Thursday, November 29, 2007

Three Years for Murder

Well, what else would you call it?

Life's Little Ironies

A government complicit in the slaughter of thousands arrests a teacher for naming a teddy bear. In a more enlightened part of the world, Christians campaign against a children's film that "bashes atheism and promotes Christianity. To kids". A deliberate misquote, but what difference would it really make if I swapped those two words back?

I guess some people just don't like competition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

There May Be Trouble Ahead

According to a new survey, two million British people have run up debts they can't afford to repay, eight million are "stretched to breaking point" and another nine and a half million are just a mobile phone bill or two away from their credit limit - and yet one in ten plan to borrow more to pay for Christmas.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Only in Japan

I can't imagine this catching on around here: you'd only end up getting smacked about by some ten-year-old in hooped earrings, a stripey jumper and a pair of knock-off trainers.

And deserving it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Korean Crackdown

In their ongoing campaign against the scourge of "native English teachers who disrupt social order with taking drugs, committing sexual harassment and alcohol intoxication" the South Korean government have come up with more stringent visa application procedures, including face-to-face interviews with consular staff, criminal record checks, and medical examinations before and after arrival. I doubt the latest crackdown will last: at the first teacher shortage it'll disappear as fast as a bottle of soju down a salaryman's throat.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Open Goal

This looks interesting. And published in Newcastle too.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


An utter shambles from start to finish. Predictable tactics that failed from the first minute of the game, no leadership on or off the pitch and barely a scrap of passion all afternoon. Is Allardyce the last expensive blunder of Freddy Shepherd's time in charge? On today's performance, we're no better off than we were under Glenn Roeder - or even Graeme Souness.

False Sense of Security

Just wait until we all have biometric ID cards: no more fretting about computer disks gone missing in the post and identity theft a thing of the past.

Or maybe not.

Friday, November 23, 2007

John Pilger's The War on Democracy, Palestine is Still the Issue and Stealing a Nation, the complete series of The Trap, and Robert MacNamara talking through The Fog of War. All free - which is more than be said for most of the people they portray.

After the Snow

When I woke up it started to snow: brief flurries continuing on and off for the rest of the morning, turning to water the moment they hit the ground.


Remember the bad old days when Tory governments sold off national assests for a pittance? They never went away.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In These Times

"I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and In These Times." High praise from the late Kurt Vonnegut. In this month's issue, Billy Liar Rudy Giuliani digs himself a hole.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Going Nowhere

Did I say that England would get found out next summer? Obviously, what I really meant was next week...

Nuclear Free

"It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities we call the Middle East, one nation has armed itself, ostensibly, with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, and that inspires other nations to do so."

The words of General Lee Butler,the commander in chief of the US Strategic Command, quoted as long ago as 1994. The nation in question? Not the future whipping-boys of Iran or Iraq, but Israel, that client state par excellence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Something to Hide?

Paul Gray, chairman of HM Revenue & Customs resigns after a major breach of security involving taxpayers' personal details. At the same time, the government presses ahead with plans to make taxpayers hand over more of their personal details: a compulsory ID card system with details spread across existing databases; credit-card details and personal information collected everytime you book a flight.

The innocent have nothing to hide? Tell that to an identity fraudster.

More on Benefit Reforms

Lots of talk in this morning's papers about the 2,000 Incapacity Benefit claims from obese people, the sixty people unable to work due to nail disorders, the 50,000 alcoholics, and the million plus who, acording to the Daily Mail's Edward Heathcoat-Amory (brother of Tory MP David), "say they suffer from back ache or mental problems, which conveniently are the two most easy conditions to fake".

What you won't hear so much about, of course, are the hundreds of thousands of people like my dad, who put in forty years of backbreaking manual labour straight from school, handling heavy machinery outdoors in all kinds of weather, and ended up with Vibration White Finger and chronic lower back problems. Or the workers who got stuck in asbestos-ridden or otherwise dangerously polluted workplaces for decades before anyone stopped to think - or care - about the lasting effects on their health. "Make life tough for the idle," Heathcoat-Amory says. As if he even knows the meaning of the word.

In The Right Direction

Tough talk from Gordon Brown in his first major speech on the environment: UK carbon emissions down 80% on current levels by 2050, 20% of all energy to come from renewable sources in 2020, door to door energy efficiency advice in Britain's fifty poorest areas and moves towards a total ban on the 13-billion single use carrier bags handed out annually, most of which end up hanging from tree branches and clogging up landfill sites.

The question remains, (how) will all of this be put into practice? As Arctic explorer Pen Hadow says, "Nine out of ten to Gordon Brown for talking the talk - but now is the time to walk the walk."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Benefit Reforms

British benefit claimants becoming British workers into British jobs. At last, South African Peter Hain, the work and pensions secretary, comes up with a soundbite the BNP would never dare use. Too many syllables, see?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sign of the Times

Fun and games in South Korea, where a government-run boot camp uses military drills to treat some of the country's estimated 250,000 internet-addicted teenagers.

Thanks to Reza Akhlaghi (who's obviously still spending too much time online himself) for the link.

Lucky England

I guess that's why so many Scottish people really hate the English football team: they get stuck in by far the toughest group, play out of their skins to beat France home and away, stuff the Ukrainians, and then fall bravely (I won't the use the word unluckily because Ferguson was offside and Di Natale wasn't) at the very last hurdle, having pounded the World Champions for forty-five minutes. England, meanwhile, get drawn in a group they arrogantly deride as 'easy,' play like total knackers, and yet still look like scraping through thanks to the efforts of other teams.

If it's any consolation Scotland fans, you know Lampard and co. will get found out again next summer. Until then, it's probably best to cover your ears.

Planting Out For Winter

I came over all traditional the other day and got myself a Poinsettia for Christmas. It's very red, as these things often are. I picked up this Skimmia Japonica Rubella - just £1.49, a steal! - at the same time, to add a bit of winter colour to an otherwise drab corner of the garden.

Talk is Cheap

"I'm not a nationalist," says ex-Wigan boss Paul Jewell, "but I believe that if you're good then regardless of what language you speak and however you speak it, you should be judged on your results."

"The problem we have is British managers don't seem to be given opportunities. I'm not saying I should be manager of a top club, but we need to be judged on our merits. If Mourinho was manager of Derby, would they be second or third in the league? I guess not."

And if Curbishley, Allardyce, Jewell or any of the other moaners had been manager of Porto, would they have won the UEFA Cup and Champions League in consecutive seasons? Judging by their results, unlikely: the closest any of them got to a trophy was a Carling Cup final.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Joined-Up Thinking

With the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about to deliver its latest damning report, Britain prepares to cut the budget of the department fighting - you guessed it - climate change.

In Go The Tulips

Detention Without Charge

The director of public prosecutions hasn't asked for it, the last attorney general is flat against it. Which begs the question, who apart from the Prime Minister is in favour of raising the limit from 28 days? Ian Blair, the discredited chief of the Metropolitan Police, for one, who's informed the home affairs select committee he would like an extension to between 50 and 90 days. Very specific.

Blair also revealed that since July 2006, when the limit was increased to four weeks, 11 terror suspects have been detained for between 14 and 28 days. Eight were subsequently charged. No need to raise the limit for them. For the other three, released without any charge being made, would the situation have been any different if the police had kept them locked up for another month or two? How long does it take to admit that you're wrong?

Out Again

A meaningless exercise on a freezing night in Vienna, five days before potentially the most important game of the year. Now Michael Owen's out for another month, this time with a thigh strain. What exactly was he doing on the pitch anyway? He's been playing regularly for over a month so he hardly needed the extra match practice, and it's well-known that players coming back from a serious injury are prone to extra knocks and muscle strains. Besides, with Rooney out for the important business on Wednesday, last night should've been used to audition the understudies, not risk the leading man.

For Newcastle, at least we have Obafemi Martins. In the meantime, I hope the FA will be picking up the bill.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Flip Side

The British have always been susceptible to wanderlust, a trait that helped create an empire and has given the globe its common tongue. Even today, we remain the most dispersed nationality on the planet. There are 41 countries where at least 10,000 Britons reside and a further 71 with British communities of more than 1,000 souls.

Another thought on the latest set of immigration figures.

Xenophobes United

There are so many strands of irony to this story, I barely know where to start. Maybe with Ashley Mote, ex of the UK Independence Party, now banged-up for benefit fraud...

Habeas Corpus

Wise words from Shirley Williams.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Food / Air Deal

Overpopulation is the elephant in the room of the climate change debate. But Chris Davies is coming at the problem from the wrong way round. It's not families in the developed world that need to cut down on having children - the UK birthrate long ago dropped below two children below women; a few years ago, before the latest round of immigration scares, we were even facing the prospect of a declining population.

Therein lies the answer: as people get richer and better educated, so birth rates begin to fall. Fair Trade, more aid and extra classrooms - we don't lack the solution, only, as usual, the will to implement it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Learning Fast: Detention without Trial

So is he convinced or isn't he? Security Minister Lord West says he's just a "simple sailor" and not a politician - just as well, seeing as he has never been elected to office - but he's already had the most important lesson: never speak your mind; and if you do, backtrack fast, hunker down, blame the media, and issue a clarification.

Which reminds of a quote from another kind of sea lord, Winston Churchill, as apt today as it was half a century ago: "The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist." A bit long winded, but you get the point.

Railway Rhymes

To mark the opening of of the new St Pancras, here's the ten best railway poems ever written.

Putting On The Brakes

"The tabloids throw up their hands in horror at every other species of crime. They praise the police and demand that the forces of law be given greater powers and that lawbreakers serve longer sentences. But on this issue alone, the tabloids take the opposite position. Richard Brunstrom, the North Wales police chief who is waging war on speeders, is denounced by the Daily Mail as the "mad mullah of the traffic Taliban". The Sun calls him "barmy" and "a politically correct prat". So much for their demands for zero tolerance."

The great George Monbiot on the junk science, hypocrisy and twisted truths of the anti-speed camera lobby.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


This afternoon, after I'd finished raking over the lawn and shaking out compost bags, I started planting in the garden for spring. Snowdrops and Alliums in containers by the wall, Muscari and Ixia for the wheelbarrows under the tree, a mixed bag of Crocuses to be dotted around the border, and three types of Greigii Tulips to fill the holes in between.

Counting the Cost

Another bout of puritannical ravings from the anti-alcohol fanatics at the Nuffield Council for Bioethics. Binge drinking's a serious problem, but the answer lies in better alcohol education starting from an early age, not a blanket punishment for every drinker: it's no coincidence that alcohol abuse in Southern European countries, where children are brought up to drink small amounts with meals and adults aren't flogged to death at work, is much lower than in Britain. And while there's definitely an argument for clamping down hard on under-age drinking, our taxes on alcohol are already among the highest in the EU - much higher than in problem countries such as France, Italy or Spain.

The Dustbin of Europe

Statistics, statistics, statistics: 17.9 million tonnes of waste dumped in landfill in 2005, another 16.9 million in 2006; 58% of all municipal waste is now buried in the ground; recycling and composting account for 30.7%, up 3% in a year. The figures are improving, slowly, but so are everyone else's: France, with an almost identical population, dumps just 12 million tonnes a year; in most categories, Germans recycle around twice as much as we do.

A small pat on the back, then, but much more work is needed, and fast: we've already dedicated an area the size of a small city (109 square miles) exclusively for landfill, and we'll run out of space altogether within the next decade at our current wasteful rates. The days of throwing rubbish away without a thought are over - the only question is has the government left itself enough time to cajole, or merely to coerce?

Coming soon, a football club run by internet, with twenty-thousand owners deciding on everything from day-to-day expenses to Saturday afternoon's starting eleven. I suppose it was only a matter of time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Winter Sunset

Roger's Profanisaurus

It's long since past its best, but The Viz hasn't completely lost its touch. From Roger Mellie's Magna Farta, the annual edition of foul-mouthed lexicography:

Abra-kebabra - An illusion performed after a night on the raz whereby a kebab is made to disappear down the performer's throat, only to reappear a short time later on the back of a taxi driver's head.

Alcofrolic - A regrettable act of carnal knowledge embarked upon while drunk.

Bee Gees Bite - The first mouthful of extremely hot food that forces the eater to perform the falsetto "ah-ha-ha-ha" intro to Stayin' Alive.

Giraffiti - Graffiti sprayed very high up.

Hotel Toast - A woman who used to be hot.

Nagasaki Tan - A sunbed induced glow of such ferocity that it appears the owner was present at the detonation of an atom bomb.

Peemale - A man who pisses while sitting down.

Sicasso - A colourful bit of pavement art in which can be seen figurative elements of diced carrots, peanuts and crisps.

UB40 Winks - Mid-afternoon nap taken after a hard morning at the telly face.

On The Leash

While Gordon Brown reigns in public sector pay for teachers, nurses and fire fighters, there's still plenty of room at the trough for some. Clearly, the best way to get a whacking great pay rise is to be very, very bad at your job.

Fighting for Democracy

Having got their fingers burnt trying to increase the limit on detention without trial to ninety days, the government's being very coy this time round, though the expectation is they'll push for fifty-six days, double the current limit. As the Guardian reveals, that's already the highest of any major democracy: Australia comes next at only twelve days; the USA, Germany and South Africa make do with two; even the Russians think five days is enough. What message does this send out to the world? As we fight for democracy abroad, lets's not abandon it at home.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

All Set For Spring

I've been eyeing-up bulbs this weekend: English bluebells for underneath the crab apple tree and some yellow tulips to go in a set of glazed plant pots, currently stuffed with newspaper and stored under plastic in the cold frame. Early sweet peas, sowed last month for overwintering, inch upwards in the greenhouse, almost empty now the last remaining tomato plants have been tipped in the compost.

TV Heaven

A new series of The Street and Smiley's People repeats on BBC 4. Almost worth the licence fee on their own.

Lessons From The Past Few Weeks

1. If a player's carrying an injury, like Claudio Cacapa against Portsmouth, and you have a fully-fit option in reserve, play the reserve. Likewise, don't throw half-fit players straight into the team, especially if, like Joey Barton, they play as box-to-box midfielders.

2. Play the man in form, not the one with the superstar name.

3. Unless it's absolutely necessary, never play anyone out of position. This leaves your side unbalanced, and people playing against their instincts. In extreme cases, it results in moments of frustration like Joey Barton's yesterday (Stevie Gerrard used to do exactly the same, only TV pundits didn't draw attention to it half as often).

4. If a player is not putting enough effort in, name and shame him publicly. If, on the other hand, a player makes a genuine mistake in the course of a game, never criticise him in the media: keep everything in-house. All you end up with is a demoralised player, making even more mistakes.

5. Play to your strengths. If your best players are attackers, gear your side to giving them service. If you rely on the weak link in your team, and it buckles, then the blame lies with you alone.

6. When you move from one club to another, unless you bring your whole playing staff along with you, be prepared to adapt your tactics.

7. When the opposition is rocking, go for the jugular. It only takes a second's play in your penalty area - as happened at Reading, and almost again yesterday - for you to lose what you're trying to hang on to. Take advantage of the opposition's weakness; if you don't, they invariably end up taking advantage of yours.

8. If you play every away game looking for a draw, you'll lose more often than you win.

Murdered Abroad

The story of poor Meredith Kircher gets more grotesque by the day, but at least her parents have the scant consolation of seeing her killers behind bars. In Japan, the murderer of Lindsay Ann Hawker, strangled and left to rot in a bathtub, is still on the run more than six months later.

Same Old Tories

Jobs for the boys: a convicted perjurer, back in the fold. Green David Cameron and a private jet flight home from Paris. The man who bankrolls the party won't say whether he still lives in tax exile or not (the Tories don't mind that kind of immigration). And yet another bout of soul-searching over the legacy of Enoch Powell...

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is right, we need to be very careful about stigmatising Muslims, unless we want to play into the hands of the radicals. That's why I'm so strongly against indiscriminate stop and search, politicians stoking up fear, and the holding of people for months without trial. But his misguided analogy between the tube train bombers and the IRA smacks of a head in the sand refusal to accept reality: we didn't call the Provos Catholic terrorists because they murdered in the name of politics, not religion. The Jihadists won't lay their arms down if we redraw the borders or pull our troops out of Iraq: their holy war won't stop until the world is shaped in their warped image. They have no demands that we can meet. Dr Bari misses another point too: integration never works equally from both sides; for better or worse, it's always the job of the incomer to adapt. When he calls for more morality, people covering up in public and homosexuality being "unacceptable from the religious point of view," I think of Muslim women killed by their families for falling in love with the wrong man, and Saudi religious police leaving teenage girls to die in a blazing school.

A Nothing Game

The big difference between last week and this is that we weren't playing against a decent side. Allardyce displayed the same worrying failings: half the team played out of position, the same old favourites on the pitch, and negative stick with what you've got tactics when the opposition were clearly there for the taking.

On the bright side, that's now seven years undefeated, and a whole decade longer since they last beat us at the dark place.

Right Here, Right Now

Over at Curly's Corner Shop, photos of a damaged sea wall and coastal erosion by the pier. People talk of climate change as if it's something that might possibly occur in the future when, in reality, it's already with us, and has been for some time. Take rising sea levels, for example: it's not just your grandkids that should be worrying.

Derby Day

The swerve of O'Brien's free-kick on the way to eleven-in-a-row. Going to school the morning after the play-off game: exterminate all the brutes. Two-one down at home - in the rain, and off to Korea in a few weeks' time; two-all in the return, listening in a PC Room in Busan, on the edge of Gwangalli Beach. In the home end with my brother and my dad, jumping up and down when the equaliser went in. A 2-1 win in the last game at Roker Park, away fans 'offically' banned. Shearer's penalty miss at night in Daejeon, and Solano's going in on the World Service in Siracusa: the sound of static and the Ionian Sea. Up and down a street in Goa trying to find a bar, while Emre scores the winner from thirty yards at the Gallowgate End. Listening to Shearer's last ever goal on the radio, and thumping them four-one.

Come on Newcastle.

Friday, November 09, 2007

What can they know of England...

...who only England know? The always interesting Coming Anarchy has kicked-off a discussion on how living overseas helps you discover more about your home country. (A side note, amid all the hoo-ha about immigration, we should never forget that it's a two-way process: countless British people make their living abroad).

Even me: I spent the bulk of my 20s overseas, first in South Korea, then Sicily, the Czech Republic, Japan and, finally, China. I learnt a lot about myself, and about Britain too, looking in from the outside. Especially, I often felt more in touch with my fellow Europeans than with many of my trans-atlantic, Anglo-Saxon cousins: in truth, we're divided by more than just a common language nowadays. On the other hand, it seems ridiculous to think of people in terms of national borders. To paraphrase James Connolly, there is much more that unites rather than divides us. Coming home, it's always struck me as risible to be lectured on Englishness by The Sun reading Benidorm brigade. We were all of us immigrants once upon a time.

Citizens of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but our passport stamps.

Or something like that.

Big Sam Out?

As some of you may have gathered, I'm not Sam Allardyce's biggest fan: his tactics are one-dimensional, he favours certain players over others, and he spends too much time whingeing about foreign managers (Juande Ramos won the UEFA Cup twice and took Seville within a whisker of the title on a budget one-tenth the size of Real Madrid or Barcelona. Show me an English manager who's done anything remotely similar). I'll even own up to labelling him a fat Glenn Roeder in the wake of last week's disaster. Still, it's utterly ridiculous to talk about sacking him after just thirteen games. We've been down that route too many times already.

Just Another Tax

Today's Guardian has more details on the latest cost projections for ID cards. "The report to parliament admits that the estimate is likely to change...the tendering process, with eight private firms bidding to run the scheme, has just started." Better make that, the estimate is likely to change significantly. And guess who'll end up footing the bill?

I've carried ID cards before, when I lived in South Korea and Japan. The cards had a photograph and very basic personal details, and were issued free of charge at the local Immigration Office. I only ever had to produce them in banks and government offices: nobody ever stopped me on the street; most of the time they were left sitting at home anyway. I wonder why our system has to be so much more complicated?


The perfect cold night pick-me-up: a twelve quid Amazon voucher courtesy of Igougo for posting my travel photos online. I ordered Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky, Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari, and Congo Journey by Redmond O'Hanlon, then chucked in a couple of Christmas presents to make up the free postage.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Liberal Conspiracy


A Thought On Detention Without Trial

In this country we like to pride ourselves on learning from our mistakes. We don't do hysterical reactions to terror attacks, or countenance the erosion of our fundamental rights and freedoms. And if we do, we soon row back. So here's a warning from the past: from 1971 to 1975 the British government practised Internment on members of the Provisional IRA. The policy was a complete failure, contributing to the imposition of direct rule, the radicalisation of thousands of young Republicans and, in the words of one serving officer at the time, it "increased terrorist activity, perhaps boosted IRA recruitment, polarised further the Catholic and Protestant communities and reduced the ranks of the much needed Catholic moderates."

Sound familiar? It soon will.

The Health and Safety Mantra

Whatever you may think of Norman Bettison's attack on "the armchair perfection" of "the health and safety Taliban," his timing - just days after the Jean Charles de Menezes' verdict - stinks. We know where the old certainties led us: to a blameless man dead on a tube train, eight bullets pumped into the back of his head.

The Cost of ID Cards

Now only £5.612 billion for the next ten years. And that's just the estimate: have you ever known a government project that didn't end up with a massive cost overrun?

A Windy Day

Yesterday's leaf piles are scattered all around, racing crisp packets, fast food cartons, cigarette ends and newspaper inserts along pavements and across roads. Plastic bags flap like tattered flags in the branches of a tree; underneath, the leaves lie as thick as a snow drift. One street down, under flashing Christmas lights, inflatable Santas bob around on a concrete drive; next door's For Sale sign pounds against a fence post.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Rail Revolution

The new Eurostar teminal is finally open. Time to sketch out those overland trips to Venice and Morocco...or maybe just a weekend in Lille.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


A couple of weeks ago I applied for a job by mistake. This afternoon I smartened myself up and gave some highly perceptive, and only moderately rambling, answers to questions about ESOL, myself, diversity, and our place in a Further Education context. I'd better make the most of what's left this side of Christmas: from January till July I'll be teaching full-time.

Terror Control

Like ID cards, the government's attempts to increase the limits on detention without charge smacks of bone-headed desperation: an inefficient battering ram approach that will prove more of a hindrance than a help to the fight against terrorism. As Shami Chakrabarti eloquently argues, these laws strip away important freedoms with very little tangible return in terms of safety. New challenges, tired old solutions.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Delayed But Not Forgotten

Bad news in The Guardian, the introduction of compulsory ID cards is only being delayed while the government frets about yet another expensive IT fiasco. Plunging feet-first into the controversy, Security Minister, and ex-head of the Navy, Lord West maintained, "Identity cards, for all the debate about other things, in a purely counter-terrorist role will be of help."

That's cleared that up, then.

Bonfire Night

The fifth of November. Coming home from work it sounded as if the city was being shelled; the enemy had taken up positions in a thousand back gardens, armed with Roman candles and multi-coloured rockets. Wrapped tight against the cold, children weave tracer-bullet patterns in the night air; above their heads, rockets burst and fade away -the sparks dropping slowly like parachutes over the yellow streetlight glare.

Post-Observation Blues

Not everyone passed their first observation. There were more than a few glum faces about on Friday afternoon, including at least one person who'd put a whole week's preparation time into a sixty-minute lesson. If you ask me, it's completely self-defeating to spend any more time on an observed lesson than you would on an ordinary one: no matter what happens, any observer worth their salt will be able to tell you where you're going wrong and, more usefully, give you some hints on sorting things out. Teaching an ESOL lesson's not like running a restaurant: nobody ever gets put out of business after one bad inspection. Which is probably for the best.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Without a Paddle: Nova

Five thousand foreigners out of work and unable to pay the airfare home; in public parks, teachers offer language lessons in exchange for food. Evicted from their flat, two Canadians find they'd been paying their school 60,000 yen a month each for a property that cost just 70,000 to rent. Even that hadn't been paid for the past two months. Meanwhile, journalists tour the ex-president's office, complete with hot-tub, sauna and private bedroom; the Daily Yomiuri reports he'd been using money from the schools to prop up failing business interests elsewhere.

It's no surprise English First have appeared on the scene, offering free flights and year-long contracts in China. The lower end of the Japanese ELT market is saturated right now, and most Nova teachers don't have the qualifications to get work higher up the TEFL food chain. It can be a nasty business, English teaching.

A Change of Tack?

On an inside page of the Sunday Mirror, a small but significant exclusive: compulsory ID cards, now for foreign nationals only.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Reality Bites

I got to the pub a few minutes after kick-off; we were three down before I'd taken the head off my first pint. What does Alan Smith do when he's not fouling people? Why play Joey Barton from the start when he's only half-fit? What's Owen done this season that Oba Martins hasn't?

Bring on the Mackems, eh?

Friday, November 02, 2007


Unless your lesson turns to mush, getting feedback from an observer can be a little like a first confession: you tease out all the small sins in the hope of being excused anything worse. This time I passed, easily enough as it turned out. One down, five to go.

Thursday, November 01, 2007