the benefits of being 'Feral'

So the departing Leader wants to regulate comment and news coverage on the internet. We hacks are a feral bunch who rip reputations limb from limb, and are generally bestial to politicians who just want the best for us after all.

In the 1650's Charles II tried to shut coffee houses on the basis that they were "places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers".

There's always a problem for the great and good with people getting together and publishing unauthorised things. They used to cut the ears off pamphleteers in the dim and distant. I'd worry if we were popular in authority, since that would be a reverse of the way things have been for centuries. I'm proud to be thought of as 'feral'. The reverse of feral is to be house trained.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Last Chance to See?

With Gordon now apparently dead set on building enormous housing estates across the South it's more important than ever to get out there and savour it before it goes forever. And savour it we did this afternoon, catching a train out there this Sunday morning and walking for hours across beautiful countryside.

At one point, in Shoreham, a Spitfire flew over. It was all deeply deeply British. And in the sunshine, with lovely beer and surrounded by jolly friends, you could see what those desperate brave men fought for sixty years ago.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Back to the Seventies

One of the naffest things about Britain these days is the growing addiction to the styles and culture of the Seventies. I was six when the Seventies started and sixteen when they ended, and I shudder at the things I was subjected to.

1. Power Cuts. The Unions were able to turn the power off! The government had to ask people to work three days a week so as to save energy. You'd be having tea and the lights would go out. There was a strike of some sort nearly all the time. Not sure I don't miss this, on reflection.

2. Joseph (And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat). This is being inflicted on us again by the BBC with a talent show to pick a lead actor. Andrew Lloyd Webber's survival as a leading creative force in British theatre is a hell of an indictment. When I hear the songs from that dire musical my skin feels as if it belongs to someone else and my stomach gives a kind of nasty lurch.

3. The food. But prawn cocktails and Black Forest Gateaux are now gaining some kind of retro respect!

4. Racism. Casual, and promoted by LWT in shows like 'Love Your Neighbour', driven underground in the eighties and nineties but now fighting back strongly via councils seats in backwaters like Yorkshire under the flag of the BNP.

5. The colour Brown. You look for it, it's coming back. You'll see brown cars soon, mark my words. And he's the next PM!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I cried with laughter.....

Our celebrity ridden culture almost makes me yearn to have llived in 1370, when I'd have toiled in the fields and scraped a living from subsistence farming, reproducing willy nilly, my progeny sprawled illiterate on the dirt floor of my freezing wattle and daub built shack while I died of the Black Death at the age of 28.

Thank God for the internet which enables us little people to strike back at the people we're supposed to accept as cultural giants. For an example that may make you die laughing, see the reviews fabulous Amazon users have posted of Jordan's latest album.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A nightmare day for the country in which eleven people died and the transport system was paralysed. When are we going to wake up to the fact that the planet is being slowly throttled, and this kind of thing is going to get very frequent indeed?

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years Resolution

Mine is to lose weight and update this blog on a regular basis, with potentially award winning content, such as Ms T grooving at the best New Years Do I've been to for decades...