Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve

So farewell then 2007, the year when I got divorced without lifting a finger, became an FE lecturer and summer school celebrity (and thrashed the ex-junior champion of Oviedo City 21-19 at badminton), swam three lengths of a 25-metre pool without stopping once (well ok, maybe once), choo-chooed my way around Central Europe and stumbled up Scotland's fifth highest mountain.

Happy New Year.

Going Missing

After accidentally getting in the way of the ball during the Chelsea defeat, Newcastle captain and midfield clogger Alan Smith was kept in hospital overnight with suspected amnesia. Tests revealed he had no memory of taking part in the game and only a faint recollection of being on the pitch in the first place. Newcastle fans have had a similar problem for most of the season.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Free Rice

Give your brain a work out and feed The Starving Millions for free. Now, if only I could remember what propitious means...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Assignment 9.1

Halfway there, and this one's a whopper.

Next up's Assignment 9.2 and 2,000 words on course planning. It's a struggle to keep my excitement in check, but I'll manage somehow.


(noun) the practice of visiting as many football grounds as possible.

The final total came to ninety-seven (seventy with Newcastle). I'm only counting grounds where I've actually seen football played, which rules out anywhere I've broken into through open turnstiles or gaps in fences (Slovan Bratislava, Viktoria Plzen, Nice), photographs of building sites (Osaka, Jeju and Incheon World Cup stadiums) and grounds I've been to for non-footballing reasons (the Asian Games at Busan World Cup Stadium and an REM concert at Huddersfield Town's McAlpine Stadium). Controversially, I'm also discounting places I've seen from plane (Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich), train (Stark's Park, Raith Rovers) or taxi (Hongkou Stadium, Shanghai Shenhua) windows.

English League Grounds (48)

Newcastle United; Manchester United; Manchester City (Maine Road); Arsenal (Highbury) Chelsea; Liverpool; Everton; Aston Villa; West Ham; Blackburn; Spurs; Birmingham; Bolton Wanderers (Burnden Park and the Reebok Stadium); Middlesbrough (Ayresome Park and The Riverside); Sunderland (Roker Park); Derby County (Baseball Ground and Pride Park).

Stoke City (Victoria Ground); Bristol City; Charlton; Ipswich; Crystal Palace; Barnsley; Southampton (The Dell); Sheffield United; Sheffield Wednesday; QPR; Coventry; Norwich; Leicester City (Filbert Street).

Nottingham Forest; Leeds United; Tranmere Rovers; Swindon Town; Hartlepool; Oldham; Luton Town.

Peterborough United; Bradford City; Notts County; Grimsby; Lincoln City; Wrexham; Darlington (Feethams and the Darlington Arena); Bury.

Non-League (11)

Oxford United; Stevenage; Rushden & Diamonds; Bishop Auckland (Kingsway); AFC Murton; Hebburn Town; Jarrow Roofing; Gateshead; Ramsbottom United; Holker Old Boys; York City.

Neutral (1)

Wembley (1996 Charity Shield; 1998 FA Cup Final)

Scottish (4)

Berwick Rangers; Hearts; Celtic; Rangers; Ayr United.

European (18)

Barcelona; RSC Anderlecht; AS Monaco; FC Metz; Ferencvaros; Halmstads BK; Dynamo Kiev (Olympic Stadium); Dinamo Zagreb; PSV Eindhoven; Bohemians; Royal Antwerp; Slovan Liberec; FK Jablonec; Catania; US Siracusa; Crusaders; Lansdowne Road; Windsor Park.

Asian (14)

Daejeon Citizen (Hanbat Stadium and Nonsan); Suwon Bluewings(Suwon Sports Complex); Busan Icons (Gudeok Stadium); Anyang Cheetahs (Anyang Sports Complex); Seongnam Ilwha (Seongnam Stadium); Ulsan Tigers (Ulsan World Cup Stadium); Daejeon World Cup Stadium (South Korea vs Italy, 2002 World Cup); Suwon World Cup Stadium (South Korea vs Australia, 2001 Confederations Cup; Spain vs Republic of Ireland, 2002 World Cup); Gwangju World Cup Stadium (South Korea vs Spain, 2002 World Cup); Seoul World Cup Stadium (South Korea U17s vs Argentina U17s).

Yokohama World Cup Stadium (Yokohama Marinos vs JEF United); Saitama World Cup Stadium (Urawa Reds vs Sanfreece Hiroshima); Omiya Park Soccer Stadium (Omiya Ardija vs Kyoto Purple Sanga).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Culture Shock

Marie, a Parisienne I worked with in Barnard Castle, is flying over for New Year, bringing foie gras and Sauternes, a fancy dessert wine from Bordeaux.

South Shields (typical party food: Pringles, lager, flavoured peanuts, pickled onions and mini-sausage rolls) might come as a bit of a shock.

Fitba Daft

I came across this site trying to decide between seeing Queen of the South, St Mirren or Hamilton Accies (an all too common quandary at this time of year). And that, plus the fact that I had an assignment I really didn't want to start, got me thinking about how many different football grounds I've been to.

After some hurried scribbling down and crossing out on the back of an envelope, I came up with ninety-four grounds in seventeen different countries, including the Nou Camp in Barcelona, the Stadion NSK Olimpiyskiy in Kiev (capacity: 100,000 dodgy leather jackets), the old Wembley and seven World Cup stadiums in Japan and Korea (Suwon, Yokohama, Saitama, Seoul, Daejeon, Ulsan and Gwangju).

A full list might eventually follow.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Real Meaning of Christmas

Christmas, the time of peace and goodwill to all men, when we stuff our faces, run up ruinous debts, and celebrate the life of a young asylum seeker born in penury in a stable, surrounded by sheep and donkeys.

Those free council houses must have come later on.

A Family Christmas

Up at eight o'clock, but awake an hour earlier, stuck in bed till you hear "He's been". Three sacks in the living room, one in each corner; fruit and shiny new coins at the bottom of a stocking. Afterwards we drink mugs of tea, eat full English breakfasts and spend the morning lounging across the sofa with Christmas books and chocolate.

Lunchtime comes, and the table's set in time for the two o'clock toast, to absent friends and family. We eat seconds and thirds, a different plate for each kind of meat, clumsily spooning vegetables out of the once-a-year china. For what's left of the afternoon there are board games and heavy stomachs, paper crowns flattening your hair as you start the washing-up.

Teatime cakes and bottles of wine are polished off at six, spread across the Father Christmas placemats, now stained with gravy and bucks fizz. We pull supermarket crackers and pack saucers with pickled onions, posh cheese and biscuits, lettuce leaves and Christmas cake, with marzipan top and red cardboard sides. In the evening, after a special episode of Doctor Who, we sit in the front room with a DVD game, drink cans of beer still cold from the porch, and finally fall into bed.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

A forty-minute run to Temple Park and back, wrapped up in a scarf; two hundred and fifty pages of a Rebus novel; a couple of lesson plans; the first paragraph (first draft) of a short story about Christmas in Daejeon; cups of brandy and mulled wine, heated in a saucepan.

Minority Pursuits

Some unseasonal squabbling from the Anglican church, disputing head-count figures that threatened to make Britain - land of Armada routs, Good Queen Bess and the Glorious Revolution - a Catholic country. But with the number of people regularly attending church services now well below two million (a number only twice as high as the worshippers' average age), isn't this all a bit like arguing whether Men in Toolbelts or Garden Police is the most watched programme on Discovery Home and Leisure?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

At the Match

A dire two-all draw, salvaged by an overweight Australian with three minutes to go. I hadn't been to St James's for three years, and the only reason I was there today was because the ticket came free. Now I'm all grown up (and am not quite daft enough to blow £400 on a day-trip to Kiev, or take overnight buses to pre-season friendlies in Brussels) there are many things I'd rather do with £25 than watch eleven prima-donnas huff and puff their way around a pitch for ninety minutes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Iced Up

Things to Do Today

In descending order of likelihood:

1. Watch Arsenal vs Spurs.

2. Drink lots of tea.

3. Water the Japanese Onion sets.

4. Tweak Assignment 8.1, sticking curriculum reference links on all the reading texts (next time, read the course handbook before you hand it in).

5. Wrap the Christmas presents using less than half a roll of sellotape.

6. Run off two days' worth of Christmas Party booze.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

End of Term

Ye olde Christmas tradition: on the last day of term, after an hour ticking off ILP targets, take your students down to the computer room and let them mess about on

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The State of Play

David Conn nails the malaise of modern day football - the game that ate itself.

Assignment 7.2

Six pages on Theoretical Frameworks: using a dictogloss to teach Narrative Tenses. I gave up on life after the second paragraph. It gave up on me after the third.

How to Win At Rock, Scissors, Paper

Perhaps the world's best-known form of diplomacy, Rock, Scissors, Paper is to hand based games what Coca Cola is to fizzy drinks. In Burma they call it General, Gun, Surrender; all over Korea you'll see kids gai-bai-boing their way up staircases; Mongolians play a complex version involving finger hierarchies; the Japanese have even developed regional variations.

Note to self: never start with paper, especially when drunk.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Spot the Difference

Same report, same headline, same news story: a full-toss from the Telegraph and an outrageous piece of spin in the Daily Mail.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

History Lessons

"When I refused to provide any information, the guards grabbed me and dragged me out of his office. After taking me down into the hallway they laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water. The torture continued and continued."

The testimony of John Henry Burton, an American witness at the Yokohama War Crimes Tribunal. His torturer, a Japanese officer named Yukio Asano, was sentenced to 15 years hard labour on charges that included the use of waterboarding described above, an interrogation technique whose use Dick Cheney calls a "no-brainer" - "We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."

Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
Two and two makes five.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Things To Look Forward To

As my working week increases so does the energy I put into planning holidays: a week and a half in Morocco - the high Atlas mountains, Sahara sand and Atlantic beaches - over Easter, followed by seven days' hiking in the Slovak Tatras and a week in Spain to tide me over the summer break.

But first comes the six months of work I need to pay for it all...

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Big Switch Off

Spotted in the Telegraph:

One in three employees - an estimated nine million people - will ''mentally switch off'' for Christmas at 5pm on Friday and do virtually no work next week. Instead they will pass the nine to five routine on office gossip, long lunches, shopping trips and looking for holiday destinations for next year.

It's a wonder anyone can tell the difference.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Not Proven

It's been a bad week for Jacqui Smith. Reporting earlier today, the home affairs select committee found "no evidence that there was a case for extending the pre-charge detention beyond 28 days" - not the first time this government has mistaken pigheadedness for strength in attempting to push through a grossly illiberal measure. Worryingly though, Keith Vaz chose to parrot Smith's nonsense phrase "pre-charge detention" in his judgement - we obviously haven't heard the last of this one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Them and Us

So, the use of waterboarding in 'enhanced interrogations" (or torture, as it's called when people we don't like are doing it) is "a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the national security council and justice department."

To use the methods of terror against terror suspects is not only a moral capitulation - making us no better or worse than them - it's also the surest way of recruiting the next generation of jihadis to the cause.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Not A Day Longer

From Amnesty and the Liberal Conspiracy, a campaign against the charade of 42 days detention without charge.

Hagwons Not Happy

Lifted from the Marmot's Hole: new Korean visa regulations in not really thought through properly shock!

Under the new rules, Canadians - who fortunately only make up around half of all the foreign teachers in Korea - will have to fly home every year to get their documents renewed. This might, I imagine, prove to be a bit of a disincentive when it comes to signing up for another twelve-month contract.

Or is that just me?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bolt from the Blue

An email from my ex-wife, a seven-sentence bombshell. She's pregnant, and under Czech law unless I send an officially notarized document (at my expense!) explaining that I haven't laid eyes on her for well over a year, I automatically go down as the father on the birth certificate. It's absurd, in this day and age, for the law to assume paternity on the basis that a child is born fewer than nine months after two people get divorced. Hopefully, this will finally be the end of it.

A Dull Weekend

What a weekend! Gale-force winds, rain and slate grey skies. Except for Newcastle's last-minute winner, the most excitement I've had is when it started lashing down with rain while I was cleaning out the greenhouse guttering. I used the miserable weather to catch up on some overdue work: the brain-numbing task of copying and pasting curriculum links to a scheme of learning, checking ILPs and listlessly ploughing my way though another assignment - a thousand words on using authentic materials to teach English.

"I don't regret a second of it".

Whatever else you may think of her, you've got to admire Gillian Gibbons' positive outlook on life: locked up in the Sudan just for naming a teddy bear and still not a bad word to say about the place. Next stop on her world tour of authoritarian hotspots is China, where she'll be hoping to get more use out of the Dalai Lama play mat, Guangdong Army Monopoly and Tiananmen Square flashcards.

Power to the People

The peerless Henry Porter on what happens to power without accountability.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pick a Number

Ninety, twenty-eight, fifty-six, forty-two - after losing the debate for a second time, the government tries a bit of haggling to up the limits on detention without charge.

What next, ID cards two for a pound?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Good News Story

From the website of the Daily Mail (I just moved the words a little closer together):

The number of drivers slapped with a speeding fine by 'Mad Mullah' Richard Brunstrom's police force has soared eight-fold in less than a decade, shock figures revealed last night..."we have reduced deaths on the road by 21 per cent, serious injuries by 51 per cent and slight injuries by 22 per cent".

You don't think the two could be connected somehow, do you?

Nah, me neither.

It's That Time of Year Again...

The Guardian's top ten ways to avoid a Christmas overspend.

It's simple, really: this year, don't buy lots of shit that you don't actually need. Hey presto, an instant money saver.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Deja Vu

Breaking news from the BBC:

"New intelligence saying Iran may not be developing nuclear weapons is nevertheless a "warning sign", US President George Bush has said.
Mr Bush stressed that the National Intelligence Estimate said Iran was still trying to enrich uranium, and could restart its weapons programme."

Or, of course we know they're not doing it, but until they can prove they're not doing it, we'll act like they're doing it anyway.

Now if only I could remember where I'd heard all this before...

Blaming the Little People

"Staff at Northern Rock have been handed bumper pay rises and a £200 Christmas bonus, even though the bank owes the taxpayer almost £30billion," flaps the Daily Mail. The pay rises are "disgraceful and entirely inappropriate" scream shareholders, "Why should employees, who have good pay packages anyway, be rewarded when we lose money?"

Funny isn't it? For years directors awarded themselves millions of pounds in bonuses without a peep out of shareholders as long as the dividends - all dependent on a high-risk business model - kept rolling in. And now listen to the screams when people who stand behind counters all day get a few hundred quid extra. Not for them the luxury of playing the stock market: they're more concerned with feeding their kids and keeping a roof over their heads. Let's either nationalise this wreck or flog it off to anyone prepared to guarantee taxpayers' money and 6,000 jobs. If the shareholders don't like it, tough - any fool knows markets can go down as well as up.

Albert Hakim

From Iran-Contra to English teacher. TEFL attracts all sorts of refugees - of one kind or another.

No ID - The Pledge

As we blindly edge nearer the introduction of compulsory ID cards, the campaigners at NO2ID have started an online pledge, "a personal and public declaration that you will refuse to comply with government control of your identity". You can sign it here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Damned Utd

"Gentlemen, I might as well tell you now. You lot may have won all the domestic honours there are and some of the European ones but, as far as I am concerned, the first thing you can do for me is to chuck all your medals and all your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest fucking dustbin you can find, because you've never won any of them fairly. You've done it all by bloody cheating ..."

Brian Clough says hello to the players of Leeds United.

I've just finished The Damned Utd by David Peace, possibly - probably? definitely? - the best book ever written about football. Mixing fact and fiction, internal monologues and real events, there's a chapter for each of Clough's 44-days at Elland Road, interspersed with flashbacks to Derby, Hartlepool and Brighton, players' strikes, boardroom bust-ups and bloody-minded genius. A Shakespearean tragedy in a stream-of-conscious rant, it's almost as good as Old Big Head himself.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Assignment 11.1


To Standard

That's another observed lesson out of the way, an hour of Narrative Tenses based around an interview with Paul McCartney.

It's all downhill from here on. Possibly in more ways than one...

A Selective View

South America is "sliding into dictatorship," warns Tory MEP Daniel Hannan. "Ten years ago, every country in South America, with the arguable exception of my native Peru, was a liberal democracy. Not any more." No mention, you notice, of the decades before that, when tens of thousands were disappeared under brutal right-wing dictatorships, unless you count the sole laughable smear against Iran, whose "diplomats have been implicated in a terrorist attack in Argentina that killed 80 people."

The School of the Americas; Operation Condor; Pinochet and Stroessner; Jose Velasco and Arosemana; Joao Goulart replaced by Branco's death squads; Dan Mitrione; Iran-Contra. "The poor are as poor as ever," says Hannan. Not quite.

Not quite.

Bali: The Last Chance Saloon

Ten years after Kyoto, greenhouse gas emissions hit a new record high. With every small step forward, governments take a larger step back. That's not an excuse for giving up: as history shows, every positive change ever made has come upwards from the people.

Dodgy Dealings

More spin and muckraking in the Mail on Sunday's join-up-the-dots exclusive: "SECOND donor Iranian-born car dealer who is not even entitled to vote in general elections". Mahmoud Khayami, a French citizen who is entitled to vote in both local and European elections, has given over £800,000 in just eight months, starting just "24 hours after becoming legally allowed to do so". It gets worse: "Had he made the payment 48 hours earlier both he and the Labour Party would have been committing a criminal offence."

Let me run through the evidence just one more time: there's no suggestion that Khayami has broken any rules in either his business dealings or party donations, he pays UK taxes, is a legal resident, and is listed on the Electoral Roll. The only allegation that could possibly stick is that the Labour Party gave him advice on how he could go about making donations legally. It's hardly Asil Nadir, is it?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Devil Beats Darwin

Apparently nearly two thirds of the population of the USA think Hell is a real place, and four in five believe in miracles. They must've all been watching the news from Iraq these past four years - and hoping.

Bigmouth Strikes Again

This morning's back pages are dominated by £45,00 a week Joey Barton's bleating about the "vicious" atmosphere at St James' Park. It makes a change to see Barton in the news for something other than fighting with teenagers, using a youth team player's face as an ashtray or beating up a team-mate on the training pitch, but he'd be better off concentrating on what he actually gets paid to do: the only productive thing I've seen him manage in a black and white shirt is to leave a set of studmarks on a Sunderland player's chest.

Not that I was complaining at the time.

Caught Out

Ex-New York mayor and Tony Soprano wannabe Rudy Giuliani's in trouble again, this time accused of getting the taxpayer to fork out for eleven official trips to the Hamptons home of his mistress.

Giuliani denials are conveniently lacking in detail, citing "security" while refusing to explain a $34,000 bill for travel expenses. Maybe what this case needs is a little intensive questioning...