Saturday, March 31, 2007

Weddingery, at long last

Just back from Norwich, where I was visiting my parents, and where I had a busy 24 hours of rushing about doing essential wedding things, so I didn't spend as much time with them as I would have liked. Will be visiting again soon, once this next mad week is out of the way, and I can take a breather.
My soon-coming wedding to the love of my life has unfortunately been placed way down on the list of priorities compared to all the other stuff - book editing deadline, 7/7 inquiry campaigning, and another another tiresome, distasteful but unavoidable matter - and I wonder how I ended up with not one, but four massive, stressful things going on in my life all at the same time.
Still, it's finally happening, I really am going to walk down the aisle and say 'I will' to my beloved. I have my dress fitting tomorow; today I chased about like a mad thing, and saw the florist to organise bouquets and buttonholes, had a make-up practice (which was fab: the first time in a week I was able to relax and think properly whilst a nice girl dabbed at my face with tiny brushes in a calming manner. Dreaming with my eyes open, of sweet times to come.
I immediately booked her for mum and my sister too. We will all need a moment of zen before the wedding service and reception.)
And this morning I had a two-hour walk-through in the awe-inspiring venue where the wedding will be held, with my parents and with the vergers who were all very helpful, showing us where to stand, where to sit, where the choir girls will sing...
My mother and I made designs for the three-tier (M&S) fruitcake, we are going to cover it with Stargazer lillies, and rose petals. And two Grand Prix deep wine-red velvety roses on top, one for me, one for J, to match my beautiful bouquet. The pale gold champagne sits in boxes in my parents' larder, waiting. I feel like a cork, about to pop sometimes, myself.
Tomorrow I have to work flat out all day, go through the final edit of the book which is just getting a light syntax/spelling check - but of course I keep thinking of better phrases and wanting to tinker with it - I must be careful not to drive my editor mad, and am being very strict with myself and not faffing, just correcting. I have only read the whole thing through once, I couldn't bear to look at it after I had finished - but now I am coming back to it with fresher eyes, a bit disbelieving, a bit apprehensive. It will be out at the end of July, on the 24th.
(You can pre-order it on Amazon and read about it here. Eek!Friday Books are publishing it and Pan MacMillan distributing it.)
So many of our friends have sent cards to my mother accepting the wedding invitation... I got a bit weepy when I read them all, all those people wishing us joy and luck and happiness. Things have changed so much for me in the last two years - from the long dark days when I really did despair, when I did not think I would be able to keep from going under, to now, the spring days of hope and the promise of joy that is just around the corner. All the lovelier for being hoped for, for so long, but not quite believed in, however much I wished, and crossed my fingers.
Not quite real. Until now.
I promised I wouldn't be too bridezilla- ish on this blog and drive everyone mad. But it's the weekend, so I hope you will forgive a small skip of happiness and here's a kiss blown to you all, from an excited soon-to-be wife in North London.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Tony Blair the Musical

Tony Blair: The Musical looks like it will be a cracking show. But they need your help!
The Show will run between 1st and 27th August at the Gilded Balloon as part of the 2007 Edinburgh festival Fringe, with London previews in July. And here is a message fron the producers...

''...By now you're no doubt thinking "they've got a great show with great songs, a great team with buckets of talent, they've even got a very pretty website - what could the people behind Tony Blair - the Musical possibly be lacking?"

Well…there is one thing. You see, one of the problems of Tony Blair's government is that it hasn't made a huge amount of provision for putting on plays about Tony Blair. Shortsighted of them? We agree! And delighted though we are to see all that arts funding being poured into the 2012 Olympic games, we could really do with a bit of cash ourselves.

It struck us as more than a little ironic that the Labour party must also have been short of money itself several times. And we asked ourselves again and again: what would Tony do?
Which is why we're giving you this unique opportunity to buy your very own peerage today! Our extremely reasonably priced packages are as follows:

£10 to become a Lord
*£25 to become an Earl
*£50 to become a Duke*''

In return for your (cough cough) "donation", you will receive the following:
- A certificate confirming your new status as a peer of the realm.

- Exclusive offers and discounts on certain performances of Tony Blair - the Musical
.- Priority booking for London previews.
- Invitations to special events at which you can meet and mingle with other peers of the realm.
- A fuzzy warm feeling at being part of a historical piece of musical theatre.

Naturally we prefer cash, but a cheque made out to Tony Blair the Musical will do.
Names and titles will be handed out pretty much at random unless you specify if there is a particular part of the realm of which you wish to be a peer.
We look forward to helping you on your way towards a greater air of self-importance and the life that befits a man with a title! (Or a woman, of course. We are fighting for a new Britain.)''


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A good point about the split Home Office...

'The Liberal Democrat's Nick Clegg [Shadow Home Secretary] also highlighted what is believed to be the underlying politics of the decision, claiming it is being rushed through by Mr Reid and Tony Blair before Gordon Brown - thought to be lukewarm, at best, over the proposal - becomes prime minister.
He also noted the fact that an inquiry into the 7 July bombings had been rejected on the grounds it would distract attention from the fight against terrorism.
Would not, he asked, the time and effort taken in arranging the department's split be greater than holding a public inquiry would have taken up.

There is a suspicion already running around Westminster that Mr Brown may want to take an entirely different approach to the Home Office' (BBC)

David Davis the Tory Shadow Home Secretary came out for a 7/7 inquiry at the weekend. And we know that the Lib Dems support an inquiry too. Hmmm. Is Mr. Brown receptive, I wonder? It would be wonderful if he was, if he at least listened with an open mind, which I believe he may very well do, to an issue of such public interest and concern.

I have been privately informed about precisely who has blocked a public inquiry into 7/7. A few weeks after it happened, he gave his personal assurance to Eliza Manningham Buller that she needn't worry about one happening. No consultation with cabinet or Parliament. Just, presumably, the usual ''trust me''.

Now, with the expected imminent departure of the two key stakeholders in NOT having an inquiry, plus forthcoming revelations ( oh, hurry up, Jury!) when reporting restrictions are off, strong support for an inquiry from the Tories and Lib Dems, the picture is very different to when that wink was shamefully tipped.

An inquiry into 7/7 is above politics. Especially above that sort of sofa-special, off-the-record, know-who-your-pals are, play-'Presidential' politics. Ugh. Sooner he departs, the better.

Come on Mr Brown, help us out?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


It's recently descended into near-civil war. It's fraught by vicious internal divisions.It's reeling from a series of appalling attacks, and bombshells, and the ordinary people who can still be found there, who have trembled under despotic and capricious leaders for many years, now seem even worse off since Blair's badly-handled intervention and his sudden regime change.

Many of the best and brightest have fled into exile, unable to cope with the instability, chaos and the ineffective but brutal posturings of the latest-appointed man in charge. The media have reported the disasters and crises on a seemingly-daily basis, as it struggles with lawlessness and terrorism.

Now we hear that it is to be riven in two, or possibly three seperate entities. Perhaps this will allow it to heal, and the people there to communicate with each other without endlessly fighting, and they will live in peace and get on with their working lives without fear. Perhaps. It's one of the last gambles of the dying days of the Blair administration, one final push.

Iraq? Sorry, no, I meant the Home Office.

March 30 Stop CyberBullying Day

Following the widely-blogged furore over a prominent US tech-blogger getting death threats, US bloggers have declared today Stop CyberBullying Day and are inviting bloggers to link and tag and write about the subject. I have already written quite a lot on the subject recently ( see here and here), so I will simply add my small voice of support, sprinkle a few useful links and say thanks to US reader Barbara for letting me know about the initiative to raise awareness.

BullyOnline ( excellent site and covers a lot of the psychology of bullying, harassment and personality disorders )
Stalking Research
Cyberstalking ( behaviour), more on cyberstalking

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Newsnight '7/7 bomber filmed in 2004'

Click first programme listed here. Old film, worth watching again. 'Specially now.

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Heaven is Not a Brothel

or The Hoor's Last Sigh. What a fascinating blog.

'What is the incentive for any man to his portion of the Earthly Eternal Feminine if he has access to the The Hoor in Paradise? Why bother to lay his spirit on the desert to keep the Muslima’s cracked heel from bleeding? Why drape her with protection instead of cheap cotton? Why, fundamentally, love the woman of the world at all; and as such, love life? No, The Hoor makes this impossible, and for my love of the Muslima I will murder The Hoor. For having had an appetite of the Muslima’s flesh perhaps I am a sinner, but in that pursuit a curious thing happened — I came to learn of her heart, which is sweet like pomegranates, and far more satisfying. If I should find myself in Paradise I will not whet my longing in a subservient Hoor’s dispassionate embrace. I will wish for immersion in the Muslima’s crooked smile. In her cantankerous elbow. In her happy knees. In her supined feet. Let Paradise be a celebration of woman’s inadequacy, because we men have been the greatest one...'

If, like me, you are fascinated by provocative ideas, beautiful writing, theological discussions, then I think you will enjoy this frequently-poetic, usually-controversial, always-passionate blog.

Take a ride .


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

David Davis comes out for an independent inquiry the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend. I don't agree with all of what he says, and I am not a Conservative but I am glad that he said it. Timing is everything. Ho hum.

''America confronted its failure to prevent 9/11 with three formal inquiries. They galvanised a consensus to force through the changes required to prevent another 9/11.''

''The contrast with Britain is sobering. No independent inquiry after the July 7 bombings. No lessons learnt. A lack of political will and resources to tackle the terrorist threat. The Prime Minister's Delivery Unit describes government strategy as "immature, disjointed and weak", lacking the capacity to measure "real world impact".

''...gestures and gimmicks, including ID cards, 90-day detention and control orders, are no substitute for serious law enforcement...''

''The Conservatives will put politics aside [I'll believe that when I see it - RN] and support this Government in taking measures to strengthen our defences against another attack. But the Government must face up to past mistakes. It must be as candid about the weaknesses in our defences as it is about the terrorist threat we now face. It must answer our call for an independent inquiry into the attacks of July 2005. Britain deserves no less.''

Thing is, he's mostly right. Especially about gestures and gimmicks, and about this being above politics, though sadly the only way for politicians to take notice of any genuine concern is if it is political, or in the media and hence an ''issue''. There are hundreds of important issues for politicians to consider. But this is a very important one, because it is not just about the dreadful waste of life and injuries of summer 2005. It's about freedom and liberty and security and fear, foreign and domestic policy, communication and communities and integration and trust and where we go from here, what sort of society we build, what sort of world we live in and it affects far more people than those directly involved on 7 July 2005. It affects us all.

And I wish that the Government would just be honest with us. So there's - what - 3500 - 5000 terrorists, planning a score or more attacks? That's scary, but still dealable with, so let's stop demonising 1 million British Muslims and freaking ourselves out about The Terror That Stalks The Streets (TM) - because the actual percentages of people involved in this suicide-bombing-murder-exonerating-death-cult perversion of an ancient religion is tiny. For now.

These people planning plots are no more representative of UK Muslims than people blowing up animal labs are representative of vegetarians. Tell us the stats. We can do the maths. Fear might sell policies and newspapers and help along stale political careers - but people want to know the truth, not the hype or the sell. We're grown ups too, you know. We can deal with it, however bad it is, however bad you think it is. We got through two world wars and bombs falling on our cities day after day and people dying. Just come out with it, the real situation. You'll probably find that people are already imagining that it's a whole lot worse, because they just don't know at the moment and they don't trust the Government and that, that is far more toxic and destructive than a clear-eyed look at what went right, what went wrong and what the threat is now, after 7 July.

So M15 didn't scoop up all the clues, and made mistakes, and are still scrambling, flat out? So Government policy - especially foreign policy - but domestic economic policy too - and a thousand decisions made over a dozen years have all impacted on getting us where we stand today? Okay. Just. Admit. It.

Then can we all start from a different, better place. It's not making mistakes that's unforgiveable -it's refusing to admit it, and then trying to cover them up, and then refusing to let anyone criticise the cover ups and obfuscations and carefully chosen words, the leaks and briefings and spin, and counter-spin, and the endless avoiding of an inquiry out of what is increasingly starting to look like...embarrassment.

Which is worse than shameful, it's dishonest and disgraceful and insulting.

Come on. us out here. And help yourselves, while you are at it.
It's not that difficult. And it's starting to look like it's bloody well essential.

UPDATE: Over half of this blog's readers have signed this petition. This is a small blog, and I am asking you to circulate it and pass it around. Now, if you want to look clever and prescient, or in a few weeks or days time. Remember - David Davis has come out, so this is real, and there is no need to be scared. It's a signature. What's to lose?

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Good reading...

Stumbling & Mumbling has a couple of good posts - 'does punishment deter?' and 'apologising for slavery: a puzzle'.

On the subject of prison, check out Jailhouse Lawyer, especially this post.

The London Review of Books has a good article by Ross McKibbin on the origins of New Labour and the Blair administration - 'Defeatism, defeatism, defeatism' ( thanks Dave B).

Gerry Adams on hot flushes and delusions, fresh from yesterday's historic power-sharing agreement. It is amazing. 'I never thought I'd see that in my lifetime' said a man who grew up in Ireland to me today.

And regarding vexed question of freedom of speech versus abuse, this is great ( thanks Helen, again) from 'Definition', on 'The Freedom to Insult'

'People have an unalienable right to be insulting for no reason, with no actual relevance to the sentiment they’re expressing, just because they can, without being questioned about it. This, truly, is the American Dream. The ideal the founding fathers meant to capture when they penned the US constitution was obviously that people be able to make insulting and pejorative remarks at any time with no repercussions, because the only way to actually communicate is through direct and indirect ad hominem attacks. Freedom of speech isn’t about protecting those who disagree with the government or popular ideals. It’s just about people’s right to be insulting..'

(Oh, and the 7/7 big news? Still waiting for reporting restrictions to lift. Couple of weeks, tops. Probably sooner. Hang on tight.)


'Blog death threats spark debate'

Helen, one of the blog readers has kindly sent me a link to this BBC story about a respected female blogger who has been the victim of death threats. ( Death threats against bloggers are not protected speech)'. The blogger in question is Kathy Sierra, of the tech-blog ' Creating Passionate Users'. Many of the threats and abuse she recieved are too explicit for me to want to reprint them here, since my mother reads this blog, but they included:

'f**k off you boring slut... i hope someone slits your throat and c*ms down your gob'.

And worse.

A few bloggers in the US have remarked that this furore and re-opening of the 'blogging code of conduct' discussion is 'not good for free speech', well, no, it isn't, but this is not 'free speech'. Free speech, famously, does not extend to shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre. Free speech does not include threatening, defaming, libelling, stalking, bullying, and abusing other people, any more than 'freedom of expression' extends to slapping someone's face, or 'free love' extends to drugging and raping someone because you fancy them.

Helen says: 'Free speech? Well, when we talk about 'freedom' we have to be careful to be clear about whether we mean 'freedom from' or 'freedom to', but in this case it seems fairly plain that someone simply airing their views on a public blog (and isn't she American, freedom of speech, etc) should not have to suffer death threats. If what she says is litigious, then use the damn law. If not, and you don't like it, start your own blog. But violence - and/or the threat of - is not acceptable, full stop'. Quite.

I agree that people can publish what they like - as long as it is lawful - but I've also said that as a blogger I don't have any obligation to host nasty comments on my personal blog. And there is a line which can be crossed where cyber-communication and free speech can become abuse and harassment, and quickly run foul of the law.

Just because it is the internet, doesn't mean it's not 'malicious communications' or harrassment - hate email and threatening anonymous comments are no different in law to posted hatemail and anonymous threatening phone calls.

As in... I have a letter box in the front door of my flat. I am able, and happy to recieve mail sent to my address. But simply having a working letter box does not mean I consent to having dog poo posted through my mail box, or a stream of poison pen letters plopping onto my door mat on a daily basis. Anyone does that to you, you go to the police a.s.a.p.

Similarly, I am all for people freely expressing themselves, but if someone decided to go about my town posting up flyers that falsely and publicly claimed I was a malicious criminal, a sick liar, an abuser and in dire need of urgent psychiatric assistance, I would first ask them to stop, and if they did not stop, report it, and take legal action.

If someone went to the police and made a malicious false complaint about me, I would contact the police immediately to explain and prove why it was false and make a complaint myself. And so on.

And if I got the sort of death threats and threats of sexual violence that Kathy Sierra has been getting I, too, would be afraid to leave my house and would cancel public speaking engagements.
If the abuse was published or distributed or sent electronically, it would make no damn difference at all. It would still be abuse. And there are laws to protect people from this sort of thing. Happily, the US police have launched an investigation into Kathy Sierra's case, and many bloggers are coming out in support.

But it still makes me sigh. I have touched on this issue before, in a post about bullying and blogging, and have recently temporarily turned off the anonymous comment facility to stop trolling, since there seems to be something about having anonymity that encourages stupid abuse to spew forth from some troubled souls. This latest tale is particularly grim though, and what is really creepy is the misogynistic and extreme nature of the violent threats. Kathy Sierra is highly successful as a technology writer in what's traditionally a 'man's world' - and jealousy is often at the heart of such attacks. The abuse here is clearly sent by men - or boys - and is graphically, violently sexual. It's had a horrible impact on her life - she has cancelled her appearance at a conference and writes that she is 'afraid to leave her yard'. However, despite this, she says

'I would never be for censoring speech--these people can say all the misogynistic, vile, tasteless things they like-but we must preserve that line where words and images become threats of violence. Freedom of speech--however distasteful and rude the speech may be, is crucial. But when those words contain threats of harm or death, they can destroy a life.'

There was something about this on the Guardian's Comment is Free site, though I can't find it anymore, about why women writers seem to get torrents of vile hatemail. CIF is less of a zoo these days, though flame wars still break out. (However, more and more CIF site users now seem to 'get' that disagreement is more powerful when expressed via a smart riposte than a personal insult. I've hit keyboards in anger, I guess all of us have, but the level of vitriol displayed a by a few on the internet can be truly frightening, especially when a personality disorder meets a broadband connection.)

Indigo Jo picked up on the subject a while back and quoted Maureen Dowd of The New York Times discussing reactions to female opinion in her column last year.

"While a man writing a column taking on the powerful may be seen as authoritative, a woman doing the same thing may be seen as castrating." She went on to say she called Alan Dundes, a renowned folklorist, to ask about it. "Women are supposed to take it, not dish it out," Dundes told her.

See also 'Female pundits could use help with hate mail'.

'I believe women can take the heat of opinion journalism as well as any man; the problem is that the heat we take and the reasons why are very different.'

And that comment, in the twenty first century, when words can be freely published and ideas move across continents at the speed of thought, when we can write without boundaries or borders (or genders), and publish and share the sum of human knowledge and experience for the sheer interest and pleasure of it on this marvellous medium of the world wide web - is very sad indeed.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

A request for help

Recieved from a blogging friend and passed on in case any of my readers can help...

''Apologies for a somewhat unsolicited email, but I was wondering if you might be able to help somebody I've recently come into contact with or if you personally can't help, you might be able to forward this onto somebody else who might be in a better position

As part of the day job, I'm a journalist for a local radio station. On Friday I was contacted by a man called David Godfrey - his grandson, Rifleman Daniel Coffey, was recently killed on duty in Iraq, and David spoke out against the occupation of Iraq.

Speaking to David was a very emotional experience - a couple of times during our conversation he broke down in tears and it was clear that not only had Daniel's death left a great hole in his life but he was angry - angry at why Daniel was in Iraq in the first place. After he hung up, I had to take a walk outside for 5 minutes to compose myself, which I've never had to do before despite covering some nasty and upsetting stuff.

David, it seems, wants to put his anger and grief to some kind of purpose. He said he wanted to organise a series of rallies across the country, and wanted to get the backing of celebrities, MPs, singers, actors, bands, the whole lot. The eventual aim was twofold: to send a message to the government about Iraq and to raise money that would help the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq directly in some form or another. He has background in campaigning and fundraising - he lost another grandson to a rare illness and has done a lot raising money and awareness in that field. This is obviously a bigger task, and his first step was to get the local media on board, and also plunder any contacts they might have for people who can help.

But I can't for the life of me see the station I work for getting involved in anything as politically charged as this, and my contact book is not exactly awash with celebrities and others whose support he's after. Which is why I'm emailing. As a young, fairly lowly journalist on the bottom rung of the ladder in rural Devon there's only so much I could do if I were able to. I've no idea if any of you would be able to help, or have a better stocked address book than me, but as bloggers I respect and admire, not just for your writing, but also your activism, I thought there was no harm in asking, and even if its not something you'd feel like you wanted to commit to, you might be able to forward it onto somebody who could help David. So that's it, really. Again, apologies for firing off an unsolicited email out of the blue, and putting a dampener on a Sunday evening/Mon morning, but if you are able to help David, even if its just pointing him in the right direction and towards the right people, I'm sure it'd be greatly appreciated. His email is [please email me at rachelnorthlondon {AT} gmail DOT COM to get David's email/contact details - RN ]-

Like I say, its very rare that I'm affected by speaking to somebody, but after nearly an hour on the phone with David, I really did feel like I should do something, because the station definitely won't.

Thanks for listening''

If you want to help or have any ideas, please get in touch with me in the first instance.

Many thanks


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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wedding rings...

This weekend was the first weekend where neither of us was working, which was and is wonderful. Yesterday we were shattered so we just flopped on the sofa looking out of the window at a heavily-bruised sky, with the heating turned up and barely enough energy to get up and boil a kettle. Today I woke up feeling like I had slept properly for the first time in weeks. I cooked bacon and eggs for us, whilst J got the Sunday papers, and then we went to Hatton Gardens where we bought our wedding rings. White gold, the pair of them, to match my engagement ring, and my slim wedding band has eight brilliant diamonds set in it so it sparkles. I adore it, I wish I was married already so I could wear it right now.

Afterwards we had an insanely expensive G&T in a Holburn hotel and then I bought J his present (as he bought me the bling ring) - an X box 360 which he has been pining for. I bought him an X box two Christmases ago, and it is already obsolete, cheers, Microsoft swines. (I can't believe they are charging nearly £500 for the latest gadget, the new Playstation 3, it is bonkers.) Got some DVDs in the sale too, including Pan's Labyrinth which is my top film of 2006, and the other two by the same director, Guillermo del Toro, The Devil's Backbone and Cronos. Also Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Queen, Elizabeth 1, Memories of a Geisha, Bettie Page, and old favourites Blues Brothers and Airplane.

So that's the next few Friday nights in sorted. Home cooked dinner and a movie, my favourite start to the weekend. I used to go hell for leather on a Friday with cocktails and high heels and shrieking, but I no longer have the liver and the energy and recovery power of a twenty-five year old. And I have got to the stage in life where if I go to a bar I like to be able to sit down and hear myself think. (Soon enough I'll be after a nice cup of tea from a flask and a blanket over my knees having been driven to a nice view, but not yet. )

J and Miff are looking excited in the sitting room together, surrounded by boxes and packaging, Miff is crawling in and out of the boxes and plastic bags which is her favourite thing ever, apaprt from eating. It's twenty past six, and it's still light, and I am feeling extremely happy. I'm so looking forward to being a bride, and afterwards, being J's wife. My first wedding dress fitting is on Wednesday night: I designed the dress myself with a lady in Enfield who specialises in beautiful corsetry and wedding dresses. It's going to be gorgeous. I can't decide whether to wear a veil, or flowers in my hair. I think I will buy red shoes for my wedding day, and dance like the girl in the fairy tale, only she couldn't stop...

There's a time for wild dancing and a time for sitting down and dreaming about when you will next dance again. I feel like I have sat and dreamed and hoped too long. But now I can hear the music re-starting...

At last. It's finally happening. Winter is over, welcome happiness, welcome new life, welcome, welcome joyful Spring.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Butternut squash soup

The weather is crap. England are playing Israel, badly. Weekend recipe time. I was feeling tired and cold so I made some soup for me and J. It was very easy to hurl together which was good because I am feeling very apathetic and couldn't be bothered to do anything much at all today. The last week has been mental. I needed to flump out and try to recall the peace of the Sanctuary visit when I was all happy and relaxed. Time for a DVD and some curling on the sofa with the papers whilst J watches the match and shouts at the useless overpaid clowns in the English team.

You will need...
1 butternut squash.

Couple of serving spoons of cream

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

Crispy bacon and/or grated parmesan to garnish

Serves 2 people.

Cut a squash in half, lengthways. Scoop out the seeds. Brush it with olive oil. Shove in oven for 40 mins or until soft at 180. Scrape out soft orange flesh. Put flesh in liquidiser with chicken or vegetable stock or bouillon ( I use about 3/4 pint per big squash) depending on how thick you like the soup. Whizz. Put in pan with salt and pepper on low, gentle heat. Swirl in cream. Taste to see if it needs more seasoning. Serve topped with crispy bacon pieces and /or grated parmesan.

It will be sweet and soft and a rich golden-orange colour and it is very filling.

Nice with a green or greek salad with salty feta on the side, dressed with pungent green oil and a splash of cider vinegar, if you want to be posh/make it into a main meal
You really don't really need bread. I've stopped eating bread, not had any for a month. I used to be addicted to the stuff. But it just made me tired all the time.

Clocks go forward tomorrow, but it doesn't feel like spring at all. I bought a beautiful cream swirly skirt covered in roses two weeks ago; it is still sitting in my wardobe, waiting for the sun to come out. I'm fed up with winter.


Friday, March 23, 2007

21/7 and 7/7 'links'...

Hmm, so this particular jury is allowed to be told about possible links between the men they are trying and the 7/7 bombers...interesting.

One of the 21/7 alleged bombers has turned rat on the rest of the gang. Yesterday's Evening Standard front page was '21/7 BOMB PLOT WAS BIGGER THAN 7/7' and the disclosure that Manfo Asiedo, one of the defendants had changed his defence and was now alleging that Muktar Ibrahim ( the buck-toothed fat-faced one caught in his pants on the roof of a flat on live TV in 2005) had booby-trapped the North London flat the bombs were made in in order to kill police who investigated at the address, and that the bombs taken onto public transport were not fake as the defence alleges, but real. Now today the court heard of links between the July plotters.

'' cross-examination, Stephen Kamlish QC, counsel for co-accused Manfo Asiedu, alleged Mr Ibrahim had spent two months in Pakistan at the same time as Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer. He further alleged that the men had met and jointly conspired to organise a bombing campaign, with the two separate attacks to both use the same kind of rucksack bomb [...]

When the authorities analysed the explosives that Mr Ibrahim is accused of making for the alleged 21 July attack, they realised that they had only seen them once before, alleged Mr Kamlish - on 7 July 2005. [...]

"The only two occasions on which the authorities in this country had ever come across an improvised explosive device made from hydrogen peroxide and an organic substance was the 7th of July and the 21st of July," replied the lawyer, referring to expert testimony from earlier in the trial.
"Yes," Ibrahim replied.
"There is a question mark whether or not the only two ever-known bombs made from hydrogen peroxide are the 7/7 and 21/7 bombs. You were in Pakistan at the same time [as Khan and Tanweer]. You see the coincidence, don't you?"
Ibrahim replied: "When you say this fact, yes."

BBC report

Same recipe. TATP detonator, hydrogen peroxide, organic matter. Seasoned flour in one lot. Pepper in another. It's rather hard not to make the link, isn't it?

The trial continues. Well, the next few weeks are going to be busy.

I can't see why the recent arrest and questioning of three men in connnection with 7/7 will have any impact on the expected impending revelation of further facts about 7/7. The revelation of further detail about 7/7 is in the public interest. Indeed, I hope that the questioning is fruitful and helps us all get the answers we are waiting for, as soon as possible.

Fingers crossed.

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In personal news, last night my best mate and I went to the Sanctuary, courtesy of a wonderful gift voucher evening pass present for me, which entitled her to accompany me with 25% off her session.
We met outside Covent Garden tube, kissed and screetched at each other about how stressed we were, and how much we were looking forward to it, and were shown into the changing rooms where we found a stampede of pink-faced women charging about in white towelling robes, hopping from foot to foot, half in and out of their tights, fighting with elbows out for the hair dryers, and blowing through their nostrils like horses at the start of the Grand National.

Far from being a place of unremitting calm, it was more frenetic than the Harrods sale. My friend and I tried to get out of the way, but everywhere we stood or sat or tried to change, there we would find a harrumphing matron rolling her eyes at us.

What could be going on, we wondered? Was there a fire drill? Was George Clooney about to put in an appearance in the reception area? But no, it was a relief to find out that it was changeover time and the day-visitors were leaving as the evening guests came in.

Eventually the melee thinned out and we changed into our swimwear and big towelling gowns and were shown around the Sanctuary by sweet-faced staff in turquise silk pyjamas. It was a wondrous temple of calm, and our spirits rose as we smelled the fragrant oils and watched the happy ladies wandering and splashing. We hurled ourselves into the pool and swam a few lenbgths underwater, then went upstairs for our first spa treatment, the Hammam Rasul.

This involved stripping off and climbing into a minute paper G-string, and entering a tiled steam chamber with four heated chairs, armed with a plate of mud. The ceiling was curved and navy and covered with twinkling stars. We covered ourselves with mud ( dark brown on the body, white on the face) and lolled about in the semi-darkness. After half an hour I got up and did a naked war dance, and then the ceiling started pouring warm water like a rainstorm, washing off the mud. Afterwards we were smooth and tingling and we rubbed ourselves with jasmine oil and went off for a glass of sparking wine and some nuts.

We flumped next to the koi carp pool, watching the beautiful fish which are big as clown's shoes swimming under their bridge and gaping at the surface, and we gaped too at how fortunate we felt and admired each other's perceptibly-firmer thighs.

Then we went an had a back massage: Lucy, who did me, said I was ''a mass of lumps'' but after carefully kneading and and pressing for a while thought she had made ''a good start on nailing some of them''.

We retired, or rather floated to the lounge where we reclined on sofas and ate cheese and serrano ham and olives and drank more fizzy wine.

''It's like being in a really posh hotel bar, in a dressing gown'', said my friend. '' It 's a joy. I want to live here''.

'' We could hide under the bridge with the carp and breathe through straws til everyone has left and then have the run of the place'' I suggested.

''Don't carp bite?''

'' No, you're thinking of piranhas''.

And then after a marathon gossiping session, it was time to leave. Oh, it was such a wonderful night. My massive, massive thanks to my benefactor. I think that was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.

I am still serene. Which considering everything that is going on at the moment is testament to the remarkable rejuvenating properties of water, candles, oils, mud, wine and friendship.



Mohammed Iqbal, 45, is the first Asian Lord Mayor of Leeds. His ward of City and Hunslet covers the Beeston area where three of the bombers lived.

''The sense of disbelief about what happened 12 months ago remains as profound for me as for everyone around here. I came across Mohammed Sidique Khan several years ago and I distinctly remember his face. He wasn't working below the radar. He was a community worker; someone people knew. We've all asked ourselves how he could have carried out the acts he did under our noses.''

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying there's any sense of denial here about the four bombers - and the three [Khan, Shahzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain] who came from my part of Leeds. A minority might subscribe to the view that these young men were not the bombers, that it was a set up in some way. The majority - the sensible people - don't feel the same, though. They feel that what's happened has happened and that's the end of it. ''

"That said, I do think we could do with seeing more of the forensic evidence and more information about the bombings. For as long as we have to go on the word of the investigators, it will be difficult for some people to accept the things that they are being told. It's important to remember how much of a shock it was for everybody when the names of people they knew started to appear on television.

"I do think that a public inquiry into the bombings would be for the best. It would enable everyone to know exactly what was going on and answer some of the nagging doubts people have about how much they ought to have known. We just want to learn lessons from it and move on. That is certainly my view - though all the opinions here are my own, and not necessarily the council's.

"My first concern when I heard that the bombs had gone off and that they were linked to Islamic terrorists [several days before a specific connection with Leeds was established] was to communicate the revulsion Muslims felt about it. Muslim leaders and I issued a statement condemning the bombings as barbaric and unislamic.''

"Of course, we had no reason to believe that our city was going to be linked to such an atrocity. Leeds - and Beeston - has its share of problems, but it is not really any different to many other districts in Britain. There's nothing that marks it down as a place for terrorism, and when people come back looking for exciting angles on the story here, it creates a distorted image of what is, at heart, a positive, vibrant community.''

"Is there radicalism that we should be worried about? Well, first I would say that radicalism is everywhere. I've encountered Stop the War Coalition activists who come across as violent - and I've come across Muslims. But that's not to say that anybody will go as far as those four went last July. Nobody thinks that was right. ''

"If anything, Beeston's link to the terror attacks has brought the community closer together. It has been besieged, but people have united in a sense of protection for their neighbourhood. People ask whether enough money is being put into the regeneration of Beeston to give young people hope. There is work to be done, as there is everywhere, but a lot is happening. The educational underachievement is being tackled. New schools and a community sports facility will be completed this year; a new swimming pool and health centre will be finished next year. We want to make people proud of their corner of this city, and of Britain.''

"People suggest that there is insufficient community leadership to keep potential radicals on the straight and narrow. But you tell me which young people listen to their community leaders? The parents are responsible - but only to an extent. Parents can't force their children into a particular behaviour, they can only lead by example and bring up their children to their own views. Yes, a society is responsible for the actions of its young people to an extent, and the local authority is responsible to an extent. But I don't think the Muslim community here should be held accountable. ''

"I do know that the British Muslim community of Beeston is proud of its nationality. So am I. I was born in Kashmir. My family moved here when I was nine. I am now Leeds' first Asian Lord Mayor. I have put something in to the country and got something back in return. My conscience is clear. But yes, it is right to examine the role of British foreign policy in all of this. The opinion polls say that 67 per cent of people think foreign policy contributed to the bombings.''

"We in Beeston have become stronger because of what happened. But we have also been shaken. I will officiate at a tree planting to mark the anniversary, in Cross Flatts Park [where Tanweer and Khan played cricket]. A tree is planted and grows. It becomes stronger. Good things stem from a new beginning. ''

Independent, one year on

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Interesting news....

'Anti-terrorism police are to begin questioning three men arrested over the 7 July suicide bombings in London'. (more from the BBC)

But not the news to which I am referring....that is still to come.
Update: CNN have just asked me to comment on this. I said that I can't see that there is anything to comment on - these men have not been charged, I know nothing about them, they may be guilty, or innocent, of absolutely anything, we just don't know, and it is a very bad idea to start commenting on something as vague as mere arrests/questioning, particularly if there are to be charges and a trial, since for a ''7/7 person'' to publicly voice an opinion about these men based on such sketchy information runs the risk of being arguably prejudicial to a fair trial, (if they are charged), and unfair on the men, (if they are not charged and turn out to be innocent.)
On a purely personal note I am hoping that the police have made a breakthrough, I know a great many people have been working very hard indeed, for a long time, and are as anxious as anyone to gain further clarity in the terrible murders of 7 July. And it is encouraging to know that more clarity will soon be available to the public. As soon as a particular jury have concluded their duties.
Genette, a commenter points out that these images are taking from the trial run and are not, as I first thought, additional 7/7 CCTV images of the bombers entering Luton station.)

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Out of the blue?

Some quotes to consider over the next few days/weeks....and keep an eye on the news.

1. ''This was a vicious and cynical attack out of the blue in a way that there was no knowledge of beforehand in any respect whatsoever."

Source: Home Secretary Charles Clarke, 8th July 2005 on the London bombings of 7 July 2005

2. '' We have been told in evidence that none of the individuals involved in the 7 July group had been identified ( that is, named and listed) as potential terrorist threats prior to July''.

Source: Intelligence and Security Committee Report into the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005 , published 11 May 2006 ( hereafter referred to as the ''ISC report'')

3. The definition of an ''essential target'' for investigation ( from the ISC report)...

''Essential - a target who is likely to be directly involved in, or have knowledge of, plans for terrorist activity, or an individual who may have knowledge of terrorist activity''
''Targets move between investigative tiers as new information of activities and intentions is received and priorities are regularly reviewed to ensure that resources are appropriately allocated''

( Source: ISC report sec. 23 and 34, page 8)

4. ''It has become clear that Siddeque Khan was the subject of reporting of which the Security Service was aware prior to July 2005. However his true identity was not revealed in this reporting and it was only after the 7 July attacks that the Security Service was able to identify Khan as the subject of the reports.

''Prior to the 7 July attacks, the Security Service had come across Siddeque Khan and Shazad Tanweer on the peripheries of other surveillance and investigative operations. At that time their identities were unknown to the security service and there was no appreciation of their subsequent significance. As there were more pressing priorities at the time, including the need to disrupt known plans to attack the UK (see Dhiren Barot case - RN) it was decided not to investigate them further or seek to identify them. When resources became available, attempts were made to find out more about these two, and other peripheral contacts, but these resources were soon diverted back to what were considered to be higher investigative priorities ''

(Source: Government's Response to the Intelligence and Securities Committee Report into the London Terrorist Attacks of 7 July 2005, published May 2006.) ( PDF)

5. ''Documents recovered from the scenes of the attacks on 7 July gave an indication of the possible identities of the four men involved. Once these were confirmed, the Security Service and other Agencies initiated reviews of their records to establish whether they had come across any of the individuals before 7 July, whether they had any prior intelligence of the attacks or whether the attacks made the meaning of any existing intelligence clearer''

( Source: ISC report sec. 41 page 13 )

6. ''Having reviewed its records once details of the bombers came to light, the Security Service did find, however, that it had come across two members of the 7 July group on the peripheries of other investigations. These were Siddeque Khan and Shazad Tanweer.''

( Source: ISC report sec. 45 page 14)

7. ''The director-general of the security service MI5 told senior MPs there was no imminent terrorist threat to London or the rest of the country less than 24 hours before the July 7 suicide bombings.
Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller gave the assurance at a private meeting of Labour whips at the Commons on the morning of July 6 2005, the Guardian has learned from a number of those present.
The whips are said to have been confident, on leaving the meeting, that they could brief fellow MPs that the security situation was under control, and are said to have been deeply alarmed by the following day's events''

( Source: Guardian January 9th 2007 'MI5 told MPs on eve of 7/7: no imminent terror threat')

8. ''The fact that there were suicide attacks in the UK on 7 July was clearly unexpected: the Director General of the Security Service said it was a surprise that the first big attack in the UK in ten years was a suicide attack.''

( Source: ISC report sec. 102 page 28)

9. Operation Kratos: is the code word used by theSO13 (Anti Terrorism branch) branch of London's Metropolitan Police Service to refer to policies surrounding and including "shoot-to-kill" tactics to be used in dealing with suspected terrorists and suicide bombers. The tactics were developed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and are claimed to be based in part on consultation with Israeli and Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies on how to deal with "deadly and determined" attackers

( Source: Wikipedia on Operation Kratos)

More as soon as I can...and for clarity, I'll be blogging all this, not publishing it in a book that isn't out until the summer.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Some background reading...

Some depressing background which may be handy in the next few days and weeks...

This book by Daniel McGrory and Sean O'Neill tells the story of the extent of the radicalisation of hundreds, even thousands of young men at Finsbury Park Mosque by extremist preacher, Abu Hamza. Despite repeated warnings from the French, Algerian, U.S and other foreign intelligence services, the cleric who took over the huge Mosque which was under Hamza's control, was allowed to run a training and recruitment centre, where young men were encouraged to sign up for jihadi training - in effect, a 'terrorist factory'.

The hero of the book for me is Reda Hussein, an Algerian journalist who risked his life to operate undercover in the Mosque and feed information back to the Algerian and French security services about the alarming extremist message being not only sanctioned, but preached and actioned within its walls. What an appalling shame that his warnings were not heeded in full by the UK security services who come over as depressingly incompetent and dismissive of the threat being hatched under their noses in the late nineties. And I can't help wondering what might have happened, if they had taken the warnings more seriously and investigated properly, earlier? Because this wasn't just some ranting demagogue sounding off, this was an organised network committed to turning young men into parasites who worked against the State, making them enemies of the community in which they lived, and in the case of recruits like Richard Reid, the 'shoe-bomber', walking weapons of mass distruction.

The local Finsbury Park Mosque Board of Trustees spent £14,000 trying to get Hamza evicted, and they went to the police and Charities Commisssion several times to try and get the hate-preacher removed. The Mosque Trustees were roughed up for their pains by Hamza's thugs. The congregation's complaints were ignored for years. And more and more hotheaded youths flocked to hear the exciting preacher with his rebel message, his exciting-sounding 'combat training weekends' and his credit-card fraud and benefit-cheating base in the dosshouse set up - where the women's worship area in the Mosque basement had once been, in happier days. ( And that tells you it all, really).

Abu Hamza's trial was, interestingly enough, due to start on the week of July 7th 2005, the week of the London suicide bombs. Other radicalising forces active in influencing youthful UK Muslims with a message of violent jihad included Omar Bakri Mohammed, and Abdullah el-Faisal. Mr. Faisal was sentenced in 2003 by a British court to nine years in prison for urging violence and murder. Omar Bakri Mohammed was banned from returning to Britain when he left the country - but continues to broadcast his messages to his followers on the internet.

Typical rabble-rousing rhetoric of these preachers can be found in these extracts from the speeches of Abu Hamza, played during his 2006 trial

''Killing a Kafir who is fighting you is OK. Killing a Kafir for any reason, you can say it, it is OK - even if there is no reason for it''

''There is no liquid loved more by Allah than the the liquid of blood".
"Whether you do it by the lamb, or you do it by a Serb, you do it by a Jew, you do it by any enemies of Allah,"
- Abu Hamza, taken from sermons played in court during his trial.

And here is the result...

''Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood'' - Mohammed Siddique Khan 'martyrdom' video

The hate message spread from the late nineties through to the present day, through DVDS and websites and preaching tours. Groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir, active and then banned on many UK campuses began to cause concern, following warnings from appalled UK Muslims - and the groups were investigated in programmes such as this 2003 Newsnight report by Imran Kahn which warned...

''An influential British Muslim has told Newsnight that unless action is taken against an extreme Muslim group operating in the United Kingdom then we could soon be experiencing terrorist attacks along the lines of those in Baghdad and Jerusalem.
Hizb Ut Tahrir or HT is an Islamic splinter group, which is banned in many countries around the world. It operates freely in Britain.
But Newsnight has discovered that its website promotes racism and anti-Semitic hatred, calls suicide bombers martyrs, and urges Muslims to kill Jewish people...''

Watch the programme here.

Other groups which attracted young radicals who were ripe for 'jihadi training' included Abu Hamza's The Supporters of Shariah, later renamed the 'Saviour's Sect', or Saved Sect, ( still going strong, it seems, click the second link) and Al Muhajiroun which is investigated here in another Newsnight special report by Richard Watson.

But despite the warnings and condemnation by other Muslims of the groups' focus and messages, both groups continued to operate and recruit in the UK until recently. The groups were not very popular, nor remotely mainstream - nor were they even slightly attractive to most UK Muslims who saw their action-heavy, theology-lite message of poisonous bile for exactly what it was - but they were still dangerous, for they were adept at pulling in the disillusioned, the angry, the drifting, snarling young men who were looking for an outlet for their adolescent angst. Through such groups young men could go from feeling like a rootless loser to a holy soldier, from a petty criminal, fraudster or benefit cheat to a focused jihadi warrior systematically asset-stripping the kuffir as part of a righteous cause.

(I have read the transcripts of such young men given in court, from terrorist trials and what is noticeable is what nasty, posturing little prats they are. Calling them ''terrorists'' glamorises them, frankly. They are scummy little criminal gangs of overgrown boys parading their giggling murderous fantasies and back-slapping each other into vicious schemes of mayhem to compensate for their own only-too-glaring inadequacies.)

People like the repellent Abu Hamza and his dorky henchman Haroon Rashid Aswat had regular meetings with the UK security services, who were apparently reassured that though these men preached inflammatory violent jihad in the UK, they would actually not 'bite the hand that feeds' under what was called ' The Covenant of Security' (which is the understanding that a Muslim guest in a non Muslim country must behave peaceably on its soil if he himself is left in peace.) The threat posed by men like Hamza and Faisal was not taken seriously until it was too late, for just 'keeping tabs' on these men was not enough, never enough.

(Never mind the moral position of turning a blind eye to young men going off abroad with the avowed intention of learning how to kill people, and whether their targets might be UK soldiers, tourists or embassies, as long as those boys don't do anything on 'our' patch, it's all fine, no? And what of the wider moral position of knowingly lettting men plot murder and terrorism in other lands and the diabolical pact of assuming because you give them the freedom to do so whilst living here, you will be safe - at the expense of other people's deaths?)

If only security services had listened to the words of brave men like undercover agent Reda Hussein, or the local Muslims at Finsbury Park mosque who tried to warn of what was going on under their noses, they would have found that this was not mere firey hot air being preached, but an organised operation preaching murder and treason and sending young men away for weapons training in order to act on the violent message. Yes, act. Act with the contacts they had made, with the bombs and detonators they had been trained to construct, act on the message of hate and violence they had listened to, downloaded, watched, imbibed, that this was a 'war', and that they were 'soldiers', and they needs must fight and kill and maim, in the name of God.

And so here is where we got to in 2005...

Richard Watson on Mohammed Siddique Khan, File on 4, 25 October 2005

'The bombers have been portrayed as so-called
clean-skins - people with no history of extremism, people the intelligence services could
not be expected to stop. But File on 4 can reveal that the group’s leader, Mohammed
Siddique Khan, had extensive contacts with an international Jihadi network, which British
intelligence either missed or ignored...'

This is all just background, to fill you in and remind you of the context of what's coming shortly. There'll be a lot more soon.

I'm being careful, because we are waiting for a court case to end after which reporting restrictions will be lifted.

Anyway, you know what to do....wait and see, keep an eye on the news...

And yes, of course I'm pissed off about it all. It's absolutely heart-breaking that we have ended up here. It's a tragedy for Islam in the UK, a tragedy for all of us, and for fifty two families, an appalling wound that will never go away.

See also On Intelligence Failures, M15 Chief Quits, New Calls for a 7/7 Inquiry, my House of Lords speech

More writing on similar subjects on this blog...
Bringing It Home, A 'Completely False Sense of Grievance', Waiting for the Narrative, What Makes a Suicide Bomber, The F Word, Beards And Rucksacks, Playing Fairer, Clean Skins, Minding Our Language, Hassan's Letter from Leeds, 7/7 & the Bradford Riots, Reaping the Whirlwind.
Holly on Meeting with Tessa, Meeting the Home Boy

Oh, and all the stuff in the sidebar, obviously. It was December 2005 when I started researching this and banging on about it. Never mind, onwards we go...

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Monday, March 19, 2007

So shoot me....

Spent the day being shot. For the publicity pics for the book. I have even more respect for models who do this day in, day out. It's bloody hard work. Thanks to lovely photographer Ian Brodie.
In other news, I taught a bunch of women to pole dance at the weekend, and
am enjoying a bit of kicking back for for a week. Well, I say kicking back. I am working on a campaign, in the middle of writing an article for the Mirror, doing some stuff with lawyers, sorting out wedding invites ( this involves phoning everyone and finding out their addresses...nobody posts letters anymore, it's all email and text so I have no idea what anyone's postcode is). Also doing more nuptial organisation ( hair, flowers, makeup, girlie stuff, blah), furious exercise, having a huge throw-out of all my old too-big clothes and sketching out/researching my next book which will be a novel. A sort of romantic/chase/psychological thriller. Probably.
It's not actually very relaxing at all, but the point is, I am enjoying it no end. And on Thursday I am going to the Sanctuary with my best friend courtesy of a wonderful gift from a friend. And then I will definitely relax.
So I am sorry that I have not been blogging much. But I needed to take a breather and do real world things for a week or else I would have exploded with stress. If I had blogged this week, I'd have written something about The Trap, the BBC series from Adam 'Power of Nightmares' Curtis - but fortunately Blairwatch and Not Sassure have been more on the ball and come up with the goods so I recommend you go and check them out, as well as the perenially ace Chicken Yoghurt, if you are yearning for top bloggery from people who are a lot more coherent than me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Troubled Diva Comic Relief book

I had a week off from blogging, because I was up to my ears in other stuff ( all will be revealed shortly). Meanwhile, other bloggers have been busy doing good deeds and being extremely funny, contributing to a book for Comic Relief which was produced in a week by Troubled Diva and friends. Press release follows:

100 bloggers have published a book to raise funds of the BBC's Comic Relief appeal on Friday 16th March.'Shaggy Blog Stories' features hilarious contributions from Richard Herring of 'Fist of Fun' fame, BBC 6Music presenter Andrew Collins, comedian Emma Kennedy, and James Henry, scriptwriter from Channel Four's 'The Green Wing'.

Authors Abby Lee, David Belbin, Catherine Sanderson and The Guardian's Anna Pickard have also contributed pieces to the book.The vast majority of contributions, however, are the work of many of the lesser known and unfamiliar heroes of British blogging; going under pen names such as Diamond Geezer, Scaryduck, Pandemian and Unreliable Witness.

The book is the idea of blogger Mike Atkinson who writes the 'Troubled Diva' weblog. 'Shaggy Blog Stories' features comic writing from not only the cream of British blogging, but also the best up-and-coming and undiscovered writers publishing their work on their own websites.

Giving himself a "ridiculously short" seven days from idea to finished product, Atkinson admitted that he was overwhelmed with the response, which gleaned over 300 submissions for publication.With a pool of talented writers, and the latest publishing-on-demand technology, Shaggy Blog Stories bypasses the usual snail-paced publishing industry, and offers a mail order service to customers who will receive their finished copy within days of placing their order, and only a couple of weeks after the original idea.

"Blogging creates complex, worldwide networks of friendship and contacts on the internet", says journalist Alistair Coleman, one of Shaggy Blog Stories' contributors. "By creating a buzz about this book, we can reach out to hundreds, thousands of readers who'd be willing to part with a few quid for this very good cause. Mike's got some excellent writers on board here whose work deserves a wider audience. Everybody wins.

"For details of how to order the book, visit

For the background story on the creation of Shaggy Blog Stories, take a look at

Huge well done to everyone involved.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

This week I have been mostly reading...

Here's what I have been reading this week...

A good column by Bruce Anderson in the Independent on the Pat Mercer army race row

''At one stage, all five of his [Mercer's] company sergeant-majors were black. Everyone in the battalion knew that they had not been promoted because they were black any more than they would not have been promoted because they were black. In Robin Hood's Own, as in all regiments, there was a lot of banter and, for some reason, the principal targets were red-haired men. The soldiers refer to them as "gwaas". Though no one knows the origin of that term, it is bound to be obscene. Col Mercer was once in a Warrior-armoured vehicle. The gunner was black and the second-in-command had ginger hair. The radio operator broadcasted: "We have a gwaa in the car." "I'm not a gwaa," said the young officer, "I'm a strawberry blond." The gunner then joined in: "A gwaa in the car and a nigger on the trigger." If everyone could joke as those soldiers did, race relations in Britain would be less tense.
Last week, Pat Mercer tried to make an important point, which was lost in the furore. Political correctness should have as little to do with military training as with military humour

Bruce then goes on to say that despite Patrick Mercer's exemplary record, he still had to go.

' Even so, Mr Cameron was right to sack Col Mercer. There is a catch-all charge in the British Army, applicable to any idle soldier in the non-performance of his duties: "conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline". Pat Mercer was guilty of conduct prejudicial to good order and political discipline.'

But he hopes he will be back soon, and so do I.

Are you a racist? Take the implicit association . Via a very good article on defining a racist on


A good round-up of the pros and cons of drug legalisation/prohibition can be found here on Wikipedia. Will save you a lot of time if you read it as you can then amuse yourself having compelling arguments and being Devil's Advocate either way.

Devil's Kitchen wonders why Iain Dale is a Tory.

To state this quite clearly and for the avoidance of doubt, Iain Dale is fundamentally opposed to Cameron and the Conservative Party on all of the major issues that the Tories have deigned to pronounce on. And he is not the only one; very far from it, in fact'

Iain answers back here.

I'm sure when our grandchildren are drowning/boiling/starving to death as a result of catastrophic climate changes they will be less than chuffed that we as a generation refused to engage with the fact that we were heading for meltdown because it was politically inexpedient to do so. I can't understand climate change deniers, even if it does turn out that mankind isn't 100% responsible for the alarming changes in the weather and the melting of the icecaps, it still behoves us to be a bit more responsible and stop doing the equivalent of using the kitchen sink as a toilet, does it not? And anyway, look out the window. Geraniums in bud in February? Wake up...

Curious Hamster on nuclear weapons, gloomy stuff.

Things that made me laugh this week... Olly's Onions blog, especially this. And Justin on Gordon's pearly whites.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

RIP Fatboy, Blogger TV & stuff

BritBlog round up of the best of the week's blogposts is on tour and this week it's at Poon's place. (Thanks for the link,Poons.)

I'll be on 18DS Blogger TV Monday at 9pm, with Mike Denham, Michelle Tempest, Helen Szamuely and Vicky Ford if anyone fancies tuning in. Busy day tomorrow, seeing some human rights lawyers in the morning with other survivors & families about a matter to do with 7th July, having a catch up glass or two with Michael in the evening and then over to Iain's Tory lair where I will try and sound on the ball. I am knackered, fell asleep for 4 hours this afternoon, haven't read the news yet so had better get into bed with the papers and see what's what.

The sad news of the weekend was the unexpected death of Fatboy, ( see picture, the big orange one above the grey arch) our nine-and a half-year old goldfish who lived in a 3 foot tank with seven friends, including two dopey koi carp, Stripey and Goldy ( seen behind Fatboy in the picture - stripey orange & white, and pale gold) . During his almost-decade of happy life, Fatboy grew from the size of a tiny baby carrot, to the size of a very big fat parsnip, and has survived moving house three times and being transported in a fish bag, being accidentally dropped on the floor, and jumping out of his tank. I don't know why he died, he was perfectly all right then he flipped over and floated to the top of the tank. Heart attack possibly, he was very greedy. He was buried in the front garden with full fishy honours.

The main good news of the day was England winning against France. Some great new players and the captainship of Catty lifting the team no end, thank heavens. Magic stuff. J is chuffed to bits. He's watching the game again on video, grinning.

'Well, I can't enjoy it live, Rach. It's only fun when you know you've already won'.

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This blog's comment policy

A boring housekeeping post follows. When you come on here and post comments please be aware of the blog comment policy.

1. No spam
2. No hate-comments
3. No cut n' paste conspiraloonery
4. No obnoxious personal abuse

That should be quite clear, and if you don't like it or agree with it, tough luck. Start your own blog with your own comment policy, or go to places where the comment policy is different.

For me, blogging's a hobby, it's creative expression, its a discipline - a way of writing every day - and it's something that I and millions of others do, freely and happily, because we just like doing it. Recently, I have been enjoying it less and less

I have been thinking of stopping blogging for a while. I am also thinking about taking all the posts down, saving them as unpublished drafts offline, and re-publishing them again when I feel like I want to re-engage. For now, whilst I mull it over, I am taking steps that I think will make me feel happier and more safe when I blog. I am looking after myself and setting some much-needed boundaries.

I have been honest and open on this blog since I started it, writing freely about personal and political matters which I care passionately about. For the most part I have loved it, it has been a roller-coaster ride and the support, advice, feedback, comments, suggestions, debate from readers has been fantastic. There have been times when I have been seriously under the cosh and coming here and writing has been life-saving. It has helped me deal with depression. It has helped me deal with PTSD. It has allowed me to campaign about issues I feel strongly about. It has allowed me to link to the blogs of others. I have made friends in real life through this blog, and it has been a privilege and a pleasure to have a window into other people's worlds, and to share some of my life and thoughts with you all.

There is a downside to blogging. There have been times when I have felt exposed, vulnerable, and under vicious and relentless personal attack, simply for writing what I think and feel on here. There have been times when this blog has invited the wrong sort of attention, to the extent that I have felt extremely afraid and very distressed. It has got to the point that the police have had to get involved, with repeated instances of harassment from one individual. It's one thing to disagree, it's another thing entirely to send streams of venomous abuse, directed at me or other commenters on this blog. I really don't enjoy blogging when I get sent abusive emails or comments, or threats. I don't publish them, but I still have to read them.

I realise some of you may feel strongly about what I have written, or what other commenters have written sometimes, but I still don't think that gives you the automatic sacred right to be abusive, obnoxious, threatening, obscene, baiting, bullying, harassing, or whatever, and to expect me to give your views a platform on my personal blog.

If you want to say something, you can always start your own blog. Then I can choose whether or not I read it, and so can others. That's freedom of speech, that's freedom of expression.
You have that freedom; nobody is taking it away from you, least of all me., from what I can gather will let you publish pretty much anything, unless it is stomach-churning ( images of torture, child porn or so on which are internationally unlawful). There are plenty of blogs which are defamatory, libellous, malicious, hateful, untruthful and delusional out there. I choose not to read them and not to link to them.

Despite me reiterating and explaining my comment policy several times recently, I have still been getting a steady trickle of obnoxious, aggressive comments sent in. I am now completely fed up with it.

I am not going to publish them, and from now on, I am not going to read them either. Most of the people who send such abuse do so anonymously. Personally, I think this is cowardly, as well as rude. Why expect me to give you a public platform if you will not allow me to know who you are, or to respond personally to you? Would you say such things to my face, in public? I doubt it.

Well, from now on, nobody will be able to post anonymous comments. The anonymous comment facility has been removed. In order to comment. you will have to go to, ( click 'create blog' at the top of this blog), and set up a blog which has a profile, so you can be identified with whatever name, number or nickname you have chosen to give yourself. You don't need to post on your blog account once you have set it up, but you will need to provide a valid email address to set up a blog and get a profile. The whole process will take you less than two minutes. If you can't do it, email me and I will try and help.

I realise this is a bit of a pain, and that some of you want to be anonymous on here because you are sharing something that may be personal and private. For example, there have been men and women who are survivors of violence and rape commenting anonymously here. I am sorry that because of the behaviour of a few, I am no longer able to offer you total anonymity.

As an experiment, and as a gesture of trust, I am taking comment moderator off whilst we move to this new policy, so once you have registered and set up a profile, you will be able to comment freely. Hopefully this will make comment discussions more meaningful and easier to conduct because other commenters will know who you are and can address their points to you rather than 'anonymous', which is particularly confusing if there is more than one anonymous commenter in action.

If my blog traffic goes down as a result of my comments policy, I don't care. I don't validate myself by looking at my blog traffic. And I would rather know who I am talking to.
If people abuse the no-moderation policy, then I will switch comment moderator back on, and delete obnoxious comments. I repeat, I am under no obligation to host such stuff.

And if it STILL continues, then I am taking the blog offline. Finito. There's no point continuing with a hobby you no longer enjoy out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

I am addressing this to a few people; they know who they are and hopefully they will now go away and leave me in peace. To everyone else, thank you for dropping in, I appreciate you and I would like to thank you for visiting.

Right. It's a gorgeous spring day and I am going to switch off my computer and go for a walk in the park and look at the daffodils and all the signs of new life springing up which remind me that there's a big, beautiful world out there and that I want to spend more time in it.

Take care and see you soon.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Jolly Super Game, Rah!

Bullingdon Club Matching Pairs c/o Tim

Just the thing for a Friday afternoon...


Hope Not Hate

Anti-Facist Fortnight starts 24th Match - 7th April.
Info from Hope Not Hate on The Real BNP here

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Patrick Mercer, who resigned today... the one Tory MP whom I know and like. I have met him several times, spent quite a bit of time with him over the last 12 months, and I have found always him to be a compassionate, thoughtful, principled man. I am genuinely sorry that he has resigned. He was not your normal Tory MP, he had a life before politics, he had been a journalist and a soldier and it showed.

David Cameron, you nasty, pursed-lips, spinning, sanctimonious little sneak. You washed your hands of a good man, who said something stupidly truthful - that in the army, everyone insults each other all the time. ''You ginger bastard! You fat bastard! You black bastard!''. It's not very nice, but it is how it is.

As you damn well know, Cameron, as anyone who knows Patrick knows, he is not a racist. You sacrificed a good, talented man for a headline. Nice.

Patrick commanded the respect of his men in the army, serving in Northern Ireland and he was also respected and liked in the party.

Leroy Hutchinson, a black former corporal who served with Mr Mercer for 12 years, said: "He never tolerated racism in the battalion and not a single one of his men would consider him to be racist."
He added: "In the forces... name-calling - whether you be black, white, ginger, red, brown - it is part of the establishment."
He went on: "It's not meant and it doesn't come across from an individual as a racist comment. It's just part of the culture.
"When you wear that uniform, it is what goes on and it's been happening for a long, long time." ( BBC)

Yes, some squaddies are racists, and some are bullies, and everyone banters and is insulting and...well, you've heard the expression '' the language of the barracks''. It's robust and rough, and it would shock the W.I. Patrick's mistake was saying what really goes on.

UPDATE: Soldiers discuss it and come out for Patrick. Typical comment: 'He's right, we all know what he is saying is true. The fact that this sort of language isn't necessarily a reflection of racism within the forces but a demonstration of the environment we work in. Merciless piss taking is part of the parcel within Army life.'

UPDATE 2: BBC viewers come out for Patrick

UPDATE 3: Patrick and me in action

Well, the Conservative leader's reaction to his naive but not harmful comments does nothing to endear the Tory party to me. I hope Patrick comes back soon, as the party is poorer without him. He was the one Tory who made me think the party might had some decent people in it, lurking somewhere - and I have voted against the Tory party since I was old enough to vote.

And glib, ruthless, shallow, cycling-with a-car-behind-do-you-think-we-are-stupid huskie-cuddler and saddo wannabe-Blairalike Cameron made him go. Typical.

Patrick was, and is very close to David Davis, who lost the leadership race to Cameron, and Cameron didn't like that, I bet. Pontius Bloody Pilate.

(Yeah, and I don't care if people wave their handbags at me for supporting a Tory. People, above politics. He's not a racist. So he should not have been asked to go. Own goal.)

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