Monday, December 31, 2007

And your little dog, too !

Apparently, there have been a newsworthy number of people who have been moved by recent tragic mauling of a toddler in Wakefield. Moved to the extent that they want to decommission the dangerous dogs they have lying around the house, chewing on the furniture.

Finally ! To me, "The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991" is badly named in that all dogs are dangerous. Having been nipped by a Jack Russell myself, I can say it's not just the ones the size of small ponies that need to muzzled.

In fact, only four types of dogs are banned under the Act :
* the Pit Bull Terrier;
* the Japanese tosa;
* the Dogo Argentino;
* the Fila Brasileiro

Let's extend it to anything with teeth and more than two legs.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Answers To "Stan's Christmas Crossword"


7 IS-LET : If something "is let" it is occupied
9 INFO : "skinny" in this case meaning "information" - a 4-letter anagram shouldn't have been too trying
10 GAME-KEEPER - Someone brave is "game" and in soccer a 'keeper is the only one who can have the number one on their back
13 ATILLA - sounds like "A Tiller"
15 GIFT - German for poison is "gift" and you're always told to beware of Greeks bearing gifts. "Gift" in Swedish means married - but I thought that would be too obscure
17 S(TAR)S - "tar" is a sailor. A ship is an "SS" in crosswordese e.g the SS Titanic. The "stars and bars" was the old Confederate flag(standard).
18 ROSE - too easy
19 BERLIN - Irving Berlin - Bing (25) Crosby was dreaming of a "White Christmas"
20 ESS-TEE-MED - Sounds like S and T and then the Swedish for "with" (gave into the temptation to do something Swedish - so sue me)
23 DRUMMER-BOY - Bing (25) with David Bowie pollute every Christmas with this one.
26 T(I)VO - TV is the box, put 1 in to make TIV and then have 0 on to make TIVO - a digital video recorder.
27 E-PROM - a type of computer memory that keeps what is stored after the electricity (current) is switched off
28 NEOCONS - "Neo Conservatives" are the American right-wingers who made xenophobia and intolerance fashionable for a while - anagram of (no cones)


1 SUBORBITAL - anagram of (Rabbit soul)
3 OGAM - an ancient kind of rune writing. It's (No game) with the first and last letters removed.
4 SICK-BAYS - A BAY is a reddy/browny horse
5 BLUE - my attempt at a quadruple definition - probably too easy
6 DONNA - sounds like Donner
8 TREBLES - a treble definition ...
12 SLADE - reference to the start of "(So here it is) Merry Christmas" and an anagram of "leads"
14 TURKEY-TROT - A Trot is a Trotskyite or generally someone who is slightly to the left of what is comfortable for you.
17 SUNBEAM - anagram of "Ban Muse" and refers to the children's hymn "Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam", sent-up by the Vaselines and made famous by Nirvana
21 T(OYBO)X - the state is Texas (abbreviation TX), the rest is an anagram of "Yobo"
22 ELVES - steEL VESt.
24 MARX - start with "Mary" (the original Madonna) and change y to x (change the variable)
25 BI-N-G - Someone who is "Bi" swings both ways, and NG is No Good in crosswordese. Reference to Bing Crosby, who I am accusing of nothing of the sort.

Friday, December 28, 2007

If homosexuality is a disease, can I call into work 'gay'?

You've got to admire the sheer optimism of the Spanish clergyman who thinks he can cure homosexuality.

In his family, he reinforces masculine roles by watching professional wrestling with his two sons. He also advises fathers to "hug your sons as much as you can, because if you don't, perhaps another man will".

Aside from the issue about whether there's a "gay gene", it seems obvious that watching professional wrestling will not turn a gay boy straight in much the same way that watching Judy Garland musicals will not turn a straight boy gay.

He seems to have such a stereotyped view of what gay people are. Doesn't he realise that gay people come in all shapes and sizes - some of them are even professional wrestlers and Spanish clergymen.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

O little town ...

According to the report on the BBC, the Greek Orthodox contingent wanted to place a ladder over Armenian airspace at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. They were trying to clear up a bit after the Catholic bash on December 25th and before their celebration on January 6th.

Armenians have to wait until January 19th for their Christmas, so were probably a bit cranky after watching everyone else on the planet opening their presents.

In the broom fight that followed, four people were injured and the already-shaky reputation of Christianity for tolerance was badly bruised. Please tell me there's footage on YouTube - would love to see the old guys in robes and long beards square off with brooms - like Jedi Knights with light sabres ...

The history behind the three different dates of Christmas is interesting (well, to me anyway).

The pagan celebration of Saturnalia was celebrated on December 25 in Rome, while Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 6. The pope of the day, Sylvester, in order to abolish the pagan feast, moved the celebration of Jesus's birthday from January 6 to December 25, but the Armenian church had no reason to change the date because there was no pagan feast in Armenia on December 25. Since the Armenians maintain the ancient date of Christmas as well as the old (Julian) calendar, 13 days are added to January 6, postponing Armenian Christmas until January 19 on the modern (Gregorian) calendar.

Anyway, that's the reason why three Christian sects can share the same church and have the celebration of the birth of their founder on three separate days.

And the point to this : these three groups have so much in common. If these guys can't share nicely, how are the Israelis and the Palestinians ever going to get together?

Just to rub it in, Islamic extremists killed Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), whose creed begins "Islam is our faith ...".

Whatever it is that will bring the world together - it certainly isn't going to be religion.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Stan's Christmas Crossword

6 Throwing water on American in the process of taking action (7)
7 Land seen to be occupied (5)
9 Muddle on if skinny (4)
10 Brave one on his back carries a gun (10)
11 Famous once; at least now it sounds as if they at least haven't run out of jelly or coffee (3-5)
13 Dangerous man on horseback sounds like a farmer. (6)
15 Appropriate at this time of year, except the German equivalent is poison and the Greek one is most unwelcome. (4)
17 Sailor in a ship - just add bars to produce the old standard (5)
18 Wine went up (4)
19 25's dreams around this time of year were created by him. (6)
20 Do I hear a letter ? Do I hear the next letter ? With Swedish, this is something that gets respect (8)
23 Little one assocated with 25 at this time of year (7,3)
26 One in box when there's nothing on ? Useful gadget when there's more than one thing on, actually. (4)
27 English-American Party. Memory that lingers, even though no longer current. (5)
28 Right thinking people leave no cones upturned (7)

1 Rabbit soul breaks up. Must fall to earth quite soon. (10)
2 These bells are heard at Advent. Advert ? (6)
3 "No game is endless" - an ancient inscription (4)
4 Unfit horses in medical facilities (8)
5 Rude, cold, depressed and sporty (4)
6 She sounds like one of Santa's reindeer (5)
8 Good darts ! Big drinks ! High voices ! (7)
12 "It's Christmas !" shouts the one who leads. Leads to break-up, one could say. (5)
14 A bird and a communist dance (6,4)
16 Loose diamonds ? (3-4)
17 Jesus' chosen ones ban muse ? (8)
21 Mixed-up hooligan in a state that produces something to keep the nursery tidy ? (6)
22 Santa's helpers in a steel vest. (5)
24 A variable changes and Madonna becomes a radical thinker (4)
25 Sexually adaptable ? No good for a singer with a wholesome image. (4)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I definitely need some kind of stress-counselling after sitting through the series finale of BBC's Spooks. OK, the plots don't stand up to any kind of analysis but the acting is first-class and the dialogue is wonderful (e.g Ros in episode 8 - after double or triple-crossing Everyone; Everyone now wants to kill her. She's in a hopeless position and her line is the inspired
"I don't want to be dead. There are books I want to read and I still hate my kitchen!"

The series finale is totally bereft of laughs, but more than makes up for it in emotional drama and tension. I won't spoil the ending - mostly because I can't be sure whether the worst actually happened.

Either way, it was powerful stuff, landing some good political blows, and hopefully dissuading a lot of unsuitable people from joining MI5. We're told that not only are the hours bad, and the risks high, but the money isn't much good either (even with the Luncheon Vouchers). You can't even fall back on the "serving your country" or "being the good guys". British Intelligence has for real been very much the bad guys (hint: Northern Ireland) and has acted in complete opposition to our interests (hint : bugging and generally spying on private citizens and their elected representatives).

I only "discovered" Spooks this series, and I'm delighted that there are 5 previous series for me to watch. Should keep me amused until Series 7 is made. Assuming enough characters walk or crawl away from the Series 6 finale to make a Series 7 worthwhile.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Telic and Herrick

I wrote a letter to a soldier the other day. It was to Sergeant-Major Stan, my brother, who is away over Christmas playing an undisclosed part in my country's foreign policy. Or he's trying to support his family the best way he knows. Either way, he's a hero and I'm very proud of him.

Writing the letter was very strange. Not just because I can't remember the last time I hand-wrote a letter, but also because it's so First World War. All those amazing letters home from the front from men knee-deep in muck and bullets.

There are army families who I'm sure get blasé about it all. Look at all the wars that British soldiers have fought in over the years. The Stan Clan don't have (to my knowledge) any kind of military background, so we're all pretty spooked about the Sarge putting himself in Harm's Way.

And if you're British, and don't know what Telic and Herrick are - you should be really quite ashamed. Telic is the British Operations in Iraq and Herrick is the equivalent in Afghanistan. You're paying for them : get yourselves informed.

According to the hilarious ARRSEpedia (wiki written by some very switched-on squaddies) :-

"After a brief war, Op TELIC became something like a sunny, dusty version of what Northern Ireland was like in the 70s and 80s with British soldiers watching bemusedly as the locals killed each other for no particularly comprehensible reason.

TELIC is alleged to stand for Tell Everyone Leave Is Cancelled."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

She is older than the rocks among which she sits

Today's Guardian crossword was an absolute belter. It is always an utter delight to pit my wits against the 86-year old vicar, "Araucaria" whose range of knowledge is staggering and who has such a fine way of presenting a clue - you can tell he loves poetry.

Today's puzzle was built around the Mona Lisa - and the title of this post is one of the solutions. So, you either needed to know the work of the 19th century art critic Walter Pater, or you could solve a 39-letter anagram. Or you could get a bunch of other clues right, take a wild guess and check it on Google.

Anyway, I just thought this was just such an excellent description of the Mona Lisa - made me want to go and take a closer look. So I did - and so should you.

What a truly excellent painting ! It has been a cliche for centuries but it is an incandescent piece of work. Very complex and subtle. As Stanley Kubrick once said
“How could we possibly appreciate the Mona Lisa if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: 'The lady is smiling because she is hiding a secret from her lover.'"

Update : It looks like Option 3 : "get a bunch of other clues right, take a wild guess and check it on Google" was a very popular option. Over the weekend I've had over 200 hits on this post from puzzled Guardian crossword solvers. Doesn't sound like much, but it's a factor of ten more than my usual readership.

Note to Araucaria : I know this quotation is front-and-centre in your obviously well-thumbed 1936 copy of "The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892–1935" (editor : W.B Yeats), but it seems it was slightly on the obscure side for most Guardian-readers (myself included). It was a blindingly good clue though.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ded Zepellin - This is NOT 1976

Sorry, I've been working my rear off for the last couple of weeks, so Radio Stan has been off the air. Thanks to Kenny for standing-in and reminding me how much I love Dolly Parton's music. No, our Kenny is not Kenny Rogers.

Now Dolly is someone who has been playing non-stop since she was knee-high to a Chevvy and she's been working with different acts in different genres ever since. Not just Country AND Western. She's been learning and developing although I'm sure she'd sing "Jolene" if you asked nicely.

Compare with Led Zeppelin who came out of their hermetically-sealed bubble of 1976 to become their own tribute act yesterday.

Look, I love their music. "Whole Lotta Love" is in my top list and "Stairway to Heaven" is Perfect in the same way that the Bach Cello Suites are Perfect. Utterly compelling from start to finish. I even had to leave off typing to listen it at this point. Twice. Then I listened to the Bach Suite No.1 - which I love, despite it being my ringtone and associated in my mind with losers wanting me to do work.

My hope is that after this one charity gig, Plant & Page (definitely not forgetting Jones - the most talented in my opinion) go back to doing their separate projects. Led Zeppelin does not exist as a living entity and hasn't done for thirty years. Pretending otherwise may fool some of the people - OK, really quite of a lot of people it seems - but it doesn't fool me.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I'm afraid this a guest post.

Stan and I used to sit doing crosswords in the pub in St Albans. I hate to admit it but he's way better than I. During that time (and I may have mentioned it before but can't recollect or be bothered to search through the archives), we kind of rediscovered Dolly Parton. I've blogged about this on my own site, but it really was a seminal moment for me.

I'd never given her much time in my musical listenings even though my father in law was a country music buff who knocked around with Roy Orbison and was an all round complete muso. Sadly he died a couple of months ago and I never got to say goodbye.

Anyway Stan, a bloke called R and I used to sit in The Horn over lunch doing the crosswords. The barmaid in there was a massive Dolly Parton fan (strange she was more goth/rock than any girl I have ever met). But every day, on came on the Dolly at her behest.

One day, Stan turned to us and said something along the lines of "Isn't this weird -- we're in a rock venue, listening to Dolly Parton and doing the crosswords? And none of it seems odd." I went back to the hotel and had a good cogitate on that one. Finally I agreed with that statement. It was truly bizarre.

The barmaid was called Lauren, and her manager Sarah, who I still keep in touch with, was equally as keen on the Dolly. They are personally responsible for God knows how many Dolly Parton CDs -- hell, I know I have spent a fortune on them.

I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that you hear certain names and your brain blanks them because you have no interest. Enter an 18 year old barmaid with some class and bang, you're suddenly hooked. I would never have considered buying a Dolly Parton CD in my life, but thanks to two girls in a remote pub, I'm now an addict.

Thanks Lauren and Sarah -- you opened at least a couple of peoples' eyes.