25 July 2008

Say it like you mean it

And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed "a" so that the stress that should have fallen on "nosh" is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you're winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can't you hear? Can't you hear that it is wrong? It's not fucking rocket science. It's fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable.

The Guardian newspaper is rather smugly making a meal out of this guy, Giles Coren, who is a restaurant critic rapidly gaining a reputation for firing off self-obsessed, expletive laden emails with a rage totally out of all proportion, regarding the sub-editing of his restuarant reviews - for pity's sake. Here's today's article, they lifted it out of the media gossip column from yesterday and plonked it on the front page of the web edition.

Being both writer and editor for different kinds of jobs, I find this truly hilarious. If I got such a roasting for subbing a piece, I don't think I'd release it to the Guardian but instead print it out at 150% and pin it up in the office, with the choicest bits picked out in yellow highlighter.

Really, if he was writing a peace accord between the Balkans states where one word out of place might mean the deaths of hundreds? Fine. Or perhaps a carbon emissions deal with China's communist government to try to reduce a quarter of the world'd pollution. But a restaurant review? Get your hand off it man!

But then, as an occasional author, when subject matter experts just move sentence elements around for no good reason and make them scan poorly, I get pretty narky too. As the Guardian writer says: "thanks buddy, you've taken one for the team."

(This post is dedicated to Dad, Alison and The_Christian who all know better where to put a comma than I).

18 July 2008

welcome to the world

I just got a facebook friend request from a brand new world citizen. Congratulations to Guitar Boy and Miss Ivy! She's gorgeous, but I'm not sure how little Miss Solitaire managed to use the keyboard, she doesn't look like she can really hold her own head up yet. You may have some kind of prodigy on your hands there.

Why not Rome

Well, turns out Rome was bombed in ww2. On a couple of days each in 43 and 44. The yanks on behalf of the allies swore black and blue that they were staying right away from the Vatican City, and focussed on a train station and an airport.

According to wikipedia (acknowledged not a fully reliable source, but I'm not in such a reasearch-y mood) On November 5, 1943, a single Nazi plane dropped four bombs on the Vatican, destroying a mosaic studio near the Vatican railway station and breaking the windows of the high cupola of St. Peter's.

While the world, well Sydney, turns to all things Catholic, I just found this little bit of historical documentation. It's an original letter from all the archbishops of Australia writing to PM John Curtin to ask him immediately to refrain from bombing the Vatican City. Apart from the fact that I think the Pope is a real and present danger in today's world*, this is a great letter. Really beautifully expressed, it talks of this "ghastly war" and check this out:

individually, we have in season and out of season, but always in vain, appealed to reason and sanity in this world of madness, in which Christian civilisation seems to be rushing headlong to destruction.

Wish I could write like that. The best part is the cover note, which says bluntly:

"I confidently rely upon you and the Australian government to take any actions that circumstances suggest and permit."
P.S. "Later, I plan to hand the enclosed document to the Press".

Very bolshie Greenpeace-style media strategy there in 1944. Nice one, Archbishop of Melbourne.

*It's to do with not allowing contraception for anyone, even if they have Aids or are very sick from having lots of babies.

17 July 2008

Crime and punishment

Last week, m'learned friend Miss K suggested we go to visit the international criminal court in The Hague. It was the last sitting before summer break, and her being a student of international law, environmental law, human rights, this was a last chance while in the region to get this first hand learning experience. Okay, I said, finding the post-holiday life of a "freelancer" drag a little slowly on these rainy summer days. Maybe I can write something about it.

We went to the trial of Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia and accused of 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape and recruiting child soldiers.

We got to the courtroom by taking the regular commuter train from Amsterdam and a tram. At the public entrance, we had our handbags x-rayed but we didn't have to leave them in locker. Cameras and tape recorders were banned, but we weren't carrying those. The gallery was like a high-tech lecture theatre. We were separated from the proceedings by a glass wall, judges facing the public, prosecution to the right, and defence the left. Charles Taylor was sitting behind his defence counsel.

The witness had his back to the gallery, the central panels of windows were screened, and he apparently had a sound proof booth. His testimony was relayed through CCTV, his voice altered and image pixcellated. Our headphones had a simultaneous translation to English on Channel 1.

That morning, the defence lawyer went through an administrative matter requesting more time on some aspect of the trial preparation. Then, the prosecution started questioning the witness. Essentially, she was trying to get him to acknowledge that he had previously seen and was aware of the contents of a series of documents relations to specific actions of a militia group. She then wanted him to say whether his memory of actual events verified what was in these documents. At every opportunity the defence tried to discredit the documents themselves, the witnesses' ability to understand them, whether the witness only understood the documents after being read their contents, whether he was literate or able to read the English at the time of the offences,... etc. I guess that's his job.

The prosecution was a North American woman in her 50s, short steely grey hair. She looked exhausted, but she was keeping a poker face. The defence lawyer an British guy, not as senior, with a honey-coated upper crust voice probably from Cambridge, who couldn't help smirking a little as he said things like "if it please the court" when pointing out that his copy of the evidence wasn't copied correctly and had lines missing from the bottom and the sides.

We were only in the room for about an hour of a trial that started in January and will probably go on for several months more. A group of lawers are running a detailed blog, and the special court of Sierra Leone is screening the trial in their local court room to allow greater access.

It was fascinating to see international human rights law in operation like this. You can only imagine how tedious it must be to have to plug away into all the evidence for years, interviewing people over countless horror stories. But for the people sitting on the other side of the glass, this is their day-job. They are full time agents of justice, and they have appropriately impassive faces and a dry manner to go with it.

It was alternately chilling, especially when the witness was being questioned about some associates, namely one called Rambo and one called Van Damme. Who does this document refer to where it says Van Damme? Why was he called that? What was his role that day?

14 July 2008

Viva musica

This last two weeks, there has been a series of concerts - Live @ Westerpark, on the edge of Amsterdam.

On Tuesday, I went to see this year's silly Euro-pop sensations Mika (inside the fence) and then on Saturday, sat outside with a bunch of freeloaders to listen to and watch Leonard Cohen on the big screens which you could see over the fence in you stood in just the right place. I didn't know that Leonard hasn't toured for 15 years. It felt very special to hear "Everybody knows, Marianne, First we take Manhattan, and Hallelujah" sung by their composer who has passed the 70-year mark, still sounding gravelly and grave and warm as ever. And with our picnic on the concrete, including red wine and marvellous Euro-snacks it was a fine social occasion too.

I liked that the Mika gig was set up to make full use of that very big stage, even if it was totally cheeze-a-rama with circus performers, a clown on a harness flying around, a shadow-play with big furry animal costumes, etc. He has a divine voice, floppy brown hair, speaks a handful of languages, and I'd happily carry his love-child. (Mika, in case you're reading). There's a photo of the artist on stage with a giant blow-up "big girl" here. (c/o Erik Luyten - I hope that's within the terms, Erik!).

Both times the it had drizzled rain on and off all day (just like the whole week....) but while clouds hovered ominously over the park, the drops held off for the duration of the music. Sadly I missed an outdoor Radiohead concert while away on holiday, but that sold out back in March I think.

Bizarro is in darkest Africa this week, and I'm looking for more/ new work suitable for the summer months. The days are long at the moment, and the nights are mild. My apartment seems to hold the heat of the narrow cobble streets.

6 July 2008


Well I'm home in Amsterdam now, with some patchy sunburn in that bit on the shoulderblades that is hard to reach with the cream, plus a nice glow-in-the-dark Virgin of Guadaloupe and some olive oil hair shampoo to remember the trip. On route, I got the ferry from Italy to the Greek island of Kefalonia. It looks like this.

It was hot, one day probably close to 40. I hung out with a couple who Biz and I met in Uruguay, and they shared their camp food and good cheer. Cedric from Brittany runs a dive centre there. He provides beginner dives and courses as well. Gets a great mix of business from people who must just see the sign on the port and walk-up, to those that plan a diving holiday to get their master or rescue or open water or whatever. Having decided that there was no way I was ever getting a scuba kit on in my LIFE, of course yours truly was gently persuaded to go for a beginner dive. And what do you know, I didnt' get eaten by a shark. I hear there's not so many great whites in the mediterranean, but you never can be too careful.

No diary extracts to share as it was too hot for much except sleeping and swimming. Except for one occasion while waiting for the dive boat to come back and listening in on a group of middlea-aged package holiday types, from the North of England killing time before their dinner at expensive Porto Fiskardo. Because that smug feeling is the best thing about eavesdropping on other tourists.

"I just think she's wearing herself out these days. She looks tired and old."

Man in group: "Well, I can oonderstand lesbians, because I like the fairer sex, you see:
Woman in group: "But lesbians, really that's just not raight, is it? Its just against naighture"

"I don't mind seeing girls in the most outrageous clothes , provided they have the figure for it".

"Oooh I hope all this isn't making it into her diarey". (Whoops, busted)

2 July 2008

Dead centre of town

Wednesday 25 June

Anyway, I was curious about the Pantheon because yesterday's guide said that it was an example of what the palaces on the Palatine hill would have looked when in use, everything covered in marble, nothing unadorned. The designs in the Imperial Roman buildings would have been pagan though, lots of geometric shapes, not legions of tortured, dying and insipid looking saints.

But then again in those days it was the pagans putting thousands to death by way of starved lion, starved hyena, gladiator, and so forth. The Christians I guess where the sad little peaceniks "the meek shall ingerit the earth, etc..." They made these creepy catacombs with the dead piled in stacks , bricked in to rot in a hole in the wall. Unlike those Roman mutherfckers who just cremated their dead. Ecologically speaking, I used to think that being put in a box and sunk to earth was a good way to return all my living nutrients back into life, through plants, worms, and such. From today, I think I'll request a cremation for my mortal remains. Ashes are a more concentrated fertiliser, right, and the world's need for urban space won't be taken up by my rotting body in a stupid necropolis that serves the dual purpose of showing everyone just how much your family paid for your burial. *

* Mum, hi if you're reading this, that wasn't a dig at our family, just a metaphysical musing on the different cultural approaches to dealing with the issue. You know, like in comparison to medium density housing versus urban sprawl. Glad we got that sorted.