It will be interesting to see the performance of independent candidate John Gilliland in the Northern Ireland Euro-election – apparently he’s doing well on the posters front anyway!

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Bridget’s school had an exhibition of artwork by all the pupils this weekend at one of the many cultural centres that dot our landscape. They had on display a rather smeary red and yellow work by her with the caption:


Kort, hevig en intens
Zo werk ik
Zo schilder ik

Briefly and intensely [hevig and intens are synonyms]
That’s how I work
That’s how I paint

We all went to look at it, though Bridget herself lost interest fairly rapidly and I took her outside. Ursula has now fallen asleep and we will now go to bed.

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May Books 14) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

14) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I picked up a couple of instalments of this late at night on the World Service a month or so ago when children were keeping me awake, and read it in one sitting this evening; now I have seventeen-month-old U on my lap and am trying to persuade her to fall asleep to the rhythm of the keys as I type this up.

Of course because of the narrator being a child with Asperger’s Syndrome (at the very least) it’s of particular interest to our family. My wife and her mother both read it and felt it was rather unrealistic in some respects. Well, to a certain extent. But good stories are often told about unlikely events. The only bit that I found really challenged my suspension of disbelief was where the narrator successfully bought a train ticket and got on the train. But it was necessary for the plot, so I thought forgiveable. Otherwise a gripping and moving book.

U’s eyes are drooping, but I’ll have to type a bit more before she falls asleep.

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Feast for Crows

I see that A Feast for Crows is at 124th place on Amazon’s best-seller list, and won’t even be published until 24 June. Buoyed no doubt by the mass of pre-orders – including mine, put in over a year ago.

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Following ‘s example:


Being out of your depth – a phrase that always bothered me. Losing your footing while swimming in deep water; but also the sense of having got deeply into a situation where you had lost your bearings, and the initial guidelines you had turned out to be no good at all.

Thansk to Oneword.

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Colour test

Yet another instant psychology quiz. My results and comments as follows:

Your Existing Situation

Sensuous. Inclined to luxuriate in things which give gratification to the senses, but rejects anything tasteless, vulgar, or coarse.

Hmm, dunno about that; I can cope perfectly well with the vulgar or coarse. Sounds like the kind of thing a dodgy psychologist would say to someone to make them feel good about themselves.

Your Stress Sources

Wishes to be independent, unhampered, and free from any limitation or restriction, other than those which he imposes of himself or by his own choice and decision.

So who out there wishes to be dependent, hampered, and having limitations or restrictions imposed on them by others? A hopeless generalisation.

Your Restrained Characteristics

Willing to participate and to allow himself to become involved, but tries to fend off conflict and disturbance in order to reduce tension.

Believes that he is not receiving his share–that he is neither properly understood nor adequately appreciated. Feels that he is being compelled to conform, and close relationships leave him without any sense of emotional involvement.

Hmm. Not really. I do try and fend off conflict, but who doesn’t try and put off the difficult tasks? I actually rather like conforming, being one of the crowd (though I also like being a noticeable member of the crowd); and the bit about relationships is completely wrong.

Your Desired Objective

His need to feel more causative and to have a wider sphere of influence makes him restless and he is driven by his desires and hopes. May try to spread his activities over too wide a field.

OK, that bit is fairly accurate.

Your Actual Problem

Feels restricted and prevented from progressing; seeking a solution which will remove these limitations.

Again, this is probably true of most people, and certainly of most people who take this sort of personality quiz!


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Someone asked me the other day what interrailing is. Yet another icon of my youth has bitten the dust, I thought to myself. When I were a lad, if you were under 26 you could pay £120 and buy this ticket that gave you free rail travel for a month all over Europe (which in those days excluded Eastern Europe). Most people I knew did it at least once; I did it two and a half times. First in the summer of 1986 with my then girlfriend, just before we both started at college, taking in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium; then a half-ticket (where you could only travel on ten of the days within the month) in 1990 to go to Finland with my sister, though I took a detour down to Austria to touch base with my (relatively recently acquired) girlfriend; and finally, just before I got too old for it, with same girlfriend (subsequently my wife) in spring of 1992, this time striking as far east as newly reunified Berlin and as far west as Portugal. Living in Belfast the trick was to buy it in Dublin, as it only got you a 50% discount in the country you bought it but free travel everywhere else.

Well, turns out interrailing hasn’t completely bitten the dust, though it has become a lot more costly. According to the ropy English of the official website, Europe (now expanded to everywhere except the former Soviet Union, Serbia or Albania, but including Morocco) is split into eight zones; you can get a 16-day ticket for one zone for €210, a 22-day ticket for two zones for €289, or a month-long ticket for all eight zones for €399 – that’s if you’re under 26; we old folks pay 40% more. Strikes me as rather expensive, when you can have a week in the Canaries for a third of that. The two-zone ticket seems like the best value though.

For Americans there are various alternative options including the Eurail pass which is staggeringly expensive, even with the cheap dollar of today, and doesn’t even cover Eastern Europe – or the UK. No wonder it’s got less popular.

I do a certain amount of train travel even now – often by Thalys to Paris (and once to Cologne), sometimes by Eurostar to London, and last year overnight to Berlin and back. It always brings me back to those days of juggling the potential discomfort of yet another night on the train versus the cost of a night in a youth hostel. And of course the thrill of travelling with your girlfriend – “Did the train move for you, dear?” as we used to joke. But enough of that.

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May Books 13) Humans

13) Humans by Robert J Sawyer

The last of this year’s Hugo nominees in the fiction category, and really I’m glad it’s over. I compained about the previous book in the series that the Neanderthal society was unconvincing. Add to that Sawyer’s usual leaden prose and clumsy attempts to generate sentimentality. Why do people vote for this? (Other than Canadians of course.)

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May Books 12) Decalog 5 – Wonders

12) Decalog 5 – Wonders edited by Paul Leonard and Jim Mortimore

With one dull exception (“Negative Space” by Jeanne Cavelos) this collection of ten sf short stories ranges from competent to very good. I bought it because my friend from college Dominic Green contributed one of the better ones, “King’s Chamber”. I’m not quite sure of the linkage between the stories and the Doctor Who universe – one of the stories features the unofficial companion Bernice Summerfield, heroine of the “Doctor Who without the Doctor” books produced by another old friend from college, Rebecca Levene – and I didn’t really feel there was much of an overall unifying theme, but no real complaints on that score. I can’t remember where I bought it but it was certainly cheap and good value.

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Critical mass has been reached

I’m taking only the shorter version of this meme, as seen with and . Longer versions may be found chez and . And others too, no doubt.

1. Who are you?
2. Are we friends?
3. When and how did we meet?
4. Do you have a crush on me?
5. Would you kiss me?
6. Describe me in one word.
7. What was your first impression?
8. Do you still think that way about me now?
9. What reminds you of me?
10. If you could give me anything what would it be?
11. How well do you know me?
12. When’s the last time you saw me?
13. Ever wanted to tell me something but couldn’t?
14. Are you going to put this on your LiveJournal and see what I say about you?

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Minor venting

As you know, I’m running this competition to predict the results of next month’s European elections.

The rules are quite simple. Apart from, obviously, predicting the result, I make the following requests of entrants:

Please give me your real name – obvious pseudonyms will be disqualified. However, if you are professionally or politically invoved with the election campaign to the point where it would be embarrassing for you to be publicly associated with your predictions before the election, feel free to check the box opting for an anonymous entry; your identity will then be revealed only after the elections.

Please give a valid email address. I will not publish email addresses at any stage, nor use them for any means other than acknowledging your entry and notifying you of the result. However entries with invalid email addresses will be disqualified. Please don’t waste my time by giving an invalid address.

And yet despite my stating clearly that obvious pseudonyms will be disqualified I’ve had entries from people calling themselves “Joe Bloggs”, “QuizMaster”, “Petronius Predicts” and most bizarrely of all “Death on a Pogostick”.

And even more irritatingly, half a dozen of the more than 100 entries I’ve received had bogus email addresses. I mean, if I say entries with invalid email addresses will be disqualified it’s obvious that I’m going to test them (and I do in fact send an email to acknowledge each entry).

Now, I appreciate that Northern Irish politics is not a joking matter. But the fact is that the people who have submitted public entries include UUP and Sinn Fein activists (and indeed myself), and the people who I’ve accepted as anonymous entrants include DUP and Green supporters.

OK, as I’ve been writing this entry, one of the pseudonyms has sent me an email with his real name. But it’s still aggravating that others think they can get away with it.

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New job option

The European Parliament is looking for someone to do a five-year contract job, working on European Security and Defence Policy. It’s an entry-level position, so the pay is only a little more than I get now, and I don’t think I’d take it on the terms offered; but if they could see their way to bumping me up a grade or two in view of my experience I would be very interested. I’ve often been very critical of the European Parliament (which I generally really like as an institution) for not knowing what it is talking about on these issues, and this is an opportunity to make a difference from the inside. So I’ll fill in the insanely complicated form and see what happens…

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Rush to judgement

I’ve now had 80 entries for the competition to predict the results of the European election in Northern Ireland. (See prediction form and entries so far.) This is a lot more than I remember from this stage in the 2003 Assembly elections, itself the biggest such competition I have run so far. Well, it’ll keep me busy; as if I didn’t have enough to do!

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The Washingtonienne affair

Probably few of you have heard of the Washingtonienne affair. Jessica Cutler kept a blog about her sex life, which a lot of people do, mostly (as she did) anonymously; however she left enough clues for rival Washingotn blogger Wonkette to work out who she was and for her boss, a U.S. Senator, to work out what was going on and to fire her.

For Jessica all ends well, I suspect; she and Wonkette made up and she gets a rather positive interview in the Washington Post. Best quote:

Sipping a strawberry Nesquik, she expressed amusement that her explicit diaries gripped the imaginations of Hill staffers and Web surfers all week. “It’s amazing to me that people have any interest in such a low-level sex scandal. If I were sleeping with a congressman, maybe, but I’m a nobody and the people I’m writing about are nobodies.”

Quite seriously, she has the sort of approach that means she will probably go far.

She’s setting her sights on the book publishing industry: “They’ll totally hire me if I say I got fired from my job on the Hill because of a sex scandal.”

But it does make me muse a bit on the relations between blogs and public profile. My job is a politically sensitive one, and I have to be careful. Fortunately my private life is less exciting than Jessica Cutler’s.

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Final thought on Baku

Or rather, three final thoughts, since I wasn’t really awake enough while in Azerbaijan to write them down.

First, it’s much the most normal-looking city of the three capitals; apart from the old walled district which is very small, it could be practically anywhere in Central Europe, never mind the Soviet Union.

Second, the one bizarre aspect is the ubiquity of posters with photographs of the late President Heidar Aliyev (Heydər Əliyev to his friends) and presumably stirring slogans in Azeri.

Third, I realised that I have in fact read another book apart from Ali and Nino which is partly set in Baku; it is Kushiel’s Avatar, the last in the trilogy by Jacqueline Carey, where the climax of the quest takes place in a horribly transformed and much expanded but still recognisable version of the Shirvanshah palace in the old city (also the home of Ali’s ancestors in Ali and Nino).

In our universe, the prophet Zoroaster was inspired by the fire leaping from the natural oil and gas deposits around Baku where he grew up. There aren’t a lot of his followers left in the vicinity of Baku now, but Jacqueline Carey does a good number on the legend.

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May Books 10) Too Long a Sacrifice, 11) Sacrifice of Fools

10) Too Long a Sacrifice, by Mildred Downey Broxon and 11) Sacrifice of Fools, by Ian McDonald

These are, respectively, the only fantasy and science fiction novels I’m aware of of which large chunks are set in Belfast, the city of my birth. I’ve been rereading them in preparation for writing an article for , assuming he still wants it, about what it’s like to read about other people’s perceptions of a place you know really well.

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Well, we got through the caviar with the help of a neighbour, J (whose wife K and the kids are spending the weekend watching beavers at the German border) and also some Georgian vodka. After all, it doesn’t keep. Then I cooked and ate dinner, and crashed for four hours. Woke up again about midnight, and will now go back to bed to try and reset my body clock to Belgian time.

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