Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brown Stands Firm

What I don't understand is this: if Brown honestly thinks "there will come a time when it's difficult for the police to do a sophisticated investigation within 28 days" then why stop at 42? Why not 90, as Blair originally wanted, or even 150? Hell, why don't we just bang them up indefinitely - surely there's a spare bit of land on the Isle of Man?

There again, it could be argued that if the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms, it makes perfect sense for us to become less free.

In The Souks

It started, as always, with a hook. "Do you speak English? Can you translate this word? Come in, sit down." Inside there were two padded benched arranged in an L, a single wooden stool, glass jars packed tight on a shelf, and a dog-eared book of testimonials from English-speaking friends: "This one, she's a Maths teacher from Brighton - you know Brighton? I lived there before. Too fat. She should come and live in Morocco. We like big women here. Tell me, do you sweat more than you piss?"

I lay on the bench, my face an inch or two from the wall. "You're very flexible," he said, twisting my leg towards the ceiling. "See how flexible? And excellent blood circulation too. In a few days you'll feel a great warmth." Fairly likely, I thought, as the temperature outside was pushing thirty degrees.

When it was over I got a torn piece of paper with a number scribbled on the end. I laugh, we haggle, he gets offended and starts quoting the price he could charge in England. Eventually we settle on a quarter, still more than the whole thing was worth.

The curtain opens. Unwittingly, the next customers approach.

Over Sefrou

Up on the roof.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"We Are The New Falange"

Umberto Bossi, the Northern League leader, kept up the intimidating rhetoric, arriving for the first session of Italy's parliament warning of violence if the centre-left did not go along with his plans for federalism. "I don't know what the left wants [but] we are ready," he told reporters. "If they want conflicts, I have 300,000 men always on hand."

Straight-arm salutes and cries of Il Duce! Before you know it they'll be burning down the Reichstag, invading Abyssinia and firebombing northern Spain.

Monday, April 28, 2008


He saw us the moment we turned the corner. In the narrow alley there was no escape. "I have wife and children. My only capital is my voice and my feet. Up here, panoramic view," he said, mixing English and French. The flat roof was full of washing; a dog sat in one corner, tied to the chimney. Across the alley a woman was squeezing soap out of a t-shirt in the shade of a satellite dish.

"Over here many Jews. Before, not now. Come, I show you. Where you from? Newcastle? Me, I like Liverpool."

And with that the tour began.

Fes: No Room At The Inn

We arrived by taxi, weighed down by bags and the eight-hour train ride from Marrakech. The receptionist was tall and balding, dressed in a dark blue suit. He stood upright behind the desk, clucking his tongue while he looked up at his computer screen and back down at the folded reservation. There was a pause while he moved his feet from side to side; he made a deiberate show of checking one last time. Finally, with a shake of his head, he gave us the news. "There is no trace of your booking and today we are full, miseurs."

Back outside, it was still raining.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Moulay Idriss

Pastilla: Moroccan Meat Pie

Chicken browned in oil; parsley and caremalised onions; butter-brushed pastry; sugar and cinammon.

Imagine a Greggs pasty in pre-war Vienna and you're almost there.

Onwards to Fes

It was lucky we arrived early for the Rapide train to Fes; there was barely a free seat to be found when the train left the station, bang on time, at nine o'clock. The second class compartment was standard European: eight straight-backed, brick-orange seats, a dirty window with a table underneath and cold air blowing on your ankles, little oblong mirrors and a corridor very nearly - but not quite - wide enough to squeeze a backpack down.

Where the new-builds ended the arid land began: scree slopes and flat, dusty plains like in a cheap Spaghetti Western. At the first station oranges lay all across the tracks, blown from a tree. The towns were small and box-shaped, with minarets for campaniles and cactus hedgerows. At each stop was a station building the size of a house, with a low platform in front and a man in a peaked cap waiting to wave us away.

I fell asleep at Casablanca and woke up in Fes. Outside, it had started to rain.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Djemaa el-Fna

The smell of motorbike oil and horse shit. Stalls piled high with dates and freshly squeezed oranges. Drums and voices and the snakecharmer's pipes. A man hurries forward, monkey chained to his shoulder, and I dodge back towards the soiled, laminated menus and waiters with fake Cockney accents - bloomin' marvellous, Asda price, Alan Shearer, lovely jubbly - ducking wooden snakes and railway tracks, Sudanese storytellers and a man twirling his hat. We sit on a bench next to a soup stall, eating couscous and skewered meat off paper plates, talking to our neighbours in bad French and Korean.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Guerilla Gardening

Looks like I found a use for that half packet of sunflower seeds and the weed-ridden, cracked-open council planter in front of the newsagent's. Although these days seed bombing's likely to qualify you for a busted door and 42-days detention without charge.

Be vigilant, people.

Garbage Vigilantes

Think you've got problems getting your wheelie bin emptied twice a month? Try living in Mokpo, South Korea - where waste-based misdemenours mean a visit from the drunk abusive neighbour people.

In Japan, all I got was an old sort in a golf visor poking my transparent bags with a stick. And we soon put a stop to that...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Shambles Strikes Back

"Maybe I should have moved on from Newcastle to get first-team football earlier. The Newcastle fans aren't as good as everybody says. They think they should be winning things - but why? They've not won a trophy for 50 years."

FIFA World Footballer of the Year candidate Titus Bramble on our continuing search for silverware. What the fat-arsed disaster zone fails to realise, however, is that the fifty year wait can be partially explained by the amount of cash we've wasted on ungrateful wankers who think they're superstars and end up in Wigan's reserve team.

Paper Talk?

Let's hope not. Modric's exactly the kind of signing we need this summer: young, creative and in-demand. Along with Martins, the new improved Michael Owen, Beye, Milner and Given (or Harper, the two of them are interchangeable these days) we'd have the makings of a proper top six team. And whatever happens, he couldn't be any worse on our last Croatian signing.

UPDATE: He's signed for Spurs. Spurs, for fuck's sake! I hope he sinks like Silvio Maric.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Show Goes On

A ten-point win keeps the Clintons in the race till May 6th, when Obama takes North Carolina and Indiana decides all. Can Hill and Bill win the White House from here? Probably not. But they can make damn sure Obama doesn't either.

Talking Balls

Ed Balls claims "the majority of teachers do not want to strike". A more accurate description would be the vast majority of teachers cannot afford to strike, which goes a long way towards proving why the whole thing's necessary in the first place.

Judging by the press, you'd think it was only the NUT with a grievance, but many college lecturers will be taking an unpaid day off as well (I'm dropping £85 - enough to buy two loaves of bread and a pint of beer at today's prices - by not going in) over parity of pay with primary and secondary school teachers.

Unsurprisingly, this is one bandwagon David Cameron doesn't want to jump on. For all their talk, the Tories never change.

Where to now?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Head Over Heels

What's this, praise for Kevin Keegan in a national newspaper? It'll never last - he'll be out by the end of the season.

Thanks entirely to Keegan we are now a genuinely decent team, which is a hundred times better than we looked under Allardyce or Souness. For the first time in years, things are looking up.

Losing Data

100 "unacceptable" security breaches in the last six months alone, almost two thirds of them in the public sector. Roll on ID cards. Then we'll really have something to worry about.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Feed The World

The Evening Chronicle claims Sunderland fans were met by a hail of coins after yesterday's defeat. A charitable lot, us Geordies.

The dancing dog had to make do with a round of applause.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ground 100: Newcastle Blue Star (Kingston Park)

Eight Years Unbeaten

Now that wasn't too difficult, was it?

I watched the game in Jarrow, standing by the coats in the workingmen's club. The few Sunderland fans hung morosely around the bar, nursing their pints and shaking their heads at Roy Keane's tactics. When the second goal went in, the match was as good as over.

Which was still no reason to turn the sound off for the bingo...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Myself in Morocco

At Volubilis. In the rain.

Derby Day

I'll be watching tomorrow's game north of the river, a few hours after dragging myself off someone's hotel room floor. This afternoon, Newcastle Blue Star versus FC United of Manchester and - drum roll, please - my one hundredth football ground ever.

We can't lose tomorrow (50% plea, 50% statement of fact). 3-1, Mark Viduka first goal.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ill Winds

There's a foul smell in London, caused by indiscriminate muckspreading and the application of shit to encourage economic growth.

Of course, it's all Europe's fault.

Morocco: Day One

It took nine hours, two buses and a forty-five minute changearound before we got to Gatwick. It was cold and empty, and all the shops had closed. We lay across metal benches, steel arm-rests for pillows, kept awake all night by the sound of hoovers and Eastern Europeans.

I woke up when we landed at half past nine, then stood for an hour in a low-ceilinged hall with public-toilet tiles and bored-looking staff. Somewhere behind a phone kept ringing, unanswered. Otherwise there was just an occasional stamp and the shuffling of feet as we edged towards the faded red line.

Outside was greener than expected but every bit as hot. There were beige-coloured taxis and a bus was waiting, engine running. Snow-capped mountains hung like party decorations above the city. There wasn't a cloud in sight.

At last, Marrakech.

Monday, April 14, 2008

As Time Goes By

Nearer the end than the beginning, we have arrived in Casablanca, where North Africa turns its back on the Atlantic. We've been eating seafood platters and downing pints in the bar where, in the days of the French Protectorate, Antoine Saint-Expury whiled away the hours between mail flights over the Sahara (if you believe the guide books). Tomorrow we go to Rabat. Then Marrakech. From there, home.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


We have left Marrakech and are now in Fes, a seven hour train journey north. The weather is cooler, the food the same - the touts and scammers just as persistent everywhere.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Blowing Hot and Cold

Enough with all this snow. For the next week and a half, I'll be in Morocco.

Next stop Marrakech. But first, a trudge through the slush and the afternoon bus to London Victoria...

Flight Control

For the second time in five years, Czech president Vaclav Klaus has been caught shagging a flight attendant half his age. In his place, I don't think I'd want to believe in global warming either...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Newcastle 3 Reading 0

Three wins in a row, nine goals for and one against. With Bolton imploding, a single win from the last five games will be enough to keep us in the big league and silence the doom-mongers - like The Independent's Sam Wallace, who smugly guaranteed the tactically naive and hopelessly out-of-touch Keegan would be gone by Easter.

Try again, Sam.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

End of Empire

81% of Americans think "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track".

The other 19 have shares in Halliburton.

Discourse Analysis

It dragged on all week - and still I managed to rush it - but Assignment 7.1 is finally done. That's seven down and two and a half to go. The end is in sight - and not a moment too soon.

What if...?

Fortunately, Hitler never used Coreana face cream. Otherwise we'd all be speaking German - and it'd be murder trying to get served in Fenwicks on a Saturday afternoon.

At last, a worthy runner-up to the Bin Laden ad, which played for weeks at the end of 2001 right outside the window of the US Embassy. Isn't mass murder such a rare old hoot!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

When We Were Kings

Crash-barrier seats and tennis-racket views. Gary Kelly, in shorts as tight as clingfilm, doing keepy-ups on the six yard line. "Kenny, Kenny sit on the ball," booming out from the Gallowgate. My dad dragging me home five minutes from the end...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mugabe Hanging On

Three days after his landslide defeat, country-knacking megalomaniac Robert Mugabe remains neck-and-neck with Morgan Tsvangirai in the official count (one for you, one for me: how wonderfully democratic!).

George Bush calls Mugabe a "discredited dictator". His spokesman thinks "delaying the announcement only raises more questions about what the results were".

Now, where's those hanging chads?