Thursday, March 30

Blazer, Book Bag, Bazooka...

The Phantom has discovered an interesting news item in today’s Education Guardian... Apparently

“Schoolchildren have exploited loopholes in Britain's arms controls by importing torture equipment including thumb and wall cuff restraint devices and a Chinese "sting stick" - a metal bar covered with spikes.”

It is encouraging to see the onward march of progress. When I was a lad (admittedly many years ago) we had to make our own instruments of torture. We didn’t have restraint devices, just the headlock copied from the four o’clock Wrestling on World of Sport. Instead of “sting sticks” we had the subtle delights of the dreaded “Chinese Burn” **

Truly the school playgrounds of England must be exciting places at breaktime! The joy of playing tag armed with a Taser! The sense of security playing British Bulldog whilst wearing riot gear! And think of the excuses for getting off P.E. “Sorry, Johnny has lost the key to his wall cuff restraint device, he can’t come in today”.

Sadly, even in this, the English have lost their pre-eminence. According to the article the Oxfordshire schoolchildren “got quotes” but did not buy the weapons. Over in Ireland, in Portloaise, children

“succeeded in buying electric shock batons from Korea and leg irons from South Africa.”

Obviously those millions of Euros spent on developing an enterprise culture in Ireland have not been wasted.....

** (Which, when typed in Arial 12pt looks delightfully like “the dreaded Chinese Bum”, a horrifically evocative phrase.)**

Wednesday, March 29

Everybody Out!!

Apologies for the non-appearance of this blog yesterday. This is because the Phantom was involved in Industrial Action and felt that consistency demanded he refrain from blogging as well as paid work.

Actually, the break came in very handy. A number of minor computer niggles were fixed, and a long-overdue revamp of the domestic bookshelves took place. (Though I suppose that looks a bit like a busman’s holiday considering I work in a library).

As for the strike? The London Evening Standard whinged on about “Schools closed by Strikers”. I’ll be surprised if they didn’t manage to get the word “misery” in there somewhere too. Well, sorry parents and carers all, but you will soon have your little darlings around for a couple of weeks of Easter half-term. Just think of yesterday as a little bit of practice... (Cackles evilly).

Monday, March 27

Mother's Day and the Welsh.

In honour of Mother's day, which I celebrated in the company of Mrs P. and Mother-in-law P....

My Mother, who grew up in Camden and Islington, has always detested the Welsh. Not any particular Welshmen, but the whole bunch generically.

This is not a prejudice I share; indeed my Best Man was Welsh, though now, sadly, Australian.

The problem is historic. From the Middle Ages the main route for London dairy produce was down through Islington and Finsbury, arriving at (what is still to this day called) "Milk Street", the main milk market in the City of London's Cheaping (or shopping) area, now known as Cheapside. People in the area did not get the best of the produce. The growth of the City had already led to a decline in pasture land, and the dairy cows kept in the surrounding properties were often in the most unsuitable, insanitary conditions, and watering-down took place regularly. From the 1700's on the majority of "fresh" "dairy" "milk" in Islington was sold by Welsh dairymen.

In the way that London has, this tradition continued down to my Mother's day. So, to satisfy her bias, I give you this story, from the excellent Soupsong website.

OF SAINT PETER, WHO CRIED "ROASTED CHEESE!" (from the not very "PC" 100 Merry Tales, or Shakespeare Jestbook of 1525):

There is written among the old stories the tale of how God made Saint Peter the gatekeeper of heaven. The good Lord, soon after His passion, allowed many men to come into the kingdom of Heaven who had done little to deserve such honor.

After that time, there was in Heaven a large group of Welshmen, whose babbling and boasting annoyed everybody else. God then told Saint Peter that He was weary of these Welshmen and would be glad to have them out of Heaven. Saint Peter replied, "Good Lord, I warrant you, it shall be done."

Saint Peter then went outside the Heavenly Gates, and cried out in a loud voice, "Cause bobe," which means "roasted cheese," a delicacy of which Welshmen are very fond. They all ran out of Heaven at a brisk pace. When Saint Peter saw the whole group outside, he suddenly re-entered Heaven and locked the gates, thus keeping all the Welshmen outside.

By this tale you may see that man is not wise to set his mind too much on delicacies or worldly pleasure, for in this way he may lose his celestial and eternal joy.

Saturday, March 25

Spring Forward in the Spring..

The first day of spring arrived someday in the last week, which particular day it was depends on your definition. For me, the Vernal Equinox seems to be the most satisying. A true, literal, global turning point, the moment when day and night are of equal length, and a true beginning. For the next few months light will win over darkness, heat over cold.

As a sign, (watch out, it may be witchcraft!), our garden frog chose this morning to pop out of hibernation and say hello.

Please find below the one and only Phantom's Frog Blog!!!

"I'll have some of that Garlic Chicken if there's any left!!"

Friday, March 24

That person with the limp...

Thirty years ago today a military coup started in Argentina which plunged the country into years of terror. Right-wing death squads patrolled at will, and hundreds of thousands of people “disappeared”, often taken in the middle of the night.

It was a nightmare era. Anyone with alleged leanings to the left lived in terror, and many died in terror too..

Rapes, beatings and intimidation were commonplace. Those with a higher profile faced torture - partial drowning, burning, electrocution.

So what has that got to do with a blog based in Finsbury Park, North London?

This.... The Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture is based just down the road from me.

Whether they be from Argentina, Somalia, Algeria or even Londonderry, the Foundation is there to help victims of torture overcome the mental scars and re-habilitate those with physical damage.

So the next time you see someone limping along Seven Sisters Road, don't cuss. Just imagine what they may have gone through. And be grateful you live where you do...

Thursday, March 23

Internet libel case won.

There is an article of interest to all English Bloggers in today’s Technology Guardian. The High Court has found in favour of a libel claim by a former Conservative Party member. Mr Michael Keith-Smith has been awarded £10,000 in damages plus £7,200 in costs.

The libel was perpetrated on a Yahoo internet message board, but a blog posting would almost certainly be treated by the courts in the same manner.

(I am extremely glad that Ken Livingstone doesn’t have a blog. It could only cause problems. Of late, our London Mayor has seemed unable to keep from embroiling himself further in controversy every time he opens his mouth).

The Phantom doesn’t intend to use this blog to call anyone a “lard brain”, a “Nazi”, a “racist bigot” or a “nonce”, as the unsuccessful defendant in the case did. But we would all do well to bear in mind that, (like the old police caution), anything we say could be used against us.

I work in a college library. What really horrifies me in this case is that the defendant, Tracy Williams, works as a college lecturer. What hope have our young students got when their teaching staff can be so stupid?

Wednesday, March 22

Jaffa Cakes, Soup and a suitcase full of?

All hail to Mr A.“Freddie” Flintoff after squaring the series against India this morning whilst most of us were heading to work.

The biggest difficulty facing English teams in India is not so much the heat, the dust, (or any other Merchant-Ivory film title), nor, even, the hostile crowds. It is the food. Or more specifically, the tendency of the food to induce an appearance of more Trots than a Tory rally during the Falklands war.

The Indian secret weapon, the “England-On-Tour Hotel Curry” has laid down many an England great. It is a little known fact that Geoffrey Boycott achieved his fastest “Run Rate” after eating one.

Ten years ago this June the great Gloucestershire wicket-keeper and artist Robert "Jack" Russell scored an heroic century at Lords to produce an unlikely England victory against India and win Man of the Match. He rarely ate much more (even in England) than Jaffa Cakes, tea, and large bowls of soup. His survival strategy when on tour in the subcontinent? He packed two suitcases. Full of Heinz Beans. (Or Beanz, as they now insist on calling them.) He ate nothing else, and was available to play every day.

Obviously Mr Flintoff is made of sterner stuff. He is the natural successor to sporting genius Paul Gascoigne in the affection of the nation. Loved by the public even when drunk, or overweight. Obviously Freddie is not scared of Indian food. The hotter the better. Vindaloo for preference.

He had inured his system with large doses of chillies in preparation for the challenge. And he had got the rest of the team to do likewise. Hence, as quoted on the BBC Web News

"We went in the dressing-room, had our lunch then played a bit of Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire," he said.

Not surprisingly...

"It got the lads going and we came out afterwards with a spring in our step."

Tuesday, March 21

The way that others see us?

Earlier today I went on to the Technorati website and typed in "Finsbury Park".

Up popped a list of “associated tags”. These are lists of words that are associated with the given phrase and applied by other bloggers, either when they post an entry, or when they link to one.

The list of associations for “Finsbury Park” was a depressing one:

“London Bombing.”
“London Bombings.”

And “War.”

I have lived in Finsbury Park since 1987. It may not be the nicest place in North London, but surely it deserves better than the above.

Come on North Londoners. Let’s start posting some positive items. We have enough bloggers to actually make a difference.

Get Posting!

Monday, March 20

Tigger comes to visit.

I was writing the post below on the laptop sitting in our garden. The air was cool, but the sun was shining through the still-bare branches of the much-cursed Lime trees that shade our garden after bud-break..

I noticed a movement to my right, and there he was. A handsome, perky and inquisitive tabby cat. (My wife had seen him a few days before. Obviously trusting, he had wandered through our patio doors and into our kitchen before she even knew he was there.)

I leant over to say hello. Before I knew it I had a lapful of cat and laptop. I have always been a “cat person”. I love that sense of independence that cats have. The way they do exactly what they want and always remain dignified. The cat looked very well groomed, fit and healthy.

I found myself behaving like someone who has just had an Auntie drop in unexpectedly. Dismissing the thought that my guest would like a cup of Earl Grey and a digestive, I still felt I should offer it something…

A hastily filled saucer of water was proffered, and consumed with enthusiasm. I topped it up, and more grateful lapping ensued.

My visitor then wandered off a few feet, found a sun-filled patch, and stretched out. Ten minutes later he decided to show he was hungry. He got up, hunkered down, and slowly stalked up on a rustling leaf a few feet away. Killing that with one pounce, it then proceeded to try and unleash feline havoc on a still torpid Bluebottle. It missed, thank goodness.

I gave it some of our left-over chicken from the night before.

When my wife got back from church he had disappeared over our garden wall, but he popped back and forth for another couple of hours or so, chasing Clematis stems, sitting on laps and rubbing us with his cheeks so we smelt like his territory.

He obviously has a good home, probably only a few doors away. But just for those few hours I felt honoured he had chosen us to play with, and our garden to make his own.

He whizzed back over the fence before when we went indoors. I drew the curtains when it got dark. But I couldn’t help peering out into the darkness later on.

Just in case....

This is not ordinary roast chicken - This is Free Range Organic Roast Chicken with Garlic and Herbes de Provence. Lipsmacking!

Sunday, March 19

The Joy of Shopping...

No, I am not talking about spending a fortune on handbags (or even gladrags, whatever they may be).

I am talking about real shopping, brushing shoulders with people hunting for food…

I am as guilty as the next Phantom. Most of the time I wander into my (rather “superior”) supermarket and just buy what I have already decided on, rather than choose what looks good value or good quality.

Saturdays are my chance to do proper shopping…

Seven Sisters Road may have been swamped by seemingly cloned “Turkish” grocer’s shops, but there are still some food shops with soul. *(Forget the butchers. The only vaguely multi-ethnic one shut down just before Christmas “for renovations”. Watch out for a kebab restaurant any day now…)

One of my particular favourites is the West Indian Muslim-owned grocers just halfway between Hornsey Road and the Nag’s Head. Piles of polished aubergines shine in the front of the display to grab the attention of passers-by. Further in, Scotch Bonnet chillis loiter, waiting to catch someone who can be fooled by their seemingly sweet outsides. By the time you are halfway in the shop the masculine perfumes of saltfish, smoked mackerel and crayfish hook you with a deeply savoury, hunger-producing waft.

The importance of home-foods to people far from home can’t be underestimated. I saw a Jamaican “mum” shelling out £3.50 for half a breadfruit, about the size of half a coconut. A basic starch, she could have bought about nine pounds of potatoes for the same amount. But I guess she wanted something that tasted of home.

Further up the road, in Gibbers, a greengrocers, I had the fun of testing out my (very limited) Greek with a Yaya (Grandmother) who was buying sachets of colouring to dye Easter eggs with. Real Eggs, not chocolate. She told me that she would dye them, then give them to her grandchildren. They would race them along the garden, rolling them with their noses. The winner would get to crack them all, and add them to the Easter meal. (And they might get a bit of chocolate afterwards)

As a (technically) half-Irish Englishman who has lived in Islington his entire life, I feel sad that I don’t have any real sense of belonging to a food tradition. I have a bookcase full of cookbooks. I can negotiate my way round most menus, with the exception of sushi (if I want raw fish I will prepare it myself.)

But the price of being so metropolitan is that I have no soul food.

(well, maybe a really mature Farmhouse Cheddar!)

Saturday, March 18

Breaking News From Clarence House?

As seen on the Digibox Adverts for Radio Five today... The Phantom quotes...

"Royalty row over James Blunt Hits."

Imagine the scene:

Charles: They're playing my song.

Camilla: Shut up - just cos he's an ex guardsman!! Its 'orribble!!

Charles: (on his knees, singing,) "you're beautiful, you're beautiful.."

Thursday, March 16

Northwick Park Medical Trials. Poodles or People?

O.K... Animal rights campaigners back off now! Personally I don't give a flying F**k about trying out new ear-growing technology on lab rats.... (Is that a petrol bomb I see arcing through the air?).. However, I do draw the line at torturing animals that I wouldn't normally consider to be vermin. ( I find it hard to support the Right To Life of something that makes me go "AAARGGH!", leap on a chair, and try and work out how to kill it without staining the carpet).

However, sorry to all but I don't have much sympathy for healthy intelligent sentient human beings who volunteer to try out experimental drugs for money. The phrase "Human Guinea Pig" is an insult to Guinea Pigs. They don't get the choice.

It may well turn out that the problem with the Northwick Park tests was that the drug was genetically engineered and therefore control groups of dogs were not very useful in predicting reactions in humans. But at least the humans agreed to take a risk for money that they considered worthwhile.

The Phantom predicts more bloodshed in the days to come. Watch out for the feeding frenzy as the lawyers get their teeth into this case.....

Wednesday, March 15

Northwick Park Hospital Elephant Man on Green Wing?

The Phantom offers his sympathies to the medical trial subject being described by his own family as Elephant Man.

However, fans of the hospital-based comedy Green Wing, which returns next week, may not know that much of it is filmed in the hospital concerned.

I suspect the editors of the series will have a sleepless night or two checking the script for any unfortunate lines before the first episode of the new series goes to air next Monday at 23:05 on Channel 4.

Tuesday, March 14

Daddy Cool, or merely lukewarm?

News reaches the Phantom this morning that the latest item off the production line of back catalogue stage musicals has stalled.

It was announced yesterday that the opening of “Daddy Cool” , a musical based on the works of Boney M, will be delayed by twelve weeks in order to give the producers time to make it watchable "to achieve the technical and creative possibilities of the show”

Who will be next to plough this increasingly muddy furrow? The Phantom looks forward to other great Seventies bands hitting the West End. A show called “Turnip Time”, perhaps, featuring the incomparable Adge Cutler and the Wurzels and a flying Combine Harvester scene?

Imagine the thrill of “Wimbledon, the Wombles Musical” , with animatronic dustbins and a neat line in ecologically-correct singalongs…..

Or even “Showaddywaddy – The Show”….

Monday, March 13

St. Patrick's Day Madness.

It must be the full moon...
Well, that is the only reason I can see for the madness of having a St. Patrick's Day parade yesterday. Five days before the event. It seems that Nazi-hating Newt-loving Supremo Ken Livingstone is obsessed with confusing the population of London at every possible opportunity. (This is the man who moved the Chinese New Year celebrations from Chinatown's Gerrard Street to Trafalgar Square, and London's New Year celebrations from Trafalgar Square to the Thames Embankment.)

As a final flourish, he arranged for the fountains of Trafalgar Square to flow green, on the very day that the news (ahem) leaked out about Thames Water planning their first Hosepipe Ban in 15 Years. Get used to it folks, green, brown or grey, you'll be grateful for it soon whatever the colour....

Sunday, March 12

The Tipping Point...

Although the clocks don’t go forward for a while yet, there is a feeling of spring in the air in our garden.

The crocus plants (note deliberate avoidance of contentious plural form) are still showing, despite the best attentions of the slugs from hell. The Acer is about to burst into its delicate tracery and convince us all we should really be Japanese.

Most of all, the soil underfoot is no longer frozen, and has dried out enough to walk on without bringing most of it indoors with your boots.

This is the day when we get to claim the garden back from the frogs, foxes and incontinent cats which have had it in thrall since darkness arrived before either of us finished work.

The first blog post from the garden…

Old Aquaintances.

Everyone knows someone like them.

You went to school with him or her.

However badly you did, they did worse…

I have a guy like that. In my year at Primary School, never spoke to him, lost touch when we moved on.

Over the years I have seen him around, first looking scruffy; eventually looking down and out.

The appearance of string around his waist and five or six different coats applied on top of each other was the clincher. This guy had well and truly dropped out, down and out of reach.

A month or so ago I got a tax rebate. Quite a respectable one. Not life changing, but pleasant. Enough for small acts of random kindness.

I was walking home after work, darkness leaking along Seven Sisters Road, when I saw him. String Round his (many) trousers, unshaven, wild hair. He was rooting through a bin like a hungry fox.

I decided there and then to just march up and give him a fiver. I thought, as you always do, “Will he just waste it on drugs or booze?”

I thought “so what, I’m giving it to him, it’s his anyway. We never spoke. So what. I will feel better, and he can do what he likes.”

We were on opposite sides of the road. It’s a wide road. Lots of traffic, plenty of people escaping Holloway for the Labrador-infested forests of Walthamstow or the Pit Bulls of Tottenham.

I waited for the traffic to clear as he worried his way through the next rubbish bin along… He looked around, he looked at me. For a second I thought he had recognised me…

He stood, face on to me, reached into his many trousers, produced his cock, and began to give the oncoming traffic a urinal benediction that a Pope would have been proud of. Splash it all over!!

I decided not to shake his hand. I gave the money to charity.

Friday, March 10

Dream Final Match at "The Library"?

The Phantom, being a Spurs fan, has already started wondering....

If I read this right, Arsenal have to meet Juventus next in the Champions League.

If they win, they will play either Inter Milan, Ajax or Villareal.

The first leg is scheduled for the 19th April 2006. The return leg on 25th April 2006.

Spurs are scheduled to play their game against Arsenal at Highbury on the 22nd April.

I can't see the F.A. refusing to re-schedule this match. They want a French English team to win the Champions League.

This could well mean that the last game ever at Highbury won't be against Wigan after all.

It will be against Spurs!!! And possibly for a place in Europe next year.

Yum Yum.

Thursday, March 9

Only in Islington.... Part One of an occasional series...

Only the Liberal Democrats could be that desperate to raise income.

Question is, how do they assess you for liability...?

Note to the Phantomette - No comments about "OOH, I'm due for a rebate then!!"

Wednesday, March 8

Today is International Women's Day...

I watched my wife leave for work this morning; exhausted and demoralised

She works as a Home Carer.

She has the misfortune to work for the London Borough of Islington… Yet again the fat cats of the Councillors and their overpaid management are creating heartache.

Last night, in her own time, after her double-shift, she attended the “Overview Committee” Meeting at the Town Hall.

Home Carer clients and their families argued that the services provided by the Council Home Carers were “top class”. Far superior to anything provided by the various agencies that swim around like bottom-feeders in a fish tank.

Despite this the Overview Committee decided to support the “decision” (Diktat?) of the “Executive”.

Yet again the Council has decided to “examine” privatising the Home Care Service.

Recent official reviews have praised the dedication and high levels of skill and training demonstrated by the Home Care Service.

Council Reports presented to the Committee said:

“Overall client satisfaction with domiciliary care services, based on customer feedback, is between 95% and 98% of those that are interviewed through contract monitoring visits.” * Report of Executive Member for Health and Social Care for Adults. Agenda Item E1. 9th February 2006.* (Available on Council Website.)

The overwhelming majority of Islington Home Carers are women, many part-time workers, many mothers, or carers, fitting in their working hours around their families.

If you have any older relatives in Islington, or live in Islington yourself and plan to get old…

Fight and Complain!

Go to

Just enter your post code and find out the email addresses of your councillors and M.P.s.

Support the Islington Unison Branch campaign. Email

Happy Women’s Day…

Monday, March 6

Ways of Learning.

At the weekend the Phantom was demonstrating his new toy his new digital camera to Mrs P. As usual he had started reading the manual from the beginning, and had just got up to the bit about connecting the camera to the TV to view pictures.

Naturally this was the feature he decided to demonstrate. Suitably impressed, Mrs P then proceeded to press most of the buttons one-by-one to see what happened… She probably learnt more about using the camera in ten minutes than he had done in two or three hours of reading the manual.

Sometimes thinking like a librarian isn’t the best way….

Sunday, March 5

Freak Weather in North London Produces Mutant Mice!

The Unusually cold weather in North London has lead to a new species evolving. The mouse population, unable to find any of their usual foodstuffs, have resorted to scavenging around the gardens of Finsbury Park.

As usual, the Phantom grew some chilli plants last year. These seem to have been used as a source of sustenance by the local rodents. The Staple Remover household has now been overrun by "spice-mice" as the attached photos illustrate.

Saturday, March 4

The Birth of The Phantom Staple Remover...

One evening, three undergraduate students were working together on a project. They had completed a survey of over one hundred of their fellow students. They had bundles of completed questionnaires, each six or seven pages long. All of the results had to be analysed for each of the many questions on the forms. A long night was in prospect.

Until, that is, a lone voice piped up.
“I know, why don’t we UNSTAPLE the sheets, then we can all work on a few questions each?”
The other two students agreed, and much staple removing took place.

Followed by yet more staple removing.

The floor was, by now, awash with separate sheets of paper. So were the tables, with only an occasional wine glass or bottle peeping above the paper-slide.

Until, that is, a lone voice piped up.
“Oh Shit!”
We hadn’t numbered the individual sheets. Only the first pages…

We had nearly a thousand, randomly organised, totally un-connected sheets of “data”. And we were trying to find correlations between opinions and attitudes expressed in this info-heap.

There was only one way to save our Academic Necks. We had to try and match the individual sheets up again….

Blue ink with blue, black with black. We compared handwriting styles, whether the script looked male or female. Coffee stains and smudging provided useful clues. I started sniffing… (perfume traces)…We even tried to re-join the sheets by matching-up the staple holes.

The net result was total, random, non-significant, chaos.
The Phantom Staple Remover was born…..

Friday, March 3

How to tell if you are a librarian.

You are a librarian when:

· You hate the stereotype of librarians, but find yourself going “Ssshhhh!” to people. Even in the street.

· You buy yourself a hardback book, you take off the dust jacket and put it somewhere safe until you have read the book.

· You can still remember the first book you ever bought. In fact, you still have it.

· Your workplace has a can of air-freshener for use when smelly “Customers” have visited. And some of your colleagues don’t even wait for the customer to leave before letting rip with the Floral Bouquet.

· You know of at least one person who has been barred from your place of work for peeing on a complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

· You have a pile of books next to your bed which is so high you start using it as a bedside table…..

Thursday, March 2

World Book Day Part Two:
Promotional Pencil Erasers
World Book Day Part Two:
Original Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts. (not to be given to children under three.)

World Book Day

A couple of years ago the Phantom had the dubious pleasure of working in the biggest Public Library in his local area.

We had a busy, bustling Adult Library. We had a large, wood-panelled Reference Library. (Sometimes there was a Gentleman’s Club feel about the Reference, marred only by the whine of the photocopier.) We had a vibrant (and often literally vibrating) Children’s Library. (Oh, the joys of performing “The Wheels on the Bus” to an audience of two-year olds and bored Polish nannies!!)

The Management at this particular Library had all been in their posts for many years. Set in stone. Been there, done that, not interested. Going nowhere fast and waiting for retirement.

That particular World Book Day was especially memorable. Management had months to think, plan and prepare. What did we do? We put up one solitary poster. On a staircase. Crookedly.

Happy World Book Day!