Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tick tock

Oh dear. It's a bad sign when even some of Labour's staunchest defenders in the blogosphere are calling for Blair and Prescott to step down. It's something I've felt for a while, and not because of Iraq, but the continuous pig-headed refusal of the government to admit that there are serious problems at home, both in the cabinet and in the police force. The net has been closing in for awhile now, but with Lord Levy being the latest and biggest fish to be caught, I'm not sure how Blair can keep blindly supporting these people and expect Labour to have a prayer of winning the next election. To be honest I feel that the damage has already been done and that Cameron, for better or for worse, will end up making it to Number 10 by 2008. But two years is a long time in politics, and surely Blair owes it to his party to at least give them a fighting chance by stepping down now, before the end of this year.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Biased? The BBC??

One of the more nerdy office pastimes where I work is to spot the instances on the BBC News website where whoever's in charge of choosing and posting the photos has obviously got it in big time for the subject of the photo itself. Today's case is a classic. Unfair? Yes, probably. But funny? You bet.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Remembering

I got the tube into work this morning. The Victoria Line down from Finsbury Park, changing at King's Cross, pausing briefly to see the sunshine pouring in from outside, noting with a mixture of relief and apprehension the relatively small police presence in the station compared with the previous few days, before heading down to the crowded Circle Line platform to catch the eastbound train to Farringdon. Packed in like sardines, standing room only, everyone in smart office clothes, many of us reading today's copy of Metro, the front cover of which bore the faces of some who, one year earlier, never made it to their final destination.

For them, I feel this was the most fitting way to pay tribute, and says more about the resilience of London and Londoners than any wreath, plaque or commemorative service.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lookalikes, World Cup edition

Without the specs, not so much, but the similarities were striking at tonight's France v. Portugal match...














  Jim's Dad                        Raymond Domenech

Hans Brix, oh no!

Hmm, let's see, our people are starving, our infrastructure is crumbling, our economy has collapsed, our international reputation is in tatters, and we're on a three-country watchlist for terrorism. What should we do? I know! Let's "test" launch a bunch of Scud missiles into the Sea of Japan, and then refuse to discuss it with anyone.

Nice one, Kim. That'll really make things better for you and your godforsaken country.

Monday, July 03, 2006

On Belfast

She is handsome, she is pretty, she is the belle of Belfast city...

That song will forever bring a smile to my face following my weekend in Belfast, where, though there are indeed many beautiful women to be seen, they are vastly outnumbered by morbidly obese, tattooed mamas with growly tobacco-stained voices, getting stuck into a huge mountain of salty chips and fried potato bread at Blinkers. Mmmm!

Comedy aside, though, my impressions of the city were really very positive. This wasn't the first visit I'd made - boyfriend issues have made this my third trip in less than a year to the "Hibernian Rio" that is Belfast. It was, however, the first time I had been during the summer, and to my mind, that made all the difference. Without being too simplistic (well, maybe just a little), I think there's a real sense of optimism and hope for the future in Belfast at the moment, and it's being expressed in ways that you don't tend to hear about in the usual Peace Process-type news coverage, especially on the BBC.

Yes, there are abandoned old eyesore office blocks and student halls that dot the city centre, waiting to be pulled down. But there are also fancy new restaurants, caf├ęs and shops opening at every corner. We in London like to gripe about the evils of "gentrification", but the fact that entrepreneurs are deciding that it's worth investing in real estate in a city that still boasted "Europe's most bombed hotel" just over a decade ago can surely only be a good thing.

Another sign of change is the type of restaurants that are opening. Thai, sushi, curry, tapas... In many cases there is only one example of these eateries in the entire city, and they've obviously only been there for a couple of years at most. For a city that's not exactly renowned for the adventurousness of its cuisine, it's a sign of things to come and, hopefully, an indication that Belfast's cultural isolation from the outside world is slowly dissipating.

There was a big festival being held down by Clarendon Docks over the weekend as well, with a fleet of tall ships celebrating the city's maritime history. Local music, imported beers, an international food market and, err, a rockabilly club night combined to make a fun and memorable weekend, and the good weather meant that I am now sporting a shocking sunburn. The point is, the locals that I spoke to all told me the same thing: "This would never have happened a few years ago." Especially so close to 12 July, presumably.

Now before I get a load of cynics writing in and telling me that a couple of new shops and an open-air festival don't equate to an end to the violence and troubles of Belfast, let me reassure you that I'm not suggesting they are. Gang violence and murders, cheek-by-jowl territorialism, drug trafficking, racism, bitter resentment and all sorts of atrocities that I, as an outsider, will probably never see, are all still there, and aren't going to disappear in a hurry. All I'm saying is, outside perceptions of the city are starting to change for the better, and that can only be because, no matter how halting the progress, Belfast is starting to define itself as more than just a backdrop to the Northern Ireland conflict.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Ingerlund.

I am so, so glad I was in Belfast rather than London at the time of the England-Portugal match. I know there are many England fans out there who are genuinely decent people, but the vocal minority have ruined any hope of me ever wanting to support the home team. Even the most ardent fans had realised that the team wasn't playing as well as it could be over the past few weeks, but until now, the calibre of the opposing teams had been slack enough to allow for a few victories. But not on Saturday, not Portugal. Admittedly they hung on til the end, and going out on penalties has got to be the worst way to lose a match. I suppose my point is that it's not the team itself that I despise, it's the bigoted, pissed-up idiots that get dragged away by police singing "Ten German Bombers". The people who require the authorities at Stansted to offer stacks of guidebooks reminding you that Nazi salutes and goose-stepping are illegal in Germany and that there's only so much the British consulate can do for you if you make a prat out of yourself. And they're not just in Germany either. My flatmate was stuck in a tube carriage packed with the brutes a couple of hours after the match had ended, and though she's no shrinking violet, she was terrified.

So yes, I am very thankful that I was not around to be subjected to the same thing. As a foreigner it doesn't exactly make me feel welcome, and it's a shame that I have to stop supporting the team of my adopted country, but this group of "people" have made the whole experience of the World Cup so pointlessly embarrassing and violent (okay, less violent than previous years, but still) that this is exactly what's happened. And I tell you something, it ain't just me.