Friday, February 26, 2010

Life's a beach

Off to find the sun. Back 10 March.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thy eternal summer shall not fade...

Here is a report from last Sunday's Saigon Daily: "When the owner of a stone sculpture shop Tien Hieu in the stone sculpture village of Non Nuoc in the Central province of Da Nang reported a hand was missing from his stone statue of a young lady, police found that a fan of the Ancient Greek statue Venus de Milo was the culprit.

The statue,“ Thieu nu om hoa” (Young girl carries flowers), was being displayed on the flower street Bach Dang, in front of the Han market, in Da Nang during Tet holidays. Early Saturday morning, the owner of the statue noticed one hand of his statue had been cut off. The hand thief, Huynh Ngoc La Quang, 47, of Hai Chau district, said the statue worth VND35 million (US$1,800) was not beautiful enough with two hands, so he removed one. In his mind the secret of women’s beauty lay in the Venus de Milo’s missing arms so he took a hammer to the statue to make her more like Venus.

At present, the police at Hai Chau 1 ward are finishing the profile of Quang and will forward it to their seniors for further investigation."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Orhan Pamuk

I'm reading The Black Book by the Turkish novelist, Orhan Pamuk, which is an intriguing tale set in Istanbul. There are stories within the story. One is about an executioner who is instructed to kill a Pasha. He has to travel a long distance to perform this act and worries along the way that he may be killed by the Pasha's henchmen when he arrives. His instructions are to return with the head of the Pasha preserved in honey as proof that the deed was done. The Pasha hears the writ of complaint and agrees to the execution, weeping as he kneels before the axe. The executioner preserves the head, puts it in a sack and embarks upon his return journey. As he rides through the countryside, day and night, he hears the head weeping inside the sack. Unable to stand this any longer, he takes it out of the sack and with his knife, distorts the mouth into a smile and opens its eyes. He then replaces it into the honey and sets off again. There is no more weeping. When he arrives at his destination, he removes the head from the sack, only to be told, "That is not the head of the Pasha! He has never smiled in his life! You have not performed your task, therefore you must be executed!"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mad hatters

The fashion show was fun with some beautifully beaded and stylish jackets from Caroline Charles, although the winter hot pants left me feeling old and cold. Sitting opposite in the front row was a young woman in a stunning black hat. It had an asymmetrical brim which came out in a wave to a length of about two feet at one side and was covered with pink roses. The owner of the hat was wearing a black choker sporting another pink rose, a black "grass" skirt which was about six inches long, a black v-necked top, flesh-coloured (or possibly no) tights, enormously high black heels and three inch curved black talons. Problems arose for this woman when somebody came to sit next to the long side of her brim. She was forced to angle her head so that the brim was behind her neighbour's head which meant that she could not move her head for the entirety of the show and was unable to turn to look at what was coming down the catwalk!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Catwalk

I am greatly looking forward to the Caroline Charles show at London Fashion Week tomorrow. The last time I went to a major fashion show was in Paris, over ten years ago. My friend and I staggered back onto the Eurostar afterwards with a couple of shopping bags and we managed to be upgraded to first class. We whizzed through the French countryside and then the train came to a grinding halt. A guard came into our carriage and told us all to disembark at the next station (an unscheduled stop) and to move further down the train. We asked the reason for this. "The train has been shot!" we were told and a window had been broken. Apparently it was quite commonplace in those days for French farmers to take pot shots at the Eurostar. Fortunately our shopping bags were intact.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

St John the Baptist

Continuing with the religious theme, there's been an amusing correspondence in the FT following Lucy Kellaway's article on 8 February about Latin tags. Zalman Shoval from Tel Aviv writes today that Lucy was wrong to translate Isaiah Chapter 40, Verse 3 as "a voice crying in the desert." He says the verse is not a prophecy about John the Baptist but an appeal and message to the people of Judea and Jerusalem and should be translated, "A voice crying: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, pave in the desert a road for our God."


Angus ( has a wonderful blog about his move from Scotland to France via Italy with his beautiful dogs, Wilf and Digby. He reminds me that today is the start of Lent, which I was thinking about as I tossed my pancakes last night. "Lent is a time for spiritual renewal" we are told, "and denying the body through fasting improves the spirit within." I am in the midst of a "dry" February and am looking forward to a glass of champagne on 1 March so shall not be giving up alcohol for Lent. I shall give up chocolate instead, mindful of my dear friend from Cambridge who did that a few years ago and then ate so many Easter eggs on the morning of Easter Day that she turned green. Are you giving up anything?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Dear Leader!

Tens of thousands of flowers have been assembled in North Korea to celebrate Kim Jong Il's birthday today. North Korea says he is 68, overseas experts claim he's 69 and that the NK government has fiddled the figures so that his "70th" birthday in 2012 will coincide with the 100th anniversary of his father's birth. Both he and his father have used flowers as symbols of their leadership. His father, Kim Il Sung, received a hybrid orchid from the Indonesian President Sukarno in 1965 and he named it "Kimilsungia". Kim Jong Il was given a begonia in 1988 which, of course, he named "Kimjongilia". There was consternation earlier this year when a Japanese botanist called Mototeru Kamo sent Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un a new breed of begonia on his birthday on 8 January. Did this signify that a handover is being prepared? As yet there has been no announcement that this flower has been named "Kimjongunia".

Monday, February 15, 2010

All that glitters...

The starting point is key to making money on an investment, a truism which is highlighted in an article about gold in today's FT. If you had bought gold in 2001 at its low of $255 per ounce, you could have made a huge profit selling it in December 2009 at its high of $1214. However, Dylan Grice of Societe Generale claims that if you had put all your wealth into gold in the fifteenth century, bequeathed it to your children and required them to do the same down the generations, you "would be more than a little miffed when gazing down from your celestial place of rest to see the real wealth of your lineage decline by nearly 90% over the next 500 years." In real terms, today's gold price is similar to the prevailing price in 1265. (And let's not bring Gordon Brown into this discussion.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hello Boyz!

I received this e-mail from one of my friends:

So you're next to the Headmaster, right, at the House Play. Your 17 year old son's tutor has expressed warm support for his application to become a prefect. Your son appears on stage. Four young boys acting as mincing exam inviligators have paraded around snatching exam papers and other forbidden items from exam candidates. The music, The Stripper, swells to a crescendo. They surround your son, dressed as a schoolmaster,who marches proudly to the very front of the stage. To the final chord of The Stripper, and in perfect time, your prefect son rips off his trousers to reveal himself, in all his glory, clad in suspenders and fishnets.

What is the correct answer to the headmaster's question- "And which one is your son?"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bad joke of the week

Just bought a new Toyota, speak later, can't stop...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Here's a chilling photo from today's FT of Amnesty International supporters protesting about Vedanta's proposal to dig a huge bauxite mine in the woodlands of the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India. The Church of England sold its stake in Vedanta last week on concerns about its lack of respect for human rights.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, ruler of the winds, and she married Ceyx, the son of the Morning Star. They were very happily married but angered Zeus as Alcyone used "Zeus" as a nickname for her husband whilst Ceyx called Alcyone "Hera". Zeus put an end to this lack of respect by hurling a thunderbolt at Ceyx's ship. Ceyx's ghost appeared to his wife to tell her of his fate and Alcyone, overcome by grief, drowned herself. The gods then took pity on the couple and changed them into kingfishers and Aeolus would calm the winds for seven days around the winter solstice to allow his daughter to lay her eggs on the sea. Halcyon days!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Forked to death

In 1004 Maria Argyropoulina, Greek niece of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, came to Venice for her marriage to Giovanni, son of the Pietro Orseolo II, the Doge of Venice, with a case of golden forks—and then proceeded to use them at the wedding feast. She was roundly condemned by the local clergy for her decadence, with one going so far as to say, “God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.”
When Argyropoulina died of the plague two years later, Cardinal Peter Damian wrote: “Nor did she deign to touch her food with her fingers, but would command her eunuchs to cut it up into small pieces, which she would impale on a certain golden instrument with two prongs and thus carry to her mouth. . . . this woman’s vanity was hateful to Almighty God; and so, unmistakably, did He take his revenge. For He raised over her the sword of His divine justice, so that her whole body did putrefy and all her limbs began to wither.”

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

George Osborne

The FT, which is biased towards Labour, criticises the Conservative Party in its leader today. It does make a fair point though: can George Osborne, in the midst of this financial crisis, really perform the jobs of both Shadow Chancellor and General Election Co-ordinator? Surely these roles are sufficiently important to require separate functionaries?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tower Block of Commons

A friend in Winchester advised me to watch this programme as it features our MP Mark Oaten. I appreciate that Oaten is standing down but I can't understand why any MP would put himself forward for such exposure. Anyway, for the sake of publicity, four MPs agreed to live for one week in some of the worst high rise council estates in the country. Oaten went to Dagenham, Tim Loughton (Con) to Birmingham and Iain Duncan Smith to Stratford, East London. These three were staying with residents, sleeping on a sofa or a mattress. The fourth, the Labour MP Austin Mitchell, said he'd only take part if he and his wife were given a flat in a block (in Hull) for a week as he didn't want to live with any member of the public.

It was disastrous publicity for all of them. We saw Oaten blubbing when youths taunted him about rent boys. We suffered the embarrassment of IDS turning up in a suit. We cringed when Tim Loughton seemed more concerned about his own appearance than the living conditions of his hostess. The worst though was Mitchell who got his lunch delivered, presumably because he feared going out of the flat alone and who actually left the estate to escape for dinner with friends. He made no effort to help the people there and spent the whole time gawping at the existence of drug addicts. After all his years in power, it made me sick.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Queens of Crime

Last week I came across a name I'd forgotten: Ngaio Marsh. I remembered enjoying her detective novels featuring the charming Roderick Alleyn. She is described as being one of the four orginal Queens of Crime in the 1920s and 30s, the other three being Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham. How many delicious hours have been spent enjoying their writing!