Friday, October 31, 2003

I'm off to deepest, darkest Herefordshire for the weekend to celebrate Aileen's birthday, so blogging will be sporadic for the next couple of days.

Normal service will resume on Sunday -- forthcoming attractions include a trip to Cardiff next week for leg casting number 3 and then, of course, Landmine Blogging from Cambodia.

Some things to watch out for over the next couple of days:

The charity Handicap International is holding a Stamp Out Landmines event in Trafalgar Square tomorrow to mark the start of Landmine Action Week.

The "My Favourite Hymns" programme on ITV1 at 1145GMT on Sunday features the recent memorial service at St Brides for the journalists killed in the Iraq war.

The documentary "When Killing Is Easy" on BBC2 at 1910GMT on Sunday examines the killing of journalist James Miller by the Israeli army in Rafah.
The Amputee's Phrasebook just keeps on growing.

The latest addition -- Georgian: me maqvs khis phekhi (Thanks, Kevin).
Inspired by my comments earlier in the week about California fire-blogging, BNI Guest Writer Alex Lemon takes up the subject in a piece for the latest edition of cult e-zine The Friday Thing.

It's available by subscription only -- so in a clear breach of copyright here it is as a Word or Plain Text document.
Alex Lemon -- Scorchio (.doc)
Alex Lemon -- Scorchio (.txt)
A great (and suitably drunken) night at the Rory Peck Awards, which showcased some stunning examples of the cameraman's art.

The winners were:
Hard News Award: Frederick Scott, Northern Iraq Friendly Fire Incident
Rory Peck Award for Features: Rodrigo Vazquez, The Killing Zone (Gaza)
Sony International Impact Award: James Brabazon, A Journey Without Maps (Liberia & Guinea)

Special congratulations, of course, to Fred -- whose report from Northern Iraq I watched from my hospital bed the day before my amputation.

You can read more about the winners here and watch a webcast of the ceremony here. The Media Guardian reports on the winners here.

Picture: Rory Peck Awards 2003
Picture: Fred collects his award
Picture: Fred's acceptance speech
Picture: James Brabazon
Picture: Rodrigo Vazquez

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Off to the National Film Theatre shortly for the Rory Peck Awards ceremony.

I'll probably be too drunk to do it tonight but I'll upload photos etc tomorrow.
Some more useful phrases for amputees on the move, courtesy of the BBC's fixer in Riga:

Man ir maksliga kaja -- Latvian
Mul on tehisjalg -- Estonian
Mulla on keinotekoinen jalka -- Finnish

I can now look forward to travelling around the Baltic States with ease.
Check and double check your facts before committing your story to paper, I was always told as a trainee journalist.

It's a lesson that obviously hasn't been learnt by scribes on the Daily Mirror. The paper today led with a story that is set to become one of the all-time journalism cock ups (literally.)

"It's a Boy" declares today's front page, "Exclusive - Macca baby a month early!"

"I think they are going to call the baby Joseph after Paul's uncle," a source close to the McCartney family was quoted as saying.

A great scoop for the's not a boy. It's a girl.

Biology lesson for all Mirror hacks...Boy babies have willies. Girl babies do not.

Unless the McCartneys' new arrival is a hermaphrodite.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

A geeky question which hopefully someone out there will be able to help me with...

I've added RSS autodiscovery tags to the Blogger template but the Autodiscovery option only seems to come up on NewzCrawler when you access the site through the URL and not through

Any idea why -- and what I can do about it?
The Associated Press wire is running an interesting story on the use of private contractors by the US military in conflict zones around the world.

Outsourcing frees up troops to fight -- but also reduces the numbers on official body counts.

"It's a massive business boom for the private security field," one contractor says.

And so farewell to the Quiet Man.

For the fourth time in 13 years the Conservative Party has demonstrated its seemingly boundless capacity to stab itself in the back.

The campaign to oust Iain Duncan-Smith seems rather like shouting at the the driver of a Robin Reliant for not driving fast enough -- the problem is with what's underneath the bonnet, not who's behind the wheel.

You can relive those moments of Tory self-destruction in all their suicidal glory through the superb BBC News Online archives here and here.

It's sad but inevitable that the Red Cross has decided to reduce its foreign staff in Iraq.

The attack on the ICRC HQ in Baghdad left the organisation with little choice but to reassess its operations -- and is the most telling sign yet of how unstable the situation in Iraq is.
Jo has been hard at work finding new additions for the European Amputee Phrasebook.

She's come up with the following:

Welsh: Mae coes artiffisial da fi
Russian: 'oo men-YA noh-GA proh-TEZ' (Phonetic)

Keep 'em coming.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

This has already appeared on Boing Boing, so it's probably all over the place by now but it's still worth mentioning as an example of the increasingly blurred boundaries between blogging and journalism.

People affected by the wildfires in southern California are being encouraged to e-mail their eyewitness photos -- taken with camera phones and digital cameras -- to this hastily constructed website.

It's the future of journalism in action -- instant reportage gathered not by media "professionals" but by ordinary punters who find themselves at the centre of the story.
I thought next week's assignment to Cambodia would take me to the undiscovered heart of south-east Asia.

But it seems every Hollywood starlet and do-gooding popstar in Celebrityville is beating a path to Phnom Penh. The London Evening Standard reports that Minnie Driver is the latest celeb to head to the former Killing Fields. She's apparently giving up her showbiz lifestyle to work in a Cambodian clothing sweatshop. Maybe she can run me up a couple of pairs of slacks while she's there.

It can't be long before showbiz party-goers are overheard lamenting the fact that Cambodia is soooooo last season.
Paul Krugman's writings never fail to cause a stir in the blogosphere and today's offering in the NY Times is no exception.

Krugman's central argument -- "we'll lose the fight against terror if we don't make an effort to understand how others think" -- is hardly revelatory but it needed to said.

Charlie Glass e-mails to highlight an auction of photographs by some of the world's leading photojournalists which will be held at Bridewell Hall, Fleet Street on 6.45pm on Thursday November 13.

The auction will raise money for the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation, which was established in 1991 to mark the lives and deaths of more than 300 journalists from two dozen nations who died covering all sides of the Indochina conflict from 1945 - 1975.

The proceeds will support a workshop in Vietnam in 2004.
In May 1960 an American DJ, Alan Freed, was indicted for accepting $2,500 from record companies in return for airplay.

The practice -- known as payola -- was outlawed after Freed's trial and became punishable by up to a year in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

According to a piece in the New York Times payola is alive and well on the "news" programmes broadcast on American Airlines flights.

Actually, as a former radio talk show producer myself, why didn't I think of charging guests to come on the air?

Monday, October 27, 2003

Caught up today with a work colleague I hadn't seen in quite a while.

She said she'd taken a particular interest in what happened to me because her husband had a serious accident a few months ago and is now temporarily in a wheelchair.

She remarked on a radio interview I had done in which I spoke about the difficulties in suddenly going from being on two feet to being in a wheelchair.

My colleague's husband accidently slipped off a balcony and broke the heelbones in both feet. What made things harder was that they'd just had their first baby. He's self-employed and so doesn't enjoy the same company benefits that I did -- and yet the doctors say it might be 18 months before he's able to work.

It got me thinking hard about what happened to me.

Stepping on a landmine wasn't the cleverest thing I've ever done, for sure, but at least once the amputation was over I was able to start the rehab fairly quickly...and six months down the line I'm in good shape.

The future for my friend's hubby is still uncertain.

I was again struck by that unsettling sense of how life can change irrevocably in an instant. An explosion, a fall, a car crash, a stroke -- and things will never be the same again.
During last week's talk to BBC bloggers I met a radio producer from BBC Scotland called Margaret Telfer. I've belatedly dicovered she's got her own blog -- Little Blip.

Margaret's been good enough to give me a mention -- so I'm happy to return the favour.

...and that's a very funky portrait you've got there, Margaret!
I've mentioned this award before but I missed the BBC News story last week because I was in Spain:
BBC News: Award set up to honour BBC cameraman
The winners of this year's Rory Peck Awards, which I helped judge, will be announced on Thursday.

Channel 4 and others will be showing extracts this week at the following times:

October 27- 30 Channel 4 TV The Rory Peck Awards Slot 19.55 GMT
November 1 BBC World In The Firing Line 13.10 GMT
" " BBC World In The Firing Line 22.10 GMT
" " BBC News 24 In The Firing Line 15.30 GMT
November 2 BBC World In The Firing Line 09.10 GMT
" " BBC News 24 In The Firing Line 02.30 GMT
" " BBC World In The Firing Line 18.10 GMT
" " BBC News 24 In The Firing Line 21.30 GMT
November 5 MTV3 (Finland) 45min 18.00 GMT+2

You can also read more about the finalists here.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

An audioblog from Madrid -- an interview I did with the Iraqi Trade Minister, Dr Ali Allawi.

It's 3mins 32secs long and is a 623Kb download:
Ali Allawi Interview (MP3)

Friday, October 24, 2003

As is always the way with these kind of summits, the temporary world of press cubicles, workspaces and TV live positions disappear as quickly as they´d appeared.

As soon as the closing press conference is over, with the warm words and final statements still ringing around the conference hall, an army of technicians appears to begin dismantling and derigging.

What was just a few hours earlier the location for the world´s leading new story quickly becomes a building site of planks, cables and lighting towers.

And we the hacks pack up our pencils and head home.
Urgent note to all international addition to the billions of dollars please send some decent suits for members of the Iraqi Governing Council.
This whole event is getting more and more like a charity Telethon.

Each country has ten minutes of podium time in which to say how much they're going to donate to the Iraq reconstruction effort. They could put their cheques in an envelope, write "James Wolfensohn, President, World Bank, Washington DC" on the front, and stick them in the post. It'd be a lot quicker.

But no.

Each donor country wants its 10 minutes in the spotlight to say how important it is to pomote peace and prosperity in Iraq. As there are dozens of donor countries the speeches will take all day. Each one is greeted by a polite round of applause as the countries reveal the size of their wonga.....Saudi Arabia -- $1bn (clap, clap, clap)...Japan -- $3.5bn (clap, clap, clap). And so it goes on.

All the conference is missing is a Blue Peter style totaliser, on which to to flash the donations as they roll in.

A few more pictures:
Katya talks to the World Service
Satellite City
Getting into the part for my voiceover as a Saudi Sheikh
Courtesy of Claire, some more additions to the European Phrasebook for Amputees.

German: "Ich habe ein künstliches Bein"
Dutch: "Ik heb een kunstbeen"
Serbian: "Vestacka noga"

Keep 'em coming.
A quieter morning, thankfully, with no Spanish police officers to spoil matters. I found a perfect spot from which to broadcast from the hotel sundeck, right next to the swimming pool. The water didn't look too inviting at 7 o'clock this morning but there was a clear view of the satellite and that's all I care about.

Yesterday we squeezed this story like a sponge...and today we've got to do it all over again. Today is Show Me the Money Day -- when all the donor countries put their cheques on the table and say how much they'll donate towards the reconstruction of Iraq.

As is often the way in this age of rolling news we preview the story to death before it actually happens -- so that by the time the announcements are officially made everyone's bored to death with it.

Some more snaps:
Jamie Goes Live
Tight Security
Home Sweet Home

Thursday, October 23, 2003

As is often the case with these kind of events, there's a hugely surreal air about the proceedings here in Madrid.

We're reporting on what's needed to rebuild Iraq's schools, hospitals, transport system, electricity infrastructure.

The figures involved are mind-boggling; the US says $55 billion is required over the next five years to rebuild Iraq and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is urging delegates to "give generously." The whole conference is the world's biggest exercise in tin-rattling.

Yet we report on these decisions and pledges that will shape the future of Iraq from inside a cavernous press centre. We watch the proceedings on TV screens which pipe the pictures from the conference floor several hundred metres away.

Even if we had the time to go and talk to the delegates making these monumental decisions we couldn't; there's a security cordon around the main conference venue -- and the press aren't allowed in. We're forced to rely for our information on those delegates who can be persuaded to walk over to the press centre.

Iraq seems a million miles away.
It'll probably get me disqualified, but here goes...

Shirin e-mails to say that the Guardian is currently looking out for candidates for the British Blog Awards 2003.

I've already put an entry in but if you feel the urge to lobby on my behalf, why not e-mail them at and tell 'em who you'd like to see among the winners!
Another addition to my forthcoming book; The European Phrasebook for Amputees.

The Spanish for "I have an artificial leg"......"Tengo una pierna artificial."

The security guards at the press centre seemed to like it -- it got them grinning like Cheshire cats.
The reason we´re here:
BBC News: Annan tells Iraq donors to dig deep

And a few quick snaps from around the press centre:
TV Edit Suite
Iraqi Press Conference
The Future of Iraq
Quil At Work
Mixing Desk
An early brush with the long arm of the Spanish law.

As the press centre didn't open until 8am we were forced to improvise for our early morning radio interviews for the Today programme and 5 Live Breakfast. Normally this is straightforward enough -- simply a case of sticking the satellite dish out of the hotel window and broadcasting from the comfort of the room.

The hotel we're staying at here in Madrid, however, faces an office block which blocks the satellite signal.

So, at half past six this morning, I found myself setting up the dish atop a rubbish bin around the corner from the hotel, where the sightline of the satellite was better (who said foreign news was glamorous.)

All seemed to be going swimmingly -- the satellite signal was nice and strong, the ISDN line connected with no problem, we were ready to broadcast.


Seconds before Chris Morris was about to go on air on 5 Live two vanloads of Spanish police screeched to a halt at the roadside. As soon as they saw out broadcasting equipment, lights flashing, dish aloft, they freaked.

"Pasaporte, pasaporte," they hissed, obviously convinced that they'd stumbled across a terrorist command centre operating from a dustbin in downtown Madrid.

We showed our passports, trying to remain as tranquilo as possible even though we'd just been knocked off air by the Keystone Cops.

After a light roughing up and a long squint at our papers they seemed satisfied that we didn't represent an imminent threat to national security.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

My flight to Madrid was spoilt by the fact that Britain's fattest man was sitting in the seat next to me.

He must have been knocking on 30 stone...the seat belt barely got past his hips, let alone encircling his mountainous gut. The cabin crew had to give him a belt extension to keep him strapped down for takeoff.

Mr Lardarse fell asleep as soon as he took his seat. His porky arms spilled over the sides of his chair and threatened to encroach mine. His fat legs blocked the gangway, meaning I couldn't step over him to get to the loo mid-flight.

It got be thinking again about notions of able-bodied Vs disabled. If the plane had crashed I know for a fact which of us would have won the race for the emergency exit -- and it wouldn't have been Fatboy Slim.
A couple of newsbites from the airport before I go.

The Media Guardian reports on comments by my boss -- BBC Head of Newsgathering Adrian Van Klaveren -- at the Newsworld conference in Dublin.

Also at Newsworld, journalism legend Walter Cronkite deserved to be immediately stripped of his lifetime achievement award for arguing that he believes in censorship during wartime.

Cronkite obviously believes in freedom of the press when it suits him.
Off to Madrid this morning for the Iraq Donors Conference.

Already it looks like the conference will fall short of raising the $36 billion needed to get Iraq's economy up and running again. Also, a diplomatic asymmetry is emerging -- with the US sending a high-powered delegation headed up by Colin Powell but many other countries sending relatively minor officials.

More when I get there....

AP: U.S. seeks billions to rebuild Iraq or at least signs of support at Spain donor conference
Reuters: Iraq Fund-Raising Effort Faces Political Hurdles

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

It's the return of the audioblog.

Last night I gave a talk to a group of BBC colleagues who are also bloggers about my experience of warblogging and, following my accident, gimpblogging (Hey -- have I just invented a whole new genre...the gimpblog?)

Here's an 3 minute MP3 audio extract from my talk. The file is just over 380Kb. As always I've kept the bit rate down to reduce the file size -- if you'd like to hear it in better quality, just let me know.

A roll of some of the bloggers in attendance last night:
The Obvious?
Paranoid Fish
Digital Dust
Take One Onion
Older and Growing
Plastic Bag
Curry Bet
Michael Howard reports on the "tourist boom" in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Where will you be taking your holidays next summer? The Caribbean? The Maldives? A villa in Tuscany, perhaps?

Me -- I'll be enjoying a fortnight in Sulaymaniyah. I'll pop into Thomas Cook tomorrow morning and ask for 14 nights in the Suly Palace.

Actually, the article explores important issues concerning the difficulty of reconnecting Kurdish Northern Iraq, which has been autonomous for a decade, with the rest of the post-Saddam country.
"Comedian" Jim Davidson has always been about as funny as a case of the clap.

Yesterday, however, Davidson showed what a truly odious creature he really is.

He pulled out of a performance in Plymouth because he took exception to wheelchair users in the front row.

A spokesman for the theatre involved said that "Mr Davidson cited the fact that a proportion of his act was aimed at disabled customers and that he would be unable to perform under these circumstances."

I have little time for political correctness but I find Davidson's request that the wheelchair users move utterly breathtaking. What if the "offending" patrons had been black, blind, Chinese or women?

Davidson's next shows in Swansea will go ahead. Would the Swansea Grand Pavilion host a National Front rally? I suspect not, but Davidson's attitude towards disabled people is as sickening as the NF's towards ethnic minorities.

I encourage you to e-mail Jim Davidson's tour promoters at to express your views on the Master of Mirth.
I've written about Alex Zanardi, the former Grand Prix driver who lost both his legs in a crash, before.

According to this story (thanks Steve) he's doing pretty well in his modified car.

There's hope for me and my Ford Focus yet.
Nice to see the Great British Public appreciated the news coverage that I gave my right foot to provide:
BBC News: TV 'overdosed on war coverage'

Monday, October 20, 2003

The Middle East road map may be leading nowhere as the suicide bombings continue and the "Security Fence" cuts deep into the West Bank but fear not. There's a new force for peace in the troubled region -- and it's bright red and furry (thanks for the link Alex):
Ananova: EU backs Sesame Street plan to aid peace
To Princess Diana's other virtues -- such as an ability to heal the sick, make the lame walk, and turn water into wine -- we can now add the power of prophecy.

Once again the stinking corpse of the Queen of Hearts is dug up -- this time by the Daily Mirror.

Former Diana groupie Paul Burrell reveals that the princess wrote him a letter ten months before her death in which she claimed there was a plot to kill her in a car crash.

Burrell could have taken the ramblings of his paranoid and unhinged paymistress to the proper authorities years ago. But instead he has kept them tucked away to be used as a headline-grabber for his book, which is splashed over 9 pages in the Mirror this morning.

At least James Hewitt was upfront enough to say he wanted to sell his Diana's letters. Burrell's motives are just as mercenary. If only he would admit it, rather than claiming he wants the public "to know the truth about her life." Oh, please.
An interesting piece in the Media Guardian this morning about Ash Atalla, a BBC producer who uses a wheelchair.

Atalla makes clear that he doesn't want to be viewed as a "disabled TV producer" -- but rather just a producer:
"I've never had a bee in my bonnet about the way disabled people are portrayed," he says. "I'm probably a massive disappointment to the disabled community on that front - I didn't come into television to change that, I just thought it was a great career."

Sunday, October 19, 2003


Amid a fanfare of pretentious psychobabble that made Deepak Chopra sound profound and a series of films by Harmony Korine that looked like they'd been made as part of an A-level media studies course, David Blaine was winched down from his perspex box and into the arms of paramedics -- who I sincerely hope weren't paid for out of my taxes.

For me, the stunt was summed up in the behaviour of Blaine's girlfriend, Manon von Gerkan. You would have thought she would have rushed to the aid of her boyfriend as he stepped weakly from his plastic chicken coop. But no. She stood filming the whole spectacle with her video camera -- as if there weren't enough cameras around to record the event for posterity.

If only Blaine had spent his 44 days of solitary confinement doing something worthwhile, like delivering meals on wheels to pensioners or teaching kids with autism how to count cards at the casino.

Thank God it's finally over.
A report on the landmine problem in Sudan:
UN Wire: Land Mine Accident Indicates Lurking Dangers In Sudan
Below is an article based on an interview I did for the Disability Times newspaper.

I hestitated before agreeing to do the interview because, as I've said before, I don't accept the "disabled" tag -- it's just not relevant to me and it's not something I think about.

Anyway, here it is:

Disability Times p1
Disability Times p2

Went to see the new Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill last night.

As well as being very entertaining, the film is a veritable amputee-fest. With her Okinawa-made Samurai sword, Uma Thurman single-handedly severs the arms, legs and heads of everyone who crosses her path (although I must say that when I lost my foot the blood didn't spray in the air like a fire hose as it does in the movie.)

Thurman's character would keep a prosthetics clinic in business for a generation.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Very disappointed to see that Michael Stipe failed to wear the MAG T-shirt I expended so much effort in ironing on the Parkinson show tonight.

Maybe he spilt coffee down it in the green room, maybe it didn't fit.

Whatever the reason -- Michael, if you're reading this, I want my T-shirt back.
The BBC reports that David Blaine "could die when he begins eating again on Sunday after his 44-day fast."

One can only hope.

Friday, October 17, 2003

The admission by Matt Barrett, the £1.7m-a-year chief executive of Barclays, that he does not use his company's or anyone else's credit cards to borrow money "because it's too expensive" is not the Gerald Ratner-esque faux pas it's being portrayed as by the media.

Barrett's bald admission that his company made half-yearly pre-tax profits of £1.96bn by ripping off its customers with usurious interest rates of around 17.9% is exactly what the consumer needs to hear.

If only Imperial Tobacco CEO Gareth Davis would stand up and say that his company has seen profits jump by 40% by increasing sales of products which kill 120,000 people in the UK each year (Source: ASH).

Similarly, it would be refreshing if Michael Turner, boss at arms maker BAE Systems, would come clean about the £20m slush fund his company allegedly keeps to bribe Saudi officials (I should stress that BAE denies any wrongdoing.)

Matt Barrett may be a loathsome fat cat -- but at least he's an honest loathsome fat cat.

An e-mail from Carrie Mattox in Highlands Ranch, Colorado prompts me to ask myself whether a chicken can qualify as an Amputee of the Week.

In September 1945, and a five half month old Wyandotte rooster was pecking through the dust of Fruita, Colorado when its owner decided to prepare him for the pot.

However, despite being decapitated with an axe, the bird -- named Mike -- continued to thrive.

Scientists who examined the rooster found that the axe blade had missed the jugular vein and a clot had prevented Mike from bleeding to death. Although most of his head was in a jar, most of his brain stem and one ear was left on his body. Since most of a chicken's reflex actions are controlled by the brain stem Mike was able to remain quite healthy.

When I first read this story I thought it was a wind up -- but after visiting Mike the Headless Chicken's Cybercoop I've changed my mind. The residents of Fruita, Colorado are even trying to organise a campaign to get Mike into the White House, which given the current incumbent seems like a noble cause.

To this day, the town of Fruita celebrates Mike's impressive will to live, not his disability -- and for that reason I'm prepared to suspend my speciesist prejudices and name Mike the Headless Chicken as this week's Amputee of the Week.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I was fascinated by this week's Time magazine cover story when I read it this afternoon.

It tells how Bragança, a small mountain town in northeast Portugal, has seen an influx of hundreds of Brazilian prostitutes. The report raises many issues about globalisation, the free movement of labour and the laws of supply and demand.

What I failed to spot -- unlike the eagle-eyed Media Guardian -- is the double page ad in the same magazine encouraging readers to sample Portugal's many attractions.

"From dusk to dawn the possibilities are endless," the advert insists. "...Experience the thrill of world-class football in the afternoon, and spend the nights enjoying the Portuguese nightlife."

Such as the Brazilian prostitutes of Bragança, for example.

I read this story with some alarm:
USA Today: Pope loses approval; 50% say he should step down

I'm no fan of institutionalised religion but the fact that Gallup are polling the general public about the future of a man who is knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door seems slightly distasteful.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned. Maybe the Vatican should do away with all that white smoke nonsense and organise a reality TV show to choose the next Pontiff.

They can call it Pope Idol.
It's heartening to see Lady Bond of White Stilleto showing her Republican credentials now she's left the BBC:
Guardian: I never liked the royals, admits BBC's Bond

Jennie Bond -- who covered the royal beat for 14 years -- says she never really liked the royal family, and found them "distant."

"Basically, they paid the mortgage," Bond says with admirable frankness.
Tony, the producer who's making the BBC Wales TV documentary about my recovery, has started his own blog.

Check it out here -- and welcome to the Blogosphere, Tony!
Try and catch Parkinson on BBC 1 this Saturday at 2225 BST, because I've just responded to the strangest call.

MAG's Head of Press called asking me whether I had any of their T-shirts knocking around.

"I've got a couple in the wardrobe," I said, "but they're all been worn."

It transpires that Michael Stipe from REM is on Parky this weekend and he wants to wear a MAG T-shirt. It's priceless publicity but there's not enough time to get one down to London from MAG's offices in Manchester.

Only one thing for it.

I dig out one of mine, sniffing carefully to make sure it doesn't reek like a navvy's armpit.

Nope -- it smells of washing powder...fresh as a daisy.

A quick iron, and it's on its way to Mr Stipe, who hopefully won't realise it's second hand.

I can honestly say that REM have taken the shirt from my back.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

"Well at least someone will get to see Madrid this year," Aileen remarked on hearing of next week's assignment in Madrid.

I'd completely forgotten. Aileen had been due to go to Madrid for a weekend break on the day I was evacuated out of Iraq. The friends she'd been planning to travel with came down from Birmingham the night before the flight, completely unaware of what had happened.

Oops! Of all the destinations to hold a conference on Iraq's reconstruction. To be going to Madrid six months after I was reconstructed is a spooky coincidence, to say the least.

A late berth has just come up to join the team covering next week's Iraq Donors' Conference in Madrid.

The conference will "bring together the international community to help the Iraqi people rebuild their nation and overcome decades of brutality, neglect and mismanagement."

I fly out to Spain on Wednesday -- Should be interesting.

Many of us who have lost friends and colleagues in Iraq have expressed anger and bitterness at the way their cases have been investigated.

Today, there's damning criticism of the behaviour of American troops towards journalists working in Iraq in a report by the world’s largest journalists’ group, the International Federation of Journalists.

The IFJ says says the United States has shown "flagrant disregard" for the safety of reporters and says the US is handling the cases of killed and missing journalists with "secrecy, deceit and arrogance."

"In most cases we know the individuals who pulled the trigger. But we must challenge those who are responsible for the culture of neglect and arrogance that puts media staff in harm’s way when they are reporting from a war zone," says IFJ General Secretary, Aidan White.
This is really thinking outside the box:
Toronto Star: Canada, U.S. work on plants to detect landmines

Monday, October 13, 2003

War blogger and journalist Kevin Sites is up and running again, seven months after he was silenced by his bosses at CNN.

This time around he's in Iraq as a freelance on assignment for MSNBC.
More from Martin Bell on the state of modern journalism:
Media Guardian: Bell warns news bosses of 'duty of care'
Another landmine victim in Northern Iraq this morning:
BBC News: Soldier killed in Iraq mine blast

The Mirror has an update on Ali Abbas's treatment at Roehampton.

The Guardian's Michael Howard in Arbil, meanwhile, reports on a possible kurdish backlash to the decision to bring Turkish peacekeeping troops into Iraq.

A letter arrives at BNI HQ from an American soldier serving in Iraq.

He writes:

"I have been serving in Iraq for more than five months, now as a soldier in the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, otherwise know as the "ROCK." We entered the country at midnight on the 26th of March. One thousand of my fellow soldiers and I parachuted from 10 jumbo jets (known as C17s) onto a cold, muddy field in Bashur, Northern Iraq."

Hey...wait a minute...what do you mean you got one as well?

I knew it was a con. The joined up hand-writing and lack of spelling mistakes gave the game away.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Freelance journalist and activist Thierry Robin e-mails with news of his trip to Iraq.

He writes:

"I will go on a trip to Iraq from 8th to 22nd of October and I will blog from Baghdad about women's rights (in French and in English).

"With other members of ABIR, we will bring material to a dispensary and an orphanage. We will also meet Hanaa Edward from the local NGO "Al Amal" and other persons involved in the promotion of women's rights in Iraq. It will be an opportunity for me to make several reports with the aim of catching people's attention about the appalling fate of Iraqi women and girls: Sexual violences, abductions and murders are widespread, preventing the women from taking part in the postwar society."

You can read more about Thierry's trip on his personal website and on the website of the ABIR Association.
John Simpson takes up the themes he raised in his address at Wednesday's memorial service at St Brides in his Sunday Telegraph column.

Meanwhile, former Sky correspondent James Forlong's sister-in-law reflects on his suicide in The Sunday Times.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Advance notice that plans are taking shape for a trip to Cambodia from November 8th -- 22nd.

I'm desperately hoping the Pope holds on for another few weeks because I'll have to go to Krakow instead if he dies.

I'm hoping to visit MAG's mine clearance projects in Battambang Province with MAG Information Manager Sean Sutton -- who took the photo above.

It's part fact-finding, part journalism assignment. I'm in the process of sorting out the work I'll do while we're there but I anticipate I'll do TV, radio and written pieces while I'm there (and of course blog postings!).

Any interested newspaper/magazine editors, feel free to drop me a line.

Friday, October 10, 2003

The latest -- and last -- installment of my BBC News Online diary has been published here.

I'll be writing much more for BBC News Online in the months to come but after 17 diary instalments solely about my leg I felt it was time to move on to other subjects.
It probably won't have escaped your notice that Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer, has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It's an excellent choice -- and I certainly breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that she, rather than a certain religious leader, had taken the prize.

Tehran's finest, Jim Muir, assesses Ms Ebadi's selection in this article.

Tellingly, Jim says that "Hours after the news was making headlines around the world, it still had not been reported by Iran's state-run TV, radio or news agency."

That very fact makes Shirin Ebadi's award all the more important.


A service is being held at St Paul's Cathedral for the 51 British troops killed in Iraq.

Sky and BBC News 24 are carrying live pictures of David Beckham's press conference in Istanbul ahead of the England V Turkey game tomorrow.
Photographic proof that I've got our Papal news coverage licked. (Thanks for the lolly Jo.)

Thursday, October 09, 2003

A major campaign against the arms trade was launched today. The Control Arms campaign -- backed by Amnesty International, IANSA and Oxfam -- aims to reduce arms proliferation and misuse and convince governments to introduce an Ottawa-style treaty to regulate the arms trade.

"When we started talking about landmine control there was a lot of scepticism, but now there has been action. We need to achieve the same with other weapons," says Amnesty's general secretary, Irene Khan.
Another BNI picture exclusive from the Conservative party conference: Tory delegates in Blackpool responding to IDS's rallying call to "Back me or get out":
Picture: Voting With Their Feet

BBC News: Tory leader: Back me or get out
Looks like I may have spoken a little too soon about that Action Catholic doll...see here.
Adrian e-mails from Haifa regarding the Israeli mine clearing pigs story.

He says:
"No rabbi will have any problem with that one. The santicty of human life far outweighs any religious law. An orthodox Jew is commanded to save life even on the Sabbath, even when doing so would mean breaking the Sabbath commandments.

"When you are starving, halach laws disappear apart from the commandants not to kill and not to eat human flesh.

"Using pigs for mine detection would not be a problem. Finding a qualified willing vet might be.

"Anyway, given the mine situation here in Israel, we'd need a lot."

Following hard on the heels of the George Dubya action figure comes Muslim Barbie.

Razanne comes in a range of modest outfits, complete with hijab, and is designed to "build Muslim identity and self-esteem, provide an Islamic role model and promotes Islamic behavior."

Coming soon from BNI toys...Action Catholic.

AP: Doll Offers Modest Image for Muslim Girls
An emotional evening last night at the service to commemorate the journalists who died covering the war in Iraq.

On the one hand it was a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues I haven't seen since Iraq. Yet the reason for our gathering was unbearably sad.

At the end of the service a plaque was unveiled listing the names of all the journalists killed covering the conflict. In his address, John Simpson argued that James Forlong's name has a place among the dead.

Here's the Order of Service as a Word document.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Thanks to Jo for flagging up the op-ed piece by former BBC newsman Martin Bell, who asks some searching questions about what James Forlong's suicide says about the age of the 24-hour news:

Independent: 24-hour TV piles on pressure to take risks

As if the election as California governor of a bodybuilder film star with a dubious record of behaviour towards women and no political experience wasn't proof enough that America has completely lost the plot, the Guardian reports on the latest wheeze by the US Supreme Court -- a ruling that severely mentally ill prisoners convicted of murder can be forced to take medication to make them clinically they can then be carted off to death row and executed.

Someone pass the Risperidone.
By Getty Images snapper Graeme Robertson.
Picture: IDS Bile

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

In late March, I watched as Kurdish peshmergas backed by American special forces and warplanes attacked positions along the Iraq-Iran border held by Ansar Al-Islam, an Islamist group allegedly linked to Al Qaeda.

A few days later I went to a press conference in Halabja, in which the Special Forces insisted they had routed the group.

An article in this week's Newsweek, however, confirms what many of us had suspected all along -- that hundreds of Ansar fighters slipped across the border into Iran.

Newsweek says the guerillas are now heading back into Iraq to continue their jihad -- and are prime suspects in some of the deadliest terrorist strikes against Americans and their allies in Iraq.

Ansar seems far from routed.
Even after six months, the sight of my amputated leg still has the power to shock me.

This evening I was hopping around the bedroom after coming out of the shower, towel tied around my waist.

While doing so I caught sight of myself in the mirror. It was not my ever-spreading beer gut that caught my attention but rather my right leg hanging down and dangling in mid air. I was struck by how assymetrical it looked. In fact it looked exactly like what it is -- a leg that's been cut off half way down.

For some reason, it doesn't bother me when I look in the mirror with my artificial leg on, or when I'm sitting down.

But in that moment, caught completely unawares, the enormity of what's happened came flooding back.

A BNI Exclusive from the Conservative Party Conference...first pictures of those Tory policing plans in action:
Picture: Cleaning Up the Neighbourhood
There's a trenchant analysis of Israel's airstrike on Syrian soil by Chris McGreal in today's Guardian:
The Guardian: Act of desperation or a cynical ploy?

McGreal poses a worrying question -- "What will Mr Sharon do when he feels the need to escalate his response after the next suicide bombing?"
If you haven't checked out Stephanie Smith's contribution on the message board, you should do so.

Stephanie points out that just a handful of Congressmen have put their names to a bill authorising funding to dispose of UXO on farmland in developing countries.

The silence is deafening.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Sad news that former Sky News correspondent James Forlong has apparently committed suicide.

No one can condone the fact that he faked a story from on board HMS Splendid -- and for which he rightly resigned. Even so, he has paid a high price for his misjudgement.
While I was away, the South Wales Echo carried a story about Cardiff-born amputee runner Andrew Palmer (Andrew is pictured left here at the Active Amps run in Richmond Park.) Give Me a Sporting Chance!

Andrew works at Rookwood Hospital, where I'm being treated, and the story was written by blog Guest Writer Alex Lemon....but I'm sure the fact it got into the paper is a complete coincidence!
The morning news bulletins are leading with a report that scientists have developed a male contraceptive which is 100% effective and free from side effects.

BBC News: Male contraceptive '100% effective'

Researchers say it's a medical breakthrough -- but let's get real. Would you trust a bloke to remember to take the pill every day? I think not.

Sunday, October 05, 2003


The Sunday Telegraph reports on a halacha dilemma for an Israeli mine-clearer -- how to persuade the rabbis to let him use porkers to sniff out mines.

It's a clear cut case of common sense versus dogma -- if the rabbis cannot find a solution they are, in effect, saying that their religious laws are more important than human lives.

Back from Rome, minus one bag which has once again fallen victim to the incompetence of Italian baggage handlers.

Here's a couple of pics from the trip:

Picture: Chris Morris at work
Picture: Stephen Sackur Going Live
Picture: Palazzo Dei Congressi

Saturday, October 04, 2003

I need learn the words "artificial leg" in every major European language.

The entrance to the press centre is guarded by armed carabinieri and airport-style scanners. The metal in my prosthesis sets the metal detectors off, causing the cops to reach twitchily for their handguns.

"Artificiale" I say in an Italian-sounding accident while pointing to my right trouser leg. I have no idea whether "artificiale" is Italian for "false" but it sounds like it might be.

The carabinieri look at me suspiciously. They're clearly not convinced.

I hitch my trousers up a few inches to try to prove to them that my leg really is artificiale.

It seems to work. The cops emit a dismissive grunt and wave me through.

BBC News: EU grapples with constitution

Friday, October 03, 2003

"Quiz question. Guess which European Prime Minister is staying at our hotel," said Europe correspondent Tim Franks to the BBC press corps gathered in the bar.

"A very miserable one?," I offered.

It transpires that none other than the Belgian premier, Guy Verhofstadt, is staying in Room 6. He was obviously attracted by the 70s porno chic of the establishment.

"Is he the one who looks like Harry Potter?" I asked.

"No," Tim replied tartly. "That's Jan Pieter Balkenende and he's Dutch, not Belgian. Guy Verhofstadt is the goofy looking one with crap teeth."

Belgium's finances must be very tight indeed if their prime minister is forced to stay in the same hotel as us.
We're here in Rome to cover this:
BBC News: EU constitution - the last lap?
Viewpoint: UK can be strong EU player

But all the programmes in London want to talk about is this:
BBC News: Catholic world waits for Pope news

I don't blame them; second guessing the life expectancy of the Pontiff is a much more engaging parlour game than discussing the new EU constitutional treaty.
I have a feeling my stay in Rome could be longer than I anticipated:
BBC News: Pope nearing death - Cardinal

Thursday, October 02, 2003

One benefit of having one leg – I now get to fly Business Class to give me more room to stretch out my artificial leg. You’d have thought that losing a foot would mean I’d need less legroom, but there you go. Unfortunately, the short hop from Heathrow to Rome hardly gave me enough time to share a glass of champers with colleague Jo Cayford to celebrate my return to life on the road.

The phone rang while I was riding in a ludicrously over-priced cab from Fiumicino Airport.

It was Europe Correspondent Chris Morris, with whom I’ll be working for the next four days.

“Mate, our hotel’s in Rome’s equivalent of Croydon,” he said. “And it looks like the sort of place they’d film the sequel to Boogie Nights.”

He wasn’t wrong. We’d been booked into The Hotel That Time Forgot. While the word “Roma” conjures up images of cappucinos in medieval piazzas, we’d been put up in the southern EUR district, an ugly mish-mash of Mussolini-inspired modernist architecture half an hour from the city centre.

I threw my bags in my room and headed uptown, reaching St Peter’s Square just before sunset.

All seemed calm. The Pope was still alive, for the moment at least.

When I finally met up with my BBC colleagues a heated debate was in full flow. Chris, it transpired, had bought the last copy of Conclave, a book explaining the arcane process by which the new Pope will be elected. As the election process is foremost in all our minds, this tinder-dry tome is hot property right now. Everybody wants to be sure they can differentiate between black smoke and white smoke when the inevitable happens.

“What do we do if, like in 1978, the smoke comes out a confusing grey?” asked Chris.

It’s a question we’d rather not think about.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

A couple of weeks ago I urged wholesale vote-rigging in the 100 Welsh Heroes poll.

Well it appears I'm not the only one to want to throw the vote.

BBC Wales reports that Pontypridd-born Phil Campbell, guitarist with veteran headbangers Motorhead, is currently fifth in the rankings -- ahead of such Welsh luminaries as David Lloyd George, Gareth Edwards and camper-than-camp BBC Wales weather man Derek Brockway.

Never mind Aneurin Bevin or Dylan Thomas -- what the poll needs is a one-legged Welshman. Cast your vote here.
Better watch what I say about the Pope -- the Lord moves in mysterious ways:
AP: Man Dies Before Cathedral-Sex Court Date
The bags are piled up in the hallway. The equipment's been checked to make sure it's all working. Tomorrow, I get back out on the road, heading off to Rome for a 3 night assignment.

I'd be the first to admit that the Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the European Union for the opening of the Intergovernmental Conference isn't the sort of news story that sets the pulse racing. In fact, the EU's Draft Constitutional Treaty is just the kind of document I turn to when I'm having trouble sleeping at night. But symbolically, heading off to cover the conference is hugely significant for me.

After the trauma of the past six months, just being able to get my kit together, board a plane, and get on with my working life is a massive personal achievement.

In the days after the operation my biggest fear was that someone would come up to me and say "see that desk over there? Get behind it and don't come out until you're 65." The thought of being stuck in an office for the rest of my career filled me with fear. Thankfully, though, it hasn't happened.

So although the IGC story may be boring, the fact I can go to Rome to cover it outweighs everything else.

I'll update when I get there.
Thanks to Dan Sumption for taking his virtual felt tip pen to my picture:

Picture: Made It Happen

...And to cyberculture guru Doc Searls for describing the blog as "required reading."

Cheers guys!
I'm very embarrassed.

The BBC bosses are pushing an initiative called Making It Happen. It's designed to instil the values of collaboration and creativity in the workforce (groan).

To this end, they've identified a range of employees who supposedly embody the Making It Happen values and have singled them out for universal vilification by their co-workers by plastering their faces on A2 size posters in the corridors of Television Centre.

For some reason, in the eyes of management stepping on a landmine counts as an example of collaboration and creativity and so this picture has been posted up in the corridor. It's extremely unsettling.

I fully expect someone to take a marker pen and draw on a pair of glasses and a goatee.