Sunday, 31 July 2005


Yesterday we drove all the way to wet and windy Kent to watch Wob's gig at the Maidstone River Festival.

Hmmm... Festival. Lots of boats parked in the river, with their occupants clogging up the towpath with their barbecues so you couldn't get past. That was great. And the sheer number of old tramps and crusties out of their heads on Special Brew and hordes of youths decked in "leisurewear", also drinking Special Brew, and 10 year old couples copping-off with each other in underpasses...

It was more like "Chavs Afloat".

But Wob's gig was the saving grace. Thank God. And he was a cut above any of the other bands on display.

A cracking set, bursting with his usual high energy, bouncing, running and yelping. He's a great performer.

And thanks to John Forrester and Wig for sterling work in the rhythm section (and backing vocals).

It's always worth travelling to see Wob play, whether it's with the band or solo.

Saturday, 30 July 2005

Freeing Timmy

Our new friend Timmy wasn't with us for long.

We placed his cage near the patio doors which we left open. Suddenly, a bird outside started chirping and Timmy got very excited and started calling back. It was pretty obvious that his family was out looking for him.

So, we took his cage outside. Before too long an adult sparrow was flying around, landing close to the cage, then flying off again.

Here's a picture of them together:

I opened the cage door and, once Timmy had figured out how to get out of the cage, he flew off into the big fir tree where the sparrows often hang out.

Now we just hope that he can still perch OK with his gammy leg. But at least he's back with his friends and family.

Rescuing Timmy

Aaah! We rescued a poor, little birdie last night. I came home from work and stood in the garden, chatting to The Wife and my mum and I could hear a bird flapping the in the tree. TW said it had been doing that all day. So we looked in the tree and saw a juvenile sparrow caught-up and hanging, unable to escape.

Out came the ladder and I balanced precariously halfway up a Japanese maple to find a the bird hanging by a piece of red nylon twine, wrapped around its leg and a twig. The poor thing's leg was a mess. snapped in two and really not looking very good.

Anyway, by cutting off the twig I managed to bring the bird down to earth where we cut-off the twine. To be honest, we considered amputating the leg, but as we were not qualified vets, we thought better of it.

The sparrow was placed in a nice cosy box, with some food and water and plenty of soft towels. Then we went to bed, fully expecting to find him dead this morning. But when we got up, he wasn't in the box! Despite having only one good leg, he had somehow managed to get out and hide behind the curtains and was now merrily chirping away.

The Wife's dad is a bit of a bird expert, so with some guidance we went to the pet shop to buy a small bird-cage which is now furnished with food, water and newspaper (in case he gets bored).


Obviously, we're happy to have a new pet and we have named him 'Timmy' because he's a spacky-sparrow.

Friday, 29 July 2005

Friday Film Club

I had a beer or 6 with Delmonti last night. The talk turned to films and he wanted to know what to look out for at the moment. Now, I do love movies, but I never get the time to go to the cinema, so I only ever seem to have recommendations when I've been on a long-haul flight. So, after my recent trip to China, here is the first in a (very) occasional series of Friday Film Club recommendations.

The Machinist. Starring Christian Bale. Reminiscent of Memento, but not in a bad way. And it's pretty obvious what the plot twist is, but Bale is fantastic in this. Any actor who gets his weight down to around 120 lbs for a part has to be admired.

The Assassination of Richard Nixon. A slow-burning story of middle-American frustration. A must-see for Sean Penn's central performance. And kudos to Don Cheadle for not doing that awful cockney accent (c.f. Oceans Eleven/Twelve).

Meet The Fockers. Yes, it's light, fluffy nonsense. 'Fockers' sounds like 'fuckers'. Ha! Hilarious! Well. no, but it's not bad. It passes the time and I did laugh quite a bit. But then, I am very immature.

In other news:
Stray animals are to be
arrested in Nigeria after an Air France plane collided with a herd of cattle on the runway! Yes, arresting the animals might be one solution. But, surely a better idea would be to build a fence around the airport? Prevention being nine-tenths the better part of valour, or something.

Thursday, 28 July 2005

Shoot To Kill?

So it seems that the Met Police had even less reason to kill an innocent Brazillian electrician than it first appeared.

I find this whole episode very scary. Why hasn't there been a massive outcry and universal condemnation of the police about this?

Personally, even as a white, middle-class male, if I was in South London and some burly blokes wearing casual clothes started approaching me with weapons drawn, I think I might be scared enough to run away. The police say they identified themselves. What it they didn't? What if you don't hear them? Or don't believe them? (God bless South London, but armed muggings aren't exactly a rarity there.) What if you are deaf? Or foreign? Surprisingly enough, there are lots of foreigners in London and they don't all speak English. There are plenty of British citizens who don't speak English!

Ultimately, though, if you have a man under arrest, pinned to the floor, how can you then justify shooting him, IN THE HEAD, seven times? People have said "he could have had a bomb". Bollocks. If he'd had a bomb (and was prepared to use it) he would most likely have detonated it when challenged. A bomber would not have run because he knew he would risk getting shot and failing to deliver his 'payload'!

Wasn't that the whole point of arming the police with tazers? To incapacitate without killing?

The antics of the bombers haven't really deterred me from travelling up to London. But the actions of our out-of-control police force makes me think very hard about ever going up to the capital. And just wait until winter when everyone is wearing heavy coats and carrying bags...

Thursday Book Review: Yes Man by Danny Wallace

Danny Wallace's life was in a rut. His girlfriend had left him and he was happy to spend his time in his flat, avoiding his friends, shunning human contact. Then, one day, a chance meeting with a mysterious enlightened teacher on a bus led to his decision to start saying "yes" to things. Not just to things he knew he should say "yes" to, but to everything. A skeptical friend was convinced that Danny would be unable to keep it up and that he would slip back to his negative ways, so a bet was made and he vowed to say "yes" to every opportunity that came his way for an entire year.

If you've read
Join Me, Wallace's previous book, or you are aware of his pivotal part in Dave Gorman's attempt to track down and meet 52 other Dave Gormans, this book will be familiar territory. Coming in the same genre of "boy projects" which inspired Tony Hawks' Fridge and Tennis books, this tome is essentially another similar escapade. However, like some of these other projects (Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure springs to mind), Danny's ostensibly simple search for a way to boost his positivity by saying "yes" to essentially trivial opportunities becomes, as time unfolds, more and more a story of someone looking for the right way to live his life.

Early on we are treated to Wallace innocently playing along to various internet email scams. While I don't believe for a moment that he genuinely believed that he wouldn't get ripped-off if he didn't tread carefully, it is also fun to follow his efforts to persuade a bogus Sultan's son to advance him the first million pounds so that the full amount could be claimed. And we never do find out whether the penis patches worked.

But later on, as Danny tries to keep his project on course, under pressure from a mysterious challenger, I found it impossible not to hope he would succeed.

There's no doubt that by saying "yes" when you previously would have said "no" can certainly open up opportunities that would otherwise be closed, but I am also bound to think that it is a lot easier to say "yes" when you are a successful freelance radio producer, working only 2 or 3 days a week, with a best-selling book behind you.

That said, this was a marvellous read and thoroughly recommended. And it has an ending which is sure to melt the hearts of all but most hardened cynic. I found myself cheering at the denoument - not something I find myself doing very often. The only real drawback was that I got so engrossed, I stayed up late reading and was late for work the next day. Thanks Danny - an entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking read.

You can buy any of the books mentioned in this review by clicking the links.

Books, books, books, books

I've decided to post a book review to this site every Thursday. Why Thursday? Because it was Wednesday when I decided and wrote the first review, having just finished that book.

Why? Some reasons:

1: It's a bit of a mini-meme and might get me some more regular readers.
2: You never know, people might click-through the links to buy the books and make some money for me.
3: I really do need a proper excuse to do some writing on a regular basis.
4: I read a lot. No reason why I shouldn't share my opinions. Just don't get me started on "The Da Vinci Code".

Yes, I've already written the first review, which shall be posted here momentarily. Enojoy! And do let me know if there's anything I should read, or if you disagree violently with my opinions.

Sunday, 24 July 2005


Today is the day of the annual Ottershaw Players Chairman's Garden Party. The last few years have seen gloriously hot and sunny weather on the occasion, and everyone spreads out over the lawn, enjoying the weather. Today, however, with 2 hours to go, it is pissing down with rain!

To be honest, I'm not that bothered. I'm on-call for work, so I can't drink, and we went to a BBQ yesterday at my boss's house down in Andover. This is another annual event, featuring the enormous Boys v. Girls game of rounders, at which the girls always win by lying about their score.

I hadn't played rounders since I was at school, 25 years ago, so I amazed myself by actually being able to hit the ball AND run around the bases, without making a complete arse of myself. Unfortunately, I spoiled the whole effect by a supremely inept display of fielding. I chased a ball to the outfield, picked it up and threw it towards 4th base, about 40 yards away. Except that I forgot to let go of the ball until much too late. The ball hit the ground about 3 feet in front of me, and my momentum carried me over into a half-somersault, at which point I simply lay on the ground like a beached whale. The angry shouts of my team-mates I could deal with. It was the hysterical laughter of the old codger, walking his dog, who was sitting on the bench only a few feet away which really hurt. I got up, picked up the ball and overarmed it to the pitcher - successfully this time. Then I took my position up at 2nd base and waited for the next batter.

Friday, 22 July 2005

Shanghai Lights

After much musing, I've finally figured out the real meanings of traffic signals in China:

RED: Stop. Unless you're a bus, truck, bicycle, policeman, or driving a Volkswagen Santana. In which case, it means Accelerate And Toot Your Horn (thereby intimidating other road users, who may be proceeding through the green light, and forcing them out of your way).

Note that on Chinese roads you can legally make a right-turn on a red light. However, unlike in other, less enlightened countries, you make that right-turn without looking to see if there is any traffic coming from the left. You don't need to look, because there always is.

[There IS a Give Way/Yield rule in China, contrary to popular belief. The rule is: "Last One To Finish Tooting His Horn Gets The Right Of Way". It's also an old Confuscian proverb.]

YELLOW/AMBER: Undefined. There seems to be no consistent behaviour for an Amber light in China. This makes the prevailing driving conditions unpredictable. Therefore most drivers will slow down to under 50 mph. Therefore this is usually the best time for a pedestrian to attempt to cross at a pedestrian crossing.

[Special Note About Pedestrian Crossings: No-one really knows how they came to be there. They are a bit like crop circles in a Wiltshire field. And about as useful for crossing the road! They are certainly not used for giving pedestrians any sort of right-of-way when crossing the street.]

GREEN: Go. But, go carefully. There will probably be some lingering pedestrians. Weave your way through the pack. If you have to (and you will) maybe it would be easier to drive on the other side of the road for a bit? Also, if your light is green, that means there is a red light somewhere close by, so watch out for an enormous blue truck, piled high with watermelons, microwave ovens and chickens. It's going to hit you. Any moment now.... Shit. That was close.

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Radio GaGa

After a very late night last night, due to a number of factors, I ended up getting to bed after 2am. Then I was up at 5.30am to head over to BBC Southern Counties Radio, in Guildford, to be the 'special' studio guest between 07.20 and 08.30.

[The Wife says I'm 'special', but I thought that was only because I have to hold her hand when crossing the road...]

Anyway, this was triggered off because
Ottershaw Players won a NODA Accolade for Drama at the Southern Region AGM on 16th July, for last Christmas's production of A Christmas Carol. As the group's Press Officer I was asked to go into the studio to talk about the award and the group and to contribute with pithy comments about the front pages and showbiz gossip from the newspapers.

I did feel a little ambushed:

"You have some newspaper front pages there, Peter", says the host, Ed Douglas.

"Errr, erm, yes". I say. There's a pile of newspapers laying in front of me. The one on top is The Sun. Oh, great!

"So what's the headline?"

My heart drops as I read it out. I can't remember what it is now, but they were basically calling for a particular Islamic cleric to be thrown out of the country. So, I read the headline out, and give a 20-second summary of the story.

"What do you think about that?", asks mine host.

Now, what can I say to that? This being BBC local radio, in Surrey (average listener age, 50-something), I assume that the expected answer is "too right - kick 'im out. Scum". But I refuse to take that line out of principle. I've got no idea if this cleric is preaching hatred, or whether it's the usual tabloid tactics of misrepresenting someone's viewpoint in order to sell papers. Maybe, I can use the opportunity to say something pithy, pertinent, witty and cutting. Yes, that's it; I'll defuse the situation with my rapier-sharp humour:

"Well, maybe he's said bad things, maybe he hasn't. I'm sure that justice will prevail in the end."


That's the sound of my ambitions of ever being a satirical pundit dropping through the floor. Now I'll never be invited to guest host Have I Got News For You...

I did get to plug our forthcoming Christmas show (The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking, 30th Nov - 3rd Dec, tickets £10/£8) and mentioned our award, and it was great fun (more so than I expected). But I don't think the team from Week Ending are quaking in their boots right now.

I'll Miss You, Mate...

I last saw Phil Barnes at my first wedding, on 1st July, 2000. That's just over five years ago. Before that I think we'd only met up once in 8 years, since Fil went to teach in Hong Kong and married his lovely wife Teresa.

Fil and Teresa had a lovely son, named Aleks, who must be 5 or 6 now. I've never met him.

This evening I had a phone call from a good friend to tell me that Phil died in a car accident, in Hong Kong, in March or April this year. His friends in the UK are only just beginning to get the news now, as Teresa had brought his address book over for his parents to go through...

Phil Barnes was one of the very few people in this world who could always make me laugh. I've attached a few pictures of him here as a sort of inadequate memorial. The black & white one was taken in 1990 when Phil, myself and our housemate, Frank, spent an afternoon dressing as our heroes, villains, or imaginary superheroes - I took some pictures of the results. I'm not entirely sure what Phil's doing here - but at one point he was dressed as Captain Underpantsonhishead. We were all in our mid-20s and we weren't drunk or doing drugs - that's just the sort of insanity that Phil got off on.

At University, he was the driving force behind writing our own insane version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

He was one of the best drummers I've ever seen. Not many amateurs can replicate the work of Neil Peart. Phil could. He could also play the piano, deliberately badly (Les Dawson style) with his trousers round his ankles.

He was one of the kindest, cleverest and funniest people it has been my pleasure to know.

I always assumed that, one day soon, we would meet up for a few pints, to talk about the old days, laugh like drains, and that I would introduce Kathleen to him and she would know what a wonderful person he was.

But now I know that this will never happen and this makes me sadder than I have been in a very long time.

Fil, I'll miss you, mate. I hope I kept your letters somewhere... Memories of you are already fading fast and I'll need reminding what a special person you were.

God bless.

Sunday, 17 July 2005

Shanghai Fuxing Park Rules

Shanghai Fuxing Park Rules
Shanghai Fuxing Park Rules,
originally uploaded by
This picture shows the rules which you have to obey in Shanghai's parks. I took this photo in Fuxing park.

It's the sheer oddness of some of these rules which tickles me.

"lying unallowable" - blimey! The park police should be arresting most of the people in the place then.

"not to...carve around in the park". Carve around? What on earth? Do they mean, like, on a BMX bike?

I like that they use a different synonym for "forbidden" in every rule. And made up some new ones too.

But the loveliest rule of all, which cracks me up a whole week after taking the picture, is the stricture against "climbing artificial hills". Good. I'm against all these people who bring artificial hills into parks to climb on and then just bugger off and leave them lying about. Selfish bastards.

Are we there yet?

Home at last! And more or less over the jet-lag. Which is nice. But the nasty part of going on holiday is always the coming-home bit:
  1. We've bought too many souvenirs (this year we had to buy a new suitcase to accommodate them!). Will we get stung with an excess baggage charge? Thankfully not!
  2. Twelve hours on a plane. Argh! Enough to drive you barmy. Mind you - some folks from the US we met in China had over 24 hours of travelling to get back to the East coast. Ha!
  3. Picking up your bags. We got to Shanghai airport nice and early - so our bags were among the first loaded. So, of course, they were last off at Heathrow... I HATE waiting for the bags on the carousel. It would be easier if other people weren't such morons. Why do they all have to stand right next to the carousel. It stops people seeing if there bags are there! And when your bag does come along, you have to push people to one side to get it (always at the last second) and when you drag it off the conveyor belt you kneecap one or two of the mong-faced idiots as you do so, because they were too stupid to move. Hey, hang on - that's actually a good thing!
  4. Unpacking and doing laundry. I don't subscribe to this whole 'cleaning clothes while on holiday' thing (which is why my suitcase is too heavy). But it does mean that there is LOADS of washing to do when we get home. Luckily, the weather this weekend has been gorgeous. And there's the golf on the telly while waiting for the washing machine to finish. So that's alright then!

Tomorrow, I think I'll have to share some of my observations of the Shanghainese road traffic system. It really is quite remarkable. In the meantime, there are some pictures of the honeymoon over on Flickr.

Sunday, 3 July 2005

Hot Hot Heat

Blimey! It's hot in China. The temperature has been hovering in the mid-30s (Celsius) since we got here. Thank heavens they have air-con.

The first thing that hits you, apart from the heat, is the mad Chinese driving. The standard driving position is right down the middle of the road, until someone comes the other way, when you hoot the horn to let them know you aren't really prepared to move, playing chicken until the last possible moment - then you swing to the right and knock some poor watermelon seller off of his ubiquitous tricycle. As a passenger, it's great fun - not knowing if the current journey will be your last.

We went to a Korean restaurant yesterday. And, yes, there was DOG on the menu. I was up for trying it - but we were uncertain of the provenance of most of the dishes, so we went for the chicken instead. And, apart from the need to pick razor-sharp bones out of your cheeks every few minutes, it was absolutely delicious. Cooked on a hot-plate at the table, you pick up a lump of meat along with rice, sauces and whatever else is on the table, wrap it up in a lettuce leaf and munch it - a little like Beijing Duck. At the end, we were stuffed, and it all cost us Y80 - which is under six quid!

OK - well, I've hidden from the heat in the hotel's business centre for long enough - time to wander back to the chalet...