Underground blasts

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(Looking for 21st July blasts? Click here)

London Underground closed after multiple blasts. More at The Guardian. Reason #567 why I… oh never mind.
Update 10:15am :
Most controversial comment so far: “It’s probably the French.”
Update 11:00am:
Flickr has some pictures coming in, and Google News will keep you updated. Also, The Guardian’s blog is keeping track of the updates.
Update 12:05pm:
Fellow blogger has updates at the ready.
Update 12:12pm:
Jihad group in Europe admits responsibility in 200 word statement on website.
Those wikipedia guys are quick: Wikipedia: 2005 London Underground explosions. Also, Londonist has an eye on events as they happen.
Clique update: Friends will be pleased to know that Mel N, Jac, Elli C, Jon B and David B are all ok. Mel was in Aldgate station an hour before the explosions…
Update 1:18pm – Statement from terrorist group, from Europhobia:

Jamaat al-Tandheem Al-Sierri (secret organization group)
Organization of Qaeda’t al-Jihad in Europe

In the name of God the most merciful…

Rejoice the nation of Islam, rejoice nation of Arabs, the time of revenge has come for the crusaders’ Zionist British government.

As retaliation for the massacres which the British commit in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mujahideen have successfully done it this time in London.

And this is Britain now burning from fear and panic from the north to the south, from the east to the west.

We have warned the brutish governments and British nation many times.

And here we are, we have done what we have promised. We have done a military operation after heavy work and planning, which the mujahideen have done, and it has taken a long time to ensure the success of this operation.

And we still warn the government of Denmark and Italy, all the crusader governments, that they will have the same punishment if they do not pull their forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So beware.

Thursday 7/7/2005
Jamaat al-Tandheem Al-Sierri (secret organization group)
Organization of al Qaeda’t al-Jihad in Europe.

Update 5:58pm :
Reader Nadem Khan raises an interesting question – can anyone vouch for the veracity of this article?
Update 6.18pm : Guardian tells readers that “Bloggers react quickly to London blasts.” Damn right…!
Update 7.10pm : The BBC now has a dedicated subsite.

Switzerland – Minus seven, and I was still laughing…

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Last time I visited Switzerland, you may remember, I was waxing lyrical about the sheer amount of brothels. Not the wonderful cheese, the spectacular mountains, the glorious Swiss chocolate – but brothels.
And now, at the risk of being utterly stereotypical, I shall discuss at length the quality of Swiss beer. No, actually, first I shall let you in on my trip. And then discuss at length the beer.
It was a trip that had been put off since early January, and my experience of Switzerland before had made me eager to sample more. This time, three of my colleagues were on the plane with me for the three-day jaunt – Ian, John and Dean, who hails from Ireland and had come via a Westlife concert – don’t ask. Ian, John and I managed to meet – almost by accident – at Heathrow Terminal 4 on Sunday afternoon, and after checking in with the first check-in assistant I’ve ever witnessed with a personality, we headed for the bar.
Finding the bar was tricky though, and we split up to search. An excited call from John later, and we were in the Duty Free shop, trying 3 different types of vodka cocktails for free. “You’re meant to buy the bottles afterwards” came the distant call from the waitress as we hurried into the distance, our stomachs warmed considerably courtesy of Smirnoff.
Boarding the plane, Ian remarked that my lack of furry coat may be a problem in Switzerland. “No,” I retorted, “they’re closer to the equator than we are. If anything it’ll be warmer.” My ill-thought logic was woefully off-piste, as confirmed by the helpful captain as we looked over the frozen landscape a couple of hours later. “Best get your woolies on,” he cheerily advised, “it’s minus 7 degree centigrade down there.” Christ, I muttered.
We landed remarkably smoothly despite the Siberian conditions outside, and sidled off the plane in awe at the landscape. Switzerland is reknowned for its beautiful scenery and towering mountain landscapes, but I was blown away. Time was not on our side though – it was getting dark and there was a 1 hour train journey ahead of us. Switzerland’s transport system is legendary (at least in my eyes), and after momentary directional confusion, we found the train and reclined in leather-clad luxury for the smoothest ride I’ve ever experienced.
The hotel, just 100 metres from the station, was a pleasant surprise too. Decked out in classy glass and red leather sofas, mirrored ceilings and a glorious bar, it was manna from heaven at 10.30pm on a cold night. We dumped our bags, met Dean, tested the bar, and then slept. Slept well.
The following three days were a mix of training, evening drinking, laughing, resplendent restaurants and a battle for sleep. My colleagues, I discovered, were genuinely amusing, and I laughed until I cried at least three times a day. There were many hundreds of comical moments – from Dean’s initial greeting as he met us in the bar (as he passed the bar with his travel bags, we misheard “two secs” as “group sex”, a greeting that will forever be repeated on future meetings) to Ian’s “petit peu/petit pois” confusion and Dean’s description of the Irish traffic light system (“orange means put your foot down, red means you’re good for two more cars). I was struggling to stop giggling for most of the trip. The main company bod over in Germany, a large Bavarian man called Herbert, was a drinker beyond compare, and we managed to stay up until 2am every day, sampling the Swiss beer like there was no tomorrow.
Ah yes, the Swiss beer. Now, Dean had informed me of a little known fact at our first meeting about the difference between beer in the UK and Ireland and beer in the rest of Europe. According the gospel of Dean, there is a chemical in the UK beer that is banned in European beer. This chemical, I was informed, causes hangovers, in some complicated way I was unable to fully grasp. “Surely not,” I replied, “I’ve never heard that before”. So, in true British style, we decided to test it out. Nine pints of lager and a good sleep later and Dean’s theory was proved correct – we woke a little sleepy but otherwise completely fine.
And there, my friends, is the secret to the drinking skills of other Europeans. The drink because their beer is actually tasty and because they don’t get hangovers. There are all sorts of questions that arise from this, not least why we have that darned chemical in the first place, but we were content to test the theory every night for three days. On the last day we toured Zurich city centre, and discovered an odd mixture of lapdancing clubs and many, many clothes shops. Its architecture is very like Milan, if you’ve ever been, and I’m eager to visit again, despite their extortionate taxis.
So, another trip to Switzerland finished. Safe to say I was in need of a rest, and slept for most of the next two days. Now I’m back in the land of the living, and eagerly awaiting the next excuse to visit…

Switzerland – Cheese, Chocolate and “Services”

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What’s Switzerland famous for? Cheese, you might say. Chocolate, certainly. Milk churns, cow bells and milk maids, most certainly. But as I found out this week, one thing you’ll see more than anything else, more than all the cheese, chocolate and milk maids you can think of, is brothels.
It was with a heavy heart that I glanced over the itinerary for my latest two day trip overseas. Zurich was the destination, and I fancied a quick pootle round the area, taking in a few of the delights of the Swiss capital. But the plane flights betrayed my plans. I was to fly out at 6.30am on Tuesday, and fly back in at 10pm the following night. I was going to be knackered.
But at least I had a colleague with me to pass the time. Jonathan has been with the company two years, and was used to the constant to-ing and fro-ing. He’d even had the forethought to bring a portable DVD player, and as the time ticked away from our early arrival at the gate, we sat down to watch a few minutes of Anger Management.
I’ve flown many times in my short life, but as we were bussed to the plane a few minutes later, I was taken aback. The world’s smallest passenger plane had plainly been scheduled to take us, somehow, 300 miles across Europe. Clambering up the rickety stairs into the cabin, I struggled to see how the thing would stay airborne. Swissair did their best to keep everyone calm as the abnormal creakings from the fuselage put all of us on edge. The engines roared, the cabin shook and we pelted down the runway, cowering in the “brace” position that the crew had urgently warned us about minutes earlier.
As it turned out, the plane held together. In our shock, and due to poor language skills, we managed to order first class tickets on the train from the airport. This was an excellent move, as it turned out. We sunk pleasingly into luxury seats and waited to leave for Basel, a town about an hour away.
It’s a common theme in all the countries I’ve visited so far on business. – that without exception, public transport is many times better than our own. The Swiss train glided silently out of the platform, clad not in sticky, spilt coffee and chewing gum, but in freshly-cleaned carpet and leather-clad seats. Hills, mountains and businessmen passed the window as we slipped by, and the scenery was every bit as stunning as all those Dairylea adverts promised. Eight thirty in the morning, however, is not the time to be all romantic about trees and hills, and we slumped drearily back, catching forty five winks.
We arrived as about 11am, not very bright and definitely not bushy tailed. An account of our visit to offices would bore you senseless, and frankly the rest of the trip was a drudge of meetings, courses and frantic scooting back to the airport, just in time to catch our flight. However, before I go, I should mention, again, the brothels. On our trip to a restaurant on the first night, we discovered neon signs offering “massages” and “services”. These weren’t discreet – there were bold as brass, and the 20 mile trip uncovered at least 15 of these places. Turns out they are completely legal, and accepted as a way of life. And, for better or for worse (I’m sure the Swiss Tourist Board will be up in arms) that is what I shall remember Switzerland for.