Monday, 31 December 2007

Dinner for One

"Same procedure", but not in the UK.

It is a curiosity that this, the most frequently repeated programme in German television history, is an English-language sketch broadcast every New Year's Eve. It's an even greater oddity that this programme has never been shown in the UK despite enjoying a cult following of millions in Germany.

I first heard of the programme during my year abroad in Germersheim in 1996/97 and must say that I was rather nonplussed when my school colleagues told me about it. Even more bewilderingly, the programme's ubiquitous phrase - "Same procedure as every year" - has pride of place in most Germans' consciousness and has even made its way into everyday parlance. Lots of Germans have uttered these words to me over the ensuing years, and if I hadn't heard of the sketch, I wouldn't have had a clue what they were on about.

I finally watched the programme in question on New Year's Eve in 2005. We Brits found it mildly amusing, but our German friends could barely contain their chuckle muscles.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Frohe Weihnachten!

More reports from Weil coming soon.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Well, I don't think it was my blog entry that precipitated this, but it looks like this is a story that will run and run. After reading the article attached (scanned from our free newspaper Der Sonntag), I would probably sympathise a little with owners of pubs that only have one small room to welcome their guests. On the other hand, I would venture the opinion that an important reason why some non-smokers are staying away from certain pubs is that they know that these pubs are "smoking pubs" which are reluctantly abiding by the law (or not, as the case may be). Reputation is everything.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

"Public viewing" in Weil?

I don't mean "people-watching" or some state-sponsored Stasi-esque ruse. I mean watching football matches with thousands of others on a field somewhere in Weil.

According to today's Weiler Zeitung, the Dreiländergarten down at the old garden show grounds here in Weil could be the venue for the public showing of matches on a giant screen at Euro 2008 next summer. With Basle's designated "public viewing" venues looking woefully ill-equipped to cope with the 100,000 people expected to visit the city on each match day, the organisers are looking at the possibility of setting up additional venues over the border. Weil has been earmarked as one of these venues.

Anyway, you read it here first.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Rauchen verboten

On 1 August 2007 smoking inside public bars and restaurants was banned in Baden-Württemberg. This unleashed a predictable backlash in the local press from a significant minority of local publicans and restaurant owners who complained that they would lose custom as a result of the ban. (I'm a non-smoker, by the way.) Personally, I view such reactions as short-sighted yammering. Have they thought of the custom they might potentially miss out on from non-smokers who might otherwise stay at home? Anyway, there is a particular pub in Weil which I have frequented every now and again over the last seven years. The last time I visited the bar was early November for an evening meal. To my surprise, not only were a number of fellow guests smoking happily away but the owners behind the bar were doing the same. Now, I've had a "grin and bear it" attitude to smoking in pubs in the past, i.e. it was simply a fact of life that by going into such an establishment you had to expect some people there might be smoking. However, once countries like the Republic of Ireland and Italy took the step a few years ago to ban smoking inside public establishments, I did hope that a similar ban might eventually come into effect here - not that I thought that this would occur any time in the near future. Hence my utter surprise when the politicians in Stuttgart suddenly decided to introduce the ban on the quiet last August - and my subsequent dismay that certain people here are still flouting the rules.

My quiet reaction that evening in November was to decide that the pub in question would not be getting my custom again if this state of affairs didn't change. Now it seems that a number of other disgruntled patrons may have taken the matter further and complained to the town hall. What's more, a number of eating and drinking establishments that were complying with the new laws have complained to the town hall regarding the "competitive disadvantage" they are suffering at the hands of their less law-abiding colleagues! The Weiler Zeitung last week reported that, as a result of these complaints, the town hall sent stern letters to a number of establishments, making it clear in no uncertain terms of their obligation to observe the no-smoking law.

I wonder whether the people at my local drinking hole have now got the message.

I suppose it's good that at least there is a no-smoking law in force here - unlike in Basle where a powerful publican's lobby ensures a rather smoky status quo.

Sunday, 9 December 2007


Just come back from doing something I very rarely do: swim. With Laguna Badeland, Weil has a popular swimming complex that draws in the punters from far and wide. French is spoken there as much as German, such are the numbers of Alsatiens who use it. I don't mean Alsatians of the canine variety. However, the adult price for one measly hour there is EUR 4.50. This is because of the variety of watery attractions offered, i.e. not merely a rectangle swimming pool but also water slides, wave machines and the whole (water) works.... It's the nearest thing I've seen to the Sandcastle in Blackpool.

My original intention was to go there and do a few lengths of the pool, until I found out that there is an indoor venue in Lörrach open from September to April - a simple no-frills swimming pool costing a euro less, and with no time limit. I did a reconnoitre of the place on my bike yesterday, and it seemed quite decent, so I went again today to have a swim. After fumbling around at the ticket machine and the turnstile, I managed to get in the modern and mixed changing rooms (wahey). I say "mixed", but it was a really a sheep-pen system in which you changed in privacy and then moved on to the lockers and put your belongings away. After some more fumbling around - this time with the locker - and wondering where the exit to the pool was, I finally made it out.

I've never been the best of swimmers and certainly can't do the alternate breathing style. Whenever I try to put my head underwater while doing the breaststroke, I come up spluttering full of chlorine. It's just not worth it, so I gently swim to the other end of the pool getting overtaken by the more proficient swimmers. My crawl is simply a wild flailing of arms. It has to be because my nose has to stay above water at all times. Not very effective, but at least it gave me a good work-out today. Swimming exercises all the muscles in your body like no other activity. I'm now quite tired this afternoon, though I expect getting up at 4.45 to watch the boxing didn't help.

Stopped in the 10th round

It was not to be for Ricky Hatton. Mayweather was the better, more clinical fighter. The "Hitman"
was the boxer moving forward, but the American is a slippery character and didn't offer much to aim at. Hatton couldn't make many clean hits and kept getting countered with good point-taking shots.

Anyway, it was still good to get up early to watch it and not having to pay Rupert Murdoch for the pleasure of doing so. I didn't really sleep all that well - after being woken up by hammering noises from the neighbours at 1 in the morning. Don't know what that was all about. Perhaps they thought they'd do a spot of DIY in the early hours.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Eight and a half hours to go,,, the main event of the evening in Las Vegas (at 5 a.m. CET): Ricky Hatton vs. Floyd Mayweather. What's more, RTL here in Germany are showing it live and free! The last time I got this excited about boxing was when Hagler and Hearns slugged it out at Caesar's Palace back in the Eighties. The Hagler-Hearns-Duran-Leonard quartet embodied a golden era for boxing. (How pretentious did that last sentence sound?) I just hope this morning's fight lives up to the hype.

Right, time for bed.

Friday, 7 December 2007

A big ask

I'm currently reading John Humphry's excellent book "Lost for words - the mangling and manipulating of the English language". This has got me thinking about my own linguistic pet hates:

Firstly could people please stop using the phrase "big ask"? This is one of those insidious little ticks that have entered English language usage, with the verb "to ask" suddenly morphing into a noun. In particular, during ITV's otherwise solid coverage of the Rugby World Cup I noticed that a number of studio pundits insisted on using this phrase time and again. As the "Urban Dictionary" website tells us, "big ask" is generally used in sporting or business contexts. This makes sense, because rugby players tend to become businessmen after their playing careers and have subsequently picked up the phrase through their personal contact with corporate jargon.

Here's something else: the verb "to engage". This is not a case of misuse as such, but when used in a certain way "engage" is a verb that can irritate. Case in point: Kelly Holmes, the British women's Olympic 800m champion advertising a project to promote sport in schools. She was interviewed on television and must have used the phrase "engage young people" at least six times in the space of two minutes. There being plenty of perfectly good alternatives Ms Holmes could have chosen, such as "get young people involved", "attract young people to sport" or "get young people participating", etc. Thanks again to business jargon, the "engage young people" usage of the verb is becoming more common. Ms Holmes probably heard the phrase being bandied around by sports functionaries such as Lord Coe and thought she'd flog it to death herself. Though I suppose that the spirit of the project is ultimately all that matters and that I'm becoming more intolerant the older I get.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Euro 2008 draw

All things considered, I was satisfied with the draw for next summer's group phase matches in Basle featuring Switzerland versus the Czech Republic, Turkey and Portugal. Of course, the Switzerland-Turkey fixture has security implications owing to events of recent history, but I'm optimistic that the many thousands of Turks who'll be in town for the match will want to give a better account of themselves for fear of a repeat of the truly shocking backlash they suffered two years ago.
As far as I know, Czech fans are like the Scandinavians in that they drink lots of beer but are harmless. Fans of the Portuguese national team are also quite amenable, so I've heard. With no prospect of the nasty English making people's lives difficult, at least the head of Basle police should now be able to sleep soundly at night.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Lots of my neighbours have already put up their Christmas lights. A couple of houses opposite even resemble the Blackpool Illuminations, such is the extent of the lighting on their respective facades. My flat, on the other hand, is conspicuous for its lack of seasonal lighting. I may go to the Weihnachtsmarkt on Lindenplatz here in Weil tomorrow to shop around for something "Christmassy". Or I may just have a Glühwein instead.