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May 1st 2007
Today: Best ale poured out for band (7)
Last time: Depressed after student talks about leaving Jack Martin, perhaps (7)
Answer: Swallow
Happy May Day. Continuing the new theme of crossword clues, I've gone for a much easier one today - the idea is that I'll run through some of the more common techniques employed by cruciverbalists (a word that sounds very much like it was Latinised). I've also decided not to bother explaining clues in depth, but I'll make an exception for 'swallow':
Depessed = low
student = L (as in L-plates - this is common in the Times)
talks = jaws
about indicates that the words are written backwards
leaving Jack indicates 'J' being removed
Martin, perhaps = swallow
So, all in all, we have (swa[j]+l)low. Anyways, before this becomes a diary devoted solely to crossword clues, let me move on. Revision was less than impressive today, as Ben came round and we spent an enjoyable afternoon playing table-tennis, watching Spider-Man 2 (the third comes out on Friday! I haven't been this excited about a film since Return of the King, or maybe The Whole Ten Yards) and working towards co-creating a crossword, potentially for the Boar. Then this evening I watched Liverpool vs Chelsea instead of working. But fear not, tomorrow will be a revisiony day (until CU rolls around, of course)... In other news, I saw Rocky for the first time the other day, and have to say I'm impressed (although didn't give it my full attention throughout, so will probably rewatch within a week or so) - it's quite a cosy, very 80s (despite being a 70s film) picture that doesn't have any of the ill-advised Hollywood-ness that I suspected it might. Indeed, having seen a few, crazy, minutes of Rocky III this evening, I fear it went down that road. I will bid you good night for now.

May 3rd 2007
Today: Foliage disappears (6)
Last time: Best ale poured out for band (7)
Answer: Beatles
I think anyone who knows me would have jumped for band=Beatles without even studying the clue above; it was a simple anagram, indicated by 'poured out'. A new technique today. Anyways, I'm disappointed to see Spider-Man 3 given only two stars in today's Times, to match the two stars it got in Big Issue and worse than the 2 stars the Times originally gave it some time ago... but I will not be put off; after all, Three to Tango is my favourite film. But this third installment will go a long way to deciding whether Spider-Man is a fantastic trilogy to match Back to the Future etc, or whether it is merely a great (though flawed) film surrounded by two pretty good ones. Intriguing. Now I should be getting down to some revision; Galois Theory is today, and these early stages are always pretty tough... did I mention that Galois died in a duel at the age of 20? How cool is he? Of course, dying young does not necessarily make you cool, but it helps (see Buddy Holly) - dying in a duel over a woman's heart and making significant headway in Number Theory; now that is rock'n'roll.

I watched Rocky II last night, and although I don't think it's as good as Rocky, it's still watchable - but Rocky should probably have remained a one-off, so we could all revel in its small budget joys. One fault I have to find with both is that Rocky never blocks! Ever! I don't watch a lot of boxing, but surely it's not common practice to let your opponent whack you in the face at every opportunity, rather than lifting your gloves to block? Very odd. Anyways, it struck me in Rocky that Sly Stallone reminded me somewhat of Paul McCartney (circa A Hard Day's Night); and I've come to realise that lots of people remind me of Macca. The notable others are Neil Buchanan of Art Attack fame, and Diego Luna in The Terminal (this time, circa Sgt Pepper, with moustache in tow). Maybe it's just because I love Macca, but maybe not - are there any further Paul McCartney doppelgangers out there? Let me know, by emailing [email protected]

May 5th 2007
Today: Happy prisoner has outdoor accommodation (7)
Last time: Foliage disappears (6)
Answer: leaves
I'd built it up too much, of course. Spider-Man was great, and Spider-Man 2 is one of my favourite films - essentially, I'd been waiting for this day for at least two years. Spider-Man 3 came out, and I was among the first to see it on the day of release. And now what? Disappointment, that's what. It wasn't - despite what people have said in the papers, and coming out the cinema - a bad film. But it's like I'm a kid and it's my birthday; I got a toy train, and there's nothing wrong with a toy train, but I had my heart set on a toy car. More than that, I was promised a toy car, and the present looked like a toy car when it was wrapped up - only when I ripped open the paper did I see that it wasn't quite what I'd hoped for. So, where did Spider-Man 3 go wrong? I must warn readers who are yet to see the film, that there are spoilers throughout, today. It was messy, very messy - Sam Raimi tried to get something like four villains into the same film, and it was a big mistake, since none of them could be properly developed, and you were kept wondering what one was up to when nother storyline was taking place. It's a mistake he came close to making in the previous films; in both cases the initial plan had been to feature two baddies, but they realised they could only do credit to one at a time. For my money, this film shouldn't have had Sandman in at all, he was unnecessary and merely clogged up screentime - Raimi should have made the brave decision to scrap him. Also, Harry's transformation from bad guy to good guy to bad guy to good guy was similarly unnecessary, and could have been dealt with much better; like all the villains, he was short-changed when it came to character development. To explain his arc; at the beginning of the film he is eager to avenge his father's death by killing Spider-man, then in a battle between the two he hits his head and suffers amnesia. We get 'nice Harry' for a bit; then everything comes storming back, and he makes MJ break up with Peter, ostensibly to save the latter's life (although this is never properly explained). Then we have a rather poorly scripted scene in which Harry's butler tells him that Harry's father must have killed himself, so Harry teams up with Peter to destroy the baddies and save MJ. Although this offered some nice two-on-two scenes, it was too buddy-movie for my taste; a lot of people were complaining that the film was too cheesy, and while that wasn't really a problem for me, this scene did stand out in the cheese stakes (particularly when Spider-man is momentarily shown in front of a billowing American flag). But what else, other than requiring a lot of tidying up and a fair amount of pruning, was wrong with this film? Well, the big one has to be MJ; or rather, the MJ & Peter storyline. Spider-Man 2 was a great film for several reasons, but foremost among them was the relationship between MJ and Peter, which was both scripted and acted excellently - in Spider-Man 3, despite some early promise (Spider-Man's kiss with Gwen Stacey, and MJ's reaction to it, particularly augured well) this was the key failing. Kirsten was criminally underused, as there became fewer and fewer scenes involving her and Tobey, and soon she was simply a hostage again, in a situation far more contrived than in previous films. Why couldn't we have had more scenes between the two? Why was so little explained? Why, oh why, did it have to end the way it did? I wanted explanation, I wanted forgiveness, I wanted love, I was even hoping for a proposal; instead, we got them hugging, and nothing more. Peter had to explain about the black suit that made him turn evil, MJ had to explain about being forced to break up with him, they had to explain how the felt, and why they'd done the things they'd done - all of this seemed like it was coming early on, but never surfaced. In fact, a line from the trailer, spoken by MJ, is; "We have to forgive each other, or everything we ever were will be nothing"... this sounds like just exactly the scene I was hoping for - but I'm pretty sure it never made it into the film. It seems as though Sam Raimi sacrificed it, when he should have made his cuts elsewhere. So, what else should have gone? As I said, Harry's story arc was unnecessarily involved, but he did very well with everything he had to do; by removing one or two elements (say Harry went straight from his initial anger to realising that Spider-Man didn't kill his father) it would have been fine, except that Harry shouldn't have died at the end. Not because I'm sad about it, or anything; merely because it was wholly unnecessary that he be killed, and simply made the film even messier. More or less everything thus far has been criticism, and I can't say the film doesn't deserve it; but as I said to begin with, it's not a bad film - it's only the greatness of the first two that makes me respond like this. What, then, was good about the film? The storyline about the black suit, which makes Spider-Man lust for revenge and more or less pulls Peter's life apart, was done well, and the film was right to market itself largely on that element; when it transported itself onto Eddie Brock, my main feeling was that we didn't need another villain. However, with Sandman gone and Harry's role reduced, the introduction of Venom would have been a great move, and certainly not have detraced from the film. Also, the early scenes with Pete and MJ were worked pretty well; the concept of an increasingly popular Spider-Man alongside a singer who felt overshadowed was a sound one, and could have worked. I enjoyed scenes in the newspaper office, although it did seem a little too self-aware this time round; both here and elsewhere bit-part characters in previous films got more screentime than they perhaps deserved - but these are minor quibbles. So, to review the film in its entirety, what do I think? I came to it having read that it wasn't great, and I'm afraid that that affected my viewing for a long time, since I am slightly suggestible that way. But for long periods, even given the shortcomings of the film, I regarded it as a 4/5 or so, with very entertaining elements (although even then the inherent messiness was greatly disappointing); it was only at the end, after the key MJ & Peter finale I'd been waiting for was completely missing, that I felt so devastatingly disappointed. Given all that I've said - even given my assurances that it's not a bad film - you may be surprised to find that I still plan on buying it when it comes out on DVD. It's not going to be a day-of-release purchase, and I'm not going to see the film twice at the cinema, as I rather thought I might, but it's still good enough to have in the collection (plus, I never like to judge a film on the first viewing). Maybe that ending will be enough to mean I never truly enjoy the film (it reminds me of the Frodo-hanging-off-the-cliff in RotK, only more so), maybe after the shock of this initial disappointment I'll realise that my standards were too high. I don't know. There is even word that Spider-Man 4 might be made - if so (and after the critical reception for this one, I doubt it), I'll stand in line. But it will be with a heavy heart.

There is a little more to say. Having scanned through various views on the interweb, it seems that a lot of people hated the evil-Peter scenes, in which he seemed rather Travoltaesque. I thought the big dance was a little out of place, sure, but otherwise felt the deterioration of Peter's character (or, more accurately, the emphasis of his darker traits) was a strong point of the film. It's curious how different things affect different people - we were all disappointed, "but we got different reasons for that". There was an excellent film there, buried. I guess how I'm feeling now is more or less how I felt during the slow metamorphosis of Friends from best thing on TV to slightly funny also-ran; that was more painful, since the starting product was better, but the situation is very similar. Back then, I wasted a lot of time trying to work out what had changed, what went wrong, and whether it could be fixed; similar thoughts have been filtering through since last night. All love (bar one) ends in pain.

May 8th 2007
Today: Heads of state complain about revealing sweat marks (5)
Last time: Happy prisoner has outdoor accommodation (7)
Answer: content
A great victory for Wolves on Sunday mean that we've made it into the play-offs, alongside WBA (our great local rivals, whom we'll be playing in the two-legged semis - not, as the Capital Gold newslady insisted upon saying, the second-legged semis), Derby and Southampton. Mick McCarthy has done fantastic work with a team of youngsters largely selected from lower divisions, and even if (as seems likely) we fail to win promotion, no-one can say it hasn't been a great season. In cross-wording news, "con" = "prisoner" is a chestnut that crops up time and time again, so it's worth noting for future use. I picked up the Independent today, which generally has a good crossword, although easier than the Times: I currently have one word left, to fit around _A_C. Something to do with spirits, I forget what. While I'm mentioning crosswords, I should also say that I'm very much a Ximinean solver and setter (although it is embarrassing to mention myself in the same breath as such a master) - that is, I want to stick to strict rules, so that every word in the clue means something. As well as saying something about my character, this is largely because the Times is staunchly Ximinean... the best way I can explain what this means is an example from "Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)*", a kind of autobiography/crossword appreciation book by Sandy Balfour (who is very much not Ximinean, having learnt on the Guardian): a clue he enjoyed was "Emigre beaten up by the authorities (6)", which is 'regime' (being an anagram of 'emigre') - speaking to the setter years later, the latter said that he now would rephrase the clue, since the 'by' doesn't really mean anything. I agree with him; Balfour didn't. That's the difference, folks.
*REBELLED - pretty girl = belle, crimson = red, rose = rebelled

May 9th 2007
Today: Girl hidden by partner's USA nationality (5)
Last time: Heads of state complain about revealing sweat marks (5)
Answer: scars
Today was the day my Boar crossword was published, and I must profess myself chuffed, even if I realised one of the clues was unsound, and the last word got missed off from one of the others. I'm pretty pleased with the crossword as a whole (Ben, my harshest critic, was less than complimentary about some of the clues, but you can't please everyone). I will regale you with all the clues sometime soon, but not right now... the clue above is one of the easier ones, and you've already seen 'swallow', which was one of my favourites. I also liked "Bird in Ring of Fire? (8)" - the same answer was used, with not disimilar breakdown, in today's Times. But I prefer my clue. In other crosswording news, the point of yesterday's clue (see above) was the the first letters of words (ie 'heads of') were used.

May 9th 2007
Today: Law? Or this sham? (4,5)
Last time: Girl hidden by partner's USA nationality (5)
Answer: Susan
I enjoyed the crossword in today's Times, so I've reproduced one of the clues as today's 'prize' clue. With no price. A nice example of an &lit. clue - ie the whole clue is cryptic and the definition, at the same time. Anyways, I promised you my Boar crossword, so it's below:

Across
1. Current king's one to return from Middle Eastern country (7)
5. Fruit found in two very small quantities, skinned (6)
9. I'm in queer street (6)
10. People who mix at book libraries? (8)
11.& 16D Have several shots at incomplete puzzle? (6,4,5)
12. Almost fall in with a popular object (8)
13. Prize given to you and me, holding A Levels (8)
15. Definitely not women who thow a wobbly, ultimately (2,3)
17. Girl hidden by partner's USA nationality (5)
18. Famous member of the upper class is to take the first step (5,3)
20. Royal egg is whisked for hideous creature (8)
22. Again let the woman back to anger (6)
23. Bird in Ring of Fire? (8)
24. Help out good man, getting bodily fluid (6)
25. Move out of the way of shot, clutching wife (6)
26. Most mean to go down street, following cheerleader (7)

Down
2. Sport agents engulfed in heartless scandal - strange! (7)
3. Doctor sent to aid remedies (9)
4. Titanic, for example, runs Albert over (5) - this is edited, since in the Boar it was unsound
5. Oddly at home in a religious craze (9)
6. Metres rhyme with litres, for example (5)
7. Panic caused by England captain penning a poem (7)
8. Article on Cuba's badly written - you can count on it (6)
14. Scratch anyone can rub (9)
16. see 11A
17. Depressed after student talks about leaving Jack Martin, perhaps?
18. Apparently Christian Union is so long! (3,3)
19. Times originally in favour of rifles (7)
21. More willing to be an online participator? (5)
22. Keep away from diseased man after switching sides (5)
I will warn you that it's pretty difficult, but you've had some of the answers up here already to start you off. Good luck! In other news, you may have noticed that Tony Blair announced his resignation yesterday, effective of late June I believe, and the media have been launched into a whirlwind of Blair-related inserts and columns. I'm sure I'm mentioned Blair's legacy on this page before now, and how the successes are several - his excellent work in Northern Ireland, the ban on smoking, the ban on fox-hunting, the Olympic bid, working with the Make Poverty History campaign, the minimum wage... of course there is unprecedented economic growth, which is frequently mentioned as an aside. Naturally Blair is not solely to thank for any of these things, and he has made errors (anyone remember 'on-the-spot fines'?). But the overwhelming response from journalists is that 'all people will remember is Iraq' - and they're almost certainly right. When students of history learn of Blair's Britain, they probably won't be surprised to find that he's best known for the important role he played in deposing one of the world's most tyrannical dictators. What they might find more difficult to understand is why it's supposed to be a bad thing...

May 14th 2007
Today: Dirty relative (aunt, oddly) (7)
Last time: Law? Or this sham? (4,5)
Answer: show trial
It's the time of year when exams rear (do I mean rear? What a lot of meanings that word has) their ugly heads, and Simon is not exempt from this phenomenon, as he has stacks of exams over the next week or so. Wish him happiness throughout. Now, I'm a mathematician, as y'all know, and maths is the subject I have the greatest respect for in general - indeed, I have been known to exclaim that maths is the only subject worth studying. But I think I have also mentioned that I have a range of interests academically, symptomised by my choices of A-Level; English was among them. So when Simon comes home from a hard day's night at the books (and afternoon sleeping), I can converse knowledgably with him about Milton, Keats and Dubec. OK, I made up the last one. But the point stands; I know about English Lit, me... yet I have little or no respect for the subject as it is studied, since in my experience (which stretches only as far as A-Level, admittedly, but not a bad one) writing garbage that is clearly not true is the best way forward. I mean, you find an unimportant line in chapter 7, another unimportant line in chapter 28, and put together a vague hypothesis that encapsulates the two, and draws in various unprepossessing sentences along the way. Even if I exaggerate there, it has to be admitted that the majority of what I wrote in English Lit was nonsense, and not what the author was talking about at all. Frank McCourt, for example, debunked a raft of analysts by pointing out that his book was called Angela's Ashes because... it was about Angela's Ashes. I feel that he, along with multitudinous other authors, would like to say; "I showed them my finger; they thought I was pointing to the stars." The thing with maths is that it's right, and you don't need to go any further if you don't want to. This is not to say that I'm a cold-hearted, systematic mathematician - while I like my academia to be scientific (as opposed to waffly), there are strictly non-sciencey aspects to my life. For example, I have already sketched out my proposal in my head, and I am willing to do anything anyone asks of me so long as they hold up a polar bear cub and pretend that it's doing the asking. Aah, polar bears...

May 17th 2007
Today: City guides, by the sound of it (5)
Last time: Dirty relative (aunt, oddly) (7)
Answer: unclean
Note: 'oddly', 'regularly' or 'alternately' often indicate that every other letter is missed out - in the case of 'oddly' above, it meant that only the 'a' and the 'n' were taken. A new type of clue today, and hopefully not too difficult. Now, let me vent my spleen a tad - about Madeleine, the missing girl in Portugal. Or, more precisely, about the newspaper coverage of the traumatic events; I don't have a great problem with its ubiquity (although it has been pointed out that the coverage is almost voyeuristic, and that we are merely exciting our desire to wallow in other people's grief), but I am horrified by the extensive coverage given to the initial suspect in the case. The similarities with the recent spate of murders in Ipswich are unmissable; as soon as someone was questioned by police, the newspapers dug deep into his personal life, getting neighbours and acquaintances out to claim they always knew he was shifty. And, of course, his name, age and location were splashed all over the news (by every paper, mind you; this was not merely a tabloid thing). So when it later transpired that he'd had nothing to do with the murders, there was a murmured apology, a recognition that perhaps the media should not grossly violate laws that govern the nation (in this case the Contempt of Court Act, which forbids the prejudice of a fair trial). Now, just months later, exactly the same thing is happening again, with similar levels of illegality (apparently other nations in Europe tend to comply with similar laws, making British papers the nauseating exception) and perhaps even less evidence against the guy. Perhaps he will be charged, perhaps he is guilty. That doesn't justify what's been done, anyhow (the whole fair trial thing again) - but what if he's just a helpful neighbour who's offered his abilities as a translator? Then his life has been ruined, since no one who recogises him will be able to put what's been reported out of their head. Do you think friends will be happy to leave their children with him? Do you think he'll be able to go out with a woman again - ever? More seriously, his life is in danger from people who want to avenge Madeleine, and are stupid - so, about half of the British public.

May 19th 2007
Today: Pirate has damaged liver under underwear (4,4,6)
Last time: City guides, by the sound of it (5)
Answer: Leeds
Today's clue is down, not across. It's also not very good. Anyways, FA Cup final day, giving me a legitimate reason to miss revision for an afternoon - indeed, from 3pm onwards, since I'm off to see a play starring at least two of my housemates this evening. In Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (not to be confused with the awe-inspiring kids' TV programme, Julia Jekyll & Harriet Hyde). Ant is Dr. Jekyll, Rich is Mr. Utterson (it's funny because he's the narrator - ie he 'utters on') and I'm not altogether sure I'm not playing Mr. Seek. Should be grand. Unlike revision... there is now a week until my first exam of the next bunch, which should give me enough time to get stuff sorted out if I work hard - so I shall. This is not uncommon
In film news, I've mentioned my recent Rocky viewing; having watched all 6, I'm of the opinion that the first is the best, and that the sixth (Rocky Balboa) is better than any since, with the possible exception of Rocky II... probably. Andy - who lent me the boxset - says that Rocky III is the best; Rich says that Rocky IV is the best, because there's a Russian in it. I'm afraid to say that IV isn't great, largely because of a talking robot that finds its way into the script, and the fact that Rocky seems to end the Cold War. By beating up a Russian. Anyways, in this spate of Stallone-admiration, I decided to watch First Blood last night (latterly known as "Rambo: First Blood") - and it's not very good, I'm afraid. Apparently the sequels are much worse - although Sly is currently working on the fourth in the series, entitled John Rambo. If it's anything like Rocky Balboa, he'll take it back to the spirit of the original. But I won't be seeing it. In other news, you may have noticed that Wolves got knocked out of the play-offs recently - this was not a big surprise. What was a big surprise - and I've only just discovered this - was that Yeovil Town overturned a 2-0 first leg deficit in their League One play-off semis, beating Nottingham Forest 5-2 away, so 5-4 on aggregate. Championship here they come! Yeovil playing Wolves... who'd have thought it?

Just to let you know that I recorded what must be my fastest ever Times-crossword time today, in approximately 20mins. Since it's the prize crossword, I'll have to wait a while to find out if I'm 100% correct (there's at least one I haven't completely worked out why it's right, although I think it must be). But I'm chuffed. Now to probability theory...

May 19th 2007
Today: T is for Tiramisu, possibly (6)
Last time: Pirate has damaged liver under underwear (4,4,6)
Answer: Long John Silver
The crossword clue today is pinched from Saturday's Jumbo in the Times, and is quite tough, so I'll give you all the checking letters: A_T_R_. Good luck with that. Anywho, it appears that Jodie Marsh has got a new wheeze for a reality TV show; she's going to audition people to be her husband. Now, I assume that since you're reading this, you're a highly intelligent (and good-looking) person, so you probably haven't heard of Jodie Marsh - except for you, Rob, as a devoted Sun reader - so, to fill you in, she has large breasts. And that's it. Well, she's hoping that Britain's men are eager to humiliate themselves on TV in the pursuit of her hand in marriage - and, of course, whatever settlement they're entitled to in the inevitable divorce/annulment that will follow within two or three days. It is difficult to know how to respond to the whole concept of the show; primarily, one has to wonder if there are enough people stupid enough to enter - but then, there are enough people stupid enough to commission the show, so anything's possible. Certainly the idea is unlikely to be brought forward as evidence of Jodie Marsh's healthy mental state... hmmm. I don't wish to be unkind, but of the many words I could choose to describe Ms. Marsh, 'attractive' isn't one of them; 'marriage material' is not a description I would readily apply. To what has womanhood come? In other news, apparently Gordon Brown was at Warwick Uni on Sunday - you may have seen him being heckled by one of Britain's many well-informed and intelligent anti-Iraq protestors; it transpires that he was in the Butterworth Hall at the time, slap bang in the middle of campus. They certainly kept quiet the fact that he was going to be there, so I'm afraid I wasn't able to hang around the arts centre, awaiting his arrival. Finally, before I head to my bed, a film confession (one of two; the latter will not appear today, if at all) - yesterday I bought Police Academy on DVD. In my defence, it was only 2.84, and the first one is pretty good (at least compared with the dross that followed)... but still. Sorry.

May 24th 2007
Today: Where full marks in every exam leads? Partly (2,1,7,6)
Last time: T is for Tiramisu, possibly (6)
Answer: afters
Congratulations to my parental team who, after a few false starts, got the answer to last time's crossword clue (Mum's claim that Tiramisu was 'yummy' was a red herring I fear, partly because it doesn't fit, but mostly because it isn't true). Tonight, for the third time in as many years, an English team contested th Champions League final, and for the second year in a row they lost. Last time it was Arsenal being beaten by Barcelona, and I watched it at Varsity in the company of Rob, Stu and Andy. This time round it was Liverpool who were unlucky to lose 2-1 to AC Milan, and I watched it at Drew's house with about half a dozen others - the defeat made a little harder to take by the fact that Drew was cheering on Milan. I myself would back any British team in the final, except West Brom (which shouldn't be an issue any time soon), but apparently his AC Milan support dates back some years - presumably as an antidote to the depression of supporting Derby County. Moving away from football for the moment, allow me to ponder the nature of government awhile. Would you say that a government should be populist, or do what they believe to be right? Or to phrase it another way, should they listen to the voters or ignore them? (Hyperbole is the enemy of rational investigation). I mean, it seems that politicians will do whatever it takes to get into power, regardless of their principles - and once they get there, it doesn't stop. Daniel Finkelstein - normally an amusing and erudite writer in the Times - yesterday wrote an article in the form of a memo from Gordon Brown's people to the great man himself, suggesting that he shouldn't remove troops from Iraq, because it wouldn't be a popular move with voters. Now, Finkelstein was being quite tongue-in-cheek about it all, but it certainly seemed that he was serious about the whole vote-losing motivation. Call me naive, but the Prime Minister should withdraw troops from Iraq if he believe it to be right to do so, and keep them there if he believe otherwise - and while this is a democracy, and the people should be listened to, the concept of withdrawing troops to win votes - or keeping them there for the same reason - must be anathema to any half-decent human being, surely? Personally, I think that withdrawing troops now would be idiotic, but that's not really the point here. Tony Blair said he did what he thought was right by deposing Saddam Hussein, and while a lot of commentators have said that that isn't good enough, very few - indeed, only Matthew Parris that I've seen, and he's kept it atypically quiet - say that they don't believe him. I'm not going to eulogise more about Tony Blair than is necessary here, but whatever else you think about the man - and I've heard/read some ludicrous viewpoints, none more so than Martin Samuel, again in the Times, claiming that everything other than Iraq can only be a 'footnote' to Blair's Premiership - he did what he believed was right, and was prepared to stand up for it. I don't know how many other prominent politicans can say the same.

May 25th 2007
Today: Revise maths, taking in nothing; is he doubting? (6)
Last time: Where full marks in every exam leads? Partly (2,1,7,6)
Answer: to a certain degree
This morning saw Dave Oxford (a cunning pseudonym) guesting on Dangerously Articulate, and good fun it was too - next week should see Dangerous Iain gracing the airwaves. 'Dave' then returned to my place, and we spent a pleasant, revision-free day doing this and that. After he returned home, I went with Ant and Rich to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 - so, as is usual, I shall give you my thoughts and feelings here. And, as is not uncommon, there will be spoilers a-go-go, so if you're intending to watch the thing, look away now. Good. Well, I have to say that it's the second time this month that I've come away from a 'threequel' (hideous, hideous word and I apologise) feeling disappointed by a poor ending. Because the ending of Pirates 3 is feeble; there is absolutely no closure, and it feels very much like it's setting itself up for a fourth installment. The only problem is, there is no fourth installment, so that's all we've got (unless there's a U-turn, which you can't rule out); we leave Jack searching for some fountain of youth or other, and more loose threads than you can shake a stick at. More damagingly, we leave Will and Elizabeth in the odd position that they can only see each other once every ten years - and this is supposed to be a happy ending! Indeed, apparently there was a scene after the credits (not knowing it was coming, we'd left by then) in which Will makes his one-day return ten years later. Whoever thought that that was a satisfactory conclusion to their story arc needs their head checking. So much for the ending - what about the rest of the film? It was entertaining enough, with several humorous moments, even if there seemed to be a heavy reliance on Mackenzie Crook and the monkey being intrisically funny. But that was a failing of the previous two films, so we can't complain too much. The plotline was also massively confusing - although I have to admit to getting rather lost in both previous films, again, which is a tad embarrassing since a huge part of the target audience is a lot younger than me. Basically, a disaparate group of characters double and triple cross each other, swapping ships at regular intervals, for a wide range of motives that frequently passed me by. Like most films, I was mostly enticed by the love story, and while that was played well at times, it was sadly underused for much of the movie (and, of course, the ludicrous ending did a lot to mar what came before). Keira did a good job for the main part - I would say it was better than her performance in the second film - but she didn't have enough screen time with Orlando, and they seemed to jump from being at loggerheads to getting married with little character development in between. Like with Spider-Man 3 a few weeks ago, I've very much given the impression that I didn't like the film, and again that isn't really the case - with the exception of the Will/Elizabeth ending, I didn't have much of a problem with this film. But it's a very different situation to the Spider-Man one, since in that case I loved the first two films in the trilogy, whereas this time round I merely enjoyed Pirates I and II, without ever being overwhelmed - so the disappointment now is mild. It never meant as much. I hope now that Orlando finds a film role where he can stretch his acting abilities, and prove himself (or not), and that Keira does something with less action and more feeling. And Mackenzie Crook can do as he wishes, but I hope it's not more Paul McCartney music videos.

May 26th 2007
Today: Moderate pressure I had after half term (5)
Last time: Revise maths, taking in nothing; is he doubting? (6)
Answer: Thomas
Yesterday's clue, as well as having an appropriate surface, was also a subtle reference to my own surname, which could go some way to explaining my parents' success in solving it. (although Dad apparently solved the Times crossword in his University days. I'm not sure whether to file this in the same category as Mum having read War and Peace). Note that today sees the return of my exam diary (check the archive for the link) - so I won't say anything about that here. In other news, I was thinking about my favourite film characters the other day, and haven't come up with a very comprehensive list at all - Rocky Balboa, Atticus Finch and Elwood P. Dowd (this last topping the list) was about as far as I got. It's curious - there are lots of actors I think do great jobs, lots of characters I think are excellent, and (particularly) lots of couples I enjoy - but suprisingly few characters I really like. Maybe I'll muse on it some more... in the wake of Pirates 3, I was also trying to think of disappointing endings to films. Now, I'm sure there have been loads of these, but while I remember often thinking "No, don't end it now. Don't end it now" just before the credits roll, I can't recall many of the times. The fact that such a film is unlikely to find its way into my permanent collection contributes to this - but I've come up with Pirates 3, Spider-Man 3, The Talented Mr. Ripley and When Harry Met Sally. And the ending of Pride & Prejudice wasn't the best. Maybe I'll muse on that one too... of course, I'll be highly surprised if I ever mention either of these film threads again. Goodnight Saigon.

May 26th 2007
Today: Unfortunately a boy band are releasing an album (5,4)
Last time: Moderate pressure I had after half term (5)
Answer: tepid
Tim, a friend of mine from Jack Martin, and a fellow mathematician, is this year engaging in the Rag Blag - I'm not sure what this entails in the big scheme of things, but I know that he's swapping lots of stuff. He, along with several others, was given a condom, and told to swap it for something - then swap that for something, and so on, to see who could get the best item in a certain time frame. As a first swap he got himself the best of Supertramp and an illustrated Sherlock Holmes collection; I then swapped these for an ELO CD, a Friends book and an alarm clock... I don't know whether he's got any further, but I think it's a grand idea. There was a chappy who made his way from a paperclip to a house over several years, which is a truly excellent achievement (although, as I pointed out on DA, there are some parts of Cov where you'd rather have the paperclip...). In other news, I've been musing a little on what I mentioned yesterday - my favourite film characters. Adding to Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart, Harvey), Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky series) and Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, To Kill A Mockingbird) are Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump), Han Solo (Harrison Ford, Star Wars IV - VI) and Mark (Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually). I still haven't thought a great deal about it, so I may be back with more. I realise there are no women - probably because, being male, I don't empathise so easily with them - but I'm tempted to put in Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst, Crazy/Beautiful), an excellent performance that I'd recommend as her best. But I don't really like the character there, more admire the performance, so she doesn't really count.

May 30th 2007
Today: As yet unmoved (5)
Last time: Unfortunately a boy band are releasing an album (5,4)
Answer: Abbey Road
Ximenes, apparently, was not a big fan of partial anagrams, so apologies to him for last time's clue. Today's should be easier. It seems that in the last few days access to this page has been somewhat hit-and-miss; this is nothing to do with me, or Geocities, or Freewebs - blame 123reg. Hopefully it's sorted itself out now... in other news, I read today about a young lass (she's 18) who's something of a brilliant pole-vaulter, and also not unattractive. She happened to post a video on YouTube discussing her pole-vaulting technique, and it was noted that she was easy on the eye; so much so that pictures of her have been flooding the interweb, with fansites etc springing up all over the place. Apparently she now doesn't leave the house alone, and she's had her meets (is that what you call these things?) swamped with photographers. So the Times thought the best way to let the world know was by putting a big picture of her, with accompanying story, on page 3. Cue a lot more people looking for her on the interweb (I must admit that I was curious enough to add my name to the list... I have to say I preferred the Times' choice of photo to the infamous one that sparked off a lot of this stuff). She seems a pleasant lass, even if she has chosen to fling herself over poles using other poles for a living, so good luck to her. I too know what it feels like to be so attractive that you can't get a moment's peace... in brother news, get well soon Simon.

May 31st 2007
Today: Consider losing extremes; it's a good position to be (6)
Last time: As yet unmoved (5)
Answer: still
Simon, Grandad and me
Grandad died last week, peacefully and as a nonagenarian. It was, as they say, his time. We were never, in a geographical sense, close; some families live within miles (or even rooms) of each other, but in our case he lived in Suffolk while I dotted around from Merseyside, Worcestershire, Somerset and Coventry. This meant that whenever I did see him and Granny it was a special event, both for myself and for them. There were few people with as high an opinion of my academic abilities as my grandparents, and I know that, deserved on not, they were both very proud of both Simon and myself, and I am glad to have brought joy to Grandad's life; this was a two-way street anyhow, as it was following in his footsteps that I dabbled in stamp collecting as a child, and later started doing cryptic crosswords. Who knows if I'd have done them sooner or later anyhow, but it was definitely under his (often indirect) guidance that I started looking at them, learning his techniques both from talking to him and from diligently studying his solutions afterwards. Hopefully one day I will be as good as he was, almost effortlessly completing the Times crossword, and regularly completing the harder weekend ones that I rarely even bother to attempt. Of course, I have more than crossword solving to thank him for; I have my very existence. But I'm still following in his footsteps, albeit accidentally, by working in insurance. What else can I say about Grandad? He was always good for a story or two (indeed, generally the same two) about his experiences in the Second World War, and he was better at getting me gardening than anyone else - not necessarily because I enjoyed it, but at least because I didn't want to see an old man struggling in a tree when I could offer my younger, if less able, limbs. It may well have been him who coined the word 'moonbeam' in reference to unused cutlery. But it will be in the daily crossword that I'll remember him best, I think...

what was I listening to?
The Very Best Of - Supertramp
what was I reading?
Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword - D S Macnutt
what was I watching?
Rocky II
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