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The Mummy returns - in a bit part. This sequel is really about 'The Scorpion King' (Dwayne Johnson) who, in the scene setting preamble, leads a rebel army against the Pharaoh and wins only by selling his soul to Anubis. Ten years have passed since the first film and Brendan (Rick O'Connell) and Evie (Rachel Weisz) are now accompanied on their tomb robbing trips with their eight-year old son Alex (Freddie Boath). They find the Scorpion King's bracelet and return to London where Alex accidentally fastens the bracelet on his arm. The bracelet is sought by an assorted gang of ne'er do wells intent on using it to revive the Scorpion to rule the world. Meanwhile Imhotep's Mummy (Arnold Voos), now in The British Museum, is being revived. Brendan, Evie and Alex chase through a darkened London fighting human and ghostly ghouls. And as the bracelet cannot be removed from Alex the baddies kidnap him and whisk back to Egypt. Brendan and Evie, with unwilling brother Jonathan (John Hannah) follow, leading to a climatic three-way fight between Brendan, The Mummy and Scorpion King. The movie speeds at a tremendous pace, its plot twists and turns, defying logic, common sense and one's ability to follow it. There are endless eye-numbing computer generated effects to divert from holes in the plot, and nods back to the first movie and others. Evie has visions, seeing Egyptian ruins as they were in their heyday. It turns out that she is the reincarnation of Nefertiri, daughter of the Pharaoh murdered by Imhotep and his lover, Anck-su-namun. This gives an excuse for an all too short flashback to ancient times where Nefertiri is fight training with Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velazquez) in front of the Pharaoh. The sight of these two scantily clad women working up a sweat going hammer and tongs at each other with swords provided a highlight for the many dads in the audience. And of course perhaps we should mention our appreciation of R
achel Weisz's curvy figure, her enthusiasm for wearing low blouses and tight trousers, and the camera's habit of lingering over her heaving cleavage, and strategic rear placing when Rachel bends over. If you saw the first movie, you'll have seen much of it before. The Mummy's face in a sandstorm? Here its appears in a wall of water. Brave pilot that ferried them through the sandstorm in a biplane? This time it?s a hip black guy in a preposterous balloon. Black scarabs by the zillion pouring out the ground? Check. Ditto under the skin of an extra? Check. Remember the old James Bond film where a double decker bus went under a low bridge that ripped off the roof and the baddy that didn't duck? Same happens here. Remember millions of bugs swarming towards the Starship Troopers? Ditto here, with Anubis ghoulish reincarnated army. One great scene is almost thrown away at the beginning. Imhotep's supporters down in the basement of the British Museum are performing a ceremony to revive him. Upstairs, as they chant spells, other mummies start coming to life, breaking out of their glass cases. This film is billed as The Mummy Returns'. My beef is there wasn't enough of The Mummy. The next film in the series will be called 'The Scorpion King' which explains why that character had more prominence. But his reincarnation was more stupid than frightening, with the head and chest of Dwayne Johnson grafted on top of a huge scorpion which can't do much with its enormous claws except provide reminders of Starship Trooper bugs. For me, the best part of the movies, and the best use of computer generated effects were the recreations of ancient Egypt. If the next movie was entirely set in ancient Egypt, perhaps covering the period up to the death of Imhotep then I'll be first in line. But they can keep the half man - half scorpion! (Question - why has DooYoo filed this film in the Horror category? Its a
12 certificate romp!
Carl Hiaasen has written many hilarious books. This isn't one of them. The standard ingredients are all there but the magic isn't. Big time lobbyist Palmer Stoat habitual litter throwing from his car attracts the attention of Twilly Spree. Instead of talking to Palmer and trying to convince him of the error of his ways, Twilly uses increasingly weird methods of expressing displeasure, ranging from dumping a garbage truck's contents in Palmers convertible car to kidnapping his dog. Actually, the car was owned by Palmers wife, Desie, who soon becomes Twilly's willing accomplice. But Palmer remains oblivious that his littering is the cause of all the misfortunes that befall him. Twilly's inherited fortune funds his attacks on polluters. Thus he pays his way with bundles of banknotes, buying a car here, bribing there, money no object. But despite Hiaasens best attempts, it's hard to empathise with him. He seems a pale substitute for Skink, mad one-eyed ex-Florida governor now living wild in the woods. And when Skink makes a late appearance things start looking up. But too late, even his fascinating character can't save this tired book. (In the epilogue, Hiaasen retires Skinks inside man, police officer Jim Tile. Does this mean that Skinks days are numbered and his intended replacement is the tedious Twilly? Say it ain't so, Carl!) All the usual suspects are present; corrupt politicians, rapacious developers, and destruction of Florida's wildlife and forests. Of new characters I particularly liked Mr Gash, psychopathic hit-man who relaxes by listening to 'The World's Most Blood-Curdling Emergency Calls' and succeeds in making it to Volume IV. I've read all of Hiaasen's books and laughed out loud to most of them. But this one didn't raise more than a couple of smiles. It's a tired reworked mishmash of previous themes and subjects and not up to the level of his previous b
ooks. If you've yet to read a Hiaasen, get one of his earlier ones such as Native Tongue. This one's for diehard fans only.
Electric! My son is studying the play at school so I was dragged along. I'd seen it once before many years ago. It's a favourite of am-dram groups because all it needs is one dining room set. I remembered it as slow and talky. Well, not this production! Even before the play starts we know something is strange. The edge of the stage visible infront of the curtain is bent and twisted. As the house lights dim the wailing of a second world war 'all clear' air raid siren sounds. A flap opens in the stage and out climb some young children holding a torch. It must be after an air-raid. But everything is weird. A wet cobbled road surface is distorted and it seems a house has been thrust up through it, it sits uneasily on pylons raised in the sky. The children wonder at it, then run and play. It's some sort of time slip. The house lights come on and people can be seen and heard through the windows. We are outside observers, looking back at a family in 1912. They are celebrating the engagement of their daughter to a young business man. The family is rich, the father is a factory owner. They discuss how life is becoming better through modern marvels, for instance the Titanic is setting sail soon, and dismiss nonsense talked about Germany arming. But most of all they scoff at talk of society, and that people should help each other. Its do- gooding socialist nonsense, they declare. Meanwhile their maid is swilling rubbish into the gutter where one of the young children sits, staring up at the house. He will remain there the entire time, and observer. A figure swathed in overcoat and wide brimmed hat appears in the street. He demands to speak with the householder. The factory owner is not at all concerned that the visitor is a police inspector. After all, he is friends with the chief constable and was mayor of the city for several years, and as a magistrate has sometimes to sign warrants. He knows the police officers in t
he town, but he doesn't recognise this one. The inspector doesn't want a warrant. He is investigating the suicide of a young girl. And it seems she once worked at the factory. Why should that concern the factory owner. After all, he sacked her eighteen months before because she was involved in a strike for more money. The inspector seems to already know about that. And more. And he has to interview all the occupants about their knowledge of the dead girl. They all have had some connection, and the inspector seems to consider they all played some part in the girls death. One by one he questions them, exposing things they'd rather not be brought into the open. And life will never be the same again for some of them. But is he really a police inspector? This production is electrifying, stunning. There is no other word for it. Real water falls from the sky when it rains, the collapse of the family is echoed by the house crashing down, spraying the table settings all over the street so conversations are accompanied by the sound of feet crunching over broken crockery. The play has been opened up, and opened also to echos of the future, the children and people who inherit the world left by the factory owner and his kind are there - mutely observing. J B Priestley wrote a passionate play, intended to influence thinking. He wanted it to be set in one room to reduce distractions and force concentration on the script. But audiences have changed in the past fifty years, and this production catches the pulse, bring bang up to date the plays meaning while exciting audiences. While the run at the current theatre has ended the play will be returning to a new theatre at the end of the summer. Make sure you catch this production! Is he a real police inspector? My son suggested I consider his name............
Who'd have thought that a play written over one hundred years ago would be so enjoyably funny? Think of TV's Jeeves and Wooster and you'll have its measure. Two young men about town, two eligible girls and a ferocious aunt are the key constituents. Mix in swapped identities, non-existent brothers and a lost baby and you get this masterpiece. After a low key start to set the scene this play quickly builds up pace and milks laugh after laugh from resulting confusions. Patricia Routledge as the imposing aunt is a tour de force. Resplendent in magnificent gowns and spiffy hats she commands the stage like a battle tank, her beady eye the barrel and hilarious crushing statements her ammunition. It is a talky play, the sets just sketching scenery, and would do well on the radio. But you wouldn't see Ms Routledges performance, see her move across the stage, legs hidden in the voluminous gowns, like some all conquering Dalek. She is definitely the star of the play, and I thought the male leads were rather weak. I saw the play the penultimate evening of its run at The Savoy theatre, so unfortunately it is too late for you to act on my recommendation for this particular performance. However the play has been performed for over 100 years and is likely to be performed again, so do remember the name and give it a go. And thats my earnest recommendation.
Three seminal albums came out in the summer of 1967. One was widely publicised, the other two received little mention in the UK. Each broke away from the group's earlier styles. They were Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, Forever Changes by Love and Strange Days by The Doors. Strange Days is the bands second album. It's weird cover made it stand apart from other records on display - if you could find a shop stocking it then. A grey street scene with a motley assortment of circus performers including a strong man, white-faced clown juggling, acrobats and a dancing dwarf. The back cover shows the dwarf bowing, tambourine in outstretched hand to a tall beautiful woman in a doorway. On the wall is poster of the Doors headshots from their first album with the title 'Strange Days' pasted over it. This album was more poppy, and after thirty years and uncountable playings, what seemed strange is now comfortably familiar. It's often forgotten, but the Doors wrote some great pop songs. Only 'Love me Two Times' from this album charted at the time, but others still get airplay from time to time. Strange Days kicks off the album. A thin organ sound cascades down the scale, the band joins the beat and Jim's voice, quiet at first takes over. At first he sings in a monotone, but then he soars with the melody. You're Lost Little Girl - Jim takes a few words and stretches them into a ballad. Great guitar playing and Manzarek's keyboards make this. Love me Two Times - the first rocker, inconsequential lyric, bouncy beat. Unexpected harpsichord middle section lifts this from juke box fodder. Unhappy Girl - is she the same girl who is lost? Locked in a prison of her own device. That thin spiralling organ sound again, leading into a poppy bounce. But the words Jim sings in a cheerful voice are deep and melancholy. Horse Latitudes - One of Jim's poems
backed with plinky sounds. Moody 90 second piece about horses being jettisoned over the side of becalmed ships, also alludes to waves breaking on the shore. Maybe those in the following Moonlight Drive - back to a slow paced rocker. How many times did I hear this before I twigged it was about committing suicide by swimming out to sea? People are Strange - One of my favourites. Good words, good tune. People are strange when you're a stranger. How true. My Eyes have Seen You - Tiny, intense song, great playing. I Can't see your Face in my Mind - a slow paced track. Interesting there's no drum beat, just a few clicks, a guitar being plucked on the beat, and Ray's electric organ quietly swirling in the distance. When the Musics Over - Another opus in the style of The End. At eleven minutes he has time to develop his ideas and musical theme. But in fact its more of a series of linked tunes and songs. Jim Morrison overshadows the group, but we shouldn't forget that he was backed by superb musicians. The restrained playing of John Denmore on drums, Robby Kreiger on guitar and most of Ray Manzarek on keyboards defined the Doors just as much as Morrison. Strange Days is my favourite Doors album. You could say it's not typical, but then there are distinct differences between the mood of each of their albums. I bought every one as it was released. But if I could keep one only, this is the one.
St Albans, just 30 minutes by train from central London, is an ideal day trip destination. Roman ruins, an attractive medieval city and Abbey, 15th century pubs and an open market held since 948 are in easy walking distance. The city takes its name from Britain's first Saint, the martyred Alban, and his shrine can be seen in the magnificent Abbey, dating from 1077. Alban was a Roman soldier executed in 209 for his beliefs and for hiding a Christian priest. At that time the city was known as Verulamium and was a grand Roman city, the third largest in Britain. It had been built on the site of the capital of an ally British tribe's city. The tribe was rich and powerful but couldn't prevent the Roman legions conquering England. They allied themselves with the Romans and adopted their ways. You can walk along their enormous defensive ditches, still some sixty feet deep in places 2000 years later. Verulamium prospered, despite being burned to the ground by Queen Boadicea's army and later by accident, until Rome withdrew her legions 400 years later. The new town was built of brick and flint with massive defensive walls and fortifies gateways. It straddled Watling Street, the main road from London to the west. The city was built on a plain alongside the river Ver navigable by sea going ships. But as Christianity became the major religion a new town slowly grew around Alban's shrine housed in a small wooden church on the hill overlooking Verulamium. A monastery was built and people gradually abandoned the Roman city. The fine Roman buildings decayed and were used as a source of materials for the new city of St Albans. If you look up at the Abbey you'll see thousands of thin orange roman bricks used to build the tower, plus an occasional section of statue and pillar. And as you walk around St Albans looking at old buildings you'll spot bricks and flints taken from Verulamium. Because St Albans was built alongside Verulamium, much of the Roman city survived, but except for some long sections of high city wall, the remains are underground. A public park and farmland cover the area. Every summer a new section of the park is excavated. Just under the grass where nowadays people play football and cricket are streets, the stumps of walls and superb mosaic floors. One spectacular floor has been roofed over and may be visited free of charge. You can walk around the mosaic and observe the raised floor under which hot air from fires was wafted by brick ducts. Nearby are the ruins of Verulamiums theatre. It is unique in northern Europe for having a stage and proscenium. Next to it are foundations of town houses and an underground temple to Mithras. Verulamium Museum in the park contains much discovered in the ruins, including more mosaic floors, skeletons, reconstruction's and is a visit is not only essential to appreciate the site and its importance, but is really enjoyable in its own right. The town of St Albans spread out from the monastery built around the Abbey of St Alban. The monastery was all-powerful and owned all land for miles around. Many local inhabitants depended on it for a living by working as farm labourers. The start and end of the working day was measured by tolling the Abbey bells. The suspicion that the monastery cheated by ringing the end of work day bell later and later during the summer caused locals to build their own clock tower which they placed in the town centre facing the monastery. You can climb this unique curfew tower on weekends in the summer and gain a birds eye view over the roofs and streets which have retain the same pattern for centuries. Two major battles of the Wars of the Roses were fought in these streets, and you can follow the path of both sides as fighting ebbed and flowed. There is so much history packed into a compact are
a. Next to the clock tower is narrow French Row where King John of France was held as prisoner of war in 1356. Three churches founded in 948, the oldest pub in England, many superb 15 century timbered buildings, and a waffle shop in a working water mill are just some of the sights also to be seen in a short walk through St Albans. For an enjoyable day out do visit my home town - historic St Albans - Verulamium. How to get to St Albans. By Train - St Albans City station is well connected north and south on the Thameslink line which goes from Bedford south to Brighton, with many stops including Kings Cross Thamslink, St Pauls, Blackfriars and London Bridge in the centre of London, and Gatwick airport to the south and London Luton airport to the north. The journey should average 30 minutes from Kings Cross Thameslink St Albans City Station is about 10 minutes walk from the centre of the city. There is a taxi rank at the station. Rail timetable at www.railtrack.co.uk By Car:- St Albans is at the junction of the M25 (London outer ring) and M1 motorways. Take exit 21A or 22 on the M25, exit 6 on the M1. Or consider driving from London's Hyde Park on the old roman road, Watling Street, named Edgware Road at the London end. By Plane:- London Luton airport, served by EasyJet and Ryan Air is the closest airport, about 20 minutes by car or use Thameslink train. Gatwick airport is about 90 minutes away bt Thameslink train. Stay Overnight St Michaels Manor hotel backs onto Verulamium Park in historic Fishpool Street. Less expensive accommodation may be found in the same street in the Red Lion pub. There is a Comfort Inn hotel in the old Ryder Seed Merchants Hall in the center of town, plus many B+Bs and small hotels. To make a booking contact the tourist office on 01727 64511 Can't Do Without The St Albans Mapguide is a
full colour booklet containing a concise history of St Albans and the most detailed map you'll ever see. Professional mapmaker Michael Middleditch photographed St Albans from the air then walked every road and lane. His resulting map shows everything in fine detail. Buy it from the rail station bookstall or any St Albans bookshop of tourist office. ISBN 0-9513390-0-1 at £2.95 St Albans on the web http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/tourism/ If you have been, thanks for reading (April 2001)
St Albans Council web-site won an award in 1996. It wouldn't now. It contains a lot of information but is difficult to navigate through and find what you're looking for. Much too much on the site is out of date. A reference to something announced for this week turns out to date from April 1999. There is a button linking to millennium events that solicits for suggestions. Listings promote events in 1999 and 2000. Others talk about happenings due to take place in July without mentioning which year. There is no consistent look and feel. Almost every click brings you so a different layout with changed backgrounds and different navigation methods. And tacky clip-art moving GIFs abound. The home page has a menu bar on the left and pictures of St Albans on the right above disfiguring and irritating moving words and logos. The left menu cannot be scrolled down all the way, it needs a button clicked to show the lower part. It's just a symptom of the user-unfriendly navigation that is to follow The site looks like a hobby site by someone who just doesn't have the time for it any more. I run hobby sites myself and know just how much effort is needed to keep a site up to date, and if the site was done by a council officer in their spare time I'd applaud them for cost saving. But this is site has the logo and link of a professional web design company on almost every page. I don't know how much the council are paying, but I reckon they're being short-changed. There are some good things on the site. A map of the area lets you click on where you live and brings up a list of your councillors, with their photos and email addresses. There's fairly comprehensive lists of businesses, shops, pubs, restaurants, dentists, doctors and other services. One nice touch is a page linking to local residents home pages. Because there is so much out of date information it is unwise to trust anything on the site which d
oesn't have a full date shown. However the site is being updated, or at least new items are being added. There is a useful 'whats new' link listing updates. In summary the site needs a radical overhaul. There should be one consistent look with a standard navigation system. Outdated information should be pruned and every single page should have a publication and 'last updated' date on it. Behind the Web-site - People Doing Their Best ============================================= Dustbins and dog-wardens, parking and policing, libraries and licensing, these are just some of the mundane aspects of life controlled by the local council. The council only impinges on my consciousness when rates bill arrive and during local elections. The rest of the time this arm of government carries on it's every day tasks without a thought from me. My rubbish is collected weekly without any problems, the streets are cleaned and life is good. Then a builder applied for planning permission to cram in a new housing complex in the back gardens of neighbouring houses. A local action group was formed, protest letters were sent and one evening I found myself at a local council meeting where they were to discuss the planning application. It was the first time I had entered the impressive new council building in the centre of St Albans. The council chamber is modern, with councillors sitting around a large desk in the middle. Several applications were being considered. I was most impressed with the way business was conducted. It was not at all like the rowdiness of the Commons. Councillors of all political persuasions listened intently, asked pertinent questions and displayed a deep knowledge and love of St Albans. They genuinely seemed to consider the applications in light of the best interests of St Albans and its inhabitants. One application was from a man wanting to open a tattoo and piercing par
lour. The councillors seemed very much against the application. They didn't consider it appropriate, were concerned that children would be tattooed and feared for the safety of the processes. The applicant was invited to speak. He was nervous, but described the popularity of tattooing and piercing, discussed safety issues, the measures he took and his experience and expertise. The councillors asked him further questions and he satisfied all their points. The application was granted. And so it went on. The councillors - most of who had come straight from work, took their responsibilities very seriously. They listened to each other, took advice from council officers and made their decisions. I went home with an insight into local democracy and new confidence in the council. I don?t always agree with their decisions, but now I know they are not made without a lot of thought and discussion. Councillors don't tend to deal with glamorous issues. People contact them when they want something done and pleasing one group means upsetting others. It's a pretty thankless task and not one I'd want to do. Unfortunately we did not look at local government when I was at school and it still seems to be ignored by the education system. How ever good or poor a councillor is, their seat depends more on the public's opinion of national party politics than their own personal qualities. So they work away, giving up their evenings and spare time managing local resources for an indifferent and unappreciative public. Why not spend a couple of hours in the public seats of your council chamber watching your councillors at work you may be pleasantly surprised. And if not, you'll know who to vote off. If you have been, thanks for reading. This opinion dated April 2001
Edinburgh's premier hotel is looking tired. Once an exclusive destination, now tour busses line up outside disgorging weary tourists 'doing' Scotland. Rooms and fittings show resulting signs of wear from frequent turnover. The George in George Street has been my address in Edinburgh for some ten years. It is in the centre of town by St Andrews Square, convenient for my work, close to restaurants and shops and just off Princess Street. The staff show true Scot's hospitality, even though, as part of the Intercontinental group they are an international team. Reception and hall staff are welcoming and friendly. After your room is allocated you turn either to the left or right. To the right is the new wing, the old wing is on the left. Usually I turn right. The one time I went left I had an unpleasant single room in the roof, long and thin with a small window above eye level. The new wing rooms are comfy, with good-sized bed, two armchairs, coffee table and desk and office chair. A wooden unit houses TV, mini-bar, clothes drawers. Drawers on the top left are fake: the fascia opens out to reveal kettle and tea/coffee making facilities. The bathroom is compact, with a good range of toiletries including a neat pack of cotton buds, emery boards etc. But special mention must be made of the soap. The bath soap is presented in a classy dark green and gold cardboard box about 3 inches, by one and a half by 1. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper is a large bar curved to fit in the palm of ones hand and round legs and arms. It's a pleasure to use after the micro tablets offered in most hotels. And they're replaced every day. Soundproofing could be better and the placing of the TV encourages people to have the volume raised. But the windows can be opened wide so one can sleep breathing fresh Scottish air. You must go in the restaurant. It was originally a stock exchange and is a high hall marvellous
ly decorated. Dinner is a carvery, breakfast is a buffet. I think over the years the carvery meal has declined but I cannot report on it this trip. On Sunday night with just a few guests and acres of empty tables I waited a long time before being seated. They were seating everyone close together in one area although all tables were laid even down to dinner rolls on plates. The tables are very close together, with only a couple of inches between them on one side. When I asked for a more secluded table (I didn't want to sit next to a group of voluble arm-waving Spanish tourists) I was told the only other seats were in the smoking area - a palpable untruth. So I left to eat dinner elsewhere. Breakfast was good. Tea and toast arrived promptly. The influence of American tourists can be seen on the buffet with two fried egg platters, one sunny side up, the other 'over easy', but unfortunately their excellent back bacon has been replaced by American style streaky bacon cooked to a crisp. If they'd also offer back bacon it'd be perfect. The hotel has pleasant lounges where you can order tea and scones, comfy leather chaired bar with a great selection of malt whiskies and an up market French restaurant with a separate entrance. I will definitely stay at The George again. But to maintain it's luxury hotel rating it should revamp the tired rooms and look at the restaurant from a customers point of view.
Two cattle diseases. One incurable and fatal leading to terrible deaths for both cattle and humans, the other harmless to humans and recoverable by cattle, described by some as similar to a bad case of flu. Compare the difference between actions taken when they were identified. One requires all cattle and sheep in farms that have an outbreak to be slaughtered and destroyed. It requires healthy animals in a two-mile zone around an affected area to be slaughtered and destroyed. It requires the countryside to be closed causing bankruptcies among tourist related industries and a huge loss of income to all businesses in affected areas. It requires race meetings, shows and even elections to be cancelled. The army is mobilised. Every step, no matter how drastic, is taken to completely eradicate all trace of the disease. The other disease just requires that meat intended for human consumption is slaughtered before signs of the disease becomes apparent. The incurable disease deadly to humans is BSE. The other one is Foot and Mouth (F&M). So why is such drastic action being taken to eradicate F&M? It is so that the UK can keep the status of a F&M free country and export meat. In other words, it is the economic interests of the farming community at issue. The farming business plays a small part in the economic life of the UK, much smaller than the tourist business, but has political clout out of all proportion. Hotels, guesthouses, travel companies and tourist sites will go bankrupt as a result of this F&M outbreak, but only farmers will be compensated. Yet again they will be there with their hands out. It doesn't matter if it?s the EU paying them not to grow food no-one wants, or to plant hedges to replace ones they have just pulled out, or the UK paying them compensation. They'll take the money, and continue complaining all the time how badly they are done by. They are the ones who caused BSE by fe
eding their cattle with ground-up dead animals. Cattle are herbivores, but by feeding them with protein in the form of meat they could fatten them quicker and make more profit. They are the ones who produce eggs and chickens so full of salmonella that restaurants are advised to fry eggs until the yolks are hard and uncooked eggs can no longer be used in recipes. They are the ones supported by tax-payers moneys that coin it in good times and expect handouts in bad times - even when bad times are a result of their own greedy practices. Other countries live with F&M. It is crazy the whole country is paralyzed for the benefit of the few farmers who want to export meat. Even if this outbreak is eradicated, how long before F&M again erupts? How often does the entire country have to come to a standstill? Better to use vaccinations. Kill diseased cattle by all means, but perhaps allowing them to build natural immunity to the F&M virus is a better solution. If agribusiness wants to protect future profits by wholesale destruction of healthy animals, let them fund it. Not demand the taxpayers pay for the lunacy. Note: My rant is against corporate agri-business, not Britain's hundreds of compassionate small farmers whose livelihoods are being destroyed along with their livestock
Exceeding expectations Virgin Express is the best of the low price airlines. It is based in Brussels, Belgium and is a separate airline from the more famous Virgin Atlantic. Booking is simple on a web-site whose clarity and speed is an example of how online booking should done. You can book only one way flights, so if you want, as I did, a return from Brussels to London then you book each leg as separate flights. Prices are clearly shown, and differ with less popular flights cheaper. On booking you are given a reference number, which you must quote when arriving at check in. At check in you are asked for your seating preference and given a boarding card. This was a major bonus for me as I heartily dislike the 'free seating' operated by some other discount airlines which leads to frantic scrambles onto the plane to bag seats, with the resulting separation of slower parties. The next highlight was the plane, which had comfortable leather seats that reminded me of the old 'all business class' British Midland. But the real surprise was after take off when smartly uniformed keen young cabin staff distributed complimentary biscuits and hot drinks served in a good-sized mug. I really appreciated that drink and not having to scrabble for the appropriate coins to pay for it. I wondered if the female cabin crew appreciated the word Virgin embroidered in large letters across the back of their uniform blouse. I flew four times between Brussels and London at the end of 2000, and was totally satisfied. They delivered more than I expected.
SAA used to be well above average, but now I'd rate them no better than average. I have flown with South African Airways twelve times over the past five years consisting of two return flights to Johannesburg, two return flights to Cape Town and two return flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Last month we went to Cape Town. It is very difficult to give an objective opinion on any airline since much of ones experience is based on what happens during the twelve hours that we are strapped into a seat. And so the attitude of the one or two cabin staff assigned to our area has an dis-proportionate influence on us. Let me first cover the good points, based on my most recent flight, a London-Cape Town- London journey two weeks ago. SAA departed on time and arrived on time, and gave us a smooth safe flight. We were given our requested seat allocations and there was no check-in queue at all at Cape Town's new terminal. The 747 plane was packed and the seats were standard economy class. I was surprised there were no screen back televisions, just an old fashioned large screen at the front of the cabin. The films on offer did not interest me and I never unwrapped the headset. On the return flight they showed a three week old BBC TV news programme. Loudspeaker announcements during the flight were muffled, I couldn't understand any of them. Food was basic economy class fare. On the way out cabin staff made a show of laying a cloth over the table tray, but not on the return. On the return the breakfast was served without any choice although the menu did show an alternative. Wine is a high point of SAA for me. They serve South African wine in 187.5 cl bottles and as I am a fan of SA wine making my choice is something Iook forward to, but cabin staff were not interested in showing any choices - it was red or white as far as they were concerned. A request on the return for the Sauvignon Blanc I'd enjoy
ed on the outward flight was met with irritation. SAA give out a useful travel kit in a miniature plastic duffel bag containing eye shades, a good folding toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and sleep slippers. Our disembarkation at London was delayed by a plane in 'our' arrival bay. My partner was infuriated and said that it was because SAA were renting space from another airline and didn't have dedicated spaces like BA. Last night she returned from a trip with BA and the same thing happened then! To summarise. Travel economy class with SAA is not as good as it was and now rates as no higher than average. That is for two main reasons. Cabin crew are new and inexperienced and - to be frank - not very good at their job being slow inefficient and unfriendly and unhelpful. Past flights had older professional cabin crew who were a delight. Now other long haul airlines have seat back television screens in economy, SAA has a dated offering. Next time I will try Virgin or BA. Sorry SAA.
A ripping yarn - with gaping plot holes and laughable dialogue. Clive Cussler has read Graham Hancock's theories about a vanished ancient advanced civilisation and incorporated them into this action novel featuring his tiresome superhuman hero Dirk Pitt. He sets up an intriguing scenario - ancient chambers of incredible technical construction are found inscribed with an unknown language that appears to warn of an impending stellar catastrophe. But the chambers are guarded by ruthless killers who assassinate anyone who discover them. Dirk Pitt appears on the scene to save one such exploration team. Dirk is 'director of Special Projects at the National Underwater and Marine Agency'. As director he seems to have no responsibilities and can hare off all over the world pursuing the secrets of the chamber and those that guard them. Clive intrigues by setting up mysterious finds, black obsidian skulls, perfect mummies, warnings from the past and more. But half way through the book he seems to tire of this and doesn't develop the themes or answer the puzzles he poses in the first part of the book. Instead the plot turns into the old 'Mr Big who wants to rule the world' versus Dirk Pitt and even revives those nasty Nazis yet again. That's not to say the book isn't a page-turner, but it?s a production number rip off of James Bond. And there are parts that are so bad I couldn't help thinking that Cussler was seeing how far he could push the joke. How about this? The ultra smooth agent is having dinner in the poshest restaurant in town with his senator girlfriend. Quote: Pitt didn't attempt to pronounce the menu courses in French. He held to straight English. "For the hors d'oveures we'll have the house pate with truffles followed by the vichyssoise." The French will be surprised to learn that 'hors d'oveures', 'pate' and 'vichyssoise'
are straight English words. And when he orders wine the wine waiter smarms "A very excellent choice, sir. Not many of our patrons know it exists." It's on the wine list and the other patrons don?t know it exists? Can't they read? When Pitt asks his girlfriend what car a baddy escaped in she replies "a black Chrysler 300M series with a three-point-five litre, 253-horsepower engine. Zero to fifty miles an hour in eight seconds". As one does during a car chase. Not. Dirk Pitt thinks with his testes instead of his brain. The climatic ice fight where Pitt on his own saves a commando raid consisting of elite US special forces, defeats the enemy and saves the world could have been avoided and the same end achieved with a simple warning. (I won't say more for fear of spoiling the book, but please email if you want to know) In summary, it?s a cracking page turner, a perfect airport book to ease a long flight, spoiled by sloppy dialogue and plotting.
Perhaps someone can explain to me how the benefits of keeping recreational drugs illegal outweigh the manifest disadvantages? The mere fact these drugs are illegal doesn't seem to hinder their popularity. It appears easier to get them now than at any time since they were made illegal. I want the government to provide me with a safe environment to enjoy life and to bring up my family. I do not want my children to take recreational drugs. I do not want them to become addicts. I don't want their life blighted by being sent to prison for smoking cannabis. But the government has manifestly failed to keep drugs out of society. I am at risk of robbery and muggings by people desperate to maintain their drug habit. My taxes are squandered in an ineffectual 'war' against drugs. Instead of chasing real villains, police time is frittered away on pursuing the easy target of prosecuting youths taking drugs. Some 90,000 people prosecuted for possession of drugs last year. And not a single one was any risk to me. My photo at the top of this article will show I am middle aged. When I was at school I knew nothing of drugs, except in tales where opium was smoked in 'dens' in China. My children couldn't say the same. Drugs are in the mainstream of society. There is never a day when there are not newspaper stories about their effect on society. Police routinely patrol Nottingham streets with guns as a result of turf wars between drug gangs. I can no longer open a building society account without showing proof of identity in an attempt to halt drug money laundering. Our entire society is being changed in the light of this futile war against drugs. It is true drug takers sometime die. I believe the number of deaths from heroin each year is in single figures. But how many people are dying in drug gang fights that would not happen if drugs could be bought legally? Don't get me wrong. I am not in favour of
recreational drugs. I don't want to take them, legal or not. And I pray my children never do. But if an inquisitive child tries cannabis or ecstasy at university they risk being slammed up in prison, thus damaging their prospects of a career. They risk taking impure drugs and they have to buy them from criminals who have a strong motive to get them hooked on seriously addictive drugs. I want the government to protect them, but it cannot. If it cannot protect them from drugs then it should protect them from illegal drugs and gangsters. The first priority is to get rid of the drug gangs. Liberalising drug laws could do this. If users can buy reasonably priced consistent quality drugs from licensed shops, then the need to smuggle drugs into Britain goes. The raison d'être for drug gangs and pushers go. Cannabis users do not have to meet gangsters to get their supplies and be tempted by more addictive drugs It should be legal to sell cannabis, ecstasy and other such drugs. Manufacturers and sellers should be licensed, the product should be taxed with warning notices. Just like we do with that major addictive killer, tobacco. Heroin addicts should be able to register and get supplies on prescription. The second stage should be to reduce demand. The campaign against smoking tobacco has been wonderfully successful. It shows what can be done. Society should also be able to offer some vision of hope to those for whom drugs are a way out of misery. Jobs are an obvious way. Some argue that legalising drugs will encourage more people to take them. Maybe, but the current system doesn't work in discouraging them. More than 90% of all offences are for possession, of which 75% involve cannabis. The police have made over a million stop and search operations in the past four years and prosecuted 90,000 people last year for possession. If that is the amount found by police, what is the true usage figure? It is obvi
ous that anyone who wants to try recreational drugs has no difficulty getting them. Let's free up the police, courts and prisons for serious crimes. If people, of their own free will, choose to take dangerous drugs for recreational reasons that is regrettable. But we cannot stop them. We have tried and it has proved impossible. So let's not allow the drug gangs to mess up our society any more. It's the least worse solution.
Hotel Krone in Tubingen is ideally placed on the River Neckar between the old town whose cobbled streets wind up around the hill and a small modern shopping district. Tubingen is a university town south of Stuttgart. It was not targeted during the war and has an original historic centre with buildings dating back 1000 years. Much of the old town is pedestrianised with streets that twist and turn up and down around the hill and ancient churches. Half timbered buildings house shops and restaurants. Hotel Krone is a family run operation since 1885. The rooms are fitted with all modern amenities and yet do not have the sterile prefabricated feel of so many modern hotels. My room was one of the best I have ever enjoyed. The solid door opened into a short corridor with three doors. On the left was a bathroom with twin sinks, a bath/shower, bidet and toilet. Lots of luxurious lemon yellow towels and flannels were supplied, plus shampoo, disposable toothbrushes, combs as well as the more usual shampoos. A door to the right entered into a dressing area with wardrobes leading to a double bed. The door at the end opened into a living room with sofa and two armchairs around a long coffee table, TV with some 35 cable channels and a work desk with modem connection. The bed was comfortable with a light fluffy duvet and ample pillows. The room was pleasant and quiet. A window ran the length of the wall. The view wasn't great, being mostly of a courtyard and part of the modern town. Breakfast was buffet style with hot bacon and scrambled eggs, fresh fruit salad, yoghurts, cold meats cheese and a good selection of breads with jams. I ate dinner in the restaurant. There is a wide choice from the ala carte menu, including a page of local Swabian specialties plus a daily menu. The food was good, reasonably priced and cooked to order. But it seemed to take ages to be served. The wine menu was interesting with a good range of Germ
an wines, most available in 25cl carafes. I struggled through my German/English phrase book to decode the food choices but the second night they supplied me with an English menu. I loved this hotel and would not hesitate to return. I was in fact working in Herrenberg (30 minutes distance) and had been unable to find a room closer, but next time I'll try and stay in the Krone. Unfortunately it was January and cold and dark because I'd like to stroll around the old town on a warm summer evening. Tubingen is about 25 minutes south of Stuttgart airport. The taxi fare is 95 DM. Hotel published prices: 155-175DM (single) 235 -265DM (double) 315-375DM (suite) I paid 220DM B&B corporate rate Hotel Krone Uhlandstrasse 1 72072 Tubingen tel/fax +49 7071 1331 email - email@example.com web - www. krone-tuebingen.de
LA riots seem certain. Black lawyer Howard Elias forecast his death at the hands of a LA cop and now he's been brutally murdered. The public thinks a cop did it. The police chief also suspects the killer is one of his officers. The investigation has to be seen to be thorough. But they'd rather it didn't succeed or LA will go up in flames. Elias was just about to take the LA police to court on a high profile case alleging they?d tortured a suspect to make him confess to a nasty child rape-murder. They plan a high profile investigation that takes time till tempers calm and then gets no where. Harry Bosch is given the unenviable task, and to hinder him he is teamed with the internal affairs officer that twice investigated complaints against Harry. No one doubts the child killer is guilty ? the evidence is 100%, so why kill Elias? At first Harry seems to have a hopeless case. An investigating team hamstrung by divisions, a police force that fears the obvious conclusion being found, and a community sitting on a powder keg. But certain things don?t ring true. If Elias is the ideal family man why does he have a flyer for a SM dominatrix? And are the facts about the abduction of the murdered girl as certain as everyone thinks. Harry's ex-partner interrogated the confessed killer. He was always a straight arrow and Harry knows he wouldn't torture a suspect, but why did he commit suicide? Certain facts have a way of slipping from his grasp the closer Harry gets. Michael Connelly's Bosch novels never operate on one level; they are like a Russian doll where there are layers and layers of truth, opening one exposes a new layer. I have read all his books as they have been published and this is one of the best. The main story line keeps to the forefront all the time, without much past baggage. Each twist and turn becomes instantly understandable, based on what went before, so you are led just a step or two behi
nd Bosch to the denouement. One criticism I have is the unconvincing explanation he gives on tracking down a web site. I was embarrassed at the inadequacies and errors in the description of the web. If you?ve never read a Michael Connelly book, then this is an excellent introduction. If you have then be assured this one is a real credit to the series. Oh, and you'll look at Coke bottles in a new way.