Archive for the ‘Popular Culture et al’ Category



Determined, the bus belches its way up the incline.

Inside, cold white faces stare at me, unseeing.

They look at me but don’t watch.

(I take care not to stare

as they pull up at the flaky green bus stop

But I do watch).

Out from the bus steps the girl with the long, greasy-blonde

hair. I have seen her often. The sort of girl

you really shouldn’t fancy

(so, of course, you do).

This morning she pressed her body

into an envelope of black plastic,

stuck down the edges with a gash of make-up,

and posted herself to another pointless day.

Tonight she puddles her way home again.

Scuffed red shoes perilously splish-splash their way

past my heart.

A tight little ball of sex

and lost dreams, no longer hopeful,

and not pretty enough for her clothes.


On the corner of the road with the playground in

Pepe closes up Pepe’s Italian hair-dressers.

Winds back his shiny new awning

and gazes with smiling satisfaction at the light streaming

from his windows.

Lighting up the pavement.

Everyone will see what a warm inviting place his little shop is,

as they crawl home in the wet.

They will look at the bright lights and Panther hair tonic

and the piles of unbought faded yellow Durex packets

(“Something for the weekend, Sir?”)

and remember they needed a haircut.

(Pepe learnt all this from his father.

so it must be true).

As I pass him, he looks straight through me.

He does not recognize wet people in anoraks.

Only dry, springy heads of hair in need of

conditioning and cheerful chatter.

Next door at the late night grocery store

the till-girl who wouldn’t be working for the Indians if she had

any choice, but you know how work is,

reaches new heights of indifference.

As we all drip politely on her recently straightened pile of

Evening Sports Echos she is already in her lover’s arms.

Proud and defiant, she stares down confidently at all comers

in the local disco.

“He’s mine,” she sneers, “­All mine!”

Rich without money, a coarse, virile possession in an

unexciting world.

26p pint of milk kiss

74p curly smoked sausage groping urgent hands

62p Mother’s Pride Thick Sliced last Saturday in his car

it was the first time with him

won’t be the last

oh no.

She doesn’t even see me as her mind on automatic pilot

calls out my bill.

Well, why should she?


I press my nose to the drizzly window of the video shop,

waiting for the crush inside to die down.

Wonder if they’ll remember I owe them a quid?

The little tubby girl is serving, all stupid shy smiles and

dimples. She’ll let me off even if she remembers.

Little black boxes of freedom from thought stacked neatly

row upon row. Boxes of dreams.

Don’t get that one, it’s rubbish. Saw it last week.

(Can’t tell you though.

Don’t want to be thought the sort of

bloke who talks to folks in video shops.)

Trot home clutching our escape route for the night.

Never mind what it is, dear.

(Not that we do anymore anyway).

You stare at him, and I’ll watch her, and when they do

(as they always do)

we’ll clear our throats self-consciously

(’cause we don’t, so much, anymore.)

There was a time when we did.

Watching them at it would

probably have sparked us off.

But the spark went out.

Got damp.

(Should we have got a comedy tonight?

Always should when it’s raining. How come it’s always

raining nowadays?)

Now, out there in the street,

the dirty old bus putters his way home,

leaving a last late commuter cut up on the kerb.

Impervious, inexorable, the great yellow Leviathan trundles into the middle distance,

unaware that my TV screen has turned to a little white dot

that seems to want to suck me in.

As you quietly wander up to bed

I listen sadly to the occasional late-homer,

full of the desperate cheerfulness of a

drab pub where at least someone talks to him.

71 Poems & 1 Story is available in printed format and as a download. Share of any profits to the Bali Childrens’ Foundation and Alzheimer’s Australia

We are not the world’s biggest fan of referees. Sure, they have a thankless job, but too often they seem to want to be the story in a football match: not a part of the story, but the story itself. Grrrrr.

Well, years ago there was a documentary on TV about English 1974 World Cup Final referee Jack Taylor – it was called “Don’t Shoot The Ref”. Now, 41 years on, the programme called could be ‘Don’t Shoot The Players”…

Brazilian lower league official Gabriel Murta reacted to being slapped and kicked by Amantes de Bola, so raced to the dressing rooms and returned brandishing a gun.

This got the players’ attention, some of whom fled the pitch in terror, as the man in black contemplated terminating the match in Brumadinho near Belo Horizonte with extreme prejudice.

Murta now faces disciplinary action and is due to undergo a psychological assessment later today and could face suspension or a permanent ban.

Referees’ association boss Giuliano Bozzano said the official felt threatened and went to look for the weapon to defend himself.

Bozzano said: “The Minais Gerais Football Federation has already summonsed the referee and a psychologist to a meeting and I’m going to talk with him today.

“On the basis of that conversation and his account of events and the results of the psychological assessment I’ll decide what if any measures to take.

“What’s happened is obviously not a common occurrence and I don’t want to rush into anything. At the moment it happened he’s opted for getting his gun because in his view it was a question of controlling a situation.”

Diego Costa, Luis Suarez. You have been warned.

Who is the worst referee you have watched, and why? Comment now!

(Yahoo and others)

Some years ago, we predicted with shattering accuracy in this blog exactly what was about to occur in Syria. Before it started.

If the future conflict in all its horror was clear to a blogger thousands of miles away in Australia, we cannot understand how it was ignored by all the great and good, by those who are paid to know, by those who are tasked to avoid these things.

Instead we stumbled into an entirely avoidable civil war, with hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, with vast swathes of land now ruled by a murderous end-of-days fundamentalist regime that murders and destroys at will and is very likely un-defeatable, with other areas controlled by an Al-Qaeda affiliate that is apparently now our ally, with 4 million refugees, and a once relatively wealthy country reduced to rubble. And with a disgusting fascist regime clinging tenaciously to power, supported by a superpower ally who is now steadily installing forces in the regime’s defence on the ground.

You may wish to consider purchasing this t-shirt. It is consistently one of the most popular I sell, and the most commented on when I wear it myself. Buy a shirt, change the world, one person’s opinion at a time. It might not seem much, but it’s better than doing nothing. And the great strength of the design is that it doesn’t matter which side of the conflict you “support” … and it is also, of course, applicable to a variety of other conflicts worldwide.

Stop bombing civilians

Buy the shirt, change the world one person’s opinion at a time.

Oh, and if you’re one of those asking why Syrian refugees don’t go back where they came from, well, this is why.

Destroyed buildings in Syria's besieged central city of Homs following shelling during fighting between government and opposition forces.

Destroyed buildings in Syria’s besieged central city of Homs following shelling during fighting between government and opposition forces.

Mehdi Tutunchi, himself a sportscaster, said his wife Niloofar Ardalan could not lead out the national team at the September 21-26 championship in Nilai, because it coincided with their seven-year-old son’s first day at school.

Ardalan went public to plead her right to represent her country at the first women’s tournament of futsal — a form of five-a-side football — organised by the Asian Football Confederation, in a case that captivated Iran’s social media.

Niloofar Ardalan. Photo: Facebook

Niloofar Ardalan playing football. Photo: AFP

She appealed for a change to the law, in force since the Islamic revolution of 1979, that bars women from leaving home, let alone the country, without the permission of their male guardian.

“I wish authorities would pass a law for sportswomen so we can defend our rights in these circumstances,” Ardalan told Iran’s NASIM news agency.

“As a Muslim woman I wanted to raise the flag of my country, I wasn’t going there for fun.”

Just as Iranian boys who have not completed their military service get temporary permits to attend sport events abroad, “something must be done for us women too,” she said.

Niloofar Ardalan has played football for 20 years. Photo: Facebook

Iranians took to Facebook to express sympathy for Ardalan and condemn her husband’s decision.

“To publicise this in Iran… This woman is very brave and selfless,” Atefeh Amin wrote on a women’s rights Facebook page.

Another user criticised the husband.

“Mr. Tutunchi, you are depriving a human being of her first right to live her own life. Whatever the reason, you cannot do this,” wrote a user going by the name Samaneh.

But as the outcry intensified, Ardalan backed down, saying it was a private issue and that she was sorry that “anti-revolutionary media” had exploited her case.

The story has caused outrage on social media. Photo: Facebook

“I’m a Muslim Iranian woman and my absence from these games is a personal and family matter,” she told NASIM.

“I only described my problem and asked for a solution for it,” she said. “It’s no one else’s business.”

Unlike in some Muslim countries in the region, Iranian women enjoy the right to drive, vote and join a profession, and the majority of students enrolled in universities are female.

However, women are required to wear the Islamic headscarf and are barred from certain activities, such as watching men play sports in stadiums, singing solo at concerts or riding a bicycle on the street. And apparently, their husbands are incapable of taking a child to school.

Moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in 2013 on a platform of more social and political freedom, has three women vice presidents.

underground slang

Alarming news that one of the most enjoyable of world dialects – Cockney rhyming slang – may be set to die out in London and elsewhere.

Rhyming slang is a form of phrase construction that is especially prevalent in dialectal English from the East End of London; hence the alternative name, Cockney rhyming slang. The construction involves replacing a common word with a rhyming phrase of two or three words and then, in almost all cases, omitting the secondary rhyming word (which is thereafter implied), in a process called hemiteleia, making the origin and meaning of the phrase elusive to listeners not in the know. That fact may well have been behind the growth of the linguistic habit – obscuring the facts of a situation from authority figures such as the police – or the “bottle stoppers”, ie coppers.

A well-known example is replacing the word “stairs” with the rhyming phrase “apples and pears”. Following the pattern of omission of the second or subsequent words, “and pears” is dropped, thus the spoken phrase “I’m off up the apples” means “I’m going up the stairs”.

In similar fashion, “telephone” is replaced by “dog” (= ‘dog-and-bone’); “wife” by “the trouble” (= ‘trouble-and-strife’); “eyes” by “mincers” (= ‘mince pies’); “wig” by “syrup” (= ‘syrup of figs’) and “feet” by “plates” (= ‘plates of meat’).

Thus a construction of the following type could conceivably arise: “It nearly knocked me off me plates—he was wearing a syrup! So I ran up the apples, got straight on the dog to me trouble and said I couldn’t believe me mincers.”

In some examples the meaning is further obscured by adding a second iteration of rhyme and truncation to the original rhymed phrase. For example, the word “Aris” is often used to indicate the buttocks. This is the result of a double rhyme, starting with the original rough synonym “arse” for buttocks, which is then rhymed with “bottle and glass”, leading to “bottle”. “Bottle” was then in its turn rhymed with “Aristotle” and truncated to “Aris”. “Nice Aris, darlin'” can still be heard on the streets of London today when an attractive girl is bold enough to walk past a building site.

Rumours that this is your author are exaggerated, Dear Reader

Rumours that this is your author are exaggerated, Dear Reader

The use of rhyming slang has spread beyond the purely dialectal and some examples are to be found in the mainstream British English lexicon and internationally, although many users may be unaware of the origin of those words.

One example is “berk”, a mild pejorative term for a foolish person widely used across the UK and not usually considered particularly offensive, although the origin lies in a contraction of “Berkeley Hunt”, as the rhyme for the significantly more offensive “cu*t”.

Another well-known example is to “have a butcher’s” for to have a look, which is derived from “butcher’s hook”.

Here are some more of our favourites:

Cow and kisses = the ‘missus’ or wife. This may be how the pejorative term “cow” came to be applied to an argumentative person.

God love ‘er = mother, although beyond the esteemed lady’s hearing she might also be called “the strangle”, from “strangle and smother”.

China plates = mates. This may be one of the few terms that will survive longer, as “You OK me old China?” can still be heard commonly around the East End.

Cat and mouse = house. Possibly because both typically inhabited said venue. An alternative is “Gates of Rome”, possibly reflecting the gladiatorial combat about to ensue with the Cow and kisses.

Bob Hope = soap. The famous entertainer was born in London, moving to the USA when he was four. Interestingly, his first show on American network radio was the Woodbury Soap Hour.

Hat and scarf = bath. Perhaps reflective of the fact that this rare event was often taken in a small lukewarm tin bath in front of a weak fire trying to keep a cold cat and mouse above near freezing level. Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink can actually recall taking a “bath” still clothed in a woollen jumper in the east end of London one particularly chilly day.

Iron horse = racecourse. Possibly because the early traction engines – called iron horses – took over the haulage work of horses in some situations. The name then got transferred back to the places where real horses ran.

Belt and braces = races. An obvious rhyme, but also perhaps because people got “dressed up” to attend a race meeting.

Hot dinner = winner. Perhaps after a good day at the belt and braces you could afford one. The phrase “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” is used widely in Australia, by the way, to mean any “good or happy thing or event”, after the great good fortune of winning the weekly “chook raffle” in the local pub.

Grumble and mutter = to take a “flutter”, ie place a bet on a horse or dog race. Probably the indicative sound made by someone when their nag runs home plumb last.

Food gets its fair suck of the saveloy in rhyming slang, too.

Borrow and beg = egg. Which is what one had to do for an egg during the Second World War, in particular.

Kate & Sydney = Steak & Kidney. Usually in a pie.

Uncle Reg = equals veg(etables), as in “Pass the Uncle Reg”.

Perhaps the best known is:

Ruby Murray = Curry, a favourite food of the working class from the British Raj onwards, and now such a stable that the dish Chicken Tikka Marsala is now the national dish of the country. You still often hear “Fancy grabbing a Ruby?” late at night in a thousand pubs, so this, too, may survive the general decline in rhyming slang. The term comes from a hugely popular Irish singer called Rub Murray in the 1950s: although she is now largely forgotten her name lives on in rhyming slang.

(Another similar example is “Billy Cotton” for “rotten”, although few now remember the famed band leader who filled our wirelesses with his joyful sounds in the later 50s and early 60s.)

Another term that might survive is “Rub a Dub” for the “pub”, although “Jack Tar” for “bar” is less well known or heard now. The latter comes from the days when sailors were notorious for drinking heavily, “Rub a Dub” seems to be simply a good rhyme, pinched from the 18th century nursery rhyme “rub a dub dub, three men in a tub”.

Runner and rider = Cider, although no on seems sure why beyond the rhyme.

Christmas cheer = Beer, as in, “I’m popping down the rub a dub for a Christmas, you coming?”

A really fascinating one is:

Dicky Dirt = Shirt, from the 19 century when a detachable shirt front worn under a jacket was called a “dicky”, which may be why to this day we call a bow tie a “dicky bow”.

Perhaps less well known is:

Tate & Lyle = Style, as in “Putting on the Tate & Lyle tonight, aren’t you, me old China?” and named after a famous sugar company. Sugar was associated with wealth, and tea rooms and tea dances, where the less well-off went to indulge in a little occasional luxury.

Rhyming slang can be amusingly blunt.

Pony = Crap, untrue or nonsensical. From “Pony and Trap”, which is also frequently used as a euphemism for visiting the loo.

Paper Hat = Prat, a useless person

Paraffin Lamp = Tramp, as in “Have a wash you smelly paraffin”.

Sometimes only knowing a little history can explain the terms used.

Kettle = Watch, as in “Nice new Kettle you’re wearing mate.” One of the most confusing of all rhyming slang expression, because the derivation of Kettle from the word “watch” is unclear – until you know a little bit about the history of watches that is.

Kettle is the shortened form of Kettle and Hob – think of the oven range in an old fashioned house, with its kettle boiling away on the round hob. When pocket watches first became fashionable, they were held against the body by use of a small chain. The watch then slipped into the pocket and could be easily extracted without dropping it. These were called fob watches, and it’s from this expression that we get Kettle and Hob for watch.

bloaterSomethimes though, the rhyming slang is just plain fun, as in:

Yarmouth Bloater = motor

: which plays out as “Have you seen my new Yarmouth?” for “Have you seen my new car?” A Yarmouth Bloater was a much prized and expensive smoked fish to buy in the fish markets of the East End. It was also made into a packaged paste (as shown in the picture) to be spread on bread at tea-time. A real treat. As is, presumably, a new car.

Which is partly why it would be such a shame if rhyming slang were to die out. Not only does it give us a direct link to our past, it’s also entertaining. Long evolved from being a way to keep information secret, it is now a distinct regional dialect, as valuable as any other.

Let us hope a new generation reared on slang that is more likely to have emanated from the streets of LA or New York discovers their own rich linguistic heritage before it’s too late.

Do you have a favourite piece of rhyming slang we haven’t highlight? Please tell us about it! Or we might end up sitting over here on our Pat Malone remembering it.




We need to warn you, Dear Reader, we have discovered how to use the close up feature. This may go on for some weeks.



One night about a year ago Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink turned the late night TV shopping channel on.

It was an accidental act, in truth, but we found ourselves taken by the subject matter: to wit, buying a new camera at what looked like an amazingly low price.

NikonIt turned out, of course, that it wasn’t an especially great price, and we could have walked round the corner and bought it at the same price and got some professional advice into the bargain.

But no matter. We had always wanted a nice camera, as opposed to taking snaps using the iPhone, not that the remarkable and ubiquitous little device didn’t actually take nice snaps, but this one seemed very swish and a nice colour, and the front pointy bit went in and out really far, so in we dove.

Anyhow, as a sign for how ludicrously busy all our lives have become, this weekend is almost the first chance we have had to play with the camera, at Smiths Beach on gorgeous Phillip Island, in Victoria, Australia.

Of course, as you will have discovered previously, Dear Reader, the new technological age sits somewhat heavily on our prematurely aging shoulders. Fresh from wrestling with things that go bing, we now found ourselves poking with uncertain, stubby little fingers at a camera for which a high-flying degree in advanced sub-atomic particle physics would be inadequate preparation.

There is not one, not two, but fully three ways to make the telephoto thingy whiz in and out. meaning, of course, that it does so when one least expects it to.

Press the wrong button, and the playback screen turns into a mass of statistics and charts telling you why you have just messed up the last shot taken. Trying to get back to just seeing the photo on its own again without the accompanying science takes fully half an hour of increasingly frantic thumbing through the “destructions” as Mrs W calls all manuals, which as with most things seems to be written in a sort of pig-din Japlish which defies easy translation.

The little diagrams of buttons on the camera would be very helpful if one didn’t need a magnifying glass to see which buttons they refer to, (dagnabbit, knew we left something out of the beach bag), as the whole booklet is clearly written for people with A1 20-20 vision aged 18, which as it emanates from the Land of the Rising Yen is somewhat curious as we never yet met a Nipponese who could see past the end of their nose without glasses as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle, so quite who the manual is aimed at is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile the little twirly thing on the top offers you fully twenty “shooting modes”, and heaven forbid you should try and photograph a sunny Aussie beach in “Night Portrait” mode, as the seagulls flying by suddenly all look like Ring Wraiths or Dementors come to drive us back into the cottage.

Plumping for “Scenic” seems like a safe option, until you realise the sub-Menu offers you fully fifteen variations of scenic to choose from. Choosing between “Cloudy” and “Dusk” looks tricky to the untrained eye …

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Seagull at dusk. Or cloudy. You choose.

Then, when one finishes the hour-long process of turning the damn thing on, one realises that there is actually more to taking a good photo than pointing and pressing. More digital photos (and before them, bazillions of miles of film) must have been taken of waves crashing on rocky seashores than almost any other subject matter you care to name. One very quickly realises that taking a good photo of a wave is clearly nigh-impossible. There is that wildly improbable nexus of the right camera, the right setting, the right moment, and that indefinable “eye” that true photographic geniuses have.

Which we, Dear Reader, do not.

Looking west at Smiths Beach

Luckily, the world is such an intensely beautiful place that it is impossible to entirely stuff up photographing it even with one’s new techno-rich clicky thing. We did, we think, nevertheless manage to make the photos quite big and a suitable format for desktop wallpapers. Feel free to nick any you like.

A Spring day on a beach in rural Victoria is probably the best balm for the soul imaginable. Even when your camera is just another way of reminding you that the world is hurtling ever onward to a place where you no longer really belong.

No, these photographs are not very good.


Looking East

But the world is. The world rocks.

(Gettit? The world rocks. Oh, never mind …)

The ruling Coalition in Australia has agreed to provide 12,000 Syrian refugees with permanent safety in Australia.1 It’s a complete turnaround on Tony Abbott’s decision last week not to increase refugee intake – and a victory demonstrating the power people created when we stand together in hope and compassion.

Less than a week ago, we all awoke to the harrowing photo of little Aylan Kurdi, drowned. We read the story of a family torn apart by a tragedy marked by global indifference. And we saw our government’s attempt to shut down compassion with their usual mindless, endlessly-repeated slogan, ‘Stop the Boats’.

The pressure group Get Up decided to take action in response to our government’s indifference. To shine a light in the dark – with thousands of us organising and attending vigils all over the Australia, vigils that hit front pages, headlines, and news bulletins all over the country.

Together, GetUp members and our friends across the movement transformed the community grief and despair from the death of Aylan Kurdi into powerful public pressure to offer safety to Syrian refugees. Now the lives of 12,000 people fleeing danger will dramatically change for the better.

This is an incredible new beginning. We have broken through the wall of cruelty that has stood around Australian refugee policy for far too long. Now, let’s bring it tumbling down completely.

We must not stop until fairness and compassion are always the Australian response.

The story of a successful movement of voters.

On Monday, GetUp members and friends, family and allies came together to act – lighting the dark in the tens of thousands in cities and towns across the country. And images of those vigils didn’t only light up the front pages and nightly news; they lit a fire under MPs and leaders on both sides of the political divide. Politicians arguing for generosity pointed to our vigils as a sign of powerful public sentiment.2

The effect of this mass movement demanding compassion is clear. On Monday morning, Tony Abbott was still refusing to move more than a token amount. But after the nationwide vigils began, on Tuesday morning this was the remarkable front page of the right-leaning Murdoch-published Victorian Herald Sun:

Front Page of Herald Sun 8 Sep 2015

And today? Today we’ve changed everything.

For the first time in so long, the Australian government is acting with true humanity towards refugees, providing real, permanent safety to those in need, genuinely beginning to step up and play its part in the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Last Thursday, many of us felt helpless. But today, we can be filled with pride in Australia, and hope for what comes next. 

Because of what ordinary people did. Stood up and were counted.

The Prime Minister’s announcement isn’t perfect. But it’s so much more than anyone imagined was possible last week. Together, the people have moved the national conversation from fear and boats to understanding and welcome. We’ve moved from talking about whether Australia will help, to talking about how much Australia will do. Our headlines have been full of politicians of all stripes calling for Australia to do more for refugees, and be the generous country we know we can be. The same change of heart has been seen in most Western countries – with the very obvious exception of the USA. Of that, more another day.

The tide has changed.

Adelaide Light The Dark - SA crowd
Light The Dark - Syd crowd

LIght The Dark - Melb kid
Light The Dark - Perth mom & kids
Light The Dark - Perth crowd

Extraordinary moments like this can’t happen in a vacuum – they’re only possible because of the tireless work of volunteers, organisers, allies, and the incredible commitment of so many people all over the country. Well done to them.

When it comes to Australia’s treatment of refugees, hope can be hard to come by. But by standing shoulder to shoulder this week, we proved just how much is possible. So a big thank you and congratulations to all the communities and people who have raised their voices this week, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Amnesty International Australia, Welcome to Australia, Love Makes a Way, Refugee Action Coalition, ChillOut, Care Australia, Oxfam, and so many more for being a part of Light the Dark events and making bold statements for a better Australia.

[1] ‘Australia to accept an extra 12,000 Syrian refugees and will join US-led airstrikes’, The Guardian, 9 September 2015
[2] ‘Tony Abbott to confirm Syrian airstrikes as pressure grows over refugees’, The Guardian, 8 September 2015.

Most of all, a big thank you to the ORDINARY Australians who stood up to the counted – teenagers, mothers with small babies in their arms, fathers, brothers, Grandparents, working class, middle class, workers, retirees, people in suits straight from city offices, tradies in their overalls – the most mixed crowd we have ever seen at such an event. Ordinary people, saying “enough is enough”.

If people want to make an immediate donation to help 4 million Syrian refugees, the most direct way will be via the UNHCR Syria Crisis – Urgent Lifeline Appeal.

Hidden remains of an extraordinary neolithic monument that could be unique have been found buried about 1.5km from Stonehenge. More than 4500 years ago, at least 90 huge stone monoliths lined an impressive “arena” that may have been used for religious rites or solstice rituals.

Now lying on their sides covered by three feet of earth, they remained undiscovered until archaeologists equipped with ground-penetrating radar probed the area around the famous stone circle on Salisbury Plain.

An artists impression of the neolithic monument that was found beneath the surface near Stonehenge. Photo: AAP

They are the most important find to emerge so far from the Hidden Landscapes project which is using state-of-the-art technology to map “invisible” archaeological features embedded in the Wiltshire countryside.

The stones, some measuring nearly four and a half metres, were placed along the south-eastern edge of what later became the Durrington Walls “superhenge” — a circular enclosure ringed by a ditch and bank that at nearly 1.5km across is the largest earthwork of its kind in the UK.

An artists impression of the neolithic monument that was found beneath the surface near Stonehenge. Photo: AAP

Experts believe the stones, which may have been imbued by local people with magical properties, were not originally part of the henge but were deliberately toppled before being incorporated into it.

Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Bradford, one of the archaeologists leading the project, said:

“We’re looking at one of the largest stone monuments in Europe and it has been under our noses for something like 4000 years.

“It’s truly remarkable.

“We don’t think there’s anything quite like this anywhere else in the world.

“This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary.” He added: “We presume it to be a ritual arena of some sort.”

“These things are theatrical. They’re designed to impress and impose; to give the idea of authority to the living and the dead. It really does create a massive impression and was clearly important enough to have been drawn into the developing landscape.”
Ninety stones have been discovered so far and there may be more. What kind of material they are made of is unknown but they could be similar to the giant sandstone “sarsens” of Stonehenge.

Stonehenge as we know it. Photo: Getty

Prof Gaffney believes the stones may have been planted by the same people who built Stonehenge, but is sceptical about a direct link between the two monuments.

They were placed along a steep slope, or scarp, cut into a natural dry valley to form a C-shaped feature. But precisely why the stones were put there remains a mystery.

Part of Durrington Walls is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, which may be significant.

The archaeologists believe that at some stage the stones were pushed over and incorporated into the emerging henge.

An aerial view of the Stonehenge we see today. Photo: Getty

This was not an act of vandalism but a deliberate attempt to preserve whatever it was about the stones that seemed so important.

“There was a transformation in the landscape that we do not understand,” Prof Gaffney said. “The stones had significance.”

“These are special places. Societies are mobilised, as with the great cathedrals, to create these things.”


Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito

Image copyrightGetty/AP Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were eventually acquitted after a legal saga lasting eight years

Italy’s highest appeals court has criticised “glaring errors” in the investigation into the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher. Ms Kercher, 21, was stabbed to death in a Perugia flat she shared with Ms Knox.

The court acquitted Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito of the murder in March.

Critically, it said there was an “absolute lack of biological traces” of either defendant in the room where Ms Kercher was killed or on her body.

The Court of Cassation, which exonerated the pair, published its reasoning on Monday, as it is required to do under Italian law.

It issued a damning assessment of the quality of the prosecution case, saying its high profile nature had an effect on investigators.

“The international spotlight on the case in fact resulted in the investigation undergoing a sudden acceleration,” the court said.

Several mistakes in the investigation were outlined by the court in its reasoning, including the fact that investigators burned Ms Knox’s and Ms Kercher’s computers, which could have yielded new information.

Kercher murder: Timeline

Meredith Kercher

Meredith Kercher – the mystery over her tragic slaying now intensifies.

  • 1 November 2007: Kercher is killed at her apartment in Perugia. Police find her a day later.
  • 6 November 2007: Kercher’s American housemate Knox is arrested, along with Sollecito and Congolese national Patrick Diya Lumumba.
  • 20 November 2007: Rudy Guede detained in Germany and extradited to Italy. Mr Lumumba released without charge
  • 28 October 2008: Guede sentenced to 16 years. A judge rules Sollecito and Knox will face a murder trial
  • 4 December 2009: Knox and Sollecito found guilty of murder and sexual violence, and jailed for 26 and 25 years
  • 3 October 2011: Knox and Sollecito acquitted
  • 31 January 2014: Convictions re-instated
  • 28 March 2015: Court of Cassation acquits Knox and Sollecito in final verdict

The court also wrote that the Florence appeals court which convicted the pair last year ignored expert testimony that “clearly demonstrated possible contamination” of evidence and misinterpreted findings about the knife allegedly used to slit Kercher’s throat, in what prosecutors had described as a sexual assault.

“The kitchen knife, found in Sollecito’s house and the supposed crime weapon, was kept in an ordinary cardboard box,” the judges noted, adding that no traces of blood were found on it.

The judges said that one of Ms Kercher’s bra clasps, which had been a key part of the case and which prosecutors argued carried a trace of Mr Sollecito’s DNA, was left on the floor of the murder scene for 46 days, and then “was passed from hand to hand of the workers, who, furthermore, were wearing dirty latex gloves”.

Another man, Rudy Hermann Guede, born in Ivory Coast, was convicted of the murder in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence. The court’s ruling against Guede stated that he did not act alone, but the acquittals of Ms Knox and Mr Sollecito mean that no-one now stands convicted of acting with Guede to kill Ms Kercher, who remains frozen in time in the photograph of her that is now so well known. Who acted with Guede? Will we ever know, now so much time has passed pursuing Knox and Sollecito?

What was Amanda Knox guilty of?

What was Amanda Knox guilty of?

So what was Amanda Knox guilty of? Possibly just of being terrified of being questioned in a tense atmosphere by Italian police when her own command f the language was rudimentary, and giving nonsensical answers as a result. Guilty of being young, and in a foreign land. Guilty of trying to blame someone else, for which she has been punished, and for which she has apologised, in a desperate attempt to get out of the Kafkaesque situation she found herself in. Guilty of occasionally smoking a joint, and having a sexual relationship with someone her own age.

It appears Sollecito was equally “guilty”.

And perhaps, she was guilty of not constantly look suitably “guilty”? Smiling at her parents. Composing herself (most of the time) in court. In fact, Knox’s public demeanour led some people to assume she was somehow sociopathic or hiding something. It never seemed to occur to some people that she considered it important to behave in a collected and discrete – even shy – manner, because that was her natural persona.

Australians in particular will remember how that same character trait condemned another woman to years in jail for a crime she didn’t commit, also convicted on the basis of dodgy forensic evidence. That, of course, was “A dingo’s took my baby” Lindy Chamberlain and her husband Michael.

“Why didn’t Lindy cry in court?” was the constant refrain of journalists and armchair commentators at the time.

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain

The final resolution of that notorious case was triggered entirely by a chance discovery. In early 1986, English tourist David Brett fell to his death from Uluru during an evening climb.

Because of the vast size of the rock and the scrubby nature of the surrounding terrain, it was eight days before Brett’s remains were discovered, lying below the bluff where he had lost his footing and in an area full of dingo lairs.

As police searched the area, looking for missing bones that might have been carried off by dingoes, they discovered a small item of clothing. It was quickly identified as a crucial missing piece of evidence from the Chamberlain case, namely, baby Azaria’s missing matinee jacket

Discussing how that scandalous episode could occur, Lindy’s own website comments:

Was it because Lindy was never seen to be crying on television? That does not mean she didn’t cry, it only means that the controllers of what you saw on television did not choose to show that. Was it because she didn’t behave like people thought they would in such circumstances? Sure, that was part of it, but how does anyone know how they would react under horrific circumstances they will most likely never have to face? There are no guidebooks written to help one through such circumstances, and Lindy was doing her best to keep it all together. She is proud of her independence, and only shows her emotions to those very close to her. A lesser woman would probably still be in prison today.

Let us hope other miscarriages of justice are addressed with equal attention, but we suspect they will not be. Knox had the advantage of being beautiful and having a family who could – at great personal cost – organise a defence on her behalf. There are plenty of poor, ugly people who get locked up without her advantages. She served four years – disgraceful and avoidable – but they frequently serve a life sentence, or worse.

Imagine if Australia or Italy still imposed the death penalty, and as arbitrarily as some other states do. There would be no bringing Knox and Sollecito, or Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, back from that.

Those interested in that subject should checkout the great work done by The Innocence Project by clicking this link.


As you can see if you click the link above, the ineffably pretty Hollywood duo – who play ballerinas in the Darren Aronofsky-directed psychological thriller – engage in some memorably X-rated action in which they share a passionate kiss before tearing each other’s clothes off.

The jaw-dropping scene topped the list based on a poll of 2,124 British adults, conducted by VouchersCodePro.

Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams’s love scene in the 2004 romantic drama ‘The Notebook’ came in second place, while Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger’s scene in ‘Brokeback Mountain’ came third.

Other iconic movies to feature in the list included ‘Titanic’, ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’.

The results of the poll were released shortly after Natalie – who won an Academy Award for her performance in ‘Black Swan’ – admitted to being thankful that she grew up in an era before social media.

blue-sex-scene-needs-cropThe 34-year-old actress said: “I was in that lucky window: there was no Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I went out and got drunk with my friends and no one knew.”

The whole list is below.

All we can say is clearly the moviegoers never saw “Blue is the Warmest Colour” which includes a lesbian sex scene that would, frankly, melt most TV screens.

And it’s a good movie, to boot.

Anyhow, the Top 10 UK favourite sex scenes, as voted:

1) Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis

‘Black Swan’

2) Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams

‘The Notebook’

3) Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger

‘Brokeback Mountain’

4) Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet


5) Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson

’50 Shades of Grey’

6) Richard Gere and Julia Roberts

‘Pretty Woman’

7) Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart


8) Michael Douglas and Glenn Close

‘Fatal Attraction’

9) James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal


10) Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey

‘Dirty Dancing’

So which naughty-rudie scene floats your boat, Dear Reader? We’d really be interested to see the same exercise repeated in France, Germany, America, Brazil, India and so on. The cultural differences in what people consider “sexy” would be fascinating.

alison parker


There has been a lot of well-meaning commentary in the media that it was too shocking – too visceral, too intrusive, too disrespectful – for many media organisations to show the footage of a young American news reporter and her colleague being shot in America.

We respect those arguments. One of the better ones is here.

We also, respectfully, disagree.

One of the issues with gun violence – indeed, violence of all sorts – is that it is frequently sanitised before being presented to us. Filmed from outside a scene. Or blurred. Bodies are pixelated. Streams of blood are avoided or covered up. Body parts are swept away.

But in our view, only when people confront the truth might they be shocked into actually doing something about the problem.

The exactly similar debate occurs when we consider photo coverage of wars, or for that matter famines. Not for nothing was the Iraq war coverage reduced to mostly nonsense through “embedding” tame journalists. The Governments concerned knew that was the only way they could maintain support for the obviously illegal invasion.

In our view, we must all be made to turn our eyes to the reality of the state of the world. not glimpse it in a stilled frame or hear it in a sound grab. We need to look our world square in the face, and take responsibility for it.

Not because we are voyeurs, or because real life real time violence is manna for our satiated media-swamped pallets. Both those criticisms are fair, but they are not the point. We need to confront shocking truth because as the poet says “if any man dies, his death diminishes me”.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward deserve to be remembered not only for how they lived, but also how a mentally disturbed man with a legally-obtained gun ended their worthwhile lives, and cast their loving families into misery.

Because if we have the willpower, we can do something about mad people with guns – we can improve the connectedness in our society, we can  improve respect for law, we can make guns more difficult to get and keep, we can improve mental health provision, and we can build a world view that says taking another human being’s life should be the hugely horrible exception and not the norm. We can do all this, if we are moved to act together, and with determination.

We will never make our societies perfect. That way lies madness and the simple sloganeering of fools.

This is what war looks like. War is not how we see it on television. Every time someone cries "Drop a bomb!", this is what it means.

This is what war looks like. War is not how we see it on television. Every time someone cries “Drop a bomb!”, this is what it means. It means innocent deaths by the uncountable thousands – 500,000 innocent civilian deaths in Iraq alone, thus far.

But if we are to create coalitions of the willing to oppose the steady and seemingly inexorable slide towards casual violence and disrespect for others, then we need to face up to the truth.

If the innards of Dachau and Auschwitz and the rest had been seen in popular media in America and the United Kingdom in 1942 the Second World War would have been over sooner and fewer lives lost.

If the Gulags of Siberia had been exposed rather than just whispered about, Stalin would have been overthrown.

If the murderous indifference of Mao that led to umpteen dozens of millions being deliberately starved to death as political policy had been exposed in all its shocking brutality then he would never have come to rule one third of the world as a heartless despot.

How did Pol Pot do what he did? Why did the West stand by and support him – step forward Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – because he was a bulwark against Vietnam? Because that disgusting realpolitik judgement was never balanced by pictures of two million Cambodians slaughtered with pick-axes, machetes, sticks and pistols. No lens ever captured their suffering until it was too late.

Do you know why Kim-Jong Un is still in power in North Korea? Because saying “mothers are made to drown their babies in prison camps” does not have the same effect, even though it should, as showing those mothers’ hysterical, tear stained faces and the floating corpses of their children.

Too harsh? Too horrible?

Maybe. But it’s the truth. And the truth is also that the look on Alison’s terrified, innocent face as she confronted her insane, hate-fuelled murderer needs to be seen.

She deserves us looking into her eyes, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

Because only then will people demand that she is the last – or if not the last, sadly, then a very rare event indeed – of all those innocents slaughtered for no good reason by sociopaths who hold their life to be unimportant – or at least, not as important as what their own sick views or desires.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, and all those traumatised by this horrible event.

yollyDear Reader, if you have enjoyed Well This Is What I Think in the last four years (Yeah, we know, four years! Crazy? Right?) we would ask you to show your appreciation by backing our Kickstarter fund with however much you can reasonably afford.

And especially if you enjoy and support live theatre, and you believe in nurturing new talent.

We are very very excited to tell you that our new Kickstarter project – ECLECTICA – is now live.

But only for thirty days, and the clock is ticking.

Please click the link and find out what it’s all about, and how you can help!

There’s even a crazy whacky-doo video from your esteemed correspondent to enjoy. And when you go there, please click the Share This Project link to spread the word.

As well as your very kind monetary support, this is absolutely vital for our success.



Be a part of making it happen: FIND OUT ABOUT ECLECTICA HERE!

Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. Ten thousand times over.

In their own words: why people were celebrating International Go Topless Day on Sunday

Women and men in approximately 60 cities across the globe took part in the International Go Topless Day on Sunday.

Demonstrators in cities like New York, Paris and London took to the streets in order to break taboos around female nudity, protest against double-standards and to make it easier for women to breastfeed.

In their own words, here’s why people were willing to bare their chests in public:


We’re not protesting. We’re exercising our right to bring awareness to the subject. This is about equality. There’s no problem with men not wearing shirts at the beach. I made the drive here to take away the stigma for women.

As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right. Or else, men should have to wear something to hide their chests.

  • Claude “Rael” Vorilhon, founder of


In our society, men and women are supposed to have equal rights. But women are commonly arrested, fined and humiliated for daring to go topless in public, a freedom men have had for decades. To protest this unconstitutional gender discrimination, is holding National Go-Topless Day events in cities nationwide. Thousands of women will be baring their chests that day in the name of equal rights.

  • statement

It’s logical. Why can a man go outside topless and a woman can’t? We should be able to do it without anyone harassing us. It’s just meat, it’s just breast and it’s nature.

  • A demonstrator in New York speaking to the Guardian


It’s absurd that someone has judged topless women as obscene, and yet topless men is considered normal in our culture. We just abhor the double standard. We are practicing our rights. We think everyone should try it — it’s a lot of fun.

  • Carolyn Estes, a demonstrator in Austin, Texas, speaking to NBC

The significance is really to challenge the double-standard and to challenge this notion that there’s something morally reprehensible about women being topless when men have been able to be topless for so many years. It’s just about loving your body in whatever state it is in.

  • A demonstrator in New York speaking to the Guardian


A woman’s nipple being criminalised and so hyper-sexualised make certain things like breast-feeding really difficult, especially in public … It is discrimination based on gender to tell women to cover up.

  • Demonstrators speaking in New Hampshire

The main problem people have with breast-feeding is they sexualise breasts, so it offends them. If we could make them less taboo, breast-feeding would be much more acceptable in society.

  • Jessica Wardell, a demonstrator in New Hampshire speaking to Reuters

There should be no reason why my breasts should be different from his chest.

To which we can only say, “HEAR HEAR”. This is a topic we have discussed on this blog before, and will again. This double standard is simple sexism, and should be done away with. Womens’ bodies are not “dirty”.

Last but not least – have a look at this photo, doing the rounds in American media. Why the f*** do you have to PIXELATE a nipple? Have Americans never been on holiday in Europe?

Don't look too closely, the demons will get you.

Don’t look too closely, the demons will get you.

Bizarre. Simply bizarre. The human body, in all it’s wonderful and weird shapes and sizes, is beautiful. We should celebrate it. Most of all, we shouldn’t let one half of the population do something the other half of the population isn’t allowed to. Patriarchal bullshit. So there. Harumph.


And meanwhile, our new Kickstarter project just went live – whoo hoo!


Very excited to let all followers of the blog know that I have just started a new Kickstarter project to bring a whole new Variety show to the stage in Melbourne. Poetry! Music! Clowns! Improv! Circus! Theatre! Comedy! Dance! Stuff! Yes, all of that.

The show will focus on unearthing new talent, or giving a boost to established talent that need an outlet.

It’s a bit scary, but you know what? If you don’t do, you … er … don’t do.

This has been my dream for as long as I can recall, and I’ll be frank, a recent health scare (all is well, never fear) has made me realise time is passing.

I will post more news of the project in a few days when Kickstarter hopefully approve it. Watch this space!

PS! Performers in the Melbourne area, don’t delay, signal your interest to me by emailing me on now.


recycle poems



We told you we’re obsessed. And now, thank goodness, we have remembered this. And found it. Productive afternoon.

How jolly, jolly good Python were at their peak. They manage to skewer medical pomposity and the incompetence of most health systems in one wince-inducing spot. Enjoy!

What’s your favourite Python sketch and why?

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly


It may be that Adam Goodes (and anyone of a bunch of other players) receive boos for their style of play.

It is also entirely obvious – Blind Freddie can see it from the coverage of the original game against Carlton – that the initial outbreak of booing was over his celebrating his celebration of his aboriginal heritage, and that has continued as the sheeple now duly join in, game after game.

Why? Goodes’s real error is being an uppity black who doesn’t know his place. That’s why the 30 or so other black players in the AFL don’t receive the same treatment.

As the West Australian asked, “Why, in the round of footy created to celebrate Aboriginal players and their contribution to making the game great, is it so offensive when one of the best Indigenous players of all time celebrates a goal with a war dance?

Why is his celebration analysed through the prism of white versus black Australia?

Why can’t he just be allowed to celebrate in his way during a round of footy set up for exactly that reason?

Why is his way of celebrating and gesturing towards the crowd who boo him any different than a white soccer player running over to the opposition crowd after scoring a goal and putting his hands up to his ears as if to say, what have you got to say now?

It happens all the time.

It’s called passion, defiance – and, yes, provocation. It’s sport, for heavens sake.”

We should note that Adam Goodes explained it like this:

“Yeah, it wasn’t something that was premeditated.

“Lewis Jetta and myself had a chat on Thursday that we wanted to represent on Friday night and we wanted to do a dance and it was a shame that Lewis couldn’t get on the board because he had something special planned as well.

“So it was all about representing our people and our passion and dance is a big way we do that. There wasn’t nothing untoward to the Carlton supporters, it was actually something for them to stand up and go “yep, cool, we see you, we acknowledge you, bring it on.” My team mates loved it. The Carlton players loved it. It’s not something that people should be getting their backs up against the wall about.

Is this the lesson we want to teach our children that when we don’t understand something we get angry and we put our back up against the wall – [and say] ‘oh that’s offensive’? No,  if it’s something we don’t understand, let’s have a conversation understand – What was Goodsey doing? He spoke about it after the game. ‘Oh, ok, it was from the Indigenous Allstars, it’s something he learnt from these under 16 kids’. I just think of those kids watching last night and they saw that, how proud they would be.”

goodes2Quite. Let us also remember, as the boos echo around the stadia, that on January 26 last year, the Sydney Swans champion was named Australian of the Year for his contribution to sport and indigenous youth, including supporting Aboriginal kids in detention centres and promoting education and healthy lifestyles as co-founder of the Go Foundation.

His citation read: “Adam is a great role model and advocate for the fight against racism both on and off the field and is admired by a great many people around the nation.”

You know what would impress me in this sad situation?

A bunch of white players doing an aboriginal war dance this weekend when they score. Not because they are celebrating Goodes’s heritage, that his to celebrate, but to 

That’s the most effective thing the whole football community could do to stop this thing stone dead, and it would be a very Australian response, too.

Koreans seem quite calm despite living in a state of perpetual tension on the Korean peninsula. Maybe their huge consumption of Kimchi has something to do with it.

Koreans seem quite calm despite living in a state of perpetual tension on the Korean peninsula. Maybe their huge consumption of Kimchi has something to do with it.

Anxious about that big date, crucial meeting or family gathering?

You may want to prep with a cup of yogurt: a promising new study in Psychiatry Research has found that people who eat more fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and kimchi, have fewer social anxiety symptoms. But note, some of these foods, such as kombucha – a fermented tea popular in the Far East and Russia – have had adverse health reactions in some people.

Researchers surveyed more than 700 people and found that the more fermented foods participants ate the less likely they were to experience social anxiety – anxious feelings of distress that interfere with daily social interactions. Even wilder is that this benefit was greatest among people who had the highest rates of neuroticism, a personality trait characterised by anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness.

What makes those foods so powerfully calming? Based on this study alone, the authors can’t say for sure, but previous research points the finger at probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria found in fermented foods. “Social anxiety has gastrointestinal symptoms,” says lead author Matthew Hilimire, assistant professor of psychology at the College of William & Mary, “and probiotics have been shown to reduce gut inflammation. So as the gut becomes less inflamed, some of those anxiety-related symptoms are reduced.”

Eating probiotics has also been shown to affect brain chemistry in a major way, triggering a neurotransmitter called GABA that calms the nervous system – the exact same neurotransmitter targeted by anti-anxiety drugs like Valium, Hilimire explains. The researchers hope that fermented foods could someday be a low-risk treatment for anxiety.

If you don’t want to live on yoghurt or plough through masses of sauerkraut (which wouldn’t be a problem for Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink, but Lord above it’s a problem for anyone sleeping in the same bedroom) the simplest solution might be to trial some of the many probiotics supplements now freely available.

We have long suspected that reducing “inflammation” in the system is a key way to not only improve mood but also defer illnesses like cancer. As in all things, a balanced diet seems the most sensible approach. The ancient Chinese concept of the body becoming “over heated” through the consumption of certain foods may end up being shown to be worthwhile.

chinese pharmacistChinese medicine is, indeed, interesting. On a business trip there many moons ago we were struck down with the most miserable dose of a cold or flu which then settled on our chest, and we ended up feeling very sick indeed.

Travelling alone we really didn’t have the faintest idea what to do, so wandered into a traditional Chinese chemist, full of herbs and potions and things that didn’t really bear too close an examination. The man in the white coat took one look at the hacking, sputum-fountain of a guailo in front of him and sold us a bottle of obscure liquid which as soon as we started quaffing it back at the hotel made us feel remarkably better.

So much better, in fact, that instead of discarding it when we recovered, we took it home and showed it to our GP, telling him how wonderful Chinese medicine is, and we should eat the stuff in Australia.

He asked his Chinese-speaking assistant to decipher the label, then turned back and smiled drily. He said it was hardly surprising that we felt on top of the world when quaffed it, as he strongly suspected the stuff was about 80% morphine. He quietly disposed of it in his office bin.

As we said, seemingly alone amongst politics-watchers, the storm in a teacup – albeit a very big, expensive teacup – is duly passing.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras votes during a session at the Greek parliament in Athens early 23 July 2015

The Greek prime minister secured the votes after a debate into the small hours

Greece has taken a crucial step towards a bailout after its parliament passed a crucial second set of reforms.

The passage of the measures means that negotiations on an €86bn European Union bailout can begin.

The reforms include changes to Greek banking and an overhaul of the judiciary system.

Thousands demonstrated outside of parliament as the bill was debated, with protests briefly turning violent as petrol bombs were thrown at police by a few anarchists.

There had been fears of a rebellion by MPs but Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was easily able to must the support required. In total, the measures received 230 votes in favour and 63 against with five abstentions. Among those who voted against were 31 members of his own Syriza party. However, this represents a smaller rebellion than in last week’s initial vote. Demonstrating the breadth of understanding that the reform package had to pass,former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was one of those rebels in the first vote who returned to vote with the government this time.

Speaking before the vote, Mr Tsipras stressed that he was not happy with the measures that creditors had imposed. Well, he could hardly have appeared chirpy, could he? That would have been political suicide.

“We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe,” he told MPs.

Representatives of the European institutions that would provide the bailout funds will begin negotiations in Athens on Friday.

Last week, Greece passed an initial set of austerity measures imposed by its creditors. These were a mix of economic reforms and budget cuts demanded by the eurozone countries and institutions before bailout talks could continue.

This second set of measures passed early on Thursday morning were of a more structural nature, including:

  • a code of civil protection aimed at speeding up court cases
  • the adoption of an EU directive to bolster banks and protect savers’ deposits of less than €100,000
  • the introduction of rules that would see bank shareholders and creditors – not taxpayers – cover costs of a failed bank

More contentious measures – phasing out early retirement and tax rises for farmers – have been pushed back to August. As we said, these issues were always going to be the can that got kicked along the road. The political fallout will need to be managed by the Greek Government and that cannot occur in a few days.

Negotiations will now begin on approving the terms of a third bailout, with the aim of completing a deal by the middle of next month. It’s a tight timetable but doable. What is not clear is that Mr Tsipras still has to decide whether a successful conclusion of negotiations should be followed by early elections. Our bet is not.

The deal explained

On Wednesday, the European Central Bank (ECB) increased its cash lifeline to Greek banks.

The emergency injection of an extra €900m (£630m), the ECB’s second in a week, came just hours before the vote.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed on Monday that Greece had cleared its overdue debt repayments of €2.05bn and was no longer in arrears. The repayments, which included €4.2bn to the ECB, were made possible by a short-term EU loan of €7.16bn.

Greece’s next major deadline is 20 August, when it must pay €3.2bn owed to the ECB, followed by a payment of €1.5bn to the IMF in September.

Essentially, the deal is akin to a Bank lending money to a drunken defaulting home owner to repay the mortgage they unwisely lent them in the first place. There is a lot of talk about how irresponsible the handling of the Greek economy has been by successive Greek Governments – not to mention that tax avoidance is something of a national sport – and that is all greeks

What has been especially annoying in much recent commentary has been the characterisation of the Greek people themselves as lazy. In fact, the opposite is true. They put in some of the longest hours of any workforce in the EU. Needless to say, the Greek people know this, and their anger at having to carry the burden of the stupidities of generations of those that rule them is justified. That they could be working more productively is hardly the point. At some stage, the role of both private management, union leadership and political governance needs to be taken into account. It’s not all the fault of the “bleedin’ workers”.

What also needs to be factored in is that for decades now Europe has been lending Greece money for Greece to spend on vanity infrastructure projects supplied to them by Europe – arms is a classic example, manufactured mainly in Germany – Greece has a ridiculously large navy, for example – so the EU is at the very least as culpable in helping the Greeks to get into this mess in the first place.

Historically, Obama’s intervention to urge the Europeans to settle with Greece will be seen, for those attuned to geo-political balances – as the tipping point. What is encouraging is that some of the other economic basket cases in Europe have not instantly put their hands up for extra funds. It appears that brisk diplomacy – along the lines of “Shut up, guys, we need to sort this out, we’ll look at your situation down the track” – has worked in a timely fashion. But the Eurozone is not out of the woods yet.

One good start for Europe would be to substantially reduce the overhead structure of running the EU itself. The peoples of the constituent countries might be more amenable to pulling their heads in if they see the bloated and out of control Euro bureaucracy being made to do the same. No matter how pro-EU anyone is – and we are pro-EU, for political reasons more than economic ones – the Eurocrats need a serious haircut, and fast.

Graphic: BBC

Graphic: BBC


(BBC and other sources)