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


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 1902.