Saturday, July 30, 2005


From the BBC.

Alan Sneddon, a Notting Hill resident, said: "We'd been looking at all the police moving about, taping off all the area, and at eight minutes past 12 there was this almighty bang.

"There didn't seem to be any sign of smoke or anything, but the bang was big enough to shake the ground.

"It seemed more like an explosion. It was one great, big bang - buildings shook and everything."

Sergeant Dibble. "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off."

Stuck for content? Just hit the archives.

Ambisinister (adj) Descriptive of one possessing an uncanny ability to look like Michael Howard in both left and right profile.

Irremissible (adj) Descriptive of any penalty awarded to a Premier League side when playing Championship opposition. Refers to the fact that should the first attempt be unsuccessful, the referee will order it re-taken until such time as a goal is scored.

Ketch (n) A good one of which all this year's debutants will be out to snare.

Hagridden (n) Where the rather hirsute giant in Harry Potter settles down to watch the big game.
(pp) What you find you have been when you take the Stella goggles off in the morning.

Couchette (n) A very laid back vegetable of the marrow family.

Eldritch (n) What one's mummy always hoped one would marry into.

Pusillanimous (n) An aversion to female genitalia.

Brummagem (adj) Of things that are cheap, showy, tawdry, or counterfeit.

Thanks to Jess for the words. The definitions are mine. Except one. I had to include the real definition of Brummagem. Some things are perfect just the way they are.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Why is it that almost any spellchecker bundled with any software application you care to mention, designed for use on that wonderful invention, the computer, will always highlight the word 'internet' as something it fails to recognise? Mmmmmmmm.

Friday, July 22, 2005


I lost my surrogate grandmother on Tuesday.

When I first came here, 1991 it was, my thoughts were more on escape than on arrival, on port of departure rather than destination. England, my England, had disappeared, the connections I felt were to something that existed only in memory. The country had changed and I had remained stubborn and steadfast. Or was it the other way round? Either way, I'd had enough of witnessing the destruction of my working class heritage, watching it being stripped of its dignity and worst of all, colluding in its own emasculation. And yes, sweet hearts, before you berate me for my choice of noun, women can have balls, too. I was desparately tired of football score body counts, of a society seemingly bent on proving Thatcher's theory of its non-existence, of the deification of giddy princesses and the elevation of the celebrated over the truly important, of ignorance over education, wealth over worth.

It is also highly probable that all the above was just an excuse and that I was a 33 year old fuck-up with zero prospects in serious need of a fresh start.

Anyway, I'd financed myself through university by dint of two years working on the land and now, in proud possession of post-graduate certificate (with distinction), I was disembarking at Ferihegy Airport, Budapest.

It could have been anywhere, or so I thought at the time. All I needed was a blank first page. Now, when I think back, I'm not so sure. I'd had numerous job offers, Japan, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy but no matter how much I reconsidered (thanks for that word, Lisa. I shall treasure it), I would always come back to the job in Hungary. Now, I think what I needed was not just to travel in terms of distance but also in time. And I would stress that this is an observation made from where I am at this moment, that any idea I might have had about Hungary being somehow 'behind' was at most, sub-conscious.

So, there I was. Descending from the plane onto the land of the Magyars (the Hungarian plain in fact) and I had the strangest sensation. Not of departing, nor of arriving. Of returning.

I didn't, at the time, draw any analogies between the concertinad gangway and a birth canal as I had singularly failed to so do between the aircraft and flight, but I was thrust, alone, helpless and totally dependent, into a very alien world.

We all grow up with some awareness, minimal as it may be but pervasive nonetheless, of cultures beyond our own. We hear European languages and accents, are possessant of some knowledge of croissants, bratwurst and paella, may possibly have GCEs in French and German and even be able to place Liechtenstein on an outline map of Europe but to hear the Hungarian tongue is to have all one's frames of reference rendered absolutely useless.

So whence came this feeling of homecoming? I cannot say. It was real and it was visceral. If I attempt to rationalise it now, maybe I can point to the fact that every Hungarian on the plane applauded as it landed so happy were they to be home; to the lack of automation, the appearance that every process I witnessed on that day depended upon people. That there was little apparent distinction between them, no Armani suits, no visual markers of difference. There was no uniformity, nor drabness but there was nothing by means of which I could make any of my accustomed assumptions as to class, education, wealth, mind-set, anything. Here it seemed that everybody started with a clean slate. That any judgements to be made would be on the basis of internal and not external evidence.

Newly born then, and unable. The only Englishman in town. I was contracted to provide English language tuition to oil company workers and my first two courses were made up of drillers, oil rig workers, complete beginners. I was billeted in a guest house in a spa-village in winter. Nobody could speak English. There was nothing, and I really do mean nothing, which could provide any connection whatsoever to the life I had left behind. To the me who I was, and indeed am.

What could I give of myself? How could I show anybody who I was? How could I recognise a kindred spirit, a possible friend? Oh, I indulged in drinking competitions with the drillers, and rather surprised them by holding my own against all but the seriously alcohol dependent. We even arm wrestled and they were similarly taken aback...those years on the land paid off in more ways than I could have imagined. We had no common language beyond the basic English I had taught them and yet, even now, whenever the accidents of life make our paths to cross, we celebrate, remember and renew our bonds. They accepted me. Without artifice. Without the sophistication of language. Without pretence. Few people will ever have the opportunity of knowing just how good that feels.

And yet, our lives together existed in a bubble. They were given time off work to study and most of them were from other towns, temporarily resident in the company's holiday villa where the courses were held. They could go home.

And then there was my third course. I was three months in and beginning to entertain what could possibly be described as second thoughts. It was just before Christmas and, as much as I enjoyed being here, the bubble life, the disconnection from everything that my lack of Hungarian entailed was beginning to exact a toll. Three things happened in remarkably quick succession. First, I met Iván. He had escaped Hungary to live in a suburb of Chicago and had returned after the change of regime. God help me if I ever utter the phrase, 'collapse of communism' in anything other than a herein type context. He was a jazz musician, an alto saxophonist playing the tenor and the piano in coffee bars in town. He shared my interests in jazz, fucking young women and drinking good quality liquor to excess and expended his endeavours towards fulfilling my ambitions with regard to the second with all his attention. He failed. Chemistry and pheremones might just be valid explanations of the horizontal dance but the lack of a common language can prove insurmountable. And it did.

Until one day...he had developed a taste for pool in the States which was unfortunate for him as I am aces in that department and would regularly remove quantities of the specie from him in wagers. Anyway, we were playing in a local bar and speaking English which drew the attention of a rather stunning young English speaking lady (yes, no, maybe) who happened to be in the right place at the right time. She told me later that she had had the thought, "Have him washed and brought to my tent" but anyway, he introduced us. I fell. Hopelessly, illogically, arse over apex in love with her. She had the remnants of Genghis Khan's genetic inheritance and her slightly slanted ice-blue eyes had me in their thrall. Jess's later observation that she could not imagine the two of us together would have been prescient had it been made in time but there you go.

And yet, these two events would not have been enough in themselves to keep me here. Okay, I could now speak English, both to a friend and to someone with whom it was my pleasure to carnally explore on a regular basis but something was still missing. I am so hard to please, wouldn't you say?

But my third course was teaching executives and middle management based in the town where I lived. The chief mechanical engineer of the company was part of it, a Slavic looking, verdantly mustachioed chappie with whom regular readers will be familiar by virtue of my visit to the vineyard post of Saturday, May 14th 2005. He invited me to his house where he and his girlfriend were bringing up twins from his previous marriage. We all went swimming together on Saturday mornings and, as my Hungarian improved, I allowed myself to be drawn into a conspiracy between them and against their father that further reinforced my belief that I might just be worthy of something.

X is only 10 years older than me and yet I allowed him to slip into the role of my surrogate father with ease. He took me to his vineyard and to his parents' house in the nearby village and I was introduced to his mother and father. I believe Shulz had Linus say that happiness is a drawer full of warm socks but he had obviously never met the Xs. X senior would ply me with his 'toolpusher's wine' and parade for my perusal his knowledge of American cuss words..."dumb ass mother fucker", X junior would regale me with tales of just what a hard ass his father could be and X himself would just leave me to get on with it as best I could.

His mother took me under her wing, devoting to me exactly the same attention she paid to her own son. His father delighted in my enjoyment of his wine. He was the same age as my own father (adoptive, in case you forget) and yet he was a grandpa to me, spoiling me and chastising me in equal measure. His wife performed the same function but with more buns and cakes.

I am not sure that, without their attentions and ministrations, I would not have cut and run for home. They gave me a stability, a frame of reference...a family.

X's father provided the inspiration for my eulogy at my own father's funeral, (Wednesday December 17, 2003) having himself expired shortly before that event. And now...

I mentioned travelling back in time, or it seems I did, 'tis such a distance ago but his introduction to me of a way of life that was so connected to the land and through which the idea of family was perpetuated and preserved, the vineyard as family cohesion, remained formative.

However, X's reaction to his father's death was to embrace Catholicism, to collude, with his mother, in the theory that those who do not believe are destined for the fires of hell. This included his own common law wife and brother in law. And, if truth be told, myself.

Now, I am never at my most comfortable with those who have faith. My own lack of it makes it impossible for me to have any feelings of empathy whatsoever with those who do.

The funeral of his mother, which took place today, therefore, was an interesting exercise. It was a full catholic affair with knobs on, including numerous hymns and several recitations of the Lord's prayer and interminable Hail Marys.

I stood at the periphery, a part and apart. I walked a little closer to the graveside and blew a final kiss at my grandmama. A recognition. Gratitude for what she had done and what she had meant to me. And I watched my friend. He was distraught. He tossed the first sod onto his mother's coffin and handed the trowel to the other members of the family who performed the same task and then withdrew.

The chants and entreaties finished and the mourners dissapparated. I remained. I watched as the mourners paid their respects and got the fuck out. Only X was left. He saw me. We moved towards each other and embraced. Long and hard. Everybody else had gone. And I knew that, for him, at that moment, God was not enough. What really mattered was friendship and that, at that particular instance, I was what he needed. A friend.

Voya con dios.

Thanks for the memories,


Tuesday, July 19, 2005


For the first time in my life, I have actually managed to poison myself without the assistance of any alcohol whatsoever.

I'll be back as soon as I am able to stop trying to turn myself inside out.

Should I succeed, however...

Friday, July 15, 2005


Go here. Animate. My own rather risible effort is in commemoration, on the occasion of its first anniversary, of the infamous 'Evening on the Woodford'.

Thanks, again, go to Lamps without whom etc etc.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


It just gets better.

"In this difficult hour, the people of Great Britain can know the American people stand with you."

US President George W Bush.

As long as you're not within the perimeter of the M25, that is.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Part 3753

I caught the beginning of an interview on CNN yesterday in which a foreign correspondent based in the States for an Arabic language newspaper was being relieved of any illusions he might have had about the standard of reporting necessary to sustain broadcasting any news event for an indefinite period.

The second question in ran something like this.

"So you condemn the atrocity, but what you will be accused of...what people will say, is that you haven't condemned it enough. Why aren't you out on the streets expressing this condemnation more forcefully..."

I confess I gave up at this point, flung the zapper at the screen and rather shocked the shit out of my daughter who must have thought that daddy had finally lost it.

I mean...such a brief utterance, but parse it any which way you like and you will not find any justification for this woman ever finding work in journalism again.

First of all, the cowardly disguising of her own prejudices by the mealy-mouthed, "what people will say..." displayed an arrogance of such enormity it beggars belief.

Secondly, the implication, as yet unproven, that the act was in fact carried out by 'Islamic' terrorists and the unspoken assumption that, as a Muslim, he was somehow complicit in it, that the perceived under-reaction of the arab world betrayed its real emotions, those of satisfaction and celebration should be grounds enough for dismissal in any news agency. I don't remember the people of Boston being subjected to such accusations in the wake of any IRA 'atrocity' that they had funded.

And then there's the implicit racism expressed. That Muslims cannot be trusted to tell the truth. That what they say must be filtered and translated along the lines of, "Well, you may say that, but we know what you really mean is..." On top of that, we have the assumption that this guy, purely on the basis of his ethnicity and religion, can be addressed with the second person plural 'you' and his answers taken to be representative of arab opinion. Well, they're all the same, aren't they? And then that Muslims should be held to different standards from the rest of us. Why should their reaction and condemnation have to be of any greater magnitude than our own? Should the Pope have taken to the streets of the Vatican? Catholics everywhere flagellated themselves in public after the latest in a long line of IRA pub bombings?

And lastly, this was one journalist interviewing another. The complete lack of respect shown to a fellow professional was stunning. What was it that allowed her to believe that the level of her integrity was so above his? The fact that he worked for an arab newspaper? The fact he was Muslim? Or have CNN's pay cheques so fuelled her astonishing arrogance that she now believes herself above all accepted standards of reporting?

Do you think I could bill her for a new remote?


Saturday, July 09, 2005


This little interlude is brought to you courtesy of the BBC wireless telegraphy network and Messrs. Stephen Fry, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer.

GG. Negligent - a man who wears lingerie
SF. Cryogenic - when you turn out in a photo to look like Barry
BC. Stir fry - to arouse Stephen
TBT. Parsnip - dad's vasectomy
TBT. Marmite - mum's possibly up for it
GG. Wallaby - someone aspiring to be a kangaroo
SF. Countryside - to kill Piers Morgan
GG. Tomahawk - a vegetable of prey
BC. Diphthong - to wash an undergarment
SF. Lip synch - a lady's intimate washbasin
TBT. used by Piers Morgan
BC. Placebo - a Spanish tenor who does nothing for me
SF. Rectitude - the angle at which a thermometer should be inserted
GG. Homophobe - somebody who doesn't like the Simpsons
SF. Portent - the Milennium Dome

Thank you and goodnight.

As usual, the comments passed tell us more about the commentator than the subject of the comment. Forgive me if I paraphrase somewhat.

US. "The contrast between the purity of our motives and the sheer evil of theirs has really struck me."

Israel. "...blah, blah, that terrorism is not just an Israeli problem."

Russia. "We will carry the fight into Chechnya..."

Spain. "As we know from our experience of Madrid..."

France. "Eye veal stand ear beyaind ze zlaimee toad end unch myzelf ohvuhr ze rostrum in zee ope zat ze vohturz recogneyez meye sinceriteh."

UK. "I find say...anything...without...pausing pregnantly...every...few the...hope...that...such delivery...conveys my deep...and heartfelt..."

Amstelladagain. "Comment me do."

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Anger? Frustration? Fury? Uncomprehension? Confirmation? What a fucking mess, the lot of it.

All I can feel right now is sadness. A very deep and hopeless sadness.

What a fucked up species we are.

Monday, July 04, 2005


"Are you ready to start a revolution? Are you ready to change the world?"

Whatever. Right behind you, Madge. Oh, and pass me some of that cake, would you?

I'm sure the intentions were good but how could it help but be misunderstood? How could it have avoided becoming just another part of the whole elaborate web of half-truths, misinformation and spin?

I keep asking myself just what it may have achieved. Beyond getting Pink Floyd back together again, I can't come up with one, single, solitary thing.

Awareness has been raised, eh? An awareness of what, exactly? That there are problems in Africa? That the G8 nations should "do something about it"? That people can make a difference and influence policy by attending a concert? By signing a petition?

There are problems in Africa. Yet most people would still, when asked, state dictatorship, corruption, war, drought and famine as the main ones and might make vague noises about debt relief if pushed. These are problems and very real ones but I can't help feeling that an awareness of probably the biggest long term problem that Africa faces is as far from most people's awareness as it ever was.

This is the simple and unalterable truth that it is not in the economic interests of any of the G8 countries to do anything which might place the fate of Africa in the hands of Africans themselves. G8, if it is anything, is business pure and simple. A club of the rich and powerful the job of which is to ensure the continuation of its wealth and power. A charitable organisation it most certainly is not.

The European Community's Common Agricultural Policy is probably more of a long term threat to Africa than Mugabe et al and yet somehow, I can't quite see France turning its back on its farming lobby. Votes lost there would far outweigh any gained by the opposite course of action.

G8 countries, or more exactly the corporations based therein, control a huge slice of African economies and we aren't talking technology here, we are concerned with the G8 control of agriculture and staple foodstuffs, cocoa in the Ivory Coast and maize in South Africa. Countries rich in natural resources and minerals like the Congo are at the mercy of the G8 companies who control them. No amount of debt relief is going to make any difference to these situations whatsoever.

And as for the debt relief itself. Oh dear. Unconditional it isn't. Proposals at the moment make any debt relief contigent upon taking steps recommended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, institutions with an excellent track record of protecting the interests of donor (G8) countries and with no interest whatsoever in handing any degree of economic power and control to those countries forced to follow their directives. Free trade is not an issue as long as it cuts only the one way. Their markets must be opened to our multi-nationals while protectionism thrives at home. Tony Blair, our touchy-feely Uncle Tony, so concerned about ethics and foreign policy that he threw his weight behind the privatisation of the water supply in Ghana and made a lot of British investors very happy indeed. He listens alright. Just not to Joe Soap is all. The British trade in arms to Africa has been worth over 1 billion. How many stealth taxes would Gordon need to introduce if that lot disappeared? And we still want to stop the wars?

Another proposal, as I understand it, is that for every dollar 'given' as debt relief, that self same dollar will be taken out of the country in question's aid budget. A wonderful little bit of legerdemain that probably won't make the headlines.

And the G8 itself? More like the G1 plus 7. I would trust about 70% of the population of the US to make the right decision on just about anything you care to mention but as long as these people have no voice, as long as they are removed from the democratic process and their views remain unrepresented, our trust will have to reside in that chimp George W and his neo-con cohorts. Does that thought fill you with optimism?

My biggest gripe with the whole Live8 thing is that it has given people the luxury of allowing themselves to feel that they have in some way made a difference and can salve their consciences with the thought that by attending, they were expressing their solidarity with the people of Africa. Well, maybe they were but let's not kid ourselves that the things that may have been achieved are anything other than minimalist window dressing.

When Africa decides to follow the examples burgeoning right now in South America and says, "No mas", only then will I allow myself to feel a flash of hope and optimism.

Until then, "Put your hands in the air!"

Saturday, July 02, 2005


I wake up. Slowly. Idris is back and she is hoovering.

"Why do you always do that when I have a hangover?"

"Because I do it in the morning?"


Friday, July 01, 2005


Froggy and Idris have gone to her mother's and I am home alone.

The first crack of thunder jolts me out of my TV watching semi-awareness and seconds later all the lights go out. My first thought is for the PC. Yes, I had left it on.

Suddenly, all hell breaks loose. Doors and windows slam and there is white noise. I rush round closing all the windows and notice it is hailing. Not quite golf balls but it is close. There is a bang outside. A ladder I had left propped up against a wall has been blown down narrowly missing my motorbike as it descended. The windows in the conservatory are open. They open horizontally at the top of the frame and the blinds are down and flapping wildly. I try to roll them up but the wind is too strong. I shall have to close the windows.

Spoons. I can't close them from the inside as I had opened them fully, taking the metal retaining slider off in order to open them to their full extent. I shall have to go outside. I am naked and it is urgent.

Ouch. Ouch fucking ouch. Think a sadistic acupuncturist with more arms than Shiva and you would still not be anything approximating close.

The terrace is already aflood and I notice that most of the plants have already been forced into a very low altitude drooping posture so I decide to leave them there.

I dash back inside and the hail turns to rain. Sheets of it. I look out front and the road is awash. The drainage ditch which but a few minutes before had been empty is now bursting its banks and I start to consider taking the engine out of the Trabant to improve its bouyancy. I have visions of floating off in the direction of the Croatian border perched on its roof with my dog and single malt collection.

I am setting up candles in the room when I hear a dripping sound. Well, I say dripping, splashing would be closer. I track it down to the conservatory. I can only see by lightning flash, illuminating everything for a brief moment of utter clarity but by moving around, the impact of water on my body gives me an accurate idea of where the leaks are.

For the second time in a week, I dash round in search of buckets and then I have one of those light bulb cartoon moments. It's the conservatory, right? There are plants in the conservatory, are there not?

I hoick all the cane furniture into the house to dry and rearrange the floral layout. It is undoubtedly not pretty, as I discovered when the power returned but it was pretty damned effective at both damage control and simultaneous irrigation. Job done.

I go into the study. To be near my single malt collection. Just in case.