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Portsmouth October 17, 2005

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Portsmouth is not a city I know well, but I am impressed to see the number of architectural stories it can generate. This building, brought to my attention in the comments to this post, stunned me with its flagrant hideousness. But now Portsmouth has got this too and not without scandal, delay and budget overruns galore. The local MP’s quote in the BBC piece is delicious. “It is a wonderful structure with a magnificent view and I am full of admiration for it. But it is an icon of municipal incompetence and blundering. It should never have been built in the first place.” I have to have a bit of a snigger at yet another British municipal project running over budget and way beyond its deadline. (This was meant to be ready in time for the millennium.) British Library. Scottish Parliament. Millennium Bridge. But I hope it’s a roaring success, of course, as these projects can be (The Eye springs to mind) and that it will become much beloved of Portmuthians everywhere.

Update: Click here for further very amusing goings-on on the subject…

A Day of Solidarity with Belarus October 16, 2005

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I haven’t quite yet worked out why today, specifically, but October 16th is A Day of Solidarity with Belarus (link in English also available), when folk have been asked to switch off the lights at 8pm and burn a candle in their window. OK, so I’m as sceptcial about this sort of gesture as the next man, but the lights are off and I’ve got my candles burning, struggling against the breeze our clearly non-airtight windows are exposing them to. Anyway, with the amount of information that gets out about anything to do with anti-Lukashenka resistance in Belarus, probably only twelve people in the country itself knew about this ‘protest’ and lit up against the dictator. But let us not despair. I’m all for anything that reminds folk of those who have suffered at Lukashenka’s hands. Solidarity is indeed what is called for as the opposition, such as it is, aims to unite against the incumbent in next year’s elections. Solidarity from without is necessary too, of course. Of the important players, only Russia – surprise, surprise – isn’t active in opposing Lukashenka, though at least there’s not the active support there once was.

In the cold light of day, or chilly candlelight of the first wintry evening of the autumn, of course one feels despondent about the chances of getting rid of Europe’s last dictator. But these movements must start somewhere. The opposition now has some good years of experience behind it and claims to have learnt from the mistakes of the last presidential campaign. You just have to hope the point of Lukashenka’s increasing isolation will make itself felt amongst the Belarusians themselves.

Talking shop October 16, 2005

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This should have a few people shouting, “Hear, hear,” at their computer screens. The Colombian President thanked his Spanish hosts for their lavish hospitality at the twice-weekly Let’s-Get-Together-and-Compare-Regional-Variations-of-Spanish-No-Really?-Do-You-Only-Use-the-Usted-Form-in-Costa-Rica?-Vosotros-Still-Exists-in-Spain-but-Has-Died-Out-Elsewhere very important summit PERO then said, “Hey, boys, maybe we should stop spending a few million on this each time. Whaddaya think?” Mind you, I’m happy to read in the last paragraph that Enrique’s decided to branch into politics too. You can’t rest on your laurels these days and only have a career in pop music…

Baccara or Bach? October 15, 2005

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The Russian and I were having a depressingly average Saturday evening in. Drink had been taken, as I believe our friends across the Irish Sea say, and we were looking for ways to needle each other as goes with the territory after almost six years of conjugal bliss. Queenily, we were listening to a compilation of songs recorded by a friend of mine in London. I was bleating along happily to “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” by Baccara when the Russian, clearly disapproving my attempts at homebound stardom, said, “Ha! See! Thirty years ago they sang their song and people are still singing along to it today. Think you could come up with something so long-lasting?” I thought Baccara was hardly something to aspire to on the creativity front but did decide to point out that people have been listening to Bach for almost 300 years, so almost 30 is not such an achievement. The Russian claims only a select few listen to Bach and that more listen to Baccara. “Bollocks,” I scoffed, half-cut-ly (as our friends across the Irish Sea…). But he isn’t right, is he? Who’s the more listened to? Is it Bach? Or is it Baccara? I shall emigrate to some cultural wasteland – a couple of kilometres up the road should do – and detach myself from civilisation if the Spanish chicks win out over J.S.. Let me know…

Glitch October 13, 2005

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I hope it’s a temporary glitch, but my site now only appears to show itself in all its glory if you put the www in the address. Without, you get some truncated nonsense. All very distressing, I’m sure you’ll agree…

More more Bennett October 12, 2005

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From Bennett’s Untold Stories. Florence is Alan’s cousin, married to Frank. They run a boarding-house in Blackpool. Bennett describes a letter received from cousin Flo at the Bennett household…

‘Halfway down the second page came the sentence: “Frank died last week, haven’t we been having some weather?” Seldom can a comma have borne such a burden.’

I think if you read that sentence back to yourself in a slightly lugubrious Leeds accent, it might well raise a titter.

Wichtige Ereignisse October 12, 2005

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Yes, monumental days in Germany. As the new power line-up makes itself all the more concrete, Gerhard has made it crystal clear that he will have no role in the new government. However, another theme of far greater importance for both Germany AND foreign parts is being discussed here, with spin-off comment here. Just what is to be done about this quandary of multikulti living? There seems to be no straightforward answer. The soul-searching will go on…

More Bennett October 12, 2005

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Another soon-to-be-out-of-date link (but at least the link will always be for something interesting) is here with a so-far-so-good-seeming (I’m listening now) interview with Alan Bennett by Mark Lawson. Such a good and decent man (the former, not the latter.) (I’m sure the latter’s perfectly respectable too.)

Untold Stories October 11, 2005

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I refuse to believe anyone couldn’t find Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories captivating. OK, I will believe it, if I must, but I thoroughly recommend listening to the author reading them on Radio 4. (I expect that link will only be valid for a week. Never mind.) It’s Bennett at his best, talking about the things he knows best – family, depression, Leeds, and with all that brilliantly colloquial language and lampooning of all the jargon of modern-day life. I adore the way that Bennett – as can Mike Leigh, incidentally – can make you want to laugh and cry simultaneously. That’s an awfully good skill, in literature and life itself. Get listening.

Belarusian Association of Journalists October 11, 2005

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The BAJ is keeping me up-to-date on Narodnaja Volia’s fight to stay alive. Drop in on them in the language of your choice. Well, Народная Воля seems to be putting up a real fight to battle on. They’ve had to start printing their paper in Russia as no Belarusian printing house would work with them any more. I think this is what we have to call committed journalism, and good for them. There’s extremely grim reading here, only in Belarusian, on a vox pop asking Belarusians who might be an alternative to Lukashenka. The majority see no alternative. They know no-one else. Can’t name the new united opposition candidate. Or, most depressingly of all, say all is OK as it is, and at least there’s peace. Лишь бы войны не было. You can have democracy and peace, of course. Just as you can have order and bread… Anyway, this type of reading makes me think I’m in cloud cuckoo land as far as Belarus is concerned. I don’t live there, obv, and have no real comprehension of just how little info people have about anyone non-Lukashenka. Are the people/groups/activists we read about here even heard of in Belarus? Or are they just our western luxury? It would be so interesting to get the views of some REAL Belarusians on this. Is there any realistic chance of a Belarus without Lukashenka in the near future?

Why ask why? October 10, 2005

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Well, we will always ask questions, of course, as we’re that type of beast, but, in my behind-the-times-as-ever kind of way – I’m going to discover tamagotchi soon – I can’t help largely agreeing with Christopher Hitchens’ musings on the second spate of attacks in Bali. We can try to blame ourselves or government policy or each other as much as we like. When push comes to shove, the people to blame are the hate-filled, f***wit, scumking losers who kill those who disagree with them. I heard Wole Soyinka on Radio 4 giving a Reith lecture an age ago and he talked of the depressingly frightening ‘I’m-right-you’re-dead’ brand of politics from the philosophically insane. Dimness and death make ill bedfellows. I’m too dim to work out how to live on and argue my case so I’ll kill myself and whomsoever else I feel like. Not a good life’s mission. RIP its victims.

Swearing and football October 10, 2005

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I’ve noticed there’s rather a lot of swearing in this blog, which I hope isn’t minded awfully, and that I won’t get ‘flagged’ (or sent off) for.

Now forgive me playing the het and trying to be one of the boys, but I have to mention two sporting events which thrilled me this weekend.

The first is Kimi. I actually couldn’t watch the race because I was busy with nonsense, but apparently the flying Finn drove like a total dream and put a bit of vavoom back in the sport. He’s rather stolen the real champion’s thunder this season, methinks, and I hope he’ll thrill us endlessly next season, if he hasn’t drunk himself permanently over the limit by then…

The second is the African qualifiers for the World Cup. Is everyone/anyone else as thrilled as I am at four countries gaining qualification for the first time? As I zapped idly on Saturday evening, Eurosport was showing (at the same time as a German channel was showing the incredibly dull England-Österreich) Cameroon v Egypt on a bobbly pitch in Yaoundé. Now I like Cameroon and remember Roger Milla wiggling at the flagpost with glee. But I also knew that if they didn’t win and Côte d’Ivoire (or Elfenbeinküste, as the country is called in German) did, then the latter would progress for the first time ever. In the fifth minute of injury time, with the score on aforementioned bobbly pitch at 1-1 and with relentless pressure from the home side – I think I’d make quite a good het – it all seemed to have paid off and Cameroon were awarded a penalty (and they’d probably all somehow heard that C d’I had won or was winning in Sudan). Unbearable tension. Up steps local hero, sends the keeper the wrong way and… whacks the ball off the post and covers himself in opprobrium. Poor bloke. But hurrah for C d’I. And more hurrahs for Angola, Togo and Ghana, all also there for the first time. Obviously I’ll be rooting for ‘our boys’ next year – I hope they’re based in Berlin – but I shall be following the fortunes of the ‘minnows’ too. Go Angola!

Tag der Entscheidung October 10, 2005

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Yes, so we’ve finally (almost) got our Chancellor(ette) and it’s about as much of a surprise as Brazil winning the World Cup that it’s Angie. As I type, she’s glowering away on the TV behind me, but, in her defence, this is the 83rd time I’ve seen her on TV today and she must be bored of answering the same old questions. The foreign press keep asking her if she’s happy, rather than the boring old practical questions about VAT and the dreary like that the locals are asking and she has allowed her face to break into a (n actually rather lovely) smile. Of course she can’t dare say she’s over the moon, in seventh heaven, chuffed to bollocks, but she will at least admit ‘the mood is good’ but that there’s much work ahead. True, of course.

Gerhard’s conspicuously absent today. Not that the SPD need feel majorly humbled. They’ve negotiated like the best of the German trade unions, by the looks of things, and have actually secured themselves more ministries to run than Angie’s own CDU. In any case, this still all has to be quatsched over a good bit more, in true German style, and then everyone and his dog has to vote for it but, soon enough, Angie will be confirmed as Kanzlerin.

I have to say I’m rather happy. I don’t know if this is to do with settled middle age, or with the nights drawing in and sitting gemütlichly at home with the heating on or just having turned into a miserable old wanker, but Angie seems all right. Capable and intelligent. Yes, not drop-your-Calvins gorgeous, but why the hell should she be? And the last few weeks of exploratory talks, as they call them here, must have been fairly hellish. There must have been times when she thought she’d blown it and, admittedly, her reign has got off to a less than resounding start, but I for one am glad Germany’s got a new set-up and I’ve been vaguely enthusiastic about the grand coalition since election day. Let’s see if the big parties can get things done together… We’re not left with much of an opposition, of course, and Guido must be gutted, but such is politics, and one can’t feel THAT sorry for anyone who goes into it with their eyes open.

And Germany’s first female Chancellor to boot. Good evening from new Germany!

Народная Воля (так!) October 8, 2005

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On second thoughts, what I wrote in the early hours about Belarus’s last independent paper being shut down might have been hasty of me (even though the news was hardly fresh – slow out of the blocks as ever. I’ll be commenting on England winning the World Cup soon). They are certainly having distribution and printing problems, but it looks like they’re not giving up without a fight, and good for them for that reason alone. The press in Belarus needs whatever struggling rays of light it can get and not only because Lukashenka has a stranglehold over the country’s media but big brother next door tends to stick its oar in at vital times too. I was living in Russia before the last elections in 2001 and just days beforehand, Russian TV showed a puking, 6-hour-long (well, it seemed like that), prime-time, fly-on-the-wall documentary about good old Alex and what a diamond geezer he was, hunting, fishing and playing ice-hockey. The old sod might have lost a bit of favour in Moscow since then but I can hardly imagine Putin clamouring to support the opposition next year, an opposition that’s almost bound to favour closer ties with the west and a loosening of Russia’s influence (à la Yushchenko, in other words). Not that Belarusians have anything against Russia, of course, but it’s hard to see democracy flourishing if your only pal and mentor is Putin’s realm (OK, with Iran and North Korea as B-list mates).

The people’s will (not) October 8, 2005

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Depressing, but not surprising reading from this excellent source of information on the foggy concept of Eurasia. So the main opposition newspaper in Belarus is gone. Woefully information-starved folk will now go even hungrier, and the robustness of Lukashenka’s rule looks safe for another mandate at least. With no-one to rally behind, unless Milinkevich can perform miracles, the opposition looks as marginalised as ever. (Mind you, I like what I’ve read of Milinkevich so far. It’s hard to think of him belonging to the same species as Lukashenka, never mind wanting to get involved in a political wrestling match with him. I wonder what fate holds in store for him.) I have seen Zianon Pazniak has also declared his intention to run in the presidential elections next year, though I don’t know how effective he can be from exile. When I first got interested in Belarus and all things Belarusian, Mr. Pazniak seemed a pretty major player, but I don’t know if he is now seen as a serious figure in Belarus at all, or is even remembered. And I wonder what his Conservative Christian Party’s manifesto says… (At least it would be in Belarusian.)

On masturbation and good (blogly) neighbourliness October 8, 2005

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I never seem to have as much time for this blog as when I’m in the middle of the dreariest translation known to mankind. Funny that. Anyway, blogdom provides many a moment of joy. I decided to post a comment on a fairly recently-discovered blog and found myself having to type the word ‘masturbation’ – funny how things work out – and then had a minor fret that this would be seen as rather ill-mannered of a first time guest, but not only was my intrusion not repelled, it was veritably welcomed by the blog’s host so I want to thank him for his hospitality and good neighbourliness – in blogosphere terms; he’s in the south of Germany – and encourage you to go and visit his blog. It’s a major hoot.

Good job, bad job October 7, 2005

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OK, this is a post that specifically asks for answers so that a) I get some comments and b) I remind myself that I’m not that badly off. But as I sit at my computer on a Friday night, translating an insurance policy and thinking, ‘What could be worse?’, I would like to be reminded which jobs in the world really are worse. Whose (working) lot is worse than that of a (technical) translator? Have me whooping for joy as I realise that I am lucky not to be a Silesian coal-miner, if there is such a thing, or make me feel bad that I dare to complain when I could be an Uighur seamstress (again, if there is…). And if anyone can give me some random tips on a lovely job to switch to, then I’d be quadruply happy.

OK, back to the grind…

A single CD up for grabs October 6, 2005

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There is a single CD up for grabs here. I think it needs to be claimed and given a good (or bad will do) home. I have received said CD in the post, and it is a wonderful rejuvenating elixir and has knocked years off my middle-aged frame and blown the cobwebs out of my fogeyish earlobes. Make its compiler’s day…

Lukashenka’s rival October 3, 2005

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The Belarusian united opposition has chosen its single candidate for next year’s presidential elections. This piece from the Russian-language BBC site (can’t find anything in English on the subject at the beeb yet) is interesting for its description of alleged dirty tricks by the powers that be and the fact that Президент Лукашенко заявил недавно, что “в 2006 году оппозиции в Беларуси не будет” (President Lukashenka declared recently that, “by 2006 there won’t be an opposition in Belarus”).

My heart sank slightly on hearing the news that Milinkevich had been chosen over Lyabedzka. This is not because Milinkevich is a loathsome sort. I know almost nothing about him. And I think I’m not alone in this. I’m not sure what sort of profile Lyabedzka has in Belarus, but he is, at least, the leader of an established political party and his name occurs frequently in the Belarusian press, whereas this Milinkevich is an unknown. He doesn’t seem charismatic either, although maybe this isn’t such a priority in Belarus as it is in the UK or Germany.

In any case, with press coverage absent or skewed, you have to worry about how much of an impact Milinkevich will have at the elections – an unknown beardy against the omnipotent and ubiquitous Lukashenka. But he’s now the only hope. If the incumbent wins a constitution-crushing third term, this could well prove to have been the opposition’s last hurrah.

Greek Tragedies October 1, 2005

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Cor blimey! What a 20th century those Greeks had, eh! If it wasn’t mass refugee influxes from Odessa (Red Army arriving) (or Turkey, death throes of Ottoman Empire), it was the Second World War and Civil War. All of this is embodied in the first part of Theo Angelopoulos’s trilogy, The Weeping Meadow (or Τριλογία 1: Το Λιβάδι που δακρύζει, if we want to be flash and make sure I get as many of the world’s scripts on here as possible) in the shape of the film’s heroine, Eleni, Greece personified. The film looks delicious with oodles of water imagery (death and destruction), trains (change, upheaval) and emotions expressed in a way that an English soul can only shudder at. I shall look forward to parts 2 and 3, no doubt covering the years of dictatorship (part 2) and Greece winning the European Championships and the Olympic Games in Athens (part 3). This was very kindly sent to me by the ever-generous DJ Lukeski who is giving away music here. Yes. Free CDs!