Monday, October 31, 2005

Get Here, If You Can …

‘The 3rd Forum to integrate the handicapped into the community’ is billed to be a real wheelchair stopper.

Held under a 1500 sq m temporary structure on the paved area outside the Paris Town Hall, 110 associations, professionals and institutions will present their ideas and programmes for the benefit of the nation’s handicapped.

“A place to discuss and promote the future of the handicapped person”, says the event flyer …

The thing is, the nearest underground station, Hotel de Ville, isn’t handicap-friendly. No lift, no escalator, no nothing ...

... can’t quite see them getting integrated that easily.

High Tension …

A fourth night of unrest in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois passed on Sunday, after which, nine youths were held by French police after they had been throwing missiles and petrol bombs and set 15 cars alight.

The violence began on Thursday after two local teenagers died when reportedly fleeing police. The authorities deny that officers were chasing the boys, who were electrocuted after jumping into an electricity sub-station.

Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has pledged that ‘hot areas’ will receive regular visits by police in an effort to combat terrorist activity which has been brewing in Muslim communities.

I’m spending an overnight patrol with the ‘BAC de nuit’ (la brigade anticriminalité) on Wednesday … oh goody.

Cosh on,


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Time Gentlemen Please …

You remember the days, jumping on the ‘No 72’ bus to go to work; “a single ticket to Threadneedle Street, a pint of Old Peculiar and a bag of pork scratchings please …”

According to two UK Sunday newspapers, the British government are considering a ban on passengers drinking alcohol on all forms of public transport, as well as on domestic flights. This, the report continues, is supposedly part of a crackdown on binge drinking.

I can’t actually remember seeing anyone drinking on public transport that regularly. The odd character with a bottle of hooch wrapped in a brown bag, perhaps, but certainly not people running up and down train corridors with trays loaded with pints of real ale. Those who’d like to sit in power (the dim world of the backbencher) have completely lost the plot. In order to get themselves noticed, the normally haranguing backbenchers are now inventing bills that, for all intense and purpose, are the ‘latest’ fad to hook your trailer up to.

The world has gone somewhat cuckoo and, in the ‘over-reacting’ stakes, has just popped it’s cork.

“Oh conductor, make that a return would you and another pint of Old Peck when you have the time …”

Bottom’s up,

(and where have all the conductors gone, eh?)

Friday, October 28, 2005

‘Arry’s Bin ‘Ad …

Cornish pixies have spirited away the "flying" Ford Anglia used in the Harry Potter films.

The rusting car, registration 7990 TD, went missing from the South West Film Studios in St Agnes on Wednesday night.

In typical PC Plod-speak, the law said: "The thieves may not have known its connection wiv the films and just phor it was a classic car, or it may have been an ’Arry Potter freak."

The turquoise 1962 Ford Anglia was an exhibit at the studio, which (now read this carefully) went into receivership last year.

Hang on a mo … has the law taken that into consideration? The clues are there if you look for them.

Tonight, the Police raided a café in Brixton …

Extraordinary Reader Offer ...

A certain magazine in the UK has offered a somewhat unusual prize this month - "Win Your Girlfriend A £4,000 Boob Job". The eager-reading yoofs are then given an explanation as to how their "lady" could (and I kid you not) "bag a new set of rib-lamps". What next? Pop on down to your local Harvester and order 'Chicken-In-A-Basket with a free penile extension while-u-wait'??

A New Phrase ...

Along with those terribly vain people who insist on calling themselves 'broadcasters' comes another bland and meaningless job description; an 'International Photographer'?

According to the dictionary, 'international' means 'extending across or transcending national boundaries' and 'photographer', 'an image, especially a positive print, recorded by a camera and reproduced on a photosensitive surface'.

So from those explanations, we can assume that anyone who jumps on a plane and takes a headless snapshot of auntie Flo in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is an international photographer?

Lord Litchfield, you've been rumbled.


International Photographer
(Chicken-In-A-Basket on order)
No Mo "Ho, Ho, Ho" …

If there was a 'hall of fame' for television commercials from across the world, the Jolly Green Giant in his skimpy leaf outfit would surely be one of the first admissions. Sadly, 80yr old Elmer Dresslar, the voice behind the Giant, died on Wednesday 26th October. "If nothing else", Dresslar‘s daughter Teri said, "it put my sister and I through college".

A spokeswoman for General Mills, the owner of the Green Giant Company, said Dresslar had been "the most consistent and most frequent voice of the Jolly Green Giant over the years - the one consumers are going to recognise".

However, despite being over 6ft (1.82m) tall, Dresslar was not the actor who appeared on-screen as the Giant in the TV commercials, The figure viewers saw was Keith Wegeman, an Olympic ski jumper.

Thank you Elmer, you've gone to the 'Valley in the sky' … you were picked from us at the peak of your perfection …

Strawberry Appeals Forever ...

Those arrogant French have been at it again. Some twit had a brainstorm and decided to try and trademark the smell of fresh strawberries.

Eden, who are headquartered in Paris, wanted to use the smell in soaps, face cream, stationery, leather goods and clothing. The European Union's trademark agency dismissed Eden’s request to own the smell.

Eden 0 - Strawberries 1

Storming off in a huff, not happy with the EU's ruling, Eden took its case to the region's second highest court. Their argument was that while strawberries may look and taste different, they all smell the same and, as a result, could be trademarked.

The court, however, took a different view. A group of 'smell experts' found that strawberries can in fact have up to five different scents and not just the one claimed by Eden.

Eden 0 -Strawberries 2

Back to the drawing board Marcel.

In fact, the only scent to be granted an EU trademark protection so far is the smell of freshly cut grass. The smell was registered by a Dutch perfume company that uses it to give tennis balls their aroma.

... and we know how much of a tennis nation the Dutch are.



Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Turning Japanese …

Johnny Halliday, the 62yr old French rock 'n roller has, for decades, been held aloft by our Gallic brothers and sisters though pity the poor sod who dares to criticise 'notre Johnny'. Every known culture on this planet has an brow-beaten, aging entertainer whom they worship and protect. Johnny is theirs, all theirs …

On June 15th 1943, in the leafy town of Malesherbes, Huguette and Leon Smet were blessed with the arrival of little Jean-Philippe. With American rock 'n roll flooding the world in the 50's, Jean-Philippe discovered that he could play the guitar and sing. Naturally, the French were in dire need of rock music in the same vein, stuff that they could actually understand - Johnny Halliday was born.

After appearing on the Ed Sullivan show in 1962, this good looking all-French rocker (whatever that means) was tipped for the top. His clean-cut image and his street-savvy features were all that the French desired and, since then, Johnny has gone on to rock the French world for over 40 years.

However, over time, Johnny hasn't aged as gracefully as his rock ballads. The fresh looks have gone, replaced by what can only be described as 'the after effects of a vicious knife fight'. Now on his 4th marriage to (as the German Tabloids refer to as Das Fotomodell) Laetitia Boudou, the scars of recent plastic surgery have changed JH from 'ideal heart-throb' into 'Ming The Merciless'. In 2004, he and Laetitia adopted a little Vietnamese girl (a clue perhaps?) called Jade.

Even today, he still manages to bump and creak to sell-out audiences in the larger auditoriums. Dates for his Flashback Tour are taking bookings even up until the end of November 2006. He has sold over 80 million records, 18 platinum albums and performed to more than 15 million people. To keep his legions of fans in 'adoring mode', naturally, he has a website but you won't find a 'gallery' section there. Oh no. Let them get close, but not too close.

You have to hand it to him, he's got guts and staying power (and possibly a few battery-powered appliances back home for 'er indoors) but the years have slipped by, as cruelly as the surgeon he paid, who gave him such a battering under the knife.

Adiosu and shiawase Johnny … the kimono's in the post.


A Few Stories From The Weird Side …

Curry In A Hurry ...

Well, blow me down with a chicken madras if an Indian gets his way with his latest entry into the Guinness Book Of Records. Sanjay Kumar Sinha took 60 students on a 3-day non-stop, no-sleep English grammar class. What makes you want to go for something like that?

In the city of Mumbai, Sanjay taught for 73 hours and 24 minutes in an attempt to get into the GBR for the longest lesson. Hang on, that’s twice the normal French working week!

He began teaching the students on Thursday morning and continued the lesson until Sunday morning. None of them slept a wink for three days, he says. "I have not eaten any food since the last two days” said Sanjay, “but I still feel very energetic. I have a craze for teaching grammar and am still charged up". The current record is held by a Pole, Elzbieta Malinowska, who taught for 66 hours in June 2004.

I was amazed that someone was awake to keep tabs.

Bump And Grind ...

This next snippet from the news pages is certainly not for the squeamish. It isn‘t the sort of thing you’d expect to find The Reverend W. Awdry dropping into a ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ story either.

The ‘Swedish Meats’ Company of Linkoping (bless that country and it’s flat-pack furniture) have developed a low-cost recipe to keep the national railway system on the right tracks. This, as far as I can gather, is the Delia Smith version;

1 x cow
1 x humane killer
1 x grinding machine
1 x vat
1 x syphon
1 x gas mask
1 x train

* Firstly, take your cow. Place upright and shoot
* Empty lifeless body of organs, fat and guts
* Place goop in grinder and start turning the handle
* Place gas mask over face and collect sludge in vat
* Take vat to storage depot and leave to stand for one month
* Collect gas, bottle and send to national railways operator

From the land of Abba comes this ingenious method of enhancing natural gas. According to the fat controller (sorry, scientists), the gas from just one cow is enough to keep a train rolling for 4km (2.5 miles).

The next project should have greater impact; Bile From Politicians To Replace Unleaded Petrol.

A Welcome In The Hillside ...

How would you set about promoting your local film festival? Amateur film-makers in the Welsh town of Machynlleth have taken a slice of inspiration from tinsel town and recreated the famous Hollywood sign. The lettering stands 5ft (1.5m) high and is 39ft (11.8m) long.

The brainchild of a group of local film-buffs, the sign resides on a hillside on Pen'Rhallt Common and can be seen throughout the town.

Made from chipboard and built in secret over 12 days, the friends secretly put it up by torchlight, the night before the festival, last Friday.

Thankfully, the talentless Catherine Zeta-Jones was a no-show …

It’s Not Only Onions That Make You Cry ...

An African prince who tried to smuggle cocaine concealed inside onions into the UK has been jailed for 12 years. Prince Adegbenie Olateru-Olagbegi (a fresh arrival from Lagos) thought that the whiff from a collection of onions would hide his £163,000 cache.

He also packed in his luggage with shrimps and other pungent dried seafood in an attempt to deter a sniffer dogs. The Prince denied all knowledge of the 17 hollowed-out onions containing 3.21kg of cocaine found in his luggage. Drug-pooch Max sniffed his way through the 23 onions and assorted fish as His Highness sauntered through the Nothing to Declare channel.

During his eight day trial, he told the court that his father is king to 450,000 subjects in Owo in southern Nigeria and that he has 149 siblings.

Oh well, one bad apple … and 23 dodgy onions later …



Monday, October 24, 2005

A Waste Of Time And Money …

Cryosat was built by the European Space Agency (ESA) at a cost of £90m (135m euros) and launched on 8th October. The intention was to check-up on the polar ice cap as, according to a cute little graphic someone produced, it has been retreating since 1980. However, due to a teeny-weeny technical error minutes after lift-off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, they lost it.

Lost it?

Russian officials said that "an error caused the rocket's second stage to run out of fuel, rendering it unable to eject the satellite". Personally, I would have thought that "sorry" would have been more appropriate.

The happy people of northern Greenland now have a new off-shore tourist attraction.

Armand Pierre Fernandez, a French painter and sculptor, died in New York on 23rd October, aged 76. He went by the name of 'Arman' and, I have to admit, built an awful lot of crap.

I apologise to anyone who thought he was brilliant (well, that's the French dealt with) but I really don’t think that sawing guitars up into pieces warrants world acclaim.

And as for his 'nuts and bolts', well, I would have thought that the chaps at the ESA would want a few words …

'Arman' will now be flown back to his native France, sliced up, placed in a plexi-glass box and mounted in the lobby of ESA's HQ in Paris.

It's what he would have wanted.



Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fire Up And Forget …

Today, I thought I'd treat you all to a good old fashioned rant. Such was the positive response to the 'Victor Meldrew' article, I thought it time to vent my spleen yet again. In all good stories, there are winners and losers. This one is all about losers …

Before we all settle down for a good slanging match, there is something I should tell you about before we roll our sleeves up and get going. I've discovered an amazing little device made by those wonderful people at Ronco. It's called the 'Ronco Give-A-Toss-O-Meter' and is available in all good electrical retailers for 29,99.

Simply plug it into your USB port of your computer (it‘s got a self-extractor installer) and click on the 'Entertainment' pages on the internet. Take a look at what they believe we should be regarding as 'Entertainment' and copy the html (I gather that‘s the name given to the page address) and paste it into the Ronco 'Give-A-Toss-O-Meter' search box.

With the aid of a needle and a coloured meter (yellow for 'Don't Care', green for 'Mildly Sick-Making' and red for 'Really Couldn’t Give A Flying'), the 'Ronco Give-A-Toss-O-Meter’ will then tell you whether this is news fit to print and if we should really be 'giving a toss'. Here, in no particular order, are those the 'Ronco Give-A-Toss-O-Meter’ could not 'give-a-toss-about';

* Robbie Williams
* Absolutely anything to do with Michael Jackson
* Sienna what's-her-name
* The word 'chav'
* Posh and Becks (and any number of their nannies)
* Kate Moss and her copious nostrils
* The many court cases of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas
* 'People' magazines - page upon page of grinning ‘celebrities’ at 'charity' do’s.
* Anyone who's had 'the botox treatment'
* Any spoken or written word from a British Royal
* People who use the word 'broadcaster' as a job description, when 'gob on a stick' will do
* The furry marsupial known as Burt Reynolds's hairpiece
* News readers who feel it necessary to pronounce foreign words and names with an equally foreign accent
* Reality TV shows (reality?)
* UNESCO High Commissioners
* My neighbour, who really is called Victor

Please feel free to add your own.

*Latest Addition*
* Ulrika Jonsson and her ever-growing list of penile assistants

My Christmas gift list has now been sorted ...

Talking of 'deals of the century', here's one I found;

Any offers?



Saturday, October 22, 2005

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To …

When I was younger, products were built to last. Dad bought a car - it would just keep on going. Mum bought a hoover - it would out-live the family dog. According to my relatives, our 'Gramophone' still works - valves and all.

Should it be necessary to return a faulty or broken item back to the shop, short of performing oral sex for you, the manager of the shop would do all that he could - the customer came first. A replacement was found and the item exchanged.

A guarantee was a guarantee, not a sheet of paper covered in miniscule print that manufacturers and retailers could hide behind. It was there to protect the consumer. Not any more.

These days, if a product stops working, before you can finish your explanation to the assistant, an rigid index finger runs down the sheet, "I think you'll find that it states here that the item is not covered under the guarantee for that, so I'm afraid you're f**ked".

"Hang on, I spent 'x' amount here on a product which is guaranteed for a year. Furthermore, I spent another fifth of the total price on an extended 3-year guarantee including accidental damage insurance!"

With the same index finger, the assistant invariably re-seats his glasses onto the bridge of his nose, while making some kind of snorting noise at the same time.

Let me explain the reason behind all this;

In March of 2004, I bought a Sigma 14mm f2.8 wide angle lens, along with an extended guarantee.

That’s the fella, there.

It's pretty good, though it's not a Canon but a cheaper variant. I have spent many happy hours squeezing into tight corners and getting good results. Yesterday, I was covering an old book fair for an American agency. Wonderful stuff to be seen - bibles, dictionaries etc, from as far back as the 1500's. The Americans love this old stuff and are fascinated by its price.

I was just saying goodbye to Pascal Gillebaud and his fine collection of leather-bound treasures, when my camera bag (which was hanging off my left shoulder) swung round and my 14mm lens fell out.

It landed face down on the concrete floor, 630g of metal and glass making a terrible ‘clang’. The hard metal protector ring took the full force - as it‘s designed to do. The glass didn't smash and the only visible damage was the bent metal ring. I shook it. No tell-tale rattle. Pascal called for some pliers. He reshaped the ring, and smiling, handed the lens back to me. I fixed it to the camera and took a look through the viewfinder. No obvious cracks in the glass surfaces but the focus ring didn't work - neither on auto nor manual settings. I now knew what a short-sighted person has to contend with when misplacing the necessary eye-wear.

Photo shoot over.

Off to the dealer.

"I think you'll find that it states here …" the shop assistant regurgitated.

I argued the case of the accident insurance I had paid on the extended warranty.

"… that the item is not covered under the guarantee for that" he replied.

"What do you mean it’s not covered if I drop it? On my planet, that’s called accidental damage, you moron! How else can I possibly damage it? Do I have to shove it up a traffic warden’s rectum and sing your favourite Cole Porter number, while dressed in a tutu for it to qualify?"

"It'll have to go back to Sigma, they'll take a look at it and give you a price to fix it."

But what about my all-singing-all-dancing extended guarantee with accidental damage insurance policy?

"Not under the current terms and conditions laid out here mate."


So, what did I actually pay for in the first place? Service? Peace of mind? Over the years I've spent 12,000 Euros in that dealership.

I would be without my beloved wide angle for 3 weeks and, according to the dealer, it might cost anything up to 520 Euros (with tax) to fix. To buy an new lens would be 1400 Euros but, thankfully, they had a nearly-new 14mm for 780 Euros. I had to bite the bullet. So to save 3 weeks of fretting and the difference of 260 Euros, I bought the nearly-new.

So what does the guarantee actually guarantee? It guarantees that I will, at some point, receive an outrageous excuse from a shop who (basically) conned me when I bought the product in the first place and they then pull the safety net away from a valued customer. 'Customer'? That’s another thing … more like 'irritant'. And whatever happened to 'we'll lend you a replacement while yours is at the menders?' ... gone, like a scalded cat, over the horizon and never to be seen again.

As far as these long-winded, small printed nasties are concerned, should a ‘Dwarf Blue’ (the world’s smallest butterfly with a wingspan of only ½") land on the product and break it, at that point the guarantee will come into play and you just might have found the winning combination to their ‘secret’ guarantee clause.

When the broken 14mm comes back from Sigma, trust me, that traffic warden isn't going to get much of a head start …



Friday, October 21, 2005

Getting Into A Flap …

To anyone with the slightest grip on reality, you can’t help but notice that the world’s ‘meed-ja’ are currently in a flat spin over bird flu, yet they will never admit that it’s been blown out of proportion. Tut tut, oh dear, no … very bad for business.

This is just what the doctor ordered.

Each day, newspapers roll off the presses, full of ‘all you need to know’ facts on the disease and promoting the latest government spin on the (I love this word) ‘pandemic’. The same information is urgently regurgitated by news presenters who, in turn, invite an expert scare-monger-of-the-day to help spread the word according to Roche, makers of the vaccine. “Beware! Get yourself inoculated! You’ll all be sprouting feathers if you don’t!” All this is beautifully gift-wrapped with accompanying images of eastern gentlemen, dressed as surgeons, loading dead birds into incinerators.

Nice. See what I mean? Please enjoy your breakfast.

While we’re on the subject of crispy duck, have you noticed that whenever the ‘meed-ja’ illustrate the (here we go again) ‘pandemic’, they invariably use an agency picture of someone Asian surrounded by birds? Do alarm bells sound in your head? Don’t you think that those who have been infected actually work in close proximity to birds? Chicken farmers for example? After all, the longer you spend in your average hospital, the more chance you have of picking something up, unconnected to your original complaint.

However, the government of the day needs to be seen to be doing something. They can’t sit around apportioning blame left, right and centre but if H5N1 does decide to spread westwards and infest our feathered friends, then at least government ministers can sleep easier at night. So, let’s look at a few facts that are readily and freely available to anyone who can be bothered to dig them up;

According to the World Fact File, there are currently
6,446,131,400 living, breathing people on this planet, right now.
30,000 people are killed each year by someone waving a handgun in the US,
219 people are killed each year by horses (evil creatures),
6,000 people die in Europe from ‘normal’ flu each year,
… and human deaths to date caused by bird flu; 60+

Now, read them again.

Influenza manages to polish off those poor souls who are vunerable; the very weak and the infirm. So, if you are aged 65+ or have a lung, heart or kidney disease, suffer from diabetes, have a low immunity or live in a residential or nursing home, then please go ahead and get yourself inoculated against influenza.

If you want to avoid bird flu, then ignore the constant drivel spouted by your favourite tabloid … trot down to your local health centre or doctors surgery and pick up a free ‘Government Issued’ leaflet … it’ll be just the shot in the arm you are looking for.



Thursday, October 20, 2005

Going Loco Interviewing Yoko …

People have my deepest sympathy when their dearly beloved becomes the dearly departed, but in the case of Yoko Ono, I simply don’t understand her constant promotion of dear John.

I agree that the man was seriously talented and a fine songwriter but that’s about it. When the Beatles spilt in 1970, I was 9 years old. When Mark Chapman shot John Lennon in 1980, I was 19. Had I been born in the mid-50’s, I might have understood what 'Beatle-mania' was all about. But I wasn’t. So there.

John and Yoko spent many happy years together, doing whatever super-rich 'artistes' do - namely spending quite a large percentage of that time involved in self-publicity and trying to change the world - mostly naked. No bad thing, on the whole. Especially the ‘saving the world’ bit.

In Paris to promote (what else) 'John Lennon, Unfinished Music' at the Cite de la Musique, her trademark sunglasses perched on the end of her nose, Yoko bathed in the generous attention that was poured on her. The French lap up celebrity like mother's milk, so this was going to be a push-over. After spending 90 minutes interviewing Ms Ono today, there’s this little part of me that wants to say "OK, you had a fun time, acted like spoilt brats but changed bugger all". If you have money, people listen. If you are a celebrity, people listen. But if you are a successful muso living with a diminutive and, quite frankly, odd Japanese 'artist', then should people listen? Because of who John Lennon was, radio and TV stations, newspapers and fans alike, clamoured for a word, a phrase, a message … was he the Messiah?

With Yoko at his side, Lennon did some fairly outrageous things, but never anything which might cause harm to anyone. The word was ‘Peace’. The acts were peaceful. Their intention was peaceful. Their message was ‘Peace’.

My message is 'enough'.

This coming December marks the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death but dear 72-yr old Yoko is still out there, at the forefront, driving the 'Lennon Deity Machine', unable to let sleeping legends lie in peace.

Let it be.



Monday, October 17, 2005

Love (Along With And Nuts And Balls) Will Bring Us Together ...

Deep within the bosom of the French countryside, cradled in the Dordogne, lies the sleepy village of Abjat sur Bandiat. When I say ‘sleepy’, I mean ‘comatose’.

Should you look for it on a map, it’s marked down as a crossroads, it’s name, almost invisible. Surrounded by 1000’s of square kilometres of green fields, which look out onto farming land which, in turn, look out onto more green fields and yet more farming land. Stereotypically quaint and straight out of a postcard.

A state-of-the-art on-board GPS in the Volvo I was driving couldn’t find it.

Abjat has a population of 700 and the average age is rocketing towards 68 - there aren't many youngsters knocking about. The internet is only available via telephone lines and television is limited to the five terrestrial channels. There is a football stadium, but nothing much happens there (please refer to the average age). On the outskirts of the village, wild boar are plentiful and currently being shot of a Sunday morning by overweight farmers with a penchant for rich meat.

As the young grow up, they leave places like Abjat to seek work in neighbouring cities. The old are left behind and the village begins to die.

Enter the expatriates.

In countries like Holland, Germany and the UK, young couples in their early 30’s are selling up and moving to places like Abjat. Naturally, there’s a large anti-foreigner movement in France as the locals believe that their countryside is being overrun. Earlier this year, a number of towns in Brittany organised an ‘anti-British march’ through shopping precincts to voice their feelings.

The biggest gripe they hold against ‘Johnny foreigner’ is that he buys up property like it’s in the pick ‘n mix section of a sweet shop - and for an inflated price that prohibits any young French couple from getting a look-in. The next on the list is that the new arrivals don’t mix in with the local population and refusing to speak French from day one.

In their defence, European immigrants normally bring children with them, which means that the local schools to remain open (many have closed). Newcomers buy properties from the local French, who themselves, have jacked-up their prices four-fold, therefore knocking their own youth out of the bidding race - from the moment they put the house on the market.

In Abjat sur Bandiat, all is serene. The English enjoy the French and the French enjoy the English. They get on. Rather well. There are now some 50 British couples who live in the area, a small percentage of whom have been there for 20 years or more, but they all speak fluent French (or at least are learning to a high degree). Their children are perfectly bi-lingual, running around with French kids who are learning English at the same time. Should you take the plunge and move to a village like Abjat, you would hardly expect a 60yr old Limousin farmer to learn to speak plumy English?

They have taken things one step further … serious integration.

In 1989, British couple Stewart and Sue Edwards, waved goodbye to Greenwich in London, and bought one of two Abjat café/restaurants. They renamed it the ‘Entente Cordiale’ - a tobacconists, newspaper shop, café, restaurant and meeting place for Brits and French alike. If the food is not up to scratch in small provincial restaurants, then failure and a voracious estate agent are not far away. The French love eating at chez Edwards and there’s nothing on the menu that smacks of Blighty. It’s all traditional Perigord food which happens to be cooked by a British cook - Sue.


“But zee Bree-teesh food eez terr-eeble, non!?” so the French chant goes.

So, why is the restaurant at the ‘Entente Cordiale’ so popular? Neither Stewart or Sue have ever considered forcing their British-ness on the locals. “It's a French bar/restaurant, we’re in France but we happen to be British”, Stewart tells me. “We serve nothing but good local French cuisine. Fresh meat, vegetables and other delights”.

On a sun-bathed Sunday October morning, a steady flow of French locals streamed in through the doors to buy a newspaper, a pack of 20 and have a chat to Stewart and Sue over a cup of coffee - just the same as millions of other French do all over the country, everyday. Stewart took French nationality a few years ago but remains a true Brit. The locals hardly notice his slight accent.

Seizing on an opportunity to push integration a little further, Stewart held a master-class in an ancient British sport - hoping that the French would take to it like a duck to a kitchen grill.


On the Saturday, he’d organised a conker championship in an adjoining village which (wait for it) was won by a Frenchman. Stewart is the President of the ‘La Fédération Française de Conkers’ and organises the French National Team. His hobby has taken over and within the stings of conkers festooned throughout the café, are photos of Stewart and the British pop group Genesis thrashing it out in the dressing room of a music venue - Mike Rutherford clearly in hysterics. Most weekends will see the French and Brits swinging their nuts for all they’re worth. The Brits feel that it’s important to introduce the locals to this strange and odd-ball sport, and the French are more than happy to oblige. As it happens, the 2002 Ladies World Conker Champion was French.

Time for a little exchange as, on Sundays, the French take the Brits on in a game of petanque (boules). Again, organised by Stewart.

It would seem that integration in this part of France is working. The village has been re-born with new money and new life. Multi-lingual children run safely through the village lanes. Jean-Claude Massiou, the mayor of Abjat sur Bandiat, certainly has no qualms over this foreign invasion. He and his good lady wife, Madame Massiou, hold regular dinner parties for French and British couples “This village is living proof that integration works” he told me.

Many of today's local octogenarians probably joined the maquis of 1942, to cry havoc against the Nazis and the puppet-government of the day. That's as far as anti-foreign combat went. The word ‘xenophobe’ no longer exists here.



Friday, October 14, 2005

Mother's Pride …

You couldn’t ask for a better segway between yesterday’s news that secret squirrels MI6 have joined the internet fraternity and James Bond …

Irish actor, Pierce Brosnan, has had enough of ’Bond’ and his handing back his Walther PPK to the armoury, returning his car to ‘Q’ stores and leaving the building with a pair of comfy slippers. Bond fans, who lie awake at night tossing and turning, fretting over 52yr old Brosnan's possible replacement, need not loose any more shut-eye ... a replacement has just been announced.

Producer Michael G Wilson said the film-makers considered more than 200 possible replacements but chose British actor, Daniel Craig. The next in the series of Bond films, is 'Casino Royale', number 21.

But how did we know in advance that Craig had the role? Well, yesterday, his mother blew his cover, “Obviously we are thrilled to bits," Carol Olivia said, “It will be life-changing”. Craig will be the sixth James Bond but the first blond actor to play the part.

One has to wonder whether his next assignment will see him take on the World's baddies armed with a homemade packed lunch and a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock ...

Bond Will Return In ... 'The Man With The Golden Mum'


Keeping Their Noses IN Other People’s Business ...

A good trawl through the internet is like a ‘successful morning constitution’ (and those people who suffer from the same condition will understand). Good, so now we’re off to a tasteful start …
Today, I learnt that Britain’s super secret organisation has finally admitted their existence and launched a website. MI6 (the Secret Intelligence Service) has cracked opened a door to reveal the tiniest insight into their operation. The launch of the website marks another step towards having a public face for an organisation which was not even officially acknowledged to exist until just over a decade ago. Naturally, they don’t list a ‘Who’s Who’ in the spy game or where your local terrorist cells may be renting a bedsit … but it does give you the chance to understand what they do (but again, nothing specific). You’d have to be simple to think that they would.

The site says, ‘SIS must protect the secrets of its sources and methods. This factor is reflected in our website’.

So, what information can you expect to find?

Well, who they answer to, past history and how to apply for a job.

In the section entitled ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, they list ‘How Can I Offer Intelligence To SIS?’, ‘How Big Is SIS?’ and my favourite, ‘How Realistic Is The Depiction Of SIS In The James Bond Films?’

In tackling the first, they give a PO Box address. Naturally, no clickble links to phone lines or email addresses. If you have any information you think would be useful, please drop them a line (I would strongly recommend a first class stamp).

In regards to ‘How Big’, again, the expected basic reply, ‘We’re not telling you’.

However, the last question on ‘James Bond’ is somewhat of a bland answer but I can't understand why they didn’t just reply with ‘No. You twerp.’.

Once you have been recruited from ‘Oxbridge’ (as shocking as it may sound), you cannot expect to spend your entire career sleeping with foreign spies, driving immaculate luxury British sports cars and shooting the place up like an arcade game. The Service is operated by The Crown and is not a government department. So, like any organisation, it has to be accountable for it’s actions and expenditure and the thought of a tweed-attired, bespectacled Austin Allegro driver could be the more realistic expectation of the spies of 2005. The website is available in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese languages.

But talking of sticking your noses into other people’s business, I couldn’t help but notice two wonderful examples from Britain’s forerunner in sex and crap journalism - The ‘soar-away’ Sun.

For those at SIS who’d like to go into the thick of an undercover operation with some secreted recording apparatus need look no further. Apparently, ‘computer chips that can store music just like an iPod could soon be built into breast implants’. The accompanying picture is of super-pumped-up-bimbo, Jordan. Below the image it says ‘click picture to enlarge’. I think she’s probably large enough, Ed.

The second gem from the East End paragons of truth, comes from our soon-to-be-euroclub-members, Turkey. Builder, Mehmet Ozyurek, has just entered the Guinness Book Of Records with his enormous ... (wait for it ladies) ... nose. Measuring in at an impressive 8.8cm (that’s 3.5ins in real money), I’m sure the personnel department of the Turkish Intelligence Service will be knocking on his door.

And that’s not an opportunity to be sneezed at …


Sounds Of The Deep South ...

As hurricane ‘Katrina’ chastised the Gulf Coast of America, the media spouted tales of the region’s ‘old musical traditions’ and it’s ‘unmistakable style’. Such was the ferocity of K’s lashing, New Orleans was described as ‘a Venice from hell’.

Long before the advent of radio, the music halls in the deep south were packed with simple folk, listening to metal slide guitars and unamplified voices - songs of everyday life, love, and jilted partners.

At ‘La Java’, last night, Steve James and Del Rey put out 90 minutes of his fascinating rhythm …

It was the very first time I’d heard this captivating ‘twang’ live. Yes, we've all seen the film ‘Deliverance’ and we’ve imitated it‘s foot-tapping anthem, ‘Duelling Banjos’, but this was something different. Something fresh. With a single microphone and unplugged steel guitars, Steve and Del Rey played with their hearts.

Now, I’m not getting wishy-washy about this (what with Katrina and all), but it was something quite extraordinary. I’m not saying I’d rush out and buy their whole collection, but the next time some old, traditional music comes to town, I might well turn up.

However, I was not there for the music.

The 10th Arrondissement of Paris has announced it’s wish to have a series of photographic exhibitions of musical artistes who have recently played in the area. These images will be hung on the walls of promoter/management studios.

“D‘yer fancy summat up on a wall?” promoter Karel Beer asked me, “Yern, go on then …” I replied.

I have two I’d like to submit;
The musical pair were as charming as their output and I hope that these photographs do them justice. You can find Steve and Del Rey here and visit Karel’s World here.

I’ll be in touch when I know what’s going on and where you can find this exhibition.


For What We Are About To Delete ...

During the summer months (as those of you who have read the previous posts will already know) I'm in the open air covering aeronautic events. This year was fairly reasonable with a large number of publications taking photos and/or articles.

As photo traffic is usually outbound from here, at times I receive images from other aviation journos whom I have encountered during the season. However, I detest photos of ‘self’ as I find that I am as photogenic as a car crash in a ‘hall of mirrors’.

However, here are three which fell into my intray;
From left to right, Haguenau, from Tayssett Pictures, The World Helicopter Championships, Rouen, from Swiss Tony and (bottom) Chambley Balloon Festival, from Bennie Bos.

You might like to have a look at a couple of websites, from those who sent me these images; Tayssett Pictures. Lisa works for Air France during the day, has some excellent aviation contacts and a 'certain eye' for images.

Then there's Bennie Bos. A Dutchman of note, who is probably one of the best balloon photographers going.

Finally, here's a wee request for those of you whom I may encounter during the 2006 season ... in order to get 'that' shot, please be sure that there is a distance of at least 5kms between us ... and a thick fog.

I thank you.


Nation Shall Speak Pieces Unto Nation ...

‘Russian ice-lorry’ (for those of you Brits with an appreciation of frozen water on a stick) … a quaint story about life, high up in the Russian arctic circle.

A mate of mine rang to ask if I would be free to do a voice-over for the English version of a French documentary, ”won’t take long, 2 hours at the most”, he said.“Naturally, I’d be delighted”. So Fred and I hopped on the scooter and set-out for pastures new …

The studio was an underground affair, deep in the basement of a 5-story building a few kilometres south of Paris. A rather swish recording studio for dubbing documentaries, with all the latest computer giggery-pokery - a non-linear editing suite, all bells and whistles included. Off to the side was the recording booth, a well insulated cupboard with thick sound-proofed walls (big foam ‘egg box’ type insulation). Fred wandered out into the garden and quickly installed herself in a sun longer. Strange, in the second week of October we’re having quite so much sunshine … at least 25 degrees C.

I was handed the script and went ploughed through it with a biro, marking particular emphasis and tonation as I went. I was to re-voice the part of a Russian truck driver and, as I read on, I learnt a little more about my character (lovely dahhh-ling …). This guy lives and works in the frozen north, among the barren Russian ice floes. He loads his truck with 5 tons of frozen fish (what else) and drives over the ice to make his deliveries. At times, the ice melts and he begins to get that ‘sinking feeling’. With a grin, he informs the viewing public how he calmly gets out of his cab, clambers up onto the roof and jumps onto the ice floe. Now what? “We normally travel in pairs so there‘s he possibility of a quick rescue” … you don’t get the truck back … both it, and it’s frozen cargo, sink (rapidly) to the sea bed.

“Oh, we’ve had some funny experiences”, he continued, “on one trip, the snow and ice had seized up the truck so that we were stuck solid. Couldn’t move at all. My mate Dimitri took a rosary out of his pocket and started praying” (sounds a riot Ivan, please, continue) … “once we had all stopped praying, he said to me that if we ever get out of this alive he‘s going to crown himself Pope!”

Well, they did but Dimitri never went through with the Pope thing.

Life looks incredibly tough up there and as I was re-creating the trucker's experiences in English, I couldn’t help but think that …

Nah … it would never float.


Stand And Deliver ...

‘A Market Economy’ maybe one thing, but a blatant attempt to hold someone to ransom in return for free advertising, is quite another. Let me explain …

In order to get permission to film for television or shoot stills, it requires that letters are written or faxes are sent to various organisations, requesting permission to film/shoot or, if something is to be done at one's leisure, to be ‘included on the press list’. Naturally, I include my credentials, my French Government-issued press card. This is the norm. It works well and I have yet to be refused. National Museums are (on the whole) delighted to be able to help accommodate any professional requests. It is common for them to supply a ‘representative’ who will follow me around, freely chatting and explaining anything that needs explaining. Very useful if you need to go back as you have now a ‘contact’ for the future.

During the winter months, not a great deal happens on the aviation front. The heavy grey skies are often leaking water at a tremendous rate, so not ideal for outdoor work. Some magazines are rather keen on close-up, detailed images of valuable, rare aircraft in hangers or national museums. Full-page colour images with the name of the institution clearly marked.

So with that in mind, I wrote a charming letter to the newly appointed Director of a certain large national aerospace museum, north of Paris. He is, I hasten to add, known personally by some of my other professional acquaintances. These ’acquaintances’ made it perfectly clear that I should include their names in the letter and that the Director loves the press and would do anything to get his museum free publicity.

A week later, a reply dropped into my letterbox from the press department of said museum. Indeed, they would be delighted if I were to pop up and crawl all over their machines. Wonderful! Good news. However, I would have to pay 912,55 Euros for the privilege.

Excuse me?

6 aircraft in full page colour images, in 6 individual editions of the magazine?

For free?

I scratch your back and you mug me in broad daylight for 912,55 Euros?

Despite my immediate wish to go up there, armed with some colourful language, I decided to ask a few French journalists about the stance taken by the museum. “Zey are crazee”, they said, shrugging their shoulders in that ‘Gaullist’ fashion.

Upon reflection, I believe that the letter never made it to the Director and was banjaxed by a secretary who passed it straight onto the press department. I shall pursue down another avenue and report back …

'Never look a gift horse in the mouth' … unless you’re a French museum, when your natural reaction would be to kill it and serve it on a plate with some greens.


3, 2, 1 ...

Why am I so similar to Victor Meldrew? For those of you who know Mr Meldrew, you don’t need an explanation. For those of you who do not, please conduct a search on your favourite search engine ...

In general, I am a happy soul but I have a pressure point, deep within my brain, that can cause me to switch into 'grumpy mode'. And why is that? Well, it's because the world we live in today is less tolerant of others and there are people out there who are simply 'ill-educated', especially when it comes to respect of the common man. Everyone gets p***ed-off by something and I do my utmost to enjoy life but ... there’s always some ‘crapaud’ out there, who is hell-bent on spoiling it.

Here’s my top ten of mood-changers;

1) Very loud music late at night from apartments frequented by BOBOs*
2) A neighbour who uses an electric power tool at 10pm on a Sunday evening
3) People who lean on their car horns simply because they’ve been stationary for more than 20 seconds
4) People who criticise, yet have no first-hand experience of what they are criticising
5) Tourists who yell and shout in the streets, thinking that the neighbourhood is some kind of cyber-world ‘reality’ game where no-one else exists
6) People on trains with the latest mobile telephones kitted out with the loudest ring-tones (apparently the ‘vibrate’ mode was an option)
7) People on trains who talk loudly on mobile phones (thinking that the train carriage is some kind of cyber-world ‘reality’ game where no-one else exists)
8) Men who barge through a door which was originally opened for a woman
9) Dog poo - everywhere
10) Cyclists who whistle by, missing you by millimetres while yelling all forms of abuse, as you calmly and carefully cross the road on a ‘green man’

I guess I am at a difficult age.

In fact, I don't think I've listed anything there that the average person wouldn't find particularly 'agreeable'.

Yes, things were different when we were younger. Manners were in common use and adhered to. People had respect for others. And the youth of today (standby; tirade warning), what are they putting in the water??? You can’t fail to miss large, bulging adolescents in ill-fitting clothing. Especially the female variety on a nice sunny day, with a large roll of German-style beer belly flopping over the top of their jeans. And the male population could do something to sharpen their appearance too; jeans hanging down to their knees, revealing the band of some designer underwear.

You call that style? I thought he’d just hauled himself out of a drain.

OK, I’ve spent enough weaponry on the above.

I expect my temperature to have subsided for my next posting. But, then again ...

But for now, for all those Victors out there, don't forget;

"All for one ... and each man for himself!"



* BOBO = Bourgeois Bohemians; rich kids who live off their even richer parents (who bought the apartment in the first place). They sleep until after lunch, do sod all the rest of the time and believe that life owes them a living by keeping everyone awake until 3 in the morning with loud 'jungle' music. I hate them (and their squealy girlfriends) with a passion. They are only slightly ahead of those cosseted French public sector workers who go on strike at the drop of a hat ‘to get their point across’. Yeah, right.)