Tuesday, January 30

Fog over Channel, continent isolated

Ever wondered why Britain is in a different timezone to other parts of Western Europe. Well clearly so do some representatives of the British public. Tim Yeo has introduced a bill (follow its progress here) to the House of Commons to align the UK with mainland Europe in matters of the clock.

This is not the way it is being sold of course. The following is Yeo's attempt to describe the situation that would pertain following the change:

"This means that in the summer the time would be British Summer Time + 1 hour and in the winter it would be Greenwich Mean Time + 1 hour."

Would it not be easier just to call it Central European Time?

Sunday, January 28

Ceci n'est pas une fiction

Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. In Belgium it is all pretty weird. The country has a proud history of surrealism and it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish ruse from reality.

Before Christmas the French language state broadcaster - RTBF - decided to continue the surrealist tradition by broadcasting a "news" item announcing that Flanders had declared independence. The programme provoked panic and the country's politicians had a collective sense of humour failure.

While this is spoof of the highest order - the programme was apparently two years in the making - check out www.flandersnews.be any day of the week and you will see news reports that really make you think; they couldn't be making it up, could they?

Wednesday, January 3

After the Star Wars, Begium Strikes Back

Loyal readers will be aware of the recent furore in Belgium caused by the shameful confiscation of several of their highly treasured Michelin stars. Whilst the immediate cause of the hostilities between the French Michelin Guide and the Belgians appears to have been the comical granting of a first star to a non-existent restaurant, culinary hostilities between the two neighbours go back much further. The real source of the rivalry is the popular chip. Or frite. Or - and spitting while saying this in either Belgium or the US is common - french fry.

The Secret History of the French Fry is a fascinating tale involving a world war, an extinct people, an American President, royalty from an array of European countries, and, less surprisingly, the Irish. Unfortunately it is not able to clear up the confusion over where the fry originated. What it does do quite well though is to illustrate the depth of the feeling surrounding the issue and tell us why anybody might care.

Passions have, of course, recently been most enflamed in the US, where not only did they insert Freedom Fries onto the Congressional menu but Freedom Toast too. Go figure. It is with this controversy that the pendulum might have started to swing in the direction of the Belgians. At the height of the contretemps, Wikipedia reports that the French embassy made no comment, except to point out that French fries actually come from Belgium.

The French should have held their nerve. A quick glance at the history books would have told them that anti-German sentiment during the First World War resulted in the sauerkraut temporarily becoming the liberty cabbage, while hamburgers were christened liberty steaks. Sure enough, by July 2006 French Fries were back on the menu.

Emboldened by the increasing recognition of the actual birthplace of the fry, the Belgians are pressing for a full renaming. Belgianfriesdotcom is even offering you the opportunity to get involved in f-commerce. Reminiscent of the concept of the Irish pub, this crowd will hook you up with whatever you need to get your very own Belgian Fries joint up and running. Ingenious.

A word of warning, however; you are unlikely to be in the running for any Michelin stars.