Tuesday, September 30, 2003


The intercession of a thousand journalists is heard as Vatican officials clarify earlier comments and insist the Pope is no closer to the Next Life than he was 24 hours ago.

A flurry of whispered prayers could be heard in the newsroom this afternoon. Normally unsuperstitious hacks -- most of whom have probably not been inside a church since they were baptised -- could be heard muttering "Please God, don't let him die today. Not before I go on holiday. I swear to you that if you let him see out the week I'll go to church EVERY SUNDAY -- so strike me down if I don't."

And the Good Lord showed mercy unto the sinful journalists, even though he seriously doubted that they would follow the path of righteousness.
How rock'n'roll is this?

If only Gareth Gates would follow suit -- he'd put a lot of people out of their misery.
Uh, oh...better pack that bag now, just in case.
ITV.com: Pope in 'very poor health'

Monday, September 29, 2003


For the best part of this year, many of you have been listening to me spout forth about the things that I think are important, interesting and newsworthy.

Now it's time to open up the mailbag, a-la Speakers' Corner.

If you've got a point you want to make, an issue you want to raise, a drum you want to bang, drop me an e-mail. If it's thought-provoking, provocative, intelligent and witty, I'll post it up.

16 year-old Heshu Yones, a Kurdish Muslim, was stabbed 11 times by her father at her home in Acton, a couple of miles from my home in Ealing. She was left to bleed to death.

Heshu had been involved in a relationship with a Lebanese Christian. Her father feared she was becoming westernised.

Some sections of the media have described Heshu's death as an "honour" killing:

BBC News: Father jailed for 'honour killing'

I call it murder.
How do you plan for someone death, I was asked this morning.

It's a question I've been giving my attention to all day.

Let's face it, at 83 the Pope isn't getting any younger. It may seem distasteful but we've got to be prepared for the moment when he goes to meet his boss. You can't organise a major outside broadcast on a wing and a prayer.

We've obviously been aware of this for years but recent events suggest the moment when JP goes a-knocking on the pearly gates could be sooner rather than later.

When that moment comes I'll immediately have to get a plane to Krakow, where the Big Man spent much of his life before becoming Pope.

Death comes in an instant -- but planning the coverage of it takes a lot longer. There's hotel rooms, ISDN lines, drivers, fixers, satellite time, live positions for TV cameras, parking permission for broadcast trucks, and a hundred and one other things to think about in advance.

The main problem, though, is that the blokes in frocks at the Vatican are pretending that although he already looks like he's been dead for 10 years, the Pope's been miraculously blessed with the gift of immortality. Trying to get information out of them as to what their plans are for when the inevitable happens is like trying to get blood out of a weeping statue of the Virgin Mary.

If it all goes to plan it'll be a real miracle.
Handicap International is a charity working in 55 countries, providing support to disabled people, landmine victims and vulnerable populations.

They've just e-mailed me to let me know that on November 1st they're holding an event in central London to publicise the anti-landmine cause:

Handicap International Handout (.pdf)

I won't be able to be there because I'll be away that weekend but if you're in central London on the day it deserves your support.

Sunday, September 28, 2003


Tony Blair says he has nothing to apologise for over the war in Iraq.

Well, for starters there's:

More than 37,500 bombs dropped.
More than 350 coalition fatalities.
More than 1500 GIs wounded.
More than 6000 civilian deaths.
And NO weapons of mass destruction found. (Source: Iraqometer)
I've got something a bit special to share with you today.

The International News Safety Institute is publishing a book shortly called Dying to Tell the Story. It's a tribute to all the journalists who died covering the War in Iraq.

Jim Muir has written the chapter about Kaveh and he's just sent me the book proofs over from Tehran:

Kaveh Golestan Book Chapter (.pdf)

Jim explained in the e-mail that the chapter is "basically a weld-together of the three pieces I did at the time as they were as definitive as I could get them, but with some extra stuff top and tail."

It is the definitive story of April 2nd 2003 -- the day that changed all our lives. It's written with Jim's trademark compassion, honesty and generosity. For me, it's a harrowing read. It stirs up so many emotions which are still buried just beneath the surface, rather like the landmine that took my foot.

Do take the time to read the chapter. It tells you everything you need to know about me, my accident and of course the huge void that Kaveh's death has left in so many lives.

Don't just skim through it -- it deserves your full attention.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The reason there was no Amputee of the Week yesterday was that the 5km and 10km Active Amps Fun Run was held today in Richmond Park.

I had hoped to run myself but it's still a little bit early in the day so I had to make do with helping out as a race marshall.

There were some really inspiring people taking part, including amputee long distance runners Andrew Palmer and Antony Read (seen here along with race organiser Kiera Roche.) Among the spectators were Ali Abbas, the Iraqi boy who lost both his arms in a coalition bombing attack, and his friend Ahmad Hamza. Whatever the difficult ethical implications of Ali's situation, which were explored in the Channel 4 documentary I mentioned on Thursday, he seemed a lovely kid.

So, rather than singling out a single person, I'm awarding a group Amputee of the Week award to all the people with bits missing who took part in the Active Amps run. I aim to be among them 12 months from now.

Friday, September 26, 2003

This week's Amputee of the Week will be a day later than usual...for reasons that will become apparent tomorrow.

It's heartening that Britain's loathing of David Blaine shows no sign of abating.

Amid the passing fads and fashions of modern life, our on-going contempt for his nauseating brand of pompous self-publicity shines like a beacon. In the latest attack, a man used a catapault to fire balloons filled with pink paint at Blaine's perspex box.

Even the normally high-minded Economist has got in on the act, carrying an article on Blaine's stunt and quoting from the Philadelphia Inquirer article I mentioned last weekend.

I'm starting to feel a little bit sorry for David Blaine. If his stunt is genuine (which I'm still not convinced it is) then the constant jeers, eggs and paint bombs must be really doing his head in, considering he hasn't eaten for 21 days. I get grouchy enough when I skip breakfast.

Actually, on reflection, forget I said that. I don't feel sorry for him at all. The self-important prick deserves everything he gets.
And so to the latest Guest Writer.

Regular readers will have heard of Alex Lemon, the "wonderfully bitchy" writer for the South Wales Echo and The Friday Thing.

In her inimitable style, Alex reflects on life as a regional hackette. If you're an editor or publisher and you're reading this -- GIVE ALEX A JOB! That's an order.

Well, Stuart asked me to be his third guest writer. Frankly, I was shocked. Shocked it took him so long to ask. Nah, I’m kidding. To be honest, I was shocked he asked at all, based on the calibre of his previous guest writerettes.

The first was Jamie Tarabay – international journalista extraordinaire, who jets off to far flung corners of the globe to record events in the world’s troublespots.

The second was Carolyn Cohagan – New York comedienne, performer and writer, who has entertained audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

And then there’s me – a regional hackette, two-and-a-half years into her journo career, 5ft 2in in her socks, with little more in the claims to fame department than a handful of front pages in the South Wales Echo. A publication with Stuart’s mum’s stamp of approval but not widely heard of outside the Land of the Leek.

(Isn’t it funny how all Stuart’s guest writer to date have been chicks? I think he fancies himself as a bit of an international super-stud, something along the lines of Austin Powers but without the ruffled shirt and dodgy teeth – and with one leg.)

But Stuart seems to think I’ll entertain you and so I duly respond to his challenge to do just that.

But I have two hard acts to follow and and Stu’s conviction that I have promise to live up to. This is a tough assignment. Not as tough as vox-popping the kind of people who frequent Cardiff Bus Station on whether Cardiff Council’s canteen should sell subsidised sarnies, but tough all the same.

It’s a pretty common misconception that journalism is a cool-assed career to have. Yeah, sure, it probably beats the pants off packing garlic bread or unblocking drains (although you almost certainly get paid more for scooping poop) but in journalism there’s an awful lot of crap to wade through before you get to the good bit – much like the life of the afore-mentioned drain-unblocker, but probably the only good bit there is pulling off your rubber gloves after the job’s done.

The life of the provincial journo is a strange one. You spend all day asking the kind of questions your parents used to hush your mouth for when you were a kid.

Most people disobey their parents by talking with their mouths full, bunking off school, drinking underage, getting tattoos, shagging inappropriate people. But we do it by becoming journalists. Our poor parents. They’re faced with having their children become universally despised by total strangers but they have to think of it as an achievement and show pride. Bless ‘em.

I may not be dodging bullets or stepping on landmines but I am forced to walk up to the odd-bods of Cardiff, stick my note book under their nose, make them say their piece on the topic of the day and pressure them into letting me take their photo. It astounds me that anyone ever says yes. Would you let a total stranger take your photo and splash it across the pages of the local paper? Would you fuck! But it seems to be the South Walian way. They can’t get enough of spilling their guts for the world, his wife and their neighbours.

Hey, look at our Stu – case in point. Whereas I would see losing a leg as a bloody good reason to hide under my bed and never come out, he shares every bit of dark and light with a big bunch of people he doesn’t know. And I can’t help but admire him for it, just as I admire the odd-bods of Cardiff Bus Station. Well, when I’m not too distracted by their wayward eyeballs, unique aroma and 15 reprobate devil-spawns.

The interview that I did a few weeks ago for the BBC Radio Wales programme "Beating the Odds" will be broadcast tonight at 1830 BST. Listeners who are outside the Land of my Fathers, or who don't have digital satellite, can listen in here.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

A first class docco on Channel 4 this evening -- The Tale of Two Alis.

It contrasted the well documented story of Ali Abbas, who lost both his arms in a coalition bombing raid, with that of Ali Hussein, who suffered severe facial injuries because of American bombs but whose story didn't make international headlines.

The programme could well have been re-named "When Good Intentions Go Bad." It was an at times sordid account of what happens when a personal tragedy is blown into a worldwide cause celebre. Once Ali Abbas's story received international publicity his surgeon became his media minder, negotiating lucrative charity sponsorships and deals with broadcasters.

As toys, money and offers of help flooded in for Ali Abbas at his hospital in Kuwait, his young friend Ali Hussein -- undergoing treatment in the next ward -- suffered in obscurity. As one interviewee said in the programme, "there are hundreds of Ali Abbasses."

The final scenes of the documentary showed Ali Abbas heading to Britain, amid a frenzy of media interest, for prosthetic treatment at Roehampton Hospital. Ali Hussein, meanwhile, returned to his village in Iraq -- disfigured, traumatised and facing an uncertain future.
Lord above, it's been a busy 36 hours!

Headed down to Cardiff yesterday to meet Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Health Minister Jane Hutt at Rookwood Hospital, where I'm being treated. They requested the visit after seeing the article I wrote for the Limbless Association.

It was a bloody long drive just to shake a few hands and smile politely but it's all good for raising the profile of the hospital. I was the token "service user" as NHS-types insist on calling patients. While I was in Cardiff I also took delivery of the copy from my next Guest Writer. It's an absolute winner, but I'm going to hold it back and publish it tomorrow....believe me, you won't be disappointed.

Then back to London this morning to give a lecture on working in hostile environments to journalists on the Writing International News course organised by the Reuters Foundation.

I did my now familiar (and soon to become very tedious) party trick of ramming home the anti-landmine message by whipping off my artificial leg. No matter how many times I do it, it never seems to fail. I had a couple of the participants in tears, although it may have been that their eyes were watering due to the smell emanating from my sweaty stump sock.

On the work front, my latest despatch for BBC News Online has been published here. The South Wales Echo have picked up on my return to work (thankfully the online version of the story doesn't include the frightening picture used in print) -- as have The Guardian, who have clearly been reading the blog!

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Dashed down to Cardiff at first light for a meet and greet with Wales's First Minister, Rhodri Morgan.

Back to London at first light tomorrow..more then.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

A selection of pictures....One taken with my colleagues for the BBC staff magazine to mark my first day back:

...which was used to illustrate this article.

And a few shots which have just been sent over from the Landmine Experience Media Day in Leeds last week:
Leeds 1
Leeds 2
Leeds 3
Leeds 4
Leeds 5

Heather Mills McCartney and that husband of hers who used to be in a band will be doing their bit for the anti-landmine cause at a star-studded gala this evening in Beverly Hills.

Those not able to get a ticket can come round to my house after work and share a Pot Noodle.

And Heather, if you're reading this, an invite would have been nice but I'm not one to hold a grudge.
Following on from my earlier comments about Congressman Jim Marshall's article criticising the negative tone of media coverage of Iraq, I've just been reading an internal briefing document giving an overview of the current situation in the country. It was written by a BBC colleague on his return from Baghdad.

In it, he says:
"The Coalition Provisional Authority has been critical of our recent coverage, suggesting that we have over-played the extent of the lawlessness and criminality and adopted a negative tone in our reporting. My personal opinion is that this is typical of the kind of “spin” that comes into play when military operations start to go wrong. "

So is the media portraying a "falsely bleak picture" -- as Jim Marshall argues -- or are we talking down the many positives achieved by the liberating forces in Iraq?

Glenn Reynolds is also following the Iraq Media Bias issue over at Instapundit, although the guy talks out of his arse and has never been anywhere near Iraq as far as I can tell. This becomes blatantly obvious when you read this article, in which Reynolds says that "A lot of Big Media types don’t get out of Baghdad much to see the rest of the country where things are better."

There's a very good reason for that, Glenn. It's because it isn't safe to travel around Iraq, you fool. Tell you what -- you get over to Iraq, have a wander around, and then you can tell us all about how wonderful it is....if you survive to tell the tale, that is.
From the Press Association news wire:


By PA News Reporters

Frank Bruno, one of Britain's best loved sports personalities, is apparently in the grip of his toughest fight yet - for his mental well-being.

I claim my own prize...but I'm sure the PA is not alone in embracing the cliche.

Who's killing American troops in Iraq? Baathist hold-outs with RPGs? Islamist militants prepared to blow themselves up in a suicide bomb attack? Maybe even a fellow American soldier in a friendly fire incident.

No -- it's the hacks...at least according to Democratic Congressman, Jim Marshall.

His article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is perhaps the most breath-taking piece of sophistry I've read since the war began.

Marshall accuses the media of "hurting our chances (in Iraq). They are dwelling upon the mistakes, the ambushes, the soldiers killed, the wounded...."

What? Is the media making these things up? Of course not. We're reporting them BECAUSE THEY'RE HAPPENING.

He goes on: "The falsely bleak picture weakens our national resolve, discourages Iraqi cooperation and emboldens our enemy." This argument is so weak as to be almost laughable. What Marshall is basically saying is that to claim in media reports that the war is not going "according to plan" is unpatriotic -- and therefore journalists who dare to portray the negative aspects of the conflict are traitors.

I didn't realise independent journalists were expected to reflect American foreign policy at all times. My mistake.

Marshall ends his article by claiming that "the harm done by our media....is killing our troops."

This is a dangerous, misguided and inflammatory allegation. It's all the more distasteful given the series of incidents of American troops in Iraq killing journalists.

"The harm done by our troops is killing our media" would be a more accurate statement.

Monday, September 22, 2003

So, day one is over -- and a truly strange experience it was.

In some ways it felt like I'd been away for an eternity yet in others it was as though I'd never left.

After the initial flurry of excitement, with a photographer from the BBC staff newspaper on hand to record the moment of my return for posterity (I have a copy of his picture but for some reason can't open it, so I'll try and upload it tomorrow) I was able to settle down to business.

It was then that the true extent of my absence hit home. I felt like someone arriving at an exam only to realise they haven't done any revision -- or even taken the course they're meant to be examined on. After a couple of hours, though, things began to make more sense as I began to pick up my old habits and rhythms again.

In truth, I seemed to spend much of the day talking, catching up with friends and colleagues I hadn't seen for months. The normality of it all was extremely reassuring and grounding after months of strangeness and uncertainty.

Spent a while getting my head around the logistics for the European Union Intergovernmental Conference in Rome on October 4th -- my first gentle foray back into the field.

I got an e-mail from the correspondent I'll be working with at the summit, welcoming me back on board. "Rome in early October is good place to begin," he said. I couldn't agree more.

I'm offering a prize (probably some old shit left lying around in the office) to the first reader to identify a news report which says that "Former champion boxer Frank Bruno is now facing the biggest fight of his career...." or some close variation thereof.

It's depressingly inevitable.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

A momentous day tomorrow -- I "officially" go back to work.

I feel like I've been working pretty much throughout the past five and a half months, but the work's been largely done from home rather than from my base in Television Centre.

Tomorrow, though, I take my satchel and packed lunch and head off with all the other commuters to the office.

I'm only going back part-time to start with -- two days in the first week and I'll see how it goes after that. Even so, I must admit I'm rather apprehensive. Will I remember how to do my job? Will I still be able to cope with the pressures of work, both physically and psychologically? Will people treat me differently now?

It's the same feeling I used to get as a kid when I went back to school after the Summer holidays -- except that in this case the holiday has been almost six months long.

Despite the first day nerves I'm looking forward to getting back in the saddle. There have been occasions in recent months when I've felt like my life's on hold, as though someone's pressed the pause button. Going back to work represents another important step on the road to normality. I hope to get back into the swing of things fairly quickly -- there are possible trips to Athens and Rome next week so I need to hit the ground running (or at least hobbling at high speed.)

I said in an interview I gave soon after the accident that I wanted to be known as a journalist first and a landmine survivor second -- and definitely not the other way around. I need to move on from the accident -- not forget it ever happened (not that I could) and certainly not lose sight of how it has changed my life. But recognise that it's just part of who I am -- an important part, but not the defining characteristic.

It's easy to be dismissive of the 9-to-5 but perhaps I need a dose of routine right now to allow me to get back to where I was before I was injured. Plus, I'm sure that within days of returning the workload will be back to its pre-accident levels and I'll be wishing I'd taken more time off.
Why do we Brits hate David Blaine so, asks the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Philly.com: For Blaine, the trick is to win over Brits

Of the barrage of attacks Blaine has endured since he was hoisted above the Thames a fortnight ago, the Inquirer says that: "The nasty episodes are revealing some ugly truths about Britain's class-based society, in which inherited titles still matter more in some quarters than achievement. Even in the 21st century, Britons can be uncomfortable with ambition and disparage people with high aspirations as not "knowing their place."

This is complete and utter bullshit -- and lazy, stereotyped journalism of the worst kind.

If we hate Blaine (and I certainly do) it's got absolutely nothing to do with simmering class tensions and envy towards those who are ambitious.

It's because we enjoy nothing more than bursting the bubbles of pretentious, publicity-seeking pricks like Blaine.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Obviously not content with killing Iraqi policemen, the Americans are now having a go at the wildlife as well.
The soldier who lost his finger will definitely not be a future amputee of the week.
Globe and Mail: 'Drunk' U.S. soldier shoots rare tiger in Baghdad zoo
Lots of snippets of landmine-related news about today. Here's a quick round-up.

The Ottawa Treaty conference has ended in Bangkok with a renewed call for nations such as China, Russia and the United States to sign up:
Reuters AlertNet: Anti-mine conference targets hold-out countries

Good news from Kenya, which has destroyed its stockpile of almost 36,000 mines:
AllAfrica.com: Kenya Destroys Its Stock of Landmines

A variety of organisations, including Amnesty and the Stop the War Coalition, are backing The Clear Up Campaign, calling on governments which use cluster bombs legally responsible for removing the unxploded remnants.

Handicap International has released a series of photos highlighting its work with landmine victims in Asia and Africa:
Reuters AlertNet: HI raises mine awareness around world

And the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reports on the end of the Ottawa Treaty conference in its own unique way, conveniently failing to mention the fact that pressure was put on China in the conference's closing communique:
Xinhua: China supports eliminating landmine-related concerns

Friday, September 19, 2003

Ive just finished reading Weapons of Mass Deception, kindly bought for me off the wish list by Sarah from Seattle.

It's a thought-provoking and yet very readable book, analysing the PR techniques used by the Bush administration to build and bolster support for the war in Iraq.

It reads like a first draft and will no doubt be superceded by more considered and comprehensive books on the propaganda war. Even so, it's well, well worth a look -- if you enjoy the work of people like Michael Moore, Greg Palast and their ilk you'll find it fascinating.

The authors are behind the Center for Media and Democracy and their website is also worth exploring.
Sorry to go on about this but I'm sick of Colin Powell's half-truths.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal about his visit to Iraq, Powell says that "Anyone who doubts the wisdom of President Bush's course in Iraq should stand, as I did, by the side of the mass grave in Halabja, in Iraq's north.

"That terrible site holds the remains of 5,000 innocent men, women and children who were gassed to death by Saddam Hussein's criminal regime. The Iraqi people must be empowered to prevent such mass murder from happening ever again."

Powell is right. The mass grave in Halabja is terrible. I visited it in March and wrote about it at the time.

Yet once again Powell fails to mention America's shameful response to the Halabja massacre, which was committed at a time when Iraq was receiving billions of dollars in loan guarantees and other credits from the US.

In an article published in the International Herald Tribune in January, author Joost R. Hiltermann explains that after the attack by Saddam's forces on Halabja:

"...the United States...accused Iran, Iraq's enemy in a fierce war, of being partly responsible for the attack. The State Department instructed its diplomats to say that Iran was partly to blame. The result of this stunning act of sophistry was that the international community failed to muster the will to condemn Iraq strongly for an act as heinous as the terrorist strike on the World Trade Center."
The funeral of MAG deminer Ian Rimell, who was murdered in an ambush near Mosul, was held today in Kidderminster:
BBC News: Tributes to bomb clearance 'hero'

Talking to the team from MAG yesterday, they said there are no immediate plans to pull out of Northern Iraq, although MAG's work there is being curtailed because of security considerations. As the head of MAG, Lou McGrath, said in his oration: "It is our memory of a man who was thoughtful, determined, humorous and generous, who never gave up even in the most difficult circumstances, that will give us the strength to continue our work in Iraq."
The Economist's single-minded enthusiasm for the free market can be annoying at times, but the magazine's analysis of world affairs is usually second to none.

Its editorial on Israel's plans for Yasser Arafat is typically first rate. "Politically, this decision (to exile or kill Arafat) was unwise; morally and legally it is indefensible," the Economist says.

The article is subscription only, so here it is:
Economist: Killing Arafat is Wrong
A thumbnail picture from yesterday's Yorkshire Evening Post of myself and one of the kids who took part in the Landmine Experience Media Day.

Thursday, September 18, 2003


"One of the real concerns about Saddam Hussein, as well, is his biological weapons capability, the fact that he may at some point try to use smallpox, anthrax, plague, some other kind of biological agent against other nations, possibly including even the United States." Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC's "Meet The Press," September 8, 2002.

"Saddam Hussein has investigated dozens of biological agents causing diseases such as gas gangrene, plague, typhus, tetanus, cholera, camelpox and hemorrhagic fever, and he also has the wherewithal to develop smallpox." Secretary of State Colin Powell, February 5, 2003.

"Iraq and North Korea are two of those countries that more than likely have some smallpox virus. So we have to be prepared." Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, December 17, 2002.

"American scientists assigned to the weapons hunt in Iraq found no evidence Saddam Hussein's regime was making or stockpiling smallpox, The Associated Press has learned from senior military officers involved in the search." AP News Report, September 18, 2003.
As predicted on Tuesday, the David Blaine Flash Mob story is gathering pace in the media:
Ananova: Flash mob plans Blaine event

Ditto on Angle-Grinder Man:
CNN: Spandex-clad 'superhero' freeing cars on London streets

A successful day at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, launching MAG's Landmine Experience for children.

I'd been asked to give a short speech and -- expecting the audience to be mainly local worthies -- had my words all planned out. As it turned out, most of those in attendance were of school age so I ditched the speech, made a few comments, and then whipped off my artificial leg so that they could appreciate what landmines actually do to people. I think it woke the kids up!

The kids were able to have a look at a selection of mines before the full exercise began. There was a simulated landmine accident and then MAG deminer Bob Gravett explained how he would go about searching a mined area. The kids were given a chance to don helmets and flak jackets and try their hand at demining.

We generated a good level of media coverage and are now talking about taking the project to Brussels next year for a Europe-wide humanitarian conference for young people. All good stuff.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

It's not very often I venture up to the scary North of England because I feel like a fish out of water when I get further up the M1 than Luton.

However, I've arrived up in Leeds for tomorrow's MAG Landmine Experience (makes it sound like an Andy Warhol-esque sixties "happening") and I'm staying at the very chi chi Malmaison hotel. If it wasn't for the strange accents I could almost convince myself I was in London.

I've just been catching up with the day's headlines after being away from a TV, radio or PC all day because of the awards judging.

I've made a point steering clear of getting too bogged down with talking about the Hutton Inquiry because of the obvious conflict of interest issues with me being a member of BBC staff (and because I rather like my job and don't want to be sacked for breach of contract by mouthing off about internal BBC matters.)

However, I think it's fair to say after today's proceedings at the inquiry that this was not the greatest day in the history of BBC News.
I’ve spent the day at the headquarters of Channel Four watching image after image of war, disease and death as part of the judging panel for the Rory Peck Trust Hard News award.

It was a difficult, moving and at times bleakly funny experience. The films on the short list seemed like a compilation of all the TV news reports from the past year that began with the presenter warning that “this piece contains images which some viewers may find disturbing.”

From Liberia to Ramallah and of course from across Iraq, the films showcased the bravery and artistry in extremis of the cameramen that shot them – as well as the sheer awfulness of daily life in so many parts of the world. Yet many captured the beautiful, visceral poetry amid the unspeakable horror; an American sidewinder missile looping into the sky on its way to its enemy target at Baghdad Airport, a severely malnourished Angolan child, a feeding tube taped to its nose, struggling to hang on to life, a Liberian rebel loading his machine gun with shiny brass bullets as he prepared for an assault on Monrovia.

The sounds captured the chaos and terror of life in a war zone; the shallow, panicked breathing as a colleague is shot and injured in the West Bank, the heavy thump of a rocket propelled grenade as it pounds into an American-controlled building in Iraq, the staccato rattle of small arms fire as heard from inside an armoured patrol carrier.

I found myself reliving many of the emotions I felt in Iraq and elsewhere.

Over the course of the day we whittled the entries down to a shortlist of three – Attack on Monrovia by James Brabazon, a portfolio of work by Glenn Middleton and the Northern Iraq Friendly Fire Incident filmed by Fred Scott (which I’ve already spoken about many times here). The winner will be announced at the Rory Peck Awards on October 30th and until then I’m sworn to total secrecy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Just back from the National Theatre, where I went to see Jerry Springer -- The Opera.

The show got great reviews but I had mixed feelings about it. It certainly didn't lack ambition -- adapting the Jerry Springer show into an all-singing all-dancing stage revue takes some doing. Nevertheless, there was something condescending about the concept of taking tabloid TV and trying to raise it into something approaching high art for the consumption of the theatre-going classes, who can they feel very pleased with themselves because they may read a broadsheet newspaper but they're still prepared to slum it with the trailer trash.

Plus, the novelty of hearing the cast sing words like "crack whore" and "fucking bitch" in an operatic voice wears off after about 30 seconds.

Then again, I paid good money to go and see it so I'm hardly in a position to talk.

I may go quiet for 24 hours or so -- but fear not.

I'm on the judging panel for the Rory Peck Trust Hard News Award all day tomorrow and then I jump on a train up to Leeds for the MAG Landmine Experience Media Day.

The full story when I get back to London...
Regular readers may remember that on August 27th I expressed my admiration for the South Wales Echo headline "City Shirt Blew Up Boat."

Well, it seems not everyone enjoyed the front page as much as I did because the Echo's been forced to issue an apology.

I hear the sound of libel lawyers breathing down necks.

The retraction says that "We are happy to clarify the picture used was not the type of shirt being worn at the time of the accident and indeed that the official explanation for the cause of the accident is yet to be established."

This translates as "We Made It Up."

Shame -- but it's still a great headline.
I fear this man will be popping up in a newspaper near you very soon by journalists looking for a new....er.....angle on the "isn't the traffic in London terrible" story.

Under normal circumstances this self-styled "wheel-clamp and speed camera vigilante cum subversive superhero philanthropist entertainer type personage" would be an obvious choice for the Twat Pack and he is clearly a complete prick. Even so, I kind of like his style -- and the cut of his cod piece.

Angle Grinder Man -- I salute you!

Oh, and the media's going to go nuts over these guys too...but I've already made my opinions about flash mobs very clear. You guys -- you're just crazzeeeee!

Monday, September 15, 2003


Reports from the first day of the MSP5 conference in Thailand:
AFP: Landmine campaigners warn Asia is falling behind in landmine eradication
Bangkok Post: Non-members urged to get behind landmine ban treaty
BBC News: Asia pressed on landmine ban

An interesting , if disturbing, story from Canada....that a project to teach students in Angola to avoid landmines actually makes them more likely to enter minefields. It's difficult to draw any conclusions, though, as the report doesn't offer any explanations:
Canadian landmine effort puts children at more risk

....and the horrific allegation that Burma is using prisoners to clear minefields by marching across them:
Making demining an atrocity
BBC News Online reports on Colin Powell's visit to Halabja, which I travelled to in March to report on the 15th anniversary of the chemical attack there. The news report has a link to the survivor's story I wrote at the time.

The visit disgusted me. I'm amazed Powell has the nerve to show his face in Halabja, given America's (in the guise of the Reagan administration) involvement in the atrocity there.

In 1988 Colin Powell was national security adviser. The administration of which he was a part chose to turn a blind eye to Saddam Hussein's gassing of his own people because at the time it was Iran, not Iraq, that was America's Number One Enemy.

Barbara O'Brien dissected the Halabja/America affair in the New York Times in February. The article is reprinted here.
Today's Guardian's Op Ed page has a powerful piece by the former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg.

It was originally published in Yediot Ahronot and has also appeared in the International Herald Tribune.

It's the most lucid analysis of the current situation in the Middle East I've read in a long time and I'd say it's a must read for anyone interested in the issue. Amid the suicide bombings on the one side and the targetted killings on the other Burg is a voice of sanity.

Burg says that "the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies....

"A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself....

"Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centres of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture."

There are many pertinent quotes in the article, but you really need to read it in its entirety.

Guardian: The end of Zionism

The Fifth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty opens today in Bangkok:

5MSP Website

Don't yawn -- it's important.

It's a chance for all the countries involved in trying to rid the world of landmines to get together and discuss the progress being made. It also provides a platform where regions that are lagging behind in their obligations can be called to account.

I was commissioned by BBC News Online to write a piece giving a personal perspective on the conference. You can read it here.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Fuck Ikea and its semi-disposable flat-packed monstrosities -- and fuck the people who spend their Sunday afternoons at Ikea's soulless, joyless cathedrals of homogenous middle-class blandness.

I left Ealing at lunchtime and headed for Walthamstow for Sunday lunch with triathlete Phil and his wife Claire, who's due to give birth to their first child in a matter of weeks.

As I hit the North Circular the traffic ground to a halt. It took 40 minutes to get from Hanger Lane to Wembley (a journey of a couple of miles).

I assumed there had been some horrific smash somewhere and expected to see a pile of metal twisted around the central reservation somewhere.

But no.

A section of one of London's major roads had been brought to a near stand still by people trying to get to fucking Ikea to buy sofas that'll fall apart in a fortnight and wardrobes that won't even last that long. Once I passed the store my speed increased to 20...30...40...50 and the traffic thinned out to a trickle.

It would be illegal for me to park my car in the middle of a motorway but for some reason it's perfectly legal for Ikea to clog up the North Circular by peddling their crap from a warehouse at the side of the road.

I don't know which I'm more angry about -- the fact that Ikea are allowed to get away with it or the fact that people are stupid enough to spend their precious days off queueing for hours just so that they can make their houses look exactly the same as every other rented flat between here and Stockholm.
Maybe I'm in touch with my feminine side, maybe I'm camp as a row of tents....whichever is true, I've long been partial to a good Step Aerobics class. It's one of the few exercise classes I don't get bored rigid at, so I've been keen to find out whether it's still physically possible with a prosthetic leg.

This morning I went along to my first post-accident Step class.

It was trickier than it used to be, no doubt about it. The straightforward uppy-downy step movements are simple enough but the quick jumps over and around the box are difficult with no ankle joint to pivot on and propel with.

I skipped some of the more complicated routines and kept it simple but I feel I've found a new challenge for myself -- to step as nimbly as I did before I lost my foot.

By the time the class was over my leg felt like an eel trapped in a condom inside the silicone liner. I just know that my right knee's going to hurt like hell tomorrow.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Robert Earnshaw deserves a knighthood after this afternoon's performance. I wish I'd been in Cardiff to see it.

BBC Sport: Cardiff 5-0 Gillingham
Today's Beyond Northern Iraq Best Friend is Sohayalla from Manchester, who has sent a copy of Propaganda, Inc. from the Wish List.

Thank you so much, Sohayalla!

Friday, September 12, 2003

I've been hooked on The Extreme Sports Channel recently and can happily spend all day watching the skateboarders, wakeboarders, BMXers and white water rafters.

While watching the other day I started wondering whether there was an extreme sports athlete who might be a suitable candidate for Amputee of the Week. It didn't take me long to find one.

Jon Comer from Dallas, Texas is a professional skateboarder. At the age of four he was struck by a car. His right foot was injured in the smash and was amputated three years later.

But a little detail like that didn't stop Jon from reaching his goal. He's the first professional skateboarder with a prosthetic leg and a film has just been made about his life.

Jon Comer is this week's tailsliding, kick-flipping, ollie grabbing Amputee of the Week.

Another noteworthy extreme sporting amputee is below-knee amp snowboarder Thayne Mahler.
Are we, perchance, related?

East Devon District Council

I suspect not because a) He's a Tory, b) I couldn't tell you where Sidmouth was if my life depended on it and c) I don't take a keen interest in Coastal Area Planning.
An excellent report from The Times on the effects of cluster bombs in Basra.

Remember that these weapons were dropped by coalition troops and were freely on sale earlier this week at the DSEi exhibition in London.

Mapped: The lethal legacy of cluster bombs (.doc)
Mapped: The lethal legacy of cluster bombs (.txt)

There's also an NPR audio interview with Jody Williams from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines here.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I guess I shouldn't let the second anniversary of September 11th go by without passing comment, except that I've got nothing much to say about it.

Two years on, the War on Terror that the attack on the Twin Towers prompted is foundering. Yes, two regimes have been toppled, a number of key al-Qaeda figures have been arrested or killed, co-operation between countries has improved and the terrorist networks have been disrupted.

But the attacks are continuing -- perpetrated by a range of splinter groups scattered around the world. Osama's still out there somewhere (tending his sheep by the looks of the latest video) and Iraq is in chaos.

The world seems more dangerous now than it did two years ago.
My latest BBC News Online diary has been published here.

Unusually, I didn't mind having to make the tedious 300 mile round trip from London to Cardiff for a hospital appointment because with some gentle persuasion and a few well-placed phone calls I managed to swing a last minute press ticket for last night's Wales V Finland football match at the Millennium Stadium:

BBC Sport: Wales book play-off place

I was sitting in the perfect spot, in the press box half way up the tiers and just behind the commentary team from Finnish National Radio.

I took some recording equipment with me to make it look like I was doing some work. This is what the Welsh national anthem sounds like sung by 70,000 Wales supporters and this is the response that Simon Davies's goal after 3 minutes generated. (Both are MP3s.)

It's enough to bring tears to a Welshman's eyes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

ITN has dismissed today's Mirror front page story that ITN journalist Terry Lloyd was only slightly injured by the "friendly fire" incident in Iraq that was believed to have killed him:
Media Guardian: ITN rejects new Lloyd claims

I used to like Paul Beaver.

Paul Beaver used to be a spokesman for Jane's and he was the consummate rent-a-quote. When I worked as a producer on daily news programmes he was an absolute God send. British government put in an order for fighter jets? Paul Beaver would tell you all about it. Security alert at Heathrow? Beaver would tell you the inside track. He was always at the end of the phone -- or on his way to the studio -- itching to go live on air.

But I don't like Paul Beaver any more.

He's become Chief Apologist for the DSEi arms fair in east London and is prepared to take (probably not inconsiderable) amounts of money from the makers of guns and bombs to explain to the press why their industry is as normal as any other. "It's a trade show like the motor show," Beaver says of DSEi.

Except that as far as I'm aware they don't sell cluster bombs at the motor show -- weapons which UNICEF says have injured more than 1,000 children since the official end of the war in Iraq.

Enjoy your wages, Mr Beaver -- but make sure the blood on your hands doesn't soil the banknotes.
I feel like I'm being stalked by suicide bombings today.

Last night's explosion in West Jerusalem took place on Emek Refaim.

It's a very laid back street of cafes and restaurants a few hundred yards from the apartment I stay in when I'm in Jerusalem. On my days off I'd stroll down there and read the papers over a coffee. I'll be steering clear from now on.

That attack was followed by a suicide bombing in Arbil, which as regular readers will know is where I started my Iraqi odyssey.

It's all a little too close.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Advance warning that I'll be on the Jamie Owen show on BBC Radio Wales on Wednesday morning from 1100-1200 BST.

Listeners outside Wales can tune in on digital satellite channel 867, Freeview channel 89 or online by clicking here and then going to the Radio Wales icon.

What I'll be talking about is anyone's guess. They haven't told me. I'll just have to make it up in the morning.
Here are the first news reports on the Landmine Monitor report.

It's interesting that VOA don't mention America's non-participation in the Ottawa Treaty. Funny that.

VOA: Activists Cite Asia as Biggest Producer of Landmines
News 24: Landmines being cleared up
AFP: Landmine watchdog hails progress while urging US to join ban
AP: Chechnya Said Deadliest Area for Mines
For anyone wishing to pay their respects to Kaveh and the other journalists who died while covering the War in Iraq, a special memorial service is being held next month at St Brides, the journalists church on Fleet Street:

I'm not of a religious persuasion, but those of you who are might like to read the Prayer for Journalists on the St Brides website. After all, we need all the help we can get.

The 2003 Landmine Monitor Report has just been published.

It's a massive and comprehensive document which assesses the implementation of and compliance with the Ottawa Treaty, and looks at the international community’s response to the landmine crisis.

It's the guide to what's happening on the landmine issue. The major finding is a positive one -- that the Mine Ban Treaty and the ban movement more generally are making tremendous strides in eradicating antipersonnel landmines and in saving lives and limbs in every region of the world. The report says, however, that significant challenges remain.

I've only just started ploughing through the report but it's essential reading for anyone interested in the campaign to eradicate landmines.
Many, many thanks to Sarah from Seattle for the copy of Weapons of Mass Deception, one of the books on my Wish List.

It looks like a fascinating read and I'm itching to get stuck into it. Thanks Sarah!
This website has been set up to find the 100 greatest Welsh people of all time:
BBC News: Search for Wales' top 100

It's time for a little ballot rigging, me thinks....get voting for the one-legged Welshman!
The DSEi arms fair has opened in east London:
BBC News: Security tight around arms fair

As well as the mainstream media sources, Indymedia UK is covering the protests against the exhibition from the activists perspective.

Monday, September 08, 2003


How do you get an Al Qaeda suspect to spill their guts?

Months of sleep and sensory deprivation? Nope.
Pull their fingernails out with pliers? Try again.
Tickle their feet with a feather duster until they 'fess up? Getting closer.

How 'bout waving a Happy Meal in front of their face? Ker-ching...they're telling you Osama's whereabouts before you can say "do you want fries with that":

SunSpot.net: Camp Delta inmates will talk for burgers

Those jihadis. They'll do anything for a little plastic David Beckham toy.

They may be denied any Geneva Convention rights but who gives a rats arse so long as they're given their basic human right to stuff their faces with Maccy Ds.
Following my comments earlier re: Bush's speech, Mark Ross e-mailed with a spookily related magazine cover:

I nearly forgot about this...Dr Robert e-mailed last week nominating Keegan Reilly for amputee of the week:
Paraplegic scales Mount Fuji
Only one problem...he may be paraplegic but he's got all his limbs and unless you've had one lopped off you ain't going to make it as an AOTW.

Even so, it's a remarkable achievement. "I want to show people what I am able to do," Keegan Reilly says. "Maybe it will inspire them." It certainly will.
I've just been watching Bush's address to the nation.

The speech is more than 2,000 words long. The underlying message, however, can be summarised in two words -- We're Fucked.
Captain Jeff Joyce -- one of the Special Forces team that looked after me in Kurdistan -- e-mails with news of a project to get medical books to doctors there.

A military colleague of his who's still in Iraq came up with the idea of collecting books for Kurdish doctors and as a result thousands of volumes have been shipped to Northern Iraq. Before the books arrived, the doctors often relied on home-made textbooks made up of information downloaded off the internet.

Jeff has sent some photos of Dan delivering the books to Dr. Kalandar who works in the hospitals in Sulaymaniyah.

Picture: Medical Books 1
Picture: Medical Books 2
This is outrageous:
Haaretz: IDF refuses to clear mines from land for Arab school in Jerusalem

A school for Arab children in east Jerusalem can't be built because the area is mined and the Israeli army is refusing to risk its soldiers to do the demining work. No problem, you'd think....simply send in private contractors instead.

Not so easy.

There are two firms capable of doing the work -- but the IDF is refusing to give the companies clearance to work in Israel. Why? The IDF says that even if the companies do the work, the army still has to risk the lives of soldiers sent to examine the work of the private firms.

Except that if the private companies clear the mines the area will be safe -- so how would the soldiers be at risk?

Sunday, September 07, 2003

While not condoning their actions, it's heartening to see that some people are treating David Blaine with the antipathy he deserves:
This article was published soon after the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, but it's only just been brought to my attention. It's well worth a look:
IHT: Clean up the heaps of deadly debris

and news on the landmine situation in Afghanistan:
Hindustan Times: Ten years needed to clear landmines in Afghanistan
Irish Examiner: Plea for aid to rid Afghanistan of killer mines
The Guardian reports that Heather Mills-McCartney is trademarking her name so that she can market her range of cosmetic limb covers in the US.

I'm thinking of following suit. I reckon the Stuart Hughes Cosmesis (TM) could be bigger than the George Foreman grill or those Jamie Oliver plates that Royal Worcester make. My punchy sales slogan will be "The Stuart Hughes Cosmesis -- so lifelike it'll blow you away."

Any backers?
Blogger was down for most of yesterday and what with that and Friday's tragedy there's a long list of things I've been wanting to mention...although most are now a few days old.

Let's start from last night and work backwards....and Saturday evening was spent in the very agreeable company of the Associated Press's Jamie Tarabay (briefly in London after leaving Baghdad), the BBC's former Gaza and Kabul and soon to be Bangkok correspondent Kylie Morris and Jerusalem bureau producer Keren Pakes.

Picture: Kylie, Jamie, Keren
Picture: With Keren

Needless to say that as well as events in Iraq there was much discussion of Abu Mazen's resignation. The power struggle between him and Yasser Arafat has highlighted Palestinian disunity and killed off any lingering hope of progress on the roadmap to peace. Following the failed assassination attempt on Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and the promised reprisals from Hamas, the only certainty now is that there'll be more bloodshed soon in the Middle East.

Earlier in the day I put the new leg through its paces at a Body Blast class at the gym (on hearing of this Aileen, ever the wit, suggested that my body has taken enough blasts for a while.) I'm pleased to report that it performed extremely well. Lunges are a little tricky because obviously I can't bend the prosthetic ankle but aside from that it works a treat -- very sturdy and responsive.

Friday afternoon and evening, of course, were taken up with giving reaction to Ian Rimmel's horrific murder.

MP3: Extract from Radio 4 1800 News Bulletin (149Kb)

There was some good news, though. Alex Lemon has made it into The Friday thing for a second successive week -- and has received an grovelling apology for the lack of a credit last week. Her article on the new Mel Gibson film "The Passion" is reprinted below:

Article: Christ on a Bike (.doc)
Article: Christ on a Bike (.txt)
Remember those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? The ones we went to war for? Well inspectors on the ground say they don't exist:
Independent: Britain and US will back down over WMDs

Saturday, September 06, 2003

The Guardian has the latest on the loathsome DSEi exhibition:
Guardian: London police braced for violent protests at Europe's biggest arms fair
The arrival this week in the post of this book about the life of an extraordinary camerman left me in no doubt as to who should be the latest Amputee of the Week.

Mohamed "Mo" Amin was born in Kenya in 1943. From the time he acquired his first camera, a box brownie, Mo’s future was set. Quickly, he learned photographic and darkroom skills and before he was 20 his pictures were appearing in all the Fleet Street newspapers.

Captured and tortured covering a coup in Zanzibar in 1966, he was released only after intense international diplomatic pressure, and because of his work in Uganda the world's perception of Idi Amin changed from comic despot to evil dictator. In 1969 he was voted British Cameraman of the year for his coverage of the assassination of Tom Moboya, a Kenyan minister.

His coverage of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia was so compelling that it inspired a collective global conscience and became the catalyst for the greatest ever act of giving. The Band Aid and Live Aid appeals were a direct result of Mo Amin’s images.

Eight years on from the famine report, Mo was covering a revolution in Addis Ababa with journalists Michael Buerk, Colin Blane and John Mathai. An ammunition depot had exploded and the team had gone to film the damage, when a number of rockets exploded, resulting in the death of John Mathai. Amin lost his left arm. However, fitted with a specially designed prosthetic arm, he continued his work, insisting that "The day I cannot get out on a story will be the day that I die."

In 1996, Amin was returning from Addis Ababa to Nairobi after a business trip. The plane was hijacked by three Ethiopians claiming to be armed with explosives. After a struggle with the crew, the plane crashed into the sea just off the Comoros Islands. Mo Amin and reporter Brian Tetley died along with 121 others.

You can read an interview with Mo Amin here. In it, he says of his amputation: "Everybody else had decided that my career as a cameraman was over, and they told me the sooner I got used to the idea, the better. Everybody decided that was it...Since I lost my arm I have been busier at work. At first I was a little slow, now I think I am faster than before. I think you try harder. I don't really think I have a disadvantage."

If he can do it, so can I.

The Mohamed Amin Foundation website

Up way before dawn to drive to Knebworth House in Hertfordshire for a long-planned hot air balloon flight.

Conditions were perfect -- dry, bright and just enough haze to give the countryside an atmospheric glow.

For about an hour we drifted over fields and streets, waving at people standing on their doorsteps in their dressing gowns and craning their necks to get a better view. We eventually came back down to earth in the corner of a field near the village of Puckeridge.

A magical way to spend the morning.

Picture: Balloon Flight 1
Picture: Balloon Flight 2
Picture: Balloon Flight 3
Picture: Balloon Flight 4
Picture: Balloon Flight 5

Friday, September 05, 2003

Spoke to Jamie this evening; she's swinging through London on her way back from Baghdad.

She reminded me that she interviewed the murdered mine clearance expert Ian Rimmel for a story she wrote during her tour of duty in Iraq:

AP story featuring Ian Rimmel (.doc)
AP story featuring Ian Rimmel (.txt)
Photo of Ian Rimmel at work in Iraq

I spoke to MAG's Executive Director Lou McGrath this afternoon in between the deluge of interviews. He said MAG has temporarily suspended its operations in Northern Iraq following the attack on Ian Rimmel. MAG teams in Northern Iraq are regrouping and a review's being carried out of the areas in which they operate.

No decision has yet been taken on whether to move out of the area, although at the moment the deminers are determined to stay. Let's hope they're given the support of the international community to continue their vital work, despite the tragedy.

Lou said it was still too early to know who carried out the attack, although the suspicion is on former elements of Saddam Hussein’s regime rather than foreign fighters.

Ian Rimell's death will only hurt the lives of ordinary Iraqis whose communities are blighted by mines. It's the sickening, cold blooded murder of a man who had devoted his life to humanitarian work.
The phones have been non-stop with interview requests.

More on the Mosul attack:
BBC News: Bomb expert killed in Iraq

Absolutely terrible news from Mosul. More when I have it.

MAG Mosul Ambush press statement
So, it's out with the old leg and in with the new.

I've taken possession of the new artificial limb and am currently putting it through its paces. It's very different to the old one. For a start, it's a lot slimmer, as you can see, which means it feels a lot less bulky.

Secondly, rather than sliding on like a slipper, it locks in place with a metal pin, which is attached to the bottom of a silicone leg sleeve. Basically it's a bloody great big condom with a spike sticking out of the end. (For the technically minded, the foot is a Vari-Flex attached using an Iceross liner.)

The main benefit I've noticed so far is that the leg feels a lot more secure and "natural," rather than an attachment dangling off the end of my leg. I even attempted a little run up and down the hospital corridors yesterday -- something I couldn't have done with the old prosthesis.

The main drawback is that it's a pain in the arse to take on and off -- or to "don" and "doff" as the rehab team insist on saying. The silicone liner sticks to itself like shit to a blanket, meaning I have to go through a big palaver of covering the outside with talc before I roll it on.

It's still too early to say for sure what the leg can and can't do -- I still feel like I'm test driving it. I'm going to put it through its paces at the gym this evening.

If you're in Leeds on 18th September, come along to the MAG Landmines Experience Media Day, which I'll be giving a talk at.

Landmines Experience Media Day Invitation
I didn't update all day yesterday because I was in Cardiff -- and yet the stats show that Thursday was one of the busiest days in terms of number of hits.

Are you guys trying to tell me something?

Thursday, September 04, 2003

No updates today because I've been in Cardiff getting fitted up with the new leg -- apologies.

Back in London now and the story of the new limb (and photos) will follow in full tomorrow...

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The albatross that's been hanging around my neck for months has finally been lifted.

Due to other, more pressing concerns (such as learning to walk again), doing my expenses from Iraq wasn't number one on my list of priorities. Over time, the two inch thick folder of scrappy receipts for long-forgotten items has become my biggest fear. I was developing a phobia about it -- I just couldn't face it.

I was forced into action by the stream of increasingly stroppy e-mails from the finance department warning of dire consequences if I didn't submit a claim.

So I finally sat down and worked through the paperwork, which consisted of dozens and dozens of meaningless documents like this one. What it's for and how much it's worth is anyone's guess.

The figures I've come up with are nowhere near the $15,000 advance I took with me to Iraq. I've blamed the discrepancy on the fog of war.
Where in the bookshops will Jessica Lynch's forthcoming tome be stocked -- fiction or non-fiction?

BBC News: Private Lynch signs $1m book deal

Interesting to note that the book will be ghosted by Rick Bragg, the former New York Times hack who was suspended and later resigned after questions were raised about his reporting practices.

Sounds like the two are perfect for each other.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

From an article on injuries sustained by US troops in Iraq in today's Washington Post:

"...rocket-propelled grenades and mines can wound multiple troops at a time and cause "the kind of amputating damage that you don't necessarily see with a bullet wound to the arm or leg."

The result has been large numbers of troops coming back to Walter Reed and National Naval Medical with serious blast wounds and arms and legs that have been amputated, either in Iraq or at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where virtually all battlefield casualties are treated and stabilized.

"A few of us started volunteering [at Walter Reed] as amputees in 1991, and this is the most we've seen ever," said Jim Mayer, a double amputee from the Vietnam War who works at the Veterans Administration. "I've never seen anything like this....."

As the occupation of Iraq continues, the number of people coming home with arms and legs missing rises.
I've been speaking to the lawyers about my compensation following the accident. During the course of the conversation the solicitor said I should apply for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, which pays an allowance to people injured as a result of an accident at work.

"You can get it if you're judged to be 20% disabled or more," the solicitor said breezily "and I've got no doubt at all that you'll qualify."

Wonderful, I thought. Even the solicitor's got me marked out as disabled. She reckons a fifth of me is kapput -- no doubt at all in her mind.

And I thought I was doing so well.

Thankfully, Aileen came to rescue with a persuasive argument. "Even if you are 20% disabled, it still doesn't mean you're only able to do 80% of the things you did before," she said.

That placated me.

Monday, September 01, 2003

It's been a toughie singling out just three but here they are -- The Twat Pack.

GEOFF HOON: Just what is he for? After his testimony to the Hutton Inquiry it's clear the Defence Secretary doesn't have the slightest idea what's going on in his own department -- so how does he justify that ministerial salary of 125 grand? Not that it matters, seeing as he's going to be sacked as soon as the inquiry's over.

MADONNA: Maybe I'm just jealous, but the sight of Madonna swapping spit with Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards made me want to vomit -- not because it's two women kissing but because it's the desperate act of a clapped out has-been. Madge gets more tedious with every passing day. If she really wanted to be controversial she should have snogged Johnny Cash.

HOWARD BROWN:Howard Brown is Customer Services Manager at the Sheldon branch of the Halifax. Where in God's name is Sheldon? I just googled it -- apparently it's in Birmingham, just off the A41 near Acocks Green. Well wherever it is it's blighted by the presence of speccy twat Howard, whose renditions of pop songs with the lyrics changed so as to sing the praises of the Halifax Bank are so irritating they cause me to break out in stress-related eczema. Those queens that mince around behind him in the Bollywood-themed advert are equally bad. They should all be reported to the Financial Services Authority.
Maybe, just maybe, I'm not quite the out of shape gut bucket I thought I was.

Seeing as I've paid out all that money for the gym membership I thought I should go at least once, so I booked in to a Body Pump class.

I expected to be close to death by the end of the workout but it actually turned out to be easier than I had anticipated. It was interesting to find out what I could and couldn't do with the artificial leg. The only thing I had any difficulty with were the lunges, because I can't bend the prosthetic ankle enough to lunge down comfortably. Aside from that, the chest presses, squats and press ups were pretty much the same as before the accident.

I came away feeling very smug, thinking I could still kick ass even with one leg. Then I found this article, which soon wiped the smile off my face. It says that "suggesting that a Body Pump workout will lead to a significant increase in strength is a little like saying you can extinguish a blazing fire with a cup of water — it simply won't work."

I think this is a polite way of saying that my granny could do a Body Pump class without breaking a sweat -- and she's been dead for over 20 years.

I knew it was too easy.
Many, many thanks to Alison for sending The Tipping Point -- one of the books on my Amazon wish list.

It arrived totally unexpectedly in the post this morning.

I don't know who you are, Alison, so I can't thank you personally but your gesture's heartily appreciated.