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April 3rd 2012
I write this not, you understand, as an employee of AXA. I mean, I do work for AXA, but can you pretend for a bit that I don't? It'll make things much easier for me if no one thinks, even for a moment, that I'm writing this on behalf of that fine multi-national company. I'm also a fellow of the Institute of Actuaries, and I don't speak for them. Come to think of it, I was a member of the now defunct Agatha Christie Fan Club, and I do not represent their views in this matter, either.
I shall be very brief, in order to avoid being hauled up in front of... well, anyone, really. AXA was mentioned alongside a range of other insurers on BBC Watchdog last week, with the repeated complaint that, when you purchase whole of life assurance (this pays out when you die, with no time limit on when that happens), "you may end up paying more in than it ever pays out". Well, of course. That's what insurance is. If everyone got paid out more than they paid in, insurers wouldn't exist. That is all.
In other news, you'll be pleased to know that my quiz team has won two weeks in a row at the excellent Deco lounge, having previously failed to win in all but one quiz previously in 2012. If this keeps going, my quiz winnings will be enough to cover my gambling losses.

On this day in 2006... As you probably know, I've given up puns for Lent. I realised, however, that the day on which this finishes will afford me great pleasure, since I can substitute a P for an S in the name of that day.

April 12th 2012
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a series of bangs, jolts and crashes in a crescendo of cruelty and pain. I speak, of course, of my beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are conspicuously failing to rage, rage against the dying of the light. We sit bottom of the Premier League, nine points from safety, having lost seven (I think... it's tough to keep count) games in a row, broken - and re-broken - our record number of consecutive home defeats and gone 30 games without a clean sheet. Even people with a minimal interest in football have taken to consoling / mocking me. Wolves are a national laughing stock.
It's hard to say why everything has gone this badly wrong, especially given our bright start to the season (we were top after three matches, having won two and drawn one with our only two clean sheets of the season thus far). The defence has been poor and the central midfield has been weak, but, ever since that crushing 5-1 defeat at home to our fiercest rivals, our biggest problem seems to be a lack of belief. It was right to fire Mick McCarthy at that point (and right also not to have done so before); it was also right not to have lined up a replacement behind his back. But somewhere in the process of hiring a new manager, between proclaiming that the job wasn't one for a novice and then going for... well... a novice, it all went horribly wrong. Alan Curbishley turning you down is just about understandable; Neil Warnock turning you down is a cause for celebration; Walter Smith turning you down is just sad.
Anyways, Terry Connor - a nice guy, but single-handedly setting progress for black managers back a decade - has just one point to show for his eight games in charge, and I now approach each match with the expectation of humiliating defeat. I once believed we would stay up; then that we should; then that - like my hopes of one day finding love - it wasn't entirely impossible. Now I believe only that we might come back up. Sometime.
In other news, I have wasted a fair amount of my evening trying (and failing) to solve the question below, which I posed six years ago today. Back then it was relevant - it was on an assignment I was doing - and back then I had not forgotten as much as I have since about group theory. Some cursory checking of Wikipedia has reminded me of a few facts about [G:H] (and, indeed, that I found the concept tricky to wrap my mind around even then, when I was a Bright Young Thing) but it is a shame that I can remember so little.

On this day in 2006... In other news, can any mathematicians out there prove that, if G is a finite simple group, and H is a proper subgroup, then the order of G divides [G:H]! (the factorial)?

April 23rd 2012
Haven't I seen you two somewhere before?

Every now and then a film has a great couple in it, and sometimes that couple is so great that one film doesn't seem quite enough to contain their wonder. Some casting director somewhere says to themselves: "Since they were so good in that film, they will almost certainly be equally good in this one...". Sometimes said casting director is bang on the money. Sometimes they're just being really lazy and have decided to cast the actors from the first film they pick up in the DVD store. Sometimes two actors are around for so long that they appear alongside each other multiple times almost by default (e.g. Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz in Vanilla Sky & Knight and Day). Anyways, here, in no particular order, are ten films that aimed to prove lightning can strike twice:

1. Revolutionary Road

Not the one on the ship.

He was the king of the world; she was never going to let go. It was inevitable that the two stars of the most Oscar-laden film of all time (Titanic, in case you've missed the last 15 years of newspapers) would one day be reunited on the big screen, especially since both have gone on to have extremely successful careers long after the iceberg's agent was reduced to begging for a bit-part in Frozen Planet. It must be admitted that Revolutionary Road is a rather less romantic film than Titanic, charting as it does the breakdown of a relationship, but it was strong enough to bag Kate Winslet her umpteenth Oscar nomination, in the same year that she finally won (for The Reader).

2. Runaway Bride

If your legs looked that good, you'd do it too.

Long before Billie Piper, Julia Roberts taught us in Pretty Woman that prostitutes are lovely, attractive girls who are generally happy with what they're doing and don't have drug dependencies. Richard Gere taught us that it's OK to have grey hair. When the couple reunited in Runaway Bride (helpfully dubbed 'Pretty Bride' in Japan, in case anyone had missed the connection) it was with Roberts as a woman who has run out on her wedding day several times (to different potential grooms), and Gere as the reporter who wants to cover the story. I won't spoil the story of this film (I can't spoil the story of Pretty Woman, because when I taped it off the telly, I accidentally cut off the last 10 minutes) but it's probably fair for you to assume that she was just waiting for the right chap.

3. The Lake House

Speed 3 to its friends.

No one had really heard of Sandra Bullock when Speed came out in 1994, although Keanu Reeves had already done his best work (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure) five years beforehand. Fast forward 12 years and both were household names, Bullock having survived even the dreadful Speed 2 (bereft of Reeves) with her reputation more or less intact, and it was time for the pair to be reunited. The Lake House is a standard story of two people in love facing a major obstacle to said love... in this case, the obstacle being that they live in different years. Rather more romantic than Speed (the last line of which suggests that a good relationship should be based entirely on sex) this is a gentle film that, car crash aside, is rather less high octane than its bus-based predecessor.

4. You've Got Mail

This picture is brought to you in conjunction with AOL.

Remember when Tom Hanks was a romantic lead? And when Meg Ryan made films? Strange though it may seem to the kids of today - for whom Meg Ryan is probably notable only as an anagram of Grey Man. Well, probably not even that - these two were once the hottest properties in Hollywood. They first appeared alongside each other in Joe Versus the Volcano (no, I haven't seen it either) but really hit the big time in Sleepless in Seattle, the film that suggests that you don't really need to meet in order to build a perfect relationship. I was at Seattle airport two years ago and they were still selling merchandise from that film: You've Got Mail was not so well received but is, for me, a better film. The trademark Hanks charm works its magic, and Ryan puts in the kind of adorable performance she patented in When Harry Met Sally. The least convincing part of the film has to be the ridiculously fast AOL dial-up times.

5. The Sting

Danny & Mickey. Or something.

Who says that great couples have to be romantic? There's always space for a damn good buddy movie, and the buddies in question don't even have to be amusingly cross-racial to work like a charm. Robert Redford and Paul Newman were fantastic as the titular heroes in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and their rapport was given another chance to shine in The Sting, a film that legally must be described as a 'caper', I believe. Anyone who's enjoyed the BBC series Hustle owes a big debt of gratitude to this movie (the former even - knowingly - stole the film's entire storyline for one episode). Newman and Redford were so good together that many - including me - wrongly assumed that they'd paired up in several more films.

6. Jersey Girl

Don't worry, things get better. Honest.

Of course, sometimes you have to wonder who thought that recreating the old magic was such a great idea, when there didn't appear to be any magic in the first place. Armageddon made hundreds of millions of dollars in 1998 but wasn't exactly over-burdened with critical acclaim, so it was always a long shot to hope that the two romantic leads from that film would be able to carry a fairly shoddy rom-com. Sadly, despite the bar being set pretty low, Affleck and Tyler were more than capable of tripping over it in this travesty of a film. I've not seen the 1992 film of the same name, but it's probably better.

7. Julie & Julia

No doubt.

Having both been Oscar-nominated for their roles in Doubt - regarded as one of the best films of 2008, Wikipedia tells me - Amy Adams and Meryl Streep didn't wait long to be reunited as the title characters in the 2009 film Julie & Julia. Notable for being the first major film based on a blog (but I live in hope of Matthew Perry playing the lead in "Colin's Online Diary: The Motion Picture"), the film was reasonably well-reviewed, even if it was beaten by G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra on its opening weekend. I'd personally never heard of Julia Child, but they tell me that Streep was spot on.

8. Hot Fuzz

The best film ever to be filmed in Wells. Probably.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost appeared alongside each other in the sitcom Spaced, watched exclusively by students and people who wished they were still students, before hitting the big screen with the excellent Shaun of the Dead. One of the funniest films I've ever seen, and the best rom-zom-com yet made (sorry, Zombieland), it was followed up by another comedy from the same team (Pegg, Frost and writer/director Edgar Wright), this time set in a Somersetshire police force. Although not as good as its predecessor, and despite having a dreadful title, Hot Fuzz is a very funny film that showed the duo still had the same old hetero-chemistry (and the phone numbers of every British comic actor currently in Equity). The final installment of their so-called "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy" is pencilled in for 2014.

9. 50 First Dates

That's a bad shirt, dude.

The Wedding Singer was a smash hit in 1998, taking in over $120m of ticket sales from a budget of $21m, so it was only a matter of time before some enterprising young buck decided to lump its two stars together again: and so it came to pass, only six years later, in 50 First Dates. I'll be honest, I've not seen it (nor have I seen The Wedding Singer, come to that) but from the looks of the poster, Drew Barrymore gurns a fair bit. Based on my own personal theory that all Adam Sandler films are dreadful, I assume this film is, well, dreadful, but it made nearly $200m at the box office - so what do I know? Telling the story of an amnesiac (Barrymore) who must therefore be wooed anew each day by her paramour (Sandler), it certainly sounds like it could be funny. Or it could be rubbish. There's your review, take it or leave it.

10. Grumpy Old Men

It's the original odd couple!

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon break the record for appearing in films together (slight caveat: I doubt this is true), pairing up on nine occasions (another slight caveat: one person on Amazon said this. I haven't checked it. They appear to be counting at least film in which they only appeared in archive footage of the Oscars), most famously in The Odd Couple. That film, adapted in 1968 from Neil Simon's play of the same name, featured the duo as two chalk & cheese friends who decide to live together after they both get divorced. Much hilarity ensues: enough to spawn a television series and a 1998 sequel, breaking the record for the longest period between a movie and its sequel featuring the original cast. Before that, though, they had time to appear in the surprise 1993 hit Grumpy Old Men (and its critically panned 1995 sequel Grumpier Old Men) in which they played men who were both old and grumpy. I assume.

On this day in 2006... Actually, at the time of Shakespeare's death the Julian calendar was in use, and under the Gregorian calendar he died on May 3rd.

what was I listening to?
Endless Love - Kenny Rogers
what was I reading?
Under the Dome - Stephen King
what was I watching?
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
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