Sunday, October 31, 2004

31 October 2004

The Tower-burning party (see below) got off to a bad start yesterday, when the planned fireworks display was confiscated by anti-terrorist police and the fancy-dress party was broken up by a Black Watch battalion on its way to Baghdad. Tickets to the Scissor Sisters' Brixton bash sold out months ago, so I'm having to make do with Monday night after football.

As for today, it is, of course, Hallowe'en, the Samhain festival marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of the Celtic new year, which starts tomorrow. The night of Samhain is when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead evaporates and the dead return to earth, wreaking all manner of mayhem. The festival was first corrupted by the medieval Christian church, which gave us All Saints Day (on 1 November) and All Souls Day (on 2 November); and then by modern Mammon, which gave us 'trick and treat', tacky plastic horror masks, hairy-palm gloves and what is now the third-biggest festival of the year (in terms of consumer spending) in the UK.


Saturday, October 30, 2004

30 October 2004

Most of England is taken up with one huge bonfire and fireworks party at the moment. Shops are banning the sale of eggs and flour to under-16's for fear that they will use them irresponsibly on Hallowe'en this weekend. Family pets are being terrorised by bangers and crackers and explosions and flashes. And all fire brigade leave is being cancelled in preparation for our annual orgy of burning and looting on 5 November.

In this anarchic spirit, tonight some of us are planning to mark another anniversary as an alternative to next weekend's ritual burning of poor old Guy Fawkes, the only man to enter parliament with honest intentions, as the saying goes. Our party will commemorate the burning of the Tower of London on the night of Saturday 30 October 1841. This destroyed the royal armoury, and at one time threatened the White Tower and Jewel Tower as well.

The crown jewels and regalia were rescued by the swift action of Superintendent W F Pierse, of the recently-formed Metropolitan Police. He took a detachment of constables to the Tower and, with the help of the keeper of the Jewel Tower, broke into the building to save them from the flames. None of those involved took so much as a minor diamond as recompense for their efforts, while the royal family showed typical gratitude by awarding them not so much as a thank you.


Friday, October 29, 2004

29 October 2004

It's International Internet Day, if you're interested in another of those obscure – and often little-observed – special days that I feature here from time to time. It's also Take Back Your Time Day, according to some internet sources, which could well lead to a clash of objectives in many homes.

Unfortunately, those who've booked in TBYT Day for today seem to have already taken back a few days too many. This is because officially the occasion was supposed to be marked last Sunday, according to organisers at Take Back Your Time (http://www.timeday.org). Nonetheless, they say they're happy for people to take back their time at any time. So why not set aside an hour or two today to ponder the fact that more people in Britain spend far more time at work than in any other European Union country prior to the 2004 expansion.

International Labour Organisation figures show that 15.5 per cent of the British workforce spends 50 or more hours at work. This compares with well under 10 per cent in the rest of the EU, ranging from 6.2 per cent in Greece to just 1.4 per cent in the Netherlands.

The real gluttons for punishment, though, are to be found in the US and Australia, where people working more than 50 hours per week increased from 15 to 20 per cent during the 1990s; New Zealand, where the figure is 21.3 per cent; and Japan, top of the 'live to work' brigade with 28.1 per cent.


Thursday, October 28, 2004

28 October 2004

Full moon in Taurus, and a total lunar eclipse this morning for those who got up early enough and were blessed with clear skies.

Meanwhile, as a footnote to yesterday's entry about the sadly-deceased John Peel, I'm told that one of the less-welcome coincidences of his life saw him working in an office job at Dallas's Radio WRR at the time that John F Kennedy was shot. Some versions of this story have grown in the telling and place him in the Texas School Book Depository Building used by Lee Harvey Oswald for the shooting, while another report, more accurately, says that he was present at Oswald's killing by Jack Ruby.

In fact, having moved to Dallas in 1960, Peel got a commission from the Liverpool Echo to cover the press conference at which the police produced Oswald and he was shot by Ruby. It's said that Peel can be spotted in the background of some of the TV film of the occasion.

I'll leave any further details to the urban myth-makers and conspiracy theorists. But I'm sure there's at least one book to be written about the real reasons why this son of a successful Cheshire cotton broker subsequently left the USA, changed his name from John Robert Parker Ravenscroft and became a radio DJ under the name of John Peel in England.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

27 October 2004

Bruce Springsteen made the cover of both Time and Newsweek on this day in 1975, a remarkable feat for a rock star whose career was only just beginning to reach the heights.

One man's career that was to constantly help remodel the rock and roll business was also beginning to reach high peaks by this time. This was the much-love and now much-missed British radio DJ, John Peel, who died aged 65 yesterday. Peel discovered more bands than most record cmopany A&R men, and helped others to achieve a prominence they might never have managed by their own efforts alone.

His 'Festive 50' was one of the annual highlights of British radio. As far as I know, Bruce Springsteen only ever made it once, with 'Born to Run'. This is Peel's full 50 for 1978, the year in which Springsteen appeared. The full set of lists can be found at: http://www.rocklist.net/festive50.htm

Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
Clash - Complete Control
Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen
Stiff Little Fingers - Suspect Device
Magazine - Shot By Both Sides
Sex Pistols - Pretty vacant
Clash - White Man In Hammersmith Palais
Buzzcocks - What Do I Get?
Public Image Ltd. - Public Image
Undertones - Teenage Kicks
Stiff Little Fingers - Alternative Ulster
Buzzcocks - Boredom
Damned - New Rose
Led Zeppelin - Stairway To Heaven
Clash - White Riot
David Bowie - Heroes
Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet
Sex Pistols - Holidays In The Sun
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Freebird
Rezillos - I Can't Stand My Baby
Van Morrison - Madame George
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Hong Kong Garden
Clash - Police & Thieves
Jam - Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
Elvis Costello - Watching The Detectives
Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing
Pink Floyd - Shine On You Crazy Diamond
Buzzcocks - Moving Away From The Pulsebeat
Derek & the Dominoes - Layla
Stranglers - Hanging Around
Stranglers - No More Heroes
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Helter Skelter
Motors - Dancing The Night Away
Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone
Elvis Costello - Alison
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Overground
Who - My Generation
Stranglers - London Lady
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Switch
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Mirage
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Jigsaw Feeling
Jam - In The City
Sex Pistols - EMI
Bob Dylan - Desolation Row
Flying Lizards - Summertime Blues
Neil Young - Like A Hurricane
Thin Lizzy - Emerald Siouxsie & the Banshees - Metal Postcard


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

26 October 2004

Gunfight at the OK Corral. The fight took place in Tombstone, Arizona, on this day in 1881; and most people who've heard of it probably know that it involved Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, fighting the Clanton and McClaury gang. But how did the OK Corral get its name?

Well, it's all down to the former US president, Martin Van Buren, who is attributed with popularising the phrase 'OK' by adopting it as his election slogan in 1840. (American linguists say 'OK' came about as a Boston newspaper joke in which the initials were said to stand for 'all correct' – part of the joke being that neither initial was correct. It's worth noting, though, that this interpretation is still the source of some controversy, with alternate claims for the phrase's origin being found on all continents.)

Van Buren took 'OK' from 'Old Kinderhook', the name of his New York home. A club called the 'OK Club' was formed, and the OK Corral was named after this by its first owner, John Montgomery. I don't suppose it mattered much to those who were shot there.


Monday, October 25, 2004

25 October 2004

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

The 150th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade and the 589th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Meanwhile, the British troops in the Black Watch are moved deeper into the quagmire that is Iraq. Which of the first two anniversaries will the third most resemble in years to come?


Sunday, October 24, 2004

24 October 2004

It's United Nations Day today and the start of the UN's Disarmament Week. The day marks the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations on 24 October 1945, which was when a sufficient number of ratifications of the UN Charter had been obtained to launch the new body officially.

Former Soviet president Nikita Kruschev (see 23 October) once defined the UN's purpose as 'to protect the essential sovereignty of nations, large and small'. From the other side of the Cold War fence, former US president Dwight D Eisenhower, said: 'If the United Nations once admits that international disputes can be settled by using force, then we will have destroyed the foundation of the organisation and our best hope of establishing a world order.'

There's never been any shortage of hypocrisy among the world leaders who set it up, but for all its failings the UN is still the least-worst international institution for peace and disarmament at our disposal.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

23 October 2004

The day that communism died – or at any rate the day that the Soviet corruption of communism died.

The Hungarian uprising, which began with a peaceful demonstration demanding the reinstatement of the former prime minister, Imre Nagy, on this day in 1956, lasted barely a fortnight. It was crushed with ruthless force by Soviet tanks on the orders of Nikita Kruschev, the more 'liberal' successor to Stalin, who denounced the crimes of his predecessor in a secret party congress that same year.

The invasion led to a massive haemorrhage of support from communist parties across the world, including many writers, artists and intellectuals in the west who had been drawn to communism during the fight against fascism. Although Soviet-style communism was to survive in Europe for another three decades, its moral authority was shattered and already ebbing away.


Friday, October 22, 2004

22 October 2004

Twenty one years ago today, Ronald Reagan was intent on moving Cruise missiles into Europe and some of the biggest-ever anti-nuclear demonstrations were taking place across the continent. Six hundred thousand people protested in Berlin, and between 200,000 and one million (depending on whose estimates you believe) in London.

This was when I first came across the 'Nuclear War' game, although it was already celebrating its 18th birthday at the time. The creation of Doug Malewicki, it's the only game on the planet where in two out of every three games, everybody loses. The introduction to the game's rulebook gives an idea why:

'Nuclear War is a game for two to six players. Each player represents a major world power and attempts to gain world domination through the strategic use of propaganda techniques or nuclear weapons. A sound strategy, however, is not always a guarantee of success. As in the real world, the results of strategic decisions are not predictable and such factors as the chance dispersion of deadly radioactive fallout particles may significantly alter the course of events.'

Victory is achieved by either eliminating the populations of competing 'nations' or persuading them to join you. The game includes rules such as eliminated competitors being allowed a 'final retaliation' in which they can use their remaining weapons to obliterate as many of their opponents as possible. The last player left in the game wins only if he has at least one million of his own population remaining: hence the high number of games in which the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) means that there are no winners.

Nuclear War has sold more than 250,000 copies and spawned various offshoots since it was first released in 1965. Unfortunately, world peace isn't one of them.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

21 October 2004

It's a well-known maxim in the media business that you should get your anniversaries in early. No one much bothers these days with commemorating famous events on the days that they actually happened; and the bigger the event, the longer the period before its actual anniversary when newspapers, magazines, television and radio are showering the public with commemorative articles and programmes.

Now seems as good a time as any, then, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, which took place on 21 October 1805. For those of you who missed it, the British won, Admiral Nelson was killed and his death scene, when he was said to have uttered the immortal words 'Kiss me, Hardy', has had spotty schoolboys sniggering through their history lessons ever since.

There have been plenty of attempts to re-write Nelson's final lines for the history books, and not only by imperial types who thought it possibly didn't present the most desirable impression of life in the British navy. One such attempt suggested that Nelson was in fact saying 'Kismet, Hardy' ('Fate, Hardy'). Others said that no one could have heard a word than anyone said in the heat of the battle.

Yet despite the doubters, it does seem likely that the popular version is true. Even if it was difficult to hear what Nelson said, there were at least two close witnesses present, as well as Nelson and Hardy, who saw what was done. These were Alexander Scott, Nelson's chaplain, and William Beatty, his surgeon – and they recorded that Hardy had kissed Nelson not just once but twice.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

20 October 2004

An exercise in nostalgia today from Ron W, of the Other Place, allows me to take a rest from writing. So cast your minds back 35 years to Saturday morning pictures at the Palace. Ron writes:

On this day, 1969, the ‘Palace’ cinema closed. To the rest of the country, this was a non-event, but to the people of Rock Ferry, in the Wirral, it was the end of an era.Generations had been weaned on the adventures, heroics and romances at the ‘Palace’. And it didn’t cost much.

The first four rows were the ‘neckcranks’. The head angled at 60 degrees and an oblique vision was seen, usually tapering off on the far side. This was cinema in three dimensions before 3D ever appeared. Usually, after two hours in this position, the result was a stiff neck and a square eyeball.

The price of the first rows was four pence, the rest of the bottom floor was nine pence, and the really affluent could luxuriate in the balcony for one and nine pence. On a Saturday afternoon, we would be enthralled with ‘Flash Gordon’, 'The Scorpion’ and many others, after which the Cowboys and Red Injuns would knock hell out of each other. Discipline was strict, with the 'Sergeant Major', ex Indian Army, enforcing discipline with his big cane if, or when, it was required.

We toured the world, swashbuckled with Flynn, gangstered with Edward G Robinson, conquered the West with Gary Cooper and sailed on the ‘African Queen’ with Bogart. Then we danced with Fred and Ginger and Gene Kelly, we sang with Julie Andrews, then listened to Elvis with his great rendering of ‘Dixie’.

We also found time to beat hell out of the German’s and every other nation on the planet. We fought the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Normans and anyone else that was in the way. We fought the Saracens, then Agincourt, then Wellington. With ‘Drake’, we beat the buggery out of the Spaniards and their Armada and fought with Nelson at Trafalgar. We sailed with Cook discovering unknown worlds. All this for a few pennies!

Aye, at the Palace we were immortal. There was no death. Life became infinity.Our family highlight was Saturday night, when we would go with my mother and father, plus a half pound bar of Cadbury’s chocolate, plus Wall's ice cream at the interval.

In all the happy years at the Palace, there was only one bad night. I was ten at the time and played what I thought was a funny joke on my family. I won’t go into details, but it ended with us being ejected by the sergeant major. I was 25 years old before I eventually confessed to my father that it was me. He wasn’t too pleased even then!

And now all those wonderful days are gone, and so has the childhood magic. Indeed, so has the Palace. There remains only the shell of the building now.It is a car maintenance depot now, tyres, exhausts, etc. But the old ‘Roses’ where the lights used to be still remain, and if you listen carefully you can still hear the same old five military music records that they played at the interval, and the kids are still cheering on Buck Jones as he rounds up the baddies. Will you join me and drink a final toast to the Palace?


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

19 October 2004

It's 15 years ago today since Gerald Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson had their convictions overturned for IRA pub bombings in Guildford in 1975. The 'Guildford Four' had served 15 years for crimes they did not commit and were the first in a series of high-profile acquittals of Irish prisoners in British jails. On 14 March 1991, the 'Birmingham Six' were released after 16 years in jail and on 26 June 1991, the Appeal Court released the 'Maguire Seven'.

Evidence brought before the Guildford Four appeal hearings showed that police officers had tampered with the notes of so-called confessions made by the defendants, colluding in the wording of their statements and adding or changing details after they were made. The bombs in Guildford killed five people and injured more than 100. Paul Hill and Patrick Armstrong were also wrongfully convicted of a bomb attack in Woolwich, south London, which killed two people.

One of the investigating officers in the Guildford and Woolwich cases was Peter Imbert, later Sir Peter Imbert, who was Metropolitan Police Commissioner when the convictions were overturned. I interviewed him just before the Appeal Court judgement, taking the opportunity to question him about the cases.

Imbert had taken down the 'confessions' of the so-called Woolwich bombers, and he also took the true confession of an IRA man involved in the Balcombe Street siege, who admitted to the Guildford and Woolwich bombings when in jail. He told me, though, that he had not 'gone away and lost sleep over any of them'. Even after the appeal hearings he said he 'hadn't any doubts about their guilt'. The police knew they were involved with the IRA, he said: jail was where they should stay.

After the appeal court judgement, he began to get cold feet about some of his statements to me, which were due to appear as part of an interview for the Independent Magazine. I was asked to remove all references to the Guildford Four. In return I was promised 'special access' to senior police officers for future articles and a private meeting with Imbert at which he could 'explain things about the case that could not be made public'.

Whether Imbert was covering his own back, or that of the Metropolitan Police more generally, I never discovered. I was leaned on heavily to comply with the Met's requests, receiving a series of telephone calls right up to the publication of the interview – after which there was total silence. None of my subsequent calls were returned; none of my subsequent requests for interviews were granted.

As it happens, I don't think Sir Peter Imbert was corrupt. I think that the pressure to find the people responsible for the mid-1970s bombing campaign led him to make mistakes; that in his eagerness to get a conviction he convinced himself that the police had caught the right people; and that later he couldn't bear to admit to the corruption and malpractice that must have taken place.

Imbert and his fellow officers on these cases are all retired now. But a new generation of police officers is having to deal with a new generation of terrorists, this time Islamist extremists, under the same sort of pressure to find those responsible, whatever the cost in civil liberties and proper police behaviour. The alienation of the Irish community, in large part due to oppressive police practices, the suspension of civil liberties and the conviction of the innocent, was a major reason for the longevity of the IRA. It's far too easy to envisage the same sort of thing happening again.


Monday, October 18, 2004

18 October 2004

'Le Bateau', a painting by the French artist Henri Matisse, went on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on this day in 1961. The exhibition in which it featured attracted an estimated 116,000 people. Yet for 47 days nobody realised that the painting was hanging upside down.

Stacy Herbert, the office manager of the Department of Visitor Services at the Museum of Modern Art, confirmed the story, which some commentators had dismissed as apocryphal, in a recent email:

'Towards the close of the 1961 exhibition, "The Last Works of Henri Matisse", a French-born stockbroker and Matisse fan named Genevieve Habert questioned the hanging of a 1952 gouache, "Le Bateau" (The Sailboat). The work depicts a sailboat and its reflection. Habert felt that the artist "would never put the main, more complex motif on the bottom and the lesser motif on the top".

'Habert brought this to the attention of museum staff on a Sunday, December 4th. On Monday, Monroe Wheeler (Director, Exhibitions and Publications) agreed and the work was re-hung within two hours.
'Habert had attended the show three times. The show opened 47 days prior, on October 18th. An estimated 116,000 people had attended by that point. "Le Bateau" hung in a corner of the Museum's ground floor, the next-to-the last work before entering the public cafeteria.'


Sunday, October 17, 2004

17 October 2004

According to the International Olympic Committee, it was a 'deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit'. It resulted in the two athletes involved being suspended by their national team, expelled from the Olympic village and sent home to the United States.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the gold and bronze medal winners in the 1968 Olympics 200 metres race, had raised their hands in black-gloved, clenched-fist salutes during the medals ceremony in a silent protest against racial discrimination in America. Jeered by many people in the crowd and subject to abuse and death threats on their return home, the pair nonetheless achieved worldwide support for their stand, which had been backed by the Olympic Project for Human Rights, organised by a professor at San Jose State University.

Their actions, on 17 October 1968, were also backed by some white athletes at those Olympic Games. They included the Australian athlete, Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metres race and wore an OPHR badge in support of Smith and Carlos following their suspension. Martin Jellinghaus, a member of the German bronze medal-winning 4 x 400 metres relay team, did likewise.
The price Smith and Carlos had to pay for their protest, however, was high. In an interview to mark the 35th anniversary their actions, John Carlos described being treated as an outcast in America: 'We were under tremendous economic stress. I took any job I could find. I wasn't too proud. Menial jobs, security jobs, gardener, caretaker, whatever I could do to try to make ends meet. [My wife and I] had four children, and some nights I would have to chop up our furniture and put it in the fireplace to stay warm. I was the bad guy, the two-headed dragon spitting fire. It meant we were alone.' Unable to cope with the strain, Carlos's wife committed suicide in 1977.


Saturday, October 16, 2004

16 October 2004

Yesterday may have been the first day of Ramadan, the month of fasting, in most of the Muslim world, but it's a moot point whether or not it was in Britain. This is because the new moon that marked the onset of Ramadan was only three degrees above the horizon in Britain at sunset yesterday evening and was not visible to the naked eye.

Ramadan takes places during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Astronomical calculations can be used to determine when it begins, but many Islamic countries also rely on physical sightings. This means that the beginning of Ramadan can vary according to the method used to calculate it and where in the world an observer is located. This year, Libya determined that Ramadan would start on Thursday (14 October), while most other Arab countries opted for Friday (15 October) and yet other Muslim scholars settled on today (16 October).

Whichever day is taken as its starting point, I've failed to join the fast. Do you think Allah will mind if I wait for Lent instead?


Friday, October 15, 2004

15 October 2004

Praise God and pass the pastries.

It's the first day of Ramadan and instead of fasting I've been binging. Salted peanuts, cheesy biscuits, rice crackers, liquorice allsorts, sugared almonds, chocolate raisins, frozen orange-pops – crap and comfort foods of all descriptions . . . After playing three football matches in four days, I feel that I can justify a spot of gluttony, but the comedown from too much sugar, salt and saturated fats is a cold turkey I could do without.

Moderation in all things? Of course it makes perfect spiritual sense. But how do you achieve it? Answers on a postcard, please . . . and meanwhile excuse me for a moment while I stick two fingers down my throat . . .


Thursday, October 14, 2004

14 October 2004

It's ten years today since the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and foreign minister, Shimon Peres, were awarded the Nobel peace prize. The award was controversial at the time, with one committee member resigning because he felt Yasser Arafat was 'too tainted by violence, terror and torture', and it was criticised for being based on 'hopes of peace rather than peace itself'.

The critics seemed soon to be proved right. Little more than a year later, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist. Clashes between Israelis and Palestinians continued and the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, erupted after a visit to the site of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by Ariel Sharon, who became Israeli prime minister in 2001. Peace now seems as far away as ever and the peace prize award an act of unjustified optimism.

Other Nobel peace prize winners have been less controversial. These have included individuals such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King; and organisations such as the International Red Cross, the International Labour Organisation, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Medecins Sans Frontieres. Almost certainly the most controversial winner of all was the US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, who masterminded the secret (and illegal) bombing of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam war, and sponsored various murderous right-wing dictatorships, particularly in Latin America, throughout his period in office.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

13 October 2004

It's Black History Month in the UK and if you feel up to the challenge, try the 'Blaggers Challenge' quiz I devised for Channel 4's black history website. Do you know who were the first black residents of Britain; who was the first British ruler who demanded the expulsion of 'these kind of people'; and why The Times believed that black actors would never succeed (their lips are too big). The quiz is at:


On the same theme, lovers of the 'On this day in history' format might be interested in the Africana: Gateway to the Black World website at:


Africana's first entry for today tells of the introduction of a law in Virginia in 1670 that divided non-Christian servants into two groups. Those who had come to the colony by sea (that is, Africans) were to be slaves for life. Those who had come by land (that is, Native Americans) were to be indentured servants.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

12 October 2004

Yesterday's item on Harold Wilson suing the pop group, The Move, for publishing a cartoon postcard of him has resulted in Ihsan Caralan, the editor in chief of the Turkish paper, Daily Evrensel, writing to me. He says:

'Can I draw your readers' attention that our newspaper is facing a large fine (around £5,000) and further legal action for publishing a caricature of our prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

'Erdogan likes to talk about democratisation. He is actually way behind even the logic of the sultanate. That the Turkish law courts, instead of taking an attitude on the side of freedom of the press, prefer to take decisions that will please the state power demonstrates clearly the deplorable situation our legal system is in.'

Ihsan Caralan says that: 'A democracy that imprisons humour is one that is tragicomic more than anything.' He asks sympathisers to fax letters of protest to the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 0090 312 419 1326.'

Meanwhile, people who have asked me for more information about John Major's libel action against me can find it at:



Monday, October 11, 2004

11 October 2004

Harold Wilson won his fourth general election as leader of the Labour Party 30 years ago today – a record matched by no other British political leader since all adults got the right to vote. Coincidentally, it was also on this day – in 1967 – that he successfully sued the pop group, The Move, for publishing an unflattering cartoon postcard of himself in the nude.

The postcard was being used to promote The Move's single, 'Flowers in the Rain', which went on to become the first single ever played on BBC Radio One. Wilson's lawyers, led by Quentin Hogg QC, issued libel writs against the group's members, its manager, the artist who designed the card, the advertising agency who published it and the printers. All were forced to apologise in court for a 'violent and malicious personal attack' and to meet Wilson's costs. As part of the libel settlement it was agreed that all royalties from the record should go to charities of Wilson's choice.

Only one other British Prime Minister has taken libel action since the second world war. That was John Major in 1993 – and I was the target.


Sunday, October 10, 2004

10 October 2004

A brilliant goal and a superb tactical booking to avoid the Azerbaijan game saw David Beckham lead England to a 2-0 win over Wales yesterday. So the England captain can celebrate the 51st anniversary of England's 4-1 win over Wales in the 1953 World Cup qualifiers, which coincides with ex-England skipper Tony Adams' 38th birthday today, without having the press doing its usual best to wipe that idiot grin from his face.

Football's most significant – or at any rate most unusual – anniversary today, however, is that of the 1972 European Cup game between Panathinaikos and CSKA Sofia. It's unusual because Eufa ruled that the game should be replayed because the Russian referee, V Lipatov, made a mistake in the original match.

So what's new? And what was special about that one?


Saturday, October 09, 2004

9 October 2004

Spelling test. A lot of people aren't too hot on spelling in their own language, so it's asking a lot for them to get it right in a foreign language – especially when you first have to transliterate words into the roman alphabet and not everyone is agreed on how to do it.

The world is full of place names that were originally misheard or improperly transliterated by speakers of western languages. Hence Peking is now more accurately rendered as Beijing, Bombay has become Mumbai, and so on. Today seems like a good day to start to get to grips with Korean.

This is because it's Hangul Day, also known as Hangul Proclamation Day or Korean Alphabet Day, in South Korea. It commemorates the creation of the Hangeul native alphabet, consisting of 29 phonetic sounds, by King Sejong the Great and scholars of the Jiphyeonjeon, or Hall of Worthies, in 1446. This was published in the Hunmin Jeongeum document ('The Correct/Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People') and the day was celebrated as a legal holiday until 1991, when Korean businesses successfully demanded an increase in the number of working days.

The Hangeul alphabet went a long way towards rationalising spelling in Korea but there's still some way to go before the romanised version is ironed out. In fact, there are at least three different romanisation systems of the Korean languagr: the Yale romanisation, used mainly in academic literature; the McCune-Reischauer romanisation devised by two Americans in 1937; and the Revised Romanisation of Korean developed by the National Academy of the Korean Language and released on 4 July 2000.

According to the revised romanisation, Hangeul is spelt Han-geullal, so Hangul Day should properly be Hangeullal Day. I won't even begin to explain why the equivalent day in North Korea is on 15 January and is called Chosŏn'gŭl Day. We've already covered more than enough Korean spelling for one day.


Friday, October 08, 2004

8 October 2004

'It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes . . . We make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.'

The Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on this day in 1970 'for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature'. The idea that we construct 'truth' to fit in with our own interests – that we believe what it suits us to believe – is not a new one, but it's one of the hardest of all for us to get to grips with. Probably the main reason for the existence of evil in the world is not that human beings are innately evil but that we have a terrible capacity for convincing ourselves that in doing evil we are actually doing good.


Thursday, October 07, 2004

7 October 2004

I was doing some research last year for an article on an orphanage in Kenya and needed to find the dates of birth of some of the children. I'd been able to find most of the ones I needed in the orphanage's files, but I'd got stuck with one boy. His twin brother's date of birth was listed, but not his. I won't tell you how long I spent searching for it before I finally worked it out . . .

Twins have always fascinated me, so I was sorry to miss the shopping trip to Felixtowe organised on this day in 1977, when 90 pairs of identical twins came over to the town from Sweden. Each pair was dressed identically, including the captain of their ship, Sune Dahlström, also a twin, who came up with the idea in the first place.

Of course, probably the best-known twins in the world at the moment belong to George Bush. They've already been trying to match their father's reputation for hard drinking. As David Letterman commented at the time of the Republican convention: 'You probably know it's been crazy here in New York City with the convention. We have had naked people in the streets. We have had all-night parties, arrests. And that's just the Bush twins.'


Wednesday, October 06, 2004

6 October 2004

'Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya, you ain't heard nothin'! Do you wanna hear "Toot, Toot, Tootsie!"? All right, hold on, hold on. Lou, listen. Play 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!' Three choruses, you understand. In the third chorus I whistle. Now give it to 'em hard and heavy. Go right ahead!'

Some of the most famous lines in film history made their big-screen debut today in 1927 when Al Jolson sang his blacked-up heart out in Warner Bros' 'The Jazz Singer'. The film, which opened in New York, was Hollywood's first full-length talking picture and made $3.5 million for Warner Bros, a colossal sum in those days.

In fact, there were only 291 spoken words in 'The Jazz Singer', but the talkies had arrived – and Al Jolson singing 'How I love you, how I love you, my dear old mammy' had entered cinematographic history. Real black actors had a long wait before they got to share in the Hollywood limelight.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

5 October 2004

The Devil looks after his own.

The evangelist, Jim Bakker, was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment on this day in 1989 for defrauding 116,000 viewers of his TV show, 'Praise the Lord', out of $158 million. Bakker's ministry had grown from humble beginnings in Fort Mill, South Carolina, in 1974 to become a multi-million dollar operation that by 1987 included a 500-room luxury hotel, a 2,300-acre Christiam theme park, an amphitheatre and a cable TV network with 13 million subscribers.

Bakker lost all this as a result of his business (and other) improprieties. His wife, Tammy Faye, who'd enjoyed a luxury lifestyle along with him, abandoned him while he was in prison and married one of his best friends.

But you can't keep a good con-man down for long and Bakker was as good as they get in a very crowded field. He got himself released from jail after only five years, started a new ministry, remarried and is now back on TV with 'The Jim Bakker Show'. Never let it be said that crime – or TV-evangelism – doesn't pay.


Monday, October 04, 2004

4 October 2004

It's 27 years today since the Soviet Union beat the United States into space with the launch of the satellite Sputnik. A month later, a dog called Laika became the first living creature to be launched into space from Earth; and in 1961 the Russians again got in first with the first manned space flight.

Stung by the Russians' success, in May 1961 President Kennedy pledged to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. On 21 July 1969, the Americans finally did so. Plans for a party on the moon to celebrate the landing didn't go ahead, however. 'There wasn't any atmosphere,' said a NASA spokesman.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

3 October 2004

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, born on 14 July 1912, died on this day in 1967. 'Woody' was one of America's greatest songwriters and a lifelong socialist and trade unionist. Probably his best-known song is 'This Land is Your Land', although not everyone knows the original, radical version.
Here, then, is 'This Land is Your Land', as published in 1945, with an extra two verses from Woody Guthrie's original version, which he wrote in 1940:

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From the redwood forest to the New York Island,
The Canadian mountain to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land is made for you and me.

As I go walking this ribbon of highway,
I see above me this endless skyway,
And all around me the wind keeps saying,
This land is made for you and me.

I roam and I ramble and I follow my footsteps,
Till I come to the sands of her mineral desert,
The mist is lifting and the voice is saying,
This land is made for you and me.

Where the wind is blowing, I go a strolling,
The wheat field waving and the dust a-rolling,
The fog is lifting and the wind is saying,
This land is made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking my freedom highway,
Nobody living can make me turn back,
This land is made for you and me.

And the extra two original verses:

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple,
By the relief office, I've seen my people,
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, it said, 'No Trespassing',
But on the other side,iIt didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.


Saturday, October 02, 2004

2 October 2004

Happy birthday to Mohandas Karamchand 'Mahatma' Gandhi, born on this day in 1869 and assassinated on 30 January 1848.

'What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?' this great nonviolent leader once asked. No doubt George Bush could give him an answer with regard to Iraq.

I dare say George Bush could also tell us a thing or two about what Gandhi identified as the most destructive spiritual traits facing humanity:

Wealth without Work;
Pleasure without Conscience;
Science without Humanity;
Knowledge without Character;
Politics without Principle;
Commerce without Morality; and
Worship without Sacrifice.


Friday, October 01, 2004

1 October 2004

Today is the feast day of my near-namesake, Saint Plat, according to Chambers' Book of Days. This tells us that he was the 'apostle of Tournay, martyr, about 286' – and nothing else. Nor can I find out anything more about him (or, just possibly, her) from any of my other usual sources. So, if anyone can give me any more information about this mysterious martyr, I'd be pleased to have it for Le Plat family tree.

There are a few other saints who are almost named Platt. These include Saint Plait (aka Placidus), a Benedictine abbot who died around 675, and a couple of Saint Platos, neither of them the famous one.

The first Plato was the brother of Saint Antiochus, martyred at Ancyra, Galatia, around 306. The second, who lived from about 734 to 813, spent most of his life at a monastery on Mount Olympus. When he decided that his end was nigh, he arranged for his grave to be dug and spent his last days in it receiving friends and visitors and praying.


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