Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Now Then Sonny, What's In The Bag ...?

I popped down to Porte de Versailles yesterday for the 'Salon du Chocolat' - wall to wall cocoa and chocolate products. Naturally, the public were tucking into everything like there was to be a world shortage any second now.

On one lap of the exhibition hall I got chatting to one particular French producer who was knocking out some rather fine sugar-free chocolates - and jolly good they were too. Pertinent questions were asked, was the price of sugar-free chocolates not unlike bio products elsewhere? Pricey? Apparently, not. Almost the same price as run of the mill chocolate bars etc that you find on the shelves in your local supermarket.

After 2 hours I decided that I had seen and tasted everything I wanted, so I left with my camera bag bursting full of paperwork and info packs. I arrived home and discharged the overflowing bag only to find this;

Christ on a bike! With my recent brush with the law still firmly in my memory (see "Banged To Rights", below) I was near touching cloth when I feasted my peepers on this - a small transparent bag containing white powder. Was this planted on me for PC Bulldog to find? What would have happened had I been stopped and searched!? Panic surged through my body and scenarios flashed before me.

Thanks to the sugar-free chocolate producer, deep within the press pack he had thrusted into my mits was a sample of the product they use to replace sugar; MALTITOL and in supicious powder form to boot.

Sadly, I will not be sprinkling it onto my cornflakes but tipping it down the bog. Just when I thought I was getting over the whole nasty experience ... it's back on the tranquillisers then ...


Monday, October 30, 2006

Not A Lot Of People Know That ...

I have always said that if I learn a new word in French everyday or an interesting fact, my life will be better off for it. It's only 07h45 on a Monday morning and I have just discovered why the good old British sausage were called 'bangers'. Apparently, during WW2, sausages of the time were so full of water that they exploded when cooked. However, I have also learnt that the humble sauage was invented (according to somebody or other) by the Sumerians in what is modern-day Iraq in 3000 BC. Furthermore, the word 'botulism' is derived from the Latin word for sausage 'botulus'.

Well, don't say I never teach you anything ...


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It Could Happen To You ...

In the 10 years of being in Paris, my adopted city, it is impossible to avoid the sight of individuals in the process of being arrested by the Police. Handcuffed and humiliated, surrounded by officers, the prisoner is forcibly lead away to a waiting vehicle. Spectators keep their distance and gloat over the proceedings with "well he probably deserves it", knowing nothing about the circumstances nor the individual in question.

Until now, the only real direct contact I had with the cops was being stopped on my scooter and asked for my papers. Yes, they were always abrupt and to the point but so long as you were honest and respectful with your answers, they normally handed the papers back and waved you on. France has always been a revolutionary country and to control the revolutionaries comes a security force ready to stamp on any fresh spark. Riot Police in plastic body suits armed with pump-action shotguns, strike an aggressive pose on their blocking lines. From dawn to dusk, Police vehicles wail through the streets with their blues and twos blaring, armed officers hanging out of open doors with guns at the ready and gesticulating at other road users to "MOVE ... NOW!" With such an arsenal on the loose, all this noise and hostility, it is hardly surprising that the locals call them 'Starsky et Utch'. Even beat-bobbies hunt in packs and especially around the area where I live, the Les Halles district of Paris. It is renowned as a haven for soft drugs so the law is forever present. The place is simply crawling with uniformed and plain-clothed officers, armed to the teeth and in possession of a bad attitude.

Following a recent brush with the Police, I now find that my respect for them has declined to a thundering 'zero' which, as far as I am concerned, is well merited. It was an event I would rather forget ...


A mate of mine had been arrested and about his person the Police had found a very small quantity of a controlled substance. Had this happened in the street, the offending article would have been viewed as 'for personal consumption'. It would have been confiscated, and after he had supplied proof of his identity to the officers present, he would have been sent on his way and that would have been the end of it. Now enter the Brigade Chief who we'll call 'The Bulldog'.

Along with my friend I was given a thorough searching. I ought to add that I do not partake so, as expected, I was hardly likely to be in possession. The Bulldog decided that as no incriminating evidence was found about me, I was free to go. With a pounding but relieved heart, I made my way to the leave stopping only to ask The Bulldog where were taking my friend so that I might inform his wife that he was in custody. The Bulldog smiled and gave me the address. At the same time a rather over-enthusiastic officer slapped me in irons. That, boys and girls, is privileged information and I did not have the right to know, so I too went along for the ride.

With our hands behind our backs, wrists clamped in vicious steel, we were marched towards our transport, paraded before the locals. Upon reaching the convoy of Police vehicles I was searched once again by an officer who I imagined worked as a melon squeezer in a former career. Thorough, absolutely. Delicate? Well, a bit rough for a first date. He asked me what I had been arrested for but as I was still in a state of shock I really couldn't tell him. The officer with the shotgun kindly replied on my behalf; "Drugs".

I'm sorry, what was that?

Another officer took a long thespian-esque drag on his cigarette and told me to get into the back of a marked Police car, sit in the middle seat and "shut up". Two chunky lads played at bookends and with a childish amount of wheel-spinnning, off went the 3-car convoy - lights and sirens working overtime. Within a few minutes I began to regain some form of real-time consciousness and as the screaming cavalcade made its way down towards the city centre. I could only imagine that the general public thought that 'Starsky et Utch' had nabbed the entire Escobar family. I was aware that this situation had turned nasty but knew I was completely innocent but couldn't help grinning at this ridiculous show of testosterone.

As we neared our destination, bookend No 1 struck up a monotone conversation; "How long have you been in France?" and "What do you think of our country?", polished off by bookend No 2 chipping in with "Do you think you will like French prison?". A first-rate attempt at Police humour, I think you will agree. All the vehicles came to a halt outside the Commissariat in Les Halles and I was bundled out of the car. The Commissariat bears the impressive title of 'Service d'Accueil, de Recherche et d'Investigation Judiciaires (SARIJ)' and is slap-bang in the middle of a huge shopping/metro complex. The Parisien equivalent of London's Oxford Circus or New York's Times Square, only not quite so awe inspiring. We were now being guided through the fortified doors of the Commissariat. I had never seen a couple of white guys cuffed and escorted through these portals but now I was one of them, I can tick that off my 'to do' list.

We were booked in and asked if we wanted a lawyer (but only a one who would confirm that the cell was in a habitable state for our stay), if we wanted a doctor and if we'd like to leave a phone number with the Prosecutor. There was no guarantee that he would call but I gave them my girlfriend's number anyway. At no time, as a foreigner, was I asked if I required the services of a translator. As I had been brought in speaking French, the assumption had been made thast I didn't need one. Despite the basic Human Rights were introduced in 1948, the chapter entitled 'your right to a phone call' seems to be missing from this particular Commissariat's user guide. If you have been booked on a drugs charge, your right to a call is not valid until the first 72 hours of custody have passed but as I had been found with nothing illegal about my person, how could I possibly be here on such a charge? No phone call and no sense. In fact I had been taken into custody as I had requested the location of where they would be taking my friend. The Bulldog thought that that if I was released and managed to warn his wife, any massive drugs find could be scuppered.

Down in the cells I was ordered to strip, turn all my clothes inside-out, turn around, bend over, touch my toes and cough. You could try kissing me first, you bastard. Some arrogant toad with rubber gloves gave me 30 seconds to take the laces out of my boots - "or else". Nice.

For the next 25 hours we would be locked up as guests of the Interior Ministry, housed in far from hygienic surroundings - as people, we no longer existed as free citizens. No contact with the outside world whatsoever - we had simply ceased to be. However, during that time, many clues were given as to what The Bulldog was hoping would happen and what he was really after. It is a well known fact that squads such as Bulldog's are on a financial bonus scheme for arrests and convictions. Fair enough, he was now in line for his arrest money, but now he had to justify it. Meanwhile, there were people on the outside who were looking for us and, in turn, the same people knew other people who were calling his direct line one after another. He could take no more of it and went home.

My girlfriend had not heard a peep out of me all evening and as I was supposed to pick her up from work at 5.30, was getting increasingly worried. She contacted another of my friends and after several conversations, a connection was made - someone else's husband had gone missing at the same time. My cell door had a large double glazed clear(ish) panel through which I could see all the going's on at the front desk and, if their door was left open, they could see into the reception area. Through the windows of the front desk I could see that it was dark outside but as I watched, I saw something which filled me with hope. My girlfriend had marched into the Commissariat and demanded to know if I was being held. "Non, Madame, we cannot tell you". She demanded to know why. "Non, Madame, we cannot tell you that either". I could see that she was getting more than a little heated and the exchange between her and the desk sergeant was one she was up for. As the door to the front desk was open I tried to catch her attention by rolling up my sleeves and waving my white forearms around in the gloom of the cell. The line of sight was perfect as I was directly behind the sergeant's head. I continued waving and eventually she saw me! Gasping in horror, and pointing in my direction, gave the desk sergeant the old panto special; "You don't know where he is? Look, he's behind you!" It was then that one of the desk staff moved in with the order for her to "fuck off". This, I thought, was a great PR exercise on behalf of the Police. Not wanting to be outdone, she side-stepped one of the larger officers, rushed up to the desk and waved at me.

The officers working the desk at this particular station were a particularly obnoxious breed of individual. In fact, station-bound officers in general tend to be plucked from the back row of the remedial class. For anthropologists, they'd make a fascinating study; weight-watchers meets Laurel and Hardy, Jacques Clouseau and a touch of Forest Gump thrown in for good measure.

In the cell I was joined by 'G', a 24yr old Romanian lad who, along with 3 other friends, had come to Paris for a week's holiday. They had bought a number of tourist T-shirts from a street vendor. The vendor had spotted the Police and made tracks and left the Romanians standing around admiring the gifts for their friends back home. In went the snatch-squad, on went the cuffs and 'slam' went the cell door. Then there was 'C', a 23yr old boy from Guadeloupe on a charge of possessing €40 worth of cannabis. For the first 2 hours of being in the cell, he had pleaded for his phone call. He was told to "sit down and shut up". None of us, including the Romanians, were ever given our phone call. In reality, you are granted a call before you reach the Commissariat but upon arrest our rights were not fully explained hence we were not made aware of this.

Ventilation in the cell was minimal. In fact, it stank. During the night, as and when the Police fancied it, they'd shine torches in our faces or switch on a powerful halogen lamp directed towards the cell interior. No water was ever offered to us and in order to stave off headaches and dehydration, I would knock on the cell door and request to be taken to the bathroom. Begrudgingly, anyone in need would be lead down the corridor. No matter your requirement within, the toilet door was always ajar. For myself, I frequently cried wolf and used the toilet trip simply to drink as much water from the tap as I could, then wash my face, arms and neck. With no toilet paper or hand towels available, personal hygiene was another basic facility we would have to wait for. I remained courteous and always thanked my escort for the trip and thanked then again at the cell door. The night shift appeared to have very little to do, except eat take-away food, read newspapers, answer the phone and listen to the radio. So, I thought, let's give them something to do that they actually get paid for.

Since I had never visited the 'Custody World Adventure Playground' before, I was unsure as to what to do. There was nothing I really could do. Sleeping was out of the question as my heart was still racing like a Gurkha Parade Ground and the thoughts in my head were coughing up images of ... well, you can imagine. This was the condition the Police wanted you in and expected you to crack and spill the beans - were there any to spill.

At 2am, my mate in the adjoining cell was taken upstairs to give his statement. As he stepped out of his cell he threw me a glance. Grey and drawn. They brought him down sometime later and soon my name was called. The difference between the staff on the ground floor and the interview room upstairs was extraordinary. "Hello", said a young female plain-clothed officer, "please take a seat and let's get this sorted". I told the young lady that I had a few questions for her, but first, would she be so kind as to give me a glass of water? A full tumbler was swiftly handed to me and she sat down and began her questioning. "You can read French?" she asked me, "Yes, of course", I replied. Behind another desk sat a male officer with a perma-tan who was busy working through a pile of papers. The entire interview was conducted in French during which I asked her a few questions about the technical words she was using. Throughout, she remained courteous and attentive. Perma-tan chipped in with a few questions and soon the 3 of us struck up a convivial conversation. The interview was over and the hard-copy placed before me for approval and signing - timed at 04:30 - a full 12 hours after I had been taken in. Once that was over with, I was allowed to proceed with my questioning. Of course, the first one I came up with was "why am I still here?". The young lady explained that as far as she was concerned, my account of events matched that of my friend, there was no reason to keep me here but I would have to wait a few hours for a urine test. After that, she saw no reason for me to stay. A further 3 glasses of water later and Perma-tan took me into another room to take my finger prints and mug shot. He even allowed me to go to the toilet unsupervised. My stay on the first floor was soon over and I bid the 2 officers 'good morning' and was escorted back down to my concrete gloom.

Time passes so terribly slowly. You have no idea as to what time it is and you start imagining what's happening in the outside world. 'G', 'C' and I tried sleeping on the floor. We made a mattress out of a flea-ridden blanket and covered ourselves with another. 'G' asked for another blanket as 2 was not sufficient for 3 people. "This is not an hotel!" came the reply. Really? And there was I about to book and alarm call and a continental breakfast. The desk staff were noisy and, as expected, seemed to get a kick out of dropping heavy items and turning up the radio. Sure enough, our 'continental breakfast' was delivered; a small carton of orange juice and a biscuit. Yummy. That'll keep the wolf from the door.

The Commissariat started to buzz with the morning shift and those leaving conducted their official handover. The crew who had arrested us the day before clocked-on and got busy. My friend was removed from his cell and cuffed. It was still early but they were off to search his apartment. He was gone about an hour and The Bulldog took the dreaded dope Poodle along for a sniff but, naturally, nothing was found. Following the search at his apartment and the fact that our individual statements matched, it became clear that my mate and I had been honest and truthful all along. To quote my friend, if you know how to make a one-egg omelette, it doesn't make you a grand chef de cuisine, now does it? Upon his return to the nick he was brought into my cell, bringing the guest-count to 4. He slid down the wall and sat on the floor, "Morning". I introduced everyone and we began a good old chat. "If any of this ends up on your blog," my friend began "I'll fucking kill you ..."

Next on the agenda was a urine test. I was sure that once this had been conducted, we'd be out. Again, we waited. To keep spirits high in the cell, I suggested a game of 'Charades' - it seemed appropriate given the circumstances. My friend and I explained the rules to the others and we were soon raucously laughing at 'Jailhouse Rock' and the like. With the dawning of a new day, humour in the cell began to increase. Nervous laughter, maybe, but it was a whole lot better than moping around.

Comedy Hour came to an abrupt halt as the pair of us were called and removed from the cell. Cuffed and under the supervision of 2 officers, were taken outside. Outside! Fresh air. Fill those lungs. It might be the air of a city filled with dog shit and petrol fumes but it never tasted better. One of the officers told us that it was 12:30 and it was the best 12:30 I had smelt in a while. As we drove through the traffic, it became obvious that our escorts were not entirely without compassion. After a while they appeared to relax and we began chatting. At the hospital, the pair of us sat on cold metal seats while the officers lounged on hospital trollies and shared an in-house joke. The pee test was the first process that had happened with any degree of urgency and as my cuffs were being replaced, I cocked my head on one side and asked the officer "not too tight if possible, sir ...". He barked his reply "Rues are rules ...". What no one else saw was his wink and grin, the ratchet clasps were looser than before and far more comfortable. Within the hour we were back in the cell at the Commissariat.

Lunch was served and my friend, being a vegetarian, received a surprise gift. His wife had popped by and delivered a salad sandwich and a can of pop. Once the items had been searched for the ubiquitous file, they were brought through to the cell. To show what a mate is really is, he immediately started ripping the sandwich into 4 and shared it and the plastic cup of pop with his fellow cell-mates. This act of selflessness is typical of him. We were filled with a sense of camaraderie ... and the sandwich.

'G', the Romanian, became agitated as his 3 friends who were being held in other cells were being released. We calmed him down, telling him to remain composed. When it was his time to be called 'upstairs' to sign out, we told him to just look The Bulldog in the eyes, say "yes sir" with a degree of sincerity and to get as far away from here as he could. Sure enough, he was called. A round of hand shakes later and he was out. I was next. Lead upstairs by a young a young Belgian officer, he spoke calmly to me "it's OK, it's all over ...". The Bulldog was in his office and on the phone. It was obvious that he was talking to someone on the outside, connected to us. A sheet of paper was slid in front of me. It had my name on it. I signed it and turned to walk away. "Monsieur!" called The Bulldog, "You do know why you were brought into Garde à Vue, don't you?" As I had signed my release papers, I considered telling him what I thought of him of his bullying tactics and and this system's lack of civil rights. He had me pinned as a fool but I replied with him "yes, because I asked you where you were tasking my friend". He smiled, "Exactly!".

My friend was next for the off.

As a child in the UK I was taught that the law is to be respected and that "if you ever need anything, ask a Policeman". In the France of 2006, things are very much different. If I ever want anything in the future, I will do all I can to avoid asking one as now, apparently, asking a simple question can get you locked up.


In summary, yes, I know there is nothing I can do about any of it - best to let it go - but it does make you stop and think of our Rights as people in France. I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Article 63/1 of the CPP states that; "placed in police custody all those presumed to have committed or attempted to commit an offence". Informing the next of kin is a basic civil right which, according to The Bulldog and French Law, was deemed as an attempt to commit a crime. I know my friend and I know he is not a drug dealer. He is a normal run-of-the-mill chap who enjoys a bit of cannabis from time to time. The Bulldog thought he was on to something big as there'd been a white foreigner picked up in Calais the day before with kilo's worth of stuff in his possession. He assumed that we were connected. Where my charge of drugs came from, I will never know but it appears that The Bulldog moved the goal posts to suit his needs.

We all left the Commissariat without charge (the Romanians included). It was a total farce from start to finish and as The Bulldog failed to get a single result, a uniformed Grand Fromage would have most certainly rapped him over his knuckles. French law states that the 'Garde à Vue' act can detain people for a minimum of 24 hours. This can then be extended to 48, then 72 hours. From conversations with people in the know, within 10 minutes of picking us up it was obvious to the entire snatch team that we were not who they were looking for. The man behind the music was clutching at straws and bowling down each and every avenue. Sadly, each and every avenue lead to a dead-end which only fuelled his frustration. We knew we were innocent as did his crew. The Belgian officer has previously visited the cells to assure us that "everything was going to be OK, just be patient". Such is the high level of confidence they have in their leader.

When The Bulldog realised that he had backed a looser, he panicked yet continued to use the Interior Ministry's power to make an arse of himself. This diminutive control-freak is dangerous and believes that he is above the law. His crew knew that he had missed the mark. It would have spoilt his image to admit that he had made a mistake.

No drinking water was ever offered throughout our stay and I have seen a greater level of toilet hygiene in a Kosovan public convenience. The food was minimal and not sufficient. The desk staff addressed us in a highly discourteous manner and on requesting one particular toilet trip I was told to "shut the fuck up".

I could not wait to get out of there. From the moment I had been brought in, all I could think about was being released, free to see my girlfriend, to sleep, free do what I wanted. It may well have only been 25 hours, but it fucks with your head and if you have not experienced the same situation yourself, then how can I expect you to understand. I am an affluent middle-classed white male, with friends. I have thanked those who worked on our behalf, those who bombarded The Bulldog's direct telephone line and those who saw the futile injustice of it all. As my friend was signing out, the pressure on The Bulldog was showing. He passed him the phone saying: "ring your wife, it's zero for an outside line ...".

It is precisely because I am white and middle-classed that I can empathise with those who are not - the frequent raids on housing estates in the Banlieue and for those who get caught up in this bully-police-state ... and for those who haven't a hope in hell.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Watch It ...

Until this morning, I did not have a watch that worked. If I do, then the strap is broken or the bracelet securing pins are bent out of shape.

Until I could lay my hands on a timepiece where everything was in good working order, I went to the market in Montrouge over the weekend to buy something 'pro-tem'. It was there that I fell upon the French version of Del Boy Trotter and his young assistant. I made my selection of montre, handed over €10 and walked away with this fine example of oriental craftsmanship - and a free battery.

One hour later it was still working but a housefly farted in the next apartment which caused the clasp to break. Back to square one. This morning the watch is still keeping good time and, with a bastardised first aid job with an old leather bracelet from Stu's Watch Museum, all seems to be back to normal.

The name on the face of this watch is ATIM. Not exactly a well known name and certainly not for €10. So, what does ATIM stand for? Well, there's;

Announcement Traffic Indication Message
Association of Title Information Management
Automatic Ticket Issuing Machine


A Tia I Mua (a trade union in Tahiti)

and my favourite;

Association Of Translators and Interpreters of Manitoba

I wonder what the time is in Churchill, Manitoba ... and do they know who Derek Trotter is?

Garage Sale ...

Despite the Mayor's Office in Paris screwing everyone with a motorised vehicle, issuing parking tickets like sweets and removing everything to the pound, they're still claiming poverty. In an effort to make more filthy moolah, around the 23rd of this month, they're holding a sale ... of wines.

Let's just say that the 'caves' below the Town Hall probably hold some of the best wines known to mankind, dating back to even before Jacques C was in residence.

What will the out-spoken Mayor do with the cash? Probably put it towards more projects to turn the capital into a traffic-unfriendly place and painting the town pink.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Keep It To Yourself, Please ...

So publicity-shy Madonna has adopted a one-year old boy from Malawi ... and?

Personally, I am delighted.

But I'm also sick and tired of these poxy bloody celebs seeking publicity when doing such things. Why is it deemed necessary to class this as headline news?? The poor little sod will probably be raised by a nanny and then trotted out in the arms of 'Super-Mom' at film premieres, prize-givings and the like ... but only when 'Super-Mom' needs the attention. And then there's her own political views on a variety of subjects ... save us from those, for heaven's sake!

Maybe the adoption world might benefit from the occasional helping hand from the 'odd celeb', but there are many level-headed adults out there who are more than capable of making a realistic decision without the rubber stamp from the self-publicising super rich.

Children are adopted from all over the world by loving childless parents everyday, without the need for displays of vanity and self-adornment.

Madonna, shut it ...

Teaching Your Grandmother ...

There's no real proof as to where the expression "Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs" comes from. The presumption being is that your grandmother has no teeth and therefore prefers raw eggs to the hard wholemeal-mixed-with-barley bread. In the 18th/19th centuries that was the staple diet of British peasants - and dental health at the time was truly awful - so it was taken for granted that old people were toothless. Who knows.

So, why and where is it used? Well, here for a start ...

In 1999/2000 the Kosovo War was underway and yours truly was in the thick of it, filming in Pristina, Mitrovica and all compass points that sounded like a prescription drug. My translator/fixer at the time was in his mid-20s and a local Kosovan. He was fantastic and we shared private jokes for as long as possible, which is necessary in such a situation.

We watched as homes and lives were destroyed and we also watched as a so-called 'truce' was called. K-FOR (the multi-national Kosovo Force) had to keep the peace between the warring Serbs/Kosova Albanians and UNMIK (the multi-national Police Force) looked after the civilian population and tried to put a stop to insurgents chucking hand grenades into packed restaurants. We ate fairly regularly and despite the hotel in Pristina being in a terrible state, slept reasonably well.

Six years later and my former translator rings me up and says that he is in town and now serving as "an advisor to Agim Çeku, the Kosovo Prime Minister", here to plan a trip to France for his boss. The French were open supporters of the Serbs during the Bosnian and Kosovan crises and have forever despised Albanians (Kosovars are Albanians but with autonomy), so their knowledge of Kosovars is limited. So, over comes this chap to set-up meetings for a goodwill official visit.

Now in his mid-30s, married and with a small child, I met my friend in a café near the Luxembourg Gardens and we 'caught-up'. He regaled me with stories from home and his visit to France - and this is where the grandmother line came to mind.

The morning before our meeting, he had been taken to the CRS training ground - the CRS being the French riot Police. Once there, he was given a pep-talk by the Major IC and then shown the tactics of a group of CRS 'under attack' by a bunch of rowdy French protesters. All this just incase there was a disturbance during the Prime Minister's stay. The CRS, unless you didn't know, are a bunch of racist thugs, dressed from head-to-toe in protective plastic. My friend giggled at the theatricals as they unfolded before him.

"So what did you think of the fat men striking the defensive pose?", I asked him.

"Look", he began and placed the palms of his hands on the table, "I am from Kosovo. We KNOW how to riot. We do NOT have Policemen dressed like Robo-Cop. Bricks, bottles and petrol bombs are for pussies. People in my country, as you know, use other methods and people die. A Policeman in Kosovo has a nightstick and a pistol. Grenades are thrown by the rioters and bullets are returned by the Police. If someone wanted to have a go at my boss, do you think the French have the situation under control? F**k off!?"

I began the "Don't teach your ..." phrase.

"... grandmother to suck eggs?" he concluded.

He's from Kosovo and he knows the very same expression. How fantastic is that?


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bugger Off And Sort Yourself Out ...

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, along with a legion of fans, was in Paris this week for two nights of live performances. Georgios, as you may know, is the real name of multi-millionaire pink George Michael.

But all is not well in the Michael camp.

This year alone, George had hit the headlines for drugs no more than 3 times. In February he was arrested for possession of class C drugs. In May, he was found slumped and unconscious over the steering wheel of his Range Rover. He was woken by a member of the public knocking on his window (for five minutes): "George was sweating heavily and had his iPod on". He got the car started and drove off weaving up the road, then collided with a traffic bollard. Then, at the beginning of October, he was found by the police, again, dozing in traffic. He was taken off to hospital, then charged for the offence by the boys in blue. Strangely enough, George's 'life partner' and Cheerleading Coach Kenny Goss, checked into a rehab centre in the States ... on George's word. So, why doesn't the silly bastard listen to his own advice? We all know that he has a problem but why can't he bugger off and suffer in silence, treat himself far away from the eyes of his fans and the press ... as normal people do.

"But why do photographers need to know what I'm doing at 2.30 in the morning?" said George. All the photographers need to do is wait at a busy London road junction in the early hours and this stoner will turn up and stop right in front of them. However, I refuse to feel sorry for someone who has more money than God, yet does his best to get into trouble.

We all remember the 1998 'toilet affair' when George got his knob out for a total stranger. Of the event he said "Well, I was followed into the restroom, and then, this cop – well, I didn't know he was a cop at the time obviously – started playing this game. I think it's called ‘I'll show you mine, you show me yours and then I'm going to nick you!'" Well, George, why did you whip yours out just because he did? Now, he regularly drives stoned whilst wearing an iPod. Just another couple of items for the charge sheet.

George, please don't even think of waking me up before you go-go into rehab ...


Monday, October 09, 2006

Pout, Pout, Shake It All About ...

The latest round of fashion shows have now, thankfully, drawn to a close. One can now let out a sigh of relief and begin the pleasant task of invoicing ... no more early morning starts and stressed-out journalists.

Like any fashion season you care to mention, it was nothing out of the ordinary - but don't forget that this is the rant of a troglodyte who has no artistic flair or appreciation of the 'fash-industry'. To me, it's all a total waste of time and is simply a vehicle designed to pander a mass of over-paid nancies who 'create' articles that can never be mass-produced, let alone worn with any degree of comfort in public.

Then there are those who are invited to witness the mentally unstable and physically awkward 'mod-uls' who parade before the World's cameras and industry critics. The socialites, who's sole 'raison d'être' is filling their electronic personal assistants with as many invitations from other socialites, make up the bulk of the audience ('bulk' being the operative word). In they come, a rush of badly dressed wannabes, hoping that they've got a reserved place in the front row. "Will the cameras stop at me for a shot of my newly inflated chest?" and "How about my beautifully sculpted tropical fish lips?" Flash go the teeth and flash go the cameras.

43yr old Demi Moore (who's not averse to having pictures taken of her with her kit off) arrived at one show with her new husband, 16 years her junior. In 1997, Christopher Ashton Kutcher was a Biochemical Engineering Student scraping together a few dollars sweeping biscuit crumbs off a factory floor. Now, 11 years later, he's married to one of the World's most beautiful women - though he now gets to handle a much better class of brush. Naturally, The press were all over them like a rash. Janet Jackson, the sister of the guy who has that terribly debilitating skin complaint, showed up. Her minder, a 20-stone failed ex-boxer, repeated the only phrase he can remember "back orrf", whilst pushing the ladies and gentlemen of the press in all directions. These 'stars' are here to be 'seen' but their so-called security insist on getting in between their bosses and the lenses. Fat chance of good coverage ... but a good chance of 'fat'.

We now turn our attention to the 'mod-uls' themselves. Outside of their professional arena, they look terrible. I very much doubt that anyone would cast them a second glance in the street. Great tall streaks. The last time the World was subjected to images of miserable starving people, the BBC claimed a scoop and without it, Live Aid would never have happened. Honestly, what future do these girls have? With a maximum professional career span of 'years', these self-starved waifs drift off into design, management or the back-of-beyond, never to be heard of again. Unless, of course, they are lucky enough to become a 'Supermod-ul', when the combination of a explosive temperament and the command of a 6-figure sum to act as a clothes horse sees them into their 30s.

Lie a catwalk model on her back and you'd have a relief map of the Benelux countries, stand them up and you run the risk of running out of clean needles.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Up The Little Wooden Hill ...

When you think of staying in an hotel, does the name 'Travelodge' immediately spring to mind? No? I wonder why ...

On behalf of the Great British Public, Travelodge recently conducted a survey entitled "The Most Popular Sleeping Positions". This quite honestly boring poll unearthed some figures that only a 3rd-rate hotel would find interesting.

Their sleep behaviour poll suggests the most popular position is sleeping back-to-back but not touching. 27% of couples interrogated said that they adopted the so-called liberty pose, with the second most popular position, from 23%, being back-to-back but touching. The survey went on to say that of some 2,000 people asked, 92% of couples stick to the same side of the bed each night. I see the need of a change of sheets, eh Travelodge?

"Spooning" with the man on the outside, was adopted by 20% of couples while some 8% slept in the position with the woman on the outside. The "Lovers' Knot", where couples face each other, legs intertwined for about 10 minutes before separating to sleep, was favoured by 10%. But just 2% of respondents said they opted for the position without separating before going to sleep. "The Romantic", a favourite in Hollywood films in which the woman lies with her head and arm on a man's chest, was named by 4%.

And there was I, silly me, thinking that the favourite Travelodge position was the man slipping his wedding ring back on as the woman hurriedly gathered her belongings and left the room with a handful of £50 notes ...


Friday, October 06, 2006

Heard The Latest From The Cayman Islands ...?

When I do someone a favour, no matter how big or small, I certainly do not do it for the chance a kick-back. Nor do I do it in order to pull in favour from them in the future. Mates are mates, after all.

Today I took delivery of this nice new shiny box.

Let me explain. It's a geeks play-thing and something that'll keep anyone indoors all day (raining or not). In two words, it's a Wi-Fi Radio. Give it a supply of mains electricity, log into the signal of your home Wi-Fi system and start listening to radio stations from across the world. And the sound is stunning. It's so simply to operate, even I figured it out.

If there's a radio station in the world with a simultaneous internet broadcast, this thing will have the bloody thing listed. In the UK alone, there are some 475 stations - some uniquely internet based. Do a search through Europe, the US, Africa or the Orient and you'll find stuff to listen to. Some may not find this at all interesting but I don't care - I find it fascinating. My favourite station is BBC Radio 7, especially the 'On Demand' section. Naturally, you can listen to internet radio using a PC or a Mac but this is a stand-alone dedicated radio - no need to boot up a computer anywhere.

All I did in return for this fantastic shiny box was take a few photos of a mate's wedding, although he insists it's part birthday present. I certainly didn't expect anything in return but away he went. A favour is a favour and TS has made me feel somewhat embarrassed as I really don't deserve it. I am very, very touched.


For Summer 2007 ...
Wedding Photographer available for 2/3 day bookings during the Spring and Summer months. Call 0800-SNAP-PIX and leave a message with a list of all the household goodies you're prepared to cough-up ...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Not The Last Turkey In The Shop ...

Turkey is doing it's utmost to join the EU. So, after one of its Nationals was arrested after hijacking a plane two days ago, yesterday the UK jailed 3 more of it's model citizens for people-trafficking.

You're not making it any easier for yourselves ... let's see what happens when the Pope visits Turkey in November.

We (Nearly) Always Get Our Man ...

Forgive me, but if you'd heard this before, log off now. However, I very much doubt it.

The French Interior Minister, 'Little' Nicky Sarkosy, has a grand plan - a plan so cunning that you'd have to be French to have thought of it. In his bid to rule the country (his bid to be President will come later, trust me) begins with the repatriation of undesirables. In other words, get all the black people without papers on planes as soon as possible. Fact: Europe has an immigration problem which needs to be addressed - and the French prefer the SAE variety.

Yesterday morning, at around 5am, a large collection of riot police in cyber-cop outfits gathered in a housing estate 35kms south of the capital. The idea, as far as they were concerned, was to round up as many 'sans papiers' as possible and have them winging their way back to whence they came. With operations such as this, the government aren't huge fans of blanket press coverage as it looks bad to the man in the street. However, a little bird in the Interior Ministry thought that if the government were seen to be doing something about the ever-growing immigration question and publicising their plan in action, then the man in the street might be more supportive when election time rolls around.

So, at 6am and a huge gathering of press later, the gallant thugs in blue plastic stomped into the high-rise housing estate and took a lift to the appropriate floor. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), the police were more than a little heavy-handed once they had found their prey. A quick call of wakey-wakey in French and it was all over. At the end of this long, costly and well publicised operation, the filth came out with their quarry.

The tally of their efforts was thus;

1 x coloured youth with Down's syndrome.

I bet you're proud of your thugs in blue now, eh Sarky? It's no wonder no-one has a good word to say about the police in this country.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Come On In, The EU's Lovely ...!

Last night, a Turkish airliner flying from Tirana to Istanbul was hijacked and flown to Brindisi in southern Italy - an apparent protest against the Pope.

Yes, Turkey, welcome to the EU. This is what we want. Lots and lots of violent 'actions' involving innocent people ... it's just what we're looking for.

One Up, One Down ...

If there was one new film I suggested you hire or buy, you couldn't go wrong with 'The World's Fastest Indian'. It's the true story of New Zealander Bert Munro, who's dream was to be the fastest man on a motorcycle. Anthony Hopkins plays Bert and the rest of the cast are too bad either. The film runs for 2 hours and follows this extraordinary man on his life-long ambition. Just don't watch the 'Making Of' in the 'extras' section of the disc. It's nothing more than a bunch of actors giving it all they've got in the mututal masturbation category. If you want to enjoy a superb filmm then this one is a real crowd-pleaser.

However, I suggest that you avoid 'Timeline'. Written by Michael Crichton, this journey back-to-the-past is no more than utter rubbish. It is flawed in oh, so many ways and contains several disasterous performances, namely that of Scottish comedian Billy Connolly (heaven preserve us from ex-welders with Equity cards). The plot is thus; archaeologists loose professor (Connolly), shoot back in time to find him, get beaten up by the maurauding English on the battlefields of France, find professor, try to get back ... Hollywood at it's very worst.

Sadly, the first film maybe seen as too lame for some yet the second will attract hoards of popcorn-munching zombies.


Monday, October 02, 2006

It's A Mugs Game ...

Yesterday, the first Sunday in October, was the running of the 'Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe', France's richest flat horserace. The American have 'The Breeders Cup', the Brits have 'The Grand National' and the Micks, 'The Irish Derby'.

Ordinarily, national races have around 30 entries but, this year, the 'l'Arc de Triomphe' had only 8 runners and with a course of a little over 2kms, takes around 2'30" to complete. The Grand National at Aintree in the UK is run over 7.2kms ... you do the mathematics.

My beloved and I had a flutter. We didn't bet on form as we know bugger all about the sport, nor did we bet on the jockey's colours. We took the safe bet and went for nationality of the horse and/or it's name. For €1 it was never going to be Monte Carlo or bust.

I watched the 'off' over the road, 'chez Panoramix' and kept my beloved informed as to our financial situation by phone. One of the country's biggest sporting events isn't on terrestrial television any more, you need cable or a subscription to Canal +. The bar was full of the usual suspects, serial betters who weren't afraid to air their 'for what it's worth' opinions. Needless to say, our nag didn't make us rich as you don't win anything for 8th place. Apparently, its next public apprearance will be on the shelves of a number of popular supermarkets.

It made bloody Prix out of the lot of us.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Elections Heat Up ...

It doesn't get any better ...

The French Presidential Election is underway with candidates throwing their hats into the ring. The favourite and cheeky sex-kitten, Ségolène Royal, could well be voted in as France's first female President in May of 2007. However, one of her brothers has just been speaking about the 'Rainbow Warrior', sunk by the French Intelligence Service (DGSE) on July 10th 1985. According to Gérard Royal, it was he who planted the bomb that sank the RW.

In this modern climate of tree-huggers and lentil-eaters, what amount of fall-out can we expect?

Let the fun commence!

(Isn't she stunning?!)
Dream On ...

The Paris Motor Show opened its doors to the public yesterday, and for the next 14 days, is expecting around 1,500,000 pairs of feet to stamp over its carpeted areas. The organisers estimate that the exhibition area has some 500 vehicles from 30 countries. Naturally, along with the cars themselves, comes a plethora of safety equipment, in-car entertainment systems, low-profile tyres and the latest in Sat-Nav. Before 'Joe-Public' got to drool over the next generation of 'X', the press were invited in for a 2 day sneek preview ... and wasn't it fun? That is a rhetorical question and doesn't need an answer.

My brief was to photograph as many good-looking motors as I could over Press Days; luxury, sports, family saloons, concept and 4x4s. You name it, I had to find it and bring the goods back home. Normally I enjoy such shows as one's imagination gets the opportunity to run amok and I get a real sense of achievement, a job well done. It began with registration in the press tent ...

"Please fill in this form" said a stern hostess. I duly ticked and 'deleted where appropriate' two sides of the questionnaire with my name, address, for whom I was working and presented the completed form back to the bored looking creature behind the desk. Her eyes quickly scanned the front of the form then, turning it over, she stared longingly at the back. Without even looking up she thrust it back in my direction saying; "You haven't filled in your job title or filled in that part there, or this or that ..." I didn't even bother taking it from her quivering hand. "Yes I have. It's all done." She looked again, flipped the paper over and said "Oh". No apology, no smile, just "Oh". She then handed me the press badge without even a cursory glance. Cute. First impressions and all that.

The show is big. Really big. No doubt someone out there will say that Detroit is bigger. So what. You didn't have to walk round it. The major constructors were there 'en force', their stands groaning with the weight of flashy examples. There were a few odd ones too, like the Chinese who have a range of 4x4s which, we're sure, could never make a dent in the popular market as they'd fall to bits in a fortnight. They, however, smiled with the same enthusiasm as only the plastic Chinese can.

I hit the big ones; Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley, Mini, Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce, Land Rover, Peugeot and Citroen. Yes, it was impressive and yes, it made me want one but after a matter of hours I knew one thing; I didn't want to stay there any longer. The discipline of the French press corps was up to its usual mad manners and then something struck me (and not the elbow of a French photographer either). Who on earth were these badly dressed eastern Europeans and Asiatics leaning all over the place with these credit card sized cameras? Are they for real? Real journalists or people with free 'VIP' passes?

Then came the phone-camera brigade. These little shysters lean right across my shot in order to take a photo of an engine or suchlike, without even checking that the coast was clear. There's nothing worse than trying to work than some arse in a suit he borrowed from his elder brother, armed with a Nokia, places himself between your lens and the subject. As pros, we always check to see if there's anyone we're likely to block before taking a position. Oh no. Not these toss-pots. Great shouts from the French press of "get the f**k out of it!", followed by a sheepish retreat of said invader.

And so it goes on.

My trick is to leave the subject in question and come back later, once the brouhaha has died down. But where to next? Let's try something classy. How about Bentley? The Japs aren't interested in comfort, they just build for speed, so let's go and have a gander at the latest palace on wheels ...

Bentley was founded in the UK in 1919 by Wilfred Owen Bentley. He started by making aero engines, installing the BR1 in the top fighter of the day, the Sopwith Camel. In the 1940's, Bentley Motors was bought by Rolls Royce and in 2000 (heaven help us) it was stolen by the Volkswagen Group. As a Brit who's fiercely proud of his heritage, just listening to the sales personnel of today's Bentleys brought me out in a rage. Rasping, guttural German all over the shop. The cars are still made in Crewe but it's not the first time that the Germans have devastated the city. On to Mini ... again, another British icon purchased by the super-rich Krauts. It's seems a shame that nearly all our automotive producers sold out to the highest bidder and that the British government of the time did shag all to stop it. Had this happened in France with, say, the possibility of Citroen being snapped up by the Germans, the French government would have pulled out all the stops to halt the sale. Not so in nanny-state Britain.

Take Aston Martin. No. Give it back. Now a subsidiary of Ford Motors, Aston remains at the pinnacle of luxury motoring. Seeing as the Americans don't have the knowledge or experience to build a home-grown luxury car they can sell abroad, they snapped up Aston Martin. Jeeps and Chevvies are all well and good for the domestic market, but we have corners in Europe and there aren't many American-made vehicles that have the capacity to turn left or right. In August of this year, Ford declared that they were thinking of selling Aston Martin. Is that a German I see in my sights?

What's the point of bringing Formula 1 cars to a car show? The vehicles on show are family hatch-backs, saloons, sports, 4x4s, commercial delivery vans and concept cars. What on earth is a Renault F1 car doing propped up against a bank of disco lights? They serve no purpose at all except to entice small boys and their pee-brained fathers over to the stand. If Renault think that they can unload a Clio onto someone who was attracted to the firm because of their F1 record, then the twat in question shouldn't be in possession of a driving licence.

So, out to the 4x4 display area. Littered with difficult terrain, a huge 50' ramp and a veritable assault course of visual excitement, the 4x4 track is superb for photos - so long as you can get in an open-topped example and climb the ramp. It had just gone 2pm as I asked the chap in charge if it was possible to get a ride. "Yeah, OK", he replied begrudgingly. He then went on to tell me that they had no open-topped 4x4s and that the driver was going off for his lunch. At 2pm? This is Press Day! Don't you have a second driver? Are you averse to press coverage or what? He shrugged only the way the French can. "If you think that I am a little shocked by your replies sir, then I cannot wait to see what happens here during the next 2 weeks of public days." He shrugged again.

Then we come to the final gripe. Skinny clothes horses grinning like simpletons while leaning up against a polished motor. You are not allowed to talk to them and they are not allowed to take orders from the press. The same twat who bought the Clio would be reeled in like a retarded fish if he bought a Panda because some tart is photographed next to it. Now, if the retard was allowed to bang the girl right there on the bonnet, there might be a sale in the offing ... and some pretty hot photos too. So why do manufacturers do it? What purpose does it serve?

When the next car show comes around I think I might decline. It's all too much for too little. Promotion is one thing, but overall, it isn't exactly ingenuity at work, just another excuse to say "look how sodding rich the automotive industry is" and "look what you could not possibly afford".

Still, some people wouldn't mind being in a traffic jam for 3 hours just to see a self-starved example of woman-hood standing next to a Clio ...