Sunday, December 27, 2009

Family Ties

From Shropshire240508


I never really got to know the rest of my family beyond my parents. My Dad was in his forties when they got me from an adoption agency and my mum was in her late thirties. We were a self sufficient unit. I got the feeling my Dad's folks were from Cumbria - we'd see my two uncles Joe and Jim from time to time - and my mum had a brother who came round with his kids occasionally. All my Grandparents were gone by the time I was any age at all really.

Recently though my Dad has started talking about our relatives so I got busy on the PC today and subscribed to one or two of these ancestry sites that market the old census lists. Some of them even have online access to the death certificates. I found my mum pretty much effortlessly, which was as sad as you'd expect.

My Dad's side was interesting (but I admit I'm biased). It seems he comes from a long line of Cumbrian farmers which I traced back to 1840. His ancestors had loads of kids and I'd bet they led pretty hard lives, although at least they were out in the fresh air and not down a pit or something. Their farms are still there and I gazed down at them on Google Maps. I reckon I might drive up there at some point when the weather improves. I can see how people get hooked on this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Unveiled

So, Belle De Jour turns out to be a research scientist from Bristol. Techcrunch this morning speculates this unveiling may not be entirely of her own volition. Dr Magnanti went to massive lengths to protect herself including setting up shell companies to handle the proceeds from her book and TV transactions. But it seems there may have been an ex with an agenda and thus we find her in the papers on her own terms rather than on someone elses.

Secrets are difficult to keep in the internet age, but at least all Belle has to endure is some annoying newspaper articles and a few sideways looks in restaurants. I once knew a man who infiltrated the IRA. The penalty for discovery was death. His RUC handler had this aphorism for his continued survival as a spy: Never even tell your best friend. For your best friend has a best friend.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Time Out Country Walks Book 1 Number 6

From Hampshire091109
Just the right time of year for a walk down in Hampshire, the train to Pirbright and then a tramp across the county border to Haslemere in Surrey. Really quiet, the rain stayed away, nobody around and the leaves all turning. Steak and Chips in the pub, the Red Lion in Fernhurst. Good friends on the nine mile trek. A perfect day in a beautiful part of the country.

Top iphone Apps


I thought I'd make a list of the things I'm impressed by on the iphone at the moment. Blackberry and Palm Pre users please look away now. All these things are free, and I heard about them on tech head sites like Wirefresh and Gizmodo.

- Tweetdeck. I'm an unashamed twitterholic and this newly updated widget makes it all so easy. And if you set up an account it syncs with the version on your desktop. .

-Sky News. It makes me grit my teeth to say this but their app works brilliantly. But they should incorporate their bloggers to make it rule utterly.

- NY Times. Their net offering works better on the iphone than it does on the web. Authoritative US journalism delivered to your phone.

- I'm also trying out Zen News which is an original graphic take on the world's headlines. Not convinced by it yet though. .

- TV Guide. The UK TV listings at your fingertips. Very handy when you need to sort your reality viewing.

- The Trainline. Tried this rail timetable tool out while we were walking down in Sussex at the beginning of the week and needed some train times from Haslemere. Simple to use and worked brilliantly...and it's free unlike its competitor, National Rail Enquiries, which was still £4.99 when I checked this morning.

- Currency. Handy little thing for working out how much the bill is in Sterling when you're travelling. Quietly pops onto the net to find out how the pound is doing so it's always up to date.

- Kayak. Its designers say this finds the cheapest flights from wherever you are to wherever you need to go. Looks on a number of sites, including that of Easyjet apparently. And it has an option to book a car and a hotel at the other end. I'm quite impressed but I think I'd still feel happier doing that sort of high cost operation on my PC.

- Rightmove. Watching houseprices rise and fall is my guilty pleasure.

- Speedtest. A bit nerdy this. Basically it's a handy little program which measures the speed of your net connection. It's also available on the web which is handy when lambasting your ISP over low bandwidth.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dog

To my friend Rikki's house to take pictures of his guide dog Russ for a guidedoggy publication. It takes raw courage for even sighted people to take on London's transport system and Rikki used to do it armed only with a stick. These days Russ is his right hand dog.

There have been few mishaps, although Russ did once walk Rikki into an overhanging refrigerator lorry door. There again, there was all the excitement of an ambulance ride afterwards!


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kidnap

Not had much time to blog recently, mainly because life has got in the way. But my imagination has been caught by a superb series of articles David Rohde has written for this weeks New York Times.

Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban in November 2008, together with his translator and driver. There followed eight months of captivity, including frequent promises of release, the making of those terrifying videos we've all seen and sundry other terrifying hardships. Finally Rohde and one of his colleagues managed to escape, after tiring out their guards by an endless game of chequers and then disappearing over a compound wall.

Rohde has had a unique insight into what the West is dealing with in Afghanistan. The series is a must-read if you're into journalism and want to know about the growing perils faced by some of the people who do it for a living.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Home



Sat in a comfy chair at home musing on our experiences in America. Result: lovely country but I'm glad I don't have to live there. It really is survival of the fittest in the Land of the Free. All through the trip I watched the health care row take form on tv and the web. I struggled to get into the complexities, and will stand correcting, but it appears to be based on the concept of insurers commissioning care from the health system on behalf of clients. Naturally this only works if you have the resources to get the insurance. If you have insufficient resources you don't have a policy - unless you have none at all in which case the state can step in - or if you're over 65 in which case you get 'medicare' benefits (which it has to be said seem very good).

The majority of young people take the risk, don't buy a policy, and hope they won't become ill. So a large proportion of the population pays nothing at all into the health system. If they do get ill that's a problem because you can't get insurance if you have a pre existing condition. The cost of health care has in any case ballooned in the US, as it has in all industrialised countries, but in the US to a really radical degree. It now accounts for 16% of the country's GDP, up from just 8% in 1980. At some point a bill will emerge 'from the hill'. For what it's worth, and I'm no expert, I reckon it'll be Obama's defining moment in this term.

It was exciting to be in a country that can faces up to this problem with heated debate and a proper democratic process, albeit swayed by the lobbyists. And as we travelled I got a real sense of ordinary Americans wanting something sorted out; I think back to Georgia when I met a man at breakfast who faced a bill of over $1000 when his daughter picked up a minor sports injury; only a proportion of the bill which was largely borne by his employers policy .

The country as a whole feels as if it's weathering a difficult period. Two wars. The health care problem. The economy still very much in a trough, with more unemployed this month than even the analysts were expecting. But I got the sense, speaking to people, of a country with a great sense of pride in itself, and a sense of purpose that I rather wish we had over here.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Tenement


To the Lower East side to take in the Tenement museum, which is absolutely superb. It centres on the Moores family who arrived in New York from Ireland in the 1860's. The tour guide takes you up the steel stairs into the building on Orchard Street and around the tiny insanitary space the family lost a child in, and which hasn't materially changed since the thirties..

Researchers know a lot about the family and have even spoken to their descendants. The tenement was built in 1862, which makes me wonder what happened in in our house, built 1876?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Museum Revisited

From NY


Slipped away from Ms T and her foodie mate from Chowhound (they were engaged on a Mission to a Market) and headed uptown to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. I've been before but it's worth a revisit because of the remodelled Greek and Roman antiquities gallery. Their collection is rivalled by the British museum, but only when the UK's key museum actually has the staff to open all its galleries..

Here there's polished gems from Knossos, an entire Bronze age chariot and the most superb collection of ancient Greek vases - starting from approximately 600BC - I've ever seen anywhere. They ask for $20 for admission (non compulsory) to this and the rest of the museum which has apparently kicked off a very New York row...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Murder



We finished an idyllic three days in Savannah by sitting in the sunlit Madison square and reading our books before catching an overnight Amtrack to New York. Madison Square is one of the most famous crime scenes in US literary history, as it's the site of the slaying featured in the 90's journalism-thriller 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' by John Berendt. The book - people in Savannah simply refer to it as 'the book' is notorious and lies like a curse on the city. The reason is its heady mix of fiction and fact. There really was an antiques dealer called Jim Williams and he really did shoot a young man in the 1800's house in my picture above. The book, which is a great read, brought in the tourists and even Clint Eastwood to shoot a picture - but now Savannah can't exactly wriggle free of its reputation as... a bit louche. There again maybe it doesn't want to.

As to the cavalcade of of other characters in the novel, some of them did undoubtedly exist, some have their names changed - and everyone here will tell you that they know someone in it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Moving



Tomorrow we pull out of Charleston and head further south into Georgia. We spent today at the beach and got our noses burnt in unseasonable sun. Out to sea dolphins broke the water as fishermen dangled lures off the pier. Pelicans dived to catch fish and the sunlight glinted off the Atlantic, which turned out to be so warm even Ms T felt up to a paddle.

Afterwards we went along the pier to meet the gnarled fishermen who turned out to be the cast of 'Jaws'. What are you fishing for we asked. Shark, they replied. I looked suprised. I'd been swimming in there, I laughed (uncertainly).

Ah well, they replied, the shark are there all the time. You might not see them but they are there. But they're only a risk in the evening or first thing in the morning. So now I know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Charleston



After a swing through rain soaked Virgina we've arrived in sultry Charleston, a costal city on the coast of South Carolina. I've never seen downpours quite like the ones we drove through, but that's America, they don't do their weather by halves.

Twenty years ago to the day Charleston played host to Hurricane Hugo. The physical scars have long gone but the local news today featured an item about shelter suitability; they can't take their security from the elements for granted here. We wandered about the elegant French quarter and a friendly lawyer showed us around the court complex which dates from the eighteenth century. The centre of the storm came ashore here and tore the roof off, he reminisced, so they spent two million dollars or so rebuilding it to its former glory.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Washington

From Washington


In Washington for the first time in years. Passed by the Vietnam memorial (above) - always moving, so perfect and simply achieved...then walked our little legs off. You rarely see people in uniform at home in London, but in Washington by contrast you rarely walk the length of a street without seeing a Marine, or an Air Force officer. It feels like the country is at war in a way which ours isn't. And that's borne out by reports here this week that Gen McCrystal will shortly ask Obama for up to fifty thousand more troops to get the job done in Afghanistan.

Museums done we headed for Rosslyn across the Potomac for a lunch at Ray's Hell Burger. This made headlines a few months ago when the President and Biden dropped in and lined up at the counter like everyone else. It's not ritzy but by God it was tasty.


View more news videos at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/video.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Conkers


Two quite heavy days on the newsdesk had left me with a headache so it was up first thing and off to the Lido for a swim. The water was so cold my face nearly fell off. Pushed the polar bears aside and did my twenty lengths. But Autumn is with us now and leaves were floating in the pool. The morning sun made the waves glitter as I sculled up and down. There were about fifteen other hardy souls none of whom were wearing wetsuits and some had their small children with them. Respect! The headache disappeared and my skin tingled. Swimming in a heated pool feels odd now, like being in tepid tea.

Afterwards in the park on the way home there were horse chestnuts on the ground. They were so shiny and cool I had to pick them up. Do kids still play conkers or has the pastime been banned on health and safety grounds? Or maybe the Nintendo DS has conquered conkers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Beds Walk


To Harpenden for one of our walkabouts, with Ms T choosing the route from a new guide we'd not tried before, the Rough Guide walks around London. This is not quite as good as the Time Out versions in that the walks are circular rather than from one station to another, but it does make buying the train tickets a good deal less complex. The maps in the Rough Guide are much much better than the Time Out equivalent which makes navigation easier, although the directions are less comprehensive. Like the Time Out routes there's a pub in the middle, in this case the Wicked Lady in Weathampstead which looked gentrified to the max and which I thought would be dreadful - but which surprised me with an excellent fish risotto and Ms T raved about her sardines on toast. So there you are.

Harpenden is what it is; a dormitory suburb outcrop of London but a pleasant place with some nice country areas around it. The weather was stunning, Summer's last hurrah.

After being on the wagon for two weeks and holding out with a lime and soda in the pub my will evaporated when I got home and I indulged in a Spitfire Ale. Then it was off to the Regent where I got three sheets to the wind with Ellen and Ms T. Remembered in the morning why not drinking can be a Very Good Thing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Doctors

Walked in hot September sun (?) down to Camberwell to see Charlotte, struck down by Salmonella after an encounter with a chicken sausage at Colombo airport. Ms T was hungry on the way so we stopped at a Vietnamese cafe a short distance from the hospital.
The next table was occupied by two youngish doctors. The door opened on another world as the conversation ebbed and flowed.
"We went to Tuscany for a fortnight but the nanny didn't come."
"I don't think the recession ever reached us actually. And we saw some bankers the other night - very bullish. There's money to be made..."
"We were trying to buy an apartment in Manhattan, but the deal fell through."
How much are these guys on?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Catalogue



This is the latest thing to fall into our garden overnight. I don't think it's the kids this time, somehow, so I'm not sure it falls into the same category as the dinosaur (see below). When I came out to go to work there were pages strewn all the way up the street, so perhaps it was someone who was drunk or just unhappy with the service levels at Argos.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Old Aunty



Love this 1959 documentary of life at the BBC looking at the overnight operations, including a hilarious sequence apparently filmed in the wee hours in the Bush newsroom.

'Anything new for the 0300 bulletin?'



It's still like that, well, sort of. My favourite sequence is the security guard ringing Jack De Mannio to point out that it's half past five in the morning. They ought to bring that sort of thing back.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dinosaur

From Drop Box


We have a small walled garden which borders the street. It's a little green sanctuary and I'm thankful for it, and feel fortunate we've got it, particularly when I don't have to mow the lawn. The kids who play outside frequently throw things over the high wall, usually old toys they don't want anymore, mainly small things, but once an entire scooter. They rarely come to ask for things back (although they did for the scooter).

I've decided to start cataloguing these things, stuff fallen to earth from Planet Childhood. This week's offering, a scary plastic dinosaur witha revolving head arrangement that allows you to choose between cheery and scary.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hurt


Sometimes, at the gym, I say to Adam, please leave me a little bit of strength and endurance because I have the rest of the day to get through. His response is always the same, that there is no point in training unless you push the envelope. I can do another fifteen bench reps now, he then adds, just for good measure.

But today, fully two days after a session I find just getting my jacket on and off a real problem; and together with my back which is still randomly painful, everything in the top half of my body seems to ache. The weight isn't really coming off although I look and feel quite a bit better. I also feel a lot stronger in the pool, where I can cheerfully knock off a kilometre before breakfast.

But I have to face the fact that the drinking will have to go if there's going to be any move on that front, and so next week I'm going back on the wagon AGAIN. The other problem is I have bet Ms T's dad Roger that I can do a triathlon by next summer. At this point, dear reader, I don't even own a bicycle.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cows


In Lincolnshire this weekend which must surely be one of England's most overlooked and most beautiful counties, especially at this time of year. We combined seeing Ms T's parents with attendance at the Wedding of the Year, that of Charlotte and Alastair Tatam. It took place at Alastair's parents house which is surrounded by fields and lovely gardens.


Some cows came over to examine us as we parked cars and put up tents for those staying late. They stood in a huddle, swaying silently.

'Are they frightened?' asked a small boy of his dad

'Sort of frightened and curious at the same time'

Later there were fireworks which caused a fresian stampede.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Books


People have been tagging me on Facebook with requests to name my fifteen books. I had real problems doing this, which surprised me. Just getting to fifteen was a massive effort which shows that either I'm in mental decline or the whole exercise is worthless even for people who like books.

Catch 22
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch
Adrian's Panda
Barchester Towers
Bright Shining Lie
Master and Commander
Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain (see pic)
Midnight's Children
In Cold Blood
1984
Brideshead Revisited
Carter Beats the Devil
The Macpherson Report into the Murder of Stephen Lawrence
Biggles in The Cruise of the Condor
The Odessa File

See Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain? A heady percentage of the fifteen I'd take to the desert island are from my childhood, and took root in my heart as my mum taught me to read. Later I was on an adventure with Biggles (I love flying to this day), and then there's the Odessa File, my first grown up thriller which helped inspire me to be a journalist. Brideshead has to be there, Orwell had to get in somewhere and iI found I wanted Rushdie's Midnight's Children - for my money his best work. The Macpherson Report opened my eyes to what it was like to be black in our country and is a drily effective piece of writing into the bargain, but ultimately I love fun in my literature and what can surpass Carter beats the Devil for that? I have omitted other much adored friends like Raymond Chandler, but I think that's my drop dead essential fifteen.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Dawn Glory


I'm in the West Country at the moment and yesterday I went over to the funeral of our last Great War veteran, Harry Patch. At six in the morning driving on the roads here is a real pleasure and I was forced to pull over by the lovely view of mist in the Somerset valleys.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 25, 2009

1984

A few days ago a friend of ours, who's very senior in one of the publishing firms, came over for a barbecue with her kids. I asked her whether she was a bit concerned about the new e-reading gadgets that Amazon and Sony are marketing. They're like ipods but for books, and I reasoned that people might pirate literature just like they do music. Well she said, DRM - Digital Rights Management - is under development for that.

And quite radical this DRM is because the other week Amazon magically made some books disappear from their clients readers, before apologising and putting them back. You don't really own a book you buy for one of these things. The company does and can change it, or make it go away at will.

As it happened one of the titles was Orwell's 1984 which I'm re reading (on paper) at the moment. In Winston's world all the books have been burnt. And the hero spends his time rewriting history. How Big Brother would have loved the new e-books! And may yet, I suppose.

Choose the Moon




Can it really be forty years since the Americans made the ultimate statement about tourism and went to the moon? It wasn't being there so much as getting there that we celebrated last week.

I'm caught up by the techy geeky romance of the whole lunatic enterprise. Some years back I made the trip of a lifetime to the States and sat in a Command module simulator in NASA's Huntsville museum (above). That's where they developed rockets by the way - they developed Cape Canaveral later, I think. My apologies for the shorts and the cheesy grin.

There are lots of webby offerings which I've been surfing in my downtime but I reckon the best is the JFK library super site: We Choose the Moon. Fabulous.

Swine Flu

Much sweating, real and virtual, about swine flu which is sweeping newsrooms and parts of the nation. Despite claims that up to sixty thousand people could die, and the tragic deaths already associated with the virus, I can't help but be sceptical. Part of this attitude is stupid bravado. I've had flu many times, goes my reasoning, so bring it on. Let's test the mettle of this so called dread phage against the antibodies already residing in the Hendosystem.

And I have problems with the advance publicity for this thing. I spent half the nineties thinking I was doomed to die of Mad Cow Disease because I'd had a dodgy sausage or two. And another part of it stems from watching Newsnight the other day when Simon Jenkins suggested we were being driven into hysteria by a self interested health care system.

I don't dread the virus so much as the time it'll take out of one of the nicest stretches of the year. Who can bothered being ill when the weather's so clement? There's nothing we can do save send our 'flu friend' for the tamiflu. Which according to one GP blogger doesn't work anyway.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Art, anyone?




To the National Gallery with Han to see a gentle exhibition of landscapes by nineteenth century French painters: 'Corot to Monet'. They always have these exhibitions in the basement of the Sainsbury wing which gets a bit warm and has odd subdued lighting, but I enjoyed the quiet pastoral paintings of people standing in wide fields under big skies. My favourite was a series by Boudin, who appears to have liked a particular beach in Normandy (above).

Nothing revolutionary about these paintings, but then you go around a corner and see how they gave rise to Impressionism which was very Rock and Roll in those days.

Then it was off for Dim Sum in Chinatown passing the now famous plinth in Trafalgar Square. On it was mounted a man in blue lycra cycling a stationary bike. A crowd of schoolchildren had gathered, shouting up at him excitedly. Art or Bollocks?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Origin Of Species

From DownHouse120709



To Kent to see Down House, the home of Charles Darwin for forty years after he returned from his epic voyage in the Beagle. Lovingly restored by English Heritage you can now see the pokey study where Darwin sat with his dog Polly and wrote the work which tore down Victorian beliefs about the world and man's place within it.

Darwin emerges from the exhibition as a family man - ten children - with an obsessive eye for detail, spending eight years just classifying barnacles. The house is much bigger than I thought it would be and there's lots you don't see, which makes you wonder what you're missing. The gardens are lovely though, not fussy, just well tended.

The trip was the idea of Graham who runs our book club. We were there to discuss 'This Thing of Darkness' which is a superb book by Harry Thompson all about the Beagles' voyage, and about its captain, Robert Fitzroy. Recommended.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Moving With Difficulty

From Birthday040709


I share my birthday with American Independence Day so we had a party at Hendo Towers this weekend, which Ms T imbued with bunting, her best barbecue cooking and an American theme with the help of her US friends at Chowhound. A good time was seemingly had by all (see pictures) infact we spent the whole weekend BBQing as to the manner born.

We were lucky with the weather; not too hot but lovely anyway. We moan about our summer, but we're having a nice one this year. I think people got sick of the heat last week though and welcomed the cooler stuff this weekend.

I am 45 now, the foothills of old age. This was brought home to me when my back went after my swim and I spent the rest of the day crawling around in extreme pain. I'm eating painkillers like they're sweeties. Wondering what the problem is I rang the doctor shortly after nine this morning but a voice told me to ring back when they were less busy. I called back a bit later to be told by the receptionist that 'all the appointments were gone'. Could I book one? No, all those kind of appointments were gone too. But if I rang back tomorrow there might be one.
How much are we paying these people again?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pub Crisis

From Kent Walk

Hundreds of the country's pubs are closing every year, infact one industry expert now puts the closure rate at around fifty a week. If like me you enjoy a pint and think pubs constitute a vital part of our social fabric this is depressing news indeed.

Some, like Anthony Worrall Thompson, are calling for the smoking ban to be lifted from pubs but this problem is not so simple. The Pubco contracts which force franchised landlords to sell beer at an unfeasibly high price is also to blame for some of this crisis, and the tax environment for alcohol generally here is madly high.

The Government has known about the pub meltdown for a while and yet doesn't move, maybe eyeing the cost of late night disruption in town centres and reasoning that as alcohol is a poison perhaps drinking less of it would be good for the population and the pressure on the NHS budget.

Whatever, I don't think the smoking ban should be removed. It's a pleasure to return from a night at one of our remaining pubs and not have to consign all your clothes to the washing machine.

UPDATE Over dinner tonight I was taken to task over claiming that the tax environment for alcohol is madly high. According to research done for the brewers we tax our beer higher than the vast majority of Europe, trailing only Finland and Ireland.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bodyguard of Lies

Last November an American journalist working for the New York Times was kidnapped by the Taliban. David Rohde was staring death in the face and his employers asked media organisations not to say anything about it. They reasoned that Rohde's release price would rise if his plight was publicised, and the fuss would hinder negotiations for his freedom. They even got Wikipedia on side, altering the way it showed Rohde's reporting record, but this didn't stop an anonymous user from Florida from trying to amend the site to show the journalist's imprisonment.

Rohde escaped by climbing over a wall earlier this month, and now we can have the debate about the rightness of the cover up. Me I support it, and feel that wikipedia user in Florida was a priggish menace. The NYT piece about this quandary is here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dordogne

From France0609


I haven't blogged for a while partly because I've been on a fabulous holiday in the Dordogne, where I scandalously failed to visit the recreation of the cave paintings at Lascaux. Instead of paying a reverential visit to see man's first attempts at a visual reproduction of his animal friends and foes we sat enjoying the peace at the house in the countryside we'd rented, and occasionally jumping in the pool to cool off. Ms T and I rather fell for the place and we're promising a ourselves a return trip - although maybe we won't drive the 700 miles next time, given the number of handy airports we found out about when we got down there. Never mind, Rachel and J stood the rigours of my driving with great fortitude.


We did stir ourselves a bit, wandering around Perigueux where there's a superb little military museum. It's one of those charming places with the accent on show rather than tell, lovingly tended and full of interesting stuff from a massive variety of conflicts. One exhibit simply a map of Algeria with little flags and a book - did you serve in Algeria? asked a notice. Please sign here and plant your flag; and a lot of people had. Then suddenly in one case, bringing me up short, the terrifying uniforms worn by residents of the town who had found themselves inmates at Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bete's New Book




I should start by declaring an interest. I’ve been a reader of Stan Cattermole’s since he started his blog and have ceaselessly promoted him here and to my friends. I’m even on the list of supporters at the back of this new book. And I’m so pleased he’s made it into print; his writing deserves recognition and some money. The paradoxical problem with the internet of course, is that even excellent things like his blog ‘Bete De Jour’ are free, thus producing a problem for the purveyors of excellent things. But while it doesn’t seem to me to be cheating to take the best of your blog posts and repackage them as the basis for a book I don’t know wether this one really works.

Bete De Jour – as a blog - is pretty exciting writing if you like laughter and honesty with your laptop and coffee. Over the months Stan has faced up manfully to a humungous weight problem, an alleged lack of looks and a grim poverty of sexual opportunity. His posts deal with a wealth of other problems which are met head on in an often hilarious and always highly compelling way. A lot happens. He discovers some truths about his parents, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say his love life enjoys something of a renaissance, and he moves house. So this book which uses the blogging as a springboard for a bigger narrative isn’t a thriller. Think suburban earthquakes.

And for his friends and readers – the net often merges the two groups and at one point this works in Stan’s life to an extreme degree - there’s a return of old favourites. The brilliantly written scrabble match in Burnley is here and some of his terrifying early sexual encounters make their terrifying re-appearance. There’s a lot of additional material about his appalling childhood. Being by his own description ‘ugly’ is just the start of his problems.(I have no idea if he is, incidentally. Stan doesn’t favour us with pictures) Some of his schoolfriends are so cruel they ought to be had up at the Hague. He goes to a reunion. It is as difficult as you’d imagine.

Because he writes so unsparingly, and it’s usually funny, this book just escapes being a misery memoir. But just occasionally I found my self thinking, come on Stan, hit back. Get a little wicked. Don’t be afraid to give in to the Dark Side, I shouted inwardly, because by God he takes a hell of a lot of stick in this book. Bad luck seems to follow him around. His close friends become ill very frequently. Don’t get too attached to his cat. It’s all a bit grim, at points. And that’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t completely gel; I want a fightback.

I also want more themes somehow or maybe even a bit of suspense which you don’t get when you’ve been cruising his blog, so maybe that’s my fault. He’s added a lot more into this than just transcribing his blog posts, yet there’s a sense of the book being a stitched together series of episodes rather than a narrative flow. Maybe I’m being pernickety.

That being said, Stan changes his life in many positive ways, which is a big thing and a good read, particularly if you’re a newcomer. And don’t get me wrong, this is a strong debut from a man with a considerable webby following. He does write almost suspiciously well. Could this be a fascinating experiment by someone much better known? I can’t rid myself of this thought. I’m like that though.

Anyway do buy this book, a man who writes like this – whoever he is - deserves lunch. But for all his accomplishments, both in his life and in the way Mr C has documented it, it still feels a bit more of a blog thing, than a book thing.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Blogging Matters

"Sadly, my time in Sicily has not been all good. It started out wonderfully, however, and everything was going great, until halfway through my second night, a couple of people with whom I had been getting on really enormously well turned on me, swore at me viciously, pushed me away and left me drunk and weeping in the middle of the night, in the middle of a strange town, without even the name of the hotel where we were staying"

Bete De Jour, a self professed ugly man who writes like an angel, has a book out! Added to this excitement he has ended up in Italy, where he falls out with people and sits mournfully in churches. This is what blogging is all about!

Lido Decisions


To the Lido for more of that swimming habit I get at this time of year. Summer is really here now and this morning is cool but sunlit so I still take my wetsuit. The decision to do this is less than obvious because I'm not sure which is better for swimming; should it be 'wetsuit mode' which is like being held in the water by a kind of giant buoyant rubber fist but which definitely creates more drag as I swim..or should I go trunks only which, even with the warmer water temperature (19.5 C this morning) is a big shock to the system and makes me work a bit harder to stay afloat?

Sweating up and down the pool I notice a group of kids arrive from one of the local schools. I'd reckon them to be about eight years old. They are accompanied by five teachers/assistants and a yellow tee shirted instructor. They spend some time being told about the pool, at some length. The minutes tick by and I start to wonder what it is that anyone needs to be told about the concept of a swimming pool. Then they get changed into their togs and then they do that thing which drives me up the wall, ie just stand shouting, splashing each other and throwing a ball around.

The staff just stand there on the side and laughably, one of them tells off a child for screaming. You get in here lady, I think, and see if you don't scream. Looking at the teachers, and I admit I am in a greenhouse stonethrowing here, one or two of them could use some exercise. After a bit the kids get out. Nobody has taught them a single thing about swimming. Is this Health and Safety or something? Because surely the real risk to a child's health is not to be taught to swim.

** Hat tip to the Brockwell Lido website for the lovely vintage picture featured above..

Friday, May 29, 2009

A widdyam

The ongoing expenses story has coincided with half term so I was drafted in to help our team at Westminster. I arrived shortly after Julie Kirkbride and Margaret Moran had decided to step down. It was organised mayhem with the phone ringing all the time and reporters flitting around in front of cameras and radio microphones. It's been years since I worked at Millbank so I was, to put it tactfully, on the steep bit of the learning curve. I'd forgotten how fast moving political events can be and how vital it is to stay on top of the detail.

A couple of hours into this a colleague turns round to me.
Colleague: "Obviously we'll need to do a Widdyam."
Hendo: "?"
Colleague: "A Widdyam"
Hendo: "Erm.."
Colleague: "Yes, a 'What Does It All Mean'"

Light Dawns.

So now you know, when you watch the news and you see the top piece saying what's happened and then you see a second item all about the first, it's a Widdyam.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On the Beaches

From France230509



To Dunkirk to retrace the steps of the doomed British Expeditionary Force almost exactly sixty five years earlier. And to buy wine, oh definitely to buy wine. That's one of the great things about France, the way they sell alcohol there. They let you taste it first. How civilised is that? We bought quite a lot in a cellar in Boulogne then drove up to the Dunkirk area for a night in neighbouring Gravelines.

I kept thinking about the young men who found themselves defeated and exhausted here at the end of a tumultous May in 1940. And of the poor civilians who remained in the town, which was razed to the ground. We wandered around the museum then along the seafront. Could it really be here that a desperate beach commander had driven lorries into the sea to create a makeshift pier for his men to walk along? Among them Ms T's Grandad.

Then driving out across the flat canal filled land at the back of the town where hundreds of French and Allied soldiers laid down their lives in a bitter unequal defence against the Panzer units so as to let their mates escape; people tend to forget that bit. Could all this have happened in this green and tranquil landscape? That's the power of northern France to me, the knowledge of massive sacrifices amid the mundane beauty.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wetsuit News


I can't face the Brockwell Lido at the moment, because the British summer hasn't really sputtered into life. And yet the water does look inviting, particularly after a session in the Gym with Adam trying to cause a coronary. (Joking).
So for the last few days I have been cruising South London looking for my first wetsuit, which today I finally sourced from a shop in Fulham.
Getting it on was a kind of titanic struggle but I finally managed. I look like a kind of pregnant slug wearing it, but nobody laughed and it seemed to fit so here goes. I shall be in the water tomorrow, all being well. Hopefully by the end of the year I shall be a bit less Orca the sea cow and a bit more Marine Boy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Scandal Pizza


For the last week the revelations involving the MPs expenses has turned the news cycle into a kind of Groundhog Day involving the scrutiny of the Daily Telegraph's website, late night repositioning of satellite trucks, cameras and correspondents, and then a race to keep up with a frantic pace of political development. People are obviously very angry indeed, but being a hack you see things slightly differently in that what's going on is revelation on top of revelation, an incredibly swift moving news story, and that's coupled with a realisation that politics in this country is never going to be the same again.
I've got a kind of thought-pizza about what's been going on.
First, the state of the economy has fuelled the sense of outrage we saw on Question Time on Thursday night. People are really up against it and that's added to the bruised feeling. Would it have been as bad for MP's if we weren't looking at spiralling unemployment? I don't know. Maybe.
Secondly, Stephen Fry missed it when he was asked about the row:
"Anybody can talk about snouts in troughs, and go on about it, for journalists to do so is almost beyond belief, beyond belief.
I know lots of journalists; I know more journalists than I know politicians.
And I’ve never met a more venal and disgusting crowd of people when it comes to expenses and allowances. "
He must know different journalists than I do although the Guardian's Ian Jack admits Fry has a point, or at least he did do when journalist's employers had some money.
Because (lastly) I'm lost in admiration for quite a few of the ones I do know, and this week I've been learning more about journo-campaigner Heather Brooke whose single minded and courageous exploitation of Freedom of Information law has led to this week's events. She's written a superb piece about the long legal battle she fought to wheedle the disclosures out of the authorities only to be beaten by the Telegraph at the last hurdle. The moral victory belongs to her at any rate.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

iphonerati


I've recently bought an iphone and it's been a big hit. I've had mobile phones that outweigh it in terms of factors like the onboard camera which is a bit basic in the Applephone but the cunning elegance of the design has totally won me over.

The device's unique selling point is the appstore which has lots of games and useful functions you can quickly and painlessly install, usually for nothing or a small fee. Over at Urban 75 there's a discussion about which of the applications people have tried out, but for the record here is mine so far:

I use twitterfon for twittering about the lido temperature with Tricky Skills (free)

Wunderradio for all my internet radio listening - haven't tried it in 3G yet but it seems to work pretty well next to wifi - (it's a few quid)

Bloomberg to watch my shares fall and get all my nerdy business news (free - and a really impressive app)

accuweather (free) but it claimed it would rain on sunday and it was lovely.

Skype (free) but i only know one other person who skypes. And you can only use it in wifi areas - for now, at least.

Tubedelux ( a few quid) or Tube Status (free) for checking the alarmingly frequent times the Viccie line is paralysed. But as Helen points out, you cannot use it underground.

A whole load of free news apps - I like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, BBC News... the iphone is very well served by free apps for news, which is great because I'm a news junkie.

Facebook, natch. Free.

Urbanspoon: a free restaurant review app which offers you a new place, local to you, when you shake the phone.

Audioboo. the very trendiest twitterati do this, it being a kind of audio tweeting. Free.

Cylon Detector. For detecting whether your boss is actually a cylon. They frequently are. 59p.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Winchester Wandering


To Winchester for a book club weekend to discuss Anthony Trollope's Barchester Chronicles. It was like dropping back twenty years.The streets were filled with public schoolboys from the town's 26K a year college, crusty red faced locals with those padded green jackets you see on the League of Gentlemen thronged the bar of the Wykeham Arms, and the inn's four poster bed creaked and groaned like a sinking schooner (or was that me after a couple of pints?). The diet was discarded in favour of steak, red wine and various other misdemeanours but these were offset to some degree by some walks along the river Itchen, and another quite long hike near Elton.

I like Winchester. It's genuinely pretty in a non-chintzy way, and then there's the Cathedral which costs six pounds to get in but has a number of fascinating gravestones outside (see above). There was a food fair in a gigantic marquee in the grounds where various tv chefs signed books for the adoring foodie throng. Ms T was not of their number. ("I'm not paying £2.50 for the opportunity to buy things")

Up the road is the Hospital of St Cross which is the almshouse community which Trollope based 'Hirams Hospital' on in The Warden. It still houses various gentlefolk, one of whom kindly showed us around the grounds and the superb Norman Church. He'd arrived there in the 1980's when the oldest resident at that time was over a hundred. One afternoon this gentleman had been wheeled out in his chair to regale the rest of them with his experiences as a tailor in the English Army in India...in 1902.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Between Good And Evil

If you read a bit here you'll know I've been spending a good deal of time and money at the Gym where the personal trainer Adam has had me re-evaluating the nature of pain. His workouts involve a mix of (to me) very heavy weights which I either have to push up or pull around or flex me poor old legs against, together with a refreshing mix of push ups and running very quickly on the treadmill. I have found all this very hard indeed, but I must be honest and say I am enjoying the results - once the pain has worn off.

I was very struck by something Adam remarked upon as I pushed 50KG of weights the other day, a laughably small weight for him but I might as well have been attempting to bench press the Queen Mary. Adam's skill is to add in the 'reps' to take you to just beyond the point of your endurance. Of course the temptation is to quit. But then you will lose face, and this is about as popular in Herne Hill as it is in Hong Kong, at least with me.

Seeing me struggle - I was really pushing with everything my puny body had to offer - and that temptation appear on my face, Adam made a sage remark cleverly designed to motivate the Hendo mentality.

"This is the difference between Good and Evil" he said. "To give up is Evil. To struggle is Good."

I have booked a further ten sessions.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Brief Recap..


My head empties when I work hard and that's been the case in the last few days, hence the radio silence. But here's a few random reflections to end the week.
1. I've been going to work at half past six in the morning and the number of runners pacing the pavements as I sailed past in the Focus has been awesome. A lot of them are wearing rucksacks. Of course they've all been getting ready for the London Marathon and I take my hat off to them. Is not running twenty three miles in the company of thousands of others most peoples idea of Hell? But oddly, I'm tempted, albeit in the way you're tempted to jump off Beachy Head to see what it would be like.
2. Went to a dinner party last night in which the hostess said she found the recession 'really interesting'. Well I'm bloody terrified and the more I read and hear the worse I get. At some point we hacks will get bored of telling you about how deep we're in - roll on that day.
3. My colleague, the excellent Political Correspondent James Landale has returned to work after a battle with Cancer. He looks great and everyone is very pleased. This tends to put reflection no 2 in a sharply reduced perspective. As my Dad says: Who cares about money if you have your health?
4. I have been running a bit and training with scary Adam pretty regularly, and combined with staying (mainly) away from the demon drink some difference is reportedly visible in the Hendo Waistline. Morale was raised when someone remarked on it in the office.
5. The weather is lovely! We went for a regime breaking glass of wine and some lunch at a pub on Friday and sat in the breezy sunshine. Felt good to be alive.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New York Memories

From Chris & Neil In the US



For me most holidays come and go, warmly anticipated then swiftly forgotten. These days I put the pictures in Picasa, the tan fades and the footprint of work swiftly eradicates all the easy going feeling acquired from swanning about in the sunshine.

But one or two trips will always stick in my memory. One was the three weeks Ms T and I spent in California and Nevada around the time of 9/11; infact as I recall we arrived in San Francisco the night before the terrorists struck. Watching America make an overnight transformation from inward looking complacency to huge public grief and sudden outward aggression was something to behold. (CNN: Who ARE the Taliban?... Fox: America Under Attack!). Many people in Europe underestimated the amount of change in the US psychology after the outrage.

The other holiday that I'll never forget was another trip, first to New York and then in the deep south of the US at around the time Princess Diana was killed. Looking through a cupboard I found a big box of photographs and scanned the best ones on to the internet. The shot of New York makes me sad and wistful; I can't see that city's skyline without thinking of the twin towers and the photo now reminds me of a more innocent, more trusting time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Walk On The Heath


To Hampstead for a walk on the heath in bright sunshine and accompanied by a gigantic cheery posse from Urban 75. Beforehand had a fortifying lunch of fish finger sandwiches in the Garden Gate pub. I excused myself to go to the Gents only to encounter there Liam Gallagher, lead singer of Oasis and arguably the finest rock vocalist of his generation, looking after two of his children. What do you say in these circumstances? I elected to say nothing. Oasis fans should know that Liam looked fit, tanned and was wearing a green parka type kagoul much beloved of Mods who have to stand in the rain.

He was having lunch with his family and shook hands with an eleven year old of our party as we were leaving. I thought: this man is utterly unlike the slavering loon depicted in the red tops. Why am I even vaguely suprised about this?

Then it was up the Heath, to look at a Viking ditch, a hollow tree and to do some egg rolling down a hill. I didn't risk a swim in the ponds but if it gets any warmer (always a gamble in the Brit Summer) it could be on the agenda. I fancy a bit of 'wild swimming'.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cybercat




Twitter is all the rage these days and my cat Dylan now has a twitter account in which he micro blogs his days spent being terrorised by other cats and chilling in the towel rack. Do follow him, if cats are your bag.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First Day of Summer?

From Regents Park Walk 150409


To Regents Park for a walk from Ms T's new London Walk book. I like this for two reasons, the first being that I get to see aspects of the capital I haven't seen before, and the other being that there's always a pub in easy strike range. We walked through the park next to the massive Georgian residences, then along the canal for lunch at a little bistro called L'Absinthe. I had the steak frites, to nobody's surprise. (I had been in the gym at 8 that morning. Life can't be all hard work etc etc).

Passing the zoo we saw a group of young men wearing orange tabards, standing around next to a fence. Closer up I could see lettering on their jackets which read 'Community Payback'. One of them was painting the railings. The others were watching him.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Double Indemnity


When Ms T and I were away in Greece we read a short novel called 'Double Indemnity' by James M Cain. It's pretty brief but the story of the crooked insurance salesman and his murderous girlfriend exercises a real grip seven decades after the author came up with it. A few years after it saw the light Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler turned it into a movie - and even though it was made in 1944 it's still a scorcher, as I found out when I dragged myself out of bed after a night shift and put it in the DVD.

Barbara Stanwyck, who plays the adulterous killer got one of the movies seven Oscar nominations. Time hasn't blunted her erotic force; in this film she's hot, end of. She spends most of the film in a blonde wig and an anklet which exercises a fatal sexual pull on the hapless Fred MacMurray. And infact she carries the film, although Edward G Robinson as an insurance analyst is also pretty good. When I saw the date of production I wrongly assumed it had been scooped by Gone with the Wind, but no, another movie called 'Going My Way' - a Bing Crosby vehicle - swept the board. Heard of that film? No, neither have I. Double Indemnity is better written up on an excellent blog called Modern Times, and hat tip to them for the poster I've put on the top of this entry.

Ms Stanwyck got her due in the end. On Youtube you can see her get her honorary award from the Academy, presented by a terribly young John Travolta.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Concordat



Some aircraft are like popstars and have fanclubs. But can there be any more idolised machine than Concorde? When I grew up in Manchester it was a source of civic woe that BA didn't operate scheduled flights of the noisy elitist monster from 'Ringway', as it was called in those days. This was natural from a city which gave birth to Rolls Royce and acted as a midwife to the computer. Now BA has retired its fleet the techy Mancunians have got their wish and have installed one of the beasts in its own pristine purpose built hangar in their airport's viewing area.

I went to see it the other day but my fiver only got me as far as the glass wall of the new building. They're fitting up a restaurant so you can view the machine as you eat your burger. When they're actually open (it was closed at 4pm...why?) they want another fiver for the privilege of going in there and getting on board. I bet they're not short of takers; when Concorde occasionally flew in over our house on chartered flights my Dad would shout and actually run into the garden to see it up closer. It would take passengers on joyrides over the Bay of Biscay. All subsonic. Nobody cared. They were flying in Concorde.

People would pile into their cars, drive out to the airport and literally press their noses into the fence. This graceful bird, white, shiny and a source of national pride was sitting just a few hundred yards away! It could droop its nose! The wings changed shape when it broke the sound barrier! It didn't just fly at Mach 1, it did Mach 2.2! The Yanks had nothing like it! People would shake their heads, turn away, then turn back for some more. And now they can have as much as they like, for a tenner.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Dumping the Tech, Hefting the Filofax


For the last few weeks I've changed the way I run my life in a small but retro way.
I used to be leading edge in my organising. My diary was online and synced with my PDA, a Palm TX which was in many ways ahead of its time. And it even played Scrabble! It fitted my geeky staus to a tee. But the truth was that while very high tech - and oh so much part of the 'cloud computing' age we're said to live in - the system was a pain in the bum. It really was tedious to deal with. Just putting in what I was doing next Tuesday seemed to take ages - putting appointments and my work schedule online seemed to take forever.

Now it's a new era for while on a lunchtime wander in Westfield Shopping Centre I was lured by the charms of an A5 Filofax 'Kendal' (see above). It has a chunky serious look about it which seems to suggest that, yes, this is what important people record their things to do in. Infact it even has a 'things to do' section. In short, it tickles my pompous side. And it's so easy; got something to do next Tuesday? Well, just write it in.

A Filofax. They're so Eighties. Back in that decade I used to have one with an embroidered cover which everyone thought was hilariously camp. Now they've survived the hype - and the label of witless yuppie accessory - and become timelessly cool. Well they are, until I see the next funky gadget.

Filofax paid Hendo no money for this blogpost, in case you're wondering.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Exit Greece

From Greece 09


I'm sat in Athens airport, where there's 45 minutes of free net access and thinking, I'll just post a final blog entry before submitting myself to British Airways and the flight home. And I've loads of thoughts about Greece which i shall put down while trying hard not to sound like Jeremy Clarkson.

- Greece is drop dead beautiful and there are a load of places where most tourists haven't heard of. I think I'll be back and maybe a bit later in the year next time so I can do some swimming.

- The ban on smoking in public places is a good idea. Getting used to secondary smoking again has been no fun. Greeks light up all the time, often with other people's food within range. There is no culture of public health here the way we have it at home, and over the years I've got used to it.

- Greek drivers are fine outside cities. But put them on a motorway and they will try to kill themselves and take you with them. The hard shoulder is just another lane to them (and they use it for overtaking slower traffic) as are lanes closed off for maintenance. And if the traffic is a bit slow on the main carriageway they'll speed through rest areas just to hop a few cars. In 150 miles of anarchic motorway yesterday I saw no police whatever.

- Greek food. It's fine as far as it goes but basically its in a ghetto because none of the cosmopolitan influences that have transformed our eating out experiences have arrived here. They used to major on fish but thats not possible anymore because the fish stocks are so depleted. And there are too many chips. They arrive unbidden with virtually everything. But on the plus side, God, I like chips.

- The collapse in the value of the pound has made Greece quite expensive. And if it's bad here what will it be in France for example? We Brits have got used to our spending power on the continent and it's hard not to see a political fallout when UK dwellers get home from their hols this summer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Grecian Meanderings


From Greece 09


We've fitted in a great deal in a short time; the ruins of Mycenae yesterday and today we visited Epidaurus – the highlight being an enormous theatre which seated 1400 people. Despite its undoubted majesty the structure was literally a side show for the main event, which was a complex of buildings set up to heal the sick. The key healing ingredient was apparently a labyrinth filled with snakes; the sick would crawl about in the dark being bitten and so (incredibly) healed. Everyone believed it was the sacred snakes that did the trick, so much so that Rome sent for one when suffering the plague. But in reality the healing was being achieved by the canny Greek doctors who separated the infectious from the recovering and groped towards a proper understanding of medicine. An inscription at Epidaurus warns of the dire consequences if their fee didn't get paid. Physicians haven't changed in 2300 years.


25th March

Githio

Spent the night in a hotel with paper thin walls and decor unchanged since 1952. Was awakened by an unsilenced motorbike. I lay semi conscious, a bit hungover, as snoring from a neighbour (NOT Ms T) echoed through the walls.

But today is Greek Independence day. I had already seen the first small boy in national costume by 8.30am. Ms T and I debated what our national costume might be. A shell suit, a soccer shirt and a permanent sneer maybe. But here the bunting has come out, the local national service boys are marching on the seafront, and I suspect a party may be in the offing - notwithstanding the weather, which has gone a bit cloudy.

26th March

Karavostasi

After driving for hours round hairpin bends etched into the side of mountains we've fetched up in a small village on the coast, sleeping in one of Alastair Sawday's 'Nice Places to Stay For Middle Class People' (It's not actually called that, but it might as well be.) We'd had lovely weather to explore the coast but as we checked in the clouds gathered and rain lashed the small fishing hut where we drank our beers and ouzo.

I think they've been watching Gordon Ramsay round here. Last night a shouty restaurant owner told me to eat my boiled Broccoli.

On the brighter side the coast is really incredibly pretty, and full of interesting shrines, fortified towers and the remains of Ancient Roman settlements - and best of all there's virtually nobody here. And the weather this morning is glorious. I keep thinking of touring holidays my mum and dad used to go on in the Highlands, mum striding about the heather, clad in brown anorak and headscarf.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Greek Odyssey

From Greece 09


I'm in Greece with Ms T for a few days, so web access is a bit hit and miss. So I'll post up my travel diary which I'm keeping as we go, strangely enough.

22nd March

Ancient Corinth

First full day in Greece, having arrived at the ruins of Ancient Corinth. Yesterday it rained hugely as we drove south from Athens along the motorway but the weather this morning is much better. Wandered about in the old city and saw small improvised church service. Wondered why, then realised that these pilgrims were following in the exact steps of St Paul, some 2000 years previous.

Watched TV in the room last night. Specialty here seems to be news channels which record and rebroadcast Sky News leaving in the remarks of Kay Burley.

23rd March

Nafplio

We have pitched up in Nafplio, a frightfully chi-chi town which reminds me a bit of manicured places in the south of France. On the way here we had various adventures, such as nearly rolling the car by reversing it over a cliff someone had thoughtlessly left in the road. Fortunately a team of Greek villagers came to our rescue. They righted the unscathed vehicle and I rushed around saying thanks. They looked a bit bemused. Maybe helping the clueless British is all in a days work.

Much exploring ancient ruins, which makes me wonder how long before there is a shopping revenge by Ms T who is usually resolutely opposed to looking at piles of stone with notices attached. Perhaps it's not long off; we are staying in a remorselessly trendy hotel with wifi, so last night we had the weird experience of listening to the Archers as we dressed for dinner, and around me I see the dread mark of the designer boutique.

I have been conditioned to New Labour's Britain, so it came as a shock to see how many people lit cigarettes in the restaurant last night. I expect the EU health people will make them buckle under, sometime in the next three centuries.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Is Not A Game

I had lunch with Adrian Monck, who now lectures in journalism, a few months ago. And I'm sure I asked him then why he left TV news. I think he may have glossed over it at the time, for it seems that this is the reason, and it must surely rank as the bravest blogpost of the year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I am like, Meh.

Now that I'm 44 I'm slow on the urban speak, so it's only recently I've caught on to this fab word 'Meh' which has wriggled into my language . I turn to the Urban Dictionary to discover that it's been currency among the cognoscenti since 2002:

Indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.
A: What do you want for dinner? B: Meh.


As language does, it's changed its meaning slightly in the intervening months from 'I don't care' to an estimation of the quality of something.
Here's how it was used the other night at Hendotowers:

Hendo: I watched the first episode of Red Riding on Channel 4 the other night.
Ms T (doing something else way more engaging): Hnnn?
Hendo:..and I thought it was a bit 'meh'.

There's so much this handy little word can get applied to these days, and now I 've got a nasty cold and no voice it can be applied to me in totality, ie:

Hendo: I'm having an early night. Meh!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Being Burgled

We got off lightly really. Ms T came home on Friday - the 13th naturally - to discover glass across the bathroom floor and 'evidence of entry'. The thieves, or thief, had broken in by a first floor window, but then our security meant he couldn't leave via a door. So he'd left emptyhanded the same way he came in.

I got home from Manchester an hour later to discover the house in a social whirl. Rachel, who knows a few things about surviving crime, had come round to lend moral support to a cheerfully stoic Ms T. Rebecca and her kids arrived, and decimated the fruit bowl. Brixton CID also attended along with an utterly glamorous Scenes Of Crime Officer. They declined tea, did 'house to house' and 'took swabs'. A glazier came round and sorted the window. Rachel and I cleaned up the broken glass. The cats emerged from under beds.

As I say, nothing had gone. The DI examined my Playstation and pronounced it 'insufficiently cutting edge'. Infact we're up on the deal, as they left a handsome garden fork in the back yard.

What can you do? I sorted out a stiff G&T, put it down to modern life and thanked God neither myself and my loved one were in at the time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Drained

Two nightshifts punctuated by depressing news from Northern Ireland. But at least I was supposed to be on duty. When the first shootings happened a certain correspondent (I could name him but won't) abandoned a family holiday and turned in an apparently endless series of packages and two ways. Our coverage of these distressing events has been first class as a result and I am proud to have a played a minor role in it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Docklands Walk

From Docklands060309



Ms T has a new book which features shortish London walks - between three and seven miles - so we did one with our friend Han this afternoon. The one we chose wound through Wapping next to the Thames. The weather was spring-like with seagulls arcing in the cool breeze and boats cutting foamy wakes in front of the looming Canary Wharf. Lunch was at The Prospect of Whitby which boasts its own gallows with a good view of the river.

"Was anyone hanged there?" asked Ms T
"Pirates" came the reply.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Spare Tables

From Drop Box


To Canary Wharf to have lunch with my City friend. The recession has arrived and it is as awful here as anywhere. One in ten people in his company had been fired the previous day. Many of the tall buildings were half empty, he informed me, and the atmosphere at his firm - usually upbeat and businesslike - was naturally very low. Smollensky's restaurant, which had been too busy to find us a place when we'd been a few months ago, had tables to spare.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Time Out Country Walk Book 1 No 48



Swans: 2
Fish: Numerous
Pints of Ringwood Ale: 1.5
Distance: 20Km

To Hampshire during a much needed break in the wintry weather for a long walk mainly along the Test. The river is high; not quite bursting its banks but nearly there. The water was clear in the strong March sunlight and you could see the enormous trout the Test is famous for. We explored two churches, both dating back to the 11th century, one with stocks outside and another with a 1610 picture of somebody being stoned for collecting firewood on the sabbath (see above).

The pub was the Plough, one of those bland affairs with maddening soft rock muzak which have turned into a restaurant to survive. But the fish and chips were great and it was good to find locally brewed ale.

The walk's been messed around with, partly by landowners who are keen on enjoying their bankside privacy and also by a farmer who's let the path become overgrown and at one point has actually barred access to a style. And elsewhere Hampshire council have diverted 'the Test Way' around a huge and smelly pig farm. In my rush to get out of the house for the train I'd printed out the wrong updates so it was unnecessarily stressy at one point, what with Ms T needing new boots because the pair she has are pinching her ankles.

Apart from that it was fine.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Crunch Nightmares

The figures are almost too big to imagine, but here's a link to a superb article in the New York Times which explains the mess the US insurance giant AIG has got itself into. Bears of little brain, ie me, will want to read it twice; it explains in relatively simple terms how we ended up where we are.

But here's the paragraph that chilled my blood:

Here’s what is most infuriating: Here we are now, fully aware of how these scams worked. Yet for all practical purposes, the government has to keep them going. Indeed, that may be the single most important reason it can’t let A.I.G. fail. If the company defaulted, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps would “blow up,” and all those European banks whose toxic assets are supposedly insured by A.I.G. would suddenly be sitting on immense losses. Their already shaky capital structures would be destroyed. A.I.G. helped create the illusion of regulatory capital with its swaps, and now the government has to actually back up those contracts with taxpayer money to keep the banks from collapsing. It would be funny if it weren’t so awful.

I shouldn't look at the internet, it gives me bad dreams.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Legal Remedy

The media is in a spin about what to do about the bankers who drove their organisations into the ground but who then waltzed off with amazing pension deals. But m'learned friends already have the answer, the dreaded Bill or Act of Attainder. Used throughout English history, and apparently still existing in the Common Law framework, it enables the Government to execute people without trial and to take their estates into public ownership, leaving their families destitute.

It's a bit strong but I can see it going down well in some quarters.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Surreal is the right term for this experience

There's no doubt Twitter is changing journalism, but to my mind, only on certain types of story..and these are the mass event kind of stories when someone in the crowd of people involved and witnessing it starts tweeting.

And the cloud of tweeters range in on sources like @Nipp who was next to the tragic plane crash in Amsterdam this morning, and who finished the day with nearly nine hundred new followers and a line of interviews with news channels. As he said, surreal is the right term for this experience.

But twitter doesn't change all stories. I had a look for twitter coverage of the Financial Service Authority appearance in front of the Commons Treasury select committee this afternoon. It's pretty sparse, very partisan and tends to link to those 'old fashioned established news sources'. So for stories about one of the most interesting things to happen today it seems you still need a proper journalist.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stephen Ten Years On

It's ten years since the publication of a pink covered book which altered British society. Infact the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence still sits on my shelf. I came to know the Lawrence family quite well; I was the researcher on a World In Action which featured the case before the change of government brought the inquiry into being, and I met the family and their legal team during the hearings.

The sessions on the top floor of a sixties office block in Elephant and Castle, a number of which I attended for ITN, shocked me to the core and changed the way I view the situation of black people in our country forever. Previously I had absolutely no idea of the level of more or less open racism they were routinely experiencing from a supposedly modern police force. And I couldn't believe the open rudeness from some of the senior officers as they gave evidence under questioning from some of the lawyers. Quite apart from the revelation of monumental incompetence of the police probe into the Lawrence murder my abiding impression was one of utter arrogance brought humblingly to book.

Finally there were the climactic and near violent scenes as the young men named in connection with the killing were brought to give evidence. Monosyllabic answers brought outside by video screens inflamed the crowd. Sneers from them as they came down the ramp outside the shopping centre causing a near riot.

But among other things I'll remember the controlled dignity of Doreen and Neville, and how I admire the way in which Doreen in particular has never given up calmly pointing out that her son has been deprived of justice and remains in that position today.