VALENTINE’S DAY is upon us

Valentine’s Day is upon us. If you haven’t bought your cards, roses, jewellery, yachts or whatever yet, you’ll soon be late! You really don’t care how it all started, do you? Next to Christmas, it’s the next biggest money-spinner for card manufacturers – and, therefore, the Post Office. Which reminds me, if you did not already know, the postal rates have gone up. To send a light little card under 20gms, it will cost you 30 cents to send, and if it is from 20 to 50gms it will cost you 45 cents. If you send the card Correio Azul, the rates are 45 cents and 58 cents respectively. And if your card is going to England or elsewhere in Europe, up to 20gms is now 56 cents by normal post and 1.75 euros by Azul, and 20 to 50gms is 1.05 euros by normal post and 2.35 euros by Azul.

But onto other things. The news has been dominated by football recently. The death of 24-year old Miki Féher, who died on the pitch during a Benfica match, stunned the country. Looking at the coverage and the reactions of people who were not really football fans, I was reminded of the emotional outburst when Diana, Princess of Wales died, equally unexpectedly. There is something about the sudden death of someone young and vibrant that makes us all very aware of our own mortality. One man interviewed on Portuguese television said that he had been watching the football game with his five-year old son. When Féher fell, and the ambulance arrived, the son naturally wanted to know what was happening. “How do I explain to my son that this young, fit and apparently healthy footballer, the epitome of everything a sporting hero should be, has just collapsed and died?” he asked. Good question. Just as you cannot explain it to a five-year old, how do you explain it to Miki Féher’s family, who were all watching the game live on TV in his native Hungary? What do you do when you see your 24-year old son die in front of you – and you are thousands of miles away? Can you imagine how helpless the family must have felt?

All over the country, football players and supporters paid their respects to Miki Féher. There were tributes, flowers, and a minute’s silence before every game. “It doesn’t matter who you support,” said one fan waiting in line to sign the book of remembrance, “this is about football, and about saluting someone who gave the game enormous dignity.”

What a shame, then, that less than a week later, in the very same stadium where Féher collapsed, a national football match fell apart with first the players and then the fans fighting both on and off the pitch. For a minute, it looked just like English football, and my heart sank. We are only months away from the biggest footballing event that Portugal has ever seen – its chance to shine, not only in the sporting arena, but to showcase itself to an international audience who are potential holidaymakers, homeowners, investors. And here we are, emulating the very hooligans that the police most fear – the English. Looking at the scenes of this disturbance, and, from what I have seen of English hooligans at their worst, Portugal has a million miles to go up the learning curve of crowd control. Miki Féher may have given the game enormous dignity – what a shame that his fellow players could not remember that for even a week.

Regular readers will know that I am no fan of George W Bush, and I was among those who have always seriously doubted the true reason for America’s invasion of Iraq. This is election year in the good old US of A and the fight has already started. I noted with interest on the news the other night that Bush has finally agreed to an ‘independent’ enquiry into the information he was given in the run-up to the war. Good news, you may think – but then, how come it will not even start until 2005, after the elections? As someone who is just as cynical as me said: “He is hoping to put the whole Iraq thing on the back burner for the elections”. Fat chance, methinks!

While I was in England, I bought a copy of the Independent newspaper on the day of Bush’s annual address to the nation. It published some very interesting numbers, just a few of which I would like to share with you now – with full thanks and acknowledgement to the Independent, of course!

Let me take a selection – if you want the full page, it was dated January 20:

• ZERO – the number of funerals or memorials of US soldiers killed in Iraq that Bush has attended.

• 100 – the number of fund raisers attended by Bush or Vice-President Che-ney in 2003.

• First– as Governor of Texas, Bush executed more prisoners (152) than any governor in modern US history.

• First – first President to execute a federal prisoner in the past 40 years. Executions are typically ordered by separate states, not at federal level.

• First – Bush became the first American president to ignore the Geneva Convention by refusing to allow inspectors access to US-held prisoners of war.

• Nine – number of members of Bush’s defence policy board who also sit on the corporate board of, or advise, at least one defence contractor.

• 35 – number of countries to which US has suspended military assistance after they failed to sign agreements giving Americans immunity from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

I could go on, but it only gets more depressing, so to finish on a lighter note, I give you a very appropriate ‘silly’:

George W Bush visits a primary school to talk about the Iraq war and, after his talk, invites questions. One little boy puts up his hand and Bush asks for his name and his questions. “My name is Billy, and I have three questions. First, why did the US invade Iraq without the backing of the United Nations? Second, why did you become President when Al Gore got more votes? And third, what happened to Osama bin Laden?” Just then, the bell rang for break. When the class resumed, Bush invited more questions. Another boy puts his hand up. “My name is Stevie, and I have five questions. First, why did the US invade Iraq without the backing of the United Nations? Second, why are you President when Al Gore got more votes? Third, whatever happened to Osama bin Laden? Fourth, why did the break bell ring 20 minutes early and, last, whatever happened to Billy?”

Have a nice day, y’all!