Can you name 10 famous Belgians?

August 31st, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Vee  and I are spending a few days this week on a short break in Antwerp in the northern (Flemish) part of Belgium. Our guide book offers the following 10 famous Belgians:

  1. Gerard Mercator  (1512-1594) – the inventor of the Mercator projection to represent the spherical globe on a flat page.
  2. Georges Simeon (1903-1989)- the writer of 400 novels including 75 featuring Inspector Maigret.
  3. Queen Astrid (1905-1935) – the Swedish princess (does that count?) who married Prince Leopold of Belgium in 1934.
  4. Georges Remi (1907-1983) – the creator of Tintin using the pen name Herge.
  5. Jacques Brel (1929-1978) – a singer-songwriter who made his name in France (does that count?).
  6. Johnny Hallyday – the godfather of French rock and roll whose father was Belgian (does that count?).
  7. Eddie Merckx – five times winner of the Tour de France.
  8. Jean-Claude Van Damme – star of action movies.
  9. Justine Henin-Hardenne – a tennis champion.
  10. Kim Clijsters – another tennis champion, now retired.

So, be honest, how many did you know were famous Belgians?

Of course, depending on your definition of ‘famous’, it’s amazing how many famous Belgians can be identified. You can find a list of 263 here.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

Reviews of two recent Scarlett Johansson movies

August 31st, 2014 by Roger Darlington

The first is “Under the Skin” which I’ve reviewed here.

The second is “Lucy” which I’ve reviewed here.

Johansson is a fine actress whom I have now seen in 11 films.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

Word of the day: lambent

August 30th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Lambent means softly bright or radiant or dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject or running or moving lightly over a surface.

The adjective seems to be a favourite of the American author Lionel Shriver because she uses it several times in her novel “The Post-Birthday World” which I have just read.

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A review of the novel “The Post-Birthday World”

August 30th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

I’ve just finished my first novel by Lionel Shriver – thanks to a gift from my sister. It’s “The Post-Birthday World” and you can read my review here.

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Conversations with Catrin (19)

August 29th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

My granddaughter Catrin is now more than three and a half years old.


She is very well-behaved but still assertive.

C: “I do what I want to do.”

[That's what you think, sweetheart.]


She is very imaginative and loves play acting.

C: “My baby is lost in the storm. You have to search for her.”


C: “I’m a monster and I eat nice granddads.”

Me: “I’m not a nice granddad. I’m a horrible granddad. So you can’t eat me.”

C: “I eat horrible granddads too. Rrrrrr!”


Me: “Sorry you didn’t understand me. I need to go to your nursery to learn to speak properly.”

C: “They don’t taughted you to speak at nursery.”

Me: “So what do they teach you? ”

C: “They taughted us to be good.”

Me: “And are you a good girl?”

C: “Yes, but I want to be taughted to be better.”


She keeps wanting to visit my home.

C: “When I come to your house, where will I sleep?”

Me: “In your own bedroom. In the same bedroom as last time.”

C: “I want a different colour this time.”

Me: “What colour do you want?”

C: “Purple with yellow spots.”

Me: “OK, I’ll see what I can do.”


When I babysit, I give her a bath, put her in pyjamas, and read her three stories (because she is three). Then I usually lie with her for a few minutes until she falls asleep.

Me: “OK – we’ve finished reading now. Do you want me to leave you or to stay with you for a bit?”

C: “Stay with me forever. Till Christmas. Till my birthday.”

Posted in My life & thoughts | Comments (1)

Now that the Israel/Gaza war is over (for a time), what did it cost and what did it actually achieve?

August 28th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

After the collapse of at least eight temporary ceasefires, it looks as the ‘permanent’ ceasefire between the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas is holding. So it is time to take stock of the consequences of the 50-day conflict.

What was the cost?

In Gaza, more than 2,100 were killed, most of them civilians, including about 500 children.  Some 18 alleged informers were publicly executed. At least 11,000 were injured. More than 17,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. Around one third of the population of 1.8 million has been displaced.

On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers died and five civilians – including a four-year old boy – were killed. Hundreds of families living near the Gaza border had to be relocated to safer homes further north. The firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza forced many Israelis to seek protection in shelters again and again.

What was achieved?

Israel launched the attack originally to stop the rocket assaults. The IDF claims that the weapons stocks of Hamas and other militant groups have fallen to less than a third of their pre-war levels of around 10,000 rockets either by being fired or by being destroyed in air strikes. Hundreds of Hamas men, including three top commanders and a civilian ‘money man’, have been killed. As the conflict went on, the IDF added the destruction of tunnels to their war aims. Dozens have been found and blasted. The Israeli Government claims that it has achieved a period of “quiet” and safety.

For the people of Gaza, there is now an undertaking to open border crossings with Israel and Egypt to allow humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter the enclave. Also the fishing zone is to be extended to six miles off the coast. Hamas claims that it has shown its ability to resist Israeli aggression and calls the outcome a “victory”.

But really what has been achieved?

The latest ceasefire terms are almost identical to those agreed at the end of the previous war 21 months ago. Prior to that conflict, we had the Israeli invasion of Gaza in January 2009 that was supposed to stop the rocket attacks and destroy Hamas.

Unless there are now negotiations and agreements on much more fundamental issues, the easing of border restrictions will simply lead to the smuggling into Gaza of more rockets that, at a tim e of tension, will be fired into Israel which will attack with disproportionate force and we will have yet another war in this seemingly endless cycle of violence.

There has to be significant concessions and compromises by both sides. The Egyptians, the Qataris and US Secretary of State John Kerry deserve thanks for their patient brokering of the current ceasefire – but the negogiating has only just started.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (2)

10 pictures of the most colourful places on Earth

August 27th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

The world is full of landscapes that are so surreal, and so intensely coloured, that it’s hard to believe they really exist. Take a look at some of the strangest, and most vibrant, views in the world here.

Posted in Environment | Comments (0)

Should Scotland become an independent state?

August 26th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Last night, I spent one and a half hours watching a televised debate on the future of Scotland and the referendum on Scottish independence to be held on 18 September. The debate was between Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

It was the second and last of two such televised debates, but the first was only broadcast in Scotland, whereas this one was shown throughout the UK. I thought that Darling had the better arguments but Salmond had the more effective style. The general assessment is that Salmond won this debate whereas Darling had won the first one.

However, the debates do not seem to be making much difference to voting intention with the ‘no to independence’ around 14 percentage points in the lead.

Of course, only the Scots will have a vote in this referendum, although the outcome will have profound implications for everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

I hope that the Scots vote ‘no’. While I would always support independence from an occupying or colonising power, as a general rule I am in favour of devolution within states and more co-operation between them rather than a fragmentation of states.

I stand by a short essay I wrote for my web site six years ago entitled “The Issue Of Nationhood” which you can read here.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

We have a rule in Britain …

August 25th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

…  If it’s a Bank Holiday, it has to rain. It’s almost a law of physics.

Today it’s a Bank Holiday in Britain and – guess what? – it’s raining (hard). I feel particularly sorry for all those involved in the Notting Hill Carnival here in London which is due to have its busiest day today.

We did have consistently hot weather in July, so perhaps we should be grateful. And, unlike northern California this weekend, there’s no question of an earthquake.

Footnote (26/8/14): In terms of rain, it proved to be the worst August Bank Holiday weekend in Britain since 1986 with up to 3 inches (76 mm) of rain in 24 hours. In terms of temperature, London had its coldest August Bank Holiday weekend since records began in 1982 at a mere 17C/63F.

Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

The price we pay for a free web

August 24th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

“The business model of the internet is surveillance. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing.”

This is a quote from security guru Bruce Schneider in a column by John Naughton in today’s “Observer” newspaper. It is the explanation of how web services can be ‘free’ and the price we pay in terms of loss of privacy. How worried should we be? A dystopian view of where we might be heading is envisioned in the novel “The Circle” by Dave Eggers which I have reviewed here.

Naughton’s column includes a ‘confession’ from Ethan Zuckerman for the creation of what he calls “the internet’s original sin”, that is targeted advertising which Zuckerman introduced via the pop-up ad on his Tripod-hosted  web sites. This took me back: in 1999, I started my web site on Tripod and suffered those pop-up ads before soon migrating the site to a paid-for hosting service so that my readers did not have to see any ads.

That’s the model I continue to use 15 years on, even though I’m constantly urged to take advertising.

Posted in Internet | Comments (1)