Monday, December 22, 2003

Regular readers will already know of my passion for those stories which only appear in local newspapers.

At Christmas, there is one cast-iron certainty -- the story of the Heartless Thief.

Every year at around this time, you can be sure that the Heartless Thief will be in action in local newspaper patches up and down the country, nicking childrens' presents from under the tree, robbing old ladies of the money they were going to give to their grandchildren and pilfering from charity collection boxes. And you can be equally sure that the hacks won't be far behind, ready to tell their readers all about the nefarious activities of the cardiac-free ne'er do-wells.

For some reason, Heartless Thieves only seem to come out at Christmas. Presumably, the rest of the year they're too busy carrying out Brutal Murders or Particularly Vicious Attacks.

So are the Heartless Thieves out and about this Festive Season? You better believe it.

Coventry ET: Callous crooks grab gifts from under tree
East Kilbride News: Heartless conmen rob elderly women
Leigh Reporter: Grave Raid Angers Mum
Strabane Weekly News: Time to celebrate: Munchie's home for Christmas
Belfast Telegraph: Heartless Thieves Take Family Jewellery
Daily Post: Crash victim's memorial stolen

I could go on.....

All further examples gratefully received.
A slight false alert on the new leg, I'm afraid.

It is ready -- and it feels brilliant -- but it needs a final bit of buffing and polishing in the workshop before I'm allowed to take it home for Christmas.

Thankfully, I don't have long to wait -- I'm going to pick it up tomorrow morning, although it'll be without its full cosmetic cover. It's going to be left au naturel for a few weeks so that I can get used to it and have any adjustments made before the outer cosmesis, which hides all the moving parts, is attached.

After today's test drive, though, I'm confident that the new leg is going to be a real winner. It feels a hundred times more comfortable than the one I'm wearing now -- within a few minutes of putting it on for the first time I was jogging up and down the hospital corridors!

Technically, it's very similar to the prosthesis I have now, except for one major difference. It's fitted with a torsion adapter. What it means is that rather than being a single tube of metal, the "leg" section of the prosthesis has a component on it that enables me to twist to the left and right while still keeping my foot planted on the ground. It has huge benefits when walking around corners and turning my body.

So, a small delay -- but tomorrow the leg will be mine!


A shocking story from Wiltshire of a two-year-old girl who lost both her legs below the knees because doctors failed to detect a life-threatening illness.

The doctors told Lydia Cross's parents she was suffering from a mild virus and advised them to give her Calpol. In fact she was close to death.

Sky News: Toddler Loses Legs
The Sun: Brave tot maimed by docs
The Guardian talks sense in its leader column today (I am nothing if not predictable) on the Libyan WMDs affair:

"What a great pity that Iraq's supposed WMD could not have been handled in a similarly intelligent, non-violent fashion. Certain ministers claim to find retrospective justification for the Iraq war in Libya's action, suggesting it had somehow been scared into compliance. This is sad, shabby stuff....This slow process of rapprochement, including the ever painful Lockerbie saga, was in train long before Mr Bush let rip over Baghdad.

"To this delicate process, Washington's bellicosity formed a worrying backdrop, not a spur....If anything, it now seems Mr Bush may have inadvertently invaded the wrong country. The fabled WMD were in Libya all along. All the more reason, next time around, for preferring words to guns and gung-ho."


The paper also urges the international community to stop turning a blind eye to the world's fifth largest nuclear power -- Israel. If Libya can do it, why not Israel? it asks.

A good question -- and when the BBC asked it earlier this year the Israeli government withdrew co-operation with the corporation.
The International Federation of Journalists has published its annual report on members of the profession killed this year -- and it makes for depressing reading.

At least 83 journalists and media workers were died in the line of duty during 2003 -- 13 more than last year.

What are the authorities doing to bring the killers of journalists like Mazen Dana and James Miller to justice? Not enough, according to the IFJ, which says "We see journalists being targeted for their work in many parts of the world, but many governments simply don’t care about what these tragedies mean for democracy and free expression."

Read the full list of those killed here -- Kaveh's is case number 25.
The Kurds are challenging the Pentagon's account of Saddam Hussein's capture, insisting that it was they who provided the vital intelligence that led the Americans to the former dictator's spider hole south of Tikrit.

It seems that on this occasion the PUK's intelligence was better than it was on April 2nd, when the Kurdish peshmerga soldier accompanying my team to the town of Kifri told us categorically that the land he wanted us to park our vehicle on wasn't mined.

I guess you can't be right all the time.
Heading to Cardiff this morning to pick up my new leg.

It's long overdue -- the one I'm wearing at the moment only fits if I put six socks on underneath it.

Photos of the new model to follow later...

Sunday, December 21, 2003

The Sunday Times has launched a Christmas Appeal to raise money to provide physiotherapy and artificial limbs for landmine victims in Afghanistan through Sandy Gall's charity.

"In a poor country where everything has broken down, mobility is vital," says Sandy Gall's daughter, Fiona.

"If by having a wheelchair a disabled man can sell food in the market, he is transformed from a burden on his family to a breadwinner. If a girl can learn to walk with prosthetic limbs, she can help in household tasks and stands a better chance of marrying."

Sunday Times: Gifts help child mine victims walk again

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Thanks to Shirin for this link to an article by landmine campaigner, Bobby Muller.

"It is a fact that 80% of antipersonal land mine victims are innocent victims. In their absurdity, they serve as a good way to illustrate what conflict has become: violence which is unable to discriminate between soldiers and civilians," Muller says.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Brace yourself for spin overdrive as Downing Street and the White House trumpet Libya's promise to dismantle its WMD capabilities and attempt to sell the move as proof that the War In Iraq was justified, even though it was Baghdad that was targetted and not Tripoli.

The Prime Minister says Libya's move on WMDs entitles the country to rejoin the international community.

Before we celebrate, let's look at what Human Rights Watch said in January:

"Over the past three decades, Libya’s human rights record has been appalling. It has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trials.

"Today hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained, some for over a decade, and there are serious concerns about treatment in detention and the fairness of procedures in several on-going high profile trials before the Peoples’ Courts. Libya has been a closed country for United Nations and non-governmental human rights investigators. "


Indeed, Human Rights Watch accused Libya of being a member of an "abusers club" of governments hostile to human rights.

Welcome to the international community, Libya!

(Read more on Libya's human rights record here.)
More encouraging news that the war crimes tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia may finally be drawing closer.

BBC News Online reports that the former head of state in the Khmer Rouge government, Khieu Samphan, has been seeking legal help.

Samphan was the public face of the Khmer Rouge and the group's top negotiator and chief propagandist. After the collapse of the regime he is believed to have led a guerilla movement after Pol Pot stepped back from the spotlight and played only an advisory role.

He is seeing out his dotage rearing ducks near the border with Thailand. Like the rest of the KR heirarchy he has never answered for his actions in court. Finally, belatedly, he might.
From the South Wales Echo:
IC Wales: Top award for injured producer

Thanks, Alex!
The devil makes work for idle MPs.

Today's numero uno workshy Parliamentarian is Moray MP Angus Robertson, chairman of that essential Westminster body, the Commons South Caucasus All Party Parliamentary Group.

The Scotsman: South Caucasus Talks 'A Success So Far'

Good luck on dealing with the thorny issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, Angus.
The head of Al Hurra, a new US government-sponsored Arabic television station being set up in Virginia say the new channel will be "fair and balanced" (Source: IHT)

"Fair and balanced." Now where have I heard that slogan before?

Presumably if Al Hurra does choose to officially adopt the slogan it can expect an Al Franken-esque lawsuit.
Writing in the Times, ITV News's (DON'T say ITN) Political Editor Nick Robinson relates this sobering tale about hapless colleague Julian Manyon:

"Hours later, ITV News’s Julian Manyon made it to the site of Saddam’s arrest: the first British television reporter to do so. Others had not wanted to leave their Bagdhad satellite dishes to make the treacherous journey. Manyon got his scoop on tape before hurtling back to transmit it. On the way he had to battle through street protests, road blocks and who knows what other delights the Sunni Triangle has to offer.

"Back in the Iraqi capital, adrenalin still pumping, he pressed the button to play to London his first-hand account of a day that changed the world. An expectant newsroom came to a standstill. They saw nothing. They never did. The tape had broken."


Those of us who have worked alongside Manyon in action in the field will know that the disaster couldn't have happened to a nicer person, and I'm sure the guards of Bagram airbase would agree. And Lara Logan.

While Manyon was lamenting his broken tape, the BBC's man James Rodgers was exploring the spider hole -- and getting it on air.
From 45 minute readiness, to evidence of chemical weapons "programmes," to...
Independent: Is the search for weapons over?
Brian H e-mails following this thread on the origins of the phrase "spider hole" -- and offers another suggestion.

He points to this link about trapdoor spiders. "Most trapdoor spiders but not all are misleadingly named, as not all species make a door for their burrows. These highly camouflaged entrances are almost undetectable, unless the door is open," it says.
RUMOUR MILL
International broadcasting networks are showing heightened twitchiness over the health of a certain former American president.

The problem, as my recent Papal planning has shown, is that people rarely die in order to coincide with the next news cycle.
Driving across London this evening I heard Five Live's Matthew Bannister asking whether alleged child molester and sometime pop singer Michael Jackson should be allowed into britain to promote his new album now that he has been formally charged with kiddy fiddling.

My advice to Jackson if he wants to slip into the UK while avoiding the detection of the British authorities is simple. Do an Ian Huntley and change your name to Michael Nixon -- that way you can be sure the police won't cotton onto the fact that you're the same person.

Or better still change your name to Michael X.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL OF A....ER....CAMERA


At the risk of sounding increasingly like a camera anorak, the New York Times has more on the Sony PD150, the DV camera I've mentioned a few times recently.

The Times reveals that the digital wonder was responsible for recording the pictures of Saddam undergoing his medical exam. It seems it's not just us hacks who love 'em -- the US military are using them too.

Quote of the day comes from "combat cameraman" Staff Sgt. Wesley Wooten in Baghdad, who says:
"Basically what we're trained for is that the camera is our first weapon, and then our attack weapon is secondary to the camera...Me personally, I try to do both. We're lucky enough to carry pistols...You can shoot and shoot at the same time."
Assignment news....to Athens on January 7th to visit the building site that is the home of the 2004 Olympics.

Better pack the hard hat.
A bizarre complaint in an otherwise strong article by Derrick Z. Jackson in the Boston Globe -- the Americans nabbed Saddam without a search warrant.

Knock knock.

"You Saddam Hussein the murderous Eye-Rakki dictator."
"Yup."
"We're coming in."
"You got a warrant."
"Er, no. Sorry to have disturbed you sir."

(Note to 4th Infantry Division: Search warrants can be downloaded here.)
This is getting scary now. I may have to lie down.

Weblog heaven
Jane Perrone hunts down the figures whose weblogs have caused the biggest stir both in and outside the blogosphere.

Stuart Hughes
BBC News producer who set up a weblog on the spur of the moment before setting out to cover the conflict in northern Iraq. Stuart's life - and consequently his blog - changed forever when he had his right foot and part of his leg amputated after stepping on a landmine. Along with American multimedia journalist Kevin Sites, Stuart has set the standard for journalists blogging from the field, as well as earning respect from the weblog community for his dignified account of coming to terms with being an amputee and his determination to get back to work.

(Source: The Guardian)
One from the BNI mailbag. Alex Lemon writes, with her typical understatement:

"The winner in your category only won because she's a hooker and the Guardian bods think they look cool by embracing the seedier side of life. Besides, anyone who calls their boyfriend 'The Boy' in that irritating, unoriginal, hackneyed way deserves to be shot - or at least fall into the shadow cast by the brilliance of your blog.

"That one is not the best written and it doesn't have any of the thought-provoking wit or visually-appealing twinkly bits that yours does. No, in my book you win and 'Belle du Jour' catches chlamydia from one of her clients."


Harsh but fair.
Pity the poor buggers facing the prospect of Christmas in Baghdad. We've got a team of about a dozen people who'll be spending the festive season dodging RPGs, while the rest of us slumber in front of the TV.

Amazingly, some of them will be there of their own volition. Their home lives must be in a bad state.

This morning, my foreign news colleagues have been packaging up supplies for them, to be taken out this weekend along with the cameras, flak jackets and helmets. BBC Baghdad will be feasting on fine chocolates, pate, Christmas cake and a wealth of other delicacies.

It can't be much compensation, but hopefully it'll help.


If I'm going to lose out to anyone, it might as well be a call girl. I'd like to be able to say it's not the first time I've been shafted by a prostitute, but to do so would just be crass.

The Guardian's Best British Blogs for 2003 have been announced this morning and Beyond Northern Iraq is highly commended in the Best Written category.

Chairman of the judges, Simon Waldman says: "Stuart Hughes is the BBC reporter who lost his leg to a landmine in Iraq. Since February he has been keeping a brilliant blog called Beyond Northern Iraq (not endorsed by the BBC). It is an excellent daily take on happenings in the Gulf written by someone with personal experience, providing a really good read with smart links."

Stop it now, I'm blushing.

The winner was Belle Du Jour, the diary of a London call girl. I lost out to a worthy winner. A one-legged, slightly out of shape hack versus a mysterious femme de nuit -- it's really no contest.

Having said that, I guess I should use the Guardian commendation and the massive spike in traffic it has generated to welcome new readers. Please wipe your feet, put a pin in the guest map, tell your friends and drop by regularly.

If you want to get up to speed on what happened post-Iraq, the best place to start is here.

BBC News reports on the accident can be found here, here and here, while the weekly diary I wrote through the summer for BBC News Online is archived here.

My most recent blogging experiments have been with videoblogging, starting with my recent trip to Cambodia. You can find a list of "vlogs" here with an accompanying audioblog here.

Aside from that, the best thing to do is simply to graze freely on the varied pastures of this blog -- and feel free to e-mail if there's anything you'd like to ask.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Christmas Cheer at BNI Towers has been shattered by a nasty bout of the flu.

Bah, humbug.
Further to my comments about Laura Bush's bedtime story, I'm delighted to note that the First Lady's recitation of "Angelina's Christmas," by Katharine Holabird has now been posted up on the White House website.

It's the best piece of television I've seen in ages -- and that's a lovely manicure Mrs Bush has got.

I'm amazed the "mainstream" media hasn't picked up on this story.
Good news on the landmine issue from Burundi:
VOA: Burundi Rebel Group Renounces Landmine Use
QUEER EYE FOR THAT SADDAM GUY

Thanks to Mark in Australia for this gem.

Five gay men, out to make over the world — one former Iraqi dictator at a time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Former BBC correspondent Martin Bell, thought-provoking as ever, discusses the culture of 24 hour news in The Independent.

Bell's argument: "The 24-hour news channels wish it to be known that they bring you the news wherever it breaks, and watch the world with an unblinking eye. They don't, of course. They offer roof-top television instead. It consists of correspondents perched on the roofs of hotels and television stations, exchanging guesswork with other correspondents on other roofs, about the crisis of the moment."

Hear hear.


Still scratching your head looking for that one last Christmas present?

Treat your loved one this festive season with the Captured Saddam action figure complete with Ace of Spades T-shirt and available for just $29.95. (Thanks for the link, Jude)

Make the Butcher of Baghdad's humiliation complete by buying the matching HeroBuilders S and M outfit comprising riding crop, body harness, g-string briefs, and knee pads.

It's the perfect gift.

Monday, December 15, 2003

It's been bugging me (excuse the pun) all day. What the fuck is a spider hole?

A bolt hole, a rabbit hole, yes. But a spider hole?

This evening I finally looked it up.

It seems that during the Vietnam war the Viet Cong built an intricate network of mud tunnels -- the Cu Chi Tunnels -- stretching more than 200km and connecting command posts, hospitals, shelter and weapon factories. Dug out of hard laterite by hand tools without the use of cement, the network was never discovered.

Depending on who you believe, they were called spider holes either a) because the network of tunnels stretched out like a spiders web or b) because the exteriors were camoflaged to looks like spiders nests or c) because they were actually full of poisonous spiders. You can see a picture of one here and here.

William Safire in the NY Times has more.

So now I know.
WILL YOU TUCK ME IN AS WELL, MRS BUSH?



Is that seemingly never-ending War on Terror keeping you awake at night?

Before you reach for the Nytol....wait.

Let Laura Bush read you a bedtime story.

We should be grateful. At least she can read.
The New York Times has an interesting piece, dissecting the PR strategy behind the announcement of Saddam Hussein's capture.
FOR SALE



Beyond Northern Iraq Estate Agents are delighted to offer onto the market this rarely-available "trou de souris."

Nestled amid extensive farmland near the picturesque village of Adwar, this discreet studio apartment is hidden from the main road. Privacy is assured through a unique brick and dirt camoflage exterior.

The property is fully air conditioned via a traditional Iraqi tin exhaust pipe and is within the Tikrit Grammar School catchment area.

Some modernisation is required, making the property especially attractive to an investor or keen DIYer.

Suit batchelor or fugitive dictator. The current owner is reluctant to part with this remarkable property but unexpected circumstances have forced sale.

An early internal inspection is highly recommended.

Sorry to sound like a stick in the mud, but lest we all get carried away in the Saddam Capture Euphoria, let's remember a few basic facts.

The War in Iraq was waged, was it not, because "the former regime sponsored terror, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council." (Source: BBC News Online -- my emphasis)

Yet now, we learn from CNN that "Time magazine correspondent Brian Bennett in Baghdad said the former Iraqi leader asserted that the United States invented the presence of WMD to justify an invasion of his country.

"He also said he didn't play nice with U.N. [weapons] inspectors so that he could protect the privacy of his presidential areas," Bennett said on CNN's "Newsnight," quoting a U.S. official in Iraq who had seen an initial interrogation report."


Saddam could, of course, be lying. It's too early to say. But let's not forget why we went to war in the first place. It wasn't so we could track down a bemused dictator hiding in a hole.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

The leaks have started already.

Time magazine has the best exclusive I've seen so far on Saddam's capture. "He’s not been very cooperative," according to Time.
This weekend, completely by accident, I stumbled across a PBS documentary aired last year as part of the Frontline/World strand.

In it, reporter Amanda Pike travelled to Cambodia and scored quite a scoop by tracking down Nuon Chea, known as "Brother Number Two" in the Khmer Rouge heirarchy.

The whole programme, together with an extensive set of background resources, is available as part of a multi-award winning website. It's a first-class introduction to Cambodia's recent bloody history and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Pike's programme has a modesty and integrity lacking in a lot of news documentaries. She tells the story -- but doesn't intrude on it.

Interestingly, this article explains that the doc was shot using a Sony PD-150 -- the same camera we're using to make the documentary about my recovery. For those interested in the future of Newsgathering, the article has some interesting things to say about the use of lightweight and relatively cheap DV equipment to seek out stories that wouldn't otherwise get on air.
THOSE SADDAM DISGUISES IN FULL...







WELCOME TO STUART'S JOURNALISM MASTERCLASS

Today's lesson: Editorial Independence.

"There should be no axes to grind or hidden agendas in the BBC's journalism; indeed, unless it is already involved in a story as a participating organisation, it has no point of view" (Source: BBC World Service)



"Iraqi journalists...at the press conference given by the coalition broke out into spontaneous applause and cheering as pictures were shown of a dishevelled, tired old man wearing a long greying beard: Saddam Hussein" (Source: BBC)

Shall I just run through that once more?
Human Rights Watch has spoken out again about the Iraqi war crimes tribunal, following Saddam Hussein's capture.
Few people -- least of all me -- will be anything but delighted at Saddam Hussein's capture.

Now, with the former Iraqi leader behind bars, attention turns to the manner in which any trial is conducted.

Tony Blair has already said that the Iraqi people will decide his fate. But questions are being raised as to whether the Iraqi-led war crimes tribunal established last week will comply with international standards of fairness.

Human Rights Watch is among the groups to have spoken out about the tribunal, warning that "key provisions are lacking to ensure credible and legitimate trials."

Some may argue, understandably, that a tyrant of Saddam Hussein's magnitude does not deserve fairness. But to deny him the basic rights he denied millions of Iraqis smacks of revenge, not justice.

This week's Economist reports on the potential problems with Iraq's war crimes tribunal. The article is available by subscription only, so I've put it into a Word and plain text document below.

Economist: Bringing the old regime to trial (.doc)
Economist: Bringing the old regime to trial (.txt)
WOOKIES CELEBRATE AS ROGUE RELATIVE IS CAPTURED



Saturday, December 13, 2003

Following on from the Human Rights Watch report on cluster bombs,....USA Today has also been investigating the weapons.

The paper says that "A four-month examination by USA TODAY of how cluster bombs were used in the Iraq war found dozens of deaths that were unintended but predictable."

As I've explained before, cluster bombs are unpleasant weapons but some groups within the humanitarian community -- including MAG -- warn against focusing too much on cluster munitions because they're a small part of a much wider problem. The vast majority of casualties in Iraq and elsewhere, they say, have been caused by landmines and abandoned bomb and ammunition dumps -- not by cluster bombs.

In addition, MAG says that areas that have been cluster bombed can be cleared quickly and relatively easily -- unlike areas where landmines have been laid.

The conclusion -- Cluster bombs are bad, but landmines are much, much worse.
A message to Gunnlaugur from Iceland, who put a pin in the guestmap a few days ago....if you read this can you e-mail me...I've tried e-mailing you but it keeps bouncing. Thanks!
The UN has reported back on its mission to prepare for the establishment of war crimes court to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia:
UN News Centre: UN team says visit to help Cambodia set up war crimes court a success

Friday, December 12, 2003

It's not very often I make the time to enjoy the treats of London on my doorstep -- but today I made the effort and went to see the Lord of the Rings Exhibition at the Science Museum.

I can't get past the first page of the Tolkein books, and loathe the fantasy genre as a whole, but I must confess to a secret liking for the films. Maybe it's just because I've seen the first two while still filled with post-Christmas cheer, or maybe the Guardian's right when it says that we're all nerds now.

I have my limits, though. I won't be rushing out to buy a Glamdring sword with genuine leather-wrapped handgrip, antique silver-finished solid metal guard and pommel engraved with elvish writing.

Then on to see Touching The Void, a documentary based on Joe Simpson's classic mountaineering book which -- for my money -- is one of the greatest stories of human endurance of all time.

The film's a dispassionate recounting of Simpson's unbelievable story of survival and is well-worth seeing -- but the book's better.
Details of the Human Rights Watch report I mentioned yesterday.

The headline: "The use of cluster munitions in populated areas caused more civilian casualties than any other factor in the coalition´s conduct of major military operations in March and April."

HRW: Cluster Munitions, ‘Decapitation’ Attacks Condemned
BBC News Online: Iraqi civilian deaths 'avoidable'

Thursday, December 11, 2003

More on the Cambodian data entry firm mentioned here a few days ago:
BBC News Online: 'Cyber Oscar' for landmine project
The controversy over cluster bombs is set to be ignited again tomorrow with the publication of a Human Rights Watch report which will say that more than 1,000 Iraqi civilians were needlessly killed by the weapons, which were dropped by U.S. and British forces during the war.

It'll say the coalition could have done more to keep civilians from being killed by imprecise air strikes and will criticise British forces for not securing caches of explosives and ammunition abandoned by the Iraqi military.

I'll respect HRW's embargo -- full details of the report will follow tomorrow.
And so farewell Jennicam -- and not before time. She's been boring as shit for ages (er...like I can talk.)
CNN: Voyeur Web site JenniCam to go dark
Assignment news....Looks like I'm on my way to Washington DC on January 15th to provide back up at the BBC bureau for a busy few weeks that'll include the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary, “Super Seven” primaries and the State of the Union address. More to follow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003



As promised earlier, here's a taste of the Cambodian end of the audioblog posted up earlier, to put some pictures to the sounds.

It's a 2'21" snatch of video filmed by Sean as I did the live radio report you can hear here.

As always with the videoblogs, the resolution is fairly low to keep the file size down (it's 560Kb). If you want to see it at a higher resolution, just drop me an e-mail.

Videoblog: Live on Radio Five From The Minefield (.wmv)
I'd been hoping to be able to post this audioblog up since I got back from Cambodia. Of all the work I did while I was there, this is the piece I was most pleased with. This afternoon I finally managed to track down the archive recording.

While visiting the Auchamlong minefield it occured to me...why don't I broadcast the safe detonation of a landmind live from the minefield? It seemed like a stupid idea but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it. I couldn't imagine there had been many live landmine explosions before in the history of broadcasting. It was a chance to use the satellite technology -- which allows us to broadcast in studio quality from pretty much anywhere in the world -- to its full potential.

So I set up the satellite dish on the bamboo roof of a long-drop toilet, ran a cable to a safe distance from the spot where the explosion would take place, put an effects microphone out as close as I could to catch the full sound of the bang and plonked my ass down on the ground to broadcast.

When I went live I gave a hand signal to the demolition team to begin the countdown to the detonation -- and the rest you can hear for yourself. I heard the full recording for the first time today and I was particularly pleased with the explosion itself, which sounds very dramatic!

The MP3 below is just over 9 minutes long as is a 1.6Mb download. I've dropped the bit rate from the original. It was originally broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live's Up All Night programme. Sean captured some of the broadcast on video and I'll endeavour to post up a little videoblog when I get home later.

Audioblog: Live From The Minefield
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is showing signs of impatience at Cambodia's delay in reaching an agreement on the establishment of a war crimes tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders:
Reuters: UN wants Cambodia war crime trials to start soon


Today marks Human Rights Day.

Last year, human rights were abused in more than 150 countries.

As billions of pounds were spent on the "war on terror," millions of people faced a daily battle against corruption, repression, discrimination, extreme poverty and preventable diseases.

Do something about it.
Is it a bird, is it a plane....nope, it's HTML superhero Claire H, who has added permalinks to my template. You should now be able to link directly to the post of your choice.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

A special hello to Gunnlaugur Lárusson, who has fulfilled a long-held ambition of mine by putting a pin in the guest map from my favourite country in the world -- Iceland.

Góðan daginn, Gunnlaugur -- and I can't wait to spend New Year in your beautiful country.

There are still plenty of uncharted territories on the guest map, so stick your pin in here.
A day's filming and editing in Cardiff means I'm able to post up a new videoblog -- the most televisually complex one so far.

I was asked by MAG to give a speech at a conference for schoolchildren in Brussels next month organised by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office, ECHO.

I had to decline as I'm going to be on assignment, either in Switzerland or Washington.

As I can't be there in person, I agreed to make a short film to show at the conference instead.

I did the talking and Tony -- who's masterminding the BBC Wales documentary we're making -- did all the clever stuff, editing the video on Final Cut Pro (which is an absolute dream of an editing package.)

You can get an exclusive preview of the finished product by clicking on the link below. It's six and a half minutes long and is a 1.6Mb download. Apologies for the relatively low quality but it's in order to keep the file size down.

To view:
1) Right click on the link and "Save Target As"
2) Save the file on your hard drive.
3) Right click on the downloaded file.
4) Select "Play"

Videoblog: MAG Brussels Message
....and before you ask, I know the site needs permalinks. I'm working on it.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Thanks to Xeni Jardin and the fine people at Boing Boing for the link regarding my videoblogging efforts.

A link from Boing Boing always sends the traffic off the scale -- so if you're a first time visitor, you're very welcome. Tell your friends, sign the guestmap, and I hope you become a regular.

The Videoblogs have slipped down the homepage, so here they all are again in an easy-to-find form. To view:
1) Right click on the link and "Save Target As"
2) Save the file on your hard drive.
3) Right click on the downloaded file.
4) Select "Play"

Enjoy -- and, as always, all comments/suggestions are welcome:

Videoblog: Controlled Landmine Explosion (.wmv)
Videoblog: Controlled Landmine Explosion (.rm)
Videoblog: Auchamlong Piece to Camera (.wmv)
Videoblog: Auchamlong Piece to Camera (.rm)
Videoblog: MAG Cambodia 1 (.wmv)

As the Boing Boing link has probably attracted lots of new readers, I suppose I should also do my tin-rattling routine. If you were intrigued/moved/inspired by the videoblog and want to find out more about landmines and what's being done to clear them, your first port of call should be the MAG website.
Welcome to Needless Cosmetic Surgery Corner, presented by Leslie Ash.

In today's episode: Cosmetic Podiatry.

Girls, just say no.

I only intended to have the dead skin on the soles of my feet removed -- and look what happened to me.

NY Times: If Shoe Won't Fit, Fix the Foot? Popular Surgery Raises Concern
SEPARATED AT BIRTH?

Reporter:


...and reported:


BBC News: Transvestite potter wins Turner
Alex writes with an extract from an e-mail she received from a friend serving with the armed forces in Iraq (no names or places on request):

He says:
"Delightfully, the former regime loyalists have recently started mounting anti-personnel mines at head height on lamposts and detonate them as patrols go past....which is proving a little depressing at the moment, thankfully no-one has been hurt yet, but again one gets the feeling of inevitability given time..."
MAG have collected together the audio and video material I did in Cambodia and posted them up on their website.

If you're a regular reader you'll have seen them already, but if not click here and then click on "More stories in Multi-Media," under the photo of the women deminers.
Pouting Hollwood sex goddess and Cambodian holiday-home owner Angelina Jolie marked the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Ottawa Treaty by writing (or at least putting her name to) this article in the Bangkok Post.
Apologies for the lack of blogging activity over the last few days. Sad anorak that I am, I spent the weekend installing a new hard drive on my computer to put all the video files I've been playing with on. Then I dashed down to Cardiff (where I still am) for a "diagnostic fitting" for the new leg.

My prosthetist, Ian, has made two clear fibreglass casts, one slightly bigger than the other, which will form the basis of my new leg. This morning I tried them both on, while Ian checked for fit and even pressure distribution. The slightly larger cast felt much more comfortable, not such a tight squeeze, so it's that one he'll use to make the leg socket.

Ian marked out a few spots on the cast where he'll put in pressure pads and cut down excess ridges and he's now taken it away to make up the final leg.

Delivery date is 22nd December -- just in time for Christmas! He's promised to wrap it up for me, although I think the shape will be a dead give away when I put it with the other presents under the tree.

I'm itching to get the leg. The one I'm wearing has given me good service and taken me to Spain, Italy and Cambodia but I now have to wear it with five socks underneath because Mr Stumpy has shrunk so much over the past few months. It's time to retire it gracefully.

Friday, December 05, 2003

SWINGING ON A STAR

Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are still on the run, the insurgency in Iraq shows no sign of abating, the Middle East peace process is going nowhere and there are fears of terrorist atrocities in the world's major capitals.

What can we do in this time of global uncertainty?

Why, fuck off to the moon, of course.
I'm afraid I always chuck the Society Guardian section straight into the bin, as I'm not a social worker.

Hence I missed Sean talking about the power of images:
Guardian: A Thousand Words
Guardian: The Power of the Picture

Thursday, December 04, 2003

This letter just forwarded to the editor of the Radio Times about the Leslie Ash's Lips-Gate affair:

As someone who lost part of my leg in a landmine accident while covering the War In Iraq for the BBC I felt compelled to write to say how disgusted I was by leslie Ash's comments in this week's Radio Times.

To compare her own failed botox procedure to an amputation is offensive in the extreme and her comment that "people don't laugh at Heather Mills because she lost a leg" beggars belief. Heather Mills -- and the thousands of other amputees in Britain -- had no choice over the enforced changes to their bodies….unlike Leslie Ash, who paid the price for her own vanity.

Amputation is not a fashion decision.
Thanks to Marie for the link to this (tall?) tale about Henry Kissinger's visit to Cambodia.
In the latest edition of the BBC's internal Newsgathering magazine, Jim Muir reflects on the everyday turmoils of working as a journalist in Iran:

"Tehran: It's not so much the evil machinations of sinister mullahs, but crap technology, defective infrastructure, chaotic organisation and dead-hand bureaucracy that conspire.

"And fate, which robbed us of our much-loved cameraman Kaveh Golestan in an Iraqi minefield in April. We soldier on, but there's not a day that we don't remember and miss him."
Searching for Cambodia stories on the wires I came across this little gem from Reuters. Next time you find you haven't got any money to pay for fuel, just give the cashier a relative instead.

Forgetful Cambodian finds petrol relatively cheap
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian who found he had forgotten his wallet after filling up his motorbike with petrol
ended up paying for the three litres of petrol with his nephew.

The Kampuchea Thmey (New Cambodia) newspaper said on Monday the nine-year-old, who it named as Dy, had been on a trip with his uncle in March 2002 to try and track down his father in a nearby province in the war-scarred southeast Asian nation.

However, their motorbike ran out of petrol before reaching their destination and, after filling up with three litres of
gasoline from a roadside stall, the uncle realised he had no money.

Eventually he convinced the old lady selling petrol to take his nephew as a guarantee he would return with the cash --
about $1.5, the paper said.

Nearly two years later, she is still waiting -- but has opted to keep the youngster.

"I have decided to take care of him and raise him as my own grandson," she told the paper.

Despite a huge U.N.-backed reconstruction effort in the early 1990s, child rights remain a distant dream in Cambodia
where society still bears the scars of decades of civil war, including the Khmer Rogue genocide of the 1970s.
MEANWHILE, ABOARD THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE...



"....I cannae find the extra power, captain. We're gonna blow...."
Media Guardian: BBC hit by second power cut
The UN has been marking the sixth anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty by saying that $288 million is needed next year for mine clearance, mine risk education and survivor assistance:

UN News Centre: UN agencies ask for $288 million to tackle the effects of landmines
UN News Centre: Annan praises Disney daughter, Roots of Peace founder for landmine activism

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

One of the most horrific aspects of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 was the way the so called "hate media" was used to encourage the extermination of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Survivors of the genocide nicknamed the most prominent station -- Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines -- Radio Tele La Mort (Radio Death).

Executives from RTLM have now been convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda of inciting violence.

It sends a strong signal that it's not just the people with guns and bombs in their hands that are capable of killing.

Read more about hate media here.
A few people (including my Dad) have e-mailed to say that they can't open the recent videoblogs because they either don't have, or object to, Real Player.

In response, here's the 30" clip of the landmine being blown up in situ encoded as a 132Kb .wmv file instead.

To view:
1) Right click on the link and "Save Target As"
2) Save the file on your hard drive.
3) Right click on the downloaded file.
4) Select "Play"

Let me know if you have any problems with it.

Videoblog: Controlled Landmine Explosion (.wmv)

...and here's the piece to camera I did from the minefield, which is just over 700Kb.

Videoblog: Auchamlong Piece to Camera (.wmv)
Sean's just had his black and white photos of the women deminers back from Snappy Snaps and he's sent me a few samples. Most impressive.

Here's a taster -- although I've put a whopping great copyright note through the middle to stop any naughty tykes from copying them. They give you the idea, at least.

If you want to reproduce 'em -- ask Sean!

Picture: Women Deminers 1
Picture: Women Deminers 2
Picture: Women Deminers 3
Picture: Women Deminers 4
Many thanks to those nice people at the International Campaign to Ban Landmines for the mention on the links section of their website.

This week, the ICBL is marking the sixth anniversary of the signing of the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty and launching the process leading to the 2004 Nairobi Summit on a Mine Free World, which will take place from 29 November to 3 December 2004.

(Read more about the Nairobi Review conference here.)

Worryingly, the ICBL is warning that landmine use is rising in Nepal, where troops and Maoist rebels are apparently using mines with increasing frequency.
WHO KNOWS WHAT?




Yesterday, US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld won a "Foot in Mouth" award for comments made at a news conference in February in which he said:
"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns." In other words -- there are things that we know we don't know (you still following?).

Today we learn from US psychologists that some animals, including rhesus monkeys, are apparently capable of thinking about thinking -- and of knowing that they don't know something.

Just like Donald Rumsfeld.

I thought the similarities between the two were startling until I discovered that monkeys have an innate sense of justice and fairness.

Maybe the similarities aren't so great, after all.
I've just endured what was possibly the most depressing experience since my accident -- the government-approved medical.

It was held at an office on the Euston Road which resembled a cross between a Victorian asylum, a TB ward and the headquarters of the Stasi.

The doctor assigned to decide whether I did indeed have an industrial accident at work (and am hence entitled to claim a few measly quid from the state) peered over the top of the glasses at me and asked "do you know why you're here, Mr Hughes?" (as if he expected me to reply, "No, I'm glad you asked me that. I went into a trance and before I knew what was happening I found myself here and thought I'd died and gone to Hell. What is this place, exactly?"

Thankfully, once we got down to business it was all fairly cursory. I told him what happened, he had a a squint at the leg, I filled out a few forms and then headed back out onto the pollution-choked streets of Camden, leaving the sound of the coughing, muttering unfortunates in the waiting room far behind me.

It's not an experience I want to repeat.
A thought-provoking and courageous Dispatches doc on Channel 4 last night: Iran Uncovered.

Canadian journalist Jane Kokan went undercover to explore the hidden side of the Iran.

Well worth watching if it's repeated.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

My recent forays into the world of videoblogging encourage Lorenzo Manes to e-mail from Milan, Italy.

Lorenzo's internet start-up firm Lulop.com is among the companies breaking the mould of TV newsgathering, whereby a small number of news agencies (such as APTN and Reuters TV) with large resources distribute the footage you see on most news channels around the world.

Lulop is providing a platform to allow anyone with a video camera and a story to tell to sell their tapes, in broadcast quality, directly to TV stations. They call it Internet Newsgathering -- and it could just be the future of news.

On their website, they explain the business model:
"Challenging the existing model of news gathering and using the latest developments in video compression algorithms, Lulop offers new revenues to producers and new images to TV stations....We want to build a neutral and transparent distribution channel and a syndication platform for independent video-reporters. Upload your last videos and help us to offer a real alternative to the main news agencies."

It's a fascinating and important development.

The BBC is currently looking closely at ways of using video-capable mobile phones to transmit moving pictures and still images from the scene of breaking news stories (read more about the trials here.) I've been looking at the results this week and they are certainly crude -- but it's still very early days and even with the current technology, seeing jerky pictures from a major news story is an improvement on voice alone.

It's not quite yet the "satellite truck in your pocket" that the techno-enthusiasts would like to claim, but it opens up an exciting world of possibilities. It can only be the matter of a few years at most before those of us who work in foreign newsgathering are carrying around broadcast quality satellite uplink kits the size of a briefcase.

(Those interested in new newsgathering technology might also be interested in the Inmarsat BGAN system used with some success to file compressed video reports from the field by myself and others during the War In Iraq. Read more here.)

And so to the latest videoblog.

At the end of each shift in the minefields of Cambodia, the deminers detonate the mines they've found in situ. The mines are too sensitive to remove and so they're surrounded by an explosive charge and blown up. The latest vlog shows one such detonation, of a PMN landmine similar to the one that blew off my leg.

Because the clip's shorter than the ones I've already uploaded (just 30") I've pushed the boat out and encoded it at a higher quality, to capture its full explosive power. It's a 2.15Mb download.

Videoblog: Controlled Landmine Explosion (.rm)

As always, if the format or quality doesn't suit your system, drop me an e-mail and I'll aim to help out.

One final media line -- where are all the anchors in Iraq asks USA Today.

The shallowness of American network news is exposed by CBS's Dan Rather.

Says Rather: "If you are in Iraq and there is an attack in America, you're going to look out of position, and no one wants that, particularly during a sweeps month (when programme ratings set advertising rates)."

That's the spirit, Dan. Sideline the story that is happening in favour of the one that isn't. That isn't news -- it's showbiz.
Blogging activity has been limited today as I've spent the afternoon bashing out 1500 words on the female demining team I spent the day with in Cambodia.

The copy will be used for MAG publicity purposes, although we're also hoping to sell it to a newspaper along with Sean's photographs.

So, long before you read it in the paper, here's the article. Reprinting is forbidden without prior permission.

Women Deminers (.doc)
Women Deminers(.txt)

Monday, December 01, 2003

I've been a bit slow picking up on this story.

More than 90 countries, including the United States, has committed themselves to cleaning up the debris of war to try to reduce the number of civilian casualties caused by UXO.


Showbiz trout Leslie Ash gets scratched off the Beyond Northern Iraq Christmas card list for comparing her botox disaster to losing a leg.

"People don't laugh at Heather Mills because she lost a leg," Ash says.

Er....that'll be because Heather Mills lost her leg in an accident, whereas Ash ended up looking ridiculous because of her own vanity.

Speaking from experience, I think I can safely say that an amputation is absolutely nothing like a dodgy botox procedure.


An interesting piece in today's Media Guardian about the British military's broadcasting (read: propaganda) arm, BFBS, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
This videoblogging business is taking off -- I think I may be on to something.

High praise from Silicon Valley guru Dan Gillmor, who's clearly confusing me with someone else.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Now I know this whole video blogging thing works, I nipped out this morning to PC World and bought a copy of Videowave with which to edit the material shot on the Sony PD-150.

Videowave seems cheap and cheerful enough -- and made the creation of my second vlog a breeze.

It was filmed in the Auchamlong Minefield in Northwest Cambodia. The file is 2'45" long and is a 1.65Mb RealMedia file. If people would prefer it in a different format, just drop me a line.

Videoblog: Auchamlong Piece to Camera
Thanks to Lynn for this link to an ABC News story about Paul Esposito, who became a bilateral AK amputee in the Staten Island Ferry Crash.
Jeff Jarvis from Buzz Machine has picked up on the videoblog -- or Vlog as he calls them.

I haven't perused Jeff's site extensively yet as it's far too early in the morning but it appears I've stumbled across an emerging phenomenon.

If you've got anything to say about videoblogs, drop me an e-mail.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Another BNI first -- videoblogging.

Sean has just sent across the rushes we shot on Mini DV in Cambodia for the BBC Wales documentary (now more likely to be documentarys as we're looking good for two programmes) I'm making with producer Tony O'Shaughnessy about my recovery.

I've spent the evening dubbing the tapes onto my hard drive and can proudly present my very first videoblog from the Auchamlong minefield. It's a .wmv file, is less than 400Kb in size and is 1'29" in duration.

There may be more to follow as I process the tapes.

MAG Cambodia 1 (.wmv)

Friday, November 28, 2003



The pony-tailed one wasn't the only person to pick up his OBE from the Palace yesterday.

Oh no.

Veteran BBC Rome correspondent David Willey was also in the queue for his gong -- and last night he held a big party to celebrate the fact.

A fine time was had by all.

Picture: David Willey
Picture: With Diplomatic Correspondent, Bridget Kendall
Picture: With Jo Cayford and Katie Pearson
Picture: Meet My Glamorous Assistants...


The lights are back on at Television Centre.

The BBC listeners and viewers among you might have noticed something was afoot this morning when normal programming was interrupted by a power cut.

I've managed to snaffle one of the few computers working in the building.

It's proving to be a chaotic old morning but the show -- at least for now -- is managing to go on.

Media Guardian: Power cut blamed for Today blackout

Thursday, November 27, 2003

WELCOME TO STUART'S BROADCAST LAW 101



Lesson 1: Contempt of Court.

This preserves the integrity of the legal process and safeguards the dignity of the court. The greatest risk to the reporter is by publishing material which might sway a juror and thereby prejudice a fair trial.

A person can be found guilty of contempt by publication or broadcast, regardless of intent, where a substantial risk of serious prejudice or impediment to proceedings is caused and where proceedings are active.

Full marks, then to Shropshire-based radio station Beacon FM for their nuanced understanding of this absolutely fundamental tenet of broadcast law.

In next week's lesson....Libel: Can you call someone a wanker on air and get away with it?
A shameless request for money.....

If you're Christmas shopping for books, CDs, etc and are putting an order in through Amazon UK, please consider clicking through the Amazon icon on the left hand side of this page.

Every time you do so, and then place an order, I get half a groat to help pay for the hosting and upkeep of the blog.

It's never going to make me a dot com millionaire but every little helps.

I thank you.
An e-mail arrives from Saw in Caliifornia:

"Just a short note to let you that I enjoy reading your daily activities in Cambodia from the jungle of landmines to the places in the city you have noticed.

"What touched my heart was a group of women whose work is to remove landmines. And my heart was broken for those who lost their legs due to landmines.

"You might be wondering who I am and what part of the world I'm in. I'm a graduate student in California studying Social Work. Part of the class assignments is to write papers on a few issues that I'm interested in, and I happened to find a few articles about landmines and amputees in Cambodia on BBC written by you.

"To make the story short, the artcles took me back to my homeland Cambodia which I left 22 years ago. When I was viewing the pictures of Cambodia on your personal website, I found myself viewing one picture to the next. I was lost in the readings. In fact, I became a bit envy of you because I had not had a chance to visit my country since I left in 1979.

Maybe one day I can visit Cambodia and see the beautiful and interesting places you posted on the website. "
Continuing the Simpson-esque theme for just a moment longer, I finally got to watch the Panorama special In the Line of Fire last night, about our assignment in Northern Iraq and the "friendly fire" incident that the team were involved in.

There's a transcript of the programme here.

Cameraman Fred Scott offers his recollections of the incident here, while Panorama producer Tom Giles recalls the fateful day here.

Video grabs of the incident can be found here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

FEATURING......MOI!


A grand total of FIVE index references to yours truly (I know because I counted them) in John Simpson's new book, The Wars Against Saddam.

Towards the end of the book he uses the adjective "poor" to describe me -- although whether he's referring to journalism skills or the nature of my accident is unclear.

For vanity purposes alone I should buy a copy, but I just can't bring myself to part with twenty quid for the hardback edition.
Reuters reports on the aid workers still working in Northern Iraq despite the dangers -- including teams from MAG.
"The threat to the civilian population in Iraq from mines, cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance is far higher than that to our employees at the moment," says MAG's Steve Priestley.
Reuters Alertnet: Security scares complicate aid effort in north Iraq

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I like to think I'm a fairly good tempered person.

This year has seen a lot of shit but I've tried to deal with it with humour and optimism. I've been lucky that even the bad things that have happened this year have brought positive outcomes.

However, there are two groups of people out there that I'd like to send nothing but bad vibes towards.

Their motivations bemuse me and their interests disgust me.

I'm not going to link to their websites because frankly these people deserve to fester in their own underground sewers.

The first loathsome group of sickos are the amputee fetishists. Each to their own and live and let live, I agree. But think about it. Would you really want your husband/brother/boyfriend/co-worker to admit he got off looking at images of people with missing limbs? Would you be proud admitting the fact in front of your family?

Amputation is not a lifestyle choice. It's painful and devastating -- and those that revel in it deserve to be isolated and condemned. Don't bother e-mailing me to argue otherwise -- your correspondence will be deleted.

The second group are the "true gore" perverts who, when presumably not hiding their girlie mags from their mothers, collect images of real-life accidents and write comments on bulletin boards like "Man what a weak mine. Looks like he stepped on a sparkler. We need to bring back those vietnam era mines which were so horric they mangled the shit out of people, one of the major causes of psycholgical damage to soldiers in Vietnam."

Through good and bad and in the interests of blogging I've kept writing for the past nine months but I'm beginning to wonder...


While in Cambodia I spent some time with Ffinlo Costain, Campaigns Coordinator for Paul McCartney and Heather Mills-McC's charity Adopt-A-Minefield.

Ffinlo was in the country to see how the money raised by the organisation was being used. It passes funds to charities like MAG and others to do the actual mine clearance on the ground.

The Adopt-A-Minefield website is full of interesting resources and is well worth a look.
I made a deliberate point of not doing a story about the sex trade in Cambodia -- a decision influenced largely by the fact that virtually every expat or NGO employee I spoke to in Phnom Penh asked me "whether you're going to do yet another story about prostitution in Cambodia."

They had a point -- the story, though valid and horrifying, has been done a million times.

That hasn't stopped The Economist, though, which coincidentally has a (rather disappointing) article on the subject in this week's edition.

It's available by subscription only, so here's a copy in Word and .txt formats.

Economist: Prostitution in Cambodia (.doc)
Economist: Prostitution in Cambodia (.txt)

Monday, November 24, 2003

Thanks to the influential Doc Searls for the latest mention -- which should ensure a veritable gridlock of traffic for days to come.

Cheers Doc!
Home safely -- just.

London is reassuringly cold and damp but there's nowhere better to curl under a thick duvet after a few weeks in the tropics. I've returned to a pile of unpaid bills (including two fines for driving in a bus lane -- oops!), letters for missed appointments and a stack of stinking washing that's threatening to overwhelm my flat. It's going to take me a while to plough through that little lot.

The return journey was not without incident. On Sunday I was up at 7, intending to head to the spider market a couple of hours outside Phnom Penh, where traders buy and sell thousands of tarantulas which are then cooked as a local delicacy.

I thought it'd make a great radio piece and Sean was eager to take some photos.

I felt a little off colour as we set out but I thought little of it.....probably the prospect of having to eat a freshly-fried spider for the purposes of the radio report, I thought.

Ten minutes after setting off, however, I stuck my head out of the window of the jeep and sprayed a line of unsuspecting Cambodians with the contents of my stomach. I immediately went back to the hotel and spent the next 10 hours in a state of what can delicately be described as "considerable discomfort." I won't go into the gory details but needless to say it involved toilets, sinks and a lot of groaning on my part. In a reversal of Newton's laws of gravity, what went down very quickly came back up.

I thought there'd be no way I'd make my Sunday evening flight as I couldn't even stand up without liquid seeping from one or other end. I desperately dosed myself up with just about everything I could find in the magic medical pack the BBC issues to journalists travelling abroad -- antibiotics, anti-emetics, Auntie Ediths -- you name it, I took it. Amazingly, it seemed to do the trick.

By the time came to pack I was just about fit enought to fly and the thought of being stranded in Phnom Penh for a week feeling like death gave me the adrenaline boost I needed to get to the airport.

After negotiating check-in, security checks and passport control in a nauseous sweat I thought the best thing to do was knock myself out for as long as possible. An elephant-strength valium ensured that I slept though most of the Bangkok to London flight and I awoke feeling weak but over the worst.

I think I'll live to tell the tale but my weighing scales tell me I've lost half a stone in the process.