Friday, December 31, 2010

Sixteen to Follow In 2011

Twitter is now a minor obsession with me, invaluable for my work and an endless source of diversion and interesting internet titbits when I'm not. I follow nearly nine hundred people, despite being pretty ruthless with my follow list. People who don't tweet for a month get dropped, too much hate-tweeting also gets you binned as does endless political ranting. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy political tweeting, just not ten tweets inside two minutes.

I have many personal favourite tweeters and I'm risking causing offence by missing lots of friends out but this blogpost is really for the perplexed mates at work who say: I've got a twitter account, but now what? The now what is these sixteen people. They're a start and they lead to lots of other brilliant folk who make twitter the super thing it is these days.

@fieldproducer or Neal Mann, my rival at Sky News who appears to be tweeting on a round the clock basis. His tweets are almost always useful, or funny, or both. Almost everyone at Sky News has a twitter account which is obviously handy for people like myself. @DharshiniDavid is another excellent Osterley based tweet-source for economics issues. And of course there is @peston if you like hot gossip from one of the country's best informed journalists.

@gracedent the UK's funniest TV columnist. Essential if you like sitting on the sofa with your tweet device of choice in one hand, the remote in the other and Strictly Come Dancing or somesuch on the telly din-din. The other superb columnist of this ilk is Caitlin Moran @caitlinmoran who has done me the honour of following me back.

@ruskin147 or my colleague BBC tech editor Rory Cellan-Jones. One of the first people I knew to get an ipad. But he was beaten to the punch by the Guardian's @katebevan. Both write about technology and Rory spices his commentary up with pictures of his adorable dog. I also like @wirefresh which links to a strong tech blog edited by a great friend of mine.

@bletchleypark Many people argue Britain won the war in a series of shabby huts in Buckinghamshire filled with the best code breaking minds in the country. Now the place badly needs visitors and funds as it becomes a museum. A very active tweet account, definitely worth your clickage. My New Years Resolution is to get up there and see around as soon as possible. World War 2 is also represented by which is a tweet account linking to feeds of cabinet minutes from the time.

@Oliverkaytimes Essential if you like sport and football, which I do. Mr Kay breaks stories on a regular basis, as Does David Taylor of the Guardian @DTGuardian

Iain Lee is a stand up comic, a broadcaster and a newish dad. But his beautiful wife@Fandango69 also tweets and they have hilarious bickering sessions online.

will be off to Afghanistan soon. I will be following him and reading his well written and highly informative blog.

Political tweeters I follow across the idealogical spectrum @guidofawkes is essential. Iain Dale is retiring from blogging (he says) but keeps a fizzing twitter account. On the other side of the park there's Labour Matters and @ChukaUmunna who's efforts are a world away from most MPs who generally tweet that they've had a most productive surgery in Oakshotte, or wherever.

That's my sixteen, so please don't be offended if I've left you out - it's a lack of space not a lack of love.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Movies in 2010

Winter's Bone (see below)

You can't see them all and you'd go mad if you tried, but I've been to the cinema a great deal more than last year. Maybe the weather has helped in that I've been indoors a good deal, but the 2010 crop of films has been strong. There's a few I've missed and they're on my to-do list, like Black Swan, Shutter Island and The Fighter. But for what it's worth here are:

Hendo's Six Hot Movies of 2010.

Monsters is a rare thing, a British science fiction film. And it's great. A sort of road movie made by Gareth Edwards with a crew of about seven who travelled through central America in a bus. Every now and then they'd get out, recruit some locals and shoot a scene with improvised dialogue. When he got home Edwards cut the film in his bedroom on his PC and painstakingly added in all the special effects. The result is a very watchable Easy Rider meets Day of the Triffids affair, the budget for which came in at around £300,000. That's miniscule in film terms and should endear him all the more to austerity hit Hollywood. Go see.

Kick Ass A super hero film with a difference, ie that the main character has no super powers but decides to fight crime in a funny costume anyway. He's well played by Aaron Johnson, and the film also boasts a promising performance by Chloe Moretz. Well paced direction from Matthew Vaughn and a sparkly script by Jane Goldman makes it worth getting the DVD, or a download or whatever it is you do these days. But a word of warning, this is one of those films which absolutely everyone loved except me. I thought it was reasonable but there's a bit where one of the characters gets set on fire which crossed my personal line on violence and - for me - spoiled it.

The Social Network. American students talk at one another, invent Facebook, fall out, hire lawyers. I was bored stupid, but everyone else thinks this film is pure gold. I just couldn't manage to care about any of these preppy/nerdy types. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay and one of his keynote strategies is to make his characters speak quickly 'so that they appear clever'. It revolves around people talking about money in offices and has six Oscar nominations which shows how bankrupt American film culture really is. But I'm afraid you're going to have to see it, if only to post what you think about it on Facebook.

Winter's Bone. A teenager in backwoods Missouri finds her dad has gone missing while on bail, which wouldn't be so bad if the bail surety wasn't the house she lives in with her silent mother and perky siblings. Loved this film for a variety of reasons; the no holds barred depiction of grinding rural poverty and deprivation, the ensemble cast with the outstanding performance from newcomer Jennifer Lawrence as the teenage girl trying to cope with demands most adults would run away from, and the taut thriller of a script. Superb, my film of the year.

Of Gods and Men. A small community of monks in North Africa walk the perilous line between Islamic fighters andTunisian government forces. Beautifully shot with some brilliant acting from the French speaking cast. And a really unusual film which is a bit dull for the first ten minutes but take it from me, it's worth sticking around. Based on a true story which makes the moving drama even higher in impact. Do seek it out.

Inception This film is so clever people had to go and see it twice to work it out. This is risky marketting but fortunately smart break-neck direction, amazing effects and DiCaprio at full throttle makes it all a worthwhile exercise. I think I kind of 'got it' but not being totally sure still made this thriller a great way to spend an afternoon at the Ritzy.

I'm looking forward to the King's Speech and for some reason connected to Tamsin Greig and Gemma Arterton I may see Tamara Drewe for a second time when it comes on the telly. Happy filmery in 2011!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Carlos Tevez

Courtesy Box Office Football

As a journalist of some twenty five years in the trade I tend towards the cynical end of the spectrum as far as my view of human nature is concerned. But even I have been shocked by the decision of the Manchester City captain and top goal scorer Carlos Tevez to hand in a written transfer request to the club's management this weekend. It is a venal disgrace.

Presumably the curtain raiser to this sordid opera was the flirtation of Wayne Rooney with Manchester City earlier this year. A striker who owes a great deal to Sir Alex and Manchester United was considering taking his Bentley across town to the side's most bitter rivals: why? Manchester City fans (I am a long standing sufferer) would have had big problems accepting him. Nevertheless some sort of financial flirtation was reported to be taking place before Rooney's common sense prevailed and he decided to stick with a club which wins things most years as opposed to one whose most recent addition to the trophy cabinet was made in 1976.

Now the irony here is that Tevez made exactly the same journey some months before. For reasons which were inexplicable at the time Fergie decided let him go. For months City fans have had a laugh about this but now it's starting to look like one of his better decisions.

Mr Tevez has made two statements which contrast in the most severe way with the club's account of the affair. Money, he says, has played no part in his wish to sever his very profitable relationship with Eastlands. The rumour this morning is that he is paid £280,000 per week. No, it is his growing disenchantment with football, and the inconvenient geographical position of his estranged wife and two daughters who live in Argentina which is uppermost in his mind at this time.

The club sees it much differently, and a statement from them this weekend claims that until very recently the players representatives were angling for a pay rise and an extension to his contract. Football contract negotiations are a hall of expensive mirrors, but there is a ring of truth about this.

City fans love Tevez, or did until Saturday night. He works and works. He actually scores frequent goals. He can light up the grimmest of afternoons in the shabbiest of surroundings. This quality has been marred in recent weeks by the overt disrespect he has shown to the club's stylish manager Roberto Mancini. The timing of this contract problem is to say the least suspicious and unfortunate, coming as it does with City joint top of the Premier League - the highest position since 1977. I will be interested to hear the fans reaction should he ever have the guts to pull on a blue shirt and run out in East Manchester again.

Monday, December 06, 2010


On the tube to work this evening I was suddenly joined by some students leaving tonight's protest at Tate Britain. They sat next to me, two young men, two women. After a while they started getting things out of their bags to show to each other. One of them retrieved a chess set he'd made, which was contained in a small leather box. He folded back the lid and revealed an ingenious hinged board which expanded out. The carved chess pieces were stacked neatly inside. He'd made two, he informed his friends, but one had been broken. Another student got out a picture she'd done, presumably on the protest they'd been to. Two police officers, sketched with great skill in green pen stood glumly while a student in a bikini with a clown face arched over them like a dolphin.

I find it difficult not to be charmed by these people.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


I should declare my hand at the very start - I am an unabashed fan of the way digital storage and the merging of phones, cameras and the internet has changed the photographic landscape. That virtually everyone is carrying a camera of some kind is an amazing step forward for photo journalism if nothing else. I was reminded of this the other night when the Qantas A380 experienced a radical engine failure. Parts of the cowling flew off and made a scary hole in the wing. The phlegmatic passengers who were sat in the windows could have panicked, prayed or written their wills. Instead they took pictures of the damage. Then other passengers passed them their cameras in order that they too could have pictures.

Photography is now past being a hobby. Taking pictures now seems to be something people do when anything worthy of note or even life threatening occurs. I saw someone taking pictures at a funeral a few weeks ago. Since when did we take photographs at a funeral?

But I love photographs of all kinds. Other peoples pictures are great, even if I don't know them. When I was a kid I couldn't understand why people got bored of looking at other people's holiday snaps. I loved other people's family photos. I still remember my Aunty Margaret coming home with three hundred slides of a trip to the United States and I sat dazzled in her darkened front room with the slide projector rattling through the entire collection. I hadn't even left the country at that stage and I was entranced - and green with envy of her two boys my age. But most of all I vowed to take myself to America at the earliest possible opportunity, which I did. And when I got there I took hundreds of photos, which nobody really wanted to see.

Maybe it was being an only child, for even the most mundane of family shots fascinated me. I'd look at the way people held themselves next to each other, or sat on top of one another, or stood their distance. They smiled, or frowned. They threw themselves in front of the lens or had clearly been dragged there. Sometimes parts of them were missing because SLR photography did not exist and often you had to guess where to point the thing to get the shot. Light sometimes ruined the film, and left blasts of red and white light across flat landscapes of caravans and cows. Clearly this random odd quality is missed by more people than just me because you can get an iphone app (Hipstamatic) that puts in all the old imperfections and grainy effects into your brand new hi-res snaps.

Recently I've been sent lots of pictures of my relatives, which have been an utter delight. I don't know who some of them are, but the mystery serves to make the stills more interesting. Above is a picture of my Great Grandfather dating from the 1920's. Photos were obviously much more of an effort then and hugely costly, which makes the picture of him with his bicycle all the more unusual and interesting. Whereas anything you don't like these days can be binned instantly and another shot taken, which is a shame, in a way, imperfections adding so much more to life and our desperate efforts to capture and record it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Back in 1997 I bought my first computer. It was made by the North London company 'Mesh' and had an astonishing 2.3 Gigabyte of hard disc storage together with 64mb of Ram. The standard RAM spec was 32mb, but I decided I wanted more bang for my bucks, and I ended up spending a lot - well over a grand - because I also shelled out for a 17 inch CRT screen. I think the system boasted a Pentium chip. The system lasted four years, the monitor a further five.

A month ago I acquired a new iphone4. Boffins reading this will have to tell me how this chip compares in speed with my 1997 machine, but this handheld device has ten times the storage of my first desktop. The phone is a much more powerful computer than the one which sat humming under my desk years ago. And it has two cameras. And a compass. And maps, and a GPS. Oh and it makes phone calls. It's this sort of comparison which makes me impatient of the android versus iOS debate; if this is the kind of progress that can be made in computing in just thirteen years what will the future hold? And taking the long view means arguments about 'widget handling' look what they are: meaningless.

The new iphone is a solid piece of quality engineering, made of metal and glass. You know when it's in your pocket because in phone terms it's quite large and a bit heavy. The buttons are much where they were in my 3G, but made of steel. I accidentally dropped it onto some stone flags while out on the town in Turkey and it didn't even scratch.

The OS has been upgraded and so you can now use several apps at once by simply pressing the home button twice in quick succession - thus I can play my internet radio and tweet while checking the headlines. Much has been written about the 'retina' screen and it's very clear indeed; videos, web pages and apps display content beautifully on it. It comes with the Safari browser as standard, but may I suggest icab as a better alternative, since it allows muti tabbing and boasts all sorts of options Safari does not have.

The ipod facility is the same and the apps transfer seamlessly from your previous iphone - and if this is your first then wonders await - but the big technical change is surely the camera. Here I must confess I quite liked the one included on the 3G effort; phone cameras are not really about composition and professional results, they're really about the impromptu moment down the pub when your mate gets up to do Lady Gaga on the karaoke machine. Which brings me to the other big change from the 3G - this device shoots HD video at a really impressive 720p. It tends to produce shaky-vision and you have to remember to tun the phone on its side to shoot 16:9 ratio, but this function is great, and the imovies app means that you can edit on the phone itself before posting to the web.

The phone itself, while being a nigh invincible weapon of web, is not that great as a phone. Reception can be a bit crusty although I suspect the O2 network may be partly to blame here and actually ending a call can be a bit hit and miss since the screen turns itself on and off as if possessed by some light flicking poltergeist.

And I am yet to use the much trumpeted Facetime video calling feature. I know a few people with these now and I know of nobody else who has made a call with it either. But the more down to earth task of contact handling is great particularly if you run an exchange account over the air with Gmail, which meant I could simply wipe one phone, start again with another and instantly download all my contacts and calendar from the cloud.

As usual with Apple I'm left wondering what might have been. It would have been nice to have an SD card insert, for example, and bluetoothing data around does not seem to be allowed. But the other question in my mind is what Apple can possibly do to improve this phone to make me buy another in 18 months time. Sheesh, I expect they'll come up with something.

This changes everything, said Steve Jobs when he wheeled the iphone 4 out. Actually the change is really further development on a theme, that being Apple's drive for dominance of the mobile internet by the use of the App store and its linked devices. The iphone4 costs, feels and works like the quality digital companion it's been designed to be. My friends may (and do) sing the praises of the cheaper android OS rivals. But there is a clarity of purpose about the quality design and ease of use of the iphone4 that is its own potent argument.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Social Ipad

I tend to paddle rather than swim in the sea of networking so this post will just cover the couple of things I do regularly, ie using Twitter to alert the public to the latest doings of my cat and messing about on Facebook, the monster which has replaced e-mail and other 'traditional' things we used to do on the internet to a great degree.

First Facebook. The company is worth billions but unaccountably there's no ipad app designed by them at the time of writing. Of course you can always use their (excellent) iphone app, but that's rather pixelly when it translates to the ipad's bigger screen, or just use a web browser. But there is a paid for alternative, which I reckon will serve fine until Mark Zuckerberg and the Palo Alto minions get around to producing one of their own; it's called Friendly and it retails off the store for 59p.

The screens (above) are much easier to use than messing about with the web page but there's a lot of functionality missing from the site proper, most notably the ability to post pictures and there's no support for the new 'Places' application, but then again you may find that something of a relief. It's all very simple and as friendly as its name suggests.

Twitter is now essential in my business - it was the reason why I bought an iphone - and the service has had an interesting evolution on the ipad since the device was launched earlier this year. The first app available for it was Tweetdeck, which I like on the PC and sometimes use rather than bother with the website itself - because it can silently run under other things and run new tweets as a little window in the top right corner. But of course we don't have multi tasking on the ipad yet, so it loses that advantage when put up against other ipad Twitter apps. The irritating habit of booting and then immediately asking you to set up an account so it can sync your settings across platforms has been abandoned in the ipad application, and it handles lists quite well. I now follow nearly two hundred journalists via Twitter so list management is essential if an app is to be useful.

The only negative thing I can think of to say about it is that it crashes on my machine a lot. It doesn't take down the whole system, but I often find myself looking at the desktop rather than tweets. Sort it out Tweetdeck. It's free, by the way.

Twitterific is by contrast not very terrific and you pay £3 for it. It can't manage lists and seems to lack all the bells and whistles that it's competitors boast. So my advice is not to bother.

Last and not least there's the recently launched free 'official' Twitter app and I think it sets the bar very high for other efforts. One challenge for apps is how to handle the associated web and picture content that so many of us post with our tweets, and this app does that by opening some screen territory to the right of your list and displaying it. Then when you've finished looking at it you simply swipe it off the screen with your finger and get on with looking at other tweets. Neat.

Visually it's very straightforward and appealing, and it does that list management thing very smoothly indeed; infact it's less of a hassle than Tweetdeck's function, and there's a sense the app is well integrated with the original Twitter feed. New tweets you're writing appear at the top in an appealing notebook format and attaching pictures is as easy as you'd expect. It has an onboard URL shrinker for those long web addresses that don't fit in 140 characters, and all in all it's very impressive.

There are lots of other apps that do tweeting, and there's also the Flipboard app I mentioned in a previous post which is a marvellous way of looking at Facebook and Twitter content. There's also that Foursquare thing that demands you 'check in' when you go the pub (utterly ludicrous) but there are some things missing from the ipad's social networking abilities. I'd like a Blogger app (Google are you listening?) and while they're at it I'd like to see Picasa on the ipad and the iphone; not likely to happen in the near future one suspects.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Ipad and News

Every cloud has a silver lining say cloud salesmen, and one side effect of my foot disease (see previous post if your stomach is strong) has been the opportunity to upgrade the apps on my ipad. Naturally there's no shortage of ipad app reviews on the net but I don't see any reason for me not to add mine, together with some thoughts about my experience so far with this allegedly 'magical and revolutionary' device. To start with I'll deal with the device's Operating System and news apps, with the rider that this is very much a personal view, and in no way my employers.

First the OS. While the user experience is smooth and apps burst forth onto the screen in a generally fabulous manner, the tweaking which is due in November cannot come too soon for me. The obvious absence from the original release is multi tasking. It really beggars belief that Apple think its users will be content only doing one thing at once. Even the most basic £200 netbook runs things in the background. A machine which costs up to three times this amount should have had that ability as standard from the off.

But I have become reconciled to the lack of Flash. Its absence is not as crippling as the critics suggest and much web video development is now in the new ipad friendly h.264. But another thing that my £200 netbook can do is print documents and the ipad cannot do this off its own bat. These omissions are irksome, but again will be sorted come the Autumn, so it is said.

The big switch with ipad and news is one of power, which has moved away from journalists and towards their readers listeners and viewers. There's now an abundance of choice which is accessible via the web and the many apps, but the apps themselves allow the user to choose news priorities and sources. Added to that is the flexibility with the ease of display and it's easy to see how the real fight for survival traditional news providers already have is going to intensify as tablet use takes off.

For there are some great news orientated things to use with the ipad which has made it my favourite device around the house and work and has rendered the idea of leaving the building to actually buy a magazine or newspaper superfluous. Chief among them is flipboard which makes your Twitter and Facebook feeds into a delightful colourful magazine which you can flip through, as the app title suggests. This app really does take advantage of the tablet's display and touchscreen in an impressive way, and hints at the future of magazines and media generally. For with Flipboard you are the editor, choosing sources of information which display in the order you want. As well as social networking the app allows you to display blogs and some magazines web feeds in the same way. This app in itself could be very bad news indeed for conventional magazines. It's free, by the way.

I'm a fan of the Metro newspapers ipad and iphone app. The Metro lies about on Tube trains and is a rubbishy pest which puts people off buying proper papers. But it works well online, loading down into the ipad the full newspaper imagery, which you can blow up with your fingers as you would a webpage. For a free app it's very versatile, even allowing you to choose your background music from the ipod app as you browse the stories. It even includes the Metro's magazine. And you can download the paper to read later, when for example, you're on the tube and so offline. Great.

But other magazines and newspapers are struggling with the ipad's challenge. Maclife comes close to getting something worth having; it's free and worthwhile if you like your geekery apple shaped. Other techy print merchants are having a go too; Wired has done a demo version for the ipad which is well worth a look, but I can't see how to buy other editions from the app store or even see how much they'd be. I wouldn't pay more than 50p for it since the ipad means the publisher has neither to pay for printing or distribution, but at the moment the business of selling the magazine electronically seems to elude them. Which is ironic when you consider Wired's speciality.

The electronic media has adapted much more quickly and easily to the ipad and here I have to bow the knee to my employer which has issued the natty free BBC news app which has boasted over a million downloads to date. There's an array of text and video treatment of stories from the various World Specialist and UK fields, together with a video feed of the news channel when you're within wifi range. And yet there are odd omissions. Why no way to listen to Radio 4's PM or Today through the app? Or select Five Live's news offerings? Radio generally doesn't get a look in. And I can't see how to search. And unaccountably there doesn't seem to be a way to send stories to the BBC through the app. Sky News has an iphone app which does allow users to interact, and which translates to the ipad from the iphone quite well, but it's not custom built for the bigger screen so the stories have a pixelly feel.

There are other news apps on the platform which are highly professional in feel. Reuters has a beautiful news ipad app - it's called the news pro - which is the best presented news effort on the platform combing the cream of their written journalism with their stills photography and video. Sumptuous and free. Their competition in the agency business, Associated Press has also delivered an accomplished app which showcases their stories and video. It's a little too US dominated for my personal taste however and there's a plan to sell its content through the app. So far though, it's free.

Other news providers are experimenting with the ipad interface and offering things which are plain gimmicky, like the US TV channel's abc's news globe - it gives you the stories in a globe which you can revolve and touch to make stories leap out, which is pretty but ultimately pales beside the Reuters or BBC's approach which may be duller but allows for a quicker and more efficient browse. I also like Newsy which sources US news outlets for pictures and treatment of stoies, and allows you to build your own running order. TV bulletin editors watch out. Pulse was initially quite interesting - infact it was so interesting publishers initially managed to get Apple to remove it from the app store - but I now find I less compulsive than Flipboard. Pulse just displays stories from other people's websites in moveable rows, which is a swift way to assess coverage but which is visually less than appealing. Again, you can choose your sources, as you can with Flipboard. And it would be wrong not to mention the NPR app which is a magnificent way to access the US public radio output and which the Beeb would do well to have a good long look at.

So my news addiction is well catered for , but other media efforts are less compulsive. The Guardian has an excellent iphone app, but has yet to revise it properly for the ipad. Instead they send you a photo a day through their eyewitness app, which while worthy is scarcely competition for the other news providers. I was recommended Newsrack, which is an ipad RSS reader but its workings have eluded me so far, my fault I suspect. Some iphone news apps have been installed on my ipad and get used, most notably the excellent Manchester Evening News and the Evening Standard, but hurry up chaps, please do a bespoke ipad effort for this journalist.

Of course there are many other news apps. I have found the Wall Street Journal too demanding of both money and e-mail details to be compulsive, the New York Times has yet to update its iphone offering for the ipad, preferring a patrician 'Editor's Choice' effort, so wholly missing the point of the power switch that's occurred - we as consumers have the choice now, not the editors.

My next post will cover my take on social networking on the ipad, and also look at games if I get time.

Monday, September 06, 2010


Hospital stories are the pits aren't they? Yet somehow I want to write mine. It all boils down to a series of snap shots.

A funny pain in the back of my knee and sweating a bit in Bristol on Thursday lunchtime. The full on shakes and hospitalisation in London in the wee hours on Saturday. Waiting to be seen by doctor with drunken shouty people in Kings College Hospital A and E. Phone ringing every twenty minutes to announce the decks being cleared for shooting victims.

Eventually seeing a succession of doctors one of whom draws around large spreading red areas on my leg with a biro. These lines quickly treated as irrelevant by spreading red areas. Leg begins to look like the Atlas of the World drawn up during the heyday of the British Empire. An IV drip being connected to my arm for the swift input of industrial amounts of antibiotics. The offending leg proceeding to behave like an infectious lava lamp. Surgery of a radical nature suggested by young turk of a doctor, then as quickly discounted by an older hand, mercifully.

The Bank Holiday weekend spent in the Oliver ward which if anything is noisier at night than it is during the day. There's a man who shouts all the time. And I mean all the time, every two minutes. ("Nurse! .....Nurse!.......Can someone be appointed to talk to me?" Ad nauseam. All day and all night.) Eventually they take him away. Then they replace him with another man, who shouts AND vomits all day and all night. Where do they get the energy from? I could do with it, I reflect sourly as I ram the ipod headphones further into my ears at 3 am.

Reading a book a day while watching the leg slowly change colour. Red. Then a bit yellow, then blistering like the surface of an alien planet, suitable for a drive by the Mars Rover (see above. I've not included the upper thigh. Just be thankful) Posting on Facebook from my iphone but realising photo of leg is unsuitable for the internet, could actually get me imprisoned. Two brilliant nurses, Andrea and Angela, who keep me sane, calm and above all going while the doctors stay semi detached, at times preferring to look at a computer screen round the corner rather than actually come and see me. Am I that boring, I wonder.

Eventually start shuffling about but it feels as if my leg is in a vice. Epic of endurance to get to the shower, so don't bother for four days. As days accumulate I continue walking about, sometimes in the middle of the night to get a bit of peace. Consider sleeping in the hospital garden. Reject idea as might annoy nurses.

Lots of visitors. These are welcome in one sense, ie proof I am clearly not terminally unpopular, but really just want to sleep or read and get strength back. Have appetite again, despite the antibiotics, but food in hospital incredibly bland. On the other hand it is delivered by Howard, a friendly Chinese bloke who is a star. Try to eat it in order not to disappoint him, but vomiting ward-mate puts me off by projectiling into the bin at 1pm and 6pm on the dot. He is spectacularly rude to the nurses and refuses his medication. Why is he here?

Bonkers messmates aside I start to find hospital delightfully stress free, a bit like Yossarian in Catch 22, so make a face when senior doctors turn up on Tuesday and decide I'm bed blocking. Consider hiding under the bed. Reject idea as might annoy the nurses. Ms T, who saved my leg by insisting on me seeking help the previous Friday then turns up and drives me home. She looks exhausted, I realise humbly that sometimes it's worse watching people being ill than actually being ill yourself.

Leg now almost the right colour, although still limp about like Long John Silver, and foot swollen from time to time. What is this thing? None of the doctors seem to really know though the catch all term is cellulitis. Some insect may have bitten me, it appears, or maybe a small cut let the bacteria in. Just bad luck.

Drama over. Back to work Wednesday, hopefully.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Undesirable Reporting

I've started following @ukwarcabinet on Twitter; it posts a short summary of Churchill's meetings with his ministers, in a kind of realtime format but sixty years ago. It works as a handy reminder that whatever mess you think you're in, there've been worse, and in living memory.
You can click through and download the full document from the archive, free and gratis. Halfway down this week in 1940 we find this note:

6. The Minister of Information said that he was investigating
the circumstances in which a false report had been allowed to appear
in some of the earlier editions of that morning's newspapers stating
that five divisions of troops were said to be massed on the French
beaches opposite the south-east coast, ready to embark for an
attempted invasion and that they had been bombed by the R.A.F.
It was agreed that it was very undesirable that rumours of this
kind should be published.

I love the understatement. Lots more like this available from the National Archives.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


Istanbul, in the rain. It's really only possible to get fleeting impressions of a city this big in the time we had, but I think I want to go back. It's a very male city, full of history and heavily politicised with a demonstration of some kind every day we were there, although that activity was mainly a protest against the Israeli action against a Turkish ship in the Gaza aid convoy. The 24 hour news channels, and I counted five on my little hotel telly alone, were inevitably full of this story. Infact they weren't covering anything else.

The more I experience Turkey the more I like it. The food is great for one thing, and the people almost invariably welcoming. And Istanbul is way more sophisticated than I'd been expecting. If you're there have a drink in the ultra chic bar in the city's Museum of Modern Art, overlooking the Bospherous with all the ferries and container ships passing as you sip your Efe's Pilsner.
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Back in 2008 I wrote this about a brilliant blogger who called himself Bete De Jour:

"For a few weeks now I've been reading Bete De Jour's blog. Bete is supposed to be a very overweight and (he says) ugly chap whose lovelife is a non starter and who very much wants to lose some weight and get his life back.To say the blog is masterfully written is an understatement; ....But my problem (ianasmuch as I care, which I don't really) is that it's now getting too good and I'm thinking, he's just got to be a pro.He reads a lot like Irvine Welsh or maybe William Leith when he was writing some of his profoundly uncomfortable self revelatory stuff in the Independent way back in the day. There's also a companion blog, which seems to be by a friend of his who has MS. But which I rather suspect is also a creation of Bete's, who lives a very incident filled life......"

Anyway turns out he really wasn't what he said he was. He wasn't extraordinarily ugly, he was instead rather normal looking and wasn't single, he had a girlfriend. Some of his readers may feel cheated but I don't. He did seem to me to be almost TOO good at writing and some sort of mental klaxon I've developed as a hack went clanging away during some of the posts. He's outed himself here; I wish him all the best. Anyone who'll go on GMTV with a bag on his head deserves to sell a lot of books.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Reader, I bought one.

I'd been waiting for weeks. Hearing the news that sales had gone so well in the States that they'd be launched late here came as an almost physical blow. Taken in by the hype? Yes, like a child is by Christmas. And lo, when the morning came there I was with hundreds of other goons waiting at half seven for the Westfield Apple Store to open so I could buy one with the money saved up from doing extra shifts. It felt odd to line up for an item of consumer goods, a bit like Ms T says you did in Soviet Russia; what an irony, one of the richest companies in the world now forces consumers to line up round the block.

I have never behaved like this before in my life, I thought, as the black blinds dropped from the storefront while cheering clapping Apple staff ushered the first favoured few inside. A man came up. Did I want coffee while I waited? Yes, I said. Have you pre-ordered? he asked. I had not so could not have one. You have to hand it to Apple, they have it sorted to a fault. But you have to play their game.

Eventually I got to the head of the queue - it took around an hour all told - and a cheerful girl took me inside, found me my flavour of ipad (32G with 3G) and relieved me of my money. Then she activated it, so I could take it back to the office and show people. Because that's the fun with this device. Everyone loves it.

All day they came up to my desk. I hear you've got one, they'd say, so I'd give it them to play with. Suspicious frowns were replaced with slow growing smiles as the super smooth browser produced vibrant, almost tactile web pages you can blow up with a stretch of two fingers. The BBC iplayer boots easily off the web and plays HD quality imagery. The book thingy has Winnie the Pooh which charms and delights as it expands off the shelf and offers itself for page turning. The maps explode off the screen and reduce down with a couple of taps on the screen into a beautifully rendered streetview.

Above all, the sensation of speed and smoothness in everything the ipad does, and a feeling of considered design producing a trouble free experience. As others have remarked, their stuff just works, and how. In comparison with my netbook it's a Bentley ride after the Ford Focus. Sure they'll both get there. But my God, the difference in style. It's a little heavy perhaps, but I sense this is my digital companion on all manner of trips from here on in. And it'll be my handy second screen at work for twitter and news apps.

We're at the start of the journey with this device. The iphone was an instant hit with me but then I bought a 3G one when there were already thousands of apps in the store. The ipad is going to be the focus of a massive amount of creativity from software designers and publishers. I get the sense the device will gradually become essential for media types like me, and possibly many more people as the simplicity and ease of use beguiles and enslaves.

Will the ipad save publishing? Can it save newspaper journalism? I don't know. My hunch is that we'll know within two years.

Friday, April 23, 2010


My Dad, who is 92 this year, takes a while to get to the phone these days. He still beat me to it the other day. He listened to the caller, explained he 'wasn't interested' and put the phone down.
I was intrigued. Who was that, I asked.

'Somebody selling burglar alarms. Apparently break ins have risen in this area'
I 1471ed, got a Salford number, and called them back. My dad's number is part of the Telephone Preference Service database and so should not be rung by salespeople. I encountered a girl called Lucy.
'What's the name of your company?' I asked.
'Erm, I can't remember.'
I think I may have expressed disbelief at this point.

'What's your full name?' I inquired.
'I'll get the manager'

After an interval the 'manager' came on the line. I pointed out the TPS problem.
'We'll delete your number' he promised.
'What's the name of your company?' I asked
'Crime Prevention UK' he said.
'Where are you based?' I asked
'We don't disclose that' he said.

There is no mention of any firm 'Crime Prevention UK' anywhere on the web.

My Dad now gets an average of three of these kind of calls a week. He is obviously on a list of old people who could be targetted profitably by scamsters. What is the point of the TPS if it does not protect the elderly from these calls? The TPS complaint form, since I obtained one and filled it out, says it will relay the complaint - with all your personal details - to the company you're complaining about. Not reassuring.

There is a dark underbelly of business in this country populated with salespeople making a desperate living preying on the vulnerable either door to door or by phone calls from shabby call centres in low rent business parks. I caught a glimpse of it in this incident and it wasn't edifying.

Friday, April 09, 2010


My aunty Hilda was a landgirl. I thought of her this week as Ms T and I finally got around to the Ministry of Food Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. It's a great display with handily presented films, a wartime greenhouse complete with a simulated cup of tea and many recollections - written and also available for you to listen to - of the people who Hitler came close to starving.

Some of the food the British were eating in the 1940's looks pretty grim. Not nutritionally deficient necessarily, but definitely fairly sparse, and dull with an acccent on our less interesting veg. The gravy was dubious. The rich eat out, because there was no rationing in restaurants. The rest of us struggled with a shortage of onions and not much fruit. It was roughest on the children. Imagine growing up without ice cream! There's a brilliant picture of two perplexed kids looking at carrots on sticks.

Everyone knows about rationing but I didn't realise it only finished in 1957. Infact it got tighter after the fighting ended, with bread and potatoes being rationed in 1946 and 1947. At one point the rationing of sweets ended, then had to be reintroduced after there was a rush. Scandalous. The exhibition finishes next Feb.

UPDATE My friend Jo-Anne says her parents' experience was that rationing was largely an urban phenomenon. Her mum in London kept chickens in the back garden and experienced rationing in the raw. Whereas her dad, who moved between Liverpool and North Wales, had access to many market gardens and so experienced no real shortages. Her grandad also kept a pig in a factory yard.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pad Thai

Here by popular demand is thePad Thai recipe I was taught by Leng at the Smile Koh Mak cookery class on Koh Mak in Thailand. All seems a long time ago now but there you go.

Other tips for perfect Pad Thai
- Soak the noodles in warm water so they're soft.
- The Pad Thai sauce you can buy from Chinese supermarkets, or you can make it by combining the ingredients listed at the top in a small saucepan, heating till the sugar is dissolved and it thickens. Coconut sugar is known as Palm sugar here - Chinese supermarkets again.
- Dried shrimps are optional, as is the pickled radish. But it does make it more tasty and authentic, and you can use chicken instead of prawns.

Alternatively go to Koh Mak and get Leng to give you a lesson.

From SEAsia 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Prayers for rain are being uttered here in SE Asia much more fervently than usual as we go into the windy and wet season. The reason is the parlous state of the Mekong River which is now dangerously low. It flows like a carotid artery through a brace of countries, starting deep in China and winding through Burma, Laos, Cambodia and finally widest and usually most impressive in Thailand and Vietnam.

Millions of people literally live and trade on it but people we spoke to in Laos say they're now seeing sandbanks they've never seen before because the water level is so low. The reason, some say, are the dams the Chinese are building upriver. The Chinese for their part say it's the low rainfall recently. And it has to be said that Laos and Thailand are both planning and building dams themselves.

Next month the Mekong River Commission, which represents Thailand Laos Vietnam and Cambodia is meeting to discuss the crisis and to ask the Chinese to give them more details of the effect of the upriver dams and to discuss what's to be done.

I took the photo above, which you'll note is also very hazy. That's because it's the burning season at the moment (farmers clear their land and set light to the vegetation) which restricts visibility to the point that aircraft can't fly. It all just adds to the sense of looming environmental disaster round these parts which is perhaps not the most positive note to end my trip on.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


A couple of years back the police in Laos stopped a motorbike headed towards the Chinese border. Their attention was caught by a pipe of a few inches in diameter strapped to the machine, which they opened and squinted down. Inside were two tiny Asiatic bear cubs, the size of human fists. The pair were destined for bear farms inside China, because there the animals bile is claimed to have a value in medicine. Their paws are also considered delicacies.

The rescued bears now live with around twenty of their kin in a sanctuary just outside the Laotian city of Luang Prabang, which is where I encountered them and their British keeper. He and his partner sold up in the UK a few years ago and in his words 'burnt their bridges'. Just as well, since the sanctuary's population of rescued bears - they don't breed them here - has shot up in recent years.

The bears in the wild are solitary but here in the big enclosures they all seem to rub along fairly happily and spend their time taking baths, playing with balls and dozing on platforms. They've been saved from a life of almost indescribable humiliation. If you're in Laos, and you're passing, drop in as they can use your support.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


From France0210

With Britain in political ferment, football in freefall and an apparently endless winter gripping the country like Glenn Close grips the rabbit in Fatal Attraction I thought it was best to leave town.

For six years now Hazel and Adrian have been living the expat lifestyle in Maureillas Les Ilas which nestles in the Pyrennean foothills. They've been kind enough to let me crash their expat idyll for a few days while I recover my sense of humour after the joint depradations of snow and newsroom.

Walking up hills is very much in vogue here, and a good deal of the day can be spent sitting in the garden reading and stroking their knee bound cat Margaret. Red wine remains ludicrously cheap despite the parlous state of the euro and the sun has come out. France. It's bloody superb isn't it?

Holiday reading has included some Ed McBain which Wallander's creator Henning Mankel says is a big favourite, the well received Ian Dury biography and Evelyn Waugh's Put Out More Flags. I think I enjoyed the Waugh most but I keep reflecting on Dury, the bitter brilliant wordsmith who awakened me and lots of other people of my generation to the terrible pleasures of Rock and Roll. The book's a good read if slightly too populated by a big changeable cast of session musicians. Dury, a twisted gifted raucous bully, shines through the pages. How we still miss him.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Citeh's Big Night

From iphone2010

I've started going to see City again this season because the Blues have enjoyed a long League Cup run, which in turn meant midweek fixtures that fit with visits to my nonagerian dad. As a treat a good mate fixed me with a ticket for Citeh v Manyoo in the first leg of the semi final.
In the moments before the game began the lights were turned off in the enormous City of Manchester stadium and the forty six thousand strong crowd went collectively bonkers. An enormous projected blue moon appeared on the Main Stand and the United fans lit enormous red fireworks. This was so much more than a game to the people in that ground - a massively significant fixture as the blue half of Manchester met the red half on equal sporting terms for the first time in many years - and at stake a trip to Wembley which would bring to an end City's exile from football's top table.

And I don't think I've ever seen a more exciting match although City's performance lacked finishing (with the glorious exception of Carlos Tevez). The final ten minutes as the home side clung on to a 2-1 lead against the massive efforts of Rooney and Owen was the most nervous time I've ever spent at a sporting occasion. I don't think I'll ever forget it, and I doubt anyone else there will either. The problem is City has to go to Old Trafford next week, which may end significantly differently.
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