Thursday, May 31, 2007

Being a Marc fan

The Brighton gang!, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Just like old times and I had forgotten just how good they could be... a Marc Almond concert. Of course, it is great to see Marc, but in recent years (since say about 1998) they have become social events, where one meets fellow fans before, during and after.

The last time Marc was giving lots of concerts was 2001 on his own account and then 2002 with Soft Cell. Since then he had a near-fatal motorbike accident in 2004, from which he has about recovered. He ventured out earlier in the month to give three performances at Wiltons Music Hall, the first night of which, apparently, was a nerve-wracking experience.

I missed out on tickets so it was good to be invited by the BBC to the Mermaid Theatre where they were recording some songs from the new album Stardom Road, for broadcasting tomorrow on Friday night is Music night on BBC Radio 2. I had arranged to meet Ange, a friend who I had made on the Theatre of Marc Almond';s messageboard, before it was taken over by anonymous negative people who used the board as a platform to vent their won frustrations. I was also due to meet Dino and his partner Paul for the first time, so it was good to be surprised by meeting all sorts of other fans as well, like the Brighton gang, the 'boys' from Liverpool and, finally, Niall from Dublin who turned up in the Black Friar pub after putting his wife and two children to bed in the hotel opposite. They had all made the trip over from Dublin for the concert!

Before the internet, being a Marc Almond fan was quite a lonely experience, there not being all that many other fans around. There used to be fan club conventions in the 1980's but they were not exactly the most sociable of events. Internet provided a means through which Marc fans could find each other more easily.

So, Marc sang some songs with the BBC Orchestra and some with his band, including Martin Watkins on piano and Neal X on guitar. He sang some new songs, including a Charles Aznavour funeral song, a Dusty Springfield hit, a Gene Pitney rarity (Stardom Road is an album of covers), finishing off with his number one and number three hits: Somethings Gotten Hold Of My Heart and a sing-a-long Say Hallo Wave Goodbye. In between we heard some old fashioned Radio 2 instrumentals, including a very famous song called Stardust, which has been sung by many crooners but which none of us had ever recalled hearing. Not exactly my cup of tea. A young Liverpool singer called Jade (how I hate that name!) Gallagher sang three songs, the last of which was the best.

So, after the concert it was off to the pub, with Ange, Dino and Paul and the Brighton gang, later to be joined by Niall, to down some quick beers and talk about our various Marc experiences, our favourite songs, albums and concerts. Great fun!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Too much Tinky Winky makes you gay

Amsterdam mix - for James, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

These chaps who are on a stag do in Amsterdam have probably been watching too much Teletubbies, the way they walk around dressed in pink, carrying bags around the place as if they were Tinky Winky. Who knows how many of them have been turned gay by that subversive BBC programme for toddlers?

This would appear to be one of the latest worries for the Polish government as they boldly try to stem the tide of homosexuality. We heard yesterday that Ewa Sowinska, head of the government-sanctioned children's rights watchdog in Poland, has expressed concerns about the character Tinky Winky and said she would ask psychologists for advice. "I noticed Tinky Winky has a lady's purse, but I didn't realise he's a boy." "At first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby ... Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone."

She may have a point here. I never watchd Teletubbies as a toddler myself, being far too old for that, but I do know that when we lived in Beirut one of my first adventures at the tender age of three was to wander off to the local shop with my granny's purse to buy myself an ice cream.. and look where I ended up! At least I do not walk around town dressed in pink.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Marc Almond at the Mermaid Theatre

The BBC are very kindly recording some songs from Marc Almond's new album Stardom Road (out next week) with their BBC Radio Orchestra for broadcasting on Friday Night is Music Night programme on BBC Radio 2.

I had missed out on Marc's concerts at Wilton's Music Hall recently, the first since hius near fatal accident of three years ago, so it was good to be sent tickets for this concert by the BBC. I will be meeting up with some old and new Marc fan friends when I am there, which should be fun.

I had a look at Marc's website and was intrigued to see that they had compiled a top 50 list of favourite Marc songs from fans ( I must have missed the e-mails asking me to participate). I often used to like compiling my top 10 Marc songs, but haven't done so in a while. I happened to find this list, date 14th August 1998 and, to be honest, if I compiled the list again today it would not be much different. I will put them in order and see where they come on the total fans' list:

1 You Have (6) - can be seen on 'you tube' here
2 Soul Inside (19)
3 Split Lip (-)
4 Child Star (50)
5 My Hand Over My Heart (8)
6 St Judy (13)
7 Tenderness Is A Weakness (7)
8 Ruby Red (18)
9 Numbers (-)
10 Tragedy (10)

Quite a similarity, I suppose, and the two songs which did NOT make the top 50, Split Lip and Numbers are quite 'particular'. Good to see You Have still there in the top 10. If I would cahnge anything, I might take 'My Hand Over My Heart' out and put in either 'Your Aura' or 'The Desperate Hours'. The top 3 of the fans' choice were: 1 Say Hallo Wave Goodbye, 2 Torch and 3 Black Heart. I wonder of any from the new album will ever make the top 50...

Whilst on the subject of albums, my favourites would be:

1 Vermin in Ermine (7)
2 Mother Fist (1)
3 Enchanted (5)

Monday, May 28, 2007

(Neo-)Classical Amsterdam

It is Pentecost today and, despite Holland no longer actually being a Christian country, it is still a public holiday which means that although it is Monday, Fred is at home. It is project week at school this week, the crowning moment being a guided walk around Amsterdam for thirty schoolchildren under Fred and his colleague, Tineke's supervision. The theme is Classical Amsterdam.

We spent Friday cycling around Amsterdam checking out various buildings in the Classical tradition and yesterday walking around the route which Fred had set out for the walking tour. A good thing we did as we managed to reduce the amount of walking quite dramatically by taking a slightly more logical approach than Fred had done originally!

The 30 children will be divided into ten groups of three and each group has three objects (buildings or statues) to investigate prior to the tour and to present and explain the object during the tour. At the end of the tour, they will be asked to write a report about thir chosen object, which Fred and his colleagues will look at and mark, the points going towards their end of year grade. It is not a picnic!

This photo is of one of the only two palaces in Amsterdam, the Trippenhuis, built for some arms dealers in the 1660's, arms dealing being one of those trades which seems to earn its purveyors a lot of money, through all ages. The chimneys are even shaped as canons.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


What are you looking at?, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Bokito is a silverback gorilla who lives in Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam. He made the headlines a couple of weeks ago as he escaped from his enclosure, by climbing a high wall and negotiating a moat, and carried off and attacked a woman, biting her many times and then going on the rampage.

It turns out that the woman who was bitten had an obsession with Bokito. She would come to the zoo four times a week and spend a lot of time looking at Bokito, the two giving each other a lot of eye contact. Apparently, it was this eye contact which so affected Bokito that he decided to escape from his compound. He came after her and carried her away bfore biting her. It is not entirely clear why this woman was so fascinated by the gorilla.

Further there is a discussion about whether great apes should be kept in zoos, more so than other animals because they are so close to humans, genetically speaking and are our closest cousins. In these discussions there is always an assumption that our views towards great apes (and other animals) will change such that what we do to them today will seem to be totally barbaric to people in, say, 200 years time. Much the same as has happened with the way we think about slavery, for example.

I am sure they are right, but one of the problems is that so few apes are living safely in the wild. The great forests of the Congo basin are apparently up for grabs and are being felled by multi-national logging companies. The loggers need food and apparently great apes are killed for meat, whilst their habitat gets chopped down. So, at least having some safe populations in zoos may safeguard some species from extinction. Probably better to give them as much space as possible and protect them from too much intrusion. In the case of Blijdorp, if this lady really did come four times a week to spend time with her favourite gorilla, someone from the zoo should have told her to be careful not to upset him.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fred and the underwater elephant

Guess where we went today?

Answer: a n open-air photographic exhibition of wild animals around the Westerkerk and Homomonument in Amsterdam. Fred was standing in front of a tent with an image of this elephant printed on the side. Well worth having a look at.

They have come out into the open

Hogeweg fountain, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We had mentioned before that there is an underfound movement, mainly of frustrated middle-aged women in the neighbourhod, who, for a variety of reasons, do not like our new fountain.

Well, after Henk and I came back from our day on the beach at Zandvoort-aan-Zee, I found Fred sitting on the balcony, tut-tutting as he sat there reading a double page spread in Het Parool about our lovely fountain.

It appeared that these terrible women, none of whom win any prizes for making any sort of positive contribution to the neighbourhood, had found a sympathetic ear in the offices of Het Parool. Next to a large photo of the fountain, there was an article which was mainly devoted to the pathetic criticisms and complaints from these women. Complaints about the foutain becoming an illegal swimming pool, a children's play ground, how the once beautiful square (the prettist place in all Amsterdam) had been ruined by the building of a large roundabout with a fountain in the middle, how so many parking spaces had been lost, how the hairdresser had to install air-conditioning as she can no longer keep her front door open because of the noise of the splashing water and screaming kids (I don't believe her for one minute but I can lareday see the insurance claim in front of me) and how the sqaure had become a sandpit while the building was going on and so on. Blah blah blah... so it went on, all the time reflecting very poorly on the silly women making such complaints, although the newspaper could not themselves see the irony of such remarks.

The article was so biased and very little space was gien to the other point of view, we really felt we ought to write a letter to the paper to complain. But, to be honest, this is the level of journalism we have come to expect from the paper. It is just that it is an Amsterdam newspaper, with a proud history and it is easy to read. We know we shoudl really spend our time reading the NRC, where standards are much higher, but it is not so easy to read and misses out on our local Amsterdam news.

Anyway, after being our for another two weeks because the blossom from the horse chestnuts had clogged up the system, the fountain was turned back on two days ago, just in time for the beautiful weather which has returned (briefly) to Amsterdam. OK, so it does get a bit noisy after 3 pm, when the children come out of school, but children have the right to play and they are having fun, not fighting. Its a lovely sight to see.

So, next time I see one of those complaining women I think I will just let them know what I think of their misanthropic negativity.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Archer, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I might have been a bit negative about Itlay and its political and judicial system yesterday, but there is a lot to like about the country and its people.

Here is a photo of an archer at a medieval archery competition held in the Tuscan hill town of Castiglion Fiorentino, just over a month ago. In such places people are very close to their traditions, which in this small world of internet, media moguls and satellite television, is just wonderful.

In the meantime, Henk and I spent the day enjoying life on the beach in Zandvoort, while I await receipt of an employment contract, hoping that nothing goes wrond at this late stage.

Oh well, Liverpool lost 1-2

Liverpool - The Mersey, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A pity, given that Liverpool controlled the game well and created one or two good chances. But it was AC Milan's turn to be lucky, none more so than the first deflected goal. Oh well... it wasn't really a great match and there did not seem to be a great atmmosphere after the game finished, with the stands empty almost as soon as the final whistle blew. Still, a great performance from Liverpool to get to the final again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Italy vs Serbia

Testaccio Roma Club, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Tonight is the Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan, a re-run of the amazing 2005 final which Liverpool won on penalties after being 0-3 down. Steven Gerrard, what a hero. I very much hope that Liverpool manage to win again.

Although I cannot say I am a fan of Liverpool (Southampton is ' my' club), I always like to see Liverpool doing well in Europe as it brings back the heyday of the 1980's when they did so well until the Heysel incident. In 1984, Liverpool pulled off another memorable feat by winning the equivalent of the Champions League final by beating the mighty AS Roma IN Rome, again wining on penalties after a 1-1 draw. My parents were living in Rome - in Testaccio, as it happens - where this photo was recently made - and I remember my Mum telling me about all the excitement there was on the streets on the night of the final.

Another particular reason why I would like to se Liverpool win is that, much as I admire and respect the players of AC Milan, it has to be said that the club is owned by one of my least favourite people, arch crook and, as yet unconvicted criminal, Silvio Berlusconi.

He was the longest serving post-war Prime Mininister who lost in the elections of last year to Romano Prodi. Despite promising much, it seems as if he did not do an awful lot ot change Italy and probably not for the better. He did seem devote an awful amount of time in changing the laws regarding the prosecution and introducung time limits and so on. Most people thought he did this to protect himself from eventual conviction, for all his past misdemeanours (how else would he have become so rich?)

The Italians were some of the first to establish universities and to develop a modern legal system. However, it seems that their legal system has become rotten to the core, with so many political trials never reaching a successful conclusion, so many misdeeds going unprosecuted. There are many reasons for this, including a very complicated legal code, incompetence, links to organised crime (the Mafia) and, quite probably political interference.

Two books which describe very well the terrible state of the Italian judicial system are: The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones and Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb.

So, what is the connection to Serbia? Not that Red Star Belgrade have made it to the Champions League final, but that a Serbian Court has today found 12 men guilty of assassinating the then Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic in 2003. (This is reported by the BBC on this link).

Not only do the Serbians have a result, they even managed to bring the case to court and obtain convictions within 4 years of the deed having been perpetrated. In Italy, it would be quite impossible to think of even bringing a case to court in such a short space of time, let alone get a conviction. Hats off, then, to Serbia!

And.. good luck to Liverpool this evening.

Wow! An article about Serbia without mentioning Marija Serifovic! He he!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A nice picture of me from two years ago

Cipressi, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, this photo was taken just over two years ago, just as I was winding down my previous company, looking to finish on 1st June, which we did, since when I have had almost two years off. Two years which my soon be coming to an end as I am in the closing stages of accepting a job offer!
Since starting to look for a job in January, I have had a look at quite a few different companies, in industries as diverse as veterinary appliances, see-through braces (for teeth), servicing electronic goods, selling cement-impregnated building materials, consultancy services, telecoms and so on. I have met some very interesting people, some people I respect and others I respect less, shall we say. To be honest, very few of the jobs were actually what I was looking for and I sometimes had to pretend to be interested in doing the job which was being offered. Not always easy and more often than not, I was found out, ha ha!
However, supposing all goes well, the job I will be doing IS a job I was very much on the look-out for and the four people I have met so far impressed me, so it is looking good. We are now having a look at when I can start. I am suggesting 19th June, but they have said 'somewhere in the beginning of June', so a small discrepancy. As it happens I will be going to Oirland for the first time on June 15th, as my father has invited us to join him at an open-air opera in Wexford, on the south-east corner of the island.
The big question, when I do start work is whether or not to keep the blog going, as I will have a responsibility towards my employer and it might not be all that appropriate to make certain remarks on this blog. And the question will also be whether or not I have the time to keep this thing going. We'll see...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Dutch hill

A Dutch hill, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Fred and I just spent two days with our friends near Nijmegen, Fred's study friend from Groningen, Anneke and her 'man' Peter. Always nice to spend a few days with them and I remember a great time we had, also around Ascension Day many years ago when we sat outside in their lovely garden in Westerlee, near Winschoten in Groningen, playing Trival Pursuit at all hours of the day, one game after the other.

Anneke likes to walk and has walked the Nijmegense Vierdaagse (a four day walk around Nijmegen) a few times. The countryside around Nijmegen is particularly lovely because of the beech woods and the rolling hills (which are very rare in Holland!). One of the problems with Holland is that almost the minute it becomes hilly it becomes either Germany, Belgium or the North Sea. Here we were walking near to the German border, around Groesbeek.

We took the car here first of all in order to buy some fresh asparagus. This is the main asparagus growing region in Holland and it is asparagus season at the moment. Like the Germans, the Dutch like to eat their asparagus white, so the soil has to be raised constantly to keep the shoots under the soil, deprived of sunlight and therefore kept white. For this one needs cheap labour which used to be provided locally, then by Poles and now, apparently by Romanians and Bulgarians!

We had them for dinner in the classic Dutch style, boiled, together with broken pieces of boiled egg, sliced ham and melted butter, served with boiled new potatoes. Delicious!

But before then we had our walk through the woods and over the hills. A warm clammy sunny day, the air was full of birdsong. Very much like the woods near our house in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire where we were brought up. Wonderful. However, unlike Beaconsfield, there was a pancake house in the middle of the woods where we stopped for a drink and a bite to eat, Fred choosing best with his ham and cheese pancake, drizzled in syrup!

The day before we went out for dinner, we were celebrating some good news, about which, more later. At the other end of our visit, we left a little bit earlier than planned, as I had arranged my date with Marija!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Meeting Marija

Marija on the bus, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

After coming home from Nijmegen (see post above), I was picked up by Walter and Marcel, who drove me to Almere, a place I know very well having worked there for ten years. Marija Serifovic, the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest for Serbia was due to make an appearance, to sing and 'meet and greet' the fans. Fans like us! Ha ha!

Marija had been in Amsterdam in the morning where she was interviewed by the press and had made it over to the unlikely setting of Almere (think of Basingstoke or Milton Keynes for some idea of what it is like) in order to guest on Paul de Leeuw's show. Paul de Leeuw is Holland's most famous and controversial gay comedian/chat how host (a real original, like Graham Norton, but around much earlier, and even ruder!). He is the torchbearer of Eurovision in Holland and records his show in Almere every Saturday and was due to have Marija on the show this Saturday.

We were a bit early and the sun was shining so we took a walk around Almere and, my goodness!, how it had changed in the three years I had had my back turned to the place. They had built a hill, going up to the lake and had built a shopping centre on top of it! Quite good looking shops, with a large bookshop too! Amazing, almost worth a return visit one day when it is completed.

We waited for the girls, sitting on the terrace in the sun, drinking a couple of cooling beers while a local band played old Eurovision hits! Strange that a band wpuld have all Eurovision songs in its repertoire. I must remind Fred of this if and when we ever organise a big party and need a band! ha ha!

On time, the girls appeared, first Edsilia with the English version of her Eurovision song 'On Top of the World' (which is great but not quite as good as the Dutch version) and then Marija with the Serbian version of Molitva. Both women did their best and gave great performances, on an empty stage, with backing tapes. Soon after, we were told we could meet and greet them and a couple of tables were brought round, creating a big crush for all the fans who had appeared at the last minute to see their heroes.

To be honest, it was a bit of a let-down as Marija just sat there for a few minutes signing some cards one after the other before getting up to go, pointing to the now quite large pile of signed tour cards. Oh well, I managed to get to her beore she disappeared and Walter took a couple of photos, while I put my arm around her and thanked her for winning Eurovision, without telling her I had won 600 euros on my bets!

In the meantime, Marcel managed to accost Edsilia and we managed to get a couple of photos of them together, Edsilia making sure that she looked directly at MY camera for the photo! Mission accomplished for the both of us!

I though that maybe Marija could have spent a bit more time with her fans, but she had had a busy schedule and maybe she was a bit miffed not to see the thousands of fans here in Holland which she had seen in Sweden the previous day. Still, it would not have been all that hard for her to stay a bit longer signing those cards and please the fans who HAD bothered to turn up.

After posting some photos of the event, I received an e-mail from someone from Serbia, who I do not know who rather scolded me for suggesting that Marija might be lesbian, on account of her less than feminine looks. She wrote:

Maria...IS NOT GAY...
She has had several boyfriends,Serbia is a small country
and everybody knows everything about everybody else.
Some boyfriends were all over the press and I myself know
one guy she was with personally...
It is just that she was advised by her team that
homosexualism is a sensitive issue in the West and that she
shouldn`t say anything against gay people..
The Serbs are still very traditional about it,being gay is
well,not,socially acceptable.
And Maria said several times she wanted kids and family in
the future.
You can`t tag someone as gay just because they wear jackets
and are not very feminine like Maria...she is so natural to
me and I believe that she is very much hurt when people say
she is gay...cause she simply isn`t...

So, in a way, I apologise for suggesting that Marija had 'lesbianed up' her Eurovision performance. It was only meant tongue-in-cheek and whether or not she is, I felt that she had done a great job in confronting the established order in Serbia and going on to win.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Happy 16th BIRTHDAY, Somaliland

18th May 1991 - 18th May 2007

16 years of Somaliland independence.

We wish the country well, as a haven of peace in a violent part of the world. May your rulers stay committed to the path of democracy and may you be rewarded with international recognition.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I like to keep this blog as an advertising-free zone and also as a refuge from the noise of the mass media with their obsessions with, in England say, the problems of the government, the Arab-Israeli conflicts, celebrity news and the like. However, I thought I might as well remark on the attention given to the little girl, Madeline who has gone missing in Portugal.

I have not been watching the news too much recently, but I have seen Madeline's name popping up all over the place on the internet. My Mum had told me that she had written to the BBC maybe a week ago to complain about the amount of attention being given ot this one missing girl by the BBC. And yesterday, I switched onto the main news at 11.10 and was shocked to find that the main news presenter was presenting the news from somewhere in Portugal. He was interviewing some person involved, the cousin of a man who has been arrested as a suspect. She was assuring us that her cousin would not have had anything to do with any sort of abduction. Then we heard from a reporter who told us that a Russian man had been taken away in a place car and had just at that minute arrived in the nearest biggets town. He also told us that the parents of little Madeleine had been seen walking on the beach near where she was last seen. Then we cut back to London, where they showed shots of politicians getting involved, people out on the streets marching, the girl's Scottish aunty being interviewed, famous footballers making appeals and so on. It was 11.16 by now and they were still talking about Madeline and I wondered how much had I missed before I had switched on.

This was followed by 4 minutes on the accession of Alex Salmond as First Minister of Scotland, the first nationalist to hold high office up there. Left to him, we might see the United Kingdom broken up. Less important than the disappearance of a sweet looking girl with beautiful eyes?

It seems that society needs every now and then an opportunity for emotional outpouring. An obsession which can absorb them. I think this might be the secret behind all the crying Madonnas in places like Italy. I suppose one question is the extent to which the media such as the BBC create such an obsession by giving so much coverage to one incident or whether they are just reflecting society's interest in the issue?

What I find a little shocking about the details of the case is that Madeleine disappeared from her bedroom (in Portugal) while her parents ate at a 'local' tapas restaurant. In other words, they had left a four year old on her own in a strange house in a strange country!!!!! Yet nobody seems to think there is anything wrong with this. My goodness!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The world carries on...

Pineta, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It was the Eurovision, but the world carries on. Tony has told us that he is going to leave on June 27th and Nicolas Sarkozy has become installed as the President of France. Hundreds have probably died in Iraq whilst, for the moment, there seems to be a lull in the fighting in Somalia.

And now, it is almost dinner time, so I will go upstairs. We will have a tortilla type thing when we will eat all the scraps left in the fridge before we go to stay with friends near Nijmegen for the coming two days. Fred has a couple of days off, it being Ascension Day tomorrow.

I am afraid that Eurovision is not quite over because Marija Serfovic will be visiting Holland on Saturday and I hope to catch her in Almere in the afternoon, as we will nto be back from Nijmegen early enough to catch her in Amsterdam in the morning.

I am waiting to hear the results of my job interviews from earlier in the week and may hear something by Friday, fingers crossed.

In the meantime, while all the discussions are going on about the voting in the Eurovision Song Contest, with MPs from various countries raising questions, there are discussions going on about the European Union constitution. I mean the way the European Union votes only affects all our lives in Europe and how much attention does it get? The Dutch voted against the constitution and it now seems that the Dutch government is happy to have found support from UK, France, Poland and Czech Republic to avoid a new consitution and go for a mini one which can be sneaked through as a treaty and therefore avoid the dreaded referendum. How awful it would be to have to ask the voters again what they want!

This is also a theme running through many threads of discussion about Eurovision... it is all the fault of the televotes... bring back juries, let them decide for us and maybe 'we' will do better (if we can buy them off, intimidate them, dominate them and so on). It seems that democracy is only to be trusted if it gives those in power the result they want.

As it happens, with Eurovision, they have re-cast the votes, using differing geographical areas and it shows that the Western countries voted more for the Eastern European countries than the Eastern European countries themselves and that whichever way you look at it Serbia would have won!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Robbie Williams is gay!

Workmen Hogeweg - four, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, maybe he is and maybe he isn't. I couldn't care less. By all accounts he does have some problems with addiction, but that is not important either. Robbie Williams is a pop singer and what is important, to the extent that anything about Robbie Williams is important is that he makes good music. I have not really liked his music too much, apart from the odd song here and there, although I did enjoy Take That when they were around in their original incarnation.

In a similar way, it is not, in fact, so interesting to know whether Marija Serifovic is a lesbian. She won the Eurovision Song Contest, without looking like a dolly, yet it would seem that people ARE interested in her sexuality, judged on the number of times this blog has been accessed in recent by days by pepole typing in the words 'marija serifovic lesbian' into google. I just did the same and found my blog listed at number 70 in the listing and still I have had a hundred referrrals.

Type in Molitva, and my photo on flickr dedicated to Marija's song comes in at 8, giving the photo over 700 hits, something I am much more proud of.

However, as I mentioned yesterday, IF she does happen to be lesbian and IF her record company will let her AND IF she wanted to, it would be great if she DID come out and give some visibility to gays and lesbians in her country and surrounding countries.

With Robbie Williams this would be different as so many pop stars have already come out that another one wouldn't make a lot of difference, assuming for the sake of argument that he is gay, which he probably isn't anyway. Furthermore, it is debatable that the gay movement in the UK would be plased to welcome Robbie Williams who can hardly be put up as any sort of role model, like George Michael.

Going back to Marija, I think she has done more than enough in Serbia, by breaking through the macho culture which apparently dominates that country, through her song, her looks, her performance and her comments. And winning certainly helps!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Molitva - A prayer for New Serbia

Molitva - a new Serbia, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Eurovision Song Contest might seem like trivial thing, but so is football, and not many people think that football is altogether unimportant. Serbia won and it could signify a major change in that country's direction and fortunes.

Serbia has had a very difficult recent and past history and is at the crossroads between joining in with the rest of Europe or looking back towards Mother Russia, as mentioned earlier on this blog.

Yet, within a week of being appointed, it looks as if the country is going to get rid of him and then little Marija goes and wins the Eurovision Song Contest and proclaims a New Serbia. She returns to her country and is greeted by hundreds of thousands of Serbians, waving their flag, so happy that their country's song has been accepted by Europe..... they so obviously want to be part of Europe. An uplifting sight to see.

And then there is the question of her sexuality, which is normally of no interest to me, but the fact that she MAY be lesbian. This in a country where there seems to be only one well-known person sho has come out as gay. Even if she doesn't come out, it might make the climate just that little bit easier for the gay and lesbians people in Sebia. I hope so.

In the meantime, it is Fred's birthday and he is playing around with his new mobile phone, even taking a video of me as I type! It was just a normal Monday at school for him but he has spent the whole evening on the phone with friends and family, whilst I did my best to give him a nice birthday present by going to London for a job interview (job based in Holland). I even managed to talk about the Eurovision Song Contest during the interview. How fantastic is that? I did my best and I hope that it is enough.

Happy Birthday, Fred!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Well done Marija, well done Europe!

Yes, indeed, well done Marija for winning Eurovision and well done Europe for choosing the best song and singer in the competition to win Eurovision. It is always good for a competition when the best team wins and I think this is what happened last night.

It seems as if many, especially in the UK, are not happy about the result, pointing, as they do to the voting patterns, where certain countries were (too) predictable in their voting, like the 12 points from Cyprus to Greece and the 12 points give to Turkey by Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland (with a similar pattern for Armenia).

Howvere, at the end of the day, I thought that the results last night, with just a couple of exceptions (the ex-pat votes for Armenia and Turkey) were absolutely spot on.

The top three fully justified their positions, Serbia very much deserving to win with their powerful and emotional ballad, sung extraordinarily well. Ukraine won the gimmick vote and Russia had a good song which sounded very good on the night.

In the meantime, the very worse songs were left at the bottom of the heap. I thought Ireland were the worst and they ended up bottom, with UK and Lithuania not far off.

You can argue about (some of the) placings in the middle, but it was good to see Bulgaria and Hungary getting recognition for their efforts. A pity that Sweden didn't do better as that was our second favourite of last night, but their sound was from the mid-70's heyday of glam rock adn might not have appealed to audiences who had missed out on that the first time round.

All in all, I thought they were a (nearly) perfect set of results. The Brits are complaining a lot about so-called bloc voting, but it is good that Serbia received some 'help' from its Balkan neighbours, otherwise the gimmicky song from Ukraine would have won, a result which the Brits seem to have preferred given that they gave 8 points to Ukriane and none to Serbia. Apparently the UK was one of only five countries NOT to award points to Serbia, which just goes to show how out-of-touch the UK is with the rest of Europe, when it comes to music. (It turns out that the UK also failed to give any points to The Netherlands in the semi-final as well, showing again that they would not be able to reognise a good song if it hit them in the face!).

Anyway, we had a great time at Annemiek's where Angelo joined us to give the votes of the Roman jury, as well as Jannig, a friend of Annemiek's who professed a complete absence of interest in Eurovision but was sporting enough to listen to all the songs and mark them up. Annemiek was serving us a delicious buffet, which unfortunately kept her in the kitchen most of the time. We three lads all had Serbia at the top, with Fred favouring Hunagry for second, above Sweden. Unfortunately, Annemike's television was a bit small so we could not really read the scores too well, but Serbia started off well and carried on well, winning fewer 12's than I had expected, but enough to win, nevertheless.

Time to go at the end of the evening and the three of us went to De Prik, where we danced to old and new Eurovision numbers until the early morning. Great fun!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Come on Serbia!

Eurovision - Molitva, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, the day has finally arrived and it is almost as exciting at Grand National Day, whilst the competition lasts quite a bit longer. We are going round to Annie's this evening for dinner to celebrate Fred's birthday on Monday. We have some BBC scorecards and will be judging all 24 of the entries.

I am still very very keen on Serbia and I really hope it wins this time. I see the biggest danger coming from Ukraine. Three years ago, a lovely ballad from Serbia and Montenegro was beaten by a novelty act from Ukraine. It could happen again and I am hoping it will not.

My favourite songs, from what I have heard so far, are:

FYR Macedonia

Countries which I would not like to see winning are Belarus, Latvia and Germany. It'd be another shame if Ukraine wn as they song/act really is just too gimmicky, even though I do like it and I have some money on. After all the controversy surrounding the fact that no Western European countries made it through from the semi-final to the final, the competition could do with a nice old fashioned ballad winning again. And, despite all the, what I consider to be very mis-directed criticisns of so-called bloc voting, no Balkan country has won Eurovision since Yugoslavia beat Italy in 1989, so it is about time they did win, and in Motliva, Serbia has the song to do it.

Betting-wise I will be breaking even if Serbia, Ukraine or Moldova make the top 4 and winning a nice amount if any of them were to win, but most especially if SERBIA wins, losing if none of them made the top 4. Go on Marija, Come on Europe!

Friday, May 11, 2007


Eurovision - urban, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, last night we had the Eurovision semi-final, eagerly awaited, as you can probably imagine. The four of us had just finished dinner (pork fillet, cooked with rhubarb, sage and garlic, accompanied by roast potatoes and green beans) when the show started. We were well prepared with BBC scorecards, on which we could (but did not) score separately the song, the performance, the dance routine and the outfit, for the 28 cuntries taking part.

The Netherlands was there with Edsilia's On Top of teh World, as well as our Serbian lass Marija Serifovic (although I was the only one who had heard it before).

The night started off well, with teh first 15 secondsof Bulgaria but soon took a turn for the worse, the Bulgarian song very quickly losing its way. It all sounded very flat and uninspiring until we got to Edsilia in 10th place, where she put on what we thought was a good performance without it really delivering that killer punch. I would have liked more close-ups of her looking into the camera.

There were a couple of very bad performances from Albania and Poland, the worst of the night, before we got to Serbia. Time for everyone to be quiet and turn the volume up and, sure enough, our Marija delivered the performance of the night to get top points from all four of us! The backing singers had swapped their workman's clothes for Dolce & Gabbana suits, which was a pleasant bonus, whilst Marija herself surprised me by wearing her dark rimmed glasses, a pity because we could have had some more eye contact with her otherwise.

Anyway, there were another thirteen songs ot go., with pleasant surprises from Hungary (which qualified), Estonia (who didn't) and Sloveia (who did). Turkey, on teh other hand was atrocious but qualified, no doubt thanks to th ex-pat vote.

The big disappointment and great controversy of the night was the fact that every one of the ten qualifiers came from Eastern Europe (and Turkey and Georgia). No place for Edsilia or any of the other more Western European countries, of which maybe the ones with the better chances were Cyprus, Denmark and Austria. It seemed bad at the time, but writing about it now, it must be said that the Western European nations didn't really have such strong entries after all, and there were plenty of bad Eastern European songs which did not go through.

Still, it does seem that unless something changes in teh voting system, countries like The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal (those countries without a large number of 'friendly' neighbours will never be able to make it to the final. I would not be surprised if one or two of them pull out in years ahead.

Serbia has now fallen back to thrid favourite behind the aluminium foil crazy people Ukraine and James Bod type Belarus (yuk!) Not so bad, I still think she can do it!

It is raining today, as it was yesterday evening and all night last night.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Serbia, Lesbians and the Russian Federation

Blond in Deventer, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Serbia has been in the news lately because they have just appointed an ultra-nationalist as the speaker of their parliament. A day later he said that he would much rather that Serbia be a member of the Russian Federation than a member of the European Union. A nice provocative remark.

I am not exactly the world's expert on Balkan politics. We never even studied the causes of the First World War in History at school, but I am showing a little bit of interest in Serbia now because of the Eurovision Song Contest. The semi-final is today and the final is on Saturday. We are having friends over for dinner this evening and on Saturday we are going to a friend's for dinner, both dinners to be followed by the Song Festival, giving points and making nasty remarks and so on.

Not having a job, but having broadband internet access and too much time, I have been spending too much time watching videos of the participants and discussing their merits on various messageboards. decided very early on that Serbia was my favourite song this year and have put a little bit of money with the bookies on Serbia winning.

Serbia are one of the favourites, as they have a very powerful ballad, sung very well by, shall-we-say, a very powerful lass from Serbia, Marija Serifovic. She put on a great performance in their national song festival, where Marija looked very charismatic and confident, with a cheeky smile and a wink to the audience, whilst the (female) backing singers danced around and played instruments in the background, a classic Balkan Eurovision performance. I get goose pimples every time I hear it!

However, the rehearsals in Helsinki are now to be seen on the internet and I am afraid to say the act has gone all lesbian. The singers are no longer dancing in pretty dresses but dressed like factory workers and are all holding hands. This is perhaps not surprising given those recent remarks of the Serbian speaker about wnating to 'get in' with the Russian Federation. This because the most famous Russian pop group in the west, Tatu, was a couple of very pretty and quite young lesbians. While Europe is probably ready for gay and transvestite (Ukraine ad Denmark, this year) and even transexual (Dana International in 1998), I am not so sure they are ready for lesbian. But then again, they might get 12 points from Russia...we will see...

P.S. The photo is just of a young woman in Deventer and by having her to illustrate this blog entry is not meant to signify anything about her sexual orientation and i certainly not to assume that she might be, dare I say it, Russian.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Good day, not-so-good day

Tirreno, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yesterday a good day, today not such a good one.

Yesterday, I was phoned up twice by recruiters who told me that the people who had interviewed me last week were very interested in seeing me again and I already have another interview planned for next Tuesday.

Further, while flicking through the BBC Radio 2 website on my way to the Eurovision messageboard, I noticed a photo of Marc Almond, with a notice that the BBC will be recording a concert with their BBC Concert Orchestra and that they were giving away tickets, which could be applied for. They will record songs from Marc's new album, Stardust Road, which is out on 4th June. This will be Marc's first album release since his near fatal motrobike crash of two years ago. I had missed out on his recent concerts at Wiltons Music Hall, in London, which I ahev heard were absolutely wonderful. Anyway, by using my Mum's address (thanks, Mum!), I managed to apply for tickets and immediately got a response to say that I was successful and that they woudl be sending electronic tickets to me a week before the concert which is on 30th May. Excellent.

Spent the rest of the day listening to Marc's 1990 album Enchanted, which is very upbeat and uptempo. (I made the mistake earlier today of putting his 2001 album - released on my 40th birthday - Stranger Things - very doomy and gloomy - not good for my mood - hmmm).

And, to round off an excellent day, I went to the bookies to watch the 4.00 race from Kelso, where my dear friend Ballycassidy came from third place at the last fence to gain his 15th win (from 55 races) to give me my third straight winner in a row!

Today, I was phoned to be told that a job which I really wanted here in Amsterdam is no longer vacant or available. A pity, but at least it is clear and I can concentrate better on the other opportunities.

On the other hand, I had a lovely visit from Mar, for a coffee earlier and the sun is shining, so time for a cycle ride before the next shower.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Verzet 1940-1945, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

In Holland, we have just marked Remembrance Day, by remembering those who lost their lives in the Second World War and celebrated Liberation Day, the day the Allies moved in and the occupying Germans moved out. A day of national pride and joy.

During the German occupation of the Netherlands, there was a resistance movement, known as the Verzet (Resistance) and they did their best to make life difficult for the German occupiers, often risking their lives in the process. Recently, there was a major film, Zwartboek, made about the resistance movement.

In the world now, we have Iraq being occupied by the US and the UK, where local people, albeit with some help from abroad are resisting such occupation. The western press likes to call them the insurgents, but are they very different from the resistance fighters of Holland and France during their occupation?

We hear a lot about events in Iraq, not so much about events in Somalia, where a similar story is unfolding, namely an occupation by the Ethiopians, and resistance to the occupiers by so-called 'insurgents', who may more properly and neutrally described as resistance fighters. Even more so than in Iraq, there is a puppet government, established outside of Somalia, which has never been elected and who only managed to seize power when foreign troops from Ethiopia invaded the country and installed this government into the seat of power in the capital city of Mogadishu.

Nobody denies either that Ethiopia is being supported and encouraged by the US (no British involvement this time), which also managed to get tacit UN support for its policy, through a hasty resolution made at the end of last year. The Ethiopians and their puppet government have been attacking and killing civilians, targeting a particular clan. When not killing them, they have been rounding them up and interrogating them in Guatanamo Bay type camps. Learning quickly from their (pay-)masters, no doubt.

Whatever the ins and outs are of local Somali politics and clan conflicts, it is clear that Somalia has been invaded and is effectively being occupied, which puts it in a very similar position to the Netherlands during the Second World War. You do not have to be an Islamist fanatic to want to resist this occupation and see the backs of your enemy. Good luck to them and let's hope that Somalis soon will aslo be able to celebrate their Liberation.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Because she looks so great...

Red, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

- seen at the Bevrijdingsdag Festival in our nearby Oosterpark on Saturday -

And, quite separately, I can say that it rained for the first time in over six weeks today, giving the garden a good soaking, leaving a wonderful scent of freshness on the air, while the birds sang their hearts out all day, particularly the blackbirds.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Liberation Day - dancing at the Homomonument

Liberation Day, the day after Remembrance Day, here in Holland, a time to celebrate freedom, after remembering the war dead.

It turned out to be a great day, once Fred and I had both woken up properly and ridded ourselves of the headaches we had gained as a result of maybe a beer too many the evening before in our new Friday evening bar, Spargo. Our friend Howard to had stayed in our house whilst we were away in Africa was in Amsterdam and we had not seen each other for a long while, so we invited him over before setting off to town on our bicycles to have a look at the various Liberation Day festivals here in Amsterdam.

First stop was Het Oosterpark, where they had a large stage and also the bandstand for various music, singing and dancing performances, surrounded by various stands selling snacks and drinks, behind which there were stands for political parties and social groups. The sun was shining brightly, a big difference from other years when one always seemed to be stepping in and out of mud and puddles between the showers. In the park behind there were various sports activities arranged for the local children in what looked to be a council-sponsored initiative to encourage local children to play more sports - a good thing, judging by the number of over-weight children we see passing by some days!

We met up with Henk in the park and were treated to some sexy dancing by three teenage girls, who I thought were really rather too young to be waving their bottoms around in public they way they were. Still, they moved very well and were very entertaining and no doubt the young men in the audience enjoyed the performance immensely!

Time now to cycle across town to the Homomonument at the Westerkerk, where they organise an open air disco on a stage, with beer and food stalls on the outside... and here we spent pretty well much the rest of the day, enjoying the atmosphere, the company and the beer and even dancing. A great feeling that such a festival can take place openly in the middle of town, knowing how difficult it is for gay people in many other parts of the world.

I went home at one stage to bring Howard back, as he was on Fred's bike and had left his car here, so was able to bring back some warm clothing for Fred and Henk, which helped us keep going for a while as it got more crowded and the stage filled up with more people dancing. Time at home to have a quick look on the internet and to see that both of the horses on which I had placed a bet earlier in the day had won, namely Always Waining at 5/2, from my favourite trainer Peter Bowen, but more importantly Cockney Rebel at 20-1 in the 2,000 Guineas, the first of the season's classics. This all making the day even more perfect!

We rounded off the evening at the newish bar De Prik (The Bubble) where we carried on dancing before taking to our bikes and going home at the respectable time of midnight.. or just after...

On returning to the internet, I found a comment to one of my photos of Marc Almond, which reminded me that Marc had been giving a couple of concerts in London these past two evenings and that I had missed them. I had tried to get a ticket but had failed, but reckoned that anyway I have seen him so many times and have so many good memories that missing him would not be the worse thing and that anyway there were good things to be doing here in Amsterdam as well. And so it turned out as yesterday was one of those really nice days which you can have spending time with your friends and enjoying what life throws at you.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Dodenherdenking - Remembrance Day

Today is 4th May, the day we, in Holland, remember the war dead, a time for reflection. The Queen lays a wreath at the Monument on the Dam and there is two minutes silence at 20.00. Tomorrow is Liberation Day, a day on which we celebrate the liberation of Holland from the German occupiers.

There is also a parallel service at the nearby Homomonument to remember the gay people who were killed by the Nazi's during the Second World War and to remind ourslves of the gay people in the world currently suffering persecution for their sexual orientation.

Without wanting to beat too much about repression of gay people, it was interesting to read that the European Court of Human Rights has declared today that a ban on a Gay Pride march in Warsaw in 2005 was a violation of human rights. Poland is quickly earning itself a very negative reputation in Europe by having a government which is very anti-gay. There are many anti-gay governments all around the world, most particularly in Africa, however there is not an awful lot we can do about that. However, with Poland being a member of the European Union, it is to be hoped that there IS something which the civilised part of Europe can do to stop such human rights abuses.

In the meantime, in Northern Ireland, the DUP, which is hardly known for its progressive sentiments has agreed to continue with a grant to help fund a Gay Pride march in Belfast, despite one of its members (of course, a Christian minister) calling the march a 'celebration of sodomy'! So, it is not bad.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Garden Parrot

Garden Parrot, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The last tulip photo for this year, this being probably the last tulip in flower. Before going away to South East Asia I bought soem bulbs but ran out of time to plant them, so Fred was left with the task of finding space for them and planting them. The daffodils and the crocuses were planted out in the bed in front of the house, whilst the parrot tulips were planted in a pot and left at the back of the house. The back of the house is very shady, being bordered on three sides by high walls and on the other by high trees (which are now in leaf). Starved of light, these tulips came out quite late, but quite spectacularly as well.

We also have other parrots in the garden, notably the very noisy parakeets which terrorise the smaller birds in our parks and gardens, as they do in many cities around Europe nowadays. Fortunately, we see them less now the weather is better, so the garden at the back is more home to the tits, blackbirds and wrens. I had to shoo-away a pair of aggressive jays yesterday, whereupon, one of the jays was mobbed by a blackbird who was protecting its fledgling.

I am not sure where the blackbirds nested this year, but their spot from last year was being looked at by a pair of wood pigeons earlier in the year. As much as we like birds and as handsome as wood pieons are, they are too close to being those filthy street pigeons and they tend to poo an awful lot, leaving a nasty mess which is difficult to clean. I stuck a long piece of wood up into the honeysuckle in an attempt to block them off and make sure they understand that they are not wanted and, sure enough, they cleared off. Funnily enough, our friends Rob and Ghislaine have just presented to the world their new babies - being a couple of baby pigeons just born on their balcony the other day - photo here. R and G are obviously kinder people than we are and, as long as those pigeons stay where they are, I wish them luck!

Further, overhead, the swifts are back, first seen in the park last week, now swooping over the house, in groups and pairs, screeching as they do. We would usually have to wait until the date of Beaconsfield fair, on 10th May, to see our first swifts, but now they arrive already before the end of April. I am not sure if they are leaving any earlier,as they are mostly gone by the end of August anyway.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fiona and Tom's last day

Uncle, mother and son, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Fiona and Thomas left us yesterday, it was just a short visit. Short but sweet. The three of us spent the day in the Oosterpark while Fred had the house to himself, time to catch up on school work and the newspapers.

We spent most of the time throwing a tennis ball around, Thomas being too shy to join in with other lads kicking a football around. To make it interesting we were throwing the ball with our left hands and catching it left-handedly as well, the catching being much easier than the throwing, strangely enough. And, of course, the more on ethought about what one was doing, the more awkward it felt.

For some strange reason, I asked Thomas if he would like a nhair cut and before long the both of us were having our hair cut at Aladin's, a Turkish barbers in Oost. Thomas wanted his hair short and spikey and that was what he got, and he looked really good, no too thuggish. Mine was more of a tidy up operation, now I can go to my interviews looking smarter and more polished. It was nice to talk to teh Turkish barber there, hearing his Turkish accent, reminding one of teh great holidays we have had in that country. The political situation there looks a bit precarious, but I am very much in favour of Turkey retaining its secular nature, as I believe that the separation of state and religion has been a vital factor in Turkey's development, and it is something which needs to be defended.

A quick dinner at home - spaghetti all'amatriciana, before walking the now heavy bag up to Amstel Station where they caught the train to Centraal and then Schiphol. I was sad to see them go, but glad they had maanged to have such a nice time over here, Amsterdam looking at its best at this time of the year, with the sun shining. The first of May last year, when Diana and her boys were over, saw it raining all day, delaying the planned start of work to build the new fountain.

Good to see Liverpool beat Chelsea with penalties at the end of the match last night and let's hope that Mun Uited do what they need to do against AC Milan this evening.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Brazilian dance on the Hogeweg

There was a definite Latin tint to proceedings yesterday, none more lively than the Brazilain dancers who performed up and down our street the whole afternoon. There is a name for this sort of shadow dancing/kick boxing, but I do not know it. Thanks to Marja, I can tell you that it is called Capoeira, although I always thought that that was the name of a cocktail, such cocktail actually being called a Caprinha, and very delicious too!.

Another bright sunny day here, making a slow start, we may go for a walk into town before Fiona and Thomas catch the plane back to London. Fred has holiday for the rest of the week.

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