Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Sweden to set up embassy in Second Life

Sweden is to become the first country to establish diplomatic representation in the virtual reality world of Second Life, officials said on Friday.

"We are planning to establish a Swedish embassy in Second Life primarily as an information portal for Sweden," Swedish Institute (SI) director Olle Wästberg told AFP.

The embassy would not provide passports or visas but would instruct visitors how to obtain such documents in the real world and act as a link to web-based information about the Scandinavian country.

Greek nuns flee business fiasco

According to BBC:

An entire order of nuns has fled a convent on the Greek-Bulgarian border after running up huge debts.

The nuns' knitting business, serving 25 shops across Greece, has crashed.

From mother superior to the most junior novice, the 55 nuns sought sanctuary in the Xenia convent in the hills of central Greece.

The Greek Holy Synod is trying to sort out their debts of some 760,000 euros (£500,000) and persuade them to come out of hiding.

According to the Kathimerini newspaper, they exacerbated their financial problems by going abroad to fashion shows to check out the latest designs in woollen garments.

Their assets may have to be liquidated and property belonging to their convent at Sidirokastro could be sold to pay off their debts.

According to Ananonva:

Nuns on the run
Fifty-five nuns - all called Maria - are on the run after racking up debts of £400,000.

The women had secretly run a knitwear company on the side for ten years.

Their convent supplied 25 shops and they blew money travelling to fashion shows across Europe.

The nuns of St Kyrikos and Ioulite in Northern Greece hit money problems after spending huge sums on new machinery.

Their expensive knitting machines were put on a lorry and the sisters disappeared a few days later.

Greek Orthodox Church officials believe they may be hiding at a monastery in Volos, Central Greece.

The nuns' lawyer Dionysios Pelekis said they had asked church superiors to settle the debt by selling 16 convent-owned properties. But the request was refused.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Taxman grounds US space tripper

A US man who won a free trip to outer space in an online competition has had to cancel it, after realising he would have to pay tax on his prize.
Californian Brian Emmett, 31, who describes himself as a space buff, won the trip after correctly answering questions on Java computer code.
But he worked out would have to report the $138,000 ride as income and pay $25,000 tax, AP news agency reports.

Not wanting to go into debt, Mr Emmett decided to give up his seat.
''There was definitely a period of mourning. I was totally crestfallen'' he said. ''Everything you had hoped for as a kid sort of evaporates in front of you," he told AP.

Mr Emmett has already attended space camp and watched launches of the space shuttle from Kennedy Space Centre.
When he won the competition in 2005 he became a celebrity, giving TV interviews and appearing at trade shows on behalf of the company that organised the contest.
Space tourism has attracted lots of attention over the past few years. Very wealthy would-be astronauts have been putting down considerable deposits to experience viewing earth from many miles above ground.

But because America's Internal Revenue Service requires winnings from lotteries, TV shows and other competitions to be reported as taxable income, some tax experts believe space prizes will never take off in a big way.
Some competition organisers, though, provide the winner with a sum of money to cover the tax bill, a sum of money that is also taxable itself.

Mr Emmett's place will now be taken by another American. Two other winners, from Asia and Europe, are still on board.
They will all travel with Space Adventures Ltd., the firm that organises trips on Russian rockets to the orbiting International Space Station for the ultra-rich for a reported $20million.

The company says it has given away some 20 reservations through competitions and that the majority of winners are satisfied.

Mölnlycke: does what it says on the tin. Sort of.

Swedish investment firm Investor has bought a Gothenburg-based healthcare company called Mölnlycke. If you’re wondering what the company does, the description on their web site couldn’t be clearer:

Mölnlycke Health Care is one of the world’s leading providers of
single-use surgical and wound care solutions to the healthcare sector.

Single-use surgical and wound care solutions? Otherwise known as ‘plasters’.

The Local

Two films

This film is causing a furore:

Prosecutors in Wilmington, N.C., "are aware" of a scene for the movie "Hounddog" in which the character played by 12-year-old actress Dakota Fanning reportedly is violently raped, and say if an investigation is launched, authorities could consider sexual exploitation charges.
The scene, widely reported on the Internet, is in the movie where Fanning plays the role of a "precocious, troubled girl (who) finds safe haven in the music and movement of Elvis Presley," according to Blue Line Radio, which monitors child-abuse allegations.


Dakota Fanning has a very mature attitude to the controversial scene...

Fanning tries to explain to reporters of her decision to make the film, “It’s not really happening,” she said of the controversial scene. “It’s a movie, and it’s called acting. I’m not going through anything. And for me, when it’s done it’s done. I don’t even think about it any more.” Link

... this one isn't:

Not many schoolboys can claim they have been up close and personal with one of the world's most talented and beautiful actresses.
However, that's just what Foyle and Londonderry College student Andrew Simpson has been doing.
Andrew, 16, who lives in Donegal, stars alongside Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench in the film Notes on a Scandal.
He plays the part of a schoolboy whose affair with his art teacher, played by Blanchett, leads to disaster.

No dummies to see in the Year of the Pig

Banker Andy Wong and his wife Patti, Sotheby?s oriental porcelain expert, threw their fabled annual Chinese New Year party at Madame Tussauds on Saturday. Following instructions to dress 'Burlesque, Debauched or Hollywood Black Tie', guests competed for brevity of clothing, with first prize going to model Jasmine Lennard, who wore a thong beneath a transparent chiffon baby doll. Chilly. The First Post:

Spot the dummy!

An oldie but a goldie!

A history professor and a psychology professor are sitting outside at a nudist colony when the history professor asks: "Have you read Marx?" "Yes," replied his friend. "I think it's from the wicker chairs."

Punch-drunk Blair spots his last chance

Blair is pinning his legacy hopes on peace in Northern Ireland, says our Downing Street insider

Like Rocky Balboa, the ageing movie prize fighter, Tony Blair needs to pull one last victory out of the bag to secure his place in history.

The past weeks have been no help. He presides over a government in chaos. The combination of the ongoing police inquiry into cash for honours, the car crash of the Home Office, and his failure last week to attend the Commons debate on Iraq will be seen in years to come as the nadir of the Blair era.

Add the Attorney General and Lord Chancellor at daggers drawn over cash for peerage prosecutions and the Labour divisions over gay adoption and it couldn't get much worse - although John Reid assures us in today's Guardian that it will at the Home Office at any rate.

Yet if you watched Blair on The Politics Show yesterday, you'd hardly have believed that this was a politician floundering in his final months in office, clutching at straws in his bid for some sort of legacy. Perhaps the PM is in denial. More likely, despite the confident front, he knows exactly how perilous his position is.

All his hopes of securing his reputation are now pinned on the restoration of the devolved government in Northern Ireland following Sinn Fein's historic decision to recognise the province's police service.

It's a big gamble and Blair well remembers how his predecessor John Major's hopes of securing his legacy through peace in the province were dashed.

But this prime minister has precious few punches left in him so he is risking all on a power-sharing agreement to lift the gloom in Downing Street.

Blair would rather be remembered as a Rocky Balboa than a John Major. The next few weeks will tell whether he can go the distance or end up on the canvas. A lot depends on whether the police raise the ante by visiting No 10 again.
The First Post

Oh dear ... now we are going to be well and truly f*&ked!!!

Italy gets park and ride scheme

Oh dear! -- didn't realise the title of this article was a double entendre (c:= Do not read any further if you are easily offended.

A park where passionate young couples can have sex freely is set to open.
It is meant to help those who find it hard to be intimate because high property prices force them to live with their parents for longer.
They will pay £2 to enter the park in the southern port of Bari and £1 for every 30 minutes they stay.
Founder Giuseppe Foggetti said: 'My idea was to create a place for those that want to spend intimate moments together without thinking whether someone would be shocked if they saw it. I will offer security and privacy.'

Good to be a woman in Borås

It has been statistically proven that the most average Swedish couple is likely to be made up of people called Lars and Anna Johansson and they probably live in Hallsberg, Sweden’s demographic mid-point.

But the town of Borås has another claim to fame.

Anna Johanssons in the western town have more orgasms than women in any other Swedish town. (Link: in Swedish)

So maybe Lars Johansson isn’t so average after all.

Celebrity Big Brother Winner

The Indian government seemed to be having second thoughts yesterday over whether it was such a good idea inviting Jade Goody to visit the country after the Celebrity Big Brother participant made the surprise announcement that she intended to take up the offer.
In London, the Indian high commission was reportedly dragging its heels over her application for a visa. And, in Delhi, the Indian press reported that the government was furious she had ever been invited.
The invitation dates from the height of the row over alleged racism in Big Brother, when the Indian tourism office published a full page advertisement in several newspapers. In the form of an open letter to Ms Goody, it read: "Once your current commitments are over, may we invite you to experience the healing nature of India. We look forward to welcoming you soon."
At the time, it seemed that India had seized upon a brilliant opportunity to promote its tourist industry. But it looks as if the move may have backfired after Ms Goody announced on television she was planning to take up the offer.

"I'm thinking of going over there because I've been invited," she told Five, saying the invitation had come from some 'high-up people'. Sources close to her have been quoted as saying she wants to come to apologise personally.
But the word in Delhi yesterday was that the government was none too happy at the idea of her imminent arrival - fearing it could be seen to be rolling out the red carpet for a woman whose only claim to fame here is her alleged racist abuse of a popular Indian movie star.
"Suddenly, we have elevated Goody to the status of an official guest," the Indian Express quoted one source as spluttering, adding that the decision to publish the open invitation had been "immature".

While Ms Goody's application for an Indian visa is reportedly taking longer than the usual 24 hours, in Delhi the Tourism Ministry is making it clear Ms Goody has not been invited as an official guest.
"Any free citizen can apply for a visa to visit India. That is all," said a ministry spokesman. "There will not be any preference for Jade Goody."
Meanwhile it appears those behind the full-page advertisement inviting Ms Goody to India may be in for the high jump.

Celebrity Big Brother winner Shilpa Shetty made a plea to the British public today to forgive the housemates accused of racist bullying.
The Bollywood star begged the public to leave Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara alone and said: "They are young, but not racist."

PR guru Max Clifford, who is set to take control of Shetty's career in the UK said he had high hopes for the rising star.
He told PA: "She certainly has a great deal of offers already on the table.
“What we now have to discuss is exactly what she wants to do. I will be sitting down with Shilpa and her mother very soon.”


So once again the Big Brother winner is ........ Max Clifford.

2,500-year-old mirror dropped on TV

A 2,500-year-old mirror worth £500,000 was dropped and smashed on a Chinese TV show.

A model was showing the ancient mirror to the audience when it slipped from her hands and fell to the floor.

It shattered into pieces, shocking the audience - especially owner Chen Fengjiu who was sitting in the front row.

Fengjui, a renowned mirror collector, said: "The mirror has been part of my collection for 16 years and is the best one out of more than 1,000 mirrors."

The mirror, from the Warring States Period of Ancient China, was being exhibited on China Central Television's Artwork Investment programme.

It was gold plated, embedded with 11 turquoise stones and the whole body was coated with intricate carvings.

The host of the show immediately cancelled the rest of the programme after the accident and the producer said he would seek expert help to repair the mirror.

Fengjiu has not - so far at least - taken any legal action against the programme.

Friday, 26 January 2007

Anne Frank's father sought visas

Dozens of letters found in an American archive reveal the desperate efforts of Anne Frank's father Otto to escape from the Nazis with his family.
The letters - including some from his American relatives and friends - were written before the family went into hiding in Amsterdam in 1942.
The 78 documents are to be released on 14 February by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.
The family went into hiding in a cramped attic in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation in July 1942 but a betrayal led to their arrest in 1944.
The letters were found in New York a year ago by a YIVO researcher, Estelle Guzik. They reveal how in 1941 Otto Frank had tried to obtain visas for his family to travel to the US or Cuba.
YIVO's executive director Carl Rheins said the documents covered the period from April 1941 to 11 December, 1941, when Nazi Germany declared war on the US.

Otto Frank urged a former university friend, Nathan Straus Jr of New York, to appeal to refugee agencies in the US to get the Frank family out.
"By July 1941 it is clear that Otto Frank had hit a stone wall," Mr Rheins told the BBC News website.
Otto Frank had also sought an escape route to Cuba, but in 1941 "it was very difficult to leave Holland," Mr Rheins said.
The family would have needed exit visas from the German authorities and then more visas to cross France and Spain, he said.
The file at YIVO also contains letters written after the war by Otto's brother-in-law Julius Hollander, revealing his efforts to locate the family.
YIVO publicity officer Cathy Callegari said the new information was "compelling" and had been authenticated by Holocaust experts.
Two leading historians of the Holocaust - professors Richard Breitman and David Engel - will present the letters and explain the historical background at the 14 February press briefing, YIVO says.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Unpaid fee closes debt groups' website

An association of debt management offices, who managed billions of dollars of government debt, has had its website closed down after it failed to pay the £17-a-year fee to keep the web address registered. Metro.co.uk

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Asbo for singing Gary Glitter hits

A woman has been given an Asbo - for singing Gary Glitter songs in the bath.

Mother of two, Caroline Bishop, 39, sang songs like Leader Of The Gang to annoy neighbours.

Alistair and Kerry Law complained they endured months of harassment in Ingham, Lincolnshire.

According to the Sun, Mrs Law said: "You could hear it from my kitchen with the window shut - day in, day out."

Council spokeswoman, Belinda Moore, said: "In isolation these matters would be trivial, but they occurred many times."

The Asbo bans Bishop from loud singing or shouting, and abusing or harassing neighbours.

She said: "We are being victimised."

Text messages persuade thief to return phone

A thief has returned a mobile phone to his victim in China after she sent him 21 'emotional' text messages.

Pan Aiying, was riding her bicycle when a motorcycle rider snatched her bag containing her mobile phone, bank cards and about £300 in cash.

The schoolteacher, from Qihe in Shandong Province, decided to try to persuade the thief to return her belongings, instead of going to the police.

China Daily, quoting the Qilu Evening News, says she wrote: "You must be going through a difficult time. If so, I will not blame you.

"Keep the money if you really need it, but please return the other things to me. You are still young. To err is human. Correcting your mistake is more important than anything."

The following morning Pan found her bag in the courtyard of her home and found nothing had been taken.

The thief left a letter with the bag, saying: "Dear Pan: I'm sorry. I made a mistake. Please forgive me. You are so tolerant even though I stole from you. I'll correct my ways and be an upright person."

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Life would be dull without human error

Newsreader exposes affair on live TV
SARAH HILLS - Monday, January 15, 2007

Viewers could have been forgiven for thinking it was all part of a drive to boost audience figures.

The attractive blonde on screen started talking about her colleagues' sex lives – even hinting one was having an affair – before pushing out her breasts and giving viewers a flash of her midriff.

It was only when the presenter's face went an ashen grey and she started reading the news it became clear she had not known she was on air.

The mishap occurred on Monday during the GMTV programme.

Anglia TV newsreader Emma Baker was caught on the hop by the national broadcaster's decision to put the regional news broadcast forward to an earlier slot.

Bosses at Norwich-based Anglia said they would launch an investigation into the mix-up.

At one point, Miss Baker, 26, said to an unseen male colleague: 'Have you phoned your wife this morning or have you phoned Jan?'

Then, to an unseen female colleague, she said: 'Good morning, Mrs Shameless.' Viewer Sally Fox, 45, from Milton Keynes, said: 'It was much more interesting than the usual local news.

It was like a soap opera.

'When she put her hand up her shirt it seemed she was fiddling with her bra. I saw her tummy.

'Then, when she said about the guy phoning his wife, it seemed she was suggesting someone was having an affair. I was thinking: “Whatever is going on?”.

This all went on for about three-and-a-half minutes. She was preening herself and pouting like Madonna, sticking out her boobs.

'Then somebody obviously told her this was going out live and her face went ashen.

'She started reading the news but how she got through it all I will never know. Top marks to her for that.'

New Labour backtracks on right to know

Just as the Prime Minister announces his 'data sharing' plans to help the state learn more about us, the Government is doing everything it can to stop us knowing too much about them.

Two years after introducing the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), ostensibly to shine a light on the workings of government, the era of openness has proved short-lived. In a matter of weeks, the law will be all but neutered with some delicate statutory surgery.

"The need-to-know culture has been replaced by a statutory right to know," proclaimed the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer (left), in January 2005, as he invited citizens to put their questions to government and public authorities across the country.

One year later, he hailed the law's early success and projected Britain as a beacon of democratic accountability. "The culture of secrecy in Whitehall - and beyond - is creaking open," he said.

Finding its right to rule in private threatened, the Government is seeking ways to limit freedom of information by stealth. At present, information requests from the public can be refused if the cost of finding the information exceeds a notional £600, equating to many hours of official research time. As most material is readily available, this expenditure cap is rarely invoked.

However, Government consultants have worked out that this let-out provides the perfect mechanism for a retreat from open government.

Under regulations set to come in this spring, the notional £600 limit will cover not only the time needed to find the information but also the time mandarins and ministers spend 'considering' whether an exemption applies and where the public interest lies. Which virtually rules out disclosure of any controversial information.

And it gets worse. A second new rule will effectively stop campaigners and journalists, for whom information is stock in trade, asking too much. The trick the consultants have come up with is to extend the £600 limit to any individual or organisations's requests over a three-month period. For instance, a newspaper would only be allowed £600 worth of official research and 'consideration' time in any three months.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, has protested that "the Government is taking a scythe to its own Act".

Officially the changes are being made in the name of 'efficiency'. Yet even the Government admits it will save only £12m. Contrast that with the £322m spent on PR and advertising last year in Whitehall. New Labour will pay to tell the people what it thinks they should know, not what they want to know.
Full article at The First Post:

Now compare that with what is being spent at no. 10 Downing Street

Blair seeks a butler as taxpayers' bill for running No 10

The cost of running 10 Downing Street has trebled under Tony Blair, according to official figures.
The bill to taxpayers of running the Prime Minister’s office has jumped from £6 million a year under John Major to £17.8 million for the past financial year, the figures show. Inflation over the period amounts to 26 per cent.

The number of staff working for the Prime Minister has nearly doubled since Mr Blair came to power, the staff costs have nearly quadrupled, and the cost of running his press office has nearly trebled. The bill for hospitality at Downing Street and Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence, has also nearly tripled since 1997. It emerged yesterday that Downing Street has advertised for a butler on a salary of £50,000 a year. Officially termed a “house manager”, the person appointed will run the Downing Street staff and make sure visitors, including heads of state and other VIPs, feel well cared for.

Critics say that the remarkable rise in No 10’s budget reflects Mr Blair’s increasingly presidential style of government, with power concentrated in a large central office capable of controlling other government departments.

The figures were compiled by Oliver Heald, the Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary, who obtained the information through a series of parliamentary questions and Freedom of Information requests.

Mr Heald said: “While Gordon Brown’s NHS cuts bite deep in local maternity services and A&Es, millions of pounds are spent on bankrolling Tony Blair’s vast entourage of staff and spin doctors. Not only is such proliferate expenditure a questionable use of taxpayers’ money, but such a presidential-style office undermines collective Cabinet government and our parliamentary democracy.”

The trebling of the cost of No 10 is partly a result of the rise in staff costs, from £3.4 million a year in 1997 to £11.8 million last year. The number of staff working for the Prime Minister has risen from 121 when Mr Blair came to power, to 216 last year.

Downing Street first advertised for a butler in September. The position has yet to be filled, possibly because anyone accepting the job is likely to lose it as soon as Mr Blair shortly departs Downing Street.

The Prime Minister’s hospitality and entertainment bill has risen from £50,126 for the last year of Mr Major’s premiership, to £160,278 for 2005, the latest figures available. The bill for the Prime Minister’s press officers has risen from £597,240 in 1997-98 to £1.6 million in 2006-07.
The Times Online:

Israelis seize more Palestinian land

The First Post:
... so who are the terrorists in this picture ?

USA confiscates Swedish aid money

Swedish trade union confederation LO-TCO has had its development aid money confiscated by an American bank. The money had been earmarked for a project in Liberia but the bank, citing US anti-terrorism laws, blocked the payment and initially refused to pay the money back.

Swedish and Norwegian aid organisations have both encountered instances in which American terror laws have halted the flow of international development aid.

One year ago the LO-TCO Secretariat of International Trade Union Development Co-operation set aside aid money for a trade union project in Liberia. The money was sent via Föreningssparbanken (now called Swedbank) and an American bank.

"The American bank demanded to know exactly which organisations the money was aimed for. We refused and asked the bank to resolve the situation.

"This they duly did, but they only paid the money back when Föreningssparbanken's lawyers threatened to sue the American bank," said Håkan Löndahl, LO-TCO's development aid manager.

Norwegian aid agency Kirkens Nödhjelp says that it had hundreds of thousands of kronor confiscated by American authorities a few years ago. The money was intended for countries that the USA disliked, Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reports.

According to the newspaper, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has both the power and the possibility to block aid from foreign countries in cases where transactions are carried out using US dollars.

As transactions of this nature pass through American banks, OFAC can intervene if it suspects that the money is being used to finance terrorism.

"It makes it difficult to provide emergency aid," Eigil Schjander-Larsen from Kirkens Nödhjelp told Dagbladet.

The Norwegian organisation has had its money blocked on at least two occasions.

In 2003 OFAC confiscated just over 250,000 kronor intended for an AIDS conference in Cuba. It took two years for Kirkens Nödhjelp to get its money back.

The second case concerned an aid project in Burma, for which the money has not yet been returned.

Both Kirkens Nödhjelp and Norsk Folkehjelp now avoid making payments in dollars.

Anders Åhlin from LO-TCO says that terrorism laws can sometimes hinder the sort of trade union aid that the organisation provides.

"We often provide aid to trade union organisations in dictatorships.

"We have no reason to tell foreign banks who we co-operate with.

"If that became common practice we could then see the emergence of an unholy alliance between the fight against terrorism and attempts by dictatorships to describe all opposition as terrorism," said Åhlin.

TT/The Local

... and it's probably happening world-wide, not just in Sweden.

Counterfeit £1 coins warning

Something else we should have been given more warning about ....

Near perfect counterfeit £1 coins are circulating in Northern Ireland, it emerged today.

Police are warning traders to be on the lookout for the coins, which are such good copies that they can only be detected because they are magnetic.

A number of the coins have turned up in Londonderry after one was found stuck to some copper money in a parking ticket machine.

According to Constable Andy Lindsay, a crime prevention officer at Strand Road Police Station in Derry, the counterfeits are fairly sophisticated.

"The dud coins are very good and are almost impossible to detect just by looking at them," he said.

"The counterfeiters have made an impression of the 'tails' side of the coin and attached that to a smaller copper coin, probably an Isle of Man or Channel Island penny.

"That penny is then enclosed in a 'jacket' made up of the 'heads' side and milled edge of the coin.

"While visually they are good copies, the counterfeit coins can be detected.

"If they are shaken, the penny will rattle inside the 'jacket'.

"And, a definitive test, is that the duds are magnetised, so that copper coins will stick to them."
Belfast Telegraph:

Parking costs set to spiral at Aldergrove

I am due to fly to Malaga soon from Belfast International Airport but had not pre-booked car parking because I thought it was £6 per day as it was before christmas and for a 4 night stay I expected to pay £24 but, thankfully, my daughter advised me to pre-book so that I wouldn't be caught out by an exorbitant parking fee.

I did check the Belfast International web site but nowhere does it show the parking rates - if you click the tab for parking it takes you straight to pre-booking. It's a real con that they don't show the rates and I would have thought morally if not legally wrong.

This price hike is one of the things that our local politicians should be sorting out, instead of squabbling amongst themselves, it should also have been given more coverage by local news channels and newspapers so that people do not get ripped off again.

I will be paying £24 but I get the impression that this is for a week's parking and not just the few days that I will be away.

On searching I found the article below in the Belfast Telegraph.

Belfast Telegraph: Friday, December 22, 2006
Robin Morton

Car parking charges at Belfast International Airport are set to rise by up to 50% in the New Year, passengers were warned today.

The airport said franchise operator Q-Park was introducing new pricing structures from January 3 to encourage more holidaymakers to pre- book.

Those facing the biggest increases are motorists who turn up on spec at the long-stay car park - they will pay £42 per week instead of £28 at present.

Holidaymakers who pre-book by phone or the internet will pay £24 for a week's parking against £21 at present - up 14.3%.

In the short-stay car park, the first 15 minutes will still be free but the charge for up to 30 minutes goes up by 7% from £1.40 to £1.50.

In the main stay car park, the charge for a day's parking rises by 13% from £8.40 to £9.50. (A year ago I believe it was £3 per day)

An airport spokeswoman said the re-structuring was geared towards ensuring that passengers used the car park best suited to the length of their stay. (Now isn't that thoughtful)

John Doran, the BIA managing director, said the price increase came in advance of a £100,000 investment by Q-Park in a new pre-booking system. (Which is probably the real reason for the price hike)

But he insisted some parking rates were still lower than they had been before Dublin-based Q-Park took control of the airport car parks in January this year.

He said: "This move is aimed at providing some of the best value airport parking in the island of Ireland. Some 93% of passengers using the short-stay car park will be unaffected or better off than they were in 2005."

Monday, 15 January 2007

Castle Dracula - an update.

Castle Dracula is for sale. More properly known in Transylvania - today a region of Romania - as Bran Castle, it is being sold by the Habsburg family.

Imaginative vampire lovers will be forgiven for conjuring images of coffins in the basement filled with the Count's descendants anxiously awaiting their fate. But there is one little problem: Count Dracula has nothing to do with the castle at all.

Bran Castle was built in 1377 and okay, yes, in 1462 Dracula did make a stopover there. Once, to rest his horses. But wait: which Dracula are we talking about? Not the vampire count, but Vlad Tepes "the Impaler" ­ who was also, as it happens, known as Dracula.

In the West we have come to think that Vlad was in some way related to the Count, or was even a bloodsucker himself. This is thanks to movies like Francis Ford Coppola's 'Dracula' and bestsellers like Elizabeth Kostova's 'The Historian', which have recklessly and deliberately muddled the genealogies.

Romanian nationalists revere Vlad as the prince, or voivode, who fended off the Turks and who, with the threat of impalements for all, imposed a ferocious discipline over his own fractious nation. (Ivan the Terrible thought him a terrific role model.) For the record: he was not a vampire, nor did he drink the blood of his enemies.

The trouble for Romania really began with Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally's 1973 bestseller, In Search of Dracula, which made wild and spurious claims about Vlad's influence on Bram Stoker, indelibly linking the two.In fact, there is no evidence, not even in the author's notes and archives at Philadelphia's Rosenbach Museum, that Stoker was aware of Vlad's stake thing, or of much about Vlad at all; only that "Dracula" translated as "Devil".

Stoker never went to Romania (nor Hungary, of which Transylvania was a part at the time); and he certainly never made mention of Bran Castle.
The First Post:

Friday, 12 January 2007

No English? No Irish more like

Manchan Magan made a trip around Ireland speaking only Irish to see if census claims of 1.6m people being able to speak the language were true on the ground.

Of those claiming to speak Irish 165,000 live in the north.

In the course of his travels Manchan gets kicked out of bars, served the wrong food, given the wrong directions, the wrong clothes, the wrong haircut.

"Seeing those figures I thought it should be very simple just to make one's way around," he told BBC Radio's Good Morning Ulster programme.

He met with a mixed response making the four episodes of No Bearla - No English - for TG4 - the Irish language broadcaster.

But while the level of fluency may not have matched the claims, it prompted strong feelings.

Accompanied by a film crew using a hidden camera a shopkeeper in Dublin covered his ears and told him to speak English or get out.

But why the hostility? Manchan said after 10 years of being schooled in Irish, people in the Republic may feel ashamed that they cannot speak the language.

"In some ways if you are speaking Irish some people will think it's a weapon of war, or they will think you're just showing off," he said.

His journey took him to Belfast and he said there was "great enthusiasm" for him using Irish on the Falls Road.

He then took his no English mission to the nearby Shankill Road, a staunchly loyalist area.

"I was met at first with bemusement - a few people talked to me in English saying that it was a sweet enough language as long as it wasn't shoved down their throats," he said.

"But then I was warned eventually that if I did insist on speaking Irish on the Shankill that I was liable to end up in hospital very soon.

"So I decided to shuffle off somewhere else after that and went to Letterkenny where I got a great reaction."

He said that there seemed to be a different attitudes among the generations towards the language.

"Younger people seem to be a lot more up for the language, willing to understand me," he said.

"In Dublin maybe it's just too fast paced to be listening to someone in another language."

He said that in the course of making the programme it was the rising number of ethnic minorities who made the most effort to accommodate him.

"It was actually the foreigners all over Ireland, the Chinese and Polish people in particular who tried to make an effort to understand me," he said.

They say the great test for language is whether you dream in it, and for Manchan his sleep is peppered with English not Irish.

"For probably the first 16 years of my life I would have been dreaming in Irish, but it's an English world and so one way or another we have to shift," he said.

He said that he would be very sad to see Irish die out as a language, and he was not alone.

He said three people on the Shankill said they did not want to see it go they just "didn't want it shoved down their throats".

Underwater Love


Brian Hester invited his mother over for dinner During the course of the meal, Brian's mother couldn't help but keep noticing how beautiful Brian's roommate, Stephanie was Mrs. Hester had long been suspicious of a relationship between Brian and Stephanie, and this had only made her more curious. Over the course of the evening, while watching the two react, Mrs. Hester started to wonder if there was more between Brian and Stephanie than met the eye. Reading his mom's thoughts, Brian volunteered, "I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you Stephanie and I are just roommates." About a week later, Stephanie came to Brian saying, "Ever since your mother came to dinner, I've been unable to find the beautiful silver gravy ladle. You don't suppose she took it, do you?" Brian said, "Well, I doubt it, but I'll send her an e-mail just to be sure." So he sat down and wrote:

Dear Mother,
I'm not saying that you "did" take the gravy ladle from the house, I'm not saying that you "did not" take the gravy ladle. But the fact remains that one has been missing ever since you were here for dinner.
Love Brian

Several days later, Brian received a letter from his mother that read:

Dear Son,
I'm not saying that you "do" sleep with Stephanie, and I'm not saying that you "do not" sleep with Stephanie. But the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the gravy ladle by now.
Love Mom

For sale: Vlad the Impaler's castle

Say what you will about his personal habits, but when it comes to spinning gore into gold, Vlad the Impaler, enthusiastic champion of man's inhumanity to man, can be said to have few rivals.

The 15th-century tyrant - the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Count Dracula - is known to have resided at Bran Castle, near Brasov in Transylvania, as either pampered guest or shackled inmate, according to conflicting reports.

What is indisputable is that the imposing, 14th-century fortress-turned-museum has never baulked from cashing in on its association with bad lad Vlad, whose preferred mode of execution secured his place in history. Today, it is for sale at a spine-chilling £40 million.

Chess showdown ends in check melt

Europe's unseasonably warm winter has almost put paid to a chess match between London and Moscow, using huge pieces carved from ice.
The pieces began melting so quickly that some were almost indistinguishable by the time the match finished.

Huge chessboards had been laid out in the Russian and British capitals, with grandmasters Nigel Short and Anatoly Karpov taking charge of the teams.

The match was held as part of a Russian "Old New Year" festival in London.

The temperature was 12C in London's Trafalgar Square and 5C in Moscow's Pushkinskaya Square - both well above average for the time of year.

The whole of Europe has had an exceptionally warm autumn and winter, with Moscow bereft of its usual snow and ice.

On the London board Russia's "king", which was crafted in the shape of a Kremlin tower, had lost its Soviet star before the game even began.

What every Brit should know about jaywalking

In the UK no one would bat an eyelid. In Atlanta, you could be wrestled to the ground.
It is a cautionary tale for any traveller - distinguished historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto tried to cross the road while in Atlanta for the conference of the American Historical Association, only to find himself in handcuffs and surrounded by armed police.

"I come from a country where you can cross the road where you like," said the visiting professor of global environmental history at Queen Mary College, University of London. "It hadn't occurred to me that I wasn't allowed to cross the road between the two main conference venues."

The bespectacled professor says he didn't realise the "rather intrusive young man" shouting that he shouldn't cross there was a policeman. "I thanked him for his advice and went on."

The officer asked for identification. The professor asked for his, after which Officer Leonpacher told him he was under arrest and, the professor claims, kicked his legs from under him, pinned him to the ground and confiscated his box of peppermints.

Professor Fernandez-Armesto then spent eight hours in the cells before the charges were dropped. He told the Times that his colleagues now regard him as "as a combination of Rambo, because it took five cops to pin me to the ground, and Perry Mason, because my eloquence before a judge obtained my immediate release".

Not every jaywalking Brit abroad will be similarly blessed, nor enjoy the intervention of the city mayor.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Janis Ian

Singer/songwriter Janis Ian recorded her first album when she was just 15, and went on to enjoy considerable success throughout the late '70s and early '80s. Janis also believes in giving something back to her fans. The following is an extract from an article she posted on her web site
Janis Ian.com

One other major point: in the hysteria of the moment, everyone is forgetting the main way an artist becomes successful - exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to shows, no one buys CDs, no one enables you to earn a living doing what you love. Again, from personal experience: in 37 years as a recording artist, I've created 25+ albums for major labels, and I've never once received a royalty check that didn't show I owed them money. So I make the bulk of my living from live touring, playing for 80-1500 people a night, doing my own show. I spend hours each week doing press, writing articles, making sure my website tour information is up to date. Why? Because all of that gives me exposure to an audience that might not come otherwise. So when someone writes and tells me they came to my show because they'd downloaded a song and gotten curious, I am thrilled! Who gets hurt by free downloads? Save a handful of super-successes like Celine Dion, none of us. We only get helped.

... and furthermore

we've started putting our money where my mouth is. We will be offering one song a week in mp3 format for free downloading...and if we can ever afford the server space, we'll try to put a bunch of them up there at once! These are songs I own and control both the copyright and master to; you are welcome to share these files with your friends.

So if you have heard her perform and want some of her music for your PC then follow the link - if you have never heard of Janis Ian nor her music then where have you been for the last 30 years? but anyway follow the link and see what you think! I think she is a great talent and deserves all the support you can give her - so buy her albums also (c: you won't regret it.

Airport Passenger Duty

Have any of you (in the UK) booked and paid for flights recently - then, if you are flying after 1st February, you can expect a letter like this ....

Dear Flybe Customer,

Your Booking reference: ********

As you may have heard in the news over the past few weeks, the Chancellor announced Airport Passenger Duty (APD) for short haul flights has increased 100% from £5 to £10 for each departing passenger per flight. The UK Government is responsible for implementing and collecting APD tax. Flybe, along with other airlines, has lobbied strongly against this increase, but sadly to no avail. We are particularly disappointed that it is being applied to customers who already booked their flight prior to the Chancellor's announcement coming into effect on 11th December and are flying from the 1st of February onwards.

Regrettably, this means you are required to pay the additional APD.
Your additional APD Payment MUST be made no later than 7 days prior to your departure.

Quite frankly I do not see how they can legally charge customers for flights already paid for. Can't you just see it, if this was applied to all businesses, --

Dear Customer,

the groceries you purchased a month ago are going to cost you an extra £10 !!!!!!!

Never mind Nigerian Scams we now have The Westminster Scam.

Update via: chillzero - see The Daily Telegraph

Dead Birds (Update)

Several thousand birds mysteriously drop dead in Australia
Malaysia Sun
Tuesday 9th January, 2007
A major phenomena has occurred over the West Australian coastal town of Esperance.Several thousands of birds, of many different species, have mysteriously dropped dead out of the sky.Investigations by scientists and vetinarians in the West Australian capital of Perth have failed to discover the cause of the mass deaths.The Australian newspaper says all the residents of flood-devastated Esperance know, is that their 'dawn chorus' of singing birds is missing. The main casualties are wattle birds, yellow-throated miners, new holland honeyeaters and singing honeyeaters, although some dead crows, hawks and pigeons have also been found. Wildlife officers, say The Australian, are baffled by the 'catastrophic' event, which the Department of Environment and Conservation said began well before a freak storm last week. On Monday, Esperance, 725 kilometres southeast of Perth, was declared a natural disaster zone. District nature conservation co-ordinator Mike Fitzgerald said the first reports of birds dropping dead in people's yards came in three weeks ago. More than 500 deaths had since been notified. But the calls stopped suddenly last week, reportedly because no birds were left.
Bird deaths being investigated
Ben Ready The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — About 40 dead birds littered a short stretch of U.S. Highway 287 south of the city Tuesday.
Boulder County health officials and the Colorado Division of Wildlife were still coordinating efforts late afternoon to investigate the site, just south Mooring Road.
From an initial description, division veterinarian Laurie Baeten said the birds were likely starlings killed by a passing truck. Considering whipping winds in parts of Boulder County on Monday and the fact that starlings tend to flock at night and in large colonies, Baeten suspects a gust might have thrown the colony into the path of a tall vehicle such as a semi truck.
French authorities say they cannot rule out bird flu after 4,000 chickens died on a French farm on Saturday.
Officials have carried out tests on the dead birds found in Sarrey in the northeast Haute-Marne region, but the results are not expected until Tuesday.
The farmer says his flock of 7,000 chickens appeared healthy on Saturday morning, but by evening 4,000 had died.
France is the biggest poultry producer in Western Europe, breeding some 900m chickens, ducks and geese every year.
Poultry producers fear their Christmas sales could be badly affected if the latest cases are confirmed as bird flu, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris.
BBC News: Monday, 18 December 2006, 20:30 GMT

Katrina Exhibit Opens Near World Trade Center Site

An art exhibit about one disaster has opened at the scene of another.

"Floodwall" is artist Jana Napoli's response to Hurricane Katrina, which she lived through in New Orleans.

It consists of hundreds of empty drawers, salvaged from trash heaps in flooded neighbourhoods. Napoli says she had to empty the drawers of ruined, wet clothes before she collected them.

The exhibit is now on display at the Liberty Street Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that connected the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center across the West Side Highway.

Via: Nothing to do with Arbroath.

Now isn't that a wonderful thing to do? While everybody else was involved in trying to rescue and bring aid to the victims this woman was looting their personal possessions - dumping their clothes so that she could steal their furniture and then claim it is ART! Art my ass - this woman should be locked up - she's nothing but a common looter, making money out of other people's misery and misfortune.

Cocaine on '100% of Irish euros'

One hundred percent of banknotes in the Republic of Ireland carry traces of cocaine, a new study has found.

Researchers used the latest forensic techniques that would detect even the tiniest fragments to study a batch of 45 used banknotes.


Isn't it amazing what they can do with figures! -- surely that headline should read 'Cocaine on 45 Irish euros' but then that wouldn't have the same impact, would it?

Lily Munster is dead.

Actress Yvonne De Carlo, best known as the vampire Lily Munster in US sitcom The Munsters, has died aged 84.
"She passed away in my arms on Monday," said the star's son Bruce Morgan, who added that his mother's health had been declining for several years.
Born Peggy Yvonne Middleton in Vancouver, she was raised in poverty and dropped out of high school to work.
After winning a beauty contest, she landed bit parts in Hollywood, and later graduated to leading lady status.

Often cast as a dancehall girl or a gun-toting sharpshooter in Westerns, she won notoriety for her hour-glass figure and striking looks.
But in 1956, she veered away from her femme fatale image to play Moses' wife in Cecil B DeMille's biblical epic The Ten Commandments.
Later, she had a key role in Stephen Sondheim's landmark Broadway musical Follies.

But for TV viewers, she will be best remembered as Lily Munster, the heavily made-up ghoul who presided over the raucous Munsters household.
The spoof-horror sitcom only ran for two years, 1964-1966, but it had a long life in syndication and resulted in two feature films, Munster Go Home in 1966 and TV movie The Munsters' Revenge in 1981.

Council bans prayers

Prayers have been banned from a Devon town council's meetings in case they offend other religions.
Council meetings in Totnes have opened for the past 60 years with a short prayer then closed with the Lord's Prayer. Mayor Prudence Boswell, 64, has ordered the prayers to be replaced with a 'quiet moment of reflection'.

Correct me if I'm wrong but they did say 'town council meetings' didn't they - so why then have they been saying parayers? This is the problem with this ****** country letting the church get involved in politics - they should stick to writing boring sermons and let the rest of get on with the job of running things properly. And if I want a 'quiet moment of reflection' I'll look in a mirror (c:=

The man who could walk through walls

In Montmartre on the fourth floor of number 75½ Rue Orchampt there once lived a fine fellow named Dutilleul who had the remarkable gift of being able to pass through walls with perfect ease. He wore a pince-nez and a small black goatee and he worked as a level three clerk in the Registration Ministry. In winter he would take the bus to work, and come summer he would walk, wearing his bowler hat.

Dutilleul discovered his power shortly after he turned forty-two. One evening, the electricity went out briefly while he was standing in the front hall of his small bachelor apartment. He groped around for a moment in the dark, and when the power came back on, he found himself standing on his fourth floor landing. Since the door to his apartment was locked from the inside, this gave him pause for thought. Despite the objections of his common sense, he decided to return home in the same way he left—by passing through the wall. This strange ability seemed to have no bearing on any of his aspirations, and he could not help feeling rather vexed about it. The following day was Saturday, and since he worked a five-day week, he sought out the local doctor and presented his case to him. The doctor satisfied himself that Dutilleul was telling the truth, and upon examining him he discovered that the problem was caused by a helicoidal hardening of the strangular membrane of the thyroid gland. He prescribed intensive overwork and told him to take two doses a year of tetravalent pirette powder containing a mixture of rice flour and centaur hormone.

Dutilleul took one dose, then put the medicine in the back of a drawer and forgot about it. As for intensive overwork, his activity as a civil servant followed fixed practices which did not lend themselves to any excess. He spent his free time reading the newspaper and working on his stamp collection; these activities did not require him to expend an unreasonable amount of energy either. After a year then, he still retained the ability to pass through walls, but he never used it intentionally; he had little interest in adventures and he stubbornly resisted the impulses of his imagination. The idea never even occurred to him to enter his apartment any other way than by the door, and that after having duly opened it using the lock.

He might have lived out his life in his peaceable habits and never been tempted to put his gifts to the test if an extraordinary event had not suddenly disrupted his existence. Monsieur Mouron, the associate office director, left to take another position and was replaced by one Monsieur Lécuyer, who spoke in short, clipped sentences and wore a toothbrush mustache. From the very first day, the new associate office director was highly displeased to see that Dutilleul wore a pince-nez on a chain and a black goatee, and he made a great show of treating him as an obsolete nuisance or a slightly grubby antique.

Far more serious however, was his plan to introduce far-reaching reforms in the office; they seemed specially designed to disturb the peace of his subordinate. For twenty years, Dutilleul had begun all his letters with the following phrase: “In reference to your esteemed correspondence of the 12th of the present month, and furthermore in reference to our previous exchange of letters, I have the honor of writing to inform you that...” Monsieur Lécuyer replaced this with a turn of phrase that had a more American ring to it: “In response to your letter of the 12th, I inform you that...” Dutilleul could not adapt to these epistolary fashions. He couldn’t help himself; he reverted to the traditional formula with a mechanical obstinacy that earned him the growing enmity of the associate director. He began to find the atmosphere at the Ministry of Registration oppressive. He felt apprehensive on his way to work in the morning, and at night in his bed he often lay awake turning things over in his mind for a full fifteen minutes before he could fall asleep.

Monsieur Lécuyer was disgusted by this willful backwardness which was threatening the success of his reforms, so he had Dutilleul’s desk moved to a small dim closet next to his office. It was only accessible by a low narrow door which opened onto the corridor and still bore the inscription “RUBBISH” in capital letters. Dutilleul accepted this unprecedented humiliation with resignation, but at home, whenever he would read in the newspaper about some gory incident, he found himself daydreaming, imagining Monsieur Lécuyer as the victim.

One day, the associate director burst into his closet brandishing a letter and bellowing, “Rewrite this stinking letter! You will rewrite this appalling piece of drivel which is dishonoring my department!”

Dutilleul tried to protest, but Monsieur Lécuyer, in a thunderous voice, called him a hidebound cockroach and as he left, he took the letter he had in his hand, crumpled it up into a ball, and threw it in his face. Dutilleul was modest but proud. He sat alone in his closet, steaming, when suddenly he had an inspiration. He rose from his chair and entered the wall which separated his office from that of the associate director. He was careful to move only partway through the wall, so that just his head emerged on the other side. Monsieur Lécuyer was seated at his work table, his ever-twitching pen shifting a comma in the text an employee had submitted to him for approval. Hearing a quiet cough in his office, he looked up, and discovered to his unspeakable alarm the head (just the head) of Dutilleul stuck to the wall like a hunting trophy. What’s more, the head was alive. It looked over its pince-nez glasses at him with deepest hatred. And then it began to speak.

“Monsieur,” it said, “you are a hoodlum, a boor, and a spoiled brat.”

Gaping with horror, Monsieur Lécuyer couldn’t take his eyes off this apparition. At last, tearing himself out of his chair, he leapt into the corridor and raced to the closet. Dutilleul sat in his usual place, pen in hand, looking perfectly peaceful and industrious. The associate director stared at him for a long moment, mumbled a few words, and went back to his office. No sooner had he sat down then the head reappeared on the wall.

“Monsieur, you are a hoodlum, a boor, and a spoiled brat.”

In the course of a single day, the dreaded head reappeared on the wall twenty-three times, and it kept up the same pace over the following days. Dutilleul became rather good at this game, and he no longer contented himself with shouting abuse at the associate director. He uttered veiled threats; for example, he would cackle demoniacally and wail in a sepulchral voice:

“The Lone Wolf’s on the prowl! Beware! (laughter)
No one’s safe—he’s everywhere! (laughter)”

Whenever he heard this, the poor associate director grew a little paler and made a choking noise; his hair stood straight up on his head and the cold sweat of terror trickled down his back. He lost a pound that first day.

As the week wore on, you could practically see him melting away. He took to eating his soup with a fork and greeting policemen with a smart military salute.

At the beginning of the second week, an ambulance came to his residence and took him away to a sanitarium.

Now that Dutilleul was free of Monsieur Lécuyer’s tyranny, he could return to his cherished phrases: “In reference to your esteemed correspondence of the 27th of the present month...” And yet, he was unsatisfied somehow. There was an unmet demand inside him, a new, urgent need, which was none other than the need to walk through walls.

He could certainly indulge this need easily, at home for example, and he didn’t waste the opportunity. But a man possessed of brilliant gifts cannot satisfy himself for long by exercising them on a mediocre subject. Walking through walls cannot really serve as an end in itself. Rather, it is the first step in an adventure, which calls for continuation, development, and, in short, a payoff. Dutilleul understood this fully. He felt within him a need for expansion, a growing desire to fulfill and surpass himself, and a certain bittersweet pull which was something like the call of the other side of the wall. Unfortunately, what he lacked was a goal. He sought inspiration by reading the newspaper. He paid special attention to the sports and politics sections, as these seemed to be honorable activities, but in the end, he realized that they really didn’t offer any opportunities for people who could walk through walls. That’s when he settled on the police blotter, which turned out to be most suggestive.

Dutilleul’s first burglary took place in an important financial institution on the Right Bank. He passed through a dozen walls and partitions and let himself into various vaults, where he filled his pockets with banknotes. As he left, he signed his work in red chalk, using the alias “The Lone Wolf”, underlined with a distinctive flourish which made it onto the front page of all the newspapers the following morning. Within a week, the name The Lone Wolf had gained extraordinary celebrity. Public sympathy was unreservedly behind this prestigious burglar who so thoroughly flouted the police.

Every night he distinguished himself with some new exploit; sometimes his target was a bank, other times a jewelry store or some wealthy individual. From Paris to the provinces, there wasn’t a woman who, in her daydreams, didn’t nourish a fervent desire to belong to the fearsome Lone Wolf, body and soul. After the theft of the famous Burdigala Diamond and the break-in at the Crédit Municipal the same week, this enthusiasm reached a fever pitch. The Interior Minister was forced to resign, and he brought the Minister of Registration down with him. Nonetheless, Dutilleul, now one of the richest men in Paris, remained perfectly punctual at work; there was talk of awarding him the national medal for service to education. Every morning at the Ministry of Registration, he took great pleasure listening to his colleagues discuss his exploits of the night before. “That Lone Wolf,” they would say, “a great man, Superman, a genius!” Dutilleul blushed with embarrassment to hear such praise, and he beamed with friendship and gratitude from behind his pince-nez on its chain.

One day this sympathetic atmosphere boosted his confidence so much that he thought he would not be able to keep his secret any longer. As his colleagues stood together around a newspaper reading about the burglary at the Bank of France, he studied them shyly, then announced in a modest voice, “As it so happens, I’m the Lone Wolf.” Dutilleul’s confession was greeted with loud and long laughter, and it earned him the derisive nickname “The Lone Wolf”. At night when it was time to leave work, he was the butt of endless jokes from his colleagues, and life lost some of its luster for him.

A few days later, the Lone Wolf got picked up by the night patrol in a jewelry shop on Rue de la Paix. He had affixed his signature to the sales counter and was singing a drinking song while smashing various display windows using a solid gold antique goblet. It would have been easy for him to slip into a wall and escape the night patrol, but in all likelihood he wanted to be arrested, probably with the sole intent of getting even with his colleagues; their disbelief was mortifying.

Indeed, his colleagues were most surprised the next day when the newspapers published Dutilleul’s photograph on the front page. They bitterly regretted underestimating their brilliant comrade and they all saluted him by growing little goatees. A few of them were so carried away with remorse and admiration that they tried to get their hands on the wallets or heirloom watches of their friends and acquaintances.

Now you may well think that letting himself get picked up by the police to astonish a few colleagues shows a great recklessness unworthy of such an exceptional man. But although this act appears willful, his volition had very little to do with the decision. Dutilleul believed that by giving up his freedom, he was giving in to a prideful desire for revenge. In reality, though, he was simply sliding down the slope of his destiny. When a man is able to walk through walls, one can’t really speak of a career until he’s tried prison at least once.

When Dutilleul was taken inside the La Santé prison, he felt as though fate had smiled upon him. The thickness of the walls was a veritable treat for him. The very first morning after he was imprisoned, the astonished guards discovered that the prisoner had driven a nail into his cell wall, and from it he had hung a gold pocket watch belonging to the prison warden. He could not or would not reveal how this object had come into his possession. The watch was restored to its rightful owner, but the next day it was found again on the Lone Wolf’s nightstand, along with the first volume of The Three Musketeers which he had borrowed from the warden’s private library. The prison personnel were under great pressure. Moreover, the guards complained of receiving mysterious kicks in the behind which seemed to come from nowhere; it seemed that the walls didn’t just have ears anymore, but feet as well. The Lone Wolf had been in jail for one week when the warden found the following letter on his desk upon entering his office in the morning.

“Dear Monsieur the Warden,

In reference to our exchange of the 17th of the present month, and furthermore in reference to your general instructions of May the15th preceding, I have the honor of informing you that I have just completed reading the second volume of The Three Musketeers and that I expect to escape tonight between 11:25 and 11:35 p.m.

Most respectfully yours,
The Lone Wolf.”

Despite being under close surveillance that night, Dutilleul escaped at 11:30. When the news hit the streets the following morning, it was greeted everywhere with great enthusiasm. Nonetheless, once Dutilleul had carried out a fresh burglary which raised his popularity to new heights, he didn’t seem very concerned about hiding, and he roamed freely through Montmartre taking no precautions at all. Three days after his escape he was arrested in Rue Caulaincourt at the Café du Rêve a little before noon, as he was enjoying a glass of white wine and lemon with friends.

Dutilleul was taken back to the La Santé Prison and triple locked in a dingy solitary cell; he escaped from it that same evening and spent the night at the warden’s apartment, in the guest room. The following morning around nine o’clock, he rang for the maid to bring him his breakfast. The guards were summoned, and they seized him where he sat in bed, putting up no resistance. The warden was outraged; he posted a guard at the door of Dutilleul’s cell and placed him on bread and water. Around noon, the prisoner went off to have lunch at a restaurant near the prison, and when he finished his coffee, he phoned the warden.

“Hello! Monsieur the Warden, I hate to bother you, but just now when I went out, I neglected to bring along your wallet, and now here I am at the restaurant and I’ve come up short. Would you be so good as to send someone along to settle the bill?”

The warden showed up in person immediately and lost his temper, shouting threats and insults at Dutilleul. Dutilleul’s pride was wounded; he escaped the following night, never to return.

This time he took a few precautions. He shaved off his black goatee and traded his pince-nez on its chain for a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. A billed cap and a checked suit with golf trousers completed his transformation. He settled into a small apartment in Avenue Junot; he had moved some of his furniture there along with his most prized possessions long before his first arrest.

He began to grow tired of his newfound fame, and ever since his stay at La Santé Prison, he had become rather blasé about the pleasure of walking through walls. Even the thickest and most imposing walls now seemed to him nothing more than simple folding screens, and he dreamed of plunging into the heart of some massive pyramid. So while he developed his plan for a trip to Egypt, he was leading the most peaceable of lives, dividing his time between his stamp collection, the movies, and long walks through Montmartre. Clean-shaven now, and wearing his horn-rimmed glasses, his metamorphosis was so complete that he could pass by his best friends without being recognized. Only the painter Gen Paul, who would never fail to notice any sudden change in the countenance of a longtime neighbor, finally unraveled his true identity. One morning he found himself nose to nose with Dutilleul on the corner of the Rue de l’Abreuvoir, and he blurted out in his rough slang:

“Hey daddy-o, I dig the new drape and sky piece! You’re togged to the bricks! With threads like that you must be stachin’ so you don’t get tapped by the fuzz.” Which means, more or less, “I see that you have adopted an elegant disguise so as to escape the attention of the police detectives.”

“Ah,” murmured Dutilleul, “you’ve recognized me!” This made him uneasy and he decided to move up his departure for Egypt. On the very same afternoon he fell in love with a blonde beauty whom he met in Rue Lepic twice in the space of fifteen minutes. He immediately forgot about his stamp collection and Egypt and the pyramids. As for the blonde, she looked at him with great interest. Nothing captures the imagination of young women today like a pair of golf pants and horn-rimmed glasses. That movie producer look sets them dreaming about cocktail parties and Hollywood nights.

Unfortunately, Dutilleul learned from Gen Paul that this beauty was married to a violently jealous man; moreover, he led a rough-and-tumble existence on the streets of Paris and spent his nights on the town. Every night he would abandon his wife from ten at night to four in the morning, but before he would leave, he always made sure to double-lock her in her room and padlock the shutters. During the day he kept a close eye on her; sometimes he would even follow her through the streets of Montmartre.

“Hey, I see you’re still chasin’ that skirt. Take it slow, daddy-o. That chick is fine dinner, but her main on the hitch gets evil if he focuses some cat tryin’ to score his barbecue.”

But Gen Paul’s warning only inflamed Dutilleul’s passion further. The next day he saw the young woman in Rue Tholozé. He boldly followed her into a dairy, and while she was waiting in line, he told her that he loved her respectfully and that he knew about everything—the cruel husband, the locked door and the shutters—but that he would be in her bedroom that very night. The blonde blushed; the milk bottle trembled in her hand and her eyes grew moist with tenderness. She gave a muffled sigh. “Alas Monsieur, that is impossible.”

The evening of that glorious day around ten o’clock found Dutilleul standing like a sentry in Rue Norvins, watching an imposing garden wall; he could only see the weather vane and the chimney of the small house which sat behind it. A door in the wall opened, and a man stepped out. He carefully locked the door behind him and walked off towards Avenue Junot. Dutilleul waited until he was out of sight, until he was all the way down at the bend in the street at the foot of the hill, and then he counted to ten. Then he rushed forward and strode like an athlete into the wall, running straight through the obstacles until he penetrated the bedroom of the lovely recluse. She greeted him ecstatically and they made love late into the night.

Unfortunately, the next day Dutilleul had a terrible headache. He was certainly not going to let something so trivial make him miss his rendezvous. Nonetheless, since he discovered some tablets scattered at the bottom of a drawer, he took one in the morning and one in the afternoon. By evening his headache was tolerable, and in his intense excitement he forgot about it altogether. The young woman was waiting for him, full of impatience aroused by her memories of the previous night; that night they made love until three o’clock in the morning. When he left, Dutilleul passed through the walls of the house and felt an unusual rubbing sensation against his hips and shoulders.

He didn’t think it merited much attention though. In fact, it was only when he entered the garden wall that he felt a definite resistance. He felt as though he were moving through some gel-like substance that was still fluid but was growing thicker; it became firmer the more he struggled. Once he was entirely embedded in the thickness of the wall he realized that he was no longer moving forward. Terrified, he remembered the two tablets that he taken that day. He had thought they were aspirin tablets, but in fact they contained the tetravalent pirette powder that the doctor had prescribed the year before. The effect of the medication combined with intensive exertion produced quite a sudden reaction.

Dutilleul was immobilized inside the wall. He is there to this very day, imprisoned in the stone. When people go walking down the Rue Norvins late at night after the bustle of Paris has died down, they hear a muffled voice which seems to come from beyond the grave; they think it’s the sound of the wind whistling through the streets of Montmartre. It’s Lone Wolf Dutilleul lamenting the end of his glorious career and mourning his all too brief love affair. Sometimes on winter nights the painter Gen Paul takes down his guitar and heads down to the lonely, echoing Rue Norvins to console the poor prisoner with a song. Its notes take flight from his numb fingers and penetrate to the heart of the stone like drops of moonlight.

A story by Marcel Aymé (1943) , translated by Karen Reshkin Copyright 2006, All rights reserved

Printable PDF version here - along with some other stories.



Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Italian film producer Ponti dies

Italian film producer Carlo Ponti, the husband of actress Sophia Loren, has died in Geneva at the age of 94.

Ponti was admitted to hospital about 10 days ago for pulmonary complications, the family said in a statement.

Ponti married Loren in 1957 when she was just 22 but the marriage was later annulled. They remarried in 1966.
"He died overnight," Loren's niece Alessandra Mussolini said. "It was a peaceful death, there was not a particular problem.

"His wife and children were with him. Sophia has always been with him throughout."

Kenny Everett

Kenny Everett (who I mentioned in a previous post) was born Maurice Cole in Crosby, Merseyside, Liverpool on 25 December 1944 and died 4 April 1995 - his first break (as Maurice Cole) came when he sent a tape to the BBC in 1962. The BBC gave him an interview and offered him a job as a presenter on the Light Programme, the forerunner to BBC Radio 2. He declined, however, in favour of the less constrained world of pirate radio, where he began his career as a DJ for Radio London. Kenny teamed up with Dave Cash for the 'Kenny & Cash Show' one of the most popular pirate radio programmes. His offbeat style and likeable personality quickly gained him attention, but in 1965 he was fired after some outspoken remarks about religion on air. Like most of the pirate stations, Radio London carried sponsored American evangelical shows, and Everett's disparaging remarks about The World Tomorrow caused its producers to threaten to withdraw their lucrative contract with the station.

Everett returned six months later, however, before being given his own show by Radio Luxembourg in 1966. Within a year, he had joined the BBC's new pop music station Radio 1 after previewing The Beatles' new album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and interviewing the band. Everett had struck up a friendship with The Beatles and accompanied them on their 1966 tour of the United States, sending back daily reports for Radio London. He also produced their 1968 and 1969 Christmas records.

At Radio 1 Everett continued to develop his own unique presentation style, featuring zany voices, surreal characters, multi-tracked jingles and trailers, all of his own creation and compilation. It was ground-breaking radio material that has since been much copied.

In 1970, however, Everett again found himself fired, this time after suggesting on air that the British Transport Minister's wife had bribed her driving test examiner. Following an interview on the BBC Radio Solent children's show Albert's Gang, Kenny submitted weekly shows to the station that he had pre-recorded at home. This afforded the BBC the opportunity to vet the shows before broadcast. Everett was then heard on various BBC local radio stations before being reinstated at Radio 1 in 1972.

During this time, legislation had been passed allowing the licensing of commercial radio stations in the UK. One of the first, Capital Radio, began broadcasting to London and the Home Counties in 1973. Everett joined the station and was given his own show, where he further developed his distinctive ideas. From 1974 to 1980 he presented the station's breakfast show, initially alongside Dave Cash, a friend and colleague from Radio London days, and later as the sole presenter. Subsequently, he moved to a less high-pressure timeslot at Capital, a transfer that was made upon medical advice and which was associated with complications in his personal life.

"Bohemian Rhapsody"
During his time at Capital Radio, Everett was given a copy of a new single (which record companies felt was too long to be successful) from Queen by the group's lead singer, Freddie Mercury, a good friend, with the proviso that it was not to be played on the air. As expected, Mercury's reverse psychology worked – Everett loved the song and began to play it several times a night on his show (once claiming that "his finger slipped"), helping the song — "Bohemian Rhapsody" — to go quickly to number one in the UK. So greatly did Everett love this song he played it 14 times in one day when it was released. It went on to become a world-wide hit.

In October 1981, Everett returned to BBC Radio, albeit this time on Radio 2, on Saturday lunchtime from 11am-1pm. This lasted until 1983, when he was once again dismissed after making a rude joke about Margaret Thatcher. He then returned to Capital Radio, presenting the same slot as he did on Radio 2.

After Capital split its frequencies in 1988 he was heard on Capital Gold, with a line-up that included people like Tony Blackburn and David Hamilton. Everett presented the afternoon show and then moved to the mid-morning show. He left in 1994 when his health deteriorated to the point that he was unable to continue.

The joke that reportedly led to the non-renewal of his contract with BBC-2:

"When England was a kingdom, we had a king. When we were an empire, we had an emperor. Now we're a country ... and we have Margaret Thatcher."

Romania's street children feel the heat.

A young girl looks up from a hole in the street leading to the underground steam system where she lives. Slideshow:

Instead of making the children (actually they look more like young adults) move on why are the authorities not trying to find homes for them?

Haynes beats Heaney to Costa crown

The Guardian
Seamus Heaney, the Nobel laureate who despite his pride in his Irish passport is considered the honorary heavyweight champion of British poets, was sensationally beaten last night - as boxing scribes would put it - by an outsider.

He was defeated for this year's £5,000 Costa poetry award by John Haynes, a writer with no big literary prizefighting experience. Heaney's usually overwhelming Anglo-Saxon epithets were outscored by Haynes's lighter but cumulatively telling iambic pentameters, sustained over the 52 cantos of a book-length performance.

'I'm broke, the money will be welcome,' says £5,000 prize winner John Haynes

Kiruna prepares to relocate

Sweden's northernmost town of Kiruna will move its centre a few kilometres away to save it from sinking into the ground due to underground cracks created by iron ore mining, officials said on Tuesday.In order to continue to operate the lucrative mine, in the next few decades, the town centre will need to be moved, including all major buildings, the railroad, the railroad station, the terminal, the newly-built highway, homes, water and sewage systems and electrical systems.

Greater Kiruna has 23,500 inhabitants.

Jailbird released after friend faxes prison

A fax from a friend was all that it took for a remand prisoner to escape from a Swedish jail last month. Prison officials have promised to tighten up procedures after the incident, but they have already ruled out extra punishment for the prisoner.The error occurred in the run-up to Christmas at a remand centre in Uppsala. The fax ordering the release was on an official form and purported to come from the city's district court.

The man was being held awaiting trial on charges of serious assault.Prison service spokeswoman AnneMarie Dahlgren told The Local that staff at the remand centre tried to call the court to get the man’s release order confirmed, but with many court workers off work ahead of Christmas, nobody could take their calls. The prison decided to release the man anyway.“It was the best they could do in the circumstances. To keep him locked up would have been worse.”The prisoner was caught a few days following his escape, and he was put back into custody. Dahlgren ruled out punishing the escapee.“It’s not a crime to escape, so the prisoner has done nothing wrong.” ... other than serious assault! More: