Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Little Bit Moor...


It was our last night in Essaouira so Simon and I decided to do a spot of shopping. A couple of nic-nacs to remind us of our trip. We had sort of put this off until the last minute because of the afore mentioned fear of haggling. Would we be taken for fools or indeed simply make fools of ourselves?

Shopkeeper number one immediately went on the charm offensive as we approached. He smiled. He welcomed us in. Sat us down. Let us sample all his wares Made us tea. And joked about England, football and Morocco. And before we knew where we were we were ordering this, that and the other paying his asking price. He did thrown in something for free but I think that was because he was feeling sorry for us. We were new to this game. D'oh!

Shopkeeper number two I was more wary. I ignored his offers of seating and tea. And I had a trick. I asked the price of something. Then offered a slightly lower price. When he looked doubtful I said I'd buy four (yes, four) of them at that price. He looked bemused and then beamed and the deal was done. I walked away with the distinct impression that I can caved in way to early and been fleeced again. Double-d'oh!

The final shopkeeper we bought from was a woman. She flirted outrageously from start to finish in full collusion with a man who was hovering all the time, presumably her husband. But they were in for a surprise. I'd wised up by that point to the shopkeepers' tricks (twelve hungry children to support, dying mother and father, sick goat etc.) and found her flirting funny rather than beguiling. I also had two big advantages - I was happy to walk away if the price wasn't right (a trump card believe me) and unbeknownst to them I understood what the woman and man were saying to each other while we haggled. They were asking each other in French whether they needed to go lower or not to secure the deal. They didn't realise I spoke French but at a crucial impasse in the to-ing and fro-ing when they saw me looking at their lips and suspected I might understand them they switched to Arabic. Ha! Those three months of Arabic classes I took earlier this year paid off handsomely. I understood them. You should have seen the look on their faces after the deal was done when I thanked them for their business first in French and then in Arabic! As I paid I remarked how I felt I had still been robbed blind (I had only got them down to half their original price), but at least I'd been robbed by the most beautiful woman in the souk. They laughed. You see, I can flirt too missus!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

RE:

How Can I Love You Moor...


Essaouira is a nice place but I wouldn't exactly say that there's a lot to do. We'd done the port. We'd done the ramparts (Orson Welles shot Othello there in 1949 dontchaknow?) We'd done the souks and we'd done the Medina. We'd even done the wretched Mellah. So what else was there to do? Oh yes. I know... Let's go quad biking. And we did. Three bum-numbing hours of it. On road and off, down track, up hill, down slope, through rough river, onto scrub land, over beach and into the desert. And very fast it was too. I actually managed to get all four wheels off ground (twice) over some dunes. Just like the banana splits. Great fun.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Haggle, hassle and hustle...


There are three things that your either hate or simply tolerate in Morocco; the haggling, the hassling and the hustling.

Everyone likes a bargain but no one wants to feel ripped off. When you express interest in buying something a Moroccan trader might start his pitch at say 400% of what he's eventually likely to accept. OK it can be fun beating him down but at the same time you are always left with that nagging doubt that you have paid well over the odds no matter what the final agreement. Haggling is part of life in Morocco but it can actually put you off buying things in the first place. I longed for shops with prices on display so at least I could make a purchase fully aware that I paying through the nose rather than being uncertain.

In a recent poll 90% of first time visitors said that they would not come back to Morocco due to the hassle they got on the street. You take turn into a street and, "English? English! Come this way. This way here. HERE. My brother's shop. Beautiful leather. This way, sir. Hey, 'fish and chips', come this way" etc. You manage to shake him but a few steps further on it starts again "English? English! Come this way." Grrr. Sometimes young guys would just start walking next to you talking at you and then demand money saying they had been your guide. And demand they did, quite forcefully. The famous 'tourism police' were nowhere to be seen. It actually made going out on the street, especially in Marrakech, at best a trial and at worst a pain in the bum. A hassle we didn't really need.

And finally, Moroccans hustle. It's what they do. Hustling as tour guides, as cultural advisors, as taxi drivers, for friendship, for sex, to supply drugs - you name it. Moroccans are up for hire. And nearly all tourists are seen as fair game to hustle to. On the street, in a shop, at the airport, in hamams, at the port, in a bar - we were approached. And despite being fully aware of the abject poverty here we turned them down. It just didn't seen right. And whatsmore we were a little afraid.

Monday, November 27, 2006

This Charming Man...


Our last afternoon in Marrakech was an eventful one. Simon got draped in snakes by a snake charmer. I'm none to keen on them myself so didn't take too kindly to him trying to sneak one round my neck. The swine.

We settled for lunch in a posh hotel by a pool where we bumped into the blond one from Hippies/Green Wing.

About mid afternoon we were collected by our taxi and hurtled on the three hour assault course that is the road to Essaouira. It was like sitting on a pneumatic drill inside a tumble dryer speeding at 80 miles an hour through a desert while trying to dodge mid-'road' goats. Best done with eyes firmly closed.

Arrive we did though and checked in to our spacious riad. I had the roof terrace with a commanding view of the port and beach.

Today we walked around the port itself, checked out the salty seamen and walked the ramparts.

More exploring tomorrow no doubt.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How Do You Like It? (Moor Moor Moor)...


Simon and I arrived Friday on the bumpiest flight imaginable. The winds were only just this side of a typhoon and needless to say I panicked big time. When we eventually made our first stop in Casablanca I was a bundle of nerves. By the time we crashed down in Marrakech I was in need major alcoholic therapy.

We were picked up at the airport about 9:30pm by taxi driver Mohammed (plus son) and dropped off at the edge of the Medina. Our lovely hostess, Flo, then picked us up from the edge of the Medina city wall and took us to our fabulous riad. Spacious, cool (in every sense), central and all ours. Kicked back and we chillaxed.

Later on we ventured out to Jemaa El Fna, the main open space in Marrakech, to seek food and entertainment. And we found both in a bizarre carnival of local life; singers, dancers, tradesmen, food stalls, magicians, costumed acrobats, storytellers... Quite amazing and quite surreal.

On Saturday morning we got up to be greeted by a lovely breakfast prepared by our maid (we have a maid?) and Flo offering us invaluable tourist advice Loins suitably girded we ventured out to see Ben Youssef Medersa (an old Koranic school), Musee de Marrakech (complete with Close Encounters mothership lantern) and Koubba El Badiyin (the last surviving structure from the founding fathers of Marrakech, the Almoravids).

Then we headed south to get (intentionally) lost in the labyrinthine souks. We perhaps didn't intend to get quite as lost as we did but it was fun happening upon crazy market after crazy market accompanied by each fresh assault on the senses.

We settled on Café De Epices for lunch and then headed back to the riad for a bit of shut eye barely avoiding the impending downpour.

The rain was pretty relentless until just before we scrubbed up and were ready to head out the door.

And head we did - straight to Comptoir - the chic/sheikh place to be seen/scene. The food was good. The wine was fine. The place chaotic. The belly-dancers had perhaps seen better days but it was fun. I had the distinct impression that the place had reimported Moroccan chic back from places like Buddha Bar.

We fell in with some other visitors at the next table (Yankee stylist Catherine, just 'so' James and Helen who it turns out lives in my road at 106. No, really. Small world!)

Today we are nursing slight hangovers and planning on a bit more sightseeing before taxing over to Essaouira for four days.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Morocco...


This afternoon I'm off on holiday for a week or so. To Morocco. It's a bit of a last minute thing as I only decided last week but I've got some annual leave to use up and I've never been to Morocco.

I'm going with my mate Simon; firstly to Marrakech (staying at Dar Saria) and then on to Essaouira (staying at Riad Gyvo).

I don't quite know what to expect - which is half the fun really I guess.

The Fratellis...


Last night Drew and I went to the Union Chapel to the Little Noise Sessions presented by Jo Whiley in aid of Mencap. The Fratellis were on supported by The View and Mohair.

The Fratellis were good - playing their entire album - all the hits and (no) more. The View however were excellent. More of them please.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Champagne Charlies...


Stu, Paul and I met up with Bryn last night. She was over from the States for a flying visit so we all decided to go out for a drink. And a bite to eat. And another drink. And then we ended up in Kettner's champagne bar knocking back £70 bottles of shampoo like it was going out of fashion. My life. We were slaughtered! Great fun though if a little testy on the old bank balance. And it was great to see Bryn again after four and half years. I remember only too well her and Larissa turning up at my office on my fortieth birthday dressed as show-girls.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Arsenal 3-1 Hamburg...


It was a bit of a rush to get home for the game last night what with the Victoria Line being up the spout again but what a game it was. 1-0 down after just four minutes was a shocking way to start but we played a commendable first half. However after half-time we really showed them how the game is played. So now Arsenal only need to avoid defeat in Porto on Matchday Six in order to reach the Knockout Stages of the Champions League.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Catch-Up TV...


Did you see Torchwood on Sunday? Oh. My. God. The warning of explicit gore at the start was dead right. It was called Countrycide and it was gruesome. And the fruity language made us gasp. The BBC do horror very well. Watch the repeat on Wednesday at 9pm on BBC2 if you dare.

Then there was the new season of Lost. Fab. Fab. Fab. After such a disappointing Season 1 ending and a completely fabulous Season 2 I wasn't quite sure if I could stomach the move from E4 / Channel 4 to Sky. But I needn't have worried. The first double episode of Season 3 was a corker. And "Downtown" was fabulous. Drew is hooked too now. So there goes the next 26 weeks.

Microsoft Firefox 2007 Professional Edition...


The open source community is in a state of shock this morning at the news that Microsoft has released a version of popular browser Firefox.

Very amusing.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rate My Teacher...


It is perhaps a law suit waiting to happen, but can you find one of your own on this rate my teacher web site? Telling it like it is kids.

Arsenal 1-1 Newcastle...


I took Drew to the Emirates on Saturday to see Arsenal take on Newcastle. We were by far the better team which sadly wasn't reflected in the final score.

Friday, November 17, 2006

UK's Top 100 Best Selling Albums...


1. Queen, Greatest Hits (5,407,587)
2. The Beatles, Sgt Pepper (4,803,292)
3. Oasis, What's The Story Morning Glory (4,304,504)
4. Dire Straits, Brothers In Arms (3,946,931)
5. Abba, Gold Greatest Hits (3,932,316)
6. Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of The Moon (3,759,958)
7. Queen, Greatest Hits II (3,631,321)
8. Michael Jackson, Thriller (3,570,250)
9. Michael Jackson, Bad (3,549,950)
10. Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (3,364,785)
[Thanks BBC]

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Marc Almond Finshes New Album...


Marc Almond finishes recording his new album this week. Stardom Road is a collection of covers chosen by the former Soft Cell frontman to tell his life story. "It consists of my favourite songs by other people and will be released in January," he says.

Produced by Tris Penna, the album also features Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, Jools Holland and St Etienne's Sarah Cracknell, who duets with Almond on the Dusty Springfield song I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten.

Almond's next project sounds even more ambitious: "I'm also working on an album of the songs of Russian gypsy romance singer and dissident Vadim Kozin."

[Thanks Guardian]

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sick Jokes...


Warning: Do not read on if easily offended! You have been warned!

You might like to think of comedy as being a spectrum. Ranging from subtle shades of light pink humour at one end through to gentle irony, satire, parody, saracasm, 'alternative' humour, blue humour and on to physical comedy and broad slap stick at the other.

Sick jokes sit right in the middle of this spectrum. They are indeed a classic form of humour. But just not to everyones taste.

At their basic level many forms of humour aim to surprise. The punchline. The prestige. But a sick joke goes further, it aims to shock. Say the unsayable. Think the unthinkable. "Oh My God, did you really say that? (that was just what I was thinking but didn't dare say it)". These jokes can say things we just can't. They can confirm (or indeed puncture) prejudices and stereotypes. They can provide a touchstone to modern thinking. They can attack it and they can nuture it. The sick joke is not constrained like other things. It is free. Free to tell it like it is. Or isn't.

Although the humour behind a sick joke comes mainly from the shock value, a good sick joke goes one stage further and is shocking and funny. Sick jones tend to be short too. The conciseness often adds to the impact. In addition the sick jokes needs a strong and often plain ridiculousness mental image. These can frankly be as bizarre as you like and are often utterly surreal.

People's responses to sick jokes however are rather more predictable. They laugh, gasp and reply with "Nooooooo! That's terrible!" - but secretly want to know if you know any more.

I will give just two examples of sick jokes to illustrate my point. Both cruel, unnecessary. But very, very funny.

Q: What do you do when a dead baby washes up on shore?
A: Try to hide your erection.

Q: What was Princess Diana's favourite brand of shampoo?
A: Head & Shoulders. They know because they found hers on the dashboard.

For further reading the wonderful Rob Manuel of b3ta has compiled a sick jokes web site and a bumper book of sick jokes book. A must for any Christmas stocking I'd have thought.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Traffic Poles vs The Morons...


Ever wondered what those poles that go up and down in the road to block traffic are for? Watch this and then you'll know. Very funny.
[Thanks Rog]

Friday, November 10, 2006

Off the Horizon...


Did a recent Horizon program called Human v2.0 really claim that a computer equal to the human brain might come around in 20 years?

Given that one of the world's biggest, richest companies takes five years of frantic work to get a facelift and a few bells and whistles on it's aging O/S, I'd say that is verging on the ridiculous. Let's hope the artificial brain doesn't need a new database file system, eh?

Hello Sailor...


The Maritime Museum in Liverpool has an exhibition currently running called Hello Sailor. I look at gay life on the ocean waves.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I'm A Celebrity is back...with z-listers galore...


Clear your diaries and take your phones off the hook, I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here is back on our screens - and the stars of the show are more desperate than ever.

After weeks of backbiting, infighting, agents screaming 'more money', and whittled-down wishlists of names who have made more tabloids headlines than any other this year, a final ten have emerged.

Ingrid Tarrant turned down £150,000 to spend two weeks in the Australian jungle when she might have - ITV bosses had hoped - spill all on her marriage break-down. David Hasselhoff similarly refused £175,000 to speak of his.

Yet under-pressure ITV bosses still managed to come up with a pretty formidable list of misfits, oddballs, wannabees and has-beens. Perhaps most noteworthy among them are David Gest, the bizarre-looking and long-suffering former husband of Liza Minnelli, Lauren Booth, the outspoken sister-in-law of our own premier (most uncomfortably for Tony on the issue of invading Iraq), and every middle-aged man's dream date, former newsreader Jan Leeming.

Making up the 'totty' - as presenters Ant 'n' Dec will most probably refer to them - are former popstar Myleene Klass and Footballers' Wives actress Phina Oruche.

Male totty on the show might be assumed to include Jason Donovan, the former popstar, soapstar and West End star who also - quite significantly - dated Kylie Minogue who beat breast cancer this year.

Matt Willis from the boyband Busted will also provide a little eye-candy for female viewers, and he will no doubt - ITV bosses will again be hoping - speak about his precarious relationship with drink and recent spell at The Priory. Producers evidently rate Gest and Donovan the highest - they are both taking home £100,000 just to turn up.

Insiders say Gest has been told the stint on the show will 're-ignite his career' here in the UK. A guest appearance on a soap for him is also being negotiated.

Veteran comedienne and impersonator Faith Brown, flamboyant designer Scott Henshall and failed television presenter Toby Anstis make up the numbers.

But perhaps the most interesting - in the same way winner Carol Thatcher was last year - is Lauren Booth. Booth, a journalist and mother-of-two, claims not to know for sure whether Tony and Cherie knew that she was taking part in the series. She said: "I presume they know. And I am sure Tony will be saying 'eat maggots...eat maggots'."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gay Dave is Carnival Queen...


David Bridge, 15, brushed off warnings about harassment he might face for entering in a contest in drag to be the Blackberry Carnival queen in Axbridge, Somerset. And surprise, surprise he won - beating three girls. How gutted must they be feeling? David, now going under the name of Darius, said, "It’s important to show you don’t have to be in London to dress up as a gay or in drag costume."

I love the cliche quote that appeared in The Sun, "...we can’t believe it. It’s political correctness gone mad."

Brain Teaser Answers...

1. Square Dance

2. I will be 35: I am currently 21.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Brain Teasers...


1. What is represented by these letters?

D A
N
C E


2. My current age, is the age of my brother, who is 14, plus one third of my age. How old will I be when my brother is twice his current age?

Von Trapp leaves Sound of Music...


Actor Simon Shepherd has withdrawn from Andrew Lloyd Webber's West End production of The Sound Of Music just nine days before the opening night. And I think we all know what "mutual agreement" means. Bye bye Simon.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Sound Of Music...


On Friday Stuart took me to go and see The Sound Of Music at the London Palladium. Yes, Andrew Lloyd-Weber's much anticipated production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has finally had it's first night. And the verdict? Very much worth the wait.

Connie Fisher is simply delightful. Sounding and looking chillingly like Julie Andrews she wowed us with her voice, her dancing and her acting. Having won the role of Maria through BBC1's Saturday night show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? hopes were high. And she has delivered big time. During Do-Re-Mi I had tears running down my cheeks.

Sadly Simon Shepherd playing the captain was poor but all the kids were great. As expected veteran belter Leslie Garrett as the Mother Abbess stole each and every scene she was in.

Highly recommended.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Marmart...


Last Friday Margaret, Hayley, Molly and I went to the galley in Dover Street at lunchtime to do some Marmite Art. Or Marmart as it's known. We had great fun mucking around with toast and bread and squeeable marmite. Linda Barker was on hand to help. Great fun. I did a Micky Mouse and a picture of Stu. You can see all the pix we took by clicking here or click on any of the pix below for a bigger version.