August 31, 2002
Blogging. I have a pile of washing to do that certainly amounts to at least three machine-loads, with ironing still backed up from last week. The garden needs watering and there is the week's shopping to be done at Sainsbury's. But none of this matters when I have a rant about transport policy to write. I mean, doing the washing isn't going to change the world. I can't be that different from other bloggers, either -- and since we rule the world, it's OK.
On August 5th the Department of Transport "launched" (their word) a number of documents
to drive local council planners and employers into taking stronger and stronger measures against cars. For all the ghastly bureaucratic verbiage, the plans essentially come down to removing necessary parking spaces, and telling people to take the bus or cycle.
On the basis of a national government strategy
, local councils already continually bombard us with hysterical propaganda alleging that our roads are profoundly unsafe. They pile in more and more engineering works that there is hardly a stretch of road not liable to speed humps, speed cameras and pedestrianisation, or villages not desecrated by flashing lights, chicanes and pelican crossings. The objective every time: more restrictions on cars, more facilities for cycles.
This obsession with controlling our every move, and finding ways to raise and spend tax, is largely responsible for the congestion that blights every town. Its deeply dishonest propaganda makes relentless statistical comparison with European countires, where, we are told, attitudes to cars, creation of urban pedestrian zones and veneration of the bicycle are light-years ahead of the UK. We are told their example should be emulated -- cars should lose roadspace and it should be given to (non-existent) cycles, pedestrian urban wilderness should be created in towns, everywhere speed should be prevented and prosecuted.
But of course, attitudes to cars and cycles, and the operation of traffic management systems are seamless wholes -- if we would successfully
emulate Germany or France in one respect -- for example, cycle use -- we would need to create the conditions in which such personal transport decisions are taken. Without a similar highway system, with its established manner of use, there can be no "Europeanisation" of British transport choices. And the truly significant statistics show that that would be insane.
To appease the cyclist-fascists the British government is trying harder and harder to create conditions similar to Germany and France, to Belgium, Luxembourg and Denmark. Yet the Times
today carries a table showing the core measure of road safety in Europe: the number of people killed on the road in all vehicles. The enlightened European systems are in fact positively homicidal. In Spain you are 2.5 times more likely to be killed on the road than in the UK, in France over twice. Germany, Denmark and Ireland are significantly more dangerous than the UK. Will the transport dictators take any note? Of course not, we must all be forced to cycle to work, whatever the cost in blood.
Road deaths per 100,000 of pop.
I just came across this
site -- it has clearly been around some time. How come (ahem
) it's not more widely referred to?
W. and I went to Waddesdon Manor
, the French château built in the Buckinghamshire countryside in 1874 for Baron
Ferdinand de Rothschild
by Hippolyte-Alexandre-Gabriel-Walter Destailleur
Now operated by the National Trust
, W. and I find the gardens and walks the most attractive aspect of the place. We also particularly enjoyed visiting
, now fully restored to the physical and avicultural beauty that Rothschild (a distinguished ornithologist) created. It seemed very popular, and somehow like being at a fashion parade. Not a single man was able to look at these unbelievably beautiful and charming birds and retain his macho facade. Perhaps regular visits should become a compulsory part of the educational syllabus.
The extraordinarily roomy and high caged areas allow the birds considerable room for flight, and every aspect of their native conditions is attended to, including special daytime lighting supplements to simulate African and Australian conditions (and extend daylight -- and therefore feeding -- hours), live insect food, and
private areas where birds can comfortably escape the public eye. Among the most delightful were a cuckaburra, emerald starlings, several kinds of turaco
, and Rothschild's Mynah
, named after Walter Rothschild
: "Its delicate crest, bobbing display, and inquisitive nature endear this snowy-white bird to all who see it.
" No, I haven't just made all that up!
August 30, 2002
The permanent impression made by Marcus's incontinence
has reminded me that my mother, no great admirer of dirty talk, was for some reason hugely amused by the strategy I invented for dealing with the innumerable unsolicited calls we both received from insistent tele-sales personnel
. I suggested that the call proceed as follows:
Caller: Mr B.?
Caller: I have called you because you have been selected to revceive in your home a free demonstration of our special window dirt-resistant coating treatment.
Do you mind if I ask you one or two questions?
Charlie: No, go ahead.
Caller: OK, thank you. Do you own your home?
Charlie: Yes, I do.
Caller: Are your windows cleaned regularly?
Charlie: Well, not at the moment..
Caller: And would you....
Charlie (interrupting urgently): Oh, no! My baby's shitting herself. Oh, fuck! It's going everywhere. I knew I shouldn't have left her (puts down telephone receiver).
My mother just laughed and laughed... though I never knew if she tried it herself.
August 28, 2002
There are two particularly good articles in the Times
today. Bel Mooney (not always my favourite columnist) makes a wide and intelligent sweep
through books at the cross-over between "children's" and "adult" fiction, highlighting such authors as Philip Pullman and William Nicholson, who show that "the need for narrative is ageless and timeless: a magic art to keep the darkness at bay, as surely as when the cave dwellers told tales around the fire." Su(zi)e
, who first alerted me to Pullman, should be pleased.
On a quite different tack, Michael Gove (always a fine writer) catalogues the nature of the threats
posed by Saddam. I tried to find one paragraph to quote, but not one was more important than the others. Every one is worth reading.
the report on the riots in Bradford in 2001 - Bradford One Year On - Breaking the Silences
[PDF], and comments: "Anyone still inclined to frame these events in the language of anti-racist uprising should think again." The report, though phrased in what Junius calls "Guardianese", is a remarkably open-eyed affair. Anyone who reads the report will find evidence of economic deprivation in Bradford, but little to suggest that it represents an explanation for the causes and course of the riots. What the report does is come as close as any academic report I have ever read to defining the violent activities of Muslim rioters "racist":
The violence in 2001 was specifically targeted, mostly against non-Muslim premises on the one hand, and against the police on the other. ...a spasm of violence shook the city on the night of July 7th. 400-500 people were active on the streets armed with a variety of weapons, fires were lit, and some stabbings occurred, including attacks on police horses. Damage to property was estimated at £7.5-£10million. 326 police officers were injured, and occupants’ lives were placed at risk, apparently knowingly, by the fire-bombing of licensed premises.
The report's authors point out that "Muslim communities are not under threat from the police" but that the rioters behaved as if they were "defending a community, with young men in their accustomed forward role", and they comment:
[A] balanced consideration cannot afford to overlook the existence of hostility directed towards non-Muslims by some members of the Muslim community. It is a controversial issue on which we do not wish to take a view whether this attitude can be properly characterised as ‘racist’, except to note that such hostility can have similarly adverse effects on those subject to it, regardless of what it is called.
The report's authors (academics at the University of Bradford) conclude that a single "multi-cultural" community is pretty much a write-off, and that the goal should be mutual respect by radically different communities. In what must surely be a ground-breaking passage for a report of this kind they state that this implies:
...a practical commitment to religious acceptance, including the acceptance of the rights of those who are opposed in principle to religion. It would rule out street cultures of crime and violence, and ethnic intimidation and exclusion from whatever source, motivated either by racism or by hostility towards non-Muslims.
August 25, 2002
Having just a before posted some opinions about BBC Radio 3 and the government's Communications Bill
, I was interested to read a report about this years McTaggart Lecture opening the Edinburgh International TV Festival
. Mark Thompson, the new head of Channel 4, used his lecture
(and a shortened version
in the Guardian
next day) to lambast the dull, predictable and essentially backwards-looking quality of most British TV. He compared British TV's "flagship" productions with the best of American television -- of which Six Feet Under
were offered as examples -- and found that Britain lacked the lively and innovative approach that characterised America.
It is, of course, a critical comparison that could be made of almost any area of British and American life -- and of America and any other country for that matter. But in the area of culture, and especially television, it is a comparison that can be both detailed and widely discussed (in a way that comparisons with French or German programmes cannot be) because of the common medium of the English language, and the extensive trade in programmes that goes on across the Channel.
But I don't think this is just another round of the tired old Amerian TV versus British TV argument. Few would disagree that at the lowest end of the spectrum (including local news programming) American dross can beat all-comers for tastelessness, triviality, crude commercial promotion, audience exploitation and sheer banality. But nobody aspires to that. It is in the definition of taste, attachment of intellectual interest and engagement of emotions that the products of any cultural medium require to be judged. And here it is clear to me - despite the fact that I have not watched a single minute of television for nearly two months - that what Mark Thompson says rings true. For again and again on the blogs that I read there have been relish of and exchanges about each episode of Six Feet Under
, and a complete absence of negative comments about it. Part of this positive reception -- by a very varied bunch of individuals -- has been appreciation of the programme's freshness and originality. I am obviously going to have to get a video as soon as it is available.
By contrast, the high and low ends of British TV are of a kind. From Eastenders
to Big Brother
is not only no great distance culturally or in terms of production values, but they represent to some individuals the high- and to others the low-points. The great "tradition" of classic drama, too, has become exhausted, with the recent Forsyte Saga
(which I watched) irretrievably dull, despite a spirited performance by Damian Lewis (fresh from Band of Brothers
, an infinitely more interesting American historical drama); and the technically fine dramatisation of Wives and Daughters
too far removed from the emotional plane on which most viewers' lives take place.
In this context I was amused (but profoundly depressed) by an item in one of the local newspapers here. Each week one or other town "worthy" is asked (in the manner of so many newspaper supplements) a series of questions about his/her life, opinions, likes and dislikes, wishes, and so on. This week it was a local Liberal Democrat councillor, a man in his 50s. His favourite TV programme was Dad's Army
-- a satire on everyday British life during the 1939-45 War, a new episode of which has not been made for over 25 years, and nearly every principal actor from which is dead. It says it all.
I’m greatly looking forward to the release (set for September 4th) of a new film of Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest
with Colin Firth
and Rupert Everett
in the roles of Jack and Algernon, and Dame Judi Dench
as Lady Brack-
nell. Delightful though the 1952 film
remains -- with Dame Edith Evans cementing “A ha-a-a-nd '
bag??” into the nation’s middle-class consciousness -- it is good to have a new reading
. Firth and Everett are, it seems to me, perfect casting. I do hope the ladies (Reece Witherspoon as Cecily and Frances O’Connor as Gwendolen) make the most of their
rivalry – after all, they have to deliver the most trenchant comment on prejudice in the history of the theatre:
Cecily: This is no time for wearing the shallow mask of manners. When I see a spade I call it a spade.
Gwendolen: [Satirically.] I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different.
My piece about Dennis Brain
and the Strauss Horn Concertos prompted Duncan
to relate an amusing little story about Radio 3. It made me realise just how little anyone comments about Radio 3 any more, or remotely cares what it broadcasts, or how it is presented. So it’s hard for anyone not familiar with the Third Programme
or Radio 3 in its early days to imagine the standards the channel upheld. In the 1960s and 1970s, as I grew older and began listening to music even when not surrounded by satin upholstery, I learned about and understood whole areas of repertoire from Radio 3, in a way that would be completely impossible now. Every year in late November Bavarian Radio recordings of The Ring
from that year's Bayreuth Festival
were broadcast, usually on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons. They saw me through my Wagner obsession and out the other side. The year was full of such landmarks and a vast quantity of music in coherent programming, calmly and intelligently presented.Radio 3 today
might make people who know next to nothing about serious music feel comfortable tuning in, but it also ensures they remain ignorant (or even become misinformed) about the significance and meaning of what they hear. I have given up expecting better. That's not to say there aren’t things on Radio 3 which I listen to from time to time. But I have long ago stopped bothering that much of the day is given over to named presenters playing their inconsequential choices, and “arts” programmes of even less consequential chat; and I am now accustomed to announcers who clearly do not understand what they are reading out -- indeed, do not even notice when the piece broadcast is not the piece they have introduced -- yet who make impromptu comments about a work just broadcast that are not so much factually erroneous (though they often are) as totally misguided.
It is increasingly hard to see why Radio 3 should be a 24-hour national channel service supported by a licence fee. There are alternatives that could preserve the core programming (especially international recordings) for use by new listener- and foundation- supported provincial and student classical stations, especially if they used streaming internet and digital technology. While all the current furore
over the govern-
ment's broadcasting proposals
is about TV programme production and station ownership, there remains room and time to open up discussion of the future of Radio 3 -- after all, it was only five days ago that the government made a surprise decision to review
the BBC's supply of programmes. But does anyone care?
August 22, 2002
At the weekend W. and I went fruit picking
in the Vale of Evesham
, and came home with 20 lb. of big, ripe Victoria Plums
. Quickly stewed and then chilled, they are too delicious for words with cold creamy custard. I cooked a lot on Sunday and they were so good
. Then about 9.00 p.m. yesterday, despite being absolutely exhausted, I washed and prepared another big saucepan full, and put them on to cook, on the lowest heat setting. Meanwhile W. came home from work and after exchanging some amusing pieces of news, we agreed we were both so tired we would go straight to bed.
This morning I came into the kitchen about 7.00 a.m. to find the cooker covered in red juice to the depth of about half an inch. Sitting in it was a lovely stainless steel saucepan burned black over the whole of its surface. Inside it, to a depth of about one third, was a seething, dark brown substance. I let out a long wail, and W. joined me to look at the mess.
"We'll get some more plums," he said.
"But the cleaning," I replied.
Saudi diplomacy is -- “as quiet as the sand dunes of the Rub Al-Khali, which move relentlessly but silently — driven only by the whispering of the desert winds.” (Ralph Braibanti, James B Duke Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Duke University, quoted in Arab News: 20 years of King Fahd
August 21, 2002
On Radio 3 this morning was the symphonic tone poem Till Eulenspiegel
] by Richard Strauss. The horn is a wonderful-sounding solo instrument, Strauss wrote for it like no other composer, and Till Eulenspiegel
is one of his most delightful horn works. But not his greatest -- that honour goes to a work which was (by a rather extraordinary accident) one of the first pieces of music I ever got to know, at about the age of eight.
A wonderful, warm, rich-voiced, middle-aged lady with no children lived near to us, and she allowed a wide-eyed little boy to wander round her (very cultured) house. Oil paintings, cabinets of porcelain, richly patterned rugs, books in glass-fronted book-cases. It was (in the words of Bert in Mary Poppins
) a doorway to world of enchantment. Most enchanting of all were the latest stereo record-player (with cupboards full of classical records) and the arm chairs, upholstered in satin and strewn with velvet cushions. I asked to listen to a record, and chose one by its cover.
It turned out to be one of the greatest recordings of the century -- the great British horn player Dennis Brain
performing the two horn concertos
by Richard Staruss. I sank into one of the deepest arm chairs, surrounded by soft and caressing fabrics, while the room filled with the most masculine and fruity musical acrobatics. I adored Brain and Richard Strauss immediately, and my love of both has never waned -- though in the years that followed they were joined by many many other composers and performers. But before my taste broadened it narrowed to exclude almost all composers but one -- about a year later, for my now regular session in the arm chair, I chose Wagner.
I don’t write much about technical aspects of web development. I don’t have the knowledge or confidence, and quite a few blogs I read do it very well. But blogging's such a new and democratic phenomenon that anything specially relevant to it is worth highlighting, whether it be philosophy, literary criticism or programming. A field that brings many of these areas together is Information Architecture (IA) and an article
published yesterday in DigitalWeb
magazine provides the latest “take” on the history and place of IA and its practitioners. The relation of content and know-how is central to many a blog, and for those who immediately feel like going further (as I did), this
page devoted to links to IA resources, and the short guide ia/recon
by Jesse James Garrett, introduce the topic thoroughly. His book The Elements of User Experience
is due out next month from New Riders
August 20, 2002
"A 31-year-old Nigerian woman was led from an Islamic court in tears yesterday after judges dismissed her appeal against death by stoning for bearing a child out of wedlock. If her conviction and sentence are not overturned on appeal before a higher court, she will be buried up to her waist and stoned to death by fellow villagers and the Islamic authorities. The packed courtroom reverberated with cries of Allahu akbar
(God is greatest) after Judge Aliyu Abdullani ordered that Amina Lawal should be stoned to death after her eight-month-old daugher, Wasila, has been weaned."
Ms Lawal was convicted in March, and the decision was upheld in June by a regional appeals court. The current hearing was widely expected to reverse the lower courts, and so nobody is predicting the outcome of the final appeal, not least in view of this report by Amnesty International
"Bariya Ibrahima Magazu, a teenage mother reportedly under 17 years old, was flogged 100 times with a cane in Zamfara State, after being convicted of pre-marital sexual intercourse in September 2000. She was not legally represented at her trial, and defence lawyers she appointed to lodge an appeal were told by court officials that the sentence would not be carried out before her appeal was heard by a higher court. However, the sentence was carried out before her rights of appeal had been exhausted and before the date given to her lawyers by court officials."
Amnesty International comments that under Islamic law the death penalty for adultery is mandatory, while for homosexual acts it is only discretionary. In this context it is perhaps interesting to note that the IAP
(Islamic Association for Palestine -- which describes itself as the largest international "educational, political, social, and civic organization dedicated to advancing a just, comprehensive, and eternal solution to the cause of Palestine" -- states:
"When looking at the significance of Palestine within the Islamic faith, the real nature of the conflict is a civilizational conflict waged between, on the one land Islamic Civilization with its divinely inspired laws and mission to create on this earth the society of justice and freedom which has been ordained by God; and on the other hand, Western Civilization with its materialistic culture, worship of ethnicity and the state, and denial of God's supremacy... Islam is a religion of peace secured by divine justice... Only Islam can bring back peace to the Holy Land... Any political plan which does not restore rule by Islamic law will only lead to further violence, bloodshed, and instability.
August 19, 2002
It's not at all the same as my own piece of desecration
-- indeed it's a premeditated stunt -- but by a funny coincidence MetaFilter has a new thread
in response to a news story about sex in a Cathedral
(in this case it's a Virginia couple in New York). It's clearly going to catch on. What with Marcus as another trend-setter
we'll soon all be shitting ourselves
all over the place, and fucking in churches.
is a rather derogatory term, but recent photos on a number of sites are enjoyable just for themselves. If you can put up with the Live Journal interface, the links from this page
by Xander present a delightful and enquiring collection of photographic self-portraits. Rémi's third Paris Gallery
has some arresting images of the French capital (including soldiers on rollerblades), and PhotoDude's latest
are as varied and exciting as ever. They're all worth checking out.
I can't help reporting this amusingl socio-linguistic exchange from Rob
(who works in Gap in Montréal). Political correctness isn't always wrong or humourless:
These three motherfuckers came into the store today, close to the end of the day, and well...
boys: Do you sell wife-beaters here?
Rob: We don't have wife beaters in the store but we do have undershirts in a two-pack [thinking with a hot guy on them] for $28.
boys: Where can I find a place with a lot of wife beaters?
Rob: Prison or Wal Mart. The Wal Mart is closer, right off Decarie.
boys: Yea, thanks.
Rob: Great, havea good day.
Do people still call them wife beaters? They are undershirts and tank-tops, not wife beaters.
August 18, 2002
Well, I've done the "five truths and a lie " thing -- and it was a lot of fun. So now it's time for another time-honoured blogging exercise -- ten things you've done (or not). Since the episode in the cathedral initiated some memory-searching
and other comparisons
, I thought Are You a Free Spirit?
was an obvious question. Have you ever ...?
- Gone barefoot in the town.
- Shaved off all your body hair.
- Thrown up on the carpet.
- Taken part in an orgy.
- Let it all hang out on a nudist beach (not a gay beach).
- Made a daisy chain for the one you love.
- Cried real tears of joy.
- Eaten wild mushrooms.
- Passionately kissed goodbye to a lover at the station.
- Taken part in pagan worship.
My own answers?
- Yes, and boy did they get sweaty, sticky and filthy dirty.
- Yes - it's a lovely feeling and boy does it look sexy -- but it needs a lot of maintenance.
- Yes, ignoring a bucket being rushed to me. The carpet (and it wasn't mine) stank for months.
- Yes - without intending to.
- Yes (the non-gay part of Studland) - but I couln't keep it up and went "textile" again.
- I don't seem to have the time any more.
- It happens regularly to music.
- I've never had the nerve.
- Yes, but nobody notices these days.
August 17, 2002
It looks like I might finally get a sighting of Prince Edward in the flesh after all this time. W. and I have got tickets for a performance in Coventry Cathedral
of Bejamin Britten's War Requiem
on September 3rd (the day that war was declared in 1939). It also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1962, and of the War Requiem
itself, which was written for the occasion. The performance
will be by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (under their Finnish principal Conductor Sakari Oramo) and, as at the first performance of this great work
, the soloists will be Russian, English and German, to symbolise reconciliation. Edward is the Royal Patron of the CBSO
, and it was announced a few days ago that he and Sophie will be attending the performance. I'm sure to get within 200 yards. But before anyone says anything -- no, Coventry Cathedral does not provide any suitable spaces for a re-enactment of my efforts to promote Anglo-Portuguese union.
August 16, 2002
Isn't this just the cutest
gay boyfriends photo you ever saw? It comes from a cute site
(with blog). And while we're at it, this
site is kinda fun, and so's this
. In fact there's a whole universe of Live Journal
blogs out there that I never knew existed. Even having a read of 3 a day it would take months to give all these gay gays a quick look over. Lives, hundreds of lives. I'm overwhelmed.
August 15, 2002
The final TRUTH...(6) I once fell off my motorbike at 60 mph and suffered no injuries at all.
One April morning I was having a burn-up along near-empty rural roads. Ahead of me there was a lorry and with a pefect view I pulled out and passed it. As I returned to the left-hand side of the road I pulled back the throttle and watched the rev counter rise, accellerating into a patch of ice. The motorbike slid over to the left and I fell out of the saddle. As I parted company with the bike I noticed that the speedo read 60 m.p.h., and the laws of physics being what they are, it must have been at about that speed that I touched down on the road, speeding forward on my arse for some distance. It was surreal -- as I sped along the road propelled by my own momentum, I was able to see that the same was happening to the riderless bike. It remained upright, roamed down the road for several hundred yards, and finally overbalanced. Still travelling at some speed, it fell over in a veritable fireworks of sparks and flames.
Not long after I came to a halt and saw the driver of the lorry running towards me. I jumped to my feet and pulled off my crash helmet. I had suffered not even a bruise, so smooth had been my landing and taxiing. The high shine on my boots was unsullied, my skin-tight gloves were immaculate, their soft silk-lined leather showed not a blemish. The lorry driver and I ran up the road, pulled the bike out of the ditch, took the keys out of the ignition, and put it on its stand beside the road, a sorry lop-sided mess of broken lights, dented bent and scratched bodywork, and tangled wires. I crossed the road and hitched a lift from a passing car back into the nearest town, called the AA, and waited to be collected to go and fetch the bike.
It was only after several hours that I finally got home and was able to give myself a thorough look-over. I pulled off all my gear and stood before the mirror – not the slightest scratch, nor the tiniest bruise. Then I looked at my leathers. The elbows of my jacket were scraped and raw – and the seat of my trousers bore long, deep scratches as if someone had mounted a frenzied attack with razor blades. My Heine-Gericke
motorcycle gear had taken all the punishment
...and talking of punishment, (4) I was sold for $300 at a charity slave auction.
... well, most of you thought it was likely, but that was the invention (and Frankie, that $600 receipt for slave purchase -- it has Colin Farrell's name on it, not mine!)
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society
has just published their study of Internet filtering in in Saudi Arabia
. All internet connections in Saudi Arabia pass through the government's Internet Services Unit
(ISU) which blocks access to pages that "contradict our beliefs or may influence our culture". The Berkman Center researchers requested some 63,762 distinct web pages without sexually explicit/pornographic content* and found 2,038 were blocked - including 246 about religion, 76 "humour" pages, 70 on music, 43 about movies, 18 about various aspects of drugs, and 13 on homosexuality (listings of organizations, support groups, news coverage, and pages with information for Muslim gays and/or gays in Muslim countries). Access was thus denied to just over 3% of the requested pages - in this context a large figure in itself, but far more so given the effective suppression with pages of their links.Among the pages banned were: Women in American History
(Encyclopedia Britannica) religioustolerance.org
Amsterdam's Anne Frank House
the Rolling Stone
magazine Amnesty International
for Saudi Arabia.Among the gay pages suppressed were: Queer Muslims Home Page
with 82 links; God loves Gays
with 56 links QueerNet
- e-mail Communities for the gay, lesbian
bisexual, transgendered, HIV/AIDS and leather/S&M
communities, with 350 links.
The Berkman Center concludes that "substantial amounts of non-sexually explicit Web content is effectively inaccessible to most Saudi Arabians, and that much of this content consists of sites that are popular elsewhere in the world". Can anyone defend this conduct? Does anyone believe a Palestinian state would not behave in the same way?
*Access was also sought to 795 distinct URLs containing sexually explicit images, of which 685 (86%) were blocked.
August 13, 2002
More of the TRUTH...(3) I lived 200 yards from Prince Edward and never met him once.
I was at Cambridge at the same time as Prince Edward, and for two years had lodgings just round the corner from him. It was no more than 200 yds, but it might as well have been 200 miles. I never set eyes on him a single time(4) I once had sex with a Portuguese soldier in the Cathedral of Lisbon.
I was living on the coast, in Portugal, and every weekend I used to go into Lisbon to watch the world, have dinner, visit the Gulbenkian, hang around the streets and the Castle of St George, and generally enjoy one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was after the Revolution and there were soldiers everywhere, with nothing to do anymore. They too wandered round, in their uniforms, sat in the cafes and lived idle (if impoverished) lives in the sun. One Saturday I my eyes met another pair, of the most extraordinarily complete blackness. If they were really brown it was the darkest hue that colour can ever be. His name (I discovered later) was Ivo, and he came originally from Madeira. He had short, black hair, stood about 5'8" tall, with a torso that swept down from wide shoulders to a waist around which a thick, heavy belt and buckle sagged away, as if he was some hoodlum or gun-slinger. His complexion was a deep olive, and to complete his stereotypical embodiment of Latin beauty, his smile was white and utterly charming.
He followed me up the steep, narrow streets of the oldest part of the city, where we were almost squashed to death by passing trams. Regularly I took a sudden turn off the street I had been following, and walked on with determination, before finally looking behind me. He was there every time. He had taken off his beret and stuffed it, folded, into his belt; the top two buttons of his shirt were undone. And then as we approached the Cathedral, he hastened his step and walked ahead of me, up and into Sé. A few paces behind I saw him dip his finders into the holy water, bow and cross himself, before beginning to walk up one of the ailes. Omitting the genuflection I went along behind, drawn by him to the semi-circle of dark empty chambers behind the High Altar – known, so appropriately, as the Ambulatory
In this overpoweringly ecclesiastical setting my Protestant upbringing made me falter, and I hesitated on the threshold of one of the chambers. But Ivo’s Catholicism did not betray his sensual needs. A strong brown arm pulled me into the gloomy depths and joined his mouth to mine in a kiss that was firm and sweet and passionate, and that I can feel pressing down on my lips even now. He continued as he’d begun – with speedy but unhurried confidence he pulled out and down those clothes that impeded his desire, and then without a hint of fear or guilt, fucked me. And as he moved to climax he felt forward and brought me off just as his own dam broke. I turned round and smiled. He smiled and kissed me again, and as we rearranged oursleves found French was more mutually understood than English or Portuguese...
“Mais vous êtes Catholique?” I pointed at the holy water.
“Ah, c’est une habituation.”
We went and had a meal. I forget what I had – a local steak perhaps. But I remember very well that he ate “pipis” – a boiled-up stew of all the least lovely bits of a chicken. He put his head back, opened his mouth, and dropped in a whole chicken’s foot, muched away, and spat out the nuckles and claws. We both laughed. Of course, after we said goodbye, late in the evening, we never met again. But I need only think of the Cathedral to see him.
August 12, 2002
Apparently two out of three voters in the UK are against a war on Iraq
. Of course, two out of three voters also think the death penalty should be restored. Two out of three voters didn't even vote in the last European elections. Two out of three think Arial washes whiter, Flora tastes better than butter and hands that do dishes with mild green Fairy Liquid hands feel soft as your face. Most telling of all, two out of three voters are certain, aren't they, to have given the issue prolonged and careful consider-
ation from strategic, tactical, logistic, political, diplomatic and economic perspectives, in the light of reports on a decade of secret satellite surveillance, secret intelligence gathered from indigenous and inserted sources within Iraq, and profound knowledge of the chemical, nuclear, and conventional capacities of Iraqi weapons production. Given their extraordinarily well-qualified ability to decide this question, I am somewhat surprised they have not asserted their interest in the issue before.
But quite apart from my deep scepticism that foreign affairs can ever
be conducted according to democratic principles; and my belief that defence is the one issue that emphatically requires governments to act for the people, in their best interests, and not in accordance with the transient fluctuations of poorly informed public opinion (and least of all in repsect to the kinds of issues represented by the contemporary Iraqi situation); quite apart from the absurdity of seeking a popular mandate to do what no democratic government would consider doing unless convinced beyond question of its necessity -- for they would need the full hearted agreement of the people, and the sacrifices of the people, not glib answers to an opinion questionnaire desiged to further attacks on government leaders for principally domestic reasons. Quite apart from all of this, it is ridiculous to ask people if they support war from a posture of comfortable peace, and without their government having actually declared that war does indeed need to be initiated. In such circumstances it is astonishing that as many as one third appear to support a war against Iraq.
I am as unimpressed by that third who "favour" a war as by the the two thirds who (supposedly) think the opposite. I would expect 90% or more to oppose a war with Iraq at this juncture. But how many would oppose a war with Iraq under any circumstances? How many if the government actually sought their agreement to war? How is Iraq to be pressured short of war if the people are mobilised against it? How will tough demands be enforced without credible threat of force. How many people are against making Iraq think we will go to war (even if we will do everything in our power not to)? And how many people want to destroy the ability of our government to act for us by enfeebling its power to act as circumstances demand?
Yesterday I went up to my mother's old flat for the last time. It had been emptied. All that was left were the fitted carpets and the curtains. All the furniture taken away for auction or to the rubbish tip. I had packed all the clothes up and taken them to a charity shop. I kept some of the crockery and cutlery, and what was left went the same way as the furniture. Because of regulations on resale of upholstered items manufactured before 1992 quite a lot of her lovely furniture went to the tip. I couldn't be there when they took it away. W. had to go and oversee the operation. The items for auction won't fetch much because there simply isn't much of a market for decent second hand furniture. I'm hoping the sums raised will just cover the costs of collection and disposal of everything.
I looked around the empty flat. My mother had kept such a lovely home there, and there was always a room for me. She had worked hard for very little money, and had done miracles with what she saved to make the flat so smart. I had spent many happy months there, and W. many happy days. Now the keys had to go back to the housing association. I stood in the middle of the living room, and all the memories of her last days and death came rushing back, and all the bewilderment. Eventually I has seen all there was to be seen, and thought all I could think. We went down the stairs and pulled the front door to behind us. Goodbye to my mother's home, my home. I won't go there again.
August 09, 2002
The TRUTH...(2) I once got drunk with Mike Myers.
For a while I rented a room in a house in an English provincial town owned by a great theatrical enthusiast -- I guess if he had been younger he would have been called a groupie. A comedy sketch duo from Canada called Mullarkey and Myers
appeared at the local theatre. They weren't well known or even making much of a splash (I didn't even bother to go to the show myself). They were touring the UK before going on to the Edinburgh Festival. To help out my landlord offered them a few nights' free accommodation while they were in town.
After the performance one night they came back to the house and all four of us sat around chatting, laughing and getting very drunk. So I did once get drunk with Mike Myers (...who?)
is still doing the comedy circuit, and is performing at the Edinburgh Festival fringe in "Don't Be Needy, be Succeedy" at the Assembly Rooms
till the 26th August.)
(1) Someone tried to strangle me in a house in Brooklyn.
Fortunately I didn't end up like this
-- but I almost did. An unwise (indeed desperate) pick-up, in a bar not notorious for the pacific tendencies of its customers, led me to a house deep in Brooklyn, where it soon became clear how very serious a mistake I had made. The key was turned in the bedroom door, and he advanced from it, towards me, put his hands up and around my neck, and began to press. My shock allowed him to get a start, but then I fought back, and for quite a while we grappled. I managed to knock the wind out of him just long enough to get the bedroom door open, bolt down the stairs, and out of the house.
I found myself, in the middle of the night, god knows where, having left my jacket behind with all my money in it. I wandered around till I found a subway station, and jumped the gate when the subway train came in. It was an uptown IRT train, full of young black New Yorkers returning from parties - they were holding balloons, coloured streamers were everywhere, and the carraige was full of animated conversation and laughter. I quietly took a seat. Never before or since have I felt so grateful to be alive.
Was it a serious attempt on my life? I think so. It had been established that I was a student with no family in the city, living in a hall of residence, out alone for the night. The only problem would have been disposing of my body. It can be done. I just wonder who he was, and if there were any before or after me. Perhaps he's one of these
... anyway, (1) is true.
August 08, 2002
And on the topic of body parts
, private post-mortem investigations are provided by 1-800-AUTOPSY
. They do admit that "death's fearsome and negative connotation provides a challenge to the public's awareness of the unique services we provide." I'm not sure they've hit on the right answer -- a gifts catalogue of extraordinarily tasteless items, described with even more tasteless puns. In addition to various T-shirs and baseball caps, it offers:
Human Bone Pens - bone-a-fide replicas of a human finger or femur. Make no bones about it, you'll shock your friends with this awesome writing instrument. It glows in the dark, too.
Vertebrae -- Key Holders: A metal ring is attached to a plastic life-like human vertebra (cervical, thoracic, lumbar).
Pen Holders: Anatomically correct lumbar vertebra from the human spine is drilled to hold a pen or pencil. A truly practical go-anywhere desk accessory.
Finger Hooks These hard plastic finger hooks are life sized at 3.5" long. A built-in screw makes each one easy to attach to walls or other surfaces
Grow your own -- Brain: Place this 1.5" brain in water and in one week you should have a healthy, almost human-sized specimen. Tongue: Looks like a piece of bubble gum, but place in water and within a week it will swell to a cow-sized 5" long.
Gelatin Molds -- Brain: Fill the plastic mold with a gelatin mix and a few hours later, out pops a life-size anatomically correct specimen. Yes, perhaps we have sick minds to think that anyone with brains would want to eat them. Hand: Fun to make and fun to eat.
Nose pencil sharpener Stick a pencil up this nose and twist. 2.5" long.
Two-Headed Skeleton This two-headed skeleton is scientific proof that "two heads are better then one". Two-Headed Harry is anatomically correct in every other aspect.
manages to come up with some really useful links. Her latest is this quick little calculator
that determines the vital
statistic of the men you are interested in. A quick "dry run" on myself confirmed its claims to accuracy -- though reports of a few more results would be welcome.
August 07, 2002
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning, we come round right.
I heard this Shaker hymn on the radio this morning (sung in the arrangement by Aaron Copland) and it reminded me of so many people and things. It never fails to move me, as words, or to the tune that also appears in Copland's Appalachian Spring
August 06, 2002
Well - it seems (with good cause) to be catching on, so do go visit my whole family at
Well, while we're following the crowd, here's another recent blog favourite plus one: five truths and a lie. Which is the lie?
- Someone tried to strangle me in a house in Brooklyn.
- I once got drunk with Mike Myers.
- I lived 200 yards from Prince Edward and never met him once.
- I was sold for $300 at a charity slave auction.
- I once had sex with a Portuguese soldier in the Cathedral of Lisbon
- I once fell off my motorbike at 60 mph and suffered no injuries at all.
August 05, 2002
I've enjoyed beginning to get to know John
from his new blog The Crouch End Blog
. His latest post
includes an absolutely stunning photo of a rehearsal by the London Gay Men's Chorus
of which he is a member. But I have to admit that I was drawn to the blog at first by its very specific geographical location. For those not familiar with North London, Crouch End
might sound rather a poor - even sleazy - neighbourhood. But sitting between Highgate, Hornsey and Finsbury Park, it is a rather charming Edwardian neighbourhood, with residential streets rising up a very steep hill from a varied and busy shopping/business centre, with a municipal clock tower at its centre.
I got to know Crouch End when M., one of my closest friends, moved to live there with A. -- another friend from College. I used to visit and stay with them regularly, and in those (now far-off) days M. and I used to go to the opera together, or go out drinking and clubbing till all hours, collapsing into (a chaste) bed together and talking for hours before we fell asleep with the dawn.
One night just before Christmas remains bright in my memory. While we had danced ourselves silly at some huge gay place in Holloway it had snowed and snowed. When we wrapped our thick winter coats around our sweat-drenched bodies and passed the two rough-looking bouncers wishing everyone a Happy Christmas, we saw a winter wonderland sparkling in the streetlights -- magical, and with any chance of a night bus or a taxi reduced to zero. So we set off and walked the couple of miles back to Crouch End, through streets whose every distinction was now buried beneath the thick white coating. Quite drunk, and our intuition our only compass, I don't know how we found our way. Yet in an hour or so we were making our way into familiar territory, chattering with drunken animation about every subject under the moon and roaring with laughter at the bottomless store of stories about flat-mate A.'s proverbial absent-mindedness.
I lost touch with M. a long time ago. I think he still lives in Paris with his partner of many years. A. died of AIDS about three years after that riotous Christmas. The cause of the absent-mindedness became obvious as soon as he was diagnosed (though M. and I agreed, his antics were no less funny for that). I haven't been back to Crouch End for over a decade. It's good to have a connection with it again.
August 04, 2002
WET WIPES AND
Chris posted a comment endorsing wet wipes
. I couldn't agree more. This marvellous invention takes the soreness out of shitting, brings cleanliness to crapping, and provides a hygienic counterpoint to all the recent poo stories. But I had no idea that the industrial might of the western world (not to mention the pharmaceutical industry) depended on them. This
page is essential if you care what your wet wipes are impregnated with. This
is where to go for the ultimate wipe
. But did you know that you can get pet wipes
Created for added tender, loving, pet care Pet Wipes gently clean sensitive areas. Containing a special formulation created specifically for household pets, Pet Wipes cleanse and refresh while at the same time eliminating unpleasent odors.
Indeed, there are more kinds of wipes
than you might have been able to imagine (though have they thought of everything?) However, I stick to (or rather gently slide with) my Andrex Moist Toilet Tissues -- which are part of the 7th best-selling brand name in Britain -- user reviews of which can be found here
While they aren't cheap, however, I don't fancy the sound of DIY
All of which brings us back to the topic of faecal incontinence
- and the places with information
for "people whose control is not perfect". Among the pages are an exhaustive glossary
(I for one was not aware that "manometry" means "tests to measure pressures in the muscles of the rectum and anus" or that "mass movements" are "waves of activity in the colon propelling stool large distances towards the anus", though I could have guessed that "urgency" is "the need to find a toilet in a hurry"). The self help
page includes sphincer exercises [download
] and bowel "retraining" -- but the advice for "controlling or disguising smells" is less helpful, including as it does "try to ensure good ventilation of the room you are in", and "use aerosol air freshener".
It is the products page, however, that will almost certainly be of most interest, including as it does such items as the anal plug
The anal plug comes wrapped up in a water-soluble film, so that it is easy to put in. It should be covered with Vaseline and then gently inserted with a finger through the anal canal into the rectum. The film dissolves once inside the rectum, and the plug opens into a cup shape, with a string for removal in the anus. It can be left in place for up to 12 hours. It comes in 2 sizes, small and large and only trying it will tell which is best. The manufacturers, Coloplast Ltd., will send samples on request. Some people find an anal plug uncomfortable, or that it gives a constant feeling of needing to open the bowels. Others find the plug comfortable and effective, and it is not possible to tell whether it will help without trying it.
If all else fails -- and we know from recent postings that it does -- the advice is (1) "You may find it most convenient to carry a clean-up kit in a small wash bag (the sort many airlines give free is ideal), or on a waist belt. NACC
have a clean-up kit available"; (2) "Use a small pocket mirror can be useful to check that you are clean"; and (3) "Dark colours and patterned fabrics tend to show any stains less than light fabrics".
Mind you, choosing a product is less easy than you might imagine. The Continence Foundation products page
has a list of almost 3,000 separate items -- pads of various kinds, urinals, catheters, sheaths, and so on -- relevant to the management of continence. The Continence Foundation also produces policy (Making the Case for Investment in an Integrated Continence Service
, April 2000) and runs campaigns, has numerous publications
(for example Penile Sheaths: When and How to use Incontinence Sheaths
 and Catheterisation in Schools: Guidelines for Good Practice
), and a helpline
. In addition to bowel leakage, they also cover stress incontine
-- leakage from the bladder -- "all too common, especially if you laugh, sneeze or exercise". I wonder if bloggers would confirm this.
A veritable buzz of interest (and outrage) followed when Peter
raised the spectre of Americanisation of English-English. These transAtlantic comparisons certainly appeal to a wide range of blogging types from the pedantic to the patriotic. But English English-speakers rarely stop to think that Americans might experience difficulties understanding us (especially with all the priase heaped on Britcoms -- like Monty Python, from which I posted four script excerpts a couple of days ago without eliciting a single comment). So (via a mefi thread
yesterday) this dictionary
makes interesting and amusing reading -- among my favorites (sic
) are "arse about face", "sweet fanny adams", "settee", "diversion", "conkers", "rubber", "bum chum", "duck!", "plonk", "plonker", "mince" (1), "mince" (2), "skive", "trolley" and "off your trolley". (Your score?)
Another mefi thread
about French versus English in Europe started with this article
in the Guardian
. It raised the questionn of language skills - and this article
from the BBC about the reluctance of the British to learn a second (let alone third) language well enough to converse in it. My own dismal language skills (and daily embarrasment at my inability to reply to Martijn
in Dutch or Marcus
in Swedish) confirm the national failure - but is is generally due to laziness, genetic inability, lack of need, or jingoism? (The first, I think, in my case). And how do other European countries compare? The EU provides some fascinating (if suspicously precise) statistics
. It's interesting that because of population, the largest native language bloc
in the EU is German speakers, while (as impressionistic evidence would suggest) the Swedes, Dutch and Danes are the most multi-lingual, and only Ireland is less multi-lingual than Britain. For those with little ability in this area, this
site provides some marginal assistance -- but it is not suggested that anyone use the Monty Python Hungarian phrase book
-- unless your nipples are
exploding with delight.
August 03, 2002
We are planning long overdue building work on the first floor of our house. It is not proving easy, and is occasioning no small amount of domestic friction (of the wrong sort). First, it is almost impossible to find a reputable builder in the UK who does not have more than enough work, thank you. Then there is the problem of finding suitable new fittings. Our latest amazing discovery is that the toilet we like
is £1,200. Am I out of touch? Do people throw a grand or more at a new toilet and think nothing of it? With a wash basin we're talking over £2,000; plus a bidet, that'll be... but is a bidet really necessary?
But that is pretty academic, as we won’t need to buy a toilet if it can't be installed. Even though the building work involves major changes in several rooms, when I describe what needs to be done I am told "Oh, we don't do anything under £50,000"
or "Oh, we couldn’t take on something that small"
. Even if they are
prepared to consider a project of less than £50K, they are not available till a year next Easter. A few will consider it, but make it clear that prices have gone up a great deal, and a start before Christmas is unlikely.
Why is this? Most builders give the same answer -- with all the government money that is being thrown at education and the health service, and the need for quick results, there has been a sudden, massive increase in the amount of contract work for building and repairing schools and hospitals. One builder told me there was enough of this kind of work to keep all the established building firms and sub-contractors in the town busy for a couple of years. I’ve no idea what the schools and NHS are paying, but you can bet anything you like it is way over the normal market price -- (a) because their incompetence in negotiating contracts is notorious; (b) because overall demand is so high; (c) it isn’t their money; (d) there’s political pressure on them.
For the private market (that's me) the result is either (a) forget it; (b) pay over and above even what the government is paying, and still be ready for a long wait; (c) use a cowboy builder – that is, one without an established business and the credentials needed to get a government contract -- and hope for the best. Of course, nobody (least of all our news media) ever thinks about these kinds of consequences of state spending... Now we have to choose the floors... How much would you pay per square yard for a solid wood floor?
August 02, 2002
(reading from phrase book
): My hovercraft is full of eels... Drop your panties, Sir William, I cannot wait 'til lunch-
time... My nipples explode with delight!
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 in a Ken Russell film just outside St Petersburg. His father (Leo McKern), a free-lance bishop, was married to Verna Plachenka (Julie Christie) but secretly deeply in love with Margo Farenka (Shirley Abicair) and the strangely flatulent Madame Ranevsky (Norris McWhirter). Soon, however, the family (Eldridge Cleaver, Moira Lister and Stan the Bat) moved to the neighboring industrial village of Omsk (Eddie Waring).
Mount Everest. Forbidding, aloof, terrifying. The mountain with the biggest tits in the world. This year, this remote Himalayan mountain, this mystical temple, surrounded by the most difficult terrain in the world, repulsed yet another attempt to conquer it. This time, by the International Hairdresser's Expedition. In such freezing, adverse conditions, man comes very close to breaking point. What was the real cause of the disharmony which destroyed their chances at success?
Hairdresser 1: Well, people keep taking your hairdryer on
Hairdresser 2: There's a lot of bitching in the tents.
Hairdresser 3: You couldn't get near the mirror.
A lot of people in this country pooh-pooh Australian table wines. This is a pity, as many fine Australian wines appeal not only to the Australian palette, but also to the cognoscenti of Great Britain. Black Stump Bordeaux
is rightly praised as a peppermint flavoured Burgundy, whilst a good Sydney Syrup
can rank with any of the world's best sugary wines. Chateau Bleu
, too, has won many prizes -- not least for its taste, and its lingering afterburn. Old Smokey, 1968
has been compared favourably to a Welsh claret, whilst the Australian wino society thouroughly recommends a 1970 Coq du Rod Laver
, which, believe me, has a kick on it like a mule: 8 bottles of this, and you're really finished: at the opening of the Sydney Bridge Club, they were fishing them out of the main sewers every half an hour.
Of the sparkling wines, the most famous is Perth Pink
. This is a bottle with a message in, and the message is BEWARE! This is not a wine for drinking -- this is a wine for laying down and avoiding. Another good fighting wine is Melbourne Old-and-Yellow
, which is particularly heavy, and should be used only for hand-to-hand combat. Quite the reverse is true of Chateau Chunder
, which is an Appalachian controle, specially grown for those keen on regurgitation -- a fine wine which really opens up the sluices at both ends. Real emetic fans will also go for a Hobart Muddy
, and a prize winning Cuiver Reserve Chateau Bottled Nuit San Wogga Wogga
, which has a bouquet like an aborigine's armpit.
... lots more
Do you have any Goat's colostrum (the first-day goat's milk of the female goat who's just had kids)? It is urgently needed
. Even if you don't, there's no reason not to spend a little time looking at a parade of guys (mostly quite nice) in nothing but white underpants
That should set you up to learn that if you did not feel like ploughing through the article
by Robert Kagan about Europe and the USA, Iain Murray draws much the same conclusion in many fewer words in his blog
The 23-year old Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski
on CD. Just released on EMI he plays Tchaikovsky (arr Pletnev) Suite from The Nutcracker
Fifth Piano Sonata, Three Dances from Petrushka
, and Prokofiev's
Piano Sonata No 6. I can't say any better than Andrew Clements in the Guardian
Trpcesky's recital is one of the most thrilling piano discs of recent times. On this evidence Trpcesky has everything - a technique that copes effortlessly with all the demands of Mikhail Pletnev's flashy transcription of The Nutcracker and the powerful virtuosity of the Three Dances from Stravinsky's Petrushka, and a musicality that maintains a perfect balance in the most impressive of all Prokofiev's sonatas. Above all it is his ability to generate dramatic excitement that makes his playing so special. The highlight here is Scriabin's Fifth Sonata, which receives an incandescent performance to compare with Vladimir Horowitz's legendary account.