29 October 2010

We went to Tate Modern

... to see the porcelain sunflower seeds. We found them

25 October 2010

At the hospital...

Mrs Botogol was in her dressing gown whereas I still had my outdoor shoes on, so it was I who took our youngest on a late-night dash to the hospital (no, don't worry, he's fine).
The Death Zone - Longer and Lower. Frenchay hospital, Bristol
Picture - Laura Mary

"And why shouldn't it be me?", I thought to myself, as we retraced our route half-a-mile after a hurried wrong turn in Isleworth,  "I am perfectly capable….. dammit has the entire hospital actually moved or something?"

When I eventually found the West Middlesex (where it always has been, less than a mile away) I had no hesitation parking in the drop off zone, and sweeping confidently in through the doors of A&E.

Then, facing the barrage of questions from the triage nurse I began to realise it was quite a long time since I'd had responsibility for any crisis of a medical nature

"Does he have any long-term medical conditions"
- "Um, well,  not that I can think of"
"I beg your pardon?"
-"No. No he doesn't"
A sharp look
"Does he have any allergies?"
- "Um, I don't think so - um, hang on - do you have any allergies, son?"
- "no, he doesn't have any allergies"
"Is he taking any medication at all at the moment"
- "um, not so far as I….. Hang on…hey! are you taking any pills or anything?"
- "no"
- "no, he isn't"
"Are all his vaccinations up to date"

I stared defiantly into the eyes of the hostile nurse.
- "Ok...I am going to say… 'yes' "
She stared right back at me.. and eventually she made a small, disbelieving  tick on her form.
"Has he…"
- "Right, now stop messing us about:  I want a CBC, a Chem-7, an ECG and a Tox-screen, and start him on a general antibiotics for any infection"

It's entirely possible I watch too much American hospital drama.

They were very professional: they explained gently that such tests are not possible on the NHS outside of working hours and then they led us into a small and babyish play area in paediatrics to wait for the doctor, and meanwhile would I mind moving my car, please, no don't worry there's four people ahead of you so plenty of time before doctor will get here.

The wait wasn't much fun. I had brought no small change for coffee machine, I had forgotten to bring my old-man reading glasses and all the other families in the unit spoke Polish or Hindi so there wasn't much conversation.

After an hour or so young Botogol's colour had returned, and he was feeling a lot better, which must have been what the nurses were waiting for, because as soon it was absolutely clear that he had completely recovered and was ready to go home a sceptical doctor arrived "So, what is the matter with you then young man?"

19 September 2010

Protesting the Pope - London

Along with thousands of others  I turned out on Saturday to march against the State Visit granted the Pope.

Here are some of the slogans and signs

As a woman marched down Piccadilly with a brave banner Raped at 6, Awaiting Justice at 28 two Catholics stood on the pavement with yellow and white papal flag, and cried 'shame'. To cheers, a marcher snatched their banner and galumphed away with it until another, incensed, forced him to give it up - and then she ran over, and handed it back.

It was a very British demo.

The procession stretched the length of Piccadilly. When the head of the march reached Downing Street, the tail was still in Trafalgar Square.

There were more than 10,000 marchers protesting the Pope - the largest demo ever, against any modern Pope, anywhere

I was so proud.

17 September 2010

Protesting the Pope - Strawberry Hill

One of the Policemen opened a gap in the barrier and joined the side of the Angels

Protesting Angels

The angels didn't speak much but they had a minder who was chatting with some cross-waving Irish ladies, patiently waiting to see their spiritual leader. "No, we aren't here to perform", he explained, smiling, "Actually we're from Gaydar, - we're here to protest"
"Gaydar?", they hadn't heard of it, "so you mean.... you are all gay?"
"Yes, exactly"
"Well, now I don't have anything against gay people, but really I don't think they should flaunt it"
There was a pause, and I asked the woman if she thought perhaps Pope was flaunting, at all, in his popemobile and white outfit, parading all around London, and she looked at me, astonished
"The Pope's not gay!"

Meanwhile the policeman was having a better time with the whole rapport and communication thing. Establishing that the angels were local he imagined that maybe they were part of the Richmond LBGT network? They were. "Oh, well  you'll know one of the PCSOs at our nick then, he's quite involved there", and gave a name. They knew him.

Times have changed.

Considering it is a State visit that cost £20m to police it was a pretty small affair. Around 100 policemen watched 75 demonstrators and perhaps 300 supporters who lined the narrow pavements together and mixed good naturedly.

Journalists patrolled up and down talking to protesters. Most of them chose to interview Nina, a photogenic and articulate young woman carrying an umbrella decorated with colourful condoms. She spoke eloquently about a woman's right to control her own fertility, and protect her own health. The mingling policeman asked her for her surname, which she declined to give.  No one interviewed the catholics. 

The sun shone and we waited; after a while a postman cycled up the road to wild cheers from the school children lining the side. Behind the protesters stood Peter Tatchell, thin and old looking now, in a sober suit  "Look, it's that bloke from Channel 4", said a young protester.

The policemen shifted their weight, walked up and down, and explained that no, they didn't know when the Pope was due to arrive. The crowd basked in the sunshine. One top of St Mary's University, some armed police were visible with binoculars. A helicopter hovered.

And then the Pope arrived: invisible in a Jaguar behind dark glass windows, preceded by outriders and security his car came from the opposite direction from expected and dived directly behind the gates, not even passing the bulk of his school-age supporters, who were expecting him from the other direction. Blink and you'd have missed him.

The demonstrators built up a half-hearted chant of 'resign, resign' the catholics waved flags and whooped, and then it was all over; the crowd dispersed, I went for a bacon sandwich at the cafe and chatted with an earnest priest. 

Tomorrow: the march

Do your recognise this man?
In the wake of the G20 all the police officers present were clearly identifiable: with their warrant numbers on their shoulders and and in many casesalso their names on their chests.  Except this one.
The red shoulder tags signify an Inspector.

06 September 2010

Goin Giggin ~ Daughters ~ Caitlin Rose

Standing outside Farringdon Station waiting for middle-daughter I took a moment to OCD our tickets a tenth time and now, of course, I notice what I hadn't noticed the previous nine times: Strictly Over 18. Hmm, middle daughter is just sixteen - Panic!

Caitlin Rose - photo efsb
I consider our predicament: I can imagine the only thing more embarrassing for MD than being thrown out of a pub for being under-age, is being thrown out of a pub for being under age accompanied by her Dad. But surely all teenagers pass for can eighteen nowadays? Especially if not self-conscious, I think, and I determine I will not warn her... and simply hope for the best,

"Hi Dad, so, where is this place we're going to?"
"It's called the Slaughtered Lamb"
"so, is it a pub?"
"Well, it's sort of, kind of a pub thing, yes, I suppose it is"
"Well, I hope it's not over 18 only!"
"Just look inconspicuous."
"hmm, no - look grown up and, um, inconspicuous"

We were headed to see Caitlin Rose, an exciting alt. country singer from Nashville, so new she is unknown to wikipedia, barely out of her teens herself, and currently on tour in the UK. She played last week in Clerkenwell  the kind of show that I sometimes imagine travelling 3000 miles to hear in Austin, TX1

Sigh, I am not cool, we arrived at exactly the wrong time for a gig: too early for the main act (an hour and a half to wait!) but too late to secure one of the leather sofas directly in front of the stage (curses) . Unwilling to stand up we lounged on an uncomfortable bench behind a pillar and waited until the friends and family of the (quite dreadful) first support act got up and left; and then craftily nabbed the empty seats.

When the support2 was finished, a group of fresh faced kids invaded the stage to get it ready for Caitlin and her band. Then, to our astonishment, they picked up their guitars and stood ready at the mics. It was Caitlin's band: lead guitar Jeremy Fetzer, in particular looking like he had just obtained 11 A* at GCSE, and feeling excited about wearing his own clothes in the sixth form. He turned out to be a smooth guitarist, but he didn't like to sing, and shifted uneasily if a mic came too close.

Caitlin Rose, on the other hand was assured and effortless. Her voice and delivery reminded me of Iris Dement, she handled the crowd with aplomb, only momentarily disconcerted by losing her special pick. Caitlin is heralded as alt. Country, but to me her songs are slap-bang in the country tradition: funny, heartfelt, simple in lyric and telling story.

Now, I wouldn't say Caitlin Rose was obscure exactly, its just that precious few in the Uk have heard of her, and to tell the truth I had heard her only once on Bob Harris country, and just before she came on MD shamed me by asking for my favourite Caitlin Rose track and - when I was forced to prevaricate, astonished me by naming three of hers. She had done her research. (And a week later is still listening: a teenage country music fan in London. Thus do parents influence the lives of their daughters.

At the gig, MD and everyone else in the audience were able to recognise and welcome the highlight songs Learnin to Ride, Own Side, Things Change and a sing-a-long Answer in one of these Bottles. Only I was mouthing the words.

Here's a song she did earlier

On her recordings Caitlin's voice is mellowed and softened, and the arrangements sometimes slightly lush. At the Slaughtered Lamb her songs benefited from the stripped down band (lead, bass, pedal steel) and unrestrained vocals, emotion allowed to bleed in to the melody. "Are you having a good time?" she asked, at one point, "because you're all very quiet" "We're English" came the apologetic response, and to make up for our poise of apparent indifference we clapped, dutifully, all the way through to the Gorilla Man.

There were about 150 or so people there I suppose, a small gig, but her support is is growing. Her UK tour includes a dozen dates, and where she is top of the bill she is selling them out.

She comes from Nashville (of course she does) and I wondered what it takes to get the breaks in that competitive town, to get listened to in the first place. How do aspiring young singer-songwriters get noticed? Is it luck, or is talent so plain that even the dimmest A&R can recognise it when he browses myspace? Or is it something else? Cynically I googled, and whaddyknow? her father is mainstream country singer, and her mother an award winning co-writer for Taylor Swift.  Contacts, then. Thus do people achieve lift off in a competitive world, and thus do parents influence the lives of their daughters.


1I have a plan, myself and two mates. Well perhaps more of a whim: a six week journey through the southern states every night listening to country music bands playing live. Moving from town to town, from bar to bar we'd hear the old and broken, the new and hopeful, the tired and the bittersweet artists that I imagine are the country music scene, travellin' light, hittin' the road, staying in motels with screen-doors slammin', always going where luck and the music took us, a journey partly spontaneous, partly planned. Oh yes, and one of the friends used to work for the BBC, so surely we could meet famous bands and interview them in the comfortof five-star hotel rooms, recording sycophantic interviews and, each morning, making a video diary in which we mocked, in a very British way, the unsophisticated acts we'd seen the night before. I'll write blog and book, my exBBC mucker a podcast and hour-long reflective programme for channel four and my other friend, a sober lawyer, would drive the RV and keep us out of trouble. And write poems. (Yes, I am practicing my pitch). It will be called The Judge the Journalist and Jerk, in search of real Country, it would start in the Smokey mountains and end at the Grand Ole Opry for CMA Awards. Would you like to sponsor us? Just £100 will buy a Budweiser a day for one person for the whole trip. Our just giving page will open soon.

2The first support was bearded Eyore from the Isle of Wight ("You are the most amazing people - you have actually come to watch a support band! Oh, my guitar player isn't here, sorry, he's at a funeral"). He wailed, dismally, for half an hour, then left. The second support band (and some might say two support bands is one support band too many) were the Lost Brothers a pair of earnest young Irishmen, one sweating in pork pie hat and overcoat, who sang tightly worded simple songs in close Everley Brothers harmony, in between murmuring at the audience as if they were the Shy Brothers (get some patter, boys)

04 July 2010

Warm welcomes

Leaving a very pleasant evening drinks party at some friends in Molember Road, a small cul-de-sac in East Molesey, Mrs Botogol and I were nonplussed to find that an angry note had been placed on our car windscreen.

Isn't that friendly?  I love the way that the anonymous writer acknowledges that the owners of the car will be there by invitation to visit a resident of the road, and therefore not trespassing... under the heading 'Trespass'. 

We stood in the road and read the note and looked around at the smart houses. Presumably in one of the darkened windows above us an angry resident was stood behind a curtain watching us. I waved.

When we got home I googled the Molember Road Residents Association. They are a shadowy lot, with no web page, and have troubled google's index robots only once: in a dispute about a proposal to build a mobile phone mast.  What's that?  No, no, they weren't campaigning against the phone mast: they were trying to build one in the next road along.

So there you have it. The Molember Road Residents Association. Key activities

  • harassing each other's visitors
  • despoiling other people's roads
In this day and age I think it's a shame them not having a website, where prospective residents or visitors to Molember Road could learn about them, so I have helpfully created one .

28 June 2010

Last Sunday Morning

Crossing the footbridge over Teddington Lock two Sundays ago something was odd - some sort of a flurry on the narrow walkway ahead. I could see three figures : a man looking down at the river, and next to him two women waving and yelling. Beyond them an overturned cycle. On the opposite bank, a siren sounded.

We dismounted to push our own bikes and a man came running off the bridge; on his way past he caught his arm nastily on my handlebar, but he didn't stop

Teddington Lock
Pic - Maxwell Hamilton
But the yellowy-green early morning light, the warm sunshine settling on the river, the Thames boats, the fishermen on the bank, a heron knee deep in the limpid river edge created such a dissonance it was hard to understand that something sinister was going on.

The first hurdle in dealing with a crisis is recognising that there is a crisis: the aeroplane is on fire; the man with the knife is going to stab you; the pain in your chest is a heart attack; the light is fading and the temperature is dropping and your companion cannot ski down the mountain. The heroes, the survivors, are not always the strongest and fittest - sometimes they are merely those who recognise the danger.

My friend and I were intrigued but not worried and grinned at the strange cries from the two excitable women on the bridge, until we could hear them properly. "Help us!" they were yelling, but clearly they were in no danger "help us! We need Help". Nothing made sense.

There was a man in the water .

The Necker cube flipped and the strange scene resolved itself.

A man was in the river. White haired, fully dressed, he clung silently to the floating pontoon to which a handful of boats are moored. At first sight easy to help, but look: a chained and heavily barb-wired gate guarded the pontoon preventing access. Only 50 metres from the bridge he was nevertheless beyond help from the bank while, 200 metres downstream, two fishermen in a boat sat with their backs to us, oblivious to the women trying to attract their attention. With a jerk I realised that if the man lost his grip then someone was going to have to go into the water and swim to reach him.

I can swim - but I am not the sort of swimmer who should strike out into the Thames and attempt a rescue. But what if no one at the riverside was that kind of swimmer? One thing was clear: if I was going to go in the water then a leap from the bridge wasn't the best way to start and I nervously eyed up the river bank working out the best route.

And then almost as quickly as the danger had come, it disappeared: the fisherman heard and heeded the wild women's callings and with a burst of outboard motor were quickly alongside the floating pontoon, they leapt out and pulled the man safely from the water on to the deck. A policeman arrived on the bridge - a numpty who charged down to the pontoon to stand, uselessly, on the wrong side the barbed wire. The Teddington lifeboat was summoned…. and we continued on or way.

Later that afternoon I reflected that I entirely lack any journalistic aptitude: I could have interviewed the bystanders - did he jump or did he fall? How long was he in the water? I could have taken the name and the photographs of the alert women on the bridge and the lifesaving fisherman and written it all up for the Ricky&Twicky.

At least I have got a blog to tell the tale.

17 June 2010

A Week in May

Twickenham, May 2010
Church St, Twickenham by Maxwell Hamilton

The last two weekends of May were dominated by rugby at the stadium: a weekend of Sevens, the Premiership Final and England v Barbarians combined to jam up the town for four whole days: an insouciant breach of the covenant of trust that the RFU owes its neighbours. Exacerbating the annoyance: on the last afternoon unfamiliar and uncertain traffic police were drafted in from North London and proved cluelessly bereft of common sense: despite the street being completely clear five mins after the kick off they refused to open the road; I phoned Control there and then and told them I was hemmed in by numpties. "There's no need to be rude to me Sir' said the closest numpty, mildly, "and I'm definitely not letting you through now."

The crowds reached 80,000 and some friends of ours who live on the main drag made thousands selling homemade cakes to the crowds from their front garden.


Across the road from us lives Alice. She and her husband bought her house just before the war, new from the builder, for about £300. Just a short time later her husband volunteered, went off to fight and, missing in action, he never came home. She waited through four years of war and then another four years of peace before, losing hope, she declared him dead and she told me that because of the delay she never got the letter from the King that other war-widows received.

Alice never wanted to live on the Middlesex side of the river, but that was what they could afford and there she has stayed, alone but certainly not friendless, for seventy-two years. She is deaf and sleepless and now that the weather is warm and windows are open at night, her radio - talk, not music - wakes me up in small, still hours between 1 and 3; Sometimes it's loud enough for me to even make out the words.

I asked her about the rugby crowds and did they bother her? She said I shouldn't complain, sixty years ago the stadium held 100,000, and anyway it is all much better policed nowadays


Every Sunday morning my mates and I go cycling. The bright warm early morning Sundays in May are the perfect-weather highlight of our year and those weeks we go further.   On the last Sunday in May we rode a sweeping circle, never more than ten miles from home, taking in two grand country houses (Syon and Osterley) several miles of the Grand Union Canal and the River Brent, as well as the London Air Parks in Hanworth where a Zeppelin landed in 1936, and the old Feltham Marshalling yards where steam trains once met and were divided and restacked.

A puncture and a canal-path diversion for a broken bridge delayed us and we were out for two hours; half a mile from home my friend Karl peeled off sprinting for the local church where his bell, and seven impatient bell ringers awaited him (when he got there they had gone).  His church are running a £14,000pa deficit (the vicar says on her blog) despite making lots of money out of the rugby crowds - car parking. The last two weekends in May - with four games! - were especially profitable.


Our entrepreneurial friends on the road to the stadium had a fiftieth birthday and we were invited for drinks and smoked salmon with sour cream on blini (when I was young smoked salmon came on crustless triangles of buttered brown bread, when did that change?) . At the party was a slightly-well-known Twickenham based actor who is currently appearing in the West End. Tall, blond and striking, she dominated the small back room and the assembled company; Mrs Botogol and I affected not to recognise her, but other guests were fawning and politely praised her work; she beamed.  I dropped the name of an even more famous Twickenham-based actor - whom we know from school, and was rewarded by a momentary frown across her peach-perfect brow. I am a git.

Fetching another canapé from the kitchen I introduced myself to our hosts' next door neighbour, who was hovering shyly near the red wine. He told me he had lived in his house, alone, for almost sixty years. I asked him if Twickenham had changed in all that time. "Not a bit", he said, happily, "Not a bit". I wondered if he knew Alice, who has lived no more than two hundred metres away from him, for all that time.
They've never met.

Thirty-Two Songs

My thirty two songs are in the home strait - just five to go. Coming up from tomorrow:

Day 28 ~ A song that makes you feel guilty
Day 29 ~ A song from your childhood
Day 30 ~ Your favourite song at this time last year
Day 31 ~ A song you inherited from your parents
Day 32 ~ A song you'd like to pass on to your children

For these -and all the previous songs - see my other blog - thirty-two songs.

22 May 2010

A weekend away

Cymer in South Wales was for a hundred years a mining village, a history that is kept alive in the only remaining pub: the Refreshment Rooms, a building that was originally a railway station (one of three stations in the village, all long since closed)
Photo Jane Elizabeth
A wide, shallow pub one bar leads off another which leads off another and in each room are scores of photographs recalling the former life: black faced miners in cramped passages stare bleakly back at the camera. A painfully young Prince of Wales opens the apprenticeship and training centre. The Cymer Rugby Club smile grimly out of 1952. There are photographs of new lifts, machinery, cranes, towers being opened, and of collieries being closed. In the room with the pool table a vast large-scale map of the area shows the seams of coal, and the mines they sank to dig them, collieries that closed, one by one, from 1970 to 1996 as the seams were gradually, eventually exhausted.

It was Saturday evening and the pub's restaurant were getting ready for a busy service. In the lounge bar, at the table next to us five ladies of a certain age enjoyed a pre-dinner drink while they studied the menus. They were dressed smartly and their combined perfume gently suffused their corner of room. They didn't speak to each other much - perhaps the evening was still young, perhaps our presence was inhibiting. I wondered where their husbands were. The barmaid took their order: the popular choice was a steak, well-done, not cheap at £14.50. "No, no peas with it" said one, firmly, affronted at the suggestion.

The other side of us sat a family : parents, daughter-plus-boyfriend, younger sister, granny. The boyfriend was making an effort: sitting up straight, hair and green t-shirt both well clean, Earring, yes, but a discreet one. Bracelets, yes, both wrists, but not too many; Necklaces? Yes, three, but including a crucifix so not too menacing. He sipped his beer and listened carefully laughing in the right places. I concluded that the pair hadn't been going out very long. The barmaid took their order, the popular choice was a steak, well done 'does it come with french fries ?'

In the next bar a group of men watched Leinster v Munster on S4C. with the commentary in English. They were drinking cold Guiness and lager.

And then there was us - three egregious English Mountain Bikers with wild stories of how fast we had descended White's Level* and hitching up our trouser-legs to compare cuts and bruises. For where there were once mines and freight railways in the Afan Valley, there is now the Afan Forest Mountain bike centre, with 100km of purpose built, hair-raising single-track bike trails which draw mountain bikers from all over the country, alien lycra-clad beings in the valley communities. The barmaid came and took our order: The popular choice was three more pints of bitter.

We cycled 70 miles in three days, back-breaking climbs and tingling descents. In the evenings we cooked for ourselves and at lunchtimes we had vast and welcome portions of carbohydrate based meals at the Afan Mountain Bike centre. I punctured twice and broke a valve once We got soaked to the skin and covered from head to toe in mud. We had an excellent time.

We were there from Friday to Sunday and between us we probably spent £500 in Cymer. I wonder if that is enough to keep the village afloat.

*not quite this fast

11 May 2010

Ups and Downs

Well I, for one, welcome our new ConDem overlords.

Picture by Origamidon

But I am grumpy about finding myself older than the Prime Minister. Too soon, too soon.

(Did the Tories give away too much?)

06 May 2010

What really bugs me about the #ukelection

Three things really bug me about the election

1 - The ballot is not secret:
  • each ballot paper is numbered.
  • the returning officer carefully records your elector number against the ballot paper number.
  • anyone who imagines that the ballots papers are not later retrieved, and reconciled to the electoral roll is living in a dreamworld
2 - Party activists outside polling stations impersonate officials in order to collect the identities of the gullible.
  • Here is a video of a conservative activist quite shamelessly doing just that http://bit.ly/dpJIcf
  • One time I voted there was a policeman in attendance and I involved him in the matter - he was completely uninterested. What was he there for?
3- Postal vote fraud

This is the postal vote fraud election

05 May 2010

Thirty-Two Songs - Day 1

day 01 – your favourite song
day 02 – your least favourite song
day 03 – a song that makes you happy
day 04 – a song that makes you sad
day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone
day 06 – a song that reminds of you of somewhere
day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event
day 08 – a song that you know all the words to
day 09 – a song that you can dance to
day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep 
day 11 – a song from your favourite band
day 12 – a song from a band you hate
day 13 – a song that is a guilty pleasure
day 14 – a song that no one would expect you to love
day 15 – a song that describes you
day 16 – a song that you used to love but now hate
day 17 – a song that you hear often on the radio
day 18 – a song that you wish you heard on the radio
day 19 – a song from your favourite album
day 20 – a song that you listen to when you’re angry
day 21 – a song that you listen to when you’re happy
day 22 – a song that you listen to when you’re sad
day 23 – a song that you want to play at your wedding
day 24 – a song that you want to play at your funeral
day 25 – a song that makes you laugh
day 26 – a song that you can play on an instrument
day 27 – a song that you wish you could play
day 28 – a song that makes you feel guilty
day 29 – a song from your childhood
day 30 – your favourite song at this time last year
day 31 – a song you inherited from your parents
day 32 – a song you'd like to pass on to your children
So here's the game: choose thirty-two songs, following the list in the the panel, one a day. Explain yourself; how can I resist?

Meme from Russell M Davies who has been working wistfully and wittily through the project over the last few weeks.

Encouragement from younger Botogol daughter who completed the project in thirty minutes flat and then one evening talked us through her intriguing, wonderfully eclectic, occasionally revealing and frequently surprising playlist.

I don't want to swamp the next whole month of Greenideas with this, so after the first one - I am going to post up the rest of them on a sub-blog 32-songs.greenideas.com , and there will be daily links the post on the sidebar here (See it - on the right?)

So.. here is the first of thirty-two.

Day 01 ~ Your Favourite Song ~
Graceland - Paul Simon ~

27 April 2010

What goes on tour...

If it's April it's Rugby Tour. This year the theme was Christmas, and there were seven snowmen, five elves,eight Santas, one Jacob Morley and a Tree.  I wore a hat.

Monkey Rugby - by mochida1970
As a punishment for our disappointing costumes the judge sentenced four other pitch-side grinches and I to an hour each in the monkey suit.

This tour I had a staunch ally in my long standing resistance to fancy dress and themes of all sorts: my mate Chopin (who was conveniently too tall for the monkey suit) and he and made a pledge of mutual rebellion and steadfastness in the face of silly costumes. 

On the first evening I texted Mrs Botogol at home : Chopin & I r rebelling. we r nt sheep we r indvdls wth r own mnds

Mrs Botogol texted back  
Don't tell me - have you two gone out to the pub together? 

yes how did u kno?

When we got back to the site Chopin and I had to run a gauntlet of angry pixies to get back to our caravan where our respective offspring were waiting. I confidently expected to bask in their admiration - "Just wear the monkey suit why don't you?" said my more socially compliant son.

22 April 2010


photo - wstera2
I love it that everyone has become an expert on different types of volcanic ash: your Icelandic ash, you see, is finer and glassier than your continental European ash, which contains a lot more pumice. Meanwhile your Indonesian Ash? Well, much darker, blocks a lot more sunlight.You wouldn't want to fly through that.

Who knew, a week ago, that there were different types of ash?

12 April 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody

Over Easter Mrs Botogol and I revisited a city we last went to over twenty years ago.

Well, which city? you ask.  Well, work it out, say I : it's nearer to both Rome and Gdansk than it is to London, it lies north of the Lizard and west of Vienna and it's the capital city of a country that didn't exist in 1989 when we were last there.  Have you got it yet ? Answer below the picture...

Street Art  2
Quick - which countries border the Czech Republic? 1

The last time we went to Prague I was 26 and it was behind the iron curtain in Czechoslovakia, a communist country. We had arrived from Dresden and crossing the border from East Germany initially we welcomed the more relaxed atmosphere - until some 50 miles later we were stopped by police for slightly speeding, and relieved of all our Czech currency. Currency which I replaced later that evening in a somewhat unofficial transaction with a dodgy-looking Slovak just off Wenceslas Square: nervously exchanging few deutschmarks for a vast, uncountable, wodge of worthless low denomination Koruna.

In 89, we were camping: the only English in a campsite full of East Germans, Poles, Bulgarians, Romanians, Russians and Dutch. Prague was chilly that August, the castle was closed, and our pictures show a dirty, empty city, full of Trabants and Skodas. After two days we fled for the border and a green salad in FDR.

It has changed since then: there are many more tourists now, and more restaurants, bars, markets and stalls. And we have changed, not least because this time we had with us our teenage children, all three of them much closer to twenty-six than I am now.

And last week we weren't camping either - we were in a boutique hotel and each morning we gorged on the all-inclusive buffet breakfast - easily enough to keep us going until the afternoon when we bought deep-fried cheesy  slices of batter from the Old Square market (street food -- what's not to like?).

The tourist shops were full of Czech glass, and - oddly - matryoshka dolls, but the shops for locals were far more interesting: a hundred metres from our hotel an incongruous Korean family sold ersatz groceries in an open-all-hours store, and in a junk shop across the river from Charles Bridge, contents sourced from house clearances, I bought Soviet era postcards and 19th century pencils while Mrs Botogol leafed carefully through a poignant family photo album from the 1960s.

Not everything had changed: despite membership of the EU, the Czech currency is still the Koruna. But it no longer comes in wads of tiny demonations: going to the cashpoint and withdrawing 2000 Kc - about £70 - I had to smile when the machine coughed up one, single, 2000Kc note.

On our last day we hired a car and drove to Karlovy Vary (we Botogols get about a bit, you know). The name means Charles Spa and it's an ancient but mostly nineteenth century spa town not at all faded:  parades of grand and beautiful buildings last a mile, either side of a river in a steep wooded valley. Hotels, Thermal Baths, follies, a theatre, town hall, many buildings brightly painted, some gold leafed, all glorious.

Although it was only April it was warm and the town was full of tourists taking the spa waters and the cures and treatments.  Austrians, Germans, Italians, Ukrainians and - especially - Russians, but we didn't hear a single English voice. All along the parades and colonnades were boutique jewellers and clothes shops. The jewellers sold Czech amethysts and garnets and Russian diamonds set in soft, yellow gold in exotic purities.

The clothes shops sold the dowdier, more garish and more heavily branded ranges from international (and some suspiciously East European) designers, plus Louis Vuitton luggage, it was a town for the fabulously rich and tasteless. All the shops  had signs in Russian.

There was also a camera obscura and a funicular - the Victorians knew what they liked and what they liked were funiculars and cameras obscura.

We were in the Czech Republic four days, and had a splendid time. When we got back to Gatwick, dog tired but cat happy, we found we'd parked in the wrong long term car park. Not the cheap pre-booked rates then, after all. They wouldn't accept our left over Koruna, either


1 The Czech Republic was established in 1993. It borders Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Austria.

2 The picture was on a street stall in Karlovy Vary. The painter did explain it: clockwise from Obama: Merkel, Charles, the artist himself, Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, (I forget), (who knows), Putin, Medvedev. 
I liked it because Gordon Brown didn't make the cut even though Carla Bruni did.  That made me smile but nonetheless it's sad, isn't it, that in the 21st Century our country is represented in popular European minds by the 61 year old hereditary, done-nothing, Prince of Wales. Republic anybody?

31 March 2010

Human Encounters and Referee's feet.

I rushed to John Lewis at lunchtime to buy some new rugby boots.
Washing Day
I was happy on my own, but a shop assistant soon intercepted me and I sent her scurrying off to look for a pair of size 12s.  She soon returned with the enormous boots and slowly laced them, looking at me quizzically.

Here we go again, I thought; and then sure enough, with only the slightest hint of incredulity:

"Do you still play rugby then?"

It took some considerable restraint not to sigh, wearily, but I managed.

"No, I don't; but my son does -  and I referee"

"Do you need boots, then, just to referee?"

This time a small sigh, just a small one, simply forced its way out.

"Well the mud's just as slippy for refs"

"Oh yes, of course"

"And if someone stands on your foot it hurts just as much"

"What, even a little kid?"

A  shaft of sunlight split the air, my spirits raised, my heart was lightened. A little kid  :-)

"Yes", I replied warmly, "even if it's just one of the little kids"

22 March 2010

Orderly queues, human encounters and women of a certain age

Two weeks ago
pic by Seventh Continent

A woman of a certain age (well my age really) intercepted me as I joined the cloakroom queue after Marcus de Sautoy's maths lecture in the RGS. She smiled at me and, uncertain what do in this unexpected situation, I smiled back.

"Did you enjoy the talk?", she asked me, being careful to let me see her pretextual cloakroom ticket.

"I think he's very good", she continued before I had time to answer, "I liked what he said about the Goldbach conjecture"

A woman interested in the Goldbach conjecture! Score 5 points.

"I did like his talk", I said, "it was very well constructed, and the 'sleight of hand' he admitted to was actually quite fun"

"Oh, I didn't even notice that!", she laughed

A woman pretending to be less intelligent than she is. Score -5

She smiled again and we retrieved our coats, and went our separate ways.


A woman of a certain age (well, my age really) intercepted me in the queue to record finish times at the Bushy Park Run.

"Would, you mind? could I ask you to help..I..."

She turned round and showed me the problem: the inner pocket of her lycra shorts was tangled and she couldn't get at the contents.  Somewhat gingerly I fished inside and freed the car key I could see poking out.

"Thanks" she said, "but it's my registration card I need - that's stuck in there as well."

Never let it be said that Alibert Botogol fails to rise to an occasion:  I tried again with more vigour, but the little bit of crumpled plastic was somehow bound tight with lycra and surprisingly hard to extract

"How deep should I delve?" I asked, after a moment

"You're doing fine", she said and I tussled some more;  eventually I freed the damn thing and handed it to her.

She smiled and thanked me

"Have you ever heard of the Goldbach Conjecture?", I asked?

17 March 2010

Oh, Sorry Day

I don't normally like to be helped in shops but the wine at Majestic was piled high and precarious and the assistant was young and willing so I accepted her smiling offer.

photo: ~jjjohn~
"Yes, please: could you fish out a dozen of those Côtes du Rhône, right there at the bottom of the stack"

"Ah", she said, "my Dad likes that wine"

Her Dad? Her Dad?

Oh, sad and desperate day.
Oh, woeful encounter.
Oh, mean and sorry chance.

Do thee compare me to thy father?,
(I wanted to say)
Surely I am younger and have a wittier blog?

Oh, woman, speak not of your father, tell me of your boyfriend or your lover, tell me of the velvet, scented wine you carry home from work to share with him on a warm spring evening.. Or, failing that, what does your brother drink?

What I actually said was "Oh. Does he?"

Later, at the till, while she waited for me to find my glasses so that I could enter my PIN number, she compounded her error, asking me if I would like her to help carry my wine to my car.
More in resignation than in revenge: I said yes

11 March 2010

I am not a number, I am a free man

These are the Big Five: the five dimensions of personality by which many psychs would take your measure:

The rich pattern of life's tapestry
Openness - appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience.

Conscientiousness - a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.

Extraversion - energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.

Agreeableness - a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.

Neuroticism - a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability; sometimes called emotional instability.

You could score a person for each one, on a scale from 0 to 9, and create a five digit number that defines them. Perhaps we could all have our number tattooed on our forehead; or something; and understand each other better. Get back to your oar, 93517, and don't come back until you are more agreeable.

Or turn it into an after-dinner parlour game... who are the following numbers? I should patent the idea.

10 March 2010

What science is for

In 1972 and 1973 the Pioneer 9 and 10 spacecraft were launched. I remember them well because they had on them this intriguing plaque.

A message to another world
I had a book by Carl Sagan that explained all the symbols 1
Forty years on the spacecraft are at the edge of the solar system and are even more intriguing than when they left, for they are not where they are supposed to be: each year they travel a few thousand kilometres less than the laws of physics say they should. This is known as the Pioneer Anomaly

One of the experiments that was designed for Pioneer was to demonstrate that the Law of Gravity works just the same all over the solar system. The unexpected result of experiment suggests - tantalisingly, impossibly -  that perhaps it doesn't.

I love this inspiring passage from the latest report of the scientists investigating the anomaly:
In the short run, knowing the gravitational constant to one more decimal digit of precision or placing even tighter limits on any deviation from Einstein's gravitational theory may seem like painfully nitpicking detail. Yet one must not lose sight of the "big picture". When researchers were measuring the properties of electricity with ever more refined instruments over two hundred years ago, they did not envision continent-spanning power grids, an information economy, or tiny electrical signals reaching us from the unfathomable depths of the outer solar system, sent by manmade machines. They just performed meticulous experiments laying down the laws connecting electricity to magnetism or the electromotive force to chemical reactions. Yet their work paved the way to our modern society.

Similarly, we cannot envision today what research into gravitational science will bring tomorrow. Perhaps one day humankind will harness gravity. Perhaps one day a trip across the solar system using a yet to be devised gravity engine may not seem a bigger deal than crossing an ocean in a jetliner today. Perhaps one day human beings will travel to the stars in spacecraft that no longer need rockets. Who knows? But one thing we know for sure: none of that will happen unless we do a meticulous job today.  Our work, whether it proves the existence of gravity beyond Einstein or just improves the navigation of spacecraft in deep space by accounting for a small thermal recoil force with precision, lays down the foundations that may, one day, lead to such dreams.
 That's what science is for.

1  From memory: 
- the two circles, top left, represent a hydrogen atom
- the lines, with binary numbers along them, are distances from the sun to major pulsars (and hence our position)
- along the bottom are the planets, with distances to the same scale - our ship came from the third one
- the hand is raised because we come in peace
- the people are the same scale as the picture of the Pioneer craft behind
In 1972 that the couple were naked was a source of great controversy.

06 March 2010

Spring Clean

The sun is shining the crocuses are coming out and each day is two minutes longer than the one before. It is enough to raise the spirits of even the gloomiest blogger. Next week I plan to cycle to work again.

In the meantime, a spring clean, there, doesn't that look better?

02 March 2010

The prism of the past

We invited our old English teacher round for dinner.
picture B T
Well, not that old: after all 60 is the new 40 and if I'm honest he didn't seem that much older than us. You should certainly be thinking Dead Poets Society more than Goodbye Mr Chips

"Oh Captain, my Captain", I essayed when we shook hands in the hallway, and then "Ouch" as Mrs Botogol kicked me sharply in the ankle; but she needn't have bothered because Mr Robb wasn't paying any attention to me.

We are the prisoners of our pasts and captives of the prism through which we are perceived and in his eyes I was still 15, and my dad was the maths teacher, and I was giving up English in favour of computers and physics and if there are two cultures, I am in the other one.

Mrs Botogol, on the other hand, went on to A-Level English. Indeed she studied the subject at his alma mater.. there was a bond.. as there was also with the our eldest whom Mr Robb was there to coach, for she faces A-Levels of her own this summer  "Wisdom is not finally tested in the schools", I said, "wisdom cannot be passed from one having it to another not having it. Wisdom is of the soul, it is not susceptible of proof, it is its own proof."

They weren't listening - they were discussing an article Mr Robb had written for an on-line journal comparing Brideshead Revisited with The Great Gatsby.

"That Anthony Andrews never did much, really, after Brideshead", I opined. Cast as the oaf I rose easily to the challenge: "when you think about it Robert Redford was much more successful".

"Be a dear and go and check the potatoes, will you"

And so it came to pass that during the only literary meeting in our house for eleven years (I am not allowed at  Mrs Botogol's book club) I spent the hour in the kitchen while Mrs Botogol and our guest settled in the drawing room (no, we don't normally have a drawing room but somehow it had risen to the occasion) where they engaged in grown-up literary criticism of the most sparkling and erudite kind, occasionally sending for more smoked salmon blini (easy on the dill, dear, and can you have a look in the cupboard for those smoked almonds we got from the nice deli in Winchelsea ?)

When eventually the roast was captive and the vegetables under control and I ventured in to top up their glasses they were talking about Chekhov "Did you tell Mr Robb how I once wrote a blogpost about Chekhov", I asked lamely, and there was a sudden silence. I realised was trying too hard.


"I said how long do you reckon it takes to cook a Yorkshire Pudding? Only my batter looks really watery  - do you think I should add another ten minutes?"

I am large, I contain multitudes.

We had roast beef and plenty of gravy, and although the Yorkshire was soggy (no one asked me for the recipe) the potatoes were perfect. Mr Robb and I drank two bottles of red wine between us; he asked me if I was in IT and in retaliation I told him about the teachers at school whom I had particularly admired.

Next week my mates are coming round and we are mostly talking rugby.

26 February 2010

The Simon Singh Bandwagon - Skeptical about Skeptics

The longer the Simon Singh case goes on the more disquiet I start to feel. It seems to me that a skeptical Bandwagon (how's that for an oxymoron) is rolling, with those tell-tale signs of a bandwagon: groupthink and proselytising righteousness

In other words I am skeptical about the skeptics. I will try and explain why

(Aside: if you are unfamiliar with Simon Singh case read about it here and here)

First, let me say that I am no fan of chiropractic, nor any other form of CAM; but I am a fan of Simon Singh, owning two of his books, hearing him speak several times. I hope that he will win his case.

Having said that, here are the three things about the Bandwagon the case has attracted that worry me

23 February 2010

One Drug to Rule them All

 "It is far more powerful than I ever dared to think at first, so powerful that in the end it would utterly overcome anyone of mortal race who possessed it. It would possess him"  - Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

Modafinil tris by Arenamontanus
Professor Barbara Sahakian, speaking at the Royal Institute on Monday, is a softly spoken academic. She's an unlikely-looking herald of a new world order, but that exactly is what she is for in her laboratory in Cambridge she is testing a collection of smart drugs that boost attention, memory and cognition and which, just possibly, could change what it is to be human.

She is disquietingly relaxed about it all; I wasn't certain that she realises the power of what she is helping to unleash.

Life as a Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology is varied. Some days she gives Ritalin to test subjects and monitors their improvement at Tetris; other days she slips the Ring idly on to her finger just for fun, and walks the halls of academia invisible and unseen (far away the Nazgûl stir).

The smart drug of choice at the moment seems to be Modafinil: with few known side effects and seemingly non-addictive it reliably boosts attention, concentration and cognition no one knows exactly how. What's not to like? Her drug-ingesting students are occasionally  asked how it feels. They tell her it feels good, and they scurry far away to make preparations for their exams.

How can you get some? Unfortunately it's prescribed only as a treatment for narcolepsy so it would take some dedicated fakery to get it from your GP, even if she is Private.  If you want it merely to become superhuman (this is called an off-label use) you'd need to buy it from a reliable source on the internet. Alas Professor Sahakian didn't give reveal her favourite, merely observing that when you buy something on the internet you need to be careful, or you might end up with an inert sugar pill. (not unlike the NHS)

It was an intriguing talk.

Smart Drugs offer a world where we all can become brighter and more focussed. Where the effects of old age are staved off, and where no one need fear the terrible loss of self that is dementia. It's an artificial boost for the mind - like plastic surgery for the body, but a lot less dangerous. It's the way we will all live someday: if Modafinil was cheap and legal now it's hard to imagine who wouldn't try it.

And eventually, like the one ring, perhaps it will gain control of us.

"A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later - later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last - sooner or later the dark power will devour him"

 ***updated ***

15 February 2010

Table for One

Amongst strangers and casual acquaintances who do not know me well one should never underestimate the dazzling effects of an Oxbridge degree1 and a blue chip employer (even a bank). In consequence I cannot claim to be an entirely low status individual.

Fifteen Moai by anoldent
But no man is a hero to his family and in the Botogol family it is taken for granted that although I sit at the head of the table, I occupy the bottom of the pecking order.

Well, second bottom, I'd claim; above the cat, for while the cat has free access to the garden and all the food it can eat, they don't trap me in a small box to travel in the car. Not normally, anyway.

However the ability to lord it over the cat, while reassuring in the privacy of my home, does not wholly compensate for my lack of status and no doubt my deference at home does not help me to command the respect that my casual acquaintances assume is mine at work.

For I am not at the apex of Project Phoenix, and Project Phoenix, is not the most prestigious project in the bank.

Even so: I was still disappointed last week when, covering for a sick secretary2, I made a rare trip to the C-Suite on the 27th floor, to photocopy and deliver a deck of handouts to the Project Phoenix Supreme Oversight Governance Committee, where I distributed biscuits3 and helped them dial into the audio call.

I was little hurt that my appearance in this modest guise evidently lacked sufficient incongruity to even raise a smile.

"My deck is stapled at the bottom", complained the Senior Business Sponsor of Workstream Three, with just a hint of menace.

I had done it wrong

"Can I get you anything else?" I asked the Overall Programme Controller.

"No, Alfred, that's fine just close the door as you leave" he said in the Voice.

I was glad it was Friday, with all the senior brass occupied in the Governance Group I could sneak off home early and beat the cat.


1 long forgotten in the real world but still occupying a mantelpiece on my cv,
2 Off for two weeks; hiring a temp takes three weeks
3 Yes, the meeting attendees really are that senior

13 February 2010

Out and About

We are going to the Magritte Exhibition

08 February 2010

A glimpse of the holodeck?

The Third and the Seventh : a short film made entirely using CGI.

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Advice: Click through to Vimeo and watch in full-screen, HD.

Of course doing this in 3D would be a whole order of magnitude(s) harder, and aren't people hard to do in CGI?  But still, it's remarkable.

(HT Robin Hanson)

05 February 2010

Parents Evening

old classroom (Mie Prefectural Normal School) by shuichiro

"You're so rude", said Mrs Botogol under her breath, "You sat at that table with the Johnsons and you acted for all the world as if you didn't recognise them"


It was parents evening. So many parent evenings, so many parents. It wasn't that I hadn't recognised the Johnsons, I hadn't recognised them yet.

The school has an unusal system: the teachers ask to see you if they think they need to. Fourteen teachers considered that they needed to see us. The trains were running slowly and I received two "absents" and a "late".

And four "please pay attention"s and one "if that message on your android phone is so interesting Mr Botogol, perhaps you could share it with the rest of us"

I don't think I'd like to be back in school. It's a bit too much like work.


I am Twittering a bit. You can follow my travails, wry remarks and routine humiliations here http://twitter.com/botogol

Nothing about what I had for breakfast.

14 January 2010

I was at the Iraq Inquiry watching Alastair Campbell

In the very moment before Sky News started their interview with me I snatched off my hat.

"It was an odd thing for me to do", I mused to Mrs Botogol later that evening, over a glass of red wine. "Well, not that odd", she said "when you consider the hat."

All is Vanity.

"Will I be on the telly?", I had asked the reporter when she approached me "Not necessarily", she said, "We're chatting to a few of you in the queue; it depends what you say, really".
 She asked me why I had been prepared to stand in the cold three hours waiting to watch Alastair Campbell.
"I like Alastair Campbell"
"Oh, yes", she said, "you'll definitely be on the telly"

Unfashionably enough: I do like Alastair Campbell. He's a person whom it's acceptable for the public to hate (he has that in common with Mrs Thatcher) but he's also a man who shows great resilience and purpose, and who commands a tremendous personal loyalty from friends and colleagues: intriguing and valuable qualities, and not to be underestimated. I have a lot of time for him, and I certainly don't blame him for sticking up for himself and his boss yesterday.

I will admit that I overestimated his public appeal though: with only sixty seats available to the punters at 9am  I judged it necessary to be there at 6:30, at which time I was comfortably the first in the queue. By 7am there were two of us, and a sympathetic receptionist took pity and let us into the warm foyer. By 8am there were still only seven when we were thrown back out on to the street by an unsympathetic security guard and told to form a proper queue, already, why don't we? And who let us inside anyway?"

For while the Iraq Public Inquiry makes the public welcome, but it doesn't like to let them get too comfortable.

The tiny Hearing Room was crazily organised such so that the person we had actually come to see was the least visible: In fact Alastair Campbell was practically invisible, seated with his back to the audience, his face displayed on a corner TV monitor, on which video and audio were unsynchronised.

It was no compensation at all that we had an excellent view of bored Benny Hill look-alike John Chilcott and the miscellaneous Bufton-Tuftons on his panel (from the position of the furniture someone glancing casually in might have gathered that they were the stars of the show..)

Note to organisers: change the layout of the room so that the panel and witness sit sideways across the front, so that the public can see them all.

Campbell actually looked nervous when he entered the room, grasping a large blue folder of notes and reminders, and he focused hard on the opening questions, but as the panel wasted no less than an hour to establish merely that he was one of Blair's inner circle and, yes, he had access to everything, Campbell relaxed and grew more ebullient, combative and sure of himself even correcting chronological mis-statements from the panel.

The questioners had a go at probing but Campbell reckoned he was better at this game than they were; and clearly he was right: they wasted so much of the morning session on protocols and procedures that Campbell ended up mentioning the dossier before they did.

The cached thought you'll read in the press is the panel needs a lawyer, but when Campbell made his "I don't read the headlines" claim it was a snorting Jeremy Paxman who might have made a real difference.

But if Campbell didn't think much of the panel, neither did the panel think much of his evidence "I think we're coming from a different direction from that", observed Lawrence Freedman at one point drily, and portentously. Just as Campbell had prepared his answers in advance of the questions so, I suspect, have the Inquiry worded their report in advance of his evidence.

Campbell's key messages were two:
  • John Scarlett was completely in control of the contents of the dossier, and the forward. He could make any changes he liked and all the changes he wanted were actioned. He held the pen. [Translation: if anything in the document is wrong it's not my fault]
  • The Intelligence Services are hardly innocents when it comes to the world of spin. Three times Campbell told us that they alone of all the departments 'got' the new media world. [Translation: even if the dossier was sexed up, it wasn't him what did it]

By 11:15 when a short break was announced, I had been at the QE2 Conference Centre for five hours neither eating or drinking and I asked the staff if there was anywhere where I could get a coffee. [Now, pause for thought here: I was in a Conference Centre…at 11:15… asking for coffee, clearly such a substance was availaible]

"No...  I am afraid not", said the staff member, evenly... but not quite smoothly: a tiny hesititation giving away a flicker of conscience.
"In that case", I said, "can you tell me on which floor is the Technology Conference"
"It's Third floor", he said mechanically…but why..  oops"... and  I ran for the lifts and made it to the mingle room where I had three cups of coffee and eleven biscuits"

I bet the Panel get a cup of coffee in the breaks. And the witness. And the press. Just not the public.

About 10 years ago I worked on a dossier. I was a consultant and it was a proposal for large bank, we had to prepare a detailed statement of qualification. We had two weeks to write it and on the seventh day, just 48hrs before the deadline, two previously unseen senior partners arrived in the war room (yes, blush, we called it the war room) to take charge of the 'presentation' of the document, and they rewrote it all.

The thing is: they did make it better. A fresh eye, especially an experienced and wise one, does add value and although we cursed as we cut and amplified, and toned down and sexed up, we were also caught up by the transformation of the stodgy inventory we had prepared into the selling document it became.

At just one point did I object to a claim I thought particularly egregious and the partner put down his red pen and he asked me "Alibert, of course there can be nothing factually incorrect here. If you are telling me it's wrong, well then I'll change it.. Is it actually wrong?"
"Well no, but..." '

I was only a Junior Consultant, and still it stings to tell the tale; but you couldn't bully a head of the Joint Intelligence Committee like that, could you?

In the second phase of the Inquiry they will call Scarlett back to the stand, and he's going to be in a tricky position:
- "The dossier was dodgy, but I didn't object" sounds feeble
- "I said it was wrong, but they wouldn't let me change it" feebler still.
- but "I agreed with dossier" ..well, that's not so bad, is it.
Choose one from three. I know where my money is.
All is Vanity.