January 23, 2007

Honesty box

We are considering moving to a larger place - almost anywhere would qualify - and in pursuit of this objective, we spent a few minutes, over the weekend, looking at the small ads in Diario del AltoAragón. But we were distracted from consideration of the accomodation to let by the discovery of a column headed Relax. Which, somewhat to our surprise, turned out to be where the prostitutes of Huesca are allowed to advertise.

No old-fashioned box numbers: the invention of the mobile phone has rendered that unnecessary, though two of the ads even carry fixed-line numbers, prefaced 974 as are all the fixed-line numbers in Huesca. One assumes these two numbers are for brothels: one is a box ad, for an establishment called Jaca Relax, which depicts a woman wearing suspenders and makes mention of Señoritas de Gran Nivel, while the other features servicio de bar and offer to connect you con señoras particulares.

Or you may prefer to contact the ladies direct, using the aforementioned mobiles. One hopes though that communication will not be a problem, because although the ads are written in perfect Spanish, many of the advertisers are brasileñas, or have Russian names, and are apparently new in town, por primera vez en Huesca. Their knowledge may however be less provincial than the town where they have arrived. One unnamed madurita, for instance, offers Francés completo, while others mention masajes, vibradores, a cuerpo caliente or make the attractive promise: realizo todas tus fantasías.

There is competition for the attention of chest fetishists: Natasha's 110 pecho is no match for Daniela (120 tetas) or Lucía (120 pecho) but neither of them have counted on Laura who lays claim to 140 pecho. She appears to have learned many things in her 20 añitos: strict honesty, one suspects, may not be among them. One imagines that any complaints about the veracity of the advertisement would be met with reference to the legal maxim caveat emptor. The Spanish language derives from Latin and in this instance the law may well do likewise.

Presumably there must, however, be some control over the placing of such ads, or else there would be an enormous temptation to put up the mobile number of some neighbour or other personal enemy. I'd guess that one would need to show one's ID card. Even if I had one, that would probably deter me from the otherwise almost irresistible inclination to victimise the builder who wrecked our flat more than months ago and has still not paid us a single cent for all the damages. Or his lying, corrupt grandfather, who controlled the residents' bank account and therefore ensured that his family got paid while their victims waited months for botched repairs.

I'd love to see to it that Víctor became Victoria and had his phone ringing 24 horas with people asking after his buen culo. Or that Eugenio were renamed Eugenie and forced to fend off queries about todos los servicios y masajes. After all, if I were confronted with my responsibility, I would do what they did. Shrug my shoulders, say no te preocupes or ¡mala suerte! and tell them that is life, that mistakes happen.

They may even have happened in this week's column. For Silvia, far from offering, with Paula, masajes eróticos or (as does Tatiana) posturas sin limites, wishes with apparent sincerity to meet a man:
serio y solvente para una posible relación.
Serious and solvent? You'll be lucky. But at least she didn't ask for honesty. Because in at least two ways that I can think of, Silvia, you're in the wrong place for that.

January 21, 2007

The plagiarism of Julie Welch

I understand that the strange resemblance, previously noted here, between a recent piece by Julie Welch and another piece written six years ago has been picked up by Private Eye: not all that surprisingly, since it was I who sent it to them...

January 07, 2007


Here's something that requires a little explanation.

I was browsing: browsing through the Observer's list of fifty heartbreaking moments in the history of sport. I remember some of them: I remember number 28 particularly, the French Cup Final, in 2000, between Nantes and Calais.

I remember little enough about the match, save that it took place, the result, and the fact that I watched it on television. There is a reason why I should remember this: I nearly died that day, or in the morning after, and watching that match, in the evening, is the last clear memory I have, perhaps the last entirely reliable memory I have for that whole month, since the next three or four weeks are all but lost to me. For that reason, I am sure of the date: the match took place on the seventh of May. Which made the piece, by Julie Welch, a little puzzling, requiring a little explanation. It claims that the match took place on the ninth.

So I Googled a little, and searched a little, and after a while came up with a match report from John Lichfield of the Independent, which confirmed, in its second paragraph, that the match took place on a Sunday night - which, as I had thought, fell on the seventh. An odd mistake, but not important: it was only because of the coincidence, because of old memory revived, that I had noticed it in the first place.

But, having located the match report, I read on - and I got a second sense of coincidence. Here's how Welch had described the late, extra-time penalty and winning goal:
Then Nantes's substitute striker, Alain Caveglia, got loose inside the box. Three times Calais's centre-back Fabrice Baron blocked him with clumsy lunges. At the third tackle, Caveglia flung himself optimistically forward and the referee pointed to the spot. Sibierski's spot-kick hit goalkeeper Cedric Schille on the knee and bounced into the roof of the net.
Whereas, reading the Independent's more contemporaneous report, it was described a little differently. A little, but not too much:
As the game meandered towards extra time, with the Nantes players looking increasingly jittery, their substitute striker, Alain Caveglia, got loose inside the box. The Calais central defender Fabrice Baron, a youth worker by trade, made three clumsy attempts to tackle him, all of which looked possible penalties.

At the third tackle, Caveglia flung himself theatrically forward. The referee, Mr Colombo, pointed to the spot - a courageous decision in the circumstances, with the whole nation, outside Nantes, supporting Calais. Even Caveglia said afterwards that "to be frank" he could not be sure it was a penalty, although he felt that he was fouled at least once.

Sibierski's spot-kick hit the Calais goalkeeper Cedric Schille on the right knee and bounced into the roof of the net. The dream was over, although Calais missed a good chance to equalise in injury time
Got loose inside the box. That phrase of Welch's sounds familiar: Lichfield wrote got loose inside the box as well. He wrote Fabrice Baron, a youth worker by trade, made three clumsy attempts to tackle him: Welch has three times Calais's centre-back Fabrice Baron blocked him with clumsy lunges, which omits Lichfield's reference to Monsieur Baron's occupation, but otherwise retains his use of clumsy.

Lichfield describes the outcome of the clumsy challenges: at the third tackle, Caveglia flung himself theatrically forward: Welch has at the third tackle, Caveglia flung himself optimistically forward, varying only in the adverb and in no other way. Much the same can be said of her description of the penalty: Sibierski's spot-kick hit goalkeeper Cedric Schille on the knee and bounced into the roof of the net. Lichfield wrote: Sibierski's spot-kick hit the Calais goalkeeper Cedric Schille on the right knee and bounced into the roof of the net, reminding us of Schille's team and specifying which knee the penalty hit, but otherwise identical to the sentence later "written" by Julie Welch.

Perhaps this may help us understand the mistake in the date: because the original Independent piece appeared on the ninth of May 2000, two days after the game was played. If you copy in haste, you may not always spot that kind of thing.

One move behind

I am in serious need of a game of chess. I have not played competitively for six months: not proper chess at proper time limits, with time to think (unlike the lightning chess that's popular here) and without access to computers (unlike the email chess to which I have resorted). I last played in the international tournament in Benasque, in July. It was a very Spanish experience. The tournament, in a small Pyrenean town very close to the French border, could not be entered in advance. One could put one's name down, which I did, but the instructions to competitors - the very long and detailed instructions to competitors - were clear. Payment had to be made on the day that the tournament began, and if that payment were not made, one's entry would not be accepted.

So I made sure I was in Benasque nice and early, my place booked at the campsite, the tournament office - next to the tourist office - safely located. With a safe couple of hours to go before the games began at four o'clock, I went to the office with the forty Euros that I needed.

The office was closed. There was no notice saying when it might reopen. Perhaps they were still on their siesta, which custom still persists in Alto Aragón? Perhaps. I went back half-an-hour later - and half-an-hour after that. The office remained closed. I went next door to the tourist office, but they could not help. I went, twice, to the tournament hall just down the road, but it was locked, save for the bar, and nobody from the tournament was there.

I was in a panic, but there was nothing I could do. So I went down to the hall again, not long before four o'clock, ready to plead my case. I need not have worried. It transpired that it really didn't matter after all. As long as you paid within a couple of days, nobody would complain. And everybody except me, apparently, knew this to be the case.

I paid, anyway, before the start, out of Protestant principle. While I was paying, I put my cycle helmet down, on the tournament controller's table. The controller informed me that the helmet should not, during play, be put on the tables where games were taking place. It was not during play. Nor was it on a table where games would be taking place.

It was classic Spain, although I didn't, at that time, realise it:
1. All the rules must be written down at as great a length as possible.
2. Once this has been done, they may be completely disregarded.
3. This applies to all the rules except the most trivial. Which will be insisted on even if they don't apply.
4. The office is closed. Unless it is the wrong office.
5. Everybody knows what is happening except you.
6. Nobody will ever tell you anything.
Classic Spain: my quintessential Spain story, I think. Although, it being Sunday today, I am reminded that one can buy the local paper, Diario del AltoAragón, which on a Sunday has a television supplement, a listings magazine, telling you what's on all the channels for the week. The listings start on a Saturday. The Saturday already gone.

January 06, 2007

Food and the gods

We knew we wanted to lie-in this morning, so last night I fed Ichy a bit extra, in the hope that it would last her until lunchtime. She heard the scraping of my hand in the packet and came straight to the kitchen from her previous repose: and when she arrived she went, again directly, to the bowl and began to eat.

I liked that, its simplicity, its absence of acknowledgement. I am a Catholic by birth but Protestant in inclination: I like modesty and simplicity, the absence of decoration, the absence of effusiveness. If there must be social ceremony I would rather it were brief. The greater the show, the greater the feeling of insincerity. The more convoluted our declarations, the more they express obligation: the more extensive the ritual, the more one experience it purely as ritual. If one is expected to say "thank you", then how can one discern honesty? Where is truth, within the performance of an obligation? A refusal to say "thank you", that has meaning. But the declaration may have meaning or may not.

Often, I think, I would prefer its absence, as it is absent in the cat. Holst wrote, of music:
Never compose anything unless the not-composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you
which is another way of saying that we should not speak unless we have something necessary to say: and necessary in the sense of valuable, of contributing something, not in the sense that it is necessary to observe an obligation. One might address that problem another way, by removing the obligation, or not observing it, as Quakers refused to observe the obligation to remove their hats. One should at least consider it, for if a social obligation is empty enough, it is surely emptier still if it goes unexamined, if it is performed without one even understanding why it might exist.

In a pause after conversation, the younger boy said in his small, clear voice, "Mr Shevek doesn't have very good manners".

"Why not?" Shevek asked before Oiie's wife could reprove the child. "What did I do?"

"You didn't say thank you."

"For what?"

"When I passed you the dish of pickles."

"Ini! Be quiet!"

Sadik! Don't egoise! - The tone was precisely the same.

"I thought you were sharing them with me. Were they a gift? We say thank you only for gifts, in my country."
In my country, if I had a country, we might do the same: or more likely, simply nod the head, acknowledging the gift, but make no comment on it. Since if we feel obliged to say we like it, how can they who give the gift believe that what we say is true?

Whatever you say, say nothing: it seems the opposite advice to Holst's, but it is complementary. Say nothing. Say nothing that does not need to be said. Write nothing unless you need to, not unless the not-writing of it would be a positive nuisance to you. And do not make a fuss. A cat, once fed, will make no fuss, but simply eats, even if, unexpectedly, the food is given earlier, or in a greater quantity, than the cat expected. She eats. But human beings, receiving unexpected bounty, invent gods and praise them. Manna from heaven has to be from heaven. It cannot just happen as exigency, as a stroke of fortune.

Why do they do this? Because they want to convince themselves that their fortune wasn't fortune. That they were rewarded for their piety or moral excellence, because the gods reward the good. It is the gospel of success, by which we live, that success comes because we work for it - and hence deserve it. That when we get a break, it was a break that we deserved. We cannot simply enjoy it, or observe it, but we have to make a moral lesson out of it, one that we disguise by calling on a god.

I do not like it. I do not like it because I despise the arrogant corollary, that if we fail there must be a lack of effort, or a lack of virtue in our failing. More and more the world in which I live appears to me divided in this way, that on one side there stand the successful, and on the other side the unsuccessful. In that great struggle I am with the latter. On the losing side. Because we are most human when we fail. Because it is when we fail that we find ourselves in need of one another. Of one another, not the blessing of a god. Of one another, genuinely, from no obligation but, rather, from need.

To err is human, and to fail, more human still. To call on god is futile: to link success with moral virtue is the law of dog eat dog. Which seems to me so foolish, when, if we are dogs, most of us are small and frightened dogs. Do not say thank you for good fortune: you neither deserve nor fail to deserve it. It would be better simply to accept it and say nothing. In the manner of the cat.