30 June 2007

Robyn time again

Robyn Hitchcock is playing a benefit for Medecins sans Frontieres tonight at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell. This time he'll be playing Sgt Pepper (last time it was Piper at the Gates of Dawn). Photos to follow as usual.

Bloody hell this will be the fourth time I've seen him in just over six months (December for his last MSF benefit, January on regular tour with the Venus 3, Last month when he recreated Pink Floyd's Games for May concert and tonight!). Some people might say I'm obsessed. The not-wife loves Robyn too but would rather hear him play his own stuff and not Beatles covers.

An experiment

This looks like an interesting idea. Let's see if it works.


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It’s been remiss of me not to post about Tony Blair’s departure and Gordon Brown’s arrival and his new cabinet. In brief:

  • I am grateful to Blair for three successive election victories
  • I am grateful for ten years of economic stability - there has been none of the boom and bust that was a dubious highlight of 18 years of Tory rule.
  • I am delighted that peace has come at long last to Northern Ireland

There are other things that pleased me but sadly quite a few that didn’t. Number one was getting tangled up in Iraq. It struck me right from the beginning that it would be a mess. I really wish I had been proved wrong.

Many of Brown’s cabinet appointments were very predictable: Alistair Darling at the Treasury, Jack Straw at Justice again (he had been Home Secretary in Blair’s first government) and promotions for Ed Balls and the brothers Miliband came as no surprise. He still managed a few appointments out of left field: I would never have predicted Jacqui Smith becoming Home Secretary or former Tory Shaun Woodward getting Northern Ireland.

A hell of a lot has been written about Blair’s departure and Brown’s arrival virtually all of it much better than I could ahve produced. I would highly recommend reading snowflake's take on recent events. And these posts by Gert at Mad Musings of Me here here and here. For those who think there should be an election have a read of what Tom Freeman has to say.

Today’s papers have moved on to the matter of other ministerial appointments. It is very pleasing to see that Brown has, as he said he would, made a number of appointments from outside the Labour Party. The appointees do bring a wealth of outside experience.

Former First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West has been appointed as a security minister at the Home Office. Sir Alan is a former chief of defence intelligence and deputy chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Consultant surgeon Professor Sir Ara Darzi becomes a health minister in the House of Lords. Shriti Vadera becomes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for International Development. She has worked for UBS Warburg for the last 14 years. Sir Digby Jones, former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, becomes minister of state for trade Sir Mark Malloch Brown, former UN deputy general secretary, who becomes a Foreign Office minister, with responsibility for Africa, Asia and the UN

The new ministers, who will be made life peers, will be expected to take the Labour whip in the Lords, but do not have to join the Labour Party. In addition, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Lord Stevens has been appointed as Brown’s senior adviser on international security issues. He is also an adviser to the Tory Party on border controls. Liberal Democrat peers Rabbi Julia Neuberger, and Lord Lester will advise on volunteering and constitutional reform respectively.

I hope that these appointments pay dividends in the coming months.

29 June 2007

Photo Hunt - Sweet

Sweet is the theme of this week's Photo Hunt. I tried photographing sweets and chocolate wrappers but teh results did not please me. I was racking my brains and I thought "Doh" Mimi is a little sweetie, especially when asleep, so here's a couple of photos of her instead!

Moggy's ancient ancestors

Scientists have traced the origin of the domestic to five female wildcats living 130,000 years ago. DNA analysis has estabished that Near Eastern wildcats, Felix silvestris lybica (left), and the domestic cat share the same maternal ancestors and are indistinguishable genetically from each other. Andrew Kitchener, of the National Museums Scotland, said: “The genetic evidence would suggest that.... the domestic cat is merely a domesticated version of the Near Eastern wildcat.”

Scientists traced the ancestry of all domestic cats alive today back to just five female wildcats that lived in the Fertile Crescent region of what is now Iraq and Syria. The research seems to have solved an old argument as to where the domestic cat originated. The discovery of the maternal ancestors makes the domestic cat much older than previously realised.

Hmm, I had better not tell our cats this news or they may get even haughtier. After all, It’s already a case of “feed me, human vermin!”.

Robyn mildly annoyed

This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named. where you see Astor, possibly the handsomest cat in Sweden

28 June 2007

Attack of the friendly floatees

According to today’s Times, british beaches could face a new invader in the form of a flotilla of plastic ducks.

For 15 years oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking nearly 30,000 plastic bath toys that were released into the Pacific Ocean when a container was washed off a cargo ship. Some of the ducks ( known as Friendly Floatees) are expected to reach Britain after a journey of nearly 17,000 miles, having crossed the Arctic Ocean frozen into pack ice, bobbed the length of Greenland and been carried down the eastern seaboard of the United States.

The odyssey began on January 29, 1992. Two thirds of them floated south through the tropics, landing months later on the shores of Indonesia, Australia and South America. But 10,000 headed north and by the end of the year were off Alaska and heading back westwards. It took three years for the ducks to circle east to Japan, past the original drop site and then back to Alaska on a current known as the North Pacific Gyre before continuing north towards the Arctic.

Many were stranded as the currents took them through the Bering Strait, but eight years after their journey began, the ducks had made it through the Arctic and into the North Atlantic. Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, said that the ducks offered a great opportunity for climate change research. “They are a nice tracer for what the currents are doing as they travel around the world”

27 June 2007

I want - Department S

The last single from Department S before they broke up. It didn't chart in the UK but was a hit elsewhere in Europe. My mate Mike Herbage was the guitarist.

Click here for more Department S related stuff

Angst in my pants

Been a while since I've posted some Sparks. Time to change that!

Sempervivum in flower and in bud - Wordless Wednesday

Also known as the House Leek. This week's Wordless Wednesday entry

26 June 2007

Quentin Davies gives Brown a special welcoming gift

Tory MP Quentin Davies has created a shock by crossing the floor and defecting to Labour. The news has come at the perfect time for Brown as he take over as PM tomorrow.

Rubbing salt into the wounds Davies issued a caustic resignation letter to the Tory leader David Cameron, accusing him of replacing the party's "sense of mission" with a "PR-agenda".

In the letter he wrote: "Under your leadership the Conservative party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything. It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda.... It is fair to say that you have so far made a shambles of your foreign policy, and that would be a great handicap to you - and, more seriously, to the country - if you ever came to power."

Unsurprisingly Nigel Evans, Tory MP for Ribble Valley: "Quentin Davies has done a great disservice to himself and to his constituents. He should resign immediately and fight a by election."

With evidence of a bounce back in the polls and a coup such as this, Gordon Brown will surely have an extra spring in his step as he takes over the reins of power tomorrow!

Emerald Moth?

25 June 2007

Roy L Pearson to lose his shirt ?

Judge Judith Bartnoff has ruled Monday against Roy L Pearson in his $54 million lawsuit over a missing pair of trousers. The judge ruled that owners of Custom Cleaners did not violate the city's consumer protection law by failing to live up to Roy L. Pearson's expectations of the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" sign once displayed in the store window.

"A reasonable consumer would not interpret 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' to mean that a merchant is required to satisfy a customer's unreasonable demands" or to agree to demands that the merchant would have reasonable grounds for disputing, the judge wrote.

Bartnoff ordered Pearson to pay the court costs of defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung.

Pearson originally sought $67 million from the Chungs, claiming they lost a pair of trousers then tried to give him a pair he said were not his. He arrived at the amount by adding up years of alleged law violations and almost $2 million in common law fraud claims. Bartnoff wrote, however, that Pearson failed to prove that the pants the dry cleaner tried to return were not the pants he had taken in for alterations.

Chris Manning, the Chungs' attorney, praised the ruling, which followed a two-day trial earlier this month. "Judge Bartnoff has chosen common sense and reasonableness over irrationality and unbridled venom." he said

See also Roy L Pearson in the Wrong Trousers

UPDATE: the Chungs have sold the shop where the incident was alleged to have taken place. See here


Also known as Meadow Rue. It is one of my favourite garden plants, but it smells pretty rank though!

24 June 2007

A Fly

And it’s Harriet Harman

Harriet Harman is the new deputy leader of the Labour Party, beating Hilary Benn, Hazel Blears, Jon Cruddas, Peter Hain and Alan Johnson.

Congratulations are due although it looks like she will not be Deputy Prime Minister, not that she won’t have plenty on her hands without that role...

60 years of Flying Saucers

Sixty years ago today American businessman Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine brilliant objects flying across the face of Mount Rainier in Washington towards Mount Adams at a speed he calculated at over 1200mph (approx 1850 km/h). His sighting received significant media and saying that they “flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water” and also said they were “flat like a pie pan”, “shaped like saucers,” and “half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex in the rear. ...they looked like a big flat disk.”... and thus flying saucers were born, which is why we never saw a film called “Earth versus the foo fighters” or a publication called Ghost Rocket Fighter Review.

There are some that believe that the flying saucers are operated by Fourth Reich Nazis out of their base in Neu Schwabenland in Antarctica. Amazingly this has never really caught the public imagination. After all Antarctica is where H P Lovecraft's Old Ones live!

In a few days time Tony Blair steps down and will be replaced by Gordon Brown. In a few hours time we will know who will replace John Prescott as the party’s deputy leader. The deputy leadership campaign has not exactly gripped the public imagination - but then again why should it?

Whatever the result it was good to see that a poll in today’s Observer shows that Gordon Brown will take over as leader with that Labour ahead of the Tories for the first time in eight months. Although it could be dismissed by some as a short term bounce, there are signs that it could mark the end of Cameron’s honeymoon period – he has been in trouble with his party over grammar schools.

The Ipsos MORI poll shows Labour on 39 per cent (up four points on last month), while the Tories have fallen one point, to 36 per cent. The change in support seems to be at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, whose support has fallen from 18 to 15 per cent. 40 per cent of voters believe Brown would make the more capable Prime Minister, against 22 per cent who believe that Cameron would be better. Sir Menzies Campbell is rated by just 5 per cent of voters.

A bounce was to be expected and time will tell whether he can sustain the lead – needless to say as a partly member I hope he does! One of his first acts will be to reshuffle the Cabinet (if nothing else changed there would have to be a new Chancellor of the Exchequer and replacements for John Reid and Lord Falconer). There has been a lot of speculation as to who will rise and fall.: Jack Straw and Alistair Darling are widely tipped for promotion. Interestingly, the Observer indicates that Brown wants to make a gesture on Iraq and is keen to John Denham to a ministerial post. Denham was a Minister of State at the Home Office when but resigned over the Iraq invasion.

23 June 2007

Darfur – a conflict caused by global warming?

An 18 month study of Sudan by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has concluded that the conflict in Darfur has been driven by climate change and environmental degradation, factors which threaten to trigger other wars across Africa unless more is done to contain the damage. "Darfur ... holds grim lessons for other countries at risk," the study concludes.

With rainfall down by up to 30% over 40 years and the Sahara advancing by over a mile every year, tensions between farmers and herders over disappearing pasture and evaporating water holes threaten to reignite the war between north and south Sudan. The southern Nuba tribe, for example, have warned they could "restart the war" because Arab nomads - pushed southwards into their territory by drought - are cutting down trees to feed their camels.

The UNEP investigation into links between climate and conflict in Sudan predicts that the impact of climate change is likely to go far beyond its borders. It found there could be a drop of up to 70% in crop yields in the most vulnerable areas of the Sahel. "It doesn't take a genius to work out that as the desert moves southwards there is a physical limit to what [ecological] systems can sustain, and so you get one group displacing another." said Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director

The immediate cause of the Darfur conflict was a regional rebellion, to which Khartoum responded by recruiting Arab militias to wage a campaign of ethnic cleansing against African civilians. The UNEP study suggests the true genesis of the conflict pre-dates 2003 and is to be found in failing rains and creeping desertification. It found that: The desert in northern Sudan has advanced southwards by 60 miles over the past 40 years; Rainfall has dropped by 16%-30%;; Yields in the local staple, sorghum, could drop by 70%.

UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, argued: "Almost invariably, we discuss Darfur in convenient military and political shorthand - an ethnic conflict pitting Arab militias against black rebels and farmers. Look to its roots, though, and you discover a more complex dynamic. Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change."

In turn, the Darfur conflict has exacerbated Sudan's environmental degradation, forcing more than two million people into refugee camps. Deforestation has been accelerated while underground aquifers are being drained. The UNEP report warns that no peace will last in the area without sustained investment in containing environmental damage and adapting to climate change. Mr Steiner said: "Simply to return people to the situation there were in before is a high-risk strategy."

Zimbabwe staring into the abyss

According to yesterday’s Guardian the US ambassador to Harare predicted that Zimbabwe's inflation will rocket to 1.5m% before the end of the year. Ambassador Christopher Dell said prices were going up twice a day, sapping popular confidence in a government that is now "committing regime change on itself".

"I believe inflation will hit 1.5m% by the end of 2007, if not before," he said. "I know that sounds stratospheric but, looking at the way things are going, I believe it is a modest forecast... It destabilises everything. People have completely lost faith in the currency and that means they have lost faith in the government that issues it. By carrying out disastrous economic policies, the Mugabe government is committing regime change upon itself," he said. "Things have reached a critical point. I believe the excitement will come in a matter of months, if not weeks. The Mugabe government is reaching end game, it is running out of options."

Zimbabwe's official inflation is 4,500% but independent economists and retailers say it is actually above 11,000% and picking up speed. For Zimbabweans living in the turmoil of economic meltdown, hyperinflation is spreading poverty, as even basic goods become unaffordable. Government regulations will only permit withdrawals from banks of Z$1.5m per day, which is not enough to buy a week's worth of groceries.

"I can barely cope with inflation in the thousands, but millions? We will die," said Iddah Mandaza, a Harare factory worker. Mr Mandaza said some workers are now saving on transport costs by "going to their jobs on Monday and sleeping at the workplace until Friday. They all share their meals. That's what they do to get by."

Many Zimbabweans are resorting to barter. "I traded some soap for two buckets of maize meal. It was far much better than trying to buy it in the shops," said worker Richard Mukondo. "People in the rural areas are even worse off. You can see they are hungry and their clothes are in tatters. They trade in whatever they can produce: tomatoes, onions, chickens and eggs."

Tony Hawkins, professor of economics at the University of Zimbabwe, said that no one holds cash in the country any more. "People spend it as soon as they get it. Goods hold their value, not money. The government has run out of solutions. At this rate perhaps inflation could hit 1m%, but one gets a sense that things will crack before then."

Thabo Mbeki's efforts to mediate between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are "the last great hope for a peaceful resolution to Zimbabwe's crisis", Mr Dell said.

Photo Hunt - Shiny

Shiny is the theme of this week's Photo Hunt. How more obvious than a shiny penny (and the Queen with x-ray eyes?). Alternatively here's a pair of the not-wife's Dichroic ear rings.

22 June 2007

Turning the Place Over

Liverpudlians are being treated to the sight of a city centre building turning itself inside out. Sculptor Richard Wilson has cut out an egg-shaped section of a derelict building front and fixed it to a giant pivot. The facade will rotate like a huge opening and closing window, giving passers-by a glimpse of the interior.

The artwork, called Turning The Place Over, is part and parcel of Liverpool’s year as European city of culture will run until the end of 2008. The cut-out, which measures eight metres across, rests on a rotator usually found in the shipping or nuclear industries.

Is it art? Is it great art? Well I like it and I certainly could see myself spending a good long time watching it. Even if you think it is pointless, there are far worse things you could do to a derelict building prior to its demolition.

Mimi looking at something or other

This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named.

21 June 2007

Deni Bonet and Kimberley Rew - Girlfriends of Dorian Gray

Deni Bonet with former Soft Boy and Katrina and the Waves guitarist Kimberley Rew

Robyn Hitchcock and Deni Bonet - Arms of Love

This video is from violinist Deni Bonet's open access tv show "Duets with Deni". Arms of Love is one of my favourite Robyn songs. This is a stripped down version for guitar and violin which works well - far better than the atrocious REM cover (which appears on the "Man in the Moon" single).

click here for Deni's website

20 June 2007

This blog is not just rated certificate puerile but...

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Free Online Dating

This rating is based on 11 uses of the word gay, 4 deaths, 3 pains. 2 kills and one bastard! I am surprised to report that it is got a higher classification than Sonia-belle (definitely NSFW!) who can manage a mere R rating!

Ah well let's try for an X - certificate: pooh, bum, willie, boobs and knockers!

Wordless Wednesday - Crab Spider on guard again

This week's Wordless Wednesday entry is another crab spider (Misumena vatia) is frequently seen in the garden (if you notice them that is). They don't spin a web but lie in wait in flowers looking to catch an insect by surprise. They may look fearsome but they are less than half an inch long (about 1cm). Regular visitors to the blog will realise that I have a fondness for this arachnid

19 June 2007

Stalin: Royal Engineer and banjo player

The history books would have us believe that Stalin spent much of the period covering WWI n exile in Siberia. This photograph proves otherwise. Not only is it clear that he served in the British army during WWI but he was a musician too!

Actually I was copying some photos taken during WWI of the not-wife's great grandfather and this fellow just stood out.

18 June 2007

Lunatic fringe pursues witch hunt against "gay" priests

Patricia McKeever does not like to be photographed or for people to know where she lives, preferring to communicate with the outside world by letter or e-mail. However, the former secondary school teacher has co-ordinated a relentless campaign to name and shame gay Roman Catholic priests.

Her newsletter, Catholic Truth, has confronted priests about their alleged homosexuality and has named several as being gay or allegedly associating with gay men.

It claims to have privately challenged several more priests after receiving information that they attended a gay bar in Glasgow and has also, it says, confronted a seminarian, a prospective seminarian and a Catholic school teacher. In addition Catholic Truth is preparing a “dossier” on a priest it accuses of inviting a homosexual support group into his church and expects to identify him in the newsletter’s next issue.

Unsurprisingly what McKeever calls a “great work of charity” has not met with universal approval. The Archdiocese of Glasgow has labelled her group as “self-appointed heresy hunters” and accused her of harassment.

Ms McKeever, who intends to expose all priests “unconscionably living a double life”, claimed that she had been forced to take action because of an “unprecedented moral crisis in the Catholic Church”. Among those targeted is Father Ed Hone, a parish priest in Edinburgh. Catholic Truth accused him of inviting a group called Quest, whose members are gay and lesbian Catholics, into his church. Father Honesaid this of Catholic Truth: “The Catholic Truth is conducting a witch-hunt. What she is doing is utterly poisonous.”

The newsletter has also accused Father Gerry Livingstone of attending a reception to celebrate the civil partnership of a gay couple. Father Livingstone said yesterday: “That is a lie and it is all I am prepared to say on the matter.”

The first that many hear of McKeever is when a letter turns up on their doorstep or one of her “researchers” sends an e-mail. She insists that she always gives her subjects a fair hearing, but that is not how her victims see it. “She is relentless,” said one. “Her whole world vision is to root out what she calls ‘hypocrisy’ but that seems to be any kind of view that differs from her own. Her righteousness exceeds everyone else’s.”

This story is not new. Catholic Truth’s actions were first reported by the Sunday Herald last September. Essentially they are on the lunatic fringe of the Catholic Church (Every organisation has a lunatic fringe, I know - apart from, say, the Raelians which might just have a sensible fringe...). To say that the Church has had problems with sex scandals is rather an understatement, but what this little bunch of beady eyed fanatics is doing is idiotic and dangerous. Nothing they do will prevent a vulnerable child from abuse at the hands of a predator. The January edition of McKeever’s newsletter is a prime example:

one of the first scandals brought to our attention is that of the laymen, x and y who provide the music for the Mass in *****, offered by Fr *****. Apparently, their music is beautiful but x and y are widely believed to be much more than a musical duo: indeed ,it appears to be common knowledge that they have, for some years now, lived as an openly “gay” couple, with Father ***** a regular visitor to their flat and a popular guest at their social events. (I suppose by their logic Father **** should have purged the “evil ones” with fire and sword!)

However, when our research officer rang, x reacted angrily and refused to confirm or deny that he and y live together as a homosexual couple. Our subsequent

recorded delivery letter was refused and returned unopened; Since this triangular social is common knowledge within Catholic circles in Like x and y Father **** has ignored our recorded delivery letter, so we must presume that he sees nothing wrong in continuing his public friendship with this homosexual couple.

Oh the horror! The horror! A priest knows two men who may or may not be gay would hardly raise an eyebrow in the vast, vast majority of Catholics. I have a few suggestions as to how McKeever and her associates could better spend their time, one or two are even printable!

Uproar over Rushdie’s knighthood

Iran says Britain is "fighting against Islam" following his award of a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie.

The writer spent nine years in hiding after the Iran issued a religious fatwa against him. "Honouring and commending an apostate and hated figure will definitely put the British officials in confrontation with Islamic societies," said Iran's foreign affairs spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini at his weekly press briefing. "This act shows that insulting Islamic sacred values is not accidental. It is planned, organised, guided and supported by some Western countries."

Meanwhile Pakistan has also condemned the knighthood. A cabinet minister said the honor provided a justification for suicide attacks. "This is an occasion for the (world's) 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision," Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, religious affairs minister, said in parliament. "The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body, he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the 'sir' title," ul-Haq said.

In Multan, students burned effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and Rushdie. About 100 students (photo above) carrying banners condemning the author also chanted, "Kill him! Kill him!"

Lawmakers in Pakistan's lower house of parliament on Monday passed a resolution proposed by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Khan Niazi who branded Rushdie a blasphemer. "

Love Rushdie or hate him, Rushdie is one of the finest authors currently writing in the English language. Midnight’s Children is certainly among the best novels written in the last 30 years. If idiots in Iran or Pakistan are up in arms over what was one of his weakest works then it is their problem, not Britain’s. Perhaps those students burning effigies of the Queen in Multan would do better to get back to their studies and work for a better and more prosperous Pakistan.

Bloody hell this is my 900th post!

17 June 2007

Lewis Hamilton is on Fire!

That is not usually a good thing in Formula 1 of course but Lewis Hamilton has just scored his second Formula 1 victory at Indianapolis.

The victory extends his lead over Spain's Fernando Alonso at the top of the drivers' championship table. Hamilton held off a spirited overtaking move from Alonso at Turn One on lap 39 but managed to push his team-mate wide. The Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen took third and fourth place.

Hamilton's astonishing rookie year continues. Can a championship win in his debut year be a real prospect now? There are ten races still to go and a lot can happen but it must no be a real possibility.

Chinua Achebe wins Man Booker International Prize

Chinua Achebe is one of my favourite authors Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease are two of my favourite novels. He would certainly be a worthy recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is good to see that he has been awarded the second Man Booker International Prize - the first was awarded in 2005 to Ismail Kadare."The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship." Achebe is a writer in a similar vein. It was good to see a profile of him in today’s Observer

Bard College, in the Hudson Valley north of New York, is a classic American campus which famous author Chinua Achebe calls home. The beautiful views are a mere distraction: his thoughts are always back across the Atlantic in Africa; in the villages, forests and savannahs of his native Nigeria.

Achebe, who has just won the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, is the grandfather of African literature. In winning the prize he beat off competition from such illustrious figures as Doris Lessing and Salman Rushdie. The award came for a lifetime's work chronicling the woes of the modern African experience and conveying African themes into the Western medium of the novel. His most famous work, Things Fall Apart, has been translated into 50 languages and been a bestseller worldwide.

For Achebe, often snubbed for his staunch criticism of the Western treatment of Africa, the award has come as a final vindication. 'Really it is difficult to put into words,' he said 'I don't know how to say what I feel now. It is a humble feeling that what I have done has not gone unnoticed.'

That is certainly true. It has been almost 50 years since Things Fall Apart was published. That book, which told of the downfall of a village 'big man' in the face of British colonialism, was an immediate literary sensation. Achebe has followed it up with other bestselling novels, works of poetry, essays and literary criticism. He has waged a constant struggle to tell the African story from the perspective of its peoples, eschewing the idea of a 'dark continent' unknown and unknowable. T the age of 76 he has finally begun to win recognition as a literary titan. Yet even now, Achebe is still convinced too many Western publishers still see Africa in racist terms, marginalising and dismissing African writers. 'Those elements are still around. Though they are not as strong today as they were,' he said.

Achebe has been a lifelong advocate for Africa. He was born in Igbo country in 1930, growing up under British colonialism. When he went to college he ditched the Western name - Albert - his Christian-convert parents gave him. 'It was a little gesture,' he laughed 'As a young man what else can you do? Names are important and why should I have a German name like Albert?'

But he was no less critical when dealing with the Nigerian government that followed British rule. During the Biafran war of 1967-70, which pitted Achebe's Igbo people against the rest of the country, he was an ambassador for the doomed Biafran government. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of numerous Nigerian military governments. In 2004 he declined to accept Nigeria's second highest honour, the Commander of the Federal Republic, in protest at Nigeria's chronic state of misgovernment. Now, in the wake of recent elections condemned by the international community as fraudulent and amid violent economic collapse, Achebe confessed to having little optimism about his homeland. Politicians there, he said, do not really believe in democracy or good government. 'They should be transparent and really believe it, not just be saying it. If you don't have that then Nigeria is in serious trouble. I am still very uneasy about the country,' he said.

That has meant Achebe is in effect living his life in exile. Not only because of his outspokenness, but also because he is confined to a wheelchair. He broke his back in a 1990 car crash. 'I miss Nigeria very much. My injury means I need to know I am near a good hospital and close to my doctor. I need to know that if I went to a pharmacist the medicine there would be the drug that the bottle says it is,' he said.

He eschews talk of America's war in Iraq or President George W Bush, for the things that really matter to him: Nigeria. 'America has its frustrations for me, but I don't feel about them the way that I do about Nigeria. I don't feel the urge to get out there and take them on,' he said.

Achebe says his work pays vital testament to those who have gone before him, people who used to collect village stories and pass them on to the next generation so that they could live better lives. He has perhaps the same role. Just on a national scale. 'Our ancestors made stories intending them to be saying something to us, something of value that would help us as we pass through the world. Something that would make our passing easier,' he said.

Achebe is still writing. He has numerous projects on the go and, though he has not published a novel since 1988, that silence is soon to be broken. 'A novel is not far away,' he said. This storyteller is far from finishing his tale.

When Art is child’s play

I couldn’t pass on this item in today’s Times. When theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn paid £27,000 for a painting he thought he was getting a genuine Damien Hirst. One night at the theatre he found out that he had bought a painting by two children aged 10 and two... or he did so according to Keith Allen’s autobiography Grow Up.

Artist Damien Hirst had been invited to the opening night of the Harold Pinter The Homecoming at the National Theatre in 1998(in which Allen played Teddy, a philosophy professor). According to Allen, “Trevor Nunn, who had studiously ignored me up to that moment, was over in a flash, congratulating me on a wonderful performance. He swivelled round to address Damien.

‘Ah, Damien, so good to meet you. I have one of your spin paintings’. “
‘Oh yeah? Which one?’
“The answer was something like ‘Squirly Hoops Touch My Nuts Peace and Love’. “
‘How much did you pay for it?’
‘Oh, er . . .’,
‘Go on, how much?’
‘Twenty-seven grand’.
‘Oh, right. Well that one was done by Keith’s son Alfie and my son Connor’.”

“Trevor smiled loosely and went off looking white, A funny joke, you say. The funny joke was that it was absolutely true.”

Hmm well it is a funny story even if it is utterly apocryphal. I suppose the moral of the story is that someone stupid enough to buy what Hirst produces (or his production line of assistants produce) deserves everything they get!

Mazzy Star - Fade into you

16 June 2007

Which Discworld character would Ted be? (an utterly frivolous post)

Who else could he be but......

You scored as Greebo, You are Greebo! The most evil cat in the entire Disc! Due to an old spell, your morphogenic field is a little mixed up, so you sometimes turn into a man. You enjoy killing, raping, torturing, playing with yarn and inspiring fear. When bored, you like to look for wolves to “play" with.



Esmerelda (Granny) Weatherwax




Commander Samuel Vimes


Gytha (Nanny) Ogg




Cohen The Barbarian


The Librarian


Lord Havelock Vetinari


Carrot Ironfounderson


Which Discworld Character are you like (with pics)
created with QuizFarm.com

Photo Hunt - Hair (or Sadako in Romford)

The not-wife

The not-wife has wonderful long hair. Hair is the theme of this week's Photo Hunt so it is an obvious choice!

She also loves horror films. One of her favourite pastimes is to pretend that she is Sadako out of Ring. One day she will learn to crawl out of the television!


15 June 2007

Widow Twanky plays rawk n roll.

Well Twisted Sister anyway but Dee Snyder looked like a pantomime dame and produced some gloriously dreadful songs!

It gets worse for poor old Pluto

Last year we saw Pluto (left with its satellite Charon) booted out of the first division of planets, relegated to “dwarf planet” status. Now it has been confirmed it doesn’t even top the “tiddlers league”

A http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6751975.stm study has confirmed that the dwarf planet Eris - whose discovery prompted Pluto's relegation from planet to dwarf - outranks it in mass.

The discovery of Eris, formerly known as 2003 UB313, marked the beginning of the end for Pluto as a planet. Previous measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope confirmed that Eris was larger in diameter than Pluto, leading the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to rule in 2006 that Pluto could no longer be classed as a planet. A new category of dwarf planets was adopted, into which Pluto, Eris and another body called Ceres, which is located in the asteroid belt, were placed.

Eris (left) lies 14.5 billion km from Earth in the Kuiper Belt. It has a moon, Dysnomia, and scientists used this satellite, to calculate its mass. The researchers, led by Eris' discoverer Mike Brown from the California Institute of Technology, discovered that the more distant world has 27% more mass than Pluto. So in addition to being the largest, Eris is also the most massive known dwarf planet.

Poor Pluto stares into the abyss and the abyss gazes also... over its planetary shoulder at something more interesting - in this case a few pixels!

Ted gives his "did you spill my pint?" look

This week's entry For the Friday Ark and Carnival of the Cats. More cat photos as ever at Plant porn and pussycats and at Yet to be named.

14 June 2007


An enormous, flesh-eating dinosaur has been discovered in a remote region of Inner Mongolia – well its remains anyway. The feathered dinosaur, called a Gigantoraptor stood on two legs at twice the height of a man, was eight metres (26ft) long, and had a head like a parrot's and scythe-like claws on the end of wings far too small to lift its 1.4-tonne weight off the ground.

The finding has astounded experts because carnivorous dinosaurs were thought to have become smaller as they grew more bird-like. Gigantoraptor erlianensis, which emerged towards the end of the era of dinosaurs, was far heavier than any other feathered dinosaur known.

Dr Xing Xu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing reconstructed a partial skeleton from fragments of the beak, backbone, limbs, pelvis and shoulder blade. Announcing the discovery in the journal Nature today, the scientists write: "Gigantoraptor is remarkable in its gigantic size." Analysis of the bones placed it in the family of dinosaurs known as the Oviraptorosuarids, a group of feathered dinosaurs rarely weighing more than 40kg (88lb).

Bowhead Whale: c1870?-2007

Scientists retrieved a weapon fragment from a bowhead whale that suggests it might have been born as early as the 1860s.

The fragment was part of a time delay bomb that was introduced in 1879 and manufactured until 1885. Experts think the wound was inflicted in about 1890 but 19th Century hunters would probably have not attacked a young whale, so it could have already been around for some time before that date.

The conical fragment was embedded in the shoulder blade and probably would have been uncomfortable for the whale. It was only discovered after the bowhead whale was killed by indigenous hunters off Alaska as part of their subsistence quota.

Scientists say it is rare to find a whale over 100 years old but believe some may reach 200. This whale sadly didnt reach its double century

13 June 2007

There’s nowt so queer as (enemy soldier) folk

Armed forces are ever on the look out for that weapon that will give them the edge in combat. The US military is of course no exception. In 1994 the US Air Force had a novel proposal for a non lethal battle field weapon – a “gay bomb”.

Documents released to a biological weapons watchdog in Austin, Texas confirm that the US military did investigate the idea. It was included in a CD-Rom produced by the US military in 2000 and submitted to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002. The documents show that $7.5m was requested to develop the weapon. The documents were titled "Harassing, Annoying and Bad Guy Identifying Chemicals" includes several proposals for the military use of chemicals that could be sprayed on to enemy positions. "One distasteful but non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behaviour," says the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.

The Pentagon did not deny that the proposal had been made.

It sounds pretty hare-brained to me but the idea of a weapons that don’t cause people to have their heads or guts splattered across a battlefield is not a bad idea (the idea of not having battle fields at all is of course far more attractive). It’s certainly no dafter than the First Earth Battalion. Coming back across the Atlantic our military has had plenty of its own crackpot schemes. The Panjandrum springs to mind

Roy L Pearson in "The Wrong Trousers"

If someone seeks damages of $54m the expectation is that they have been dreadfully wronged, mutilated, slandered or something. $54m in respect of a pair of lost trousers would strike most people as a touch over the top. However, this is the amount claimed by American judge Roy L Pearson from a dry cleaning store that lost a pair of his trousers.

Pearson told a local court in Washington DC that Custom Cleaners should pay the sum because a "satisfaction guaranteed" sign deceived consumers who, like him, were dissatisfied with their experience. "You will search the records of the District of Columbia courts in vain for a case of more egregious or wilful misconduct," Pearson told D.C. Judge Judith Bartnoff.

The lawyer for the Korean immigrants who run the dry cleaner said Pearson was looking for a way to resolve his financial difficulties after a divorce."It's simply a frivolous lawsuit brought by an unhappy customer with a bone to pick," attorney Chris Manning said.

Pearson filed suit after the cleaners lost his trousers in 2005. Defendants Jin Chung, Soo Chung and Ki Chung said they located the pants a few days later, but Pearson said they were not his.

Pearson, who has rejected several settlement offers, counted 12 separate violations of a consumer-protection law over 1,200 days, multiplied by the three defendants. At $1,500 per day, that is $65 million. He has also sought $15,000 to rent a car to take his clothes to another cleaner for the next 10 years. He subsequently did reduce his claim to $54 million.

The case is expected to conclude today, hopefully with substantial embarrassment for the plaintiff. Okay having a dry cleaners lose your trousers is a pain and compensation is appropriate, but to claim over $50m in such circumstances is utterly stupid. I would have thought this suit should cast doubt over his suitability to continue as a judge

Update. Judge Bartnoff ruled against Pearson today (25 June). Click here for further news

UPDATE: the Chungs have sold the shop where the incident was alleged to have taken place. See here

12 June 2007

Hover fly and Hebe

This week's Wordless Wednesday entry is a Hoverfly having a meal of Hebe nectar. Taken in my garden at the weekend