Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Respect and the Politics of Smugness

I'm afraid I've been listeningto the Today Programme again, but on the positive side I haven't been shouting at the radio this week.

I found myself in a strange limbo of disinterest, systems were shutting down, I could hardly drag myself across the kitchen toward a chronologically important shave - in the sense that this is a crucial precursor to departure for work... Time wasbecoming treacle the grain ofthe table was suddenly really interesting (OK, OK its a choramandel veneer - it actually is quite interesting, but enough!)

What on earth was happening, after all a Cabinet Minister from our own dear government was on the radio talking about how ID cards will save us from terror, enough surely to rile anyone with warm feelings toward the land of Lorca and Cervantes, but no nothing doing, what was happening - was I becoming apolitical, did I no longer care about human rights or even for God's sake truth?

No, the trouble was it was Charles, 2 main-courses-please, Clarke. And the thing is Charles just doesn't play the game. He doesn't argue. He makes statements which from the moment they've left his hair-trimmed chops immediately begin to sound unattributable and almost indefinably vague.

The interviewer says something perfectly straightforward like 'ID cards didn't stop the Madrid bomb did they' and off Charlie goes 'well, you see, I could argue...' [what do you mean 'could' - are you arguing it or not you mock-academic chump? Are you engaged in this fr*ggin' conversation or or are you merely commenting on this latest attack on our civil liberties - which you, yes you, Mr Clarke, are steering through the house of uncommonly many lawyers?]

Its wierd but this has the effect of engendering immense apathy in this breakfaster - obviously the interviewer wants to wring his neck - but can't, so on and on it goes - FOR AGES... 'well you know I would say' [what do you mean 'would' - are you saying it or not?!] ...'we have found..' [in your crystal ball one assumes]....etc ['and you see...']

Eventually I managed to get annoyed (as I'm sure you can see) but only afterwards, and out of a combination of boredom and disenfranchisement - I didn't feel like I'd actually heard an argument, nor even a discussion. The condescension of Clarke's approach however ultimately got me thinking.

It had a curious resonance of an interview I'd read earlier in the week with David Milliband, by Colin Brown, it was fairly content-free, he'd managed a pull-quote on how social order was not old-fashioned and there was a strange passage where David protested that he was not the new Jean-Jacques Rousseau (err, yeah, cos we were confused...); a bit of a wierd whitter about how he used to get criticised for celebrating young people too much (over exam results) and now he's accused of hating them as minister for respect and hoodie-exclusion; a claim that parents with misbehaving kids need help and an all too penetrable but curiously-phrased comment on being able to discuss PR in the cabinet - though he doesn't agree with it - which went "We may be a broad church but we don't have an Inquisition." (mayhap some Catholic joke I guess, but I suspect you see my point - its either too clever or not clever - inquisitions are not needed by broad churches for all the irony in the literal meaning of 'catholic' so really a bit of a 'must try harder' David).

My point is this, I know David may not terribly like Colin Brown, but I the reader am not Colin and I do not like reading interviews given by people who are clearly too smug and bored to really bother engaging with the question - the exam results non-answer was a response to a question about ASBO's for goodness sake!

Yes the election is won, but an approach to political discussion which revolves around pretending that the issues are not issues is not likely to better engage the dwindling numbers of voters backing this government. New Labour is starting to sound like Smug Labour and this is dangerous because poor old Mr Brown is going to need someone awake to listen to him in 2009 or so. Otherwise people might just decide to back the right wing party that sounds right wing instead of the one that mixes an authoritarian approach to civil liberties with mildly progressive tinkering and a 'shake 'em up and see where they fall' approach to public services. And just imagine what that other right of centre party could do with a national identity database, the right to imprison citizens indefinitely without trial and an in-house legal team committed to proving that its safe to deport people to Zimbabwe...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Everyone is entitled to their opinion

I'd be the first to agree this is true.

In fact I love a good argument and the more diverse the views the better (well OK, within reason, I admit I abhor racism and I'm unconvinced about PFI...) - after all we have to test our assumptions, right? And where would nights out at the local boozer be without the odd 'heated debate'.

This is probably why I like to start my day with the Today Programme on Radio 4. Well that and the tension release of yelling at the radio in the privacy of ones own home...

Talking of assumptions, I eat a reasonable amount of organic food, particularly organic meat... so I guess I'm assuming its good for me (and, natch, the planet, man); there's a big taste thing too of course, especially with the meat - don't believe me, try it?...

However when Lord Dick Taverne appeared on the Today Programme earlier this week (I contend that one can appear on radio, right?) Anyway, as I was saying, when Lord Dick Taverne appeared in my bathroom earlier this week (shudder), and stated that he had 'no personal interest' in codemning organic agriculture as a con - as he was to do in a speech later that day, my radar was alerted to the sweet smell of lobby-spin.

This simply isn't true. Unless of course he meant no current financial interest. Though I guess he's made a few quid out of his book 'The March of Unreason'. And there was that business with his lobbying firm Prima Europe and 'The Case for Biotechnology', the GPC merger...

Incidentally, political conspiracy theorists will also be interested in the links this Lib Dem Peer, former Labour MP and SDP founder-member, has with an entertaining selection of wanna-be opinion formers (or was that 'distorters') that ranges from Derek Draper, through Lord Sainsbury to Living Marxism's Tracey Brown and Ellen Raphael...

Like I said everyone is entitled to an opinion but I think one has to be clear about where one stands if one is 'engaged', not to say employed. Dick Taverne is certainly engaged, so its ironic that someone who 'is keenly concerned to prevent media distortion in relation to biotechnology' and who claims the media's 'sloppiness' on GM issues is 'undermining the health of our democracy', should be so sloppy about telling Radio 4's listeners what his interest in rubbishing the organic food movement actually is.

I hold no particular torch for GM Watch, and think that failure to give kids the MMR vaccine is socially irresponsible (there is a link but find it yourself - OK, basically I'm just explaining that I'm not a Luddite...) however I see no social advance in developing crops which are designed to survive higher and higher doses of Monsanto weedkillers. One, it harms biodiversity and two, it ties farmers here and in the third world into increasingly dependent relationships centred around single suppliers and, of course, the use of a lot of very specific chemical products, the vast majority of which I'd prefer not to eat.

Taverne, in full flow in defence of GM among other things, co-authored the article 'Over-precautionary tales: The precautionary principle represents the cowardice of a pampered society' (Prospect, September 2002), with Tracey Brown , who is the director of Sense about Science, the lobby group of which Taverne is Chairman. Taverne also once memorably argued in the Lords, 'There is a moral imperative for the Government to do everything they can to encourage and promote the spread of this technology [ie GM]'.

And, by the way, would you trust a man who used to head a firm that lobbied on behalf of BNFL?

I don't know I must just be over-precuationary or something...

...anyway I'm off for a pint and a few fags...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

All time best film quotes

The American Film Institute has revealed its list of the top movie quotes of all time. They're virtually all American, other than an entry for Dr No and Sherlock Holmes (wrack your brands for those ones folks), and sitting in pride of place in the number one spot is the line uttered by Clark Gable to Vivien Leigh in the Civil War epic 'Gone With the Wind' : "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn".


You know how to whistle? Posted by Hello

That beat lines form 'The Godfather' and 'On TheWaterfront'
1. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn - 'Gone With The Wind 1939

2. I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse – The Godfather, 1972

3. You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am - On The Waterfront 1954

4. Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore - The Wizard of OZ - 1939

5. Here's looking at you, kid - Casablanca 1942

6. Go ahead, make my day - Sudden Impact 1983

7. All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up - Sunset Blvd 1950

8. May the Force be with you - Star Wars 1977

9. Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night - All About Eve 1950

10. You talking to me? - Taxi Driver 1976

I' m still thinking on what my top ten might be (lists take so long, what with the rumination that is needed), but the AFI list does include one or two of my favourites. Star Wars, obviously, but also at number 34 there's 'You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow', which is the line uttered by Lauren Bacall to Humphrey Borgart in 'To Have and Have Not'.

Lists please?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Mexland

I've been asked to add my musings about living in Mexico to this fledgling journal, but I'm afraid I can't. Mexico City. DF. It's not a place you muse about. It's a place you react to. That's why I live here. One of the things that brought me here was a movie. The Wild Bunch. There's an exchange, I think between Ernest Borgnine and Bill Holden. Ext. Campfire. Night. One is describing to the other the impossibility of the robbery they're planning, of the almost certain probability of their own deaths The other throws his coffee dregs into the fire, rolls over onto his side to go to sleep, says simply "I wouldn't have it any other way." I wouldn't have it any other way. Living here you realise just how dull England is, how your edge gets slowly ground away. This city is a whetting stone.

At the risk of sounding like a travel writer, you really are in a state of constant stimulation here. Extremity is commonplace. Mundane has no place. Graham Greene saw the viciousness, the malevolent ignorance, of which there is plenty. I have a false front tooth to prove how proud Mexicans are of their xenophobia. Malcolm Lowry saw that, but he saw more, understood the purity and the innocence you can find here. People will lie to you, shamelessly, knowing that you know they're lying. Taxi drivers tell you they have no change for your 20 peso note so you have to pay way over the odds, when you know they have coins under their seat. But then there's times when they really have no change, and they'll let you off the whole fare. Anybody remember the last time that happened to them in England? At the moment, I have no electricity, due to the landlady's utter inability to do what she says she'll do. For the last three nights, I've been sitting by candlelight playing mobile phone games to pass the time. Then last night, in the hallway of the apartment block, a group started singing hymns, beautiful hymns, filling the silence, as if they knew I was sitting behind the heavy solid door, alone in darkness. Also because of said landlady, and an argument in the hallway with her idiot son, I got locked out of my apartment. I found a little man round the corner who arrived on his little bike to get me in. I thought it would cost a fortune - foreigner, new lock, new door. In under a minute he had the door open, picking the lock with something that looked like an allen key. Cost me 50 pesos, 2 and a half quid. And I know I don't need to worry about him coming back while I'm out.

This city easily out-Cultures London. It's part of life here, not something you go and do when you're feeling pompous. Public sculpture is everywhere, modern stuff, not just dead men on horses. People, normal people, queue up - queue up - to see contemporary dance. People would rather commission the design of a new house rather than move into someone else's leavings; there are more architects here than you can shake a set-square at. 15 minutes walk away from me is the house where Burroughs shot his wife. 40 minutes away is the house where Trotsky lived, had his affair with Kahlo, was assassinated. Downtown is a bar with a bullet hole left in the ceiling by Pancho Villa. I don't mention these as national-heritage curiosities - they're just part of the city, a city where history is part of the now. And as for lower-case c culture - the snot-nosed habitu├ęs of Camden would give their whole collections of retro Adidas sportswear to be seen in places as sleazy, run-down, energetic and exciting as the live venues downtown, reminiscent of photos of late-70s CBGBs.

And if you're really interested in politics (I guess some people are)... how can you not love a place where provincial farmers, protesting at the lack of land rights, come to the capital, camp out on one of it's most important main streets for a week, and march up and down dressed only in workboots and underpants?

I guess that did turn a bit musey, sorry. It's difficult to write about this place. There's too much to say. And anything you do get down will probably be out of date the next day. Where's Malcolm Lowry when you need him?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

And there's something about Harringay...

There's something special about Harringay and I experienced it again this evening, walking home on foot after an accident along the Parade.

The traffic had been diverted and "the village" had revealed itself, like a North London Brigadoon.

'Not again,' I said to the Turkish girl at the cordon who, though sporting a Met jacket, was clearly no cop.

'Yeah,' she said brightly, 'but at least it's not a murder or a stabbing. Why not try the Passage?'

So I clomped along the Passage which connects the streets on "the ladder", thinking on the humid quiet and the half-dark, the Harringay in Haringey. A pair of Somali girls heard the slam of my size eleven's and broke into a run.

'It's okay,' I called out, 'I'm not Doctor Who!' Look, I don't know why I said that, but they laughed anyway, laughed all the way down the street.


 Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Apple conquers all?

Survey out today that places Apple, on the back of the iPod, as the fastest growing brand in the world. Let's face it, it's all down to the iPod as no one could possibly get excited about the launch of the Apple G5 - other than Apple heads, and well they're strange people.


Playing my tune Posted by Hello

Apple was followed by internet brands Google, Amazon, Yahoo! and eBay, which together managed to push powerful brands like Coca-Cola off the list.

Marketing consultants Vivaldi Partners and Forbes say Apple increased its brand value by 38% in the last four years -- largely thanks to the ubiquity of the iPod.

Handheld email and phone device Blackberry and internet search engine Google tied in second, putting websites Amazon and Yahoo! in fourth and fifth place respectively.

Power brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald's, which typically spend the most on advertising, did not even make it into the Next Generation of Growth Brands top 20. Nike came in 16th place while Toyota, with the highest brand value of $25.8bn, came in 17th place. No British brands in the top twenty either.

I thought at first the digital brands were all top as it was about early adopters, but really that only works for Blackberry.

Google is no longer the favoured search plaything of early adopters and you've sat on the tube and seen that the white iPod headphones are everywhere. It's been adopted. I should add I have acquired anti mugging technology to go with mine (also known as black headphones) in case you see me and worry that I am not part of this ubiquity.

With Red Bull at seven and Starbucks at eight (MTV, Electronic Ats, Samsung are there as well) it seems to suggest that the thing all these brands have in common is the youth market and the word of mouth support that comes with that.

I'd break it down and put the iPod shuffle technology on the list as well. It throws up real random stuff - my list of songs from this morning.

1. Pain Killer - Turn Brakes
2. Personal Halloway - Bush (I must delete this song/band)
3. The House Song - The Beta Band
4. Cohokian - Jay Farrar
5. Don't forget me - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
6. Stars all seem to weep - Beth Orton
7. Swallowed by the sea - Cold play
8. Susan's House - the eels
9. Presuming Ed - Elbow
10. Loretta's Scar- Pavement.

I digress, I wanted to say that the thing for Apple now is that it wants to translate all that iPod brand value into something bigger and sell more PCs, but I think it's going to have a tough time. Most people (ie the 97.5% of people who don't use Macs) are iPod fans rather than Apple fans, and it will take a lot more to convince them to switch.

Monday, June 13, 2005

And as for his attractive assistant...

Is it me, or has Russell T Davies reimagined Dr Who as Queer As Folk In Space? Our jaws dropped at the double-entendre packed episode this weekend in which Captain Jack appeared naked on global TV and said to the Trinny and Susanna robots "Ladies, I think your ratings have just gone up", later being told by the Doctor to "stop chatting up" a (male) producer.

Faithful to a British tradition going back to Carry On and Captain Pugwash, T Davies has injected some not-so-subtle sauce into the franchise and created an instant classic.


Exfoliate! Exfoliate! Posted by Hello

But what next? Now Ecclestone's boot boy Doctor is on the way out, it can only be a matter of time before we have our first gay Who. But hold on: a timelord may have two hearts but doesn't he share the rest of his anatomy with... Action Man?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

There's something about Molly

You know what it's like there are some people from your past who you really liked at school they where smart, cool and you knew they were destined for greatness. In the Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink Molly Ringwald was one of those people, her roles followed your own life, school angst exam anxiety with a cool indie sountrack.

As the end credits rolled Molly headed off into a Hollywood happy ending and I headed off to university. Occasionally Molly Ringwald articles appeared over the years usually along the lines of 'what ever happened to?' it was quietly reassuring to know that she was ok and hadn't done a Winnona

Then last year posters went up on the tube, articles appeared in the Sunday papers Molly Ringwald was in London starring in When Harry Met Sally. For a split second I actually wanted to rush out a buy a ticket but then then doubts kicked in... apart from the fact that I'm not a big fan of When Harry Met Sally I realised that I really didn't want to see an older version of Molly.

Call it a bad case of nostalgia, but school crushes really should stay in school. For me Molly Ringwald will always be Pretty In Pink rather than really on stage. Talk of reunions and remakes worries me: it's good to know everyone is alive and well, but any attempt to recapture the past is likely to end in tears. I will obviously watch the DVDs with pleasure but they are post cards from the past, happy memories but not a place to stay too long. Good luck to you Molly, I'll keep an eye out for you and hope you are never tempted to make the ladies who lunch club or thirty nine candles.

I'm Honoured, Ma'am

The UK honours system - good thing or bad? Not a question which has ever taxed my mind greatly. As long as they're not hurting anyone, who cares what they get up to in the privacy of their own palace. Would I accept one if it was offered? Hell yes, never turn down a chance for new experiences, even (or especially) if they are as surreal as popping into Buck house to collect a piece of jewellery from Her Maj.

That was, until I saw Benjamin Zephaniah on TV last year, presenting an engaging and cogent argument as to why he'd turned down the offer of an OBE. Too right Ben! Don't let Babylon co-opt you! My own mind was made up, when Buckingham Palace finally comes knocking on my door, begging me to accept an honour, I'm going to throw it right back in their faces. No way will I show my support of this archaic, unfair system of back-scratching.

So the news yesterday that my dad is on the Queen's birthday honours list, receiving an MBE "For services to young people", prompted mixed and confusing feelings. I'm reconciled to it now, the family line is that "it's OK, because it's for charity work". That sounds fair enough. And when Her Maj finally comes around with that gong for me, of course I'm going to accept. After all, it's a family tradition.

American Constitution Now!

For once I agree with Polly Toynbee, who is dead against the Bill to Outlaw Incitement to Commit Religious Hatred.

What advocates fail to appreciate is the climate of self-censorship the Bill will create, whereby editors and publishers will inevitably steer clear of art or articles that could conceivably land them seven years in the nick.

It is disappointing if not surprising that most major religious groups support the legislation, with the exception of the Evangelical Alliance which has presumably woken up to the fact that it is mostly religions that incite hatred against other religions...

It is, of course, too early to tell, but I can't help reflecting on the similarities between our current climate - traditional freedoms under threat; demographic anxieties (as well as shifts); talk of constitutions, democratic deficits, independence - and the world of Tom Paine et al.

Certainly as a child of the 1970's I am also a child of the 1770's, those Enlightenment values the bedrock of the society in which I was raised and the lens through which I view the world.

Yet now I feel as if these values are under threat. Not only do we have a government that is actively promoting religious schools, often at the expense of the secular alternative, but instead of scrapping the out-dated blasphemy law, we're introducing more legislation to protect the bigotry that passes for much organised religion.

Isn't it about time the Enlightenment bit back? The dogs dinner that was the European Constitution may have been shelved, but what about a British Constitution?

It doesn't have to run to hundreds of pages or be penned by an out-of-touch aristocrat, it simply needs to enshrine in law the values I (and, I suspect, the vast majority of us) hold dear - freedom of expression, liberty, democracy and the separation of church and state.

Indeed, it already exists - it's called the American Constitution. After all, what could be more English? Inspired by Norfolk boy Paine, penned by founding fathers who were raised by British-born parents, and based on the Magna Carta, the Constitution represents a heady mix of Enlightenment ideals and English values.

We might have to cut out the bit about guns, mind.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

More on Molly Ringwald

Talk of the 'Breakfast Club' and Molly Ringwald will just not go away. Okay, it probably will if I let it..., but but, okay I have no excuse and, obviously, too much internet time on my hands.

Anyways now she is apparently in talks to do a remake of 'Sixteen Candles', in which she funnily enough turns 16 and experiences all the pains of teenage life in a single day. It's really not a bad film.


Molly in The Breakfast Club Posted by Hello

Ringwald who is now, 37, says she's been approached repeatedly about doing a sequel, but recently read a script that she liked and wanted to star in the movie.

She shot Sixteen Candles the year before 'The Breakfast Club' which she followed with 'Pretty in Pink' which she...okay nothing much happened after that. Although I do remember seeing her in a movie about aids - didn't have a happy ending.

I say go Molly, but really what about a 'Breakfast Club' sequel - my feeling is it wouldn't work.

'Pretty in Pink' on the other hand...nah probably wouldn't work either.

You know Duckie is like almost 40 (actor Jon Cryer IS 40, and starring in that not so bad thing with Charlie Sheen 'Two and a half men') and still riding his bike past her house. "Andie will you please go out with me..."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

That's the way, uhuh, uhuh, we like it...

Talking of Live8 and the Make Poverty History bandwagon (Dan 6/6/5) it's certainly fitting that our response to development in Africa is to put on a pop concert and wear a rubber band.

After all, wasn't it singing hymns and wearing symbols of suffering we first encountered Africa, simultaneously saving souls and grabbing everything we could get our hands on?

Now celebrity is the new religion off we go again, bent on saving those poor, corrupt Africans with a nice sing-a-long while continuing to live off the fruits of their labour, like the people in the clouds in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Coffee anyone?

And that's just the way we like it - throwing money at a situation we've manufactured so it can be mismanaged by elites who are simply continuing the corrupt colonial practices they inherited, thereby affirming our prejudices, expiating our guilt, and perpetuating the problem.

Africa doesn't need aid. In fact, it's the very last thing it needs: better to put a stop to the lot this minute.

What it needs is what we needed: the chance to protect its fledgling economies until they are ready to compete and to enjoy unfettered access to countries like our own.

Now that would really help repay our debt to Africa - unrestricted trade and immigration.

And would that really be so bad? Well, you might have to pay a bit more for your cuppa but at least you wouldn't face the prospect of opening your door to be told you've got five minutes to grab your belongings before being evicted, and about this "God" of yours....

Monday, June 06, 2005

O Sting, Where is Thy Death?

I was woken this morning by James Naughtie (or was it Sarah Montague? Too early in the day for me to tell) announcing free tickets to Live8. The sub-rational parts of my brain responsible for live music and free offers both coralled enough neurons to get me out of bed and scrabbling for my mobile in record time. That's when common sense kicked in. Do I really want to spend a hot summer's day in a field full of plebians watching Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Lord U of 2, and the Sting previously known as an artist? What on earth possessed me to devote precious brain resources to such a trivial and easily-answered question?

Of course, it's all in a good cause. But then, so are Womens' Institute jam sales. This summer, I think I'm going to take the truly radical route to dissent, and join the WI.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Expecting the... expected

So the Law of Unexpected Consequences strikes again, this time dealing a death knell to the EU Constitution. Looks like I won't get my chance to vote after all...

Although I am actually more concerned about the Euro's exchange rate (advice anyone?) I do think it is yet another example of how history has a knack of throwing up the unexpected. Sure, it seems inevitable now but who really thought the Fall of the Wall would see, just 15 years on, the likely end of European federalism and "ever closer union"?

But should it be so unexpected?

Both the French and the Dutch killed off the Constitution in protest at a process that has taken place over the past generation over which they have been given little or no say. Similarities anyone?

It may well be that the French in particular would choose a moribund protectionist model if they got the chance, but surely they will only reject it if they find out it doesn't work by voting for it and finding out the hard way.

People don't like being told what to do, they don't like having things imposed on them. That was one of the reaons I was against the war in Iraq - because I felt if the people really wanted to choose a democratic state they would rise up and fight for it. And then hold on to it, tight.

This may seem harsh or niave, but isn't that what we did, and the Americans too? Our democracies are intrinsically linked with our national identities. That's why I believe democracy in Iran, born of a popular uprising and for all its faults, could one day resemble our own, while I fear Iraq will fracture further before it, too, is able to develop its own way of doing things.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Belgium property market...and other adventures

So I've signed the compromis de vente which means, according to Belgium law I am now the legal buyer of a rather pleasant second floor apartment in Ostend (see 20.5.5).

The experience has been part-terrifying, part-reassuring, which is a welcome contrast to the British real estate scene where you down your terror neat. The reassurance comes in the form of the CdV which technically means both parties can't back out without risking 10 per cent of the purchase price and a lengthy legal process.

But for all the plain-speaking Dutchness (well Flemishosity) of it all, I can't but help experience a certain low-level anxiety alongside my anticipation. Maybe it is the very confidence that everyone seems to have: with all that seeming transparency I'm sure something unexpected is bound to turn up.

Just as Jung claimed that our real identities were actually the opposite of the face we turn to the world (so deep down, for example, extroverts are actually shy stamp collectors. No, really...) I can't help thinking the same applies to cultures.

For example, the English like to think of themselves (and are generally perceived by the rest of the world) to be cold, efficient, stiff-upper-lipped sexual repressives when they are actually passionate, unpredictable, incompetent shag monsters - the Italians of the north if you like. Equally I wonder if the above-board straight-talking sober-seeming Flemish (and their supposedly air-tight conveyancing system) are all they appear to be....

I certainly won't be uncrossing my fingers just yet.