Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Daily Movements ...

Haven't had much time to myself recently as I'm in the middle of moving.

I put three days aside to pack up; the living room was done on Saturday, the bedroom on Tuesday and today, Wednesday, is the turn of the kitchen and bathroom.

I'm about to run out of packing cases, there's an impressive collection of carboard boxes in the living room, the kitchen is full of rubish bags, my bedroom is like an assault course and there's still no confirmation from the movers that they'll be here at 8am tomorrow.

Oh crap.

Right then, back to it.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Nemesis …

I met my Nemesis yesterday. Well, I didn’t go as far as shaking his hand or actually conversing with him but I was with him … in his house, sitting on his furniture, chatting to his staff, picking up his mementos, opening and closing his doors …

… and he was just a matter of inches away.

Jean-Marie Le Pen is the leader of the French far-right party and was to be interviewed by a national broadcaster. We, the crew, had arrived at his sumptuous house in the Paris suburb of Saint Cloud and unloaded almost a ton of kit into a reception room on the ground floor. It’s a 3-story affair with large well attended gardens, a panoramic view over Paris and the Eiffel Tower (7 kilometres away) and is patrolled by two throaty Doberman Pinschers.

His house doubles as his office (nice tax break) and he has a staff of seven. Party officials, drivers and runners make constant visits. On many of the walls, hang oil paintings of a younger podgy Le Pen ‘the paratrooper’, a plentiful collection Joan of Arc effigies adorn tables and period pieces.

Once the lights, cameras, simultaneous translation kit and microphones had been plugged up, checked and double checked, a suited and booted Le Pen strode into the reception room. He looked around and couldn’t quite believe that we had done to his home. Furniture had been moved, strangers (foreigners, no less) were everywhere and talking in English, large banks of TV lights had been stuffed into corners and cables criss-crossed their way over the floor.

He was introduced to the interviewer and the producer but not to the 4-man crew. He laughed and joked, sat down and was mic’d up.

“So”, began question-master Stephen Sackur, “after the recent riots, you’ve called for all those involved to be stripped of their French nationality … how can you justify this?”

The gloves were off and Le Pen came out swinging … as be fit’s a man of his outdated and supremacist ideology.

In May of 1997, I was working for a news agency and along with a producer, Kim, we’d had been sent out ‘on the stump’ with the far-right movement in Mantes La Jolie, some 45 kilometres to the west of the capital. We had been told to wait for the Leader (Le Pen) at the church in the centre of town. I remember that it was a hot May morning and T-shirts were the order of the day. A number of right-wing supporters milled on the other pavement as a smoked-glass Renault swung towards our small group of journalists. The car was immediately surrounded by small, badly dressed banner-waving followers and a shirt-order Jean-Marie Le Pen got out and began waving like an exiled King.

Over by the church, a small group of Socialists gathered and began shouting a few ‘anti-Le Pen’ throw-away phrases. Normally, Le Pen would ignore such treatment (water of a duck’s back to such a man) but today he went over to confront them. Naturally, along with the limited press group, I followed. As he reached the base of the tower, a scuffle broke out andm on out-stretched arms, I lifted my camera over my head to capture the events. One right-wing supporter tried to haul the camera out of my hands and onto the ground but a quick foot lashing out in his direction soon put a stop to that.

Le Pen was bearing down on Socialist candidate, Annette Peulvast, and soon had her pinned against the brick-work. The above photo illustrates such heated agression and my footage on the day (from just behind Le Pen), clearly showed his clenched fist against Peulvast’s upper body.

After a few hours of trailing Le Pen around Mantes, it was time to get the footage back to the office and satellite them over to our London headquarters. Kim had given a head’s-up to the office and told them what to expect.

There then followed a few minutes silence in our speeding car … and then the phones went bananas. “You mean you have shots of Le Pen physically attacking another candidate?” The Paris office followed by the London office. Then another call from the Paris office. No-one could quite believe us. The the print journalists started filing news from Mantes and the wires spoke of “Le Pen punches Socialist” … and if we had the only moving pictures of it, then “get back here soonest”.

That night, my pictures opened every European news programme and over the course of the next week, had been replayed in slow-motion, analysed, zoomed into, blown up and printed in magazines and newspapers. Meanwhile, Le Pen was accusing the cameraman of “manipulating the pictures” and the Police were knocking on the door, requesting a copy of the tape. Naturally, we surrendered a cassette.

The agency had strong feelings about possible reprisals by the National Front so they shipped me out to Hong Kong for a spell, just until the fuss died down.

Le Pen was convicted of assault and stripped of his civic rights for two years for throwing punches and insults during election campaigning. The court in Versailles also imposed a three-month suspended jail sentence against him and slapped him a highly inappropriate fine of €3000 (£2000). The stripping of his political rights meant that he was unable to vote or stand for election for the duration of the ban.

His lawyers had called for an acquittal saying there was a lack of evidence.

Back in Saint Cloud, Le Pen wasover a barrel, being quoted in his own words about stopping immigration, changing the law to take national citizenship away from troublemakers and why he keeps friends such as the British National Front and the American KKK. You can judge a man by the company he keeps … and this man just couldn’t give a straight answer without get all hot under the collar.

And there I was, behind my camera and just over Le Pen’s shoulder … my 20 seconds of evidence, the 'manipulating cameraman' ... what I captured back in 1997 may have rocked the French political world for a mere instant but it happened nonetheless.

Once our interview was over, Le Pen sat back in his chair, “That was tough!”

Yeah, a little tougher than you can handle, eh big man?


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Good To Be Back ...

I've just returned home from a few days in the countryside. The nearest neighbour was around ½ a kilometre away and wildlife is all around. All was wonderful, except I pulled a muscle in my lower back whilst wielding an axe chopping wood. Now it hurts when I lie down, bend over, turn to my right and, you would believe, sneeze. I was forced into buying an 'appliance' - a lumber support. Oh goody. Aches and pains and medical jiggery-pokery.

Less lager-lout, more Saga-lout ...

Spending time away means that you loose all track of time and world events. I didn’t even think of listening to the BBC World Service until it was almost time to return home. But, once back in the swirling bosom of the French metropolis, I soon discovered what had been going on in my absence.

You can't make up stories like these;

23,000 Reasons ...

According to bird lovers in the low-lands, those hilarious Dutch have been up to no good.

Endemol, the company who saved us all with 'Big Brother', had organised a new world record attempt for toppling dominoes in the northern city of Leeuwarden. Event staff had spent weeks setting up four million dominoes in the local exhibition centre. Just before the big push, a sparrow had flown into the centre and, in it's panic on finding itself trapped, knocked over 23,000 carefully positioned dominoes. A man with a gun was called in.

He shot and killed the sparrow.

The record attempt went ahead and the Dutch entered the books with a total of 4,155,476 dominies. Hurrah.

After the record attempt, the news got out about the sparrow and 'a special webiste' received thousands of complaints. Many people said that "the bird did not do itself any favours by knocking over 23,000 dominoes". How was it to know, for heaven's sake?

Endemol said it felt "terrible" about the killing and the head of a bird protection agency (get this) "appealed for calm". Appealed for calm? What's this, the Dutch version of the French riots?

Shouldn’t have left the bloody door open in the first place then, should you …?

A Pie And A Pint …

The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has asked all ferry firms to carry out stability checks.

Which sounds fine, until you learn exactly how they conduct their checks.

Apparently, it is feared that Britain's growing weight problem may be causing these frail and ancient boats too much strain. So, take sixty volunteers, assemble them at the Prince of Wales Pier in Falmouth and seduce them with the offer of a free Cornish pasty and a pint. Once weighed, passengers were labelled with a figure in kilograms on their front and the total compared with the maximum passenger payload of each ferry.

Say the experts, "individuals' weight has risen to an average of 11st 8lb (73.48kg) and the combined weight increase on a passenger ferry of 100 customers could cause stability problems."

Needless to say, the boat was tethered to the dockside throughout but had it been taken out into the choppy waters of Southern England, wouldn't the 'test' have been more conclusive? Like, err, what a ferry is designed for?

High As A Kite …

A French woman has admitted attempting to open an aeroplane door mid-flight so that she could smoke a cigarette. Sandrine Helene Sellies, 34, who has a fear of flying, had downed a few 'alcoholic tipples' along with a number of sleeping tablets ahead of the flight from Hong Kong to Brisbane.

Once airborne, the effects of the concoction took a-hold. Sellies was seen on the Cathay Pacific plane walking towards a door with an unlit cigarette and a lighter. She then began tampering with the emergency exit until she was abruptly stopped by a flight attendant.

Mrs Sellies' defence lawyer said her client had "no memory of what had happened on the flight on Saturday, and that she had a history of sleepwalking". Quite rightly, Mrs Sellies pleaded guilty to endangering the safety of an aircraft at Brisbane Magistrates Court and was given a 12-month A$1,000 (£429) good behaviour bond. The French tourist was at the start of a three-week holiday in Australia with her husband.

Ringing The Changes ...

British Actor Richard Griffith (Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter non-stop cash machine) ordered a woman out of his West End play, after her mobile phone rang for the third time. The production of 'Heroes' at the Wyndham's theatre was nearing the end when Griffiths asked her "Is that it, or will it be ringing some more?" The audience clapped as he asked her to leave the Saturday matinee performance.

This is not the first time Griffiths has ejected someone for being a nuisance. Last year, Griffiths gave another 'outing performance' at London’s National Theatre to a man in audience who’s phone went off for the sixth time during a production of 'The History Boys'.

This latest phone-rage was during the penultimate scene that Griffiths, 58, addressed the woman directly from the stage. "Could the person whose mobile phone it is please leave? The 750 people here would be fully justified in suing you for ruining their afternoon".

Dial M for Manners.

Work That Body, Until You Rust …

A keep-fit enthusiast has been told not to wear vests at a council gym because the sight of "big hairy armpits" would upset other users. Anthony Ward, 41, said he was told by an instructor to wear T-shirts instead of a vest while using gym equipment at the Horfield Leisure Centre in Bristol, UK.

Mr Ward, a gym member for two years, has vowed to continue wearing vests but a Bristol City Council spokeswoman said vests were not banned but gym users are being advised not to wear them. At the start of the session the female instructor said that men should wear T-shirts rather than vests as sweat could cause the equipment to rust.

There are a lot of men who wear vests in the gym … but isn’t a gym one of the only places where it is actually required that you sweat?

I need a lie down … no, it still hurts …


Thursday, November 17, 2005

There's No Fool Like An Old Fool …

As my age continues to increase and my ability to learn new tricks declines, today I was given a much-needed shot in the arm by a piece of technology.

Ordinarily, I would set about editing TV news footage on two machines; a recorder and a player. Simple cut-cut editing. Tape out of the camera and get bashing. Nothing flashy but, my word, I am lightning quick. The idea of using this new non-linear computer stuff and my face would just twist into the 'I’ve just swallowed a pint of freshly squeezed lemon juice' face.

Editing by computer has one major draw-back; unlike tape-to-tape, it is impossible to haul a cassette out of a camera and get going, you have to download all the footage into the computer first, which takes time.

Once a few minutes of tape from a recent press conference was captured onto the laptop (you see, I've got the lingo already), I opened up a 'bin' and started pulling shots about. Without the luxury of a 'how-to' manual, after one hour I had the basics figured out and was editing sequences together.

I feel as though I have discovered part of a dark continent and am feeling more than a little pleased with myself.

We'll see how long that lasts …


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Wear The Fox Hat …

The torching of cars and general civil unrest seems to be coming to an end. The government has extended its 'local curfew' regulations. On Tuesday 15th, President Jacques Chirac told cabinet ministers that the extraordinary powers are "strictly temporary and will only be applied where they are strictly necessary".

The total number of destroyed vehicles comes to 8,973 but a quick look at the number of cars torched in the UK each year by the young, bored and disenchanted, comes to 77,000. So, at under nine thousand, France's figure hardly registers on the scale.

A media-driven story? I think so …

Talking of which, the French are rather upset by the way the foreign meed-ja has reported on recent events. Our American cousins (who can't quite remember whether they used white phosphorus against Iraqi troops or not), did the most damage. Those bastions of tabloid fiction, Fox News, had their knuckles rapped by the French Foreign Minsitry. A graphic they used in between 'news' reports from the Capital, showed the Eiffel Tower in flames. The FFM wasted no time contacting Fox (via their Embassy in Washington) and, waving a Gaullist digit, said "We find your graphic highly offensive and if Fox wish to continue working in France, you’ll stop using it". They did. In an instant.

However, the best example of newsroom ineptitude goes to … (the envelope please Anthea) … CNN, who's geographical knowledge of this fine country has simply baffled them. Surely they possess an Atlas in Atlanta? Seemingly not.

Take a look at the above map (get a grown-up to help if necessary) and find five errors. When you have done this, put the towns into their real geographical locations.

Click on and tell them what a bunch of twerps they are.

Whilst CNN (who's tag-line is "Be The First To Know") are congratulating themselves on a job well done and dishing out high-fives to one and all, they might like to know that the above image was taken from a 'France 2 Television News' broadcast.

Who’s laughing now??

(Played out to the sound of Duelling Banjos ...)


Sunday, November 13, 2005

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It …

Finally, some news out of France that doesn’t contain images of scum throwing petrol bombs at the police. Hard to believe, no?

For the last 2 nights, Bercy Palais Omnisports has played host to the Supercross Championship, with American Andrew Short taking first spot over both days. The final day is today, Sunday 13th, and I expect that young Mr Short will be crowed 'King Of Bercy' for the 5th time.

As in 2004, I returned to the 45,000-seat Palais Omnisports for this year's event. Noise, dirt and high-flying bikes - all that jazz. Unless you're lucky enough to get a green photographers bib, which allows you access to the track, you have to be content with a seat in the photographers balcony. No bad thing in 2004 as the bikes would come whipping around a corner to your left, shoot up a dirt jump, become airborne and be parallel with you at a height of 4 meters. Just enough time to get some outstanding images before they headed back to earth.

On the opening night, Friday, I requested a seat in the balcony and to reserve my green bib, trackside, for Sunday's event. En route to the photographers balcony, I noticed a change; no bar in the press room. Bugger. I fancied a beer before things got underway. Never mind. I settled down into the same seat as last year with a good view down the track to my left. Bugger number 2. Some bright spark had changed the track layout. There was no more 'dirt jump', guaranteed to throw bikes at the press. Instead, the jump had been replaced by 15 moguls - one meter high, teeth shakers. Unless you were in the front row of the balcony (like my good self), you couldn't see a thing. However thanks to the live TV coverage and the giant screens slung from the roof, at least the 10,000 people in the portion of the stand directly behind me managed to follow proceedings.

What was wrong with last year's layout? I must put in a request with the Press Office to interview the course designer (if the spoil-sport is there, naturally). The images I got from the balcony on Friday aren’t worth displaying. I deleted them. How can I send such poor quality stuff to the agency in New York? My inspiration had been sapped. I went looking elsewhere.

In the paddock I found bikes, riders, mechanics and fans alike. Some interesting stuff to be had here. I had a few words with an exhausted looking Andrew Short and joked with a security guard who (wouldn’t you know it) let me go through a side door and stand in the tunnel section of the track. Be prepared for lots of noise and chunks of flying dirt coming towards you at great speed.

It was exactly that. Within minutes, my kit was covered in a thick layer of soil and an hour later, back in my neighbourhood bar, I was still picking lumps out of my scalp.

The ideas was to get some good 'wide' coverage on the Friday, including head-on jumps, corners and paddock action, then close-up track stuff on Sunday. With the best of both nights put together I might have something worth wiring to the States. As it happens, Friday was a bit of a washout but I'll go back today, pick up my bib and get as close to these bikes as my bottle permits …



Saturday, November 12, 2005

Mother Knows Best …

A concerned Mum in the English county of Devon has asked that single men submit an 500-word essay to a local newspaper as to why they think that they are good enough to date her daughter.

Linda Adams begun her appeal for men with the question "Who wants to date my daughter?". Unattached men between 24 and 30 are being invited to send in their sales-pitch and a photo to the Devon Journal.

Ms Adams, 53, said she wanted daughter Sabina to get a partner she deserved and that 'Brad Pitt look-alikes' would not be rejected. She went on to say that she was not looking for a husband for her daughter, but just hoped to find someone she could celebrate Christmas with after spending the past few single. Holistic therapy student Sabina has a six-year-old son.

Ahh, bless …

I don’t know about you, but put all the pieces together and you might come up with story not worth the ink …

"Say Cheese, Your Royal Highness ..."

Whatever one might think about the ‘toffs’, I have to say a word about Lord Litchfield who died following a stroke on Friday 11th November. Whenever he appeared in (or was mentioned by) the media, the line ‘the Queen’s cousin’ was neatly slotted in.

Maybe it would have been more of a struggle for him if he didn’t have the ‘Royal Connection’ rubber stamp, but go look at his images. You have to admit that they are beautiful.

It makes the crap I take look like, err ...crap?



Thursday, November 10, 2005

He Giggles, She Doesn’t …

Those hysterical Americans have done it again … a Stanford University team have been monitoring brain the activity of men and women when they read funny cartoons. The team decided that there exists hard evidence of a gender divide when it comes to appreciating humour.

Apparently, the research may lead to a better understanding of a medical conditions called cataplexy - a sudden loss of control of movement linked to the emotions.

You mean … after drinking too much?

Elkie-holics …

Talking of drink, an old people's home in Sweden was recently under siege from a couple of drunks. None of this ‘closet-drinking’ stuff, these two got slaughtered in broad daylight and had the wrinkles all in a panic … well, you know what’s it’s like, a few beers and you get the horn …

The OAPs were happily going about their business in their sheltered accommodation in Sibbhult, southern Sweden, when a couple of wild Elks came sloping up to the property - blind drunk.

Apparently, the creatures had happened upon an apple orchard where tons of fermented fruit lay about. Following a few hours munching to their heart’s delight, the Mother-Son-combo went for a sightseeing tour of the neighbourhood.

Police attempted to chase them away from the retirement home and only succeeded when one of the officers produced a dog. The elks didn’t need telling twice …

An Elk hangover is something I could only aspire to …

Maybe This Is Not A Good Idea After All …

50yr old Venida Crabtree, of Cowley, Oxford in the UK, has finally passed her driving test. Congratulations, Venida!

However, she began taking driving lessons in 1972, aged 17 but 33 years and £27,000 (€40,148/US$47,131) later, she finally satisfied an instructor and was handed her full licence.

She’s currently driving a second-hand 980cc Suzuki. I don’t actually reckon she’s very bright … think what she could have done with that 27k … Mr Crabtree, can’t you have her for financial cruelty?

For Sale, Marathon Runner …

3yr old Budhia Singh, from the East Indian state of Orissa, had been sold for 800 rupees by his poverty-stricken mother. Sold? Yes. Apparently, it’s all the rage over there.

The boy just happens to be a seriously good runner and, when spotted by a certain Mr Biranchi Das, a deal was struck with his ’owner’. Mr Das handed over 800 rupees and bought the boy back.

Officials in the eastern state fear that the 3yr old, who has become reckoned for running marathon distances, is being exploited. For example, Budhia recently ran 60km (33 miles) in six and a half hours and has appeared in a number of TV commercials. The state government says it also fears the long distances may be damaging the boy's heart and lungs. Just for a laugh, he then ran (non-stop) from the holy town of Puri to Bhubaneswar, a distance of 60km (37 miles). A few days before that, he ran (again, non-stop) the 35km from Bhubaneswar to Cuttack.

"A team of three doctors conducts regular check-ups on Budhia to find out if anything is wrong with him. I don't know why these people are so concerned" says Mr Das.

Here’s hoping little Budhia gets picked up by Nike (or similar), who pay for his education and maybe he won’t end up in just another one of those sweatshops that are run by … err Nike.

Brazil Nuts …

Stop press!

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva watched a pirated copy of a popular film during a recent flight!

Government officials (ergo, the sneaks in this story) said the President's advisers had been responsible for obtaining an illegal copy of the Oscar-nominated film "2 Sons of Francisco". Apparently, El Pres was "saddened" by the revelation (but delighted by the film, no doubt).

Lula watched the film during a trip to Moscow in October - well in advance of the film being released onto the home market. “The advisers responsible for obtaining the illegal copy have been reprimanded “, the government said.

The film, "2 Sons of Francisco", by director Breno Silveira, tells the true story of Brazilian country music singers Zeze and Luciano di Camargo - two brothers who rose from poverty to fame.

Come on! What’s the problem? Who hasn’t watched, downloaded, borrowed or copied something ‘illegal’ using their computer?

Show of hands for the innocent?

Nah. Thought not.



Monday, November 07, 2005

So Awfully, Terribly, You Know ... Nice …

Years ago, when saying something against the Royals in public, I could have lost my head in a rather distasteful manner. These days, people just let rip on the 'nobs' … they’ve let rip on us on more than one occasion (one is not happy about modernisation etc).

In locals in the good old USA, have been lavishing attention on Prince Charles and his new wife (new? I‘ve seen better looking 2nd-hand Volvos …). Normally, I would ignore the thousands of words pouring out of the columns of Royal Correspondents. However, I found an absolute gem;

'The Duchess of Cornwall took centre stage when the royal visit to the US took in an organic farmers' market in the Californian hills. Camilla, wearing a navy blue trouser suit, tried local produce, including cheese and salmon fishcake. She later enjoyed half a pint of beer in a pub. "I'm eating my way around here. Luckily I've got a good appetite." (Unlike his first ...)

Come on, why must we know what the poor old soul is wearing? Had she been wearing something else, would she have eaten an entirely different 'local product?'

'Meanwhile, Prince Charles talked to farmers …'. Umm, chatting to organisms capable of replying, eh matey?

Camilla, on the other hand, was besotted by organic beauty products (!). The owner of an organic cream stall told 'our Camsy' that "these are products that keep my 50-year-old skin looking healthy". Apparently, the Duchess bought some. She must be desperate just to look 50 again …

'The tour has been a diverse one, taking the couple to Ground Zero in Manhattan and to visit people affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans' Great. You’ve just lost everything in a natural disaster and been relocated miles from home, when some seriously rich foreigner and his pampered wife come along and ask "Have you come far?"

Naturally, the Americans did not disappoint on the 'cras lines' stakes. After drinking a pint of something called Boot Hammer (any references to his wife will be dealt with accordingly), Charles chatted to Judy Borello, the owner of 'an old fashioned saloon bar called the Old Western Hotel' (gee, how quaint). After meeting Britain’s National Embarrassment, Ms Borello said "Marvellous! He's a Prince of a fella …"

Thanks Judy.

'As the royal couple went back out into the bright Californian sunshine, Charles patted the bar's dog Fred' And, no doubt, engaged the pooch in a conversation about urban architecture …

That'll teach me to buy a newspaper ...


Saturday, November 05, 2005

And Not A Lot Of People Know That ...

For those of you who follow this blog, will remember that on October 14th I wrote an item entitled 'Stand And Deliver'. It concerned a certain Parisian museum who expected to be paid €912 (£615) in exchange for free publicity worth several thousand. The piece finished with the line "I shall pursue down another avenue and report back".

I did and here it is;

Despite loving this country, it does put people to the test - locals and visitors alike. It’s archaic system (thanks to the diminutive Monsieur Bonapart) means that to get anything done means you have to argue, push and cajole. It’s own sense of being is outdated and difficult, it's functionaries are well adept at posturing and argument.

As a professional photojournalist, I had requested a day's shoot in an aviation museum, north of the capital. The museum has a large number of rare and beautiful aircraft, of which six, I had earmarked for a 2-page colour spread in the UK's most popular aviation magazine. One aircraft per edition. The editor of the magazine was delighted to hear my news as photographer, Dan Patterson, was doing the same in the USA. 'An Eye For Detail', as the article is called, was originally Dan’s idea but he isn't Europe-based.

The letter I wrote to the museum explained in great detail what I wished to do and where the images would be published. Their reply was simply outrageous as they demanded €912 for the facility. Rule 1; you don’t charge card-carrying journalists to publicise your exhibits.

Not content at this attempt at professional mugging, I got my head down, researched some fact and figures and went to introduce myself to the Director of the museum.

Monsieur le Directeur had organised The Festival Of Transport which runs for 3 days in the rebuilt Grand Palais in the heart of Paris. A stunning glass building which, in November 1938, held the Paris Airshow. In recent years it was closed due falling glass panels, but after careful restoration, it reopened in September 2005 - €80m over budget.

I found Monsieur le Directeur at the top of some steps leading to the conference rooms and, lifting my index finger, he registered my intent for discussion. He came bounding down the steps, a full smile and a firm(ish) handshake. The Great Man was now standing in front of me and I was looking down at … looking down at … “I‘m standing in front of a Napoleon look-a-like!” He’s tiny. His suit is one single crease and his unkempt hair gives the impression that there’s been an explosion inside his head.

I figured that I didn’t have long as he’s a busy man but he smiled as I introduced myself and explained that we had mutual friends. Explaining the letter I had written and the reply received, his face slowly changed into one of concern. From out of my camera bag I produced a copy of the magazine and indicated Dan Patterson’s fine imagery. He glanced. Then came the posturing as his open palms appeared at shoulder level, "Look", he said "everyone charges journalists and that‘s our policy too".

No. Only you.

Right, I’m loosing him, he’s backing off. Time for the counter-argument.

I explained that no museum has ever charged me. The Louvre, Musee d'Orsay. No-one. I informed him that neither the 'Smithsonian' in Washington D.C., nor the 'Imperial War' in London or France's 'La Ferte Alais has requested any form of payment from journalists in exchange for publicity. You could see from his disbelief that he thought I was lying. However, I have letters and emails from museums stating that they do not charge professionals but I thought it bad form to confront him with such paperwork so soon.

Breaking into a trot, he disappeared, waving his hands "Merci et au revoir …"

The Maginot mind. Great.

"And f**k you very much too …", I smiled back with gritted teeth.

It’s not over yet. I’ll write to him again and I’ll spell out the following;

* The magazine for which I work, has a monthly circulation of 35,537 which is 15,537 more that France’s own favourite.
* Should an organisation or and advertiser wish to take the same 2-page space in the magazine, then they would expect to receive a bill for € 2 837,90 per edition. In effect, I am offering the Museum free publicity in 6 editions to the value of € 17 027,40.
* I shall enclose a copy of letters and emails from other museums.
* Would he please tell me who has actually paid the €912.
* There’s a chateau just outside Paris which you can hire for a day to shoot a porn movie - and they only charge €800.

More posturing and arguing to come. This one isn’t going to get away …


Friday, November 04, 2005

Scratch Along With The DJ …

For 17 hours a day, from the confines of a van in the car park of a Los Angeles recording studio, comes the sound of ‘Dog And Cat Radio’. Founded by a Californian pet lover (who else?), the internet radio station is designed to ease the lives of our lonely furry friends around the world.

34 yr old Adrian Martinez, says that the station is aimed at pets who spend time at home while their “parents” are out at work. In between tracks Mr Martinez and his fellow DJs, offer practical advice to pet owners, plus a regular dose of the station's signature sound - barks and meows.

Owners are encouraged to send in pictures of their pets and there’s a section for ‘listeners’ can become VIPs, receiving a free monthly newsletter with information about pet care, places to go with your pet ‘and so much more …’

Asked about this idea, Mr Martinez said "My cat, Snickers, asked me to do it".

Bloody barking, if you ask me …

Vanilla Iced ...

More from California with some good news for those of us who like a refreshing gullet of Coca-Cola; the soft drink manufacturer is to end sales of its revolting Vanilla drink in the UK from early 2006. Here’s hoping they do the same across the European Continent soon after.

Despite only launching two years ago, some West Coast beverage consultant in a wide-awake suit and a mouthful of porcelain said “Coca-Cola has been doing badly and it is not working and not having the visibility that there is a decent chance that it will work longer term”. You mean ‘no bugger likes it’.

And what on earth is a ‘beverage’ anyway? What’s wrong with the word ‘drink’ for heaven‘s sake?

Vanilla Coke? Awful stuff. It’s like ordering a piece of juicy steak that tastes of cat food.



Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bitter Little Pill …

For a seventh night in succession, the north-eastern suburbs of Paris hung heavy with thick black smoke. Yes, those little b*****ds were up to more trouble-making.

This is not a political demonstration, nor it is the reaction to last week’s unfortunate deaths of those two boys, killed when they jumped into an electrical substation. Simply put, adolescents are on the rampage after dark, burning, smashing and destroying their own neighbourhoods. Torching a car next to your local supermarket and standing around laughing, has only one message, “I‘m bored, I‘m going to cause merry-hell and maybe we‘ll get on TV”.

Between 4pm and 1am, our team drove around Bondy, Clichy-sous-Bois and Bobigny, filming these pathetic acts of (quite frankly) hooliganism. The kids on the street were almost pleased to see us, the police were less than welcoming. Who can blame either.

Before nightfall and with a pair of CRS (riot police) patrol vehicles, we toured ‘La Cité des 4 Milles’ on the border with Saint-Denis. ‘The City of 4 Thousand’ is a 70’s housing estate, jam-packed with north African immigrant families. A tinderbox of hate and despair. One of the vehicles stopped and highly-armed officers stepped out to conduct an identity check on a group of youngsters. I got out of the crew car with my camera and that’s when it got nasty. Like a pack of wolves, groups of youths started circling around me. People started shouting, pointing, encouraging. The riot police wanted nothing to do with us. They got back into their vehicles and drove off. I followed suit.

I should add that there were just two of us in the car, myself and a producer. Since the Gulf War, my client has become very safety conscious and had arranged for a ‘security advisor’ to travel to Paris for our protection. High-risk companies have sprung up all over the place, offering close protection to governments, industry and the media. However, our own ex-special forces operative had missed his flight and wasn’t going to be with us much before 10pm.

There was some good news; the client had found a French ‘security advisor’ who was on his way up from the capital and should be with us by 7pm - relief spread quickly through the crew car. Then, as it would happen, some more excellent news filtered in; the overly-keen journalist, of whom I spoke yesterday, had been surrounded and stoned by local thugs. He and his crew high-tailed it to their vehicle and sped back to Paris.

Around 10pm we were stationed at the local command post, the forecourt of a fire station. Three CRS vehicles we formed up, ever-ready for quick dispatch, when a group of seven youths ran towards the forecourt. Within seconds, petrol bombs and stones left their hands and struck the windshields of the vans. I was approximately 10 meters away as the first Molotov exploded. The CRS had already slammed the doors shut and their gears were crunching into first. The upper part of my body (along with the camera) was jammed through the small sunroof of the car. I have just got the camera running when the fleeing CRS vehicle almost collided with us. As it cleared my vision, the youths were targeting the car and began hurling rocks. I thought better of staying aloft and fell downwards and into the passenger seat, Stephan (our French ‘security advisor’) floored the accelerator whilst swerving to avoid the collision with the CRS vehicle. It rained rocks and bottles as the car shot forward and I closed the electric sunroof.

Stephan is one of these bounty-hunter types, spending months in Iraq and earning a small fortune for his services. A small but stocky 5’6”, his pride and joy is a Smart sports car which he had left at the fire station, now under attack. In their madness, the rioters didn’t spot the ‘just out the showroom’ sleek black car. Stephan’s relief was palpable.

The rest of the night was spent touring the adjoining towns - chasing fire engines and police cars. Nothing spectacular apart from fire crews dousing shells of burnt-out 3 series BMWs (a favourite accessory of the suburbs) and the occasional airborne rock. The unhappy youths are just wrecking their home environment and local facilities and looking for someone to pin the blame on - Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be it for now.

Funny, but I always thought that burnt out cars were caused by a mixture of delinquents and a box of matches …?

Allbest and sleep well,


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Do It To Me, One More Time …

Well, today I’m going up to see for myself.

Following the unfortunate deaths two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, six nights of rioting have turned the town into a virtual no-go area. Violence has spread to other Paris suburbs and it doesn't look as though the government can put a cap on it that easily. Tonight, myself, a journalist and a producer are to spend a night with the riot police. Oh joy.

With the regular office journalists out of the country, I have to work with a replacement from the UK. A ‘ring-in’, as we call them, he’s some young spunky 30-something, taking over for the month of November. Normally, he gets to report on run-of-the-mill British home news (cat stuck up tree, that sort of thing) but tonight‘s story I fear, is like letting a child into a firework factory with a box of matches. I do not trust him one iota. Not a single millimetre of a nat’s whatsit and, by the way he's getting all excited and talking about this shoot, I can see us coming to blows. Following the fun and games we all had in Kosovo, I reached the age of 40. At that point I thought, “Right, that‘s it. No more hot areas, no more civil unrest and no more war”. TV and newspaper agencies (from plush, leather-bound offices) push and goad both staff and freelance TV cameraman and stills photographers to 'get closer to the action' .

Between 1991 and 1993, I spent my time covering the Bosnian war and some truly atrocious bomb attacks in South Africa. With each exploit, I lost friends. Five in total. Once you’ve seen ‘premiership’ war and bloodshed up close, then an inner city riot shouldn’t be much of a problem? Well it is when you have an aversion to violence. I’ve experienced enough of it and I’ve reached an age when I would prefer to do something less traumatic. Furthermore, I don’t like young keen journalists who think that by giving their cameraman a good shove, they’ll get what they want.

Being caught in the middle of a riot with both eyes open is bad enough, but with one eye shut (the open eye pressed up against the viewfinder) you have less than bugger-all of a chance. If this ‘ring-in’ pushes me to go further into tonight’s action, I shall simply hand him the camera, “You want to get injured getting your precious pictures, then you go get them …”.

Will report back tomorrow ...


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lazy And Proud Of It …

Well, France is in the grip of another round of 'avoiding work'. It’s November 1st, 'All Saints Day', 'All Hallows' or 'Hallowmas' which, according to the books, is a day of feasting celebrating the honour of said Saints. Churches are almost totally empty for the celebration as only 21% of those people who actually say they attend a service, actually go back on a regular basis.

So, once again, the French have taken this secular holiday to heart with Parisians spending Monday night going out for dinner and boozing it up. The thing is, when a holiday happens to fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, many French workers take the Monday or Friday off as well. This is not official and does not apply to institutions such as banks or government, but is sufficiently commonplace to cause difficulties doing business elsewhere. A magic 3-day week then opens up for those who take 'le pont' - the bridge.

France has a total of 14 national holidays and 5 weeks paid leave, not bad considering that 'functionaries' (civil servants) have the luxury of a 35hr working week. If you work for one of the big government outfits like telecoms, railways, electricity or gas, then you can expect to cash in on as many benefits as you can grab a hold of. Things, however, are changing …

More and more, France is waking up to the fact that in order to remain competitive in a global market, it can no longer wrap its citizens and businesses up in cotton wool - let alone rock them to sleep with a lullaby after each working day. She is indeed, a highly productive country. French GDP rose 0.2% in the first quarter of this year yet unemployment has also risen by 0.1% to affect 2.8 million people.

The government, seeing that the country's working trends no longer fit the global vision, has decided that it should partly-privatise its major companies; EDF, Telecom and the railways (SNCF). At every turn, employees have taken to the streets to voice their distaste, holding marches and strikes. Naturally, if France were to adopt a different working format and join the outside world, her workforce would loose many of its benefits.

Another scheme currently in discussion is that middle-class mothers might be paid up to €1,000 (£675) a month (almost the minimum wage) to stop work for a year and have a third child under a government scheme to boost the birth rate. This country already has one of the highest rates in Europe as it is. The female employment statistics are the envy of the European continent, yet the government remains worried over the reluctance of the better-educated woman to breed.

The jobless describe the relationship between work and unemployment as "hell inside, hell outside" but figures show that some of the "precarious" population aren't doing too badly with around 15% receiving a handout of more than €885 (£600) a month.

England and Wales only has six national holidays and four weeks paid leave but France sits back and gloats. She knows that she needs to rethink her holiday and working practises as the economy can no longer take the strain.

The government may have some ideas but it's the hearts and minds that refuse to follow.

Happy day off (again),