Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Once Upon a Time...

The Words "Mid-Life Crisis" Never Rang Truer...

This was only his second Christmas. He was an adult, yet this was the second time he'd ever properly done it. He was brought up in a religion which refused to celebrate Christmas, so that they could stand out. His dad always gave him Christmas presents, and when they lived together, they always had a Christmas of sorts, but it was never the full works, because of the Hawks who circled overhead, watching his every move.

Nonetheless, ever since he'd become more and more independent - and the various family issues were either partially resolved, ignored, or resulted in estrangement - he'd decided to strike out on his own and "do Christmas". Circumstances were such, that on his first Proper Christmas, he was alone. He had friends, all of whom had gone their separate ways to spend the day with their families; He knew other people who would be on their own, but they lived too far away for him to invite them round, or vice versa; His father was ill, and didn't have very much money, and decided to stay in The City, meaning that he would have to do everything by himself.

The biggest advantage was that, though he did have to do everything by himself, everything done was for him, and he alone. He woke up, opened his presents left for him by his closest friends, put the food in the oven, watched television, ate, drank and was merry. He even made calls to his friends and family to wish them a Merry Christmas. It was the best Christmas he'd ever had, and he vowed to repeat or better it, the next year.

He made plans with friends to travel abroad, and have Christmas in the Big Apple. When that plan fell through, he just decided to stay at his new home, now further away from his friends and father, and do what he'd done the year before. After all, there was no reason why it couldn't be a success a second time round.

Eventually, he stored up everything he had, put it to one side, and began to prepare for his second Christmas alone. He even relished the idea of being left to his own devices for at least one day.

But, in truth, he was lonely. Lonlier than he had felt in a very long time. Over the past few years, he'd come to rely on his friends' presence, and take comfort from their being just a short walk, or train or bus ride away. This time, he'd found himself further from Home than he had ever been, and all he wanted to do was hear from them and tell them that he loved and missed them. Even the new friends he had made (for he was a very likeable person, even if he did say so himself) had all gone away.

Then, one day, out of the blue, he recieved a call. It was one of his friends from his new town. She had a space at her table, and wanted him to fill it. There was no hesitation. He said yes, straight away. Despite all the time and effort he put into denouncing Chrsitmas, for all its falsehood and frivolity, the fact that someone wanted him to be part of their experience touched him; it made him feel wanted, which was the most important feeling of all, at that time of year. He didn't know what was expected of him, but he knew that he would try his best to make sure that, just like his previous Christmas, this would be one which would never be forgotten...

Merry Christmas, everyone. Have a good day, whatever you do. I Intend to be doing the above...

Monday, 22 December 2008

As If It Couldn't Get Any More Pathetic

Is that a smile or frown on Iraq PM, Nouri Maliki's face...?

I almost feel sorry for George W Bush, 43rd President of the United States of America. Ever since the beginning, his presidency has been troubled. From the (il)legitimacy of his first election victory, to 9/11 and the so-called "War on Terror", he's finished off the most unpopular President in recent history, and that's including "Tricky Dicky" Nixon! Now, being followed by a man not only more popular but also intellectually superior, and expected to have an extremely good time of it in office, comes one of the last insults: an obscure Iraqi journalist throws shoes at him, in protest for the defining event of Bush's presidency, the Iraq War/Invasion/Liberation (delete according to preference).

However, as I said, I almost feel sorry for him. In my opinion, he stole both elections, failed his people throughout two of America's most tragic moments (let's not forget Hurricane Katrina, and his inactivity), run down the economic financial situation - turning the budget surplus left by Clinton into a massive deficit - and marred the USA's international standing: no longer was it a leader, but a bully. He's also thick as shit, to boot (if you'll pardon the footwear-related pun). He deserves his unpopularity; he worked hard for it.

In recent years, I had stopped listening to jokes made about the President, for the sheer reason that I began to feel depressed. Malapropisms and stupidity aside, this really was the most powerful man on the planet, capable of ordering a military strike on pretty much anything he chose, with the nuclear codes. As the late Bill Hicks put it, the kind of man who believes that God will enact his wrath on this world in the near future should not be allowed to press a button which can release nuclear missiles.

Now we know a more responsible man is taking control, I've learnt to laugh again. He didn't even get pelted with rocks, or something which could have caused real damage: instead, someone thought he was only worth the smell of feet and dogshit.

Nevermind, Mr President, retirement looms. You can go and have a nice rest on your ranch and disappear from public life, forever, soon...

Boo F@*king Hoo!

Is This the Greediest Man Alive?

It seems that this week, I shall mostly be attacking hate figures. Not content with criticising democratic abuses, religion and George W Bush, I move on to the Capitalist General, Bernard Madoff - the man who "mad(e)off" (always an excuse for a cheap pun) with US$50bn of investors' money, or tried to, at least, before being caught literally stuffing the dollar bills into his pockets.

Well, not quite. What he was actually doing was lying to all of his investors (shock horror), telling them his hedge fund investment scheme would offer them huge returns on the money they put in. In reality, all he was doing was taking larger amounts from later investors, and sharing it out among the earlier ones, who'd paid less, thus ensuring they would continue to "invest" greater amounts, and the cycle would continue. Meanwhile, Madoff was pinching a little bit for himself, in order to secure his own financial safety, making himself the only winner.

Last week, he was arrested and charged with "securities fraud", being later released on $10m bail.

Where do I begin? The fact that this case was nothing more than a glorified pyramid scheme? That the obvious danger in anything offering a lot more than what you put in is reminiscent of the phrase "too good to be true"? Or the frankly hilarious outcome of Mr Madoff admitting to his lies, proclaiming himself "broke", and then paying for his bail - I'll remind you of the amount: $10m - with his own money?

The only thing I can say is "good!" I don't feel in the slightest bit sorry for this man, who is nothing more than your classic con artist. I don't have much sympathy for his sucker clients, either, most of whom were either investment banks, bankers, corporations or simply rich; all of whom were already skilled thieves and crooks, and so therefore should have known better - after all, it takes one to know one. I have more respect for George Agdgdgwngo (pronounced Ag-dug-a-dug-gwengo), the fictional ugandan scammer from Channel 4's Fonejacker. At least he's inventive...

What does annoy me - and I mean what really annoys me - is the fact that this, alongside the initial circumstances of the global financial crisis, was allowed to go unnoticed for so long. For want of sounding like a die-hard socialist (I'm much more towards the centre than most people my age), this would not have happened if these people were watched more closely, and asked to account for the vast quantities of money they handled every day, instead of trusted to play with money collected from the bottom up.

Of course, Madoff is the latest in a long line of liars and conmen, but his unfortunate discovery just highlights, especially now, why we need to change the way we deal with money on a national and international level, and maybe that will inform ordinary people who run the risk of getting into debt. Becoming rich is very rare, and rarely honest.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Phwoar! Get a Load of Frisky Fatima!

A Muslim Woman in a Burka, Yesterday

Many people who know me also know I'm not the world's biggest fan of organised religion, and Islam is no exception. Having said that, I might change my opinion, after having read an article about the increasingly-popular phenomenon of Syrian women wearing nothing but sexy lingerie underneath their all-purpose Burkas. It's true, I swear: there are even books about it.

Of course, I haven't in the slightest bit lost my distaste for the Koran, or those people with nothing better to do than dogmatically follow its teachings without a thought to the fact that the world has changed since it was written (for the record, I'm none too fond of that hack-journalist novel, The Bible, which started off well, but got a bit confused, around the middle - talk about too many cooks...); I'm also aware that I may offend a few people by saying that (boo hoo - if they're allowed to spout all sorts of rubbish, such as "God exists", then I can say anything; it could hardly be as far fetched), but this isn't a religious debate: there isn't one, as far as I'm concerned. I've yet to decide whether I think this strange practice (the lingerie, not the religion) is liberating or a further sign of oppression imposed on women by organised religion. On the one hand, only her husband is allowed to see her without the all-body veil, meaning that only he has the pleasure of seeing his wife wearing what could only be described as kinky knickers. However, I can imagine these women must feel a certain thrill when walking down the street, knowing that the only thing between the outside world and her all-but-tits-'n'-ass naked body is one thin piece of cloth. In fact, having worn women's clothing before (don't ask), its variety, and the dissembling of it from one's body can feel very exciting.

In my opinion, if that's their way of sticking two fingers up to the system, then I say good on you, Syria's Suffragettes! You make sure those men know what they're missing.

Barbara Windsor in a shot from the unreleased Carry On in Damascus - She played the character of Habibi

This is the "Free" Half, Apparently

Lee Myunk-bak, President of South Korea

Now, as most of my beloved friends will know, I'm not very regularly prone to bouts of moral outrage (yes, that was a joke); but this one really takes the biscuit. While we're all condemning North Korea (boo) and it's oppressive leader, Kim Jong-Il (hiss) for developing nuclear technology (shame) and being a "Communist Dictatorship" (vomit in disgust), let's not forget that its neighbour, the as-considered-by-the-CIA-World-Factbook South Korea, a "fully functioning modern democracy" still seems to have a law condemning "adultery"; and it is strictly enforced, specifially against women.

Aside from the infantile-sounding name of the CIA's document (I can hear the adverts now: "You too can find out if your country is considered friend or foe for just $5bn. That's right: only $5bn!"), and the fact that this law has recently been enacted in a rather high-profile story, one wonders why 1) this law still exists; 2) people haven't made much of a fuss about it; and 3) why, despite the previous two factors, the case has been reported in the international news.

I will be honest, I did find the story mildly amusing; but only mildly, and only then out of sheer incredulity. Who the hell does the South Korean Government think it is? Yes, extra-marital affairs are generally frowned upon, and with argubly good reason; and, yes, I know nothing of Korean society - be it that of North or South - to be able to make an informed comment. However, history has shown that, in terms of the private business of a few people who don't seek to cause any harm to the public good, they need not suffer at the hands of the law, as well as the social stigma atached to such a situation. After all, divorce courts and the tabloid press tend to do a very good job of dragging out all sorts of dirty laundry to air in front of a judge, where famous people are concerned. Must such people be subjected to criminal penalties, as well?

The "it's their culture" argument doesn't really work, either, I'm afraid. According to the BBC, "[t]he law has been challenged four times, but the country's top judges have always ruled that adultery is damaging to social order, and the offence should therefore remain a crime."However, "the judges' support for the law has gradually declined. The law's repeal would require backing of six of the court's nine judges - in the last case, five judges backed its repeal." Which means, if I'm not mistaken, that even among the legal elite, this is considered a backward, unfair, repressive and ultimately unethical legislative device, used often for nothing more than to enact revenge, or secure more for oneself in the divorce settlement. Oh, and did I mention that the victims of this law are more often women than men, despite the fact that "nearly 68% of South Korean men and 12% of women confess to having sex outside marriage"? Hmm...

Now, I'm no feminist, but this all marks up to a very high total on my sexist-meter. Given that North Korea's social regime is pretty strict, I'd say South Korea, in the area of women's rights, has a rather stricter policy. That is: if you're a married woman, who decides you no longer want to be with your husband, for whatever reason, or just to rejuvenate your appetite, since he isn't doing it for you, anymore, you're off to prison, if caught. But let's get some perspective on the matter. South Korea is a free country.

How often is the CIA World Factbook revised...?

Kim Jong-Il, Dictator of North Korea. Spot the Difference...

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Soraya Arnelas - She's Spanish, don'tchaknow!

It occured to me, that since my move, and the subsequent stream of blogging, I very rarely speak about Spain, the country which lends its name to this ilustrious journal. I've been too busy living it to bother with the whole recrding element. Things will change, I promise you; starting now...

I shall leave you with this, as a taste of the kind of thing I hear in clubs. Thankfully, some kind soul has put the lyrics in the video, considering the poor girl's voice is a strain on the ear - in Spanish as well as English, trust me...

Hasta luego

Friday, 19 December 2008

Does This Mean They Don't Know?

The face of a terrorist, yesterday...

And so I read, last week, with a feeling not really covered by the word "cynicism", that an "open verdict" was given, with regard to the death of Brazilian Jean Charles De Menezes, marking the end of yet another hush-up inquest into Police inadequacy.

Now, I'm no legal eagle, but I could have sworn that the term "open verdict" referred to doubt over the guilt of an accused, or regarding any alleged foul play. So, I checked online, and, oh look! I was wrong: it's something far more accusatory...

If you are unfamiliar with the saga that this sorry story of an innocent man's death has become, let me recap: in July 2005, there were two attempts to debilitate the infrastructure of the London Transport system. One succeeded, and one failed. A few days after the failed attempt, the anti-terroist unit of the Metropolitan Police raided the homes of the suspects, and, in one underground station, chased a supposed suspect, who had fled in the confusion, before shooting him in the head twice: you know, just to make sure they'd caught him... Only, he wasn't actually an Islamic Fundametalist terrorist; he wasn't even muslim. He was a brazillian electrician, working in London. He had no weaponry on him, but was wearing a backpack. He simply ran onto a train, in fear of being near any crossfire, ironically leading to his tragic death. As he lay on the floor of the carriage, following Police orders, he was shot. In the head. Twice.

It seems that the jury accepted that De Menezes' death was suspicious, but not specifying the cause. In my opinion, and that of many other people, the cause was the Police.

I say the words "seems" and "death", because I'm trying to be diplomatic. However, if one reads into the verdict, one might very quickly come to the conclusion that the jury voted for the open verdict, given that the verdict of an unlawful killing was disallowed. Which means, if I may be so bold as to throw my two pence worth into the "debate", the jury - along with anyone with half a brain and a sense of justice - KNOWS that de Menezes was MURDERED by two incompetent (at best; at worst, the word "bloodthirsty" comes to mind) police officers.

How ironic that the edict of the law and its enforcers existing to protect people is so continually repeated, when discussing jurisprudence, don't you think?

From the BBC NEWS website. Caption reads: "The prosecution say the police doctored an image of Jean Charles de Menezes for a composite picture comparing him with bomb plotter Hussain Osman" Well, there you are, then...

Friday, 12 December 2008

First Obama, and Now This...

Take a good look, boys and girls, and forget David Tennant - this is your new Time Lord

According to some Big-Mouth actor, Patterson Joseph (of National Theatre, Peep show and Green Wing fame) is "gonna be - potentially - the new Doctor Who".

It's true, Paterson's name was in the regular line-up of names listed for the Great Honour, but Phillip Rhys's almost farcical attempt at maintaining the conditional tense has all but confirmed the rumours.

Paterson is "Typical Doctor Who Material", too: so sayeth some wise TV sage. I would agree. However, the backlash has begun. Some people seem to think that a Black Man cannot - nay, SHOULD NOT - be the Doctor. Of course, no-one has admitted to this being the reason, and the non-cynical part of me is certain this has nothing to do with race, but let's be honest with ourselves, here. The Doctor is "quintessentially English", and always has been. In an ideal world, it would be great to see this quintessential Englishness being represented by a black - the cultural significance would be great - but does "quintessential" include Middle England? The same Middle England who voted for Magaret Thatcher three times in a row, and who are likely to vote for David Cameron at least once? If it does, would the BBC be making a huge compromise with one of its biggest cash cows?

I'm not saying Tories are racist (even though they are), or that people who vote for them are racists (one often wonders, though), but Doctor Who is safe, mainstream television, more worried about ratings and merchandising for Christmas, than being subversive. Occasionally, it will delve into moral, sexual, political and psychological issues (and that's just "Midnight"). But, if one assesses the new series' output, it's mainly frothy, light entertainment, with some cool special effects and and couple of one-liners. Sometimes, it isn't even that; just a bunch of Daleks killing people, and seeing too many companions from recent series teaming up against them (cough cough splutter). It's bad enough the series' new Head Writer, Steven Moffatt, is an intelligent, apt scriptwriter, capable of meshing hardline sci-fi topics with the flash-bang-wallop format of Doctor Who, but could the Couch Potatoes in need of Vegetable Food handle seeing a darkie's head pop out of the TARDIS? If they switch off, so does the BBC...

Let me get something absolutely clear. I want Paterson to be the new Doctor. I've seen him on stage, and he's an amazing actor. He would make an excellent Doctor, no doubt about it. But that's the point. Maybe he's too good for it. Knowing what some Doctor Who fans are like, if the show fails, the people who'll be blamed are the actors (just doing their jobs), and the people promoting it (likewise). Being The Doctor means you are never left alone. Children and adults alike all over the UK know your face, and want to talk to you, have you sign something, and possibly take a photo. Doctor Who fans, however, are somewhat different. If it isn't endless invitations to some god-awful convention, it's quoting your lines back at you, discussing the intricacies of certain implications in one shot/line/look you gave, and not-so-subtly trying to get your phone number and be your best friend. Imagine all the negative responses you would get, if you happened to be the last Doctor Who... Has Paterson asked himself if the career boost would be worth the hassle?

Having said all of that, I may be being way too negative, and absolutely wrong. After all, I remember sitting in my Student Union bar, telling my white freinds why there would never ever be, in my lifetime, a black President (I'm still very uncertain we'll have a black Prime Minister, though). So, who knows. If David Tennant's time has proven anything, though, being The Doctor does open up some opportunities: would the RSC's production of Hamlet have been so popular with another nearly-forty-year-old playing the role...? Not to dismiss Tennant's acting. I new his name and liked him before Doctor Who even came back to the screen. And, after all, Paterson is a big boy: I'm sure if some petty people think he can't be the Doctor before he's even been given a chance, then why should he care? Just get on with the job. Look at what happened with Daniel Craig, and he managed to prove them wrong.

In any case, no announcements have been made, save one gaffe in an obscure interview, so why don't we get on with savouring Tennant in the role for his last few flings, before jumping to any conclusions, eh...?

Navidad, Navidad, Dulce Navidad...

Christmas lights in Madrid - yes, it really does look like this!

So goes the Spanish version of that beloved tune, Jingle Bells... (By the way, I dare you to click on that link, see it through, and not throw up). I've been hearing it quite often, and I suppose I'll be hearing it for a while longer, now that I've "decided" to stay in Madrid over the holidays.

The reasons for my "decision" are not particularly complex - put simply, I'm broke. Well, not broke, exactly: anyone who knew/met/saw me during the summer knows what I'm like when I'm properly broke. I'm making a little bit of money teaching English, and that's enough to survive on; but that's the point. I'm survivng, but not quite out of the financial hole I got myeslf into, this year. So, I've "decided" to stay.

The prospect of being in Madrid over Christmas is hardly depressing. The Spniards may profess to Catholicism, but that's just so that they can use the Saints' days as an excuse for a holiday. Here, Christmas began back in mid-November. And, as you can see from the photo, above, they take Christmas seriously, here. Any plaza larger than 100 square metres has some some sort of Christmas Fair set up every evening, with gifts galore for every taste, fashion or fetish...

Let's not forget, of course, as those of you who know me, that "Sanya at Christmas" has never been one of the TV specials to look out for. The road to warming up to this ridiculous festival we've dressed up in messages of peace, harmony, goodwill, blah blah blah, has been long, and maybe a change of scenery will do me good. I've yet to see gaudy cristmas decorations adorning the fronts of people's houses; but I have seen a good deal of "cagador" figurines ("shitter" - to my right), intended for the home Nativity Scene, which tickled me.

And then there are the lights along the main streets. The photo, above, is pretty much what I see every time I turn the corner out of my road onto La calle de la Princesa, leading down to the Christmas Tree in Plaza de España, and the Gran Vía (Main Street) display, all of which is pretty much in the centre of the city. Plenty of the other streets in and around the city are lit, too, some more attractive than others (compare above with another set, just off the Puerta del Sol, the lights being pretty much randomly arranged zig-zags, looking more like the explanatory graphs which come with news articles on the financial crisis).

Finally, as was unexpectedy proven, last year, Christmas on my own is great! I prepare my meals, do a roast, watch the TV, send out the "other" Queen's Speech to all my friends, ope my presents from friends, speak to a few on the phone, and finally get drunk watchng the Doctor Who Christmas Special, or any Christmas Special, to be honest - the point is, I get drunk on special wine. It's great: I'm in omplete control of my day, I don't have to deal with irritating family-members, and I can say and do whatever I likefor the entire day. Bliss...

So, even though I won't see my best friends for that little bit longer, I will have Christmas as Usual, and one of my New Year's resolutions is to sort out my finances, which means that, with any luck, come Christmas 2009, I won't have anything to moan about. One can drean, can't one...?

"Gawd bless us. Everone."

Monday, 1 December 2008


What do you think of the new look? I'm unsure, but I'm fed up of the boring black-and-white template.

Answers on a postcard...

If You Don't Ask, You Don't Get

Observe: a suspect old man whose pastime involves enslaving people of stunted growth, forcing them to work in conditions which can only be likened to those of a sweatshop, and then throwing the fruit of their labour away to children on one madcap night of ASBO-dodging mayhem

In honour of the annual "Capitalism in Christianity's Clothing" festival we like to call Christmas, I've decided to get fully into the spirit of it all by writing a list of demands. That's right: gone are the days of hoping for something cool and/or entertaining and/or useful and/or practical, only to have your dreams shattered on the day, when you receive some tatty old shit you got a few years ago, or nothing at all: trust me, I've found myself in both of those situations many a frosty Christmas morn.

I have thought of various methods of conveying my request, and I felt the most appropriate would be in the form of song: specifically, to the tune of "My Favourite Things", from The Sound of Music. But then I gerw up, and decided to make a list, instead: -

Useful/Practical: Clothes (ie, trousers and jeans, coat, some lovely warm jumpers, shoes and/or trainers); A Pen (doesn't have to be expensive, just expensive-looking); A Digital Camera; Money (failing all else)...

Cool/Entertaining: A New Computer (likelihood slim to nil); DVD Box Sets of past and recent seasons of my favourite TV Shows (Doctor Who Series 2-4; Desperate Housewives Seasons 2-4; All of The Wire and The West Wing); DVDs of good films (I'll let you be the judge); Money (or just let me be the judge);

As you can see, I don't want much, and I think it would be fair to say that I, after all, will be shelling out a fortune, sending cards and presents abroad (the estimated total is around 50p), so why can't I have a little bit back? The world has approximately one month to give me what I want, or the consequences shall be grave...

Merry Christmas; and God bless us, everyone...

I'd rather find this at the bottom of my chimney, thanks...