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January 1st 2011
I'm not a man who likes to combat tradition, so here's my annual Q&A:

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Went the wrong way up an escalator; went the wrong way down an escalator (both of which were yesterday); left Europe; saw a baseball match; changed employer; voted Tory; grew a moustache (sort of); helped out at a homeless shelter; got past the Times paywall (legitimately).
2. Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Same old, same old. Eat more healthily; study more; crowbar semi-colons into every line of this thing.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Jen & Rick; Karuna & Dush; Jo & Mike; Rae & Andy. It's baby season at Cairns Road, folks.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Geographically, yes. Sad news for Clifton.
5. What countries did you visit?
Well, I'm glad you ask. I'm not altogether sure I made it to Wales in 2010 (though I probably did), but the big journey of this year was the trip to USA (via a Canadian airport) for Ant & Becca's wedding.
6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
I lacked a draught excluder for most of the year, but Mum gave me one for Christmas - happy times. I could probably also do with a third pair of jeans.
7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The weddings have to be the big ones - Olly & Katy's (which remains the only wedding in which I've been name-checked in the groom's speech), Steve & Bronwen's and Ant & Becca's. More recently, Wolves won at Anfield for the first time in my lifetime.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I passed three actuarial exams (CA1, CT9 and ST2) and am waiting on another (CA3, at the second attempt for 2010), so this year could end up being 'the year of the exam', just about, as I hopefully predicted last year.
9. What was your biggest failure?
I'll give you three guesses.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
On our otherwise fun-filled home group weekend away, I was one of many who went down with a vomiting bug halfway through. I've also been in and out of various NHS establishments, experiencing the full thrust of their manifest incompetence.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
I'm very pleased with the laptop I'm currently typing on - Windows 7 is very pleasant. I think the Xbox was this year, too, which has afforded me many a joyful hour, as have my Wolves slippers. My goodness, but I love slippers.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Wolves did a great job by staying in the Premiership; Matt Smith has had an outstanding first series in Doctor Who; sundry weddings have been had (see above); Simon won at Trivial Pursuit the other day.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
The student protesters; Bob Crow and his ridiculous tube strike (nicely scheduled for when I was in London); all the people who refused to vote Tory because 'they hate the poor'; the deeply unpleasant and over-uniformed US customs guy who made me feel extremely unwelcome in his country.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Flying to the USA. And back again, I guess.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The USA trip; seeing Wolves beat Sunderland with Powly; the Beatles re-mastered CDs.
16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
Butterfly Kisses (though not the Cliff version, which I reckon is better).
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
No.
ii. thinner or fatter?
Not thinner.
iii. richer or poorer?
Richer. Unless you're measuring this by some non-monetary scale that I don't understand.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
You know, I've never really bought the whole "I only regret the things I have not done" line. So... I wish I'd got up at 7am more often.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
I wish I hadn't put my jumper through the washing machine. I mean, I still wear it, but it doesn't look as good as new these days.
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Watching the Doctor Who Christmas special.
22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
Yes. I proposed to Kate Middleton just minutes too late.
24. What was your favourite TV program?
I really got into How I Met Your Mother (thank you to Rick & Jen for re-awakening my appreciation of it), Chuck (thanks to Diana & Yongbom), Party of Five and Doctor Who. Also, Matt and I got watching Outnumbered and Arrested Development together... I finished watching the West Wing... it's been a good year for boxed sets.
25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No. Hate is stupid.
26. What was the best book you read?
I enjoyed Tony Blair's 'A Journey', and Brandon Sanderson topped last year's effort with his latest installment of the Wheel of Time, admirably walking in Robert Jordan's footsteps.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
No great discoveries this year, though I finally caught up with everyone else in liking Kings of Leon's 'Only by the Night' from 2008. I found out about The Highwaymen (whom I mentioned here fairly recently), and was very impressed by Bruce Springsteen's 'The Promise'. To be honest, though, I bought a lot more DVDs than CDs this year.
28. What did you want and get?
A lovely flat to live in, after being shown loads of rubbish (and expensive) ones by a lovely lass from a local letting agent. And my entire deposit back from the last landlord!
29. What did you want and not get?
I ordered 'Round Ireland with a Fridge' on DVD, and it hasn't arrived yet. Did you know that Tony Hawks played himself in a film of the bestselling book? I don't have particularly high hopes, if I'm honest, of it being any good.
30. What was your favourite film of this year?
Inception was great, as was The Social Network. Avatar was the first film I saw in 3D, and though I haven't bothered buying it on DVD, it was a very impressive spectacle. The latest Harry Potter was excellent, too - I'm looking forward to the grand finale next year.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old?
Ben, Kate and Anna came round for a lovely curry, and humoured me by watching Three to Tango. I am now 25 years old.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Tuna. Not really.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Reluctantly.
34. What kept you sane?
Not having a personal fashion concept.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
The lovely Neve Campbell, whom I have had the pleasure of watching in Party of Five (as well as Three to Tango). Also, Doctor Who's Karen Gillan.
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Quite a few, this year, but the biggest has to be the general election. You may remember me staying up most of the night to document the excitement - I plan to do the same at our next general election (whenever that is), but I'll make sure to take the next day off work this time!
37. Whom did you miss?
Steve and I went our separate ways, but I'm getting over it...
38. Who was the best new person you met?
We've had some great new actuarial students at work, and it's been a pleasure to welcome Mike & Jo to home group. It was also good to meet the new babies of 2010, if 'meet' is the right word, and the Honcoops who very kindly put me up when I was in the States.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:
Gerry Rafferty used to be part of Stealers Wheel.
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Still this emptiness persists / Perhaps this is as good as it gets
Beautiful World - Colin Hay

On this day in 2009... Happy New Year! I hope you have a wonderful 2009, whoever and wherever you are. Unless you were banking on Wolves not getting promoted, or me being fired for petty theft.

January 8th 2011
I'm a little surprised that it's taken me this long to mention Wolves' recent victory against Chelsea (thanks for prompting that, Dad), a result which was unimaginable for most of the years I've been a fan. I began supporting Wolves on my 8th birthday, in 1993, after being given a fake replica shirt (I can't think of a less off-the-back-of-a-lorry way to describe it) by my parents. Their - presumably arbitrary - decision to give me the Wolves shirt and Simon the Aston Villa shirt has had a massive effect on my life. And a rather less massive effect on his. There have been superb highs (twice getting promoted to the Premiership, beating Manchester United, pretty much anything Steve Bull did, watching Ade Akinbiyi score a hat-trick against Grimsby, beating Bristol City 6-1 away on my 13th birthday, and now wins against Liverpool and Chelsea) as well as horrible lows (getting relegated, losing in the play-offs several times, letting a ten point lead slip so that West Brom got promoted instead, pretty much anything Glenn Hoddle did). That's life as a football fan, and I wouldn't swap the inconsistent pleasure of being a Wolves fan for the constant success of Manchester United, say, because this way the highs are all the sweeter.
In other news, Christmas TV is, I find, almost always a disappointment these days. For weeks we're told that this is the time of the year when TV gets special, and (in the Thomas family, at least) it is the only time of year when the Radio Times makes an appearance. Traditionally we have all been assigned a highlighter pen, and marked off the programmes that we were eager to watch, and I'm sure that in years past the Radio Times ended up with each day as multi-coloured as a swap shop. Yes, Simon always madly coloured in a dozen programmes a day that he had no real intention of watching, but this was always balanced out by Mum's annual failure to highlight anything at all, waiting instead to mention that she would have rather liked to watch a particular programme, a day or two after it had aired. Anyhow, perhaps this is false nostalgia, but we didn't even bother getting the highlighters out this year, and other than Doctor Who I wasn't especially looking forward to anything on TV.
It was a pleasant surprise, then, to watch Eric & Ernie on BBC iplayer - I think it aired on New Year's Day - and see an excellent biopic about the greatest double act this country (if not the world) has ever seen. The actors playing Morecambe & Wise were truly brilliant, superbly capturing the mannerisms of the pair without straying into parody, and managing to show the warmth between the pair, as well as capturing our warmth towards them. This was a drama so good that even Vic Reeves (playing Eric Morecambe's father) came out of it with some credit. Anyways, enough from me - check it out while you can.
In Colin news, the grapevine tells me that Colin Firth is the odds-on favourite to get an Oscar for his role as King George in The King's Speech, which I'm seeing tomorrow - I'm also told by my parents, who have already seen it, that such speculation is well-deserved. I'll let you know what I think once I've seen it for myself, but I have to admit that I am already keen for Firth to win, not just because I think he's a very good actor (though I do), but also because it would make him the first Colin to win an Oscar for either best actor or best supporting actor. At the moment we're being beaten by Denzel, Cuba, Yul, Gig and Forest. It ain't right.

On this day in 2005... Yesterday was, as many days are, kinda good and kinda bad. Bad, because it involved a very difficult and totally incomprehensible first lecture on Ordinary Differential Equations, and good (probably enough to outweigh the bad) because we made all the arrangements for our house for next year.

January 9th 2011
Because you've all been very good, and because I feel like postponing revision, I've made a quiz about this diary in 2010. May fun times ensue:


On this day in 2005... Pretty much ever since I joined Warwick Uni, there has been an ongoing argument about the correct pronunciation of words such as 'bath', 'glass' and 'laugh'. I, naturally, pursue the long a, whereas others go for the short a. On my side are the likes of Iain, Tom, Becky and Rob. On t'other side are the likes of Ant, Rich, David and Christine.

January 15th 2011
Simon is occasionally asked by his fellow literary enthusiasts whether I am also a lover of books, and in response he shakes his head sadly. I know this because he has told me repeatedly, and my response is generally that I am rather better read than the majority of the population, and always have at least one book that I am reading. But he has a point, inasmuch as (by the way, I never know how many of those words to cram together. Inasmuchas? That doesn't look right) I am a daily reader of the Times, which severely cuts into book-reading time. Also, as I have probably mentioned here before, I am very happy to re-read the books I have, often several times over, rather than broadening my horizons. My argument has generally been that there are books I know I'll like, and so re-reading them provides guaranteed pleasure, as opposed to the uncertain pleasures of a new text.
The sad thing, though, is that I can barely remember the last time I was blown away by a book - when I have read new books, as opposed to re-reading, I have almost always found them pleasantly mediocre at best (and Orlando at worst). Anyways, I was discussing the BBC's Big Read (a list of the top 100 best novels ever, as voted for by the reading public) with a chap at work, and realised that I have only read 30 of them. I have been toying with the idea of reading the remaining 70, heavily lacking in originality though that idea is, but have tentatively decided against it, based on the fact that I would have to read a lot of books that I wouldn't enjoy. Reading may be instructive and educational, but most of all it should be enjoyable, and ploughing through Ulysses, The Story of Tracy Beaker, or (worst of all) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would not be a fun way to spend my free time. So, instead, I have decided for the rest of this year to read only books that I haven't read before, taking my inspiration heavily but not exclusively from the Big Read list. I'll let you know how I get on.
In other news, I'm told that Steph has left Neighbours, imprisoned for murder (or manslaughter, or possibly even the seemingly tautologous 'involuntary manslaughter'). There was a time, back when I was the proud owner of www.StephHoyland.co.uk, that this would have been a major event in my life. Now, it passes by with barely a whisper. The times, they are a-changed.

On this day in 2004... Even Graham Norton and Princess Anne would pass muster as a couple if he saved her life on several occasions, each more sexy and daring than the last.

January 19th 2011
Until recently, the readership of this diary was fairly evenly split into people who had no recollection of me announcing my own version of the Oscars last year (known, sheepishly, as the 'Coddies'), and those who hoped fervently that it would never be repeated. The 2010 quiz I put up here earlier this month may have shifted a few people from column A to column B, so it is with misplaced confidence in the comfort of familiarity that I introduce you to the second annual Coddies (I couldn't afford Ricky Gervais to host it, you'll be pleased to know. Though, come next year, he may be glad of the gig). A premature footnote for sticklers: the films are selected from those released in 2010 that I have seen, or those that I have seen in the cinema in 2010 (basically, there are two films included that were released towards the end of 2009, but which I didn't get round to seeing in the cinema until 2010). Unlike last time round, in which all the films I'd seen got at least one nomination, there are three from 2010 that don't get a mention: Iron Man 2, Robin Hood and Up In the Air (the last of which managed, astonishingly, to garner six Oscar nominations). Anyways, on with the show:

Best Film
Inception - a truly original idea in a year jam-packed with adaptations. Christopher Nolan has a knack of making films that are complex but not - if you pay attention - confusing (see, for example, Memento). An excellent all-round cast and some mesmerising visual ideas combine to make a superb film that was only slightly over-hyped.
The Social Network - this (fairly) true story of astonishing sucess and betrayal was excellently scripted and very well acted.
Avatar - the culmination of over a decade's work, this was a titanic effort (geddit?) and a phenomenal experience.
Sherlock Holmes - despite being a Guy Ritchie film, this was a brilliant re-imagining of the great detective and sidekick.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes) - his performance as Holmes brought the right balance of arrogance and brilliance to a role that has been played in several different ways over the years. The publicity for the film somewhat overplayed the action sequences, because in fact this was a surprisingly close approximation of Conan-Doyle's character. Easily the match of the more lauded Benedict Cumberbatch on the Beeb.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) - more arrogance as Mark Zuckerberg, a compelling anti-hero (until the final seconds).
Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception) - his display of grief over another character's death was amongst the truest I have ever seen.
Michael Douglas (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) - a fine re-awakening of the old monster for a new generation.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) - as was the case last year, I only saw one film with a leading actress (and Wasikowska really played second fiddle to Johnny Depp, anyway). She wins by default, though she was competent enough.

Best Director
James Cameron (Avatar) - a man whose visionary ideas were some years ahead of the technology, he has pioneered 3D and produced a film worthy of the new medium. Although the fight scenes outstayed their welcome, Avatar as a whole was an incredible spectacle in a wonderfully created world, well worth seeing in 3D on the big screen.
Christopher Nolan (Inception) - an amazing translation of his own screenplay, he makes a great film out of a great idea.
David Fincher (The Social Network) - from a great script, he really brings out the story's subtleties with some great shots.
Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland) - no other director could make a film like this, though it never quite reaches its potential.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Justin Timberlake (The Social Network) - what looked like a gimmicky piece of casting (former boyband member plays rich young stud) turns out to be a revelation. As well as being effortlessly cool, Timberlake - as Sean "Napster" Parker - sows the seeds of betrayal in Zuckerberg, and it is clear why the latter wants to mimic his lifestyle. While the performance may owe much to Fincher's direction, it must be admitted that Timberlake does an excellent job.
Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes) - another surprise: Law was born not for the main roles, but to be a long-suffering sidekick.
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) - another great supporting role to Jesse Eisenberg's Zuckerberg from the new Spider-man.
Tom Hardy (Inception) - he just edges out Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe, who were also superb.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Zoe Saldana (Avatar) - through the magic of motion capture, she plays the Na'vi who strikes up an unlikely relationship with Sam Worthington's Avatar. She brings the depth of emotion that is needed to make the film more than just a dry parable, representing all that is good about this peculiar species.
Emma Watson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I)) - she grows from film to film, and was given more time to shine here.
Marion Cotillard (Inception) - brings a mystique to a role that is the driving force behind a lot of the film's action.
Anne Hathaway (Valentine’s Day) - in a poor American attempt at Love Actually, Hathaway is one of the few who gets away with it.

Best Visual Effects
Avatar - no question, really. Every now and then a film raises the bar considerably, and Avatar has certainly done that.
Inception - the scene in which Ariadne flips the city on top of itself is particularly incredible to watch.

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay
The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin, of West Wing fame, turns his attentions back to film and doesn't disappoint. While it's not as snappy as some of his TV work, there is still some impressive give-and-take and the development of characters with just a few words remains his trademark.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I) - with more time to fill, this is truer to the book than some earlier instalments.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay
Inception - Christopher Nolan, as mentioned above, takes a complex idea and makes it understandable as well as exciting.
Avatar - there were startlingly few screenplays that weren't adapted in 2010, with Avatar the only other real contender.

On this day in 2006... Heisenberg gets stopped by a policeman, for speeding. The policeman says "Do you know how fast you were going?" "No," Heisenberg replies, "but I know where I was."

January 22nd 2011
On Thursday and Friday of this week, I had the pleasure of staying with Simon in Oxford, and the slightly lesser pleasure of taking another actuarial exam, this time CA2 (not to be confused with my arch-nemesis, CA3). For those of you not up to speed with the excitements of CA2 (Core Applications 2 if you're feeling formal), it's a two day course in which the first day is spent reminding you what's likely to happen on the second day, and the second day is 7 hours worth of making a spreadsheet, writing an audit trail for it and knocking together a summary. I know that I spend seven hours of most days sitting in front of a computer screen, but these seven really took it out of me - after I'd got home, and watched Wolves lose 3-0 to Liverpool, I went to sleep for about three hours. Then I had chilli con carne, and watched some TV. After that, I had some cake and watched some more TV. Now I'm watching The Hustler, and experimenting with a newly mundane narrative style.
Speaking of TV, tonight I watched Channel 4's new attempt at satire, 10 O'Clock Live. For those of you who haven't come across it, it's co-hosted by David Mitchell, Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker and Lauren Laverne (who she?) and mixes interviews, monologues, debates and sketch-like things that aren't quite sketches. Considering the line-up (and the medium), it's no great surprise that the show has a left-wing bias, and the targets of a lot of the jokes were a little boring: bankers, Sarah Palin, Catholicism etc. Having said that, it was more balanced than I was expecting, and one of the highlights of the show was Mitchell's interview with Tory MP David Willetts about tuition fees. Much to Mitchell's credit - and, I must admit, my surprise - he engaged in a serious debate rather than playing to the audience for laughs, which inevitably meant that the coalition's plans were shown to very sensible. It showed the kind of intellectual credibility that Mitchell and, particularly, Brooker like to be known for, but don't always display.
Apart from that, the show as a little hit and miss, as might be expected. Brooker was on pretty good form for both of his segments, and Mitchell's monologue was funny and imaginative, but Carr's scripted jokes were unspectacular, and his skit about Tunisia was an extended riff on a single, not particularly amusing, gag. Least impressive of the bunch was Laverne, who appears to have been hired just to avoid a line-up consisting solely of white, middle-class, thirty-something men. She acted as something of a compere in the segments where the four were sat round a table together, perhaps so that she wouldn't have to make any jokes, and her only other contribution was a pre-recorded spoof of celebrity news that was short on laughs and even shorter on convincing American accents.
Anyways, I expect it will take them a little longer to get into their stride, but so long as they strive to be imaginative and avoid the pitfalls of intellectual narcissism, this show could go the distance.

On this day in 2005... All the fun of the fair this morning, as the fire alarm went off at about 11am. Although all of our building had to vacate, it was P3rd (our corridor) that had the honour of being originators of the fire. Well, smoke really - burnt bacon.

January 24th 2011
This evening I faced the reasonably typical choice of: (i) studying; (ii) trawling through the archive of my own blog, reminiscing. As usual I went for a bucketful of (ii) before following it up with some my-goodness-time-moves-slowly (i). A bit later on, I decided to mix things up by trawling through the archive of Ant's blog instead, which is always enjoyable, and more likely to contain things I'd forgotten ever happened. Such are the joys of long-standing blogs: Ant has been going since 12th June 2005 (albeit the pace has cooled off recently, over what critics are calling his 'marriage period'. I give it 75 years, tops), and this page has been around since 10th December 2003.
Opening it up to the wider range of blogs I read, Mum has been online since 2nd September 2007, Simon started on 10th April 2007, Mel kicked off on 18th May 2005 (though I didn't start reading it till much later), Mr. Pop Thy Collar has been around since 23rd March 2010, Môme dates from 23rd April 2010, and - hot off the presses (y'know, presses. Like what newspapers are made on. You remember. It's a dying medium, much like Mystic Meg under a bus) - Becca began on 10th January 2011.
I just thought I'd group together all the blogs I read (Tom Nicholas hasn't updated for so long that I've given up on him), so that if there are any you haven't yet come across, now's your chance to dive in. Feel free to let me know if there are any others I should be reading... or if Rob or Rich have returned to the blogosphere. I live in hope.
Speaking of Rob, I hope you'll join me in (a) wishing him an enjoyable trip to Brazil, and (b) robbing his house while he's away.

On this day in 2008... Anyways, Sam has told me in no uncertain terms (and quite accurately) that I am tired and should go to bed. So I will, and you'll have to wait before reading my thoughts on Severus Snape.

January 30th 2011
Despite Wolves being knocked out of the FA Cup today, I had an enjoyable day that began with going to church (I was barely five minutes late), then heading to Rick & Jen's and spending much of the day there. Pizza was eaten, boxes were packed, things were moved into the loft, a football table was taken apart, card games were played, Abbie was admired, and Wii trouncing happened (I was on the receiving end). Passive sentences make me weary, so I shall stop them. Anyways, all this activity sadly meant that I wasn't able to get any studying done today, but into every life some rain must fall, and I'm sure I shall bear the pain given sufficient time.
In other news, the AXA/Friends exodus continues - yesterday I went to Dave's leaving do, on Friday there were two leaving speeches and leaving drinks (all for different people), and - by my calculations - I will be the only person left working in the company by next Thursday. I've always wanted to be a CEO.

On this day in 2006... So, despite the fact that I'm taller and own more green jumpers, Christine's made the mistake of a lifetime and plumped for David. I guess it's because he had a ring. Yep, they're engaged. Congratulations to them both!

what was I listening to?
Forever Delayed - Manic Street Preachers
what was I reading?
The Complete Yes Minister - Jonathan Lynn & Anthony Jay
what was I watching?
The Usual Suspects
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