Sunday, January 29, 2006

Been there, ton that...

For one of London's legendary venues, the 100 Club doesn't sit in quite the most atmospheric or awesome of environments.
Famous name it may be, but then, so are Top Man, Virgin Megastore and, er, Shoe Express, but no one would claim these near-neighbours were these days exactly the stuff of rock'n'roll rebelry (sorry, Sir Richard...)
Yet the 100 Club, the name just resonates, even for those who - like me, until yesterday - knew the place vaguely from clocking the insubstantial street sign while bustling with the best of the Saturday morning shopping tourists, but more vividly from a collection of superlative late-70s/early-80s live recordings by the likes of The Jam and The Clash.
So it was that I half-expected my first actual visit to the echtness of the 100 Club to be punctuated by occasional yelps by the introductory, irritating Robert Elms, but thankfully the world has moved on since those dim, distant days (when I was barely a toddler, yet have tried to reclaim such heady, halcyon days of musical beauty before the post-punk, noo-Romantic-ushering-in Eighties which Franz Ferdinand and Simon Goddard have now ill-advisedly resurrected...)
I was full of trepidation, though, last night, upon entering. The 100 Club as I've heard of it, has been made legendary by the Pistols, the noo-wavers, then the 90s indie upstarts such as Suede, the Auteurs, Oasis, Blur and a reclaimed Paul Weller.
Yet on further research (ie. Googling - wherever would we be without it?), I found the place had much more, er, rootsier roots in jazz and various offshoots of the musical genre which I've tried, oh yes, I've tried, to tolerate - but always end up subscribing to the Rich Hall/'Otis Lee Crenshaw verdict that "Jazz ain't nothin' but the sound of a blues quartet falling down a long flight of stairs..."
Or, alternatively... a brand of music which consists mainly of a group of men, with their eyes tightly shut, and taking turns to stand up...
I was sort-of-pleasant pacified, though, by the starring role last night of Ben Waters and his Boogie-Woogie band, an expert collection of plonky piano, shimmering strings and just-about-bearable honking saxophones, on songs many of which sounded suspiciously similar to each other - but the inclusion of a leisurely-yet-seductively-loose 'You Never Can Tell' helped mop up most moaning...
And 'tis a lovely venue. Plenty of tables and chairs, neither too fetching nor too fulsome, but if you could nab a spot in front of stage, early doors, you'd be best advised to stick to it like students' spilled Stella, for not just the live performances but the hours of taped James Brown too.
We just about missed out on the last seats but found a centre-located wall upon which to studiously prop ourselves, occasionally nodding and bopping in time to the groove, and casting sardonic eyes over the swing-dancing, peroxide-Purdey-cut couples cavorting in any square-half-metre of dancefloor that occasionally happened to appear...
I was a little disappointed by the scarcity of headwear, probably because an impeccably-dapper older gentleman strolled insouciantly across our path barely minutes after arriving, an ever-darker black tape caressing his pork pie hat all the way around and somehow suggesting at least a few dancefloor dashes were inevitable before the night was through.
Yet, instead, he merely smoothed his dusky salt-and-pepper goatee. And again. Then several times more. Unfurled a beady, penetrative gaze across the room, nodded almost-imperceptibly to himself, and then silently sneaked off towards destination unknown.
Of course, like buses, thence followed a succession of Bugsy-borrowing, pork-pie-plonked wannabe jazzsters, but after Ben and his saxy, sassy (well, sort of... some of them... almost...) boogie-woogie-icians (not really, purely jazz, I'm delighted to report), had strode off the stage, through the audience, and back to their bevy of gruesome groupies (well, I mean...), the place almost-emptied rather sharpish and it was left to us few devoted stragglers to enjoy, and indluge in, and happily smirk at the 'disco' selection of such as 'Poison Ivy' by the Paramounts and 'Expressway To Your Heart' by the Amen Corner.
And as those latters almost sang elsewhere:

If paradise is half as nice ... well, it'll do.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The not-so-magnificent sevens...

I have been tagged.
Thanks, Jawbox fella, no really...
Still, it would be rude to ignore, so here goes. For what it's worth.
Or - more honestly - isn't...

Seven things to do before I die:
1) Tour eastern Europe.
2) Buy a banjo.
3) Make my fortune with electric-blanket-style jackets.
4) Read beyond the first book of Remembrance Of Times Past.
5) Perform in Nashville.
6) See Tottenham win the league.
7) Master the art of time travel.
Seven things I cannot do:
1) Draw.
2) Dance.
3) Drink tea.
4) Sudoku.
5) Change a tyre.
6) Listen to jazz.
7) Read Catch-22.
Seven things that attract me to... London:
1) Waterloo Bridge.
2) The Bloomsbury squares south of Euston station.
3) The Open Air Theatre at Regents Park
4) The view of the Wembley Arch and Neasden Temple from the North Circular.
5) Camden Lock.
6) The Kinks room and the Spurs satellite streams in the Clissold Arms.
7) The moral end of the Seven Sisters Road.
Seven things I say:
1) "Lovely stuff."
2) “Sorry I’m late, the train…�
3) “Fine, ta.�
4) “Enjoy!�
5) “Bonnet da Douche, as they say in the Basque…�
6) “Get in the game.�
7) “That’s a great story, have you got any more?�
Seven books that I love:
1) Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass
2) Franz Kafka, The Castle
3) Patrick Hamilton, The Midnight Bell
4) Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime And Punishment
5) George Orwell, Keep The Aspidistra Flying
6) Jonathan Coe, The Rotter’s Club
7) Giovanni Guareschi, The Little World Of Don Camillo
Seven movies that I've loved:
1) Bonnie And Clyde
2) Unforgiven
3) The Apartment
4) The Muppet Movie
5) Ninotchka
6) Goodfellas
7) Punch Drunk Love
Seven people to tag:
1) NotesfromN4 Mike
2) Being Sam Carberry
3) Overnight Editor
4) Think, Think, Think Beth
5) Insane Ramblings Clare
6) Musings In A Metropolis Clara
7) Lyndon

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Nothing to see here, people...

... and certainly nothing to suggest that, eleven years today, Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons hollered anything more incendiary than 'Off you go, Cantona - it's an early bath for you...'
And yet, here is the over-reaction it occasioned, alongside a fair few more tasty-looking tackles...
Though somehow missing the same night's grievous bodily harm on Jurgen Klinsmann, by Mark Bosnich (a popular figure at White Hart Lane always, oh yes...), and the earlier attack on Patrick Battiston by Harald Schumacher, at the 1982 World Cup - how the man still walks the streets freely, I shall never know...
But, anyway... Er, enjoy...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"The spies came out of the water..."


Those cheeky Russkis certainly have a lot of damned gall.
Not content with ruining the Premiership through the lavish Chelsea spending of Roman Abramovich (the Harvey Nichols of football club-buying oligarchs), then cruelly encouraging the hopes of deluded Pompey fans with the promises of Alexandre Gaydamak (the Lidl of...)
No, now they're loudly claiming to have caught 'red-handed' four evil British spies masquerading as mild-mannered Moscow embassy diplomats.
Their crimes? The cunning use of a 'dead drop' box, packed with high-tech transmitters yet disguised as a roadside rock. And the donation of, ooh, thousands of pounds to non-governmental lobbying groups.
Hmm, forgive me I don't quite see the James Bond script literally writing itself as an uncontrollable impulse from me recounting these exploits, but still...
Yet as the picture above demonstrates, this is not all one-way traffic.
Only mere months ago Aleksei Burikov was boasting of his astonishing achievements in the until-now-neglected sphere of turtle espionage. Burikov - who, you will not be over-surprised to learn, is Russian - actually works as head of biology at the Rostov State Pedagogical University near Siberia, and has been slaving the last few years to train these dastardly double agents of the future - from Russia with love...
Okay, so these unlikely undercover agents may be no match for our own 007 in his turbo-charged chases, but they make up for any lack of speed with their surprising stealth.
The turtle spies are directed by electronic devices which send vibrations through their shells.
Cameras can be fitted to the shells, allowing them to send back reconnaissance pictures.
And these mechanic mini-Philbys could - apparently - even be trained to plant bombs or deposit recording devices.
Ingenious, eh? To strike at us how we least suspect, with enemy agents more pond-life than Bond-like.
They would not, of course, be the first water creatures sent into combat.
The US Navy used dolphins and sea lions in Vietnam and the Gulf to
protect warships and track attackers.
Trained whales have also managed to find a dummy torpedo at 500 metres
and attach a recovery device.
Above ground, British forces used about 250,000 pigeons to send messages to the front
during the Second World War – the most reliable performers were awarded military honours.

(Hmm... I wonder whether this might make a franchise...
THE PIGEON
CODENAME: GOLDFEATHER
USED BY: French troops during the 1871 Franco-Prussian War.
MISSION: Airlifted over Prussian lines then sent back to under-siege Paris with microdot photos of Prussian defences.
GADGETS: A simple pouch - one US pigeon given an aerial camera around his neck returned on foot two days later, unable to fly.
STRENGTHS: Dedication. One bird, called Cher Ami, saved 200 US soldiers by delivering the last of 12 messages from Verdun in October 1918 - despite being shot through the breast.
WEAKNESSES: Adept at evading enemy fire - but not so good at surviving birds of prey.

THE RAT
CODENAME: SQUEAK-SQUEAK-BANG-BANG
USED BY: Belgian research group APOPO, which trained Gambian giant pouched rats to sniff out mines.
MISSION: Began searching for landmines in Mozambique last January.
GADGETS: A harness and rope attached to the rats as they scamper about - stopping to scratch where they sense explosives.
STRENGTHS: Small enough to avoid setting off any mines. They have a highly sensitive sense of smell and are trained to associate the scent of explosives with a food reward.
WEAKNESSES: They have very poor eyesight and can carry disease - they have been blamed for a 2003 outbreak of the monkeypox virus in the US.

THE DOLPHIN
CODENAME: BLOWHOLE
USED BY: US military.
Missions: Patrolling and protecting Trident submarines and warships; detecting mines around Iraqi ports; escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers.
GADGETS: Dart guns, controlled by electrodes under the dolphin's skin and
in a special neck harness.
STRENGTHS: One of the world's most intelligent non-human creatures. Uses acute sonar to intercept enemy messages.
WEAKNESSES: Many trained dolphins were feared lost at sea after being washed out of their compound by Hurricane Katrina last September.)


But still, I do find it a little rich for the Russians to start cranking up another Cold War - or at least, mildly chilly tiff - over a rather basic misconception of Moscow street furniture, all the while fine-tuning a fighting force of terrifying, even terrorist turtles under cover of academic research.

Forget the acres of sympathetic Press coverage of the "People's Whale" (reaching its baffling peak - or nadir - with yesterday's four-page Evening Standard souvenir supplement).
This unexpected intruder was merely the unfortunate advance party, for a more devastating band of aquatic attackers whose first onslaught has surely only been speeded up by the latest Moscow revelations.

'The Russians are coming', our Cold War-dwelling ancestors used to warn.

I'm afraid we've meandered even further into dangerous territory now.
Tell all your friends: 'The Russian turtles are coming...'

Run for your lives.
Though walking may just prove fast enough, too, I suppose...

England calling...



Dear &*$%s in charge of football, (to paraphrase Pete'n'Dud),
Please give this man his rightful job back.
Now.
Thanks very much,
Aidan

Papier mache of the day...


As espionage experts, Russian history professors, virtually everyone employed by Jane's Defence Group from executive editor down to tealady, emerged onto our airwaves today, interestingly analysing the ramifications of this Russia spy story.

And my worthwhile input? Why, to discover how precisely to create one of those spy-devices-disguised-as-rocks of your very ownsome, Blue Peter style and mostly involving - if not a complex system of levers and pulleys - then certainly your basic papier mache model. And some sticky-back plastic if you really do insist...

Okay, so it was one of my more bizarre, if at heart mundane, tasks. Certainly not up to the standards of Sunday morning's (inevitably hungover) mission: to research the recent outfits of the lovely Scarlett Johansson, following Woody Allen's criticisms of her for, incredibly, appearing to 'dress like my Aunt Minnie'.
That is, I had to research and 'analyse' (wearing my lesser-spotted 'fashion hat') photographs of her recent public appearances, rather than actually try on said costumes themselves. Which would have veered just too disconcertingly into Oatenesque territory...
Ah, but she is a bit of a stunner... It was a tough job, but someone had to do it...
But anyway, yesterday's idle meandering mission didn't quite reach such rarified airs.

Yet you do learn something new every day, to coin a cliche (which itself is coining a cliche, but anyway...)
For example, I never knew before that such a thing as the Papier Mache Network existed, a website devoted solely to papier mache and all who love it. Of whom there seem to be surprisingly many. Including the leader, Jackie Hall, who was kind enough to send me the most detailed of instructions... (The Blue Peter press office having churlishly yet adamantly insisted on having nothing, but nothing, to do with such a silly stunt...)

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Bond films in my youth. Well, any Bond films, in fact, since I have the proud record of watching not a single one. Ever. Honest.
That's the major blank blot in my cultural experience thus far, and I have to admit, I'm entirely nonplussed by the occasional stares and scorn directed my way upon such an admission. Just have no interest at all in any Bond film, and I hope and trust it ever stays that way.
I think it's a David Lodge, or maybe a John Sutherland, campus novel, which features an oh-so-middle-class dinner party where guests try to outdo each other by naming classic works they have somehow failed to either see or read, and which culminates in the head of a university English department trumping the lot by admitting he has never read, not watched, Hamlet.
Well, I have done both, at least. But Bond is my wilful blind spot. Alongside other such iconic films as, say, Casablanca, Titanic, the three Star Wars prequels and ET. I somehow suspect I'm justified on each case of neglect, Casablanca aside, yet still feel, now I've got that off my chest, I should hurry on with what you've all been waiting for...

Yes, that's right - those papier mache instructions in full. Enjoy!

Firstly, decide what dimensions you need for the inside of the rock.
(Make sure it is big enough to hold all the components you will need).
Next, find a strong cardboard box the size you require. (Preferably one with an opening lid, but if not, cut open the box in such a way as to create a lid and tape up the other sides). If you don’t have a box the right size, make one up out of double corrugated cardboard and tape the sides together with masking tape. (Don’t use sellotape as the papier mache will not stick to it. If you have to make the lid yourself, or you want to strengthen the existing one, stick a strip of strong parcel tape, fabric, or even a piece of leather along the fold.
When you have your internal box finished, coat it inside and out with diluted pva glue. (50/50) This will help to strenghten the box and seal it against the moisture of the papier mache which will otherwise distort the shape.
You now need to make the base of your rock. Cut an irregular shape out of double corrugated cardboard or hardboard if you need extra weight.
Seal with the pva in the same way as you did the box. If using wood, seal with varnish. Leave to dry. Place your internal box in the centre. Glue firmly in place.
Before starting work on the outside, tightly fill the internal box with newspaper or old rags to help support the papier mache during the building up. (Wet papier mache is very heavy!)
To make the rock all around the outside, and on top of the lid, use broken pieces of polystyrene (cereal packets are excellent for this!)
Press all the polystyrene chunks into place and tape securely with plenty of masking tape. Cut strips of cardboard and tape these horizontally and vertically to form “ribs�. (Cereal packets are excellent for this!) When covering the lid, extend it a little all around to hide the straight lines, making sure that they marry up with the rest of the rock below.
To fill in the smaller spaces, take pieces of newspaper and scrunch them up into little balls. Push these in between the ribs and push in gently but firmly wherever they are needed. Cover with more masking tape.
Now tear up some strips of newspaper (about an inch wide by about 3 – 4 inches long). Make up some wallpaper paste as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Add a small amount of pva glue to the paste to give it extra strength.
Paste one piece of newspaper at a time (both sides), using a wide paintbrush. Place the strip down gently over the framework and smooth out any air bubbles with your fingers. Cover with 2 or 3 layers (alternating the direction of the strips) then leave to dry thoroughly.
Build up the layers like this until you have about 10 – 12 layers. Make sure the rock is thoroughly dry in between each session. You can speed up the drying time by placing it outside on a breezy day, or by placing it in front of an electric fan.
Coat the whole rock with a couple of coats of white emulsion paint. This will give you a good surface to paint on and will kill the newsprint.
Paint the rock in a variety of colours. Sprinkle a little sand into the paint to give the rock a bit of texture. Study some pictures of rocks to get authenticity. Paint in some shading lines around the rock, particularly diagonally, taking a line or two right down through the lid and base, so taking the eye away from the join.
Finally, varnish with an outdoor waterproof varnish for protection.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Actually, now I think about it...

(and I do...)

Perhaps this whale story isn't such a cute one, after all. Look how close it got to the Houses of Parliament, after all... Curious coincidence? Maybe not.

Considering the Government's crackdown on terror, and the Met's secretly-slipped-in shoot-to-kill policy, is the best response really for family crowds to gather billing and cooing at this surprise visitor?

It could, after all, be a Trojan, er, whale packed with Al Qaida explosives...?

Hmm. Very sad it now seems to be struggling deep down there in the water. I hope he/she survives and is looked after well, by the right people.
If it is indeed an innocent whale.

But we do know the species has form.
Whales were, of course, some of Hitler's biggest supporters.
They were all Nazis, they were at Nuremburg...
Or at least, so I once heard...

Typical, innit...


... as the shutters get ready to close on the transfer window, and every other club is rushing to introduce expensive new signings, Spurs call a Press conference to unveil: a new badge...

Actually, I do like it. Very old-school, as the nicely-written accompanying announcement explains... Okay, so the football looks a little more like a basketball, or even a beachball, but apparently that's what they used to look like - and indeed, still do, as the cock-and-balls made out of gold and perched on top of the White Hart Lane stadium would attest...

And I don't buy some few's criticism that the new Cockerel looks more suited to appearing on a box of Cornflakes. Compare him to the lackadaisical, sloppy unprofessional fowl on the old badge (dating back to Scholar in the 1980s, lest we forget, as opposed to some age-old traditional emblem...), and this one looks slightly more impressive. And can obviously trap and control a ball more confidently than Goran Bunjevcevic...

There had been speculation the 'Audere est Facere' of the old badge would be replaced by an English translation, 'To dare is to do'. I'm glad that has happened, not simply for the old dumbing-down argument but because it looked unnecessary and naff. But again, the 'Audere est facere' was a Scholar addition, making this Guardian take on the new badge utterly, utterly senseless and snidey. A quote from someone totally unconnected with the club, about something no-one else seems to be raising, and bringing in oh-so-switched-on namechecking of a player who's never played for Tottenham. Apart from all that, top journalism...

But anyway. I would much prefer a new £10million centre-forward or left-winger, of course.

Is this badge going to score us goals while Mido is playing in the African Nations' Cup? Or manage to burst into at least a jog with a little more urgency than the ponderous Andy Reid? Or manage to use its left foot at least once in a game, ie. once more than our strangely wrong-footed left-back Lee Young-Pyo?

Well, would be nice to imagine so. An increasingly-surreal conversation while watching last Saturday's defeat at Liverpool managed to dwell at baffling length on the benefits of playing a whale at left-back, to show more mobility and at least obstructive bulk to confront any overlapping opponents.

Though, thinking about it, perhaps it would make more sense just to plonk the whale right in front of our goal. Well, it's a tactic which has never been tried before in the English game, to the best of my knowledge...

Perhaps this unlikely visitor has come to London for a trial...?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Name that film... in just a few simple lines...

The voice you hear is not my speaking voice, but my mind's voice.
I have not spoken since I was six years old.
No one knows why, not even me.
My father says it is a dark talent, and the day I take it into my head to stop breathing will be my last.
Today he married me to a man I've not yet met.'

Soon, my daughter and I shall join him in his own country.
My husband said my muteness does not bother him.
He writes, and hark this, God loves dumb creatures and why not he!

Were good he had God's patience, for silence effects everyone in the end.

Paddington station.
Over here, my lovely!

Right lads, unbutton your muftis.

Piss like a tom.

Jesus Christ, whose bloody coffin is this?

Christ, it's heavy!

Leave them behind, it's what they fucking want.

Aye, leave them and be lynched for the pleasure?


Yes, that's right.
It's Wallace and Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.

'An Aardman Animations production' is not sufficient...

Well, I suppose it serves me right, for giving in to the on-every-street-corner dodgy DVD hawkers during my recent trip to Shanghai, but stock up I well and truly did, and unfortunately not every disc appears to be entirely satisfactory...

I succumbed yesterday to the indulgence of a day off-sick, with presumably not bird 'flu, more likely just bloke 'flu (debilitating though it undoubtedly is...), and cracked open a few of the Chinese cases for the first time.
Fortunately, for all the English subtitles which must have stumbled in somehow from another film entirely (answers on a postcard, please...) the speaking itself was in our mother tongue so was perfectly understandable.
Well, reasonably so, for the most part, anyway... (They did appear to be speaking 'Northern' an awful lot, but still...)

Sadly no such joy with the Batman Begins and Harry Potter discs, of which I'd also stocked up, largely to distribute as Christmas gifts to those more interested than myself (other purchases included Lost In Translation, the Godfather trilogy, Punch-Drunk Love, The Graduate, The Manchurian Candidate and many, many more...)

Sadly, the afore-mentioned ones I've tested were not just subtitled in obtuse English but dubbed in even more (to me, at least) obtuse Chinese.

Batman Begins also seems to have slipped a different set of subtitles - perhaps subversively, perhaps just cack-handedly - into the wrong film.
How else to explain this translation of a key, tenser-than-intense conversation between Christian Bale's Batman and Gary Oldman's someday-to-be-Commissioner Gordon, over the best crime-fighting tactics to deploy in the dire straits in which they find themselves...?

Shut up, shut up.
- Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!
Shut up, shut up.
- Look, he's in the metal shop. I repeat, the metal shop. Go.
Shut up, and get against the rail.


I'd say, if he does make a wholly-unwanted comeback in a sequel (and how crassly-cute was the ending to this one? Bah, surely a thankless task awaits anyone foolish enough to take it on), then with strategy-forming like this from the powers-that-be, The Joker has very little to fear...

At least the Harry Potter subtitlers appeared to have done their level best to match their words to the film itself - albeit with little legible success.
Here, for example, is Headmaster Dumbledore introducing a visiting school to his Hogwarts assembly...
'Keep them wait to wait in a short while gently. Persia lovely girl of an evil law school of ba, still there is their president ma can fix the boon madam...'

While here is a blistering row between Ron and Harry...

'I did not enter the flames cup to the name hurl.
- I saw calculate, the elder brothers of iron who connect you all do not tell.
Tell you what.
- You know it in heart.
I also do not figure out such matter. Luo does the boon understand.
- You how so silly.
I am silly.
- Luo's boon, weislai Harry. The wave is especially the silly friend.'

Ouch. Boys, boys...

But for true heart-scorching passion, how about the first love'n'lust-drenched soiree of Harry and the Oriental objection of his affections, Cho Chang...

This helps the ragamuffin.
- You return true fastidious ugly tail.

Ah, young love...

It's almost like watching - that is, reading - Casablanca, innit...

Speaking of which, that's one of the other DVDs I bought out there.

I just haven't been able to bring myself towards putting it into the language-mangling machine just yet...

Play it, Sam?

Well, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow - but someday...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Time time time, see what's become of me...

Funny indeed the diversions down which a mere Google-ing will send you... Just can't believe this Winnie The Pooh copyright case is still thrashing on, many years hence from the original deals, despite the apparent incapacity of the one authentic surviving Milne-r, and, the sudden Disney extravagances inflicted on the poor bear of very little brain, for his 80th birthday...
For example, a girlfriend replacing Christopher Robin. How obvious, I just can't believe all entranced readers have somehow managed otherwise for the past eight decades...
Oh, and the latest Pooh cinema franchise film not only namechecking, but featuring the Heffalump. Whose identity and realism was always meant to remain enchantingly ambiguous, schurely...?
Ah, but anyway...
Back to the money...
What a messy court case it seems...
Albeit lucrative for some... Someone... Somewhere... Sometime soon - or maybe not...

"I'm worth how much?" said Pooh.
"More than a million pounds," replied Christopher Robin.
"Oh," said Pooh.
"I just wonder how many jars of honey one might buy with one million pounds," Pooh pondered, patting his stomach.
"I think I must be worth two million pounds," said Piglet helpfully, looking up at Christopher Robin.
"Well," went on Christopher Robin, "Rabbit said he heard from his friends and relations about a big argument over who owned Pooh Bear and who should get the Royal Teas from anything with his picture on it."
"I see," said Pooh, who did not, really.
"I think I would rather like some Royal Tea with my honey this afternoon."
"And me!", squeaked Piglet, who had been listening very hard for his name but was very happy and surprised to hear Christopher Robin say it.
"Of course, there have been films about Pooh and Tigger and Piglet," came a very sad-sounding voice from outside Pooh's house.
"But no-one wants to make a film about Eeyore.
"No-one cares to even stop and talk to Eeyore.
"They just keep on making films about Pooh and Piglet and Tigger."
Pooh, Piglet and Christopher Robin looked outside to see who had spoken.
Then, seeing it was only Eeeyore, went back in.
Christopher Robin produced a piece of paper from his pocket and said it explained everything except who would win and what it was really all for in the end anyway.
Pooh nodded.
Then he decided to explain a Very Good Idea.
"I think I know what we have to do about this," Pooh said.
"I think we must ask Owl."
So they set off for Owl's house, knowing he was Very Clever Indeed because he could spell Tuesday and write his own name.
"Aaaaah!" said Owl when they arrived, and then: "Oh, it’s you."
"And me!", said Piglet.
"Indeed," said Owl, who was Very Good at noticing people who had come to see him.
Then Pooh presented the Very Important Piece Of Paper, which they had found but could not yet understand. Yet.
Owl stayed very carefully silent.
He had not finished frowning, when Christopher Robin suddenly declared, he had heard the Very Important Piece Of Paper was called a Rit.
"Aaaah, yes," said Owl quickly.
"That is exactly what it is.
"I knew as soon as I saw it that this was a Rit because it is a Very Important Piece Of Paper, on which words have been Rit. By someone."
Pooh sighed.
They still did not seem very close to understanding why his name was on a Rit and why people seemed so cross and unhappy.
Besides, he wanted to get home.
He suddenly had a yearning to tuck into a Little Something he was sure was stored in a pot on his kitchen shelf.
Reading Rits and solving multi-million-pound legal Rangles involving multi-national corporations, literary descendants and high-powered lawyers was hungry business.
"I thought I belonged to everyone. I thought I was the world's favourite bear," Pooh said sadly.
"But then, I suppose I am a bear of very little brain."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

July 7, six months on...

It took Michael Henning two hours to get ready for work yesterday.
In fact, it took him six months - the harrowing period since he came close to death in the July 7 London bombings.
Hundreds of shards of glass hurtled into his eyes, face, arms and legs when his Circle Line train exploded just outside Aldgate.
But the hurt inside has been more shattering.
He has been tormented by nightmarish flashbacks, incessant echoes of dying-second screams which surrounded him, and ultimately a nervous breakdown.
Yet yesterday morning Michael gingerly took his first steps back into his City office - and back into the 'normal life' he longs somehow to recover.
Tomorrow will be six full months since the suicide attacks which killed 52 commuters, on three Tube trains and a London bus.
Michael thanks God for the 'split-second decision' which saved his life - though feels wracked by guilt by his survival, when so many more were not so lucky.
July 7, that lethal day, actually began with a petty row for Michael and his girlfriend Steph Moore.
As he shut the door of their Kensington flat behind him, though, he heard Steph anxiously call out: 'Don't die on your way to work.'
'I like to think I followed her instructions to the letter,' he ruefully smiled yesterday.
But it was a closer-run thing than either one could have imagined, as he set off for work in the City with her words ringing in his ears.
Twenty-four hours later, his scarred, blood-streaked, eyepatch-covered face would be dominating Metro's front page - accompanied by his shell-shocked message of defiance.
The 39-year-old Lloyd's broker had been standing just 8ft from suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer as he blew up a Circle Line train between Aldgate and Liverpool Street at 8.50am. Michael had almost boarded that fateful carriage at Tower Hill, but at the last second decided to enter the less-crowded next one along.
'That saved my life,' he said.
'I would always get in that carriage, but not that day - I don't know why. I've asked myself why me, why was I caught up in something like this? But then again, why did I survive?'
Yet he hopes his latest, painstaking step forward will help inspire other July 7 casualties who are 'struggling big-time' - and help warn against future atrocities.
He revealed: 'I have dialogues in my head with those who died. I like to think they're saying: "Life goes on, Michael."
'If we let only negativity to come out of something like this, then the terrorists win.
'The last six months have been so hard. Everything I do is in slow motion.
Getting ready for work was like wading through treacle.'
The physical pain has faded, the scars on his face now faint, most - though not all - of those glass splinters or chunks removed.
It has not been easy, though - far from it.
Michael said: 'I lost my father to leukaemia when I was 11 - I didn't deal with it properly at the time, but maybe now I am.
'I'm someone who always did the bloke's thing of bottling up my emotions.
'Not anymore. I can be sitting in a bar and suddenly find myself in tears.
'I've been crying an awful lot - in public, at home, at almost no prompting. Anything can trigger it.
'I went through a spell of having dreams about myself killing terrorists. And the flashbacks keep coming.
'Everything puts you on edge. Even sitting close to the glass of a window.
'I see explosions over and over again. I can't look at the sky and see a plane without imagining it blasting into flames.
'But the screams are the worst, they keep coming back to me.
'I've heard people scream before in panic, like on an aeroplane in Dusseldorf which suddenly filled up with smoke.
'But I'd never heard the screams of people dying before. I hope I never shall again. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.
'I've seen people trapped, covered in blood - with unbelievable despair in their eyes, and despair in their screams.'
'But I'm a lucky one. I'm still here. I haven't lost a limb or my entire life.
'I just want a normal life, which is why it feels so good to finally come into work.
'I feel quite buoyed, now I've done a few hours in the office. Just being here again is worth so much to me.'
A caffeine-packed cup of coffee to the good, a glass of red wine in front of him and that satisfying first morning back behind him, Michael began to open up about that awful aftermath in the carriage.
Recall more. Relax, even.
In the chaos which followed the blast, he had helped guide two fellow blood-drenched commuters towards the back of the train.
There, they had to explain to confused passengers what had happened.
One of the women Michael helped guide to safety later tracked him down, to thank him for his calm presence and soothing good sense.
He remains frustrated by the fact passengers had to evacuate themselves, with police and firefighters reluctant to rescue them for fear of a second bomb.
It was ten minutes before Michael and fellow survivors realised they would have to clamber over dismembered bodies and along the dark tunnel.
He said: 'No one panicked, which was amazing. Everyone just got on with it, helping each other out.
'I remember one man asking if anyone had seen his glasses. I picked up about three pairs, including his which were broken. But he said at least he could see out of one eye.'
But he is full of praise for how emergency services and hospital staff worked together throughout that day - and how victims even shared black humour to somehow cope.
Michael boarded a specially-arranged bus to the Royal London Hospital, saving the ambulances for the more grievously-injured.
He said: 'It was good idea to lay them on, though it felt a bit Monty Python-ish at the time.
'Everyone was in such a state of shock, but there were strange bits of humour flying about to help us get through it somehow.
'One man covered in soot asked if he could sit next to me. I told him: "No way - have you seen the state of yourself?"
'Then there was a little old lady who looked really nervous at the hospital. I made a comment about 'not another whingeing malingerer', and she looked up with such a relieved smile on her face.
'I'd only moved to London in March. My girlfriend later asked if this was the exciting London life I'd been expecting? Not quite.'
At one point in the hospital, Michael found himself wearing two identification bands for victims - one with the label, 'Dead'.
'When I noticed it, I had to explain to the nurse treating me - that old Mark Twain line, that the rumours of my death were greatly exaggerated.'
Most of the glass was removed and he was discharged that same day - though he can still feel a fragment deep inside the back of his neck.
'There was so much of it - filling up my pockets, penetrating my bag. When I got home I rolled off my sock to find an ankle injury no one had even noticed.
'On the bus, one of the ladies had tried to show me my injuries in her make-up compact, but I just couldn't take it all in at the time.'
Before getting a lift home, he had stopped for a cup of tea at the East London Mosque, where appalled Muslims rushed to sympathise.
'I was so glad I went there, to know there are an awful lot of good Muslims who hated what happened.'
But a later return trip had to be cancelled when armed police surrounded the mosque in a security alert.
Michael was also caught up in the high-profile arrests of two suspects in the July 21 failed attacks, who were captured on his estate in Kensington.
'I couldn't believe it. Terror seemed to be following me,' he said.
'When I heard police blow down the suspects' door, I knew it was an explosion, but didn't want to admit it. I told my girlfriend someone on a construction site must have dropped something.
'But I knew inside just what the sound really was.'
Yet while some of his friends remain too afraid to travel by public transport, boarding a train held no fears for him yesterday.
Michael insists he would have happily travelled home by Tube on July 7, had all services not been cancelled.
He first travelled a train again six weeks after the attacks - urging himself on by imagining another dialogue, this time with Tanweer.
'I told him: "You looked at me that day, and you thought you were going to kill me. But you didn't." I suddenly felt brave and went to stand where he was on that carriage.
'I travel by Tube now and think, my instincts will save me again - just like they did last time.
'It did take me a bit of time, though, to feel confident enough about playing my MP3 player - I wanted to keep all my senses about me at first.'
But an attempt to return to work in September proved too much, too soon - and he collapsed with a nervous breakdown.
He also suspects the relapse was triggered by the release of footage, showing the bombers' 'dry run' a week before the attacks.
'Their body language really rankled with me,' Michael said.
'I couldn't believe they could be so calculated, and look so cocky with the knowledge of what they were going to do.
'I had tried to move too quickly, really. My body said no, it's too much - I've been constantly exhausted ever since.
'I can barely concentrate on reading, on sleeping, or on relaxing. I'm not good at chilling out, but I'm learning to be.'
Michael has so far stayed away from the support groups set up for July 7 survivors, but may attend a meeting scheduled for the end of this month.
'Until now, I haven't felt up to it, really. But I've called the special helpline set up, quite a lot in December.
'Now I'm feeling more ready to make contact. There are a lot of us in the same boat - struggling big-time.
'I just want my normal life back, and the energy to do things again.
'December was very difficult. I said to my counsellor, how can I still be struggling, it's been five months now? He told me: "Five months is nothing."
'But Christmas was a real struggle - trying to relax with family and friends, but thinking of all those homes now with someone missing this year, an empty place around the table.
'It feels so bad, trying to find something positive from such a horrific event. But I'm determined this will make me a better person.
'Just talking about what happened can make the event more real for people who weren't there - and encourage people to be more vigilant.
'That front page seemed to touch so many people. They come up to me and shake my hand, say congratulations - for what? But it seemed to sum up London's spirit.
'There is so much beauty around - so much worth getting up for in the morning.
'I'm thankful to God for each extra day I have. I was given a second chance. I really appreciate that.'
* Anyone traumatised by the July 7 attacks can call a special helpline on 0845 054 7444, or visit www.7julyassistance.org.uk.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Top cats, ugly mogs...

As if any further proof was needed of my woeful blog-novice-ness, but I will defiantly here link to a site which has surged its way round the, er, blogosphere several strillion times since last May, but which I do believe I may be about to give its first English national newspaper page lead... So. Yay. Go me... Or not, as the case most certainly may be...
But anyway, I do like
Kittenwar. And Fraser Lewsy's imaginative and entertaining, well, other sites (there are a few, the blog the best...) Gets the old green-eyed monster firing phaser-like optical lasers all the way across this shabby desk and into the dead-soulless-centre of the stained and scratched monitor screen...
But, anyway, before it gets the Changing Rooms renovation treatment by my friendly local sub, here is my hack-alias account of a little online chat with the Kittenwar creator...

NB - anyone reading this (should there be such a being, somewhere, anywhere), please do vote for ma boys,
Barney and Tots together, or else just Barney, or if you can't manage that, well, Tots, or indeed my favourite Tots again, scandalously under-rated - aaah, just do it - as another advertising cipher-someone almost said, 'they're worth it...'

CATFIGHTS have never been quite this cute before.
More than 25,000 of the world's prettiest kittens have been fiercely waging war in cyberspace - and bringing office work to a standstill.
Kittenwar.com, one Londoner's online beauty contest for cats, randomly pits two kittens against one another and invites visitors to choose their favourite.
All results are stored, allowing pet-owners to keep track of how well their own is doing.
As of yesterday, 25,422 kittens had fought out 43,818,277 'kittenwars'.
Fraser Lewry, Kittenwar's creator, said: 'I'm a cat-lover and noticed that emailing a picture of a cute kitten round the office would prompt a chorus of "awwws" and "aaahs" from even the most stern of colleagues.
'I think it's because kittens have a magical, placating effect on people - if kittens were used during the peace negotiations in Iraq, our troops would already be home.
'So I thought I'd harness this power and combine it with the brutality of war, giving people a chance to submit their own pictures and discover how cute others found their pets.
'It is kind of addictive - I get emails from people who tell me they played for an hour, and 99 per cent of their selections tallied with what the majority of others thought.'
Although it makes no money, the site has proved so popular he aims to start selling Kittenwar merchandise such as calendars and T-shirts.
Porn star Asia Carerra is among those to submit entries, and her tastefully-shot Kitten Little briefly topped the 'winningest kitten' chart.
Others are not so fortunate - the aptly-named Scary Cat has lost 5,438 battles, winning just 842 and drawing 761.
Fraser does not actually own a cat himself, since his Kilburn flat does not have a garden.
'I think cats should be free to climb trees, bury their dirt in the soil and slaughter birds,' he said.
'I suspect if I ever do get a place with a garden, I'll become known locally as an eccentric weirdo with a house full of cats, who probably smells a bit funny.'
But his site's global appeal prompted him to set up two more - The Daily Kitten, which allows comments, and Cats In Sinks, devoted to, well, cats in sinks.
Perhaps inevitably, a similar site called Puppywar has followed.
Fraser said: 'It's nothing to do with us, although I'm happy to see it do well.
'I've also had requests to create similar sites for rabbits, babies and, rather strangely, owls.' For now, Fraser is keeping faith with kittens - but for one exception.
He revealed: 'Somewhere on the Kittenwar site is a very cute baby elephant we let slip through the net.
'I get emails complaining about this every day, from concerned cat-lovers who don't want to see a precedent set.'