52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

And the violence caused such silence

What if the end justifies the means?

What if the removal of Saddam Hussein was alright because he was an evil dictator with demonstable links to Al Qaeda?

Would that make it alright?

Would we be okay to move in on any country we considered to be a threat to global security? An ally of global terrorism? A friend to Osama bin Laden?

Consider this:

Saudi Arabia is an extremist state. As wikipedia says:

"Under the authoritarian rule of the Saudi royal family, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has enforced strict laws under a doctrine of Wahabism (a fundamentalist interpretation of sharia, Islamic religious law). Basic freedoms as described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not allowed; capital punishment and other penalties are often given to suspected criminals without due process. Saudi Arabia has also come under fire for its oppression of religious and political minorities, torture of prisoners, and attitude toward foreign expatriates, homosexuality, and women. Though major human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly expressed concern about the states of human rights in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom denies that any human rights abuses take place."

Abuses of human rights are apparently commonplace. According to an Amnesty report in 2003, torture, flogging & bodily mutilation (the amputation of hands and feet) were common for even minor offences. People were executed for "apostasy, witchcraft, sexual offenses and crimes involving both hard and soft drugs". In the wake of 9/11, over 500 arrests were made with the suspects being held without access to lawyers or judicial proceedings (the names of the detainees were kept secret by the state).

In spite of this appalling record, foreign governments have supplied Saudi Arabia with tools that could be used to torture or ill-treat prisoners. For example, between 1980 and 1993 the US government authorized licences worth $5 million under the category OA82C, which includes thumb cuffs, leg irons, shackles, handcuffs and other police equipment.

They are also one of the world's largest buyers of defence equipment: total defence spending was estimated at US$ 18.2 billion in 1997 alone. Amongst those to have benefitted from this largesse are the USA, UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Belgium.

So far so bad. It gets worse.

15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens.

Members of the Saudi royal family and Saudi officials have been linked to the hijackers, and may have provided them with financial support.

Some of this evidence appears to have been covered up by the Bush administration. 27 pages were cut from a 900 page report released by the US senate intelligence committee in 2003. The missing pages are said to discuss the link between the terrorists and the saudi government.

To top it all, Osama bin Laden himself was born and raised in Saudi and has close links with the ruling dynasty.

I don't know about you, but this all seems to add up to some kind of case that Saudi Arabia was fairly heavily involved in the 9/11 attacks. 15 of the 19 hijackers. Just think about that for a minute.

So why Iraq? Why the hell didn't we storm into Saudi Arabia and demand to know what the hell was going on? Regime change sounds like it might be a good idea here too.... Saddam is no angel, but these guys don't exactly smell of roses....


total value of exports ($m) 7,587
total value of petroleum exports ($m) 7,519
proven crude oil reserves (million barrels) 115,000

Saudi Arabia:
total value of exports ($m) 92,029
total value of petroleum exports ($m) 84,908
proven crude oil reserves (million barrels) 262,730

Source: Opec

On July 31, 2003, Saudi Arabia and the United States signed an agreement to strengthen commercial and investment relations. As a result, the U.S.-Saudi Council for Trade and Investment was established to meet at least once a year to enable representatives of both countries to review the signing of additional agreements on trade, protection of intellectual property rights, investment, vocational training and environmental issues. With almost 300 joint ventures, American companies are the largest group of foreign investors in the Kingdom.

source: saudi embassy

US Exports to Saudi Arabia: $3737m (compared to 669.2 to Iraq)
US imports from Saudi Arabia: $14,545m (compared to 6098.3 to Iraq)

Source: US Census Bureau

Hmmmm. Surely it can't be to do with the massive amount of trade the USA is doing with Saudi Arabia? It can't be their dependence on importing Saudi oil?

In our haste to overthrow Saddam, and with our eyes fixed firmly on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, have we been overlooking one of the major sources of instabilty in the middle east? in the world?

I want answers.

forgot to mention - this debate started over here at AravisArwen's place....

Monday, November 29, 2004

Do you think you could raise enough to save your skin?

[cartoon blatantly stolen from Martin Rowson at the Guardian. Credit where credit's due etc. Click to enlarge]

David Blunkett is many things. He is the British Home Secretary. He is from Sheffield. He is blind. Indeed, he is the first blind man ever to reach the Front Bench of the Government. He a has a lovely guide dog called Sadie, who replaced a lovely dog called Lucy. He is a prime mover in the proposed reclassification of Cannabis from a Class 'B' drug to a Class 'C' drug. He is the scourge of asylum seekers to the UK. He is determined to bring identity cards into the UK. Most recently he has announced proposals for new anti-terror laws including the proposal to remove the right to trial by jury in some cases (as discussed on this blog).

Odd mix of policies for a labour MP, wouldn't you say? Cannabis reform: good. Erosion of my civil liberties: very bad.

I've said it before, but I have a deep-seated unease about these laws. Plenty of people don't think that carrying an ID card is such a big deal, but I'm afraid I do. It is my right to walk around in this country without needing to be able to prove who I am. Do we need to give the police the justification to stop anyone they want at any time? Besides, how does it help to stamp out the terror threat exactly?

Recently we found out that David Blunkett had been having an affair. He's not married himself, but, his girlfriend is. Anyway, so far so boring - and pretty unlikely to damage his career. Some new allegations have emerged that could possibly put his job on the line. Apparently he intervened in a visa application for the nanny of his ex-lover. As the minister with the overall responsibility for immigration, this is potentially a big deal.

I was delighted. What's the word? Shadenfraude.

Blunkett has set up an immediate enquiry into the matter, but frankly, why do we need to examine the facts of the case? Why do we need a group of impartial witnesses to go through the evidence? Why can't we just act and throw the man out of his job and into some kind of internment? That would teach him. Wouldn't it?

The press are getting predictably excited about this, but from what I can see, sadly he is probably guilty of nothing more than stupidity. In a world where we have been taken into an unpopular and unjustified war, I just can't get excited about this (or the fact that Stephen Pound apparently spends over £100,000 on travel expenses despite being an MP in Ealing travelling to a Westminster parliament)


The worm is turning on this government. The signs are there that the gloss from 1997 has almost entirely disappeared now. Blair is pretty embattled on all front.

Sadly I still feel like I don't really have an alternative. Michael Howard? Do me a favour.


Meanwhile, in America, I found this (through this).

Yes. I know. Say no more.

Sooooooo depressing.

On a more positive note for US/UK relations - a big hello to Jenni. She's contributed to the creation of this post, and I thank her for her assistance, and acknowledge her creative input....

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Please Take it Easy, It Can't All Be My Fault

So, went to see the mighty Snow Patrol last night. For one reason or another, this is the fourth time I have seen them this year:

- backing Athlete at Rock City in February, the week that "Run" was released (dear old Athlete...always the bridesmaid)
- at Oxford Brookes in March, just as they were really taking off
- at Glastonbury (where the crowd singalong to "Run" was a real festival highlight)
- at the Birmingham Academy last night

During that time they have been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, had several hit singles, been used non-stop as backing music on Grandstand, toured the USA and generally taken off into the stratosphere.... "Final Straw" is probably my favourite album of the year, and it is definitely the album I have listened to the most.

With all of that in mind, I've got to tell you that I was a little disappointed last night.

First and foremost, what the hell does Gary Lightbody think he is doing with his hair? He looks like Rowlf from the muppets. At one point in the gig, he paused, looked at someone in the front row and said "Why do you keep saying 'take it off' at me?" he then paused to listen for the reply, and then rather indignantly said "It's not a wig!". Get it cut man.

The audience has changed too. The other times I have been to see them, when they were just starting to make it big, there was this kind of joful feeling: the band were clearly thrilled that people were coming to see them at all and couldn't keep the grins off their faces that people actually knew some of the words... this rubbed off on the crowd, and the result was a mutual love-in. This time around, Gary seemed a bit miffed that whenever he played anything from "Final Straw", he got a massive reaction, but when they played one of their older songs, they got nothing and people started chatting amongst themselves or going to the bar. About 3 people cheered when he announced one song, and he remarked that "that's about the number of people who bought the album. We'll be playing plenty more from "Final Straw" tonight." It must be hard for them, and I don't want to sound snobby, but one of the drawbacks of having such a successful record, is that you reach an audience of people who maybe buy 5 CDs a year and who don't go to many gigs. They have a perfect right to be there, of course, but it does affect the atmosphere.

The other thing that was really noticeable was the lack of new material.

I appreciate that this must have been a crazy year for them and their feet won't have touched the ground since "Run" took off in February... they are on the crest of a wave.... but if they want to take this momentum forwards, they are going to need to write some songs, and soon. Especially if the old ones aren't being all that well received by their new audience. I have their last two albums (bought after the Athlete gig), and they are okay, but they are much more indie and less mainstream - there is a reason that "Final Straw" has sold so many copies... it's a bloody good album. It was a big leap forward for them artistically as well as commercially, and people have responded. New songs of a similar quality are required, of they may find themselves disappearing back into the Glasgow Indie scene.

Having said all that - still a good show. (didn't think much of the support though - the ghears - the singer sounds like a sort of a Belfast accented Brian Molko from Placebo, if you can imagine such a thing)

One thing though. The beanie that I bought in February for £8 is now onsale for £10. Is that what success does to you?
Congratulations to Mik and Clare. It was a lovely wedding. I even danced.

...and don't be thinking I've forgotten about David Blunkett. I'll be coming back to him later.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

What do they know anyway?

Foxes and badgers are pretty cute, aren't they?

Brock the badger, badger from The Wind in the Willows - gruff, grumpy but unshakeably wise, strong and loyal. Reynard the fox - sly and cunning, but in a cute and fluffy way. (I'm becoming quite partial to this fox in particular.)

It looks like a cattle culling program may be about to kick off in the English countryside. You might remember the foot & mouth problem that brought the countryside economy to its knees a couple of years ago... well Tuberculosis could be about to cause a similar scare and there may have to be a slaughtering program - the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been looking into it, and has conducted a trial cull of the badger population.

Thing is, it looks as though our gruff friend may be part of the problem - they may need to cull badgers as well, as they are thought to be an important reason for the spread of the disease into livestock. This has happened before, and stirs up a lot of emotion and protests.

Would it cause as much fuss if the government were to propose a cull of rats? No, of course not. Because it's cute, fluffy and is the star of children's literature, we will go out of our way to protect and encourage them. Most town dwellers would love to have a badger visit their garden once in a while, just as they welcome the foxes - bugger the fact that they could be (and this is contentious) spreading disease into our livestock

This got me thinking about the government's ban on hunting with hounds. Again, a subject that has caused much debate and protest. The ban is seeing as an unacceptable imposition by a mainly urban government onto the rural community. A pursuit that has been practiced for centuries, declared illegal.

I was all for the ban. Instinctively I don't like hunting, and I don't like the people who hunt (who I tend to associate with the UK Independence Party, for some reason). I also like foxes, and as a town dweller, I love seeing them thriving in our streets. One of my most treasured moments came a few years ago when I had a ground floor bedroom and was awoken in the small hours of the morning one day by a scuffling noise. I crept up to my window and peered out to see two fox cubs play-fighting on a piece of cardboard right underneath my window sill. It was a total joy to see - mum was at the bottom of the garden, watching the cubs (and me) like a hawk. After a bit they scampered off and I went back to bed, grinning like a loon. Foxes are cute and fluffy. Chasing after them for sport and ripping them apart with hounds is definitely not my bag.

I've been thinking about this though, and I'm not sure that I can, on the one hand, rail long and hard about the government's erosion of my rights and civil liberties, and on the other hand think that the ban on fox-hunting is "a good thing". Surely if I am to be consistent, I should be jumping up and down at the removal of another ancient liberty?

Unpalatable though I might find it to admit, I have to say that I don't think that the government should have the right to do this.

Damn you Tony Blair. Damn you for forcing me into bed with the Countryside Alliance.

And with that frankly disturbing mental image... I leave you.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I look to the stars and the answers are clear...

Ok, now it's official. The Darkness are the new Spinal Tap.

I know there's been a long running debate on this subject, but having just seen them at the Nottingham Arena this evening, and heard them debut some of their new songs, I can confirm that they are indeed a comedy band. Now, don't get me wrong. I like them. It's just difficult to draw any other conclusion when you hear songs called (and I'm guessing here) "Making Out" which includes lyrics about getting tangled up in your jumper on the back seat. Another song talks about "wrap your dinner lady arms around me", and the song that takes the biscuit is a new version of "An English Country Garden", where Justin sings about entering all the competitions at the village fete (this one is quite good to be fair).

It was a good show. You can't go wrong with fireworks & flamethrowers generally, but when they are joined by roadies in Santa suits, giant christmas trees and (the piece de resistance) a guitar solo played whilst riding over the crowd on a leaping white tiger, you are really in the realm of the Gods.... (actually, on the Spinal Tap theme - the first time Justin appeared on this, at the crucial moment of "Love on the Rocks with No Ice", he launched into the guitar solo, only to realise that his guitar wasn't working. Cue something of a pause, and then the moment that lifts this band up amongst the greats: he went up to the microphone, said "I'm not going to let a little technical hitch ruin my night, and neither should you", and got back on the damn thing, and rode it back the other way -tiger now facing the wrong way- and finished off his guitar solo. You didn't see Spinal Tap get back into the pods, did you?)

It was their first gig as the headline act on an arena tour, and I think they were a little bit excited and nervous about it. Well they might be. They are a fantastically entertaining band, sure, but I don't think you are meant to headline arenas on one album's worth of material. Try as they might, there were inevitably some lulls in the set as they played something we didn't know inbetween the tracks we did. Ending on "Christmas Time (don't let the bells end)" was a nice touch though, as was the gentle piss-take of the Chris Martin intro to the band aid single. I think Justin Hawkins was born to play the keyboard-as-guitar thing as well....

Ash were the backing band (I know, ridiculous, isn't it??) Thanks to the lovely C., we arrived a little late and missed "shining light", but they showed how good a live act they are with great renditions of the new stuff mixed in with the old ("Orpheus" is just magnificent though). I really must go and see them again if they tour solo.

A visit to the Doctor this morning meant that this was my second ever concert with a set of earplugs in place.... regular readers will know that I have been fretting about my ears for some time now, and indeed the doctor told me that I have a problem with my Eustachian Tubes that may take some months to clear up (although the good news is that it should clear up). To be on the safe side, this means I have to lose a bit of atmosphere at a gig to protect my long term hearing. mmmm. Coincidentally, the only other time I did this was at an Ash concert at rock city. Within a song I had taken them out. This time I stuck with it. It wasn't ideal, but needs must.

Anyway - a decent evening's entertainment. I'm off to bed now though, if you don't mind, because I am day-tripping to Newcastle tomorrow for work. Yes. Day-tripping.


Perhaps I shouldn't bother going to bed at all?

toodle pip.
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Of how I loved and how I failed

Ah Venice. La Serenissima. The Most Serene Republic.

I lived in this beautiful, unique, decaying city for four months in 1994 as a third year undergraduate as part of my course in "Modern European & Renaissance" history. To be honest, the Venice term was a big part of my thinking in doing this course in the first place - the chance to spend a term studying "Venice & Florence in the Renaissance" in Italy, and all I had to do in return was spend 2 hours a week for the first 2 years of my course studying Italian. No problems.

I lived in a flat in Castello, just around the corner from St Mark's Square and the Ponte de Sospiri, the Bridge of Sighs. I was a member of the Marciana Library in St. Mark's. I walked over the Rialto bridge every day. I travelled (via vaporetto) on the Grand Canal. I took part in a festival in November where the whole city processes to the church of Salute to give thanks for salvation from the Plague (in 1630).

What do I particularly remember from my time there?

- Watching Venezia vs Wolves in the Anglo-Italian cup as a wind whipped in off the lagoon.
- Playing Jenga in Cafe Blue in Dorsoduro
- Being violently ill for 24 hours after a plate of dodgy spaghetti alla vongole
- walking into a plate glass door at the Palazzo Querini Stampalia (where we were based) so hard that I still have a scar on my nose
- the vast amounts of dog shit everywhere
- realising how short Henry IV of France was when I saw a suit of his armour in the Doge's palace
- wandering, totally lost, around the Arsenale district, and realising I could have been walking back in time as there was not a single thing to remind me I was in the twentieth century
- walking back home across the Academia bridge at 2am in the morning, through a completely deserted St. Mark's listening to "Yes" by the Manic Street Preachers on my Walkman.
- Walking through St. Mark's in the fog

It's a fabulous, mysterious city and there is nowhere else like it in the world, and I was lucky to live there.

I was 20 years old. There wasn't even a McDonald's in Venice when I lived there. I had to direct hungry Wolves fans to the only burger bar in town, a strange place called "Burgi" (if memory serves me correctly) where they sold fast food really, really slowly.

Why am I telling you this? I suppose I don't really have a point. Writing about the Manic Street Preachers below made me think about how much I listened to the Holy Bible when I was living in Venice. Other bands I was listening to at the time included Suede, Blur, Belly, Scott Walker and The Smiths. The scars from my school life were still firmly in place (probably still are) and I had a great deal of difficulty forming any kind of meaningful relationship with women - I could still barely have a sensible conversation with a member of the opposite sex, nevermind have persuaded one to go out with me. Shortly after I got back from Venice though, I got my first proper girlfriend and I think I finally began to leave some (alright, a couple) of my hang-ups behind me (although I'm still crap at small talk)

Think of this post as a bit of background information on my life....

Monday, November 22, 2004

Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse

There was an article in The Observer yesterday about the 1994 release of the Manic Street Preacher's finest hour - The Holy Bible. The article portays the release as the unwelcome guest at the Britpop party of "a Britain clad in sportswear, drunk on premium lager", and talks about the forthcoming 10th anniversary edition of an album that only sold 35,000 copies on its release, but has apparently sold steadily at a rate of 15,000 copies a year since (reissue!repackage! re-evaluate the songs! double pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!) .

It is without a doubt one of my favourite albums ever. I saw the Manic Street Preachers at the Reading Festival in August 1994 - prophetically, they were forced to take to the stage without Richie Edwards, who had taken refuge in a clinic as his physical and mental state continued its inexorable descent towards his eventual disappearance on 1st February 1995. I've seen the Manics many times, but I think that this was to be the only time that I saw them perform the material from this album live, and the effect was electric. I've always been a lyrics man, and for the manics it has always been about the lyrics. I was gripped by lines like:

"I am an architect. They call me a butcher" (Faster)

"I eat and I dress and I wash and I can still say thank you / Puking - shaking - sinking I still stand for old ladies / Can't shout, can't scream, I hurt myself to get pain out" (Yes)

"A drained white body hangs from the gallows / Is more righteous than Hindley's crotchet lectures" (Archives of Pain)

"I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint" (4st 7 lbs)

"Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals " (Die in the Summertime)

Nicky Wire freely admits that 75% of the lyrics were written by Edwards. Many of them are hard to write down here, and some are definitely difficult to listen to - all that pain set to howling guitars, with the words squeezed into the music by a gabbering James Dean Bradfield. It's hardly surprising that these don't form a staple of the Manics live act.

On the way back from Reading, I stopped in Milton Keynes to buy the album, only to find that as it was a bank holiday, all the shops were shut (remember that?), so I had to wait until Tuesday.

I listened to the whole album again today, and the sheer visceral impact of it hasn't dimmed over the course of a decade. I'm still not going to buy "Lifeblood" though, I don't think. It's not that I don't like their later stuff, or that I'm one of those hardcore fans who felt let down when they didn't burn out in a blaze of glory after selling 16m copies of "Generation Terrorists".... it's just that I don't think I can face it anymore. I really liked "This Is My Truth...", but they somehow sound like their hearts aren't really in it anymore. I'm loathe to write them off, or say that they should call it a day - I did that a few years ago, and then reluctantly went to go and see them on their Greatest Hits tour and they were **AMAZING**. I'm sure the new stuff is perfectly good (and there is something so reassuringly Manics about the lyric "People forget China and your war on cancer ", isn't there?) and I know of at least two people who will probably vehemently disagree with me about this... (here and here)

Maybe it's my heart that isn't in it anymore. I'm tired. They somehow make me feel sad about what was, instead of uplifted by what is.

Whatever - the Holy Bible is an amazing statement from an amazing band, and this is how I want to remember them.


"Who's responsible....?"

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

Breakin' rocks in the hot sun...

So David Blunkett has been busy outlining his proposed new anti-terror laws.

These include:
- trial without jury
- admission of wire tap evidence in court
- civil orders – similar to anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) – which will be imposed against individuals who have not committed an offence but were suspected of “acts preparatory to terrorism”.

Blunkett said:

What we’re trying to do is to square an impossible circle which is to protect ourselves against new forms of threat and adapt our legal system to face it without eroding the basic human rights that people expect in a free and civilised society.”

I disagree. Is it not a fundamental tenet of our legal system that everybody has the right to be tried in front of a jury of their peers? This practice became the norm in England during the reign of Henry II (1133-1189) and replaced practices like trial by ordeal (carrying a red hot iron for ten yards, picking a stone out of boiling water - that kind of thing. If your hands were still burned and infected three days later, then you were guilty. The idea being that God healed the wounds of the innocent)

The jury system itself is of course much older than that... it's mentioned in the bible, and in an early example of a celebrity trial, Socrates was tried by a jury in ancient Athens.

The whole point of introducing a jury was to try and protect ordinary citizens, the little man, from the influence of the "great and the good", who might otherwise be able to intimidate or buy their way to a verdict in there favour. Adding a jury into the equation made this a whole lot more difficult to achieve (or at least a whole lot more expensive).

Why on earth do we now feel the need to get by without it? How do you decide which cases you can try without a jury? Surely the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty will remain in place, or perhaps that doesn't apply to people suspected of terrorism? Perhaps all suspects will now be pre-examined using a red hot metal bar, and if their wounds haven't healed within a specified period of time, they forfeit their right to trial by jury. Is David Blunkett harking back to the "Good Old Days" before the Constitutions of Clarendon in 1164? Maybe he's a relative of Thomas Becket?

It's ridiculous, and more to the point, it could be the thin end of the wedge. Which of our rights will be next to be sacrificed on this altar? Perhaps it will soon be perfectly legal for someone to come round to my house, arrest me on unspecified grounds, and detain me indefinitely. Oh hold on, that happens now doesn't it?

How does this make us safer? tell me that? In what way exactly is this protecting us from a terrorist threat?

It's the 30th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings by the IRA, and perhaps at this point we should remember that as well as being an act of terrorism, this was also the cause of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in English legal history. The 6 men found guilty of this crime finally had their convictions quashed in 1991. The court that convicted them had a jury, and it just acts as an illustration of how we simply cannot take our rights and privileges for granted.... even in the face of the most appalling terrorist threat (and let's be honest, Al Qaeda make the IRA look like the scouts, don't they?)

I'm with Benjamin Franklin on this one:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " (Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759)

How long will we let our civil liberties be eroded like this?

I notice that Blunkett has said that these reforms will not become law until after the next General Election (assuming Labour win). I suppose that gives us the chance to use our mandates to ensure these proposals don't get anywhere near the statue book. Alas, all the other main political parties are hardly falling over themselves to state their opposition to this, and I'm afraid it looks likely to happen whoever forms the next government.

Perhaps we should revolt and get the queen to sign Magna Carta again?

I just watched the Japanese version of "Ring". I was very disappointed. I can see how it influenced "The Grudge", but it was nowhere near as scary.

We rejoice because the hurting is so painless

Working on a charity call-centre for a few hours certainly helps instill a sense of wellbeing. On Friday night, I must have handled a couple of hundred calls over the course of about 6 hours, and all bar one were from people wanting to donate money to a good cause (I'll come back to the one later). The donations I took ranged from £3,100 (from a pub that had dedicated their entire day to Children in Need and had, amongst other things, given £1 from every pint sold) to a single pound, pledged by an elderly sounding chap who was apologetic that his donation was so small, but it was all he could afford. I told him that if everybody in the UK gave £1, then the total would be nearer £60m than the £20-odd million they usually raise. Doesn't that put a bit of perspective on things?

The single non-donating call I took was actually my last call, at a little after 2am. It was a chap ringing to look for an address to complain to about a feature that had been on about abused children. It had clearly touched a nerve with this guy, and he wanted to raise his concerns about what he had seen as a terribly one-sided piece. On the one hand, this guy was wasting time I could have spent taking more money from someone, but on the other hand, he had a right to complain, so I gave him a couple of addresses to write to and suggested he try the website. Worryingly he told me that he had got through on the phones before, only to be told to "piss off" by the operator. We were extremely busy all night, but especially between 11pm and 1am as the number of operators began to dwindle (I was taking call after call after call). I can understand that this other operator wanted to move onto another caller, but it still seemed a bit unneccessary.

Anyway - it was a pleasant way to spend the evening. I like to think I give a fair bit to charity (I use the Give As You Earn scheme at work to donate directly out of my salary. My chosen charities are MSF, Oxfam, Shelter and Amnesty - they each get a £5 every month. Not much I know, but I hope it all adds up). On Friday I gave something perhaps even more important than a few quid a month, I gave up my time.

I look forward to next year.


Sod's law dictates that because I was out all night on Friday, that was the night that Interpol would be on Later.... And so it came to pass. Luckily I have a video.... Jools Holland reminds me of nothing less than a particularly self-satisfied toad, but he does get some great bands on his show. As well as Interpol, Friday's show also had sir Elton John, Keane, Bloc Party, Ray LaMontagne and the Old Crow Medicine Show. I discovered Devendra Banhart through this show, and I am definitely going to keep my eyes open for Bloc Party - they played a song called "helipcopter" which was fantastic ***update*** just downloaded this from ITunes. Hurray for modern technology, eh?

Watching Keane reminded me that:
a) Tom Chaplain has a lovely singing voice, but his stage presense is rubbish. The rock posturing is so WRONG for their music, and he doesn't carry it off at all
b) they were superb when I saw them at Glastonbury this year
c) Tim Rice-Oxley has incredibly long arms and legs (think of the Andrew Marr they do on Dead Ringers)
d) Isn't it time Coldplay did something?

I think point d) is the most damning this you can say about Keane, and sums them up for me.

Interpol were great. They are my current favourite band, and they are about to kick off a UK tour (the rock city date is now sold out, but I got a pair of tickets...). On "Later...." they played great versions of "Slow Hands" and "Evil" - both cracking songs off "antics", the new album which I heartily recommend. I have heard Paul Banks, the singer, described as 'a lawyer with the voice of an undertaker' (because of his doomy voice and lyrics like "and I will commit no acts of violence, be they physical or otherwise"). That's a bit harsh, but I know what they mean, and for me that's actually part of their appeal.

The band have a kind of goth rock feel to them, and they dress accordingly (all in black, with ties) - the drummer in particular looked great with a big pair of mirrored aviator shades on throughout. My one slight reservation is that the bassist Carlos D's interpretation of this image was to wear a sharp military style black shirt with a red tie and a red armband - in other words fascist overtones. This is hardly original - David Bowie for one played this out to extremes as the thin white duke, culminating in apparently giving a nazi salute from the back of a car at Victoria Station. Am I being overly sensitive to feel uneasy about it? I know it looks good, but....

I haven't bought a single christmas present yet. When should I start to panic buy?

Reading: Bill Hicks - Love All the People: letters, lyrics, routines
Listening: Razorlight - Up All Night ; Kings Of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak

Thursday, November 18, 2004

...for you and for me and the entire human race...

If you feel so inclined, you can speak to me on the phone tomorrow.

Just call 0845 733 2233 between 8pm and 2am, and you'll apparently have a 1 in 3,500 chance of speaking to me....

I'm manning a phone on one of Children in Need callcentres.

You'll also probably be able to see me on the TV as they are sending in the cameras apparently,. I know this because it means that I will have to wear a special t-shirt

(and there's me lining up my JESUS t-shirt)

I'm not saying you should watch it... it is hours and hours of tripe after all.... but you might like to hand over some cash here. It goes to some worthwhile stuff.

6 hours of my time? That's about £500s worth, I think....

Aren't I worthy?

If you watch, I'll be the one in nottingham with a frown (especially if someone "wacky" is anywhere near me). I'm actually toying with the idea of answering the phone as a minor celebrity.

"Hi, this is Cliff Richard, the peter pan of pop. thank you for calling children in need. Uh huh! praise the lord" etc.

What do you reckon?

And lest we forget, go and have a look at Fallujah in Pictures.... it's a war and people are dying. Some are soldiers, some are insurgents, some are civilians, some are children. All are human beings.


En danseuse jusqu'au sommet...

I was thinking about my friend Tracy this afternoon.

Tracy and I joined the same company as graduates in 1997. Tracy went into the marketing department and I went into IT. We didn't work together much, but bonded over the Tour de France during a residential "skilled communicator" course, and saw each other fairly regularly on other courses and on nights out and so on (most of the other graduates had joined directly from University - both Tracy and I had not). Towards the back end of 1999 we started to see a lot more of each other, as we began working in the same building and would often pop out for lunch, or to have a coffee.

Tracy was a bright, intelligent and active girl - seriously into her climbing and hiking - but she did worry about her weight. She was by no means fat - think Bridget Jones and you won't be far off. She was a very pretty, vibrant blonde girl with a very cheerful and upbeat personlity. For a fairly dour person like me, being with someone so upbeat was great. Anyway, her weight worried her, and so like millions of women before her, she joined weightwatchers and began to count her points. One day over coffee, Tracy told me how she was finding it hard to eat much food without feeling queasy. About the only things she could keep down were cheese, sweets and chocolate. Strange. This went on for a couple of months, and Tracy began to win "slimmer of the week" prizes at weightwatchers in spite of her odd diet. The doctor was little help. He was convinced nothing was wrong - perhaps an ulcer at worst. One day in March, Tracy told me that she had finally persuaded her doctor to refer her to Queens Medical in Nottingham for an endoscopy.

She attended her appointment, and was immediately admitted to the hospital on a drip as she was so dehydrated that they were unable to put the tube down her throat. A few days later she was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and a few days after that we found out that the cancer had bloomed into her intestines. Over the next few months she had 2 courses of chemotherapy, and although she was chipper (she loved showing off her wig), it made her very, very sick. In late summer we attended her 31st Birthday at her mum and dad's house (she had moved back in) and had a fantastic afternoon with jelly, angel cake and a bouncy castle.

It was about this time that I started going out with C. (who had also joined the company as a gratuate in the marketing department in 1997, and so was also a friend of Tracy). Tracy was thrilled when she heard the news (it was considered worthy of gossip at the time, you know...), and we began to go and see her together. She admired my Yoda t-shirt, so I bought her one. Seeing her wearing it though was to realise how small and emaciated she had become.

At the end of October 1999, Tracy was too ill to complete her second course of chemotherapy. Her target, she told me, was to make it to Bonfire night (November 5th).

She died on November 4th.

I'm not telling you this story to depress you, but because I still find myself thinking about Tracy all the time. She was the first person of my own age, someone I was friends with, to die, and it has had a big effect on me.

The funeral was terrible. We were all asked to wear a touch of purple, as this had been her favourite colour. When we arrived though, it was clear that nobody had told Tracy's boyfriend (of many years' standing) or the rest of his family, so they had simply turned up in black (as you do). It turns out that since Tracy had died, her parents had fallen out with him over pointless, stupid, trivial things and had cut him off. His wretched, choking sobs as he walked out at the end of the service were (and remain) the most heart-breaking thing I have ever heard. For some reason C. and I got separated at this point, with me going for coffee with some mutual friends to share our sadness, and C. getting swept away to Tracy's house for the after-funeral do with the family. I felt awful and I felt alone. C. was away for hours, and all I wanted was a cuddle.

When she got back though, I heard that all the time she had spent with Tracy's family had been spent with Tracy's mum slagging off the boyfriend (who had not been invited). Poor Gav was not allowed to take Tracy's ashes and scatter them from the top of her favourite peak, and had basically been erased from history as far as Tracy's family were concerned. As far as I know, they never spoke to him again. I can only imagine how much harder this must have made his grief.

She's been dead now for over 5 years, and I found myself thinking about her this afternoon as I walked between meetings in the rain. I think I'm going to get hold of one of those Lance Armstrong Yellow wristbands and wear it in her honour. Seems apt.

Life's so short, and so precious. If you've got a significant other, give them a big hug when you next see them.

Dammit. I sound like Simon Bates.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Racism is a weapon of mass destruction

I have read some terrible drivel this evening. Again. In my opinion some of the stuff in this blog is just racist. This time it's somehow worse than all that "raghead" stuff because it hides behind a veil of 'evidence' and is presented as a well argued case (which is of course different to BEING a well argued case).

Well done to the Urban Fox for waging a very civil, reasoned case against this person (she quotes Leviticus for heaven's sake, always the last resort of the bigot).

In response to the eminently reasonable claim that Jesus was "the most tolerant, left wing figure in history..." we get this:
Jesus, was perfect. The son of God and the redeemer of man. That is how the Christians think of Jesus. Yet, you claim that he is "left wing". In other words, you think that Jesus was a liberal. Correct? That’s what Americans call "left wing". The left wing believes in same-sex marriage and abortion....
What do you say to that?

Well, Fox (and others) were brave enough to tackle this head-on. It's not an argument that you can win, but it's good to see people not letting this kind of thing lie. If you're interested, here is as good a place as any to start.

This blog salutes you Fox.

Final word on this and other things this blog has been moaning about recently to Faithless:

Whether long range weapon or suicide bomber
Wicked mind is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether your soaraway Sun or BBC 1
Disinformation is a weapon of mass destruction
You could a Caucasian or a poor Asian
Racism is a weapon of mass destruction
Whether inflation or globalization
Fear is a weapon of mass destruction
...it sounds better when Maxi Jazz says it (ideally with Sister Bliss kicking a bass drum in support - see the video for details)


On a completely different, and much more interesting note, here's something I've said before, but bears repeating as he is back and blogging again....

Before the start of the Beijing Games in 2008, John McClure is going to be taking part in every single Olympic event he qualifies for.

Why? For charity.
Clearly insane, he needs all the support he can get, so get your lazy arses over there and offer him some moral support. Better still, if you are a pole vault coach, offer him some tips. If he manages that lot (100-odd events) then he really will be the Ultimate Olympian.

Almost as important as all of the above is that he is a very thoughtful, funny and intelligent blogger and his site is well worth a read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I can't close my eyes and make it go away

So the world is getting stoked up by the news that an American soldier has apparently shot dead a seriously wounded and apparently unarmed insurgent in Faluja. The news was reported to a shocked world by an NBC reporter implanted with the unit who had filmed the incident.

Excuse me?

This man is a professional soldier. He has been sent by his government to fight a war in the middle east and he finds himself fighting not against an army, or even against soldiers, but against civilian "insurgents". These people don't play by the rules. They aren't surrendering. They see him as a foreign invader and they are fighting for their homeland. He has been fighting now for several weeks and is probably tired and frustrated. He has just seen one of his colleagues blown apart by a booby trap. This injured and 'apparently' unarmed man is still a threat to him.

What exactly did you expect him to do?

What would you do?

Don't get me wrong; I am opposed to this war. I think we have no right and no justification to be in Iraq. We did not find any WMD; there is no smoking gun; we have no clear objectives and now we are stuck there.

I just think it is hypocritical of people to be appalled about this. Do you know what war is? Do you really think you can apply rules to it? We send troops over there and they may well kill some people. That's it folks.

The real story here is what the hell are we doing assaulting this town in the first place.

in other news, I heard the Band Aid single this morning. Yup, it's probably as bad as you feared. Even Bono isn't as good as he was last time.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Ceiling shadows shimmy by...

I had a whole new and totally alien shopping experience this evening... I popped into Boots on the way home and bought a whole pile of stuff for a friend of mine who has a one year old daughter.

I had a list, which helpfully included little steers like barcode numbers and stuff to make sure that I got the right stuff, but somehow it was still a real minefield.

- Who knew there were so many types of nappy? (are all nappies created equal?)
- Who knew that there was so much variety in baby food? (Why are they called "Cow and Gate"?)
- Who knew there were so many types of powdered milk?
- Who knew that I would end up needing 2 baskets?
- Who knew the staff in the shop would find me so amusing?

They are complex things to operate and no mistake. Do they come with a manual, a receipt and a full warranty?

I guess this post means I won't be babysitting for a while?


I just downloaded another load of stuff from Itunes:
- Mass Destruction - Faithless
- Stan - eminem
- Lose Yourself - eminem
- Mosh - eminem (you have to hear this one - it's a furious anti-bush song and it's brilliant)
- My Favourite Game - The Cardigans (perfect pop)
- Erase/Rewind - The Cardigans (ditto)
- Celebrity Skin - Hole (well, she had to do one good song)

I'm not a massive hip-fan, and I have to say I generally find Eminem talented but samey. Those three tracks up there are fantastic though.

Strange affliction wash over me...

This car is really beginning to cheese me off. Not just this car in particular, but all cars of this ilk. I freely admit that I know very little about cars, and have very little interest in learning about them. I realise that to truly be a man, I should be able to converse about cars freely and eloquently over a pint in the pub.... but I can't. What's more, I don't want to.

This particular model is a BMW X5.

What is it with these cars? They are ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE. Have you ever stood next to one of these things? Its wheels are about 4 feet tall and nearly as wide. It is far, far larger than can strictly be necessary for any road car.

And that's all it is - it's a road car. It will never be driven off-road. I believe the term is SUV - Sports Utility Vehicle.

I'll go further. It is almost certainly driven by a well to-do middle-aged, middle class person. Probably with one or two kids. They rationalise it as a family car. It's possibly a substitute for a little sporty-number. It's a practical substitute for a midlife crisis car, a compromise deal both you and the wife can be happy with.

It's a bloody menace.

Here are some stats (and so I'm not picking on BMW, I'll add in another couple of SUVs as a point of comparison):

BMW X5: £35-58k, 1 star NCAP pedestrian test, 15mpg
Porsche Cayenne: £35-70k, no NCAP pedestrian test, 10-18mpg
Mercedes M Class: £35-55k, 1 star NCAP pedestrian test, 20mpg

The NCAP pedestrian test looks at accidents involving cars travelling at 4okph (25mph) and examines the impact on leg, upper leg, child head and adult head. 4 Stars is the best rating you can get, and means the car is designed to minimise the damage to a pedestrian on impact.

Let's compare this with another family car.... one also capable of taking 2 adults and 2 kids, although certainly smaller.

Ford Focus: £10-18k, 2 star NCAP pedestrian test, 37mpg

What does this tell us? That cars are categorically not designed with pedestrian safety in mind (although I would far rather be hit by a focus at 25mph than an X5 - where your best hope is that the damn thing is so big that it will drive over you without touching)

Pedestrian safety is only one of my points though. Just look at the fuel economy.... think of all the fossil fuels being consumed and the greenhouse gases produced. Not only does most of the fuel you put in your tank become greenhouse gas emissions, but the carbon in the fuel combines with oxygen in the air, almost tripling the weight of the fuel itself. So driving a Focus is bad enough, but think that the X5 driver on the same mileage is pumping out THREE TIMES AS MUCH.

I know they have been driving things like this in the USA for years - petrol is so much cheaper, that engine sizes seem to start at 8.0 litres and fuel economy is a non-consideration. It used to be different over here though. Petrol is taxed so highly that we have generally driven smaller and more fuel efficient cars. What the hell has happened?

We should be reducing emissions, not bloody well raising them. Tax on petrol should go up, not down, whatever the bloody protestors say

Come to that, the Kyoto agreement doesn't go nearly far enough - The agreement aims to reduce emissions from industrialised nations only by around 5%, whereas the consensus among many climate scientists is that in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, emissions cuts in the order of 60% across the board are needed.

And the USA won't even sign that, and they have 4% of the world's population producing 24% of the world's carbon emissions.

Still, who cares what might happen to the global climate when you get that great "I can see over everyone else" feeling when you drive the kids to nursery?

Grrr !
Posted by Hello

...terror takes the sound before you make it

I went to see The Grudge yesterday. I'm not usually a massive horror film fan, but this one managed to pretty much scare the pants off me, and my heart was pounding throughout. Ultimately though I found it a tiny bit unsatisfying. Sure, I thought it was frightening, but suffered from diminishing returns (a little bit like the way that films like Jaws and Alien are more frightening when you don't see the creatures than when you do). I won't talk about it too much here, because I don't want to spoil it for any of you who might want to go and see it, but although the end of the film is great in one way, because it doesn't seek resolution or answers, I still came out with lots of questions (so why is it *her* with the great rage?). Of course, C. told me that I was being too logical about it, but then again, she was absolutely terrified by it.... so naturally I spent the rest of the afternoon making croaking noises that had her screaming (it's a theme in the film, not a perversion of mine, by the way....).

It's good though. So if scary movies are your thing, go and see it.

If they're not, you might want to go and see it anyway. Buffy is in it.

Funny thing is that the malevolent spirit reminded me of Papa Lazarou.... now that is scary.

Dave.... Is that you Dave?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

It hurts me when I read the signs

I've been rambling about this on various other people's blogs (here for example) for a few days now, so it's probably about time that I mention it here, as people are starting to talk.

I've been keeping this blog for a little while now (since March originally, and regularly since June) and I'm really starting to get interested now. I try to write for myself and what is interesting to me and not get too carried away with what I think might get me some visitors or perhaps a few comments. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a saint. I originally signed up with Blog Explosion to get a few people to swing by here and see if anyone liked it. Here's the thing though - I now spend hours and hours using Blog Explosion as a way to find new blogs (the idea is that you earn "credits" by surfing around other people's blogs and these credits are used to send traffic to your site).

Somewhere along the line I stopped being interested in getting readers, and became a whole lot more interested in what other people were saying. I think it has politicised me as well. Over the last few weeks I have read so much dreadful, racist shit in blogs (and I'm afraid to say that much of it is in blogs from the USA) that I have been forced to respond. I've started leaving comments on these sites. Nothing inflammatory, I just try and pick them up on what they've said. The kind of thing I'm talking about is where the war in Iraq is being fought against "rag wearing cave dwellers" or where Kerry's French ancestry is picked up as being the reason why he "surrendered" etc. etc. I've even started researching stuff so I can be a more informed commentator (and boy, does that sound pretentious). On the train on the way home tonight, I was reading The Times and a US Election special copy of Newsweek. I actually made some notes, which tells you not only that I am a tragic case, but also that you can expect more US Election related guff on here in the near future....

I've also been discovering what I like to read in a blog, and that's emotional honesty - a blogger who is not afraid to give themselves up totally in their posts, to lay themselves bare for their audience. Cracking examples of this are Ignorance is Bliss and Turtle Diary. Sometimes it's painful to read and sometimes it's wonderful ... I bet both of those entries were hard to write in their own way though. I have also been inspired by I, Brummie and Retro-Boy. Both are prolific and are in turns angry, political, funny but always interesting. I know I hold stuff back. I know that a few people at work read my blog, and C. sometimes tunes in and has a look at what I spend so much of my time doing when I'm at home. I know that I don't always say the things that are on my mind because I worry about what these people will think. I am trying to always be honest though, and I'm looking to you guys to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Shit. This post is turning into a love in, and that's not what I wanted to do. I now feel like I am going to be offending some of the other bloggers I regularly visit and haven't mentioned here. Listen - you know who you are. The reason I keep coming back to your sites and leaving annoying and sometimes totally irrelevant comments is because I like you.

And by the way... I got a couple of emails last week, and both of them were really, really supportive, perhaps even a bit worried. It was a crappy week at work, but I survived, and thanks for caring (it was probably the Justin post that did it, now I think about it). To misquote the great man, some blogs are better than others (and no doubt some blogger's mothers are bigger than other blogger's mothers.....)


Evil minds that plot destruction....

Arguments blow up in the stupidest ways.......

The scene: we've just got off the train from London, where we had attended a ball and done a spot of shopping. C. has just spotted a poster for the book "Toast".

C: Is that Nigel Slater, as in Nigel Slater?
Me: Yes.
C: Has he written a book?
Me: Yes, "Toast". It came out about a year ago and they serialised it in the Observer.
C: Really?
Me: Yes. The book has a picture of a very recognisable Nigel Slater aged about 8 sitting at the end of a dinner table. They published a few chapters each week, in Food Monthly I think. You read them.
C: No I didn't
Me: Yes you did.
C: I don't remember
Me: We talked about it!
C: Well, I didn't read them all then. Perhaps only one.
Me: I didn't read them all either, and I remember
C: Well, unlike some people I don't remember everything I read unless it seems important or interesting
Me: Well, it seemed important and interesting enough to you to mention you had seen a poster for it a minute ago....

etc. etc.

I'm sure you can picture the rest.

All brownie points accrued over the course of the weekend, out of the window in 2 minutes as a perfectly innocent conversation escalates into warfare. Why, why can I not learn to let things pass? Why do I always have to say what I'm thinking, whatever the cost?


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

I won't deny it; I'm not trying to hide it.

I know I was beaten to putting this up, but it is so striking that I feel I have to share it with the one or two readers we don't have in common.... (click on the image for a closer look)

The picture on the left is a state by state breakdown of the results in the 2004 US presidential election. Blue is Kerry and Red is Bush. The picture on the right is a map from just before the US Civil War showing in green the free states with no slavery, in red the slave states, and in brown the states open to slavery. Notice any similarities? (and if you look even closer, one of the exceptions is Ohio!)

On a related subject, and also as (sort of) touched on elsewhere, I was reading in The Observer at the weekend about the population centre of the US (as you do). Basically, each decade, the Census Bureau calculates the mean center of population. The center is determined as the place where an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if all 281,421,906 residents were of identical weight. With me so far?

In 1790, it was near Chestertown, Maryland
In 1880, it was in Covington County, Kentucky
In 2000, it was in Phelps County, Missouri

In the 2004 election, Phelps County is a tiny spot of blue in an ocean of red, having voted 63% for Kerry. Those familiar with US Geography will notice that this central point is shifting westwards (and slightly to the south) across the US... probably at a rate of a few miles each year. This Census was in 2000, and by now it's likely that the spot is somewhere in the deep, deep red of Kansas.

The point the Observer was making is that the weight of the population in the USA is shifting away from democrat areas and into republican heartlands. Already the US has a republican president, a republican congress and a republican senate. By 2008 the mass of the population is perhaps even less likely to vote democrat than it appears to be now.

Of course, this is a pretty fatuous argument, as it takes no account of the electoral colleges (as described here). Mind you, given that the electoral college was set up to account for population distribution across the USA, perhaps the current administration will look to change it to reflect the modern population centres, and thus shift a few more votes into Republican heartlands. I wouldn't put it past them)

The election is now over, but I reckon I'm not prepared to stop talking about it yet.

Nice mess in Iraq, by the way George.


Footnote: read this America, and be really scared. What you say on the internet can apparently get you a visit from the Secret Service and an FBI record. Kiss your constitutional rights goodbye.

By the way,a note for a whole pile of you US bloggers out there, that doesn't work the other way around... you don't get brownie points for kissing his arse either, so please stop.

Seek some consolation here.

Posted by Hello

I don't mind. I have no mind.

I'm having a crappy week - by monday lunchtime I was sick of the working week.

I work in a big outsource IT department for a giant UK retailer, and I have the kind of job that seems to involve spending the maximum amount of time wrestling with byzantine processes.

An example:

A small piece of work hit my desk last week: person A wants to arrange for 200 printer cables to be sent out to the area offices to help the laptop users there connect to the printers in the stores. Here's what I have to do to make that happen.....

1. I talk to B. who looks after the IT budgets for this area. He tells me it's unbudgeted work, so I have to use the pot of money we have for just this kind of thing (the idea is that we would pay for the cables out of this pot of money, and then charge it back out to the areas seperately--- don't ask me why. I don't make the rules.)

2. To get access to this pot of cash, I have to talk to C. who is the finance person for the IT budgets.

3. There's a delay of a week.

4. I chase C. who emails me to tell me that we have to talk to the the regional finance managers (there are 34 areas in the company all governed by 4 regions, so the area managers are accountable to the regional managers) to make sure that they have the money to pay for the cables when they are recharged. If they agree to that, then C. will ask D. to talk to them again to confirm it, and then we can proceed.

5. I go back to A. and ask him to check with the regional finance managers that they can take the charge

6. A. confirms the budget is there.

7. I pass this back to C. who passes it on to D.

8. D. talks to the regional finance managers again to check the budget

9. It's still there

10. C. tells me I can use the pot of money

11. I go to my company's commerical office and arrange for the relevant commercial paperwork to be produced and the kit to be ordered.

12. the paperwork needs approval by B.

13. The printer cables are ordered.

This is for what? £200 worth of printer cable?

Ridiculous. Makes me feel really worthwhile.

To completely change the subject, I should just tell you that 'The Futureheads' is probably one of the best albums I have bought this year. I loved "Decent Days and Nights" when I heard it on 6 Music, but for some reason held off on buying the album. A couple of months later I was persuaded to do so by Serena Wombat and by Captain Damo, and I haven't looked back. It's just brilliant and I really, really want to see them live (they were on "later...." the other week, and were superb).

I've just bought the new Kings of Leon album and the Killers album (both of which are very good), but it's the Futureheads that have worked their way back onto my stereo...

Do yourself a favour and give them a go - you won't be sorry.

"Why do we say hello? It's just a fashion that we follow that we should be forgetting...."

Monday, November 08, 2004

Say something once, why say it again?

On 11th December 2002, I received the following email from Justin (let's call him that, because that is his name), a friend I have known since 1981:

"Okay, here's the thing. Now I was going to send this months ago but I guess I was avoiding it, thinking I wouldn’t have to and now I do.

I just don’t see the point in us being friends anymore. And far from being a weird and immature decision, I think it’s a very adult one. The last year or so that we’ve all met up things have been very strained between us. No one seems that happy to see each other. No one really asks or seems to care how the others really are. Bitterness and envy - I don’t know why - seem to hang in the air, coming from all three of us. The atmosphere is very odd. And there’s bickering and bad looks and bad moods. And I feel all three of us are guilty of this. Just the whole experience isn’t great. It’s not all the time - meeting up with you both, there’s doubtless some good moments over the weekend/whatever but there’s also lots of other things going on and I don’t know why. It’s almost as though none of us really wants to hang out together but we feel we have to. We’re clinging to years of history together. And it doesn’t have to be like that.

I guess another problem is that I never feel this way with any other friends of mine. I always feel they want to see me and that we have a laugh. And that when I leave them I want to see them again and there aren’t any problems. But it’s not like that when I’ve seen you guys. I always feel one of you or me is pissed off. They’re pained experiences. And so I’ve just been wondering why we still do it, why we still meet up. I don’t really think you two are bothered. I’ve got one email from each of you since Glasto. No phone calls. Jon’s was a line asking out of the blue if he could come over. Yours Tim was a massive one this week. That’s it. All other emails have been group jokes/group get-togethers. Nothing personal at all - no how are yous, where are you, what’s wrong. Nothing. I don’t really think any of us want to hang around each other anymore.

BUT I don’t think the blames lays at any one person’s door. I’m not finger pointing and I don’t want any bitter slanging matches. I think for whatever reason we’ve just all grown apart and we’re different people now and we should move on. We’ve had some good laughs and let’s just leave it at that."
As you might imagine, I found this a little upsetting. In fact, nearly 2 years later it still upsets me when I read it.

This was a total bolt out of the blue, and was the last time I ever heard from him directly. At first I was just plain confused - I just had no inkling that this was on the cards. Sure, I hadn't really had a good chat with Justin for a while, but that in itself isn't all that unusual (I have several friends I hardly see, but we just seem to be able to pick up where we left off...) I had left him a message on his answering machine, had sent him a long chatty email a couple of weeks before, and when he hadn't responded to that, had wondered what was up and emailed his girlfriend through her website - it was the day after that I got this. I checked up with a mutual friend in London to make sure he was okay and hadn't gone mental or anything, and was told that he was fine and seemed really happy. I still don't know what brought this on.

I still see a lot of some of the friends we had in common from school - people who are in theory still his friends, but because they are also my friends and John's friends, in practical terms they haven't seen him either. Mik is getting married in a couple of weeks, and Justin won't be there. Des is getting married in January, and I don't know if Justin will be there either....

I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now. It is a bit like being dumped, I think - he's made up his mind and I have no say in the decision. Surely friends just drift apart and eventually lose touch? Why do they need to be dropped? Why do you need this closure?

I'm not 100% sure why I'm posting this up here... it still hurts to read that, and because we have so much history together, I always find myself thinking about him and the things we used to get up to. Stupid things remind me of him, like when Spider-Man came out (Justin is a huge fan), whenever I hear Belle & Sebastian (I used to take the piss out of him for liking them, now I love them), the fact that I live in Nottingham and he is (or at least was) a huge Nottingham Forest fan....

I'm not saying I want him back as a friend (that would be weird - I saw him at Glastonbury in 2003 and he blanked me completely), but I still feel, I don't know, bereaved of our friendship.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

it's just a ride...

On the trip down to Newquay, I was listening to some Bill Hicks. This is hardly an original observation, but a lot of the stuff he said over 10 years ago about the US government and the Iraq war is still frighteningly relevant today:

"You know we armed Iraq. I wondered about that too, you know during the Persian Gulf war those intelligence reports would come out: "Iraq: incredible weapons - incredible weapons." How do you know that? "Uh, well...we looked at the receipts."

"People say "Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world". Yeah, maybe, but you know what, after the first 3 largest armies, there's a REAL big f**king drop-off. The Hare Krishnas are the 5th largest army in the world, and they've already got all our airports."

"Frightening people man. Bush tried to buy votes towards the end of the election. Goes around, you know, selling weapons to everyone, getting that military industrial complex vote happening for him. Sold 160 fighter jets to Korea and then 240 tanks to Kuwait and then goes around making speeches why he should be Commander-in-Chief because, "We still live in a dangerous world." Thanks to you, you f**ker!"

[on Clinton's election] "That's another good thing about Bush being gone, man, cos for the last 12 years with Reagan and Bush, we have had fundamentalist Christians in the White House. Fundamentalist Christians who believe the Bible is the exact word of God, including that wacky fire and brimstone Revelations ending, have had their finger on the f**king button for 12 years. [Eyes roll back in head] "Tell me when Lord, tell me when. Let me be your servant Lord."

Make you feel any better about the prospect of another 4 years of the Bush dynasty?

But before you shed any tears about the Kerry presidency that never was....

"I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. 'I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.' 'I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.' 'Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!"

Bill Hicks. Legend and sadly missed. Died 10 years ago aged 33....

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Repeat after me....

okay - so there was something of a duplicate post thing going on here....apologies for any confusion. I guess that will teach me not to try and be clever and email a post in from work again. How was I to know that it would take a full 48 hours to be published onto the site? (although knowing the speed of their email system, I could probably have guessed) I sort of assumed it had been lost and I'd get back into work on monday to an email bounced message or something. I guess not.

Not wanting to lose the comments, I'm keeping this post. If you want to read about my non-dilemma about the cricket (like you said Mike - no choice really), you'll have to look at the post below, which is better cos of the santa picture. And why is it that anyone I mention this story to just asks me if I have spare tickets? Where's your sensitivity, damn you!?

I'm just back from Newquay actually... literally just in through the door. Would you believe that there isn't a casino or a lap-dancing club there? Perhaps it was for the best. What do you need to know? Well, it took 4 hours to get down there on Friday. The Hotel was great for £15 a night and had a bar and full-sized snooker table (as played on by Jimmy White, apparently). We drank huge amounts on Friday night, were very ill on Saturday morning... went Karting... went for a Mexican... went to Berties (ooooh - the mating rituals of the cornish.... funny... plus I was unaware of the techno version of "Poison" by Alice Cooper AND have you ever heard "No Limits" by 2Unlimited segued into "I wanna Dance with Somebody" by Whitney Houston?). Very, very funny weekend indeed to send the old boy off into married life. And home in Nottingham by 18:30pm, which is a result.

The Karting was brilliant though - the carts were capable of speeds of up to 70mph (I averaged 75kph - about 45mph apparently)... it was a huge track with a flyover/underpass... it's the first time I have been but I am DEFINITELY going again.

One downside of the trip was I got back to my car in Hinckley (where I had met up with Mik on Friday) and someone had gunked it in a line up the windscreen, over the roof and down the back - some sort of powdery, pasty substance - perhaps artificial snow or a fire extinguisher.. something like that. It was a bit resistant to coming off, but I got most of it, I think. Why on earth did someone want to do that? That's Hinckley for you.

I also found out the reason the stag do was in Newquay.... Mik has a friend Phil who lives down there who suggested it (not least because he has to do a lot of travelling to get to anything, and is coming up for the wedding). Fair enough. Unfortunately, he was working on Friday and only spent about 3 hours with us on Saturday, when he wasn't drinking as he was working on Sunday. Nice thought though, eh?

Anyway. I'm off for a swim.

toodle pip....

Friday, November 05, 2004

Everyone's got something to hide (except for me and my monkey...)

Everyone seems to be getting married at the moment:

- my elder brother got married in August (and is having another ceremony in Korea in May, but that's another story)
- my younger brother is getting married in January
- my friend Mik is getting married in a couple of weeks (see entry below)
- my friend Des announced yesterday that he is getting hitched in Hong Kong in January (something to do with the Monkey being more propitious than the Rooster)
- C's brother is getting married in France in August.

Congratulations to all.

You know how people always say that you should time your wedding carefully so that it doesn't clash with a major sporting event (like England playing in the World Cup, or the FA Cup Final or something)? Well, the last on that list - C's brother - is due to take place in Orleans on August 27th.

Yes Sports fans, the weekend of the 4th Test Match between England and Australia at Trent Bridge.

Clearly I have no realistic alternative but to go to the wedding, but please allow me a couple of moments of grief.

I booked the tickets a few months ago (already sold out) and it has been in my diary for months. It's an annual tradition that began even before I moved to Nottingham in 1997 - stacks of my friends pile up every year for the cricket, and we make a weekend of it. We do fancy dress on the Saturday (previous years have seen us do Star Wars, Santas and the Flintstones...) The Ashes tests are the highlight of the cricket calendar, they have some of the very best players in the world, and are usually a real treat to watch, even when England are getting thumped. This time around we look as though we just might have the team to give them a game, and the 4th test out of a 5 match series is liable to be absolutely critical.

But I'll be in France.


Perhaps I could wear my santa suit to the wedding? Would the French be OK with that?

Posted by Hello

Thursday, November 04, 2004

On your way / To a new age tension headache

Wish me luck... I'm off to Newquay for my friend Mik's stag do tomorrow

Newquay! From where I live, it would be more convenient to go to Prague, or Dublin, or Paris.... (it's a 5-6 hour drive down to Cornwall from Nottingham. East Midlands Airport is about 20 minutes away, and Prague a couple of hours on from there!)

Ah. So what?

Bless him. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

it's not a matter of you versus of me....

Right - I picked this up at Dearie Me

Following a chain, from Cllr Andrew Brown

"Copy the list on to your blog, put in bold the ones you have listened to (completely from begining to end) and then add three more albums that you think people should have heard before they turn into their parents - remember, it isn't necessarily your most favourite albums but the ones you think people should listen to... and when we say listen we mean from track one through to the end...

If you put a link to your follow-on post in the comments of the site where you found it, the chain will be trackable."

Mike adds: "From now on, you are also allowed to DELETE up to THREE albums on the existing list, if you feel a) that this is an album which should not reasonably be foisted upon anybody, or b) that one Steve Earle album is quite enough for one lifetime, thank you."

Okay ... here's my stab at this....

London Calling - The Clash
Think Tank - Blur
Moon Safari - Air
Elastica - Elastica
Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols - Sex Pistols
OK Computer - Radiohead
The Kiss of Morning - Graham Coxon
The Wall - Pink Floyd
Setting Sons - The Jam
Train a Comin' - Steve Earle
Folksinger - Phranc
Come From the Shadows - Joan Baez
The River - Bruce Springsteen
What's Going On - Marvin Gaye
Metal Box - Public Image Ltd
Orbital #2 (The Brown Album) - Orbital
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain - Pavement
Marquee Moon - Televison
Daydream Nation - Sonic Youth
New York - Lou Reed
Everything's Alright Forever - The Boo Radleys
The Power Out - Electrelane
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
Hatful of Hollow - The Smiths
Boy Child - Scott Walker

The ones I've deleted:

The Very Best of Joan Armatrading - Joan Armatrading (sorry, deletion based on my ignorance)
This is Hardcore - Pulp (great band - not a great album)
Apple Venus Vol. 1 - XTC (sorry... not for me)

So many others that I could put on here, and possibly harsh to delete Pulp (an album I own and quite like) when there are others on the list that I haven't listened to.... well, I looked them all up and decided that perhaps I would quite like to listen to some of them. To be honest, the only thing I have against XTC is that there was a guy on Mastermind answering questions on this the other week, and he was a total dweeb... which is ok ... what really got me is that he reckoned the reason that they weren't the biggest band in the world was because they stopped touring. What? Didn't the Beatles stop touring in 1965? They were pretty big after that, weren't they?

Anyway - one of you lot must want to take this on??? Anyone?? Bueller?

(I should add that only person can claim this at a time... post a link in the comments here to your followup, and then someone else should pick it up from there... make sense?)