Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It’s not that cryptic, honestly.

Remember Vanessa Paradis? You know, the little girl who went on Top of the Pops to sing about Joe le Taxi in a very ill-advised outfit that left very little to the imagination? The one who grew up to become Johnny Depp’s long-term girlfriend?

It seems that the press have now got hold of a rumour that Paradis and Depp are about to split, or have split, and have been baffled by her response. “In the winter I separate,” she is quoted as saying, “in the summer I marry.” Perhaps it’s because Eric Cantona has recently been in the news again that the papers (at least the ones I’ve read) are calling this “cryptic”: yet another French celebrity being philosophically obtuse.

Perhaps we should take the entire quote, not just that one sentence. Here it is:
You know, when I eat three peas, I’m pregnant. When I’m visiting a city, I’m buying a house. In the winter I separate, in the summer I marry. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been getting married every year.
We have to remember that English is not her native language, so if the grammar is sometimes a little unusual, we have to forgive her that. But the quote is actually very easy to understand: Vanessa Paradis is complaining about the way the press turn non-stories into front-page news.

And lo and behold: she gets a bit sarky, and suddenly she’s not only splitting from Depp, she’s making mysterious and cryptic comments.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oh, what a tangled web we weave

It’s quite likely that not many people outside of Germany are aware that there is such a thing as a German President, a largely ceremonial role a bit like a sort of temporary king. Currently, this is Christian Wulff, a man elected by members of the government to obediently sign things into law and generally be the head of state (as opposed to the much better-known Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, and head of government). And right now, Christian Wulff is in even more trouble than the euro, an achievement that will, whatever the outcome, assure him a sort of dubious immortality.

Before you get too excited, though, it’s nothing as exciting as Clinton’s cigar-based fun-and-games, or Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga parties. This is the German President we’re talking about. This scandal involves a loan.

Basically, the President is supposed to be a person of impeccable moral principles: squeaky-clean and boring enough to be the perfect choice to smilingly support charities and meet visiting royalty. And so it was a bit of a shock when the press reported that they had evidence to show that, during his time as Minister President of Lower Saxony, he had lied to the Lower Saxon parliament. He’d been asked if he had had any business connections to a certain Egon Geerkens. He’d said no. Now it transpires, according to Germany’s biggest tabloid Bild, that he had, in fact, borrowed about half a million euros from Egon Geerkens at a vastly reduced interest rate. Guess that had just slipped his mind.

He might have gotten away with it, though, if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids at the Frankfurter Allgemeine, who reported at the beginning of the year that Wulff had phoned the editor-in-chief of Bild, Kai Diekmann, and had threatened the paper with legal action if they printed the story.

Now, there’s a strategy that’s doomed to failure right from the start. For a politician to threaten to sue a paper for publishing unflattering stories is pretty much the stupidest move since Napoleon said, “You know what? I reckon if we took half a million troops and marched them through eastern Europe for three months, we could knock seven kinds of hell out of the Russians.” The effect is pretty much the same: utter defeat at the hands of a vastly superior enemy and a humiliating march back through the frozen wastes as your political life ebbs away.

And it didn’t help that Wulff later “explained” that what he had asked for was not a retraction, but a delay in publication on the grounds that was on his way to meet an emir. It turns out, however, that Wulff had spoken on Diekmann’s answering machine. The Bild asked Wulff if they could publish the transcript. Wulff said no. The Bild sent Wulff a copy of the transcript. Wulff said, basically, he didn’t really care what the Bild did with that damn transcript.

And at this point, in stepped a small, Berlin-based paper called the taz and decided that they wanted to join in the fun. There’s no love lost between the Bild and the taz, and in fact although their relationship is often described as “love-hate”, it would be more accurate to describe it as “come one step closer and I might just gouge your eyes out”. Why, the taz wants to know, did Bild journalists decide to send other papers extracts from the transcript before Wulff had given his consent?

Diekmann’s answer was prompt and to the point: “Good question, but could you delay publication for now? I’m off to Ludwigshafen to visit Helmut Kohl.”

Turns out, he was joking. He actually does intend to answer the taz’s questions by the deadline they set, which is Monday afternoon. Then again, Wulff did promise that he would himself publish documents and so on which would explain all, and so far that hasn’t happened either.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bring out the old, ring in the new

Yesterday, my wife made me take the paper out for recycling. Well, what she actually did was to drag the bin out to the road, come back in and remind me that the next day — today — was collection day for paper. This meant I had to drag the paper out of the house and down the drive to the street in order to put the paper in the bin she’d just dragged… you get the picture.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned this on this blog before, but Germany, ever the eco-conscious nation, has a complicated system of colour-coded bins and bags for different types of waste, so that it can all be correctly sorted and categorized and recycled. It’s broadly a national thing but with regional variations. A friend of mine, recently moved to rural Rhineland-Palatinate, tells me she has a monthly glass collection. We have to take our glass to the bottle bank.

As a result, of course, knowing when each collection is due isn’t easy; fortunately, municipal councils print calendars telling you exactly which collection to expect when. And when my wife told me the paper collection was due today, that’s because the calendar had told her so, and what German would doubt anything printed by a local council official?

This evening, the paper still hadn’t been collected. I checked the calendar. I looked for the paper collection dates. Once a month, always on a Monday. The January collection was scheduled for Monday, 10th.

Which sounds about right… but today’s not the 10th, today’s the 9th. Strange, I thought: must be a misprint. Unless…

I looked again.

I then threw away last year’s schedule, and replaced it with this year’s schedule, which had somehow managed to bury itself under some paperwork.

My one consolation is that most of our neighbours appear to have made the same mistake.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My wife will be livid when she sees this

The aftermath of Storm Andrea. It wasn’t a particularly violent storm and it didn’t affect our sheltered little valley as much as it has affected other parts of the country, but it did prove to be the final straw for one part of the garden my wife had spent countless hours and several euros on.

It’s been a rough few days.
Lots of little storms, testing its strength to the limit.
Finally, it snapped.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Films you really don’t want to watch

Here is a list of some films that really, you would never want to watch:

  1. Star Warts
  2. The Curious Case of Benjamin’s Butt
  3. The Booze Brothers
  4. The King’s Peach
  5. The Gnus of Navarone
  6. Star Trek: Generators
  7. Rash of the Titans
  8. Goon With the Wind
  9. Mudsucker
  10. Pretty much anything that has either James Cameron or Roland Emmerich in the credits.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My solution to the New Year’s Resolution problem

It’s a strange tradition, when you think about it: when the New Year begins, we make little promises to ourselves about how we are going to change ourselves for the better — give up smoking, take up regular exercise, learn not to despise people who decide to learn Esperanto — but of course most such attempts are doomed to failure. Those that do succeed are rare enough that many actually make news headlines.

So YouTube announced a little contest to help out a little. The idea is that you watch an inspirational video about how to stick to your resolutions, then make and upload a video telling the world what your resolutions are so you can’t go back on your word.

Well, there’s only one answer to that.