June 1st 2011
It's Times Crossword Championship time of year again, as today sees your fourth opportunity to try your hand at entering the competition. To qualify for the next stage you have to submit a correctly completed crossword along with the length of time it took you to manage it. My time was far too long to bother sending it in (you have to pay cash money, y'know), but I do like the fact that it's entirely honesty-based. If you claim you did the thing in five minutes flat, you're on your way - though you may end up looking a bit silly when it comes to the actual competition, as you nibble unhappily away at your biro while everyone else steams ahead. In other news, it is my considered opinion that Formula 1 is one of the most boring things shown on TV (and that, as they say, is saying something. Speaking of which, I used to be a mime artist - now that really wasn't saying something). I have mused slightly on the topic, and I think that F1 is flawed in pretty much every way that a sport can be flawed, bar one. The saving grace first: F1 is objective, unlike too many activities that masquerade as sport, since whoever crosses the line first wins the most points, and that's that. You don't get anything so sensible in synchronised diving. But that's as good as it gets. Formula 1 is dull (driving round and round? If I wanted to see that I'd hang out at the Clifton Triangle); it is besotted with money (the drivers are almost literally walking billboards, covered head to toe in advertising logos); it is won by whoever has the most cash (a ridiculously expensive car is more useful than a highly skilled driver); it is fairly corrupt (sorry, Bernie); it appears to reward technical efficiency far more highly than creativity; it is misogynistic (the only women you'll see are the paddock girls); it is very dangerous, with fatality a real possibility every time the cars set off. In short, I am agin it. In Doctor Who news, the curiously named 'mid-series finale' takes place this Saturday, with a cliffhanger promised that will leave us on the edge of our seats (as opposed to the standard Doctor Who position of behind the sofa). This series has been good - the pirates episode was fairly weak, but the last two-parter was impressive - even if it hasn't yet risen to the heights of the first two episodes of the previous series. It will be interesting to see how Matt Smith's Doctor continues once Amy & Rory move on, as the companions always do (though I'm not aware of any such plans in the offing). This incarnation of Doctor Who has heavily emphasised Karen Gillan, in particular, in much the same way that Billie Piper was prominent alongside Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. I watched very few of their episodes, but Tennant's Doctor continued to be popular even when Catherine Tate was his co-star, so there may be life after Amy. After all, Doctor Who has outlasted many a leading character - ten previous Doctors, for starters - and despite not being a long-term aficianado, I do appreciate it when the series recognises its own longevity. For example, in last week's episode a genetic replica of the Doctor was created (roll with me, here) and was unstabilised by his having so many previous incarnations, leading Matt Smith to speak a line from the very first episode ("One day we will get back. Yes, one day"), quote Jon Pertwee's famous line about reversing the polarity of the neutron flow (oh yes), and mime to audio clips from Tom Baker and David Tennant. Even if people like me don't really intend to dig out archive episodes, it's still nice that the programme is not ashamed of its past.
On this day in 2006... I may have spoken my last on RaW, since I've got an exam this Saturday, and by next week the regular co-hosts will be back. But I've enjoyed it so much that I'm definitely thinking about trying to get a more permanent slot next year, if I can wangle it.
June 4th 2011
A remarkably exciting episode of Doctor Who has just aired, with a great twist (albeit one that I managed to see coming a few minutes before it actually arrived). To be honest, the episode's storyline was a little less coherent than you'd generally expect from Steven Moffat, but still powerful nonetheless. I can't believe we have to wait until September - September! - before the series picks up again. Perhaps if I thought long and hard about it I might work out how the happenings of today's episode explain the baby in the spacesuit and the doctor being shot. But, to be honest, I'd prefer to find out when they tell me. In other news, a spate (no more, no less) of England footballers have retired from international football over the last year or two, and I have been unimpressed - my feeling has always been that to represent your country is a huge honour that should not be given up so easily. It is a sad truth that international football is generally regarded as an irritation by many English players, and is definitely much less important to them than the club game. However, watching England's game against Switzerland today made me realise that I kinda feel exactly the same way. As England went 2-0 down and pulled it back to 2-2, I couldn't really care less. OK, my international football fandom has a somewhat chequered history, since I counted myself as a Republic of Ireland fan for a few years (we all do weird stuff in our teens), but I don't think I'm atypical amongst football fans here. We simply don't care about England as much as we care about Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs, Wolves etc. I don't really know why this is: it could be that the players' attitude is rubbing off; it could be the off-field antics of so many of the squad have put us off; it could be a Darwinian response that dissuades us from supporting passionately a team that, until recently, featured Emile Heskey. Who knows? But it's like that; that's just the way it is. Hoi. In further news, I saw the latest X-Men film on Thursday, and I think it was the best yet. More on that later.
On this day in 2009... Log on to Twitter, and I can guarantee that Jonathan Ross will have written something in the last 8 hours. He cannot be stopped.
June 5th 2011
I was intending to write a bit about the latest X-Men film on here, and (partly) to that end I watched all four previous films in the series over Friday evening and Saturday. But then Sunday ran away with me a little - y'know, ironing and stuff - so it'll have to wait. Instead, I'll provide you with the text of a rather stunning website that was trying to persuade me to download X-Men: First Class (I stumbled across the site by accident, honest!):
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On this day in 2007... Since last I wrote here, I've also repaired my right slipper with tape. Just so you know.
June 11th 2011
Afternoon all. I write this while sat in my back garden, listening to Marc Cohn (he of 'Walking in Memphis') and testing the limits of my flat's wireless network. I am, in fact, sat in the shade, because my laptop was getting perilously hot in the sunshine and was whimpering a little. Anyways, before I speak of other things, allow me to congratulate Sir Brucie on his knighthood, and every sub-editor in the land who couldn't resist the headline "Knight to see you, to see you knight" (which they must have been storing up for years). Speaking of which, I was impressed by the Mirror's front page headline the other week, when Giggs was unmasked as the seducer of Imogen Thomas (it must have been her surname that attracted him): whereas the Sun went for the rather dull "It's Ryan Giggs", the Mirror had "Naming Private Ryan", which made me chuckle. I mentioned a week ago that I wanted to say something about X-Men here, and the simplest way to start is to say that I think it is the best yet. For those of you who weren't paying attention, the recent release of X-Men: First Class marks the fifth entry in the X-Men series. First off was X-Men, then X-Men 2, then X-Men 3: The Final Stand. So far, so trilogy. Some time after that came X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a prequel that investigated the life of Wolverine (otherwise known as Logan, or Hugh Jackman) before the events of the first film; this latest film is another prequel, but one that deals with the early lives of Professer X (also known as Charles) and Magneto (aka Erik), along with various other mutants, most of whom would be more readily recognised by comic book readers than by those of us who have only ever seen the films. The first film came out in 2000, directed by the excellent Brian Singer, and marked the beginning of the spate of superhero films that shows little sign of abating (Green Lantern is out soon, and looks dreadful). It is a good film, though it has never been one of my favourites of the genre, perhaps because there's too much going on - unlike, say, Superman, which can focus on only one character, X-Men had a whole host of mutants to intrduce to us. Professor X and Magneto were played by old hands Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen respectively, and two such actors were never going to waste the chance to impress themselves on the audience, but the breakout star was Hugh Jackman, previously unknown but suddenly iconic as Wolverine (he later starred in The Prestige, one of the favourite films of my good friend Rich, by the by). These three were all excellent, and it is no surprise that the two prequels (to date - more on that later) have been about them. Other characters were, to my mind, less successful: Storm (played by the then-popular Halle Berry, who somehow managed to get her name alongside Jackman's above the titles of the third film), Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (the rather less well-known Famke Janssen) were supposedly main players, but didn't bring much to the screen. Even after three films, it was very difficult to identify a single characteristic of Storm, such was the weakness of the portrayal (and whether that is a fault of the screenwriter, director or actress, I'm not sure), and the decision to make Jean Grey the centrepiece of the third film was one of the reasons that it was considerably worse than the first two installments. The love triangle of Logan / Scott / Jean was never convincing, and always overshadowed by the tentative relationship between Bobby and Rogue, characters you could believe in (this only improved with the introduction of Kitty in the third film). That links nicely into one of the reasons that First Class was, to my mind, the best yet: the characters were people we cared about. This was helped by the fact that we already knew about Professor X and Magneto, and were interested to find out how they became what they later were (if you managed to understand that without re-reading, you win ten points. I'm not sure I did), but also the screenplay and direction took time to establish all the characters and let them interact, rather than simply bestow powers on them and get them to fight. Which brings me to another problem of some of the earlier X-Men films: there were too many set pieces and 'fight scenes'. Don't get me wrong, there are fights in First Class, but they generally feel like they're progressing the story rather than showing off the special effects. Probably the major downfall of the third installment was that the entire thing seemed geared up to a big fight at the end, and I think that the reason that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is widely regarded as the worst of the series is that there are far too many fights getting in the way of what was actually a good story (and one that deserved to be told, having been set up nicely by events in the second film). Even without mentioning the comparative weaknesses of the earlier films, First Class is a great film in its own right. It is fast-paced and humorous, but not afraid to be dark - most films (and I'm thinking particularly of Harry Potter here) claim to be 'darker' with each new sequel, usually meaning little, but here I felt that First Class's darkness was real, and there to serve a purpose. The philosophy of Magneto throughout the films can be largely explained by the fact that he was in a concentration camp as a child, and this was explored in the prequel to good effect: the look on his face when he is told much later that the anti-mutant forces are 'only following orders' is worth the price of the ticket alone. Actually, no, it isn't. Cinema tickets are outlandishly expensive. But it's got to be worth at least a quid. First Class is, apparently, intended as the first in a new prequel trilogy, which I welcome, but there are yet more X-Men films in the pipeline. If you believe what you read on Wikipedia, we can expect X-Men Origins: Deadpool (a character who had only five minutes of screen time in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and was killed off); a sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine called 'The Wolverine'; X-Men 4 (following on from the events of the third film, and outrageously set up by a post-credits scene therein) and possibly X-Men 5, and X-Men Origins: Magneto (although that one must surely have been killed off by the storyline of X-Men: First Class). I don't think audiences will cope with quite so many different films set at different points, especially since they're all supposed to be part of the same timeline - there have been a few discontinuities in the films to date, such as the age of Silverfox, the transformation of Beast and the use-of-his-legs of Professor X, but that's nothing new: comic book writers have always ret-conned like there's no tomorrow (or, rather, like there's no yesterday). On that joke, I shall end. Go and see First Class; it could be the best prequel ever. In your face, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
On this day in 2005... Okay, I finished the original Star Wars trilogy, and I still feel that it doesn't deserve the hype that it got, but I like it, and will definitely watch them again (I rewatch films manically)...
June 17th 2011
So, here's the thing. On my way home from the bus each day there's a stretch of about 30 yards (ooh, imperial) that's under cover. And when it's raining, and I have my umbrella up - I'm a city gent, you see, I can get away with having an umbrella these days - I'm never quite sure what to do in that stretch. There's no need to keep my umbrella up, since it's completely dry under there, but taking it down and carrying it along in my hands for 27.4 metres (ooh, metric) just seems... churlish. What should I do? I'm sure I should bulk out this entry, otherwise it's just be wittering about umbrellas, but I haven't got anything else to say. Except to remind Rob that he still owes me a fiver.
On this day in 2006... I'm going to keep talking about football - but don't worry, there's a humorous conceit about films in the middle.
June 25th 2011
Simon and I disagree with each other on a range of topics - the relative merits of English and Maths as degree subjects; ASBOs; the beauty of football; Tesco; whether or not reading Virginia Woolf is preferable to running full pelt into a wall - and one of the topics where we don't see eye to eye is currently playing out on the front pages of the newspapers. Simon characterises this particular disagreement by suggesting that he sides with the victim of a crime whereas I side with the culprit; my take is that I support the process of justice whereas he does not. Anyway, yesterday a convicted murderer called Levi Bellfield was found guilty of the murder of Milly Dowler nine years ago - but the headlines in all the papers are about Milly's parents and sister, who regard their treatment throughout the trial as a kind of mental torture. Indeed, not only were they forced to relive the experiences of Milly's abduction and murder, but also had to face a humiliating portrait being painted of Mr Dowling's use of pornography, and insinuations that Mrs Dowling was a neglectful mother. Gemma (Milly's sister) went so far as to say that the day of her parents' cross-examination was worse than the day she received confirmation of her sister's death; Mrs Dowling said that she felt as much on trial as the defendant himself. This trial has caused some - including leader writers at the Times - to call for an overhaul of the justice system, claiming that the defendant's human rights are routinely prized more highly than those of the victim's family, and that 'true justice cannnot be so hollow and devoid of feeling'. Frankly, I could not disagree more with this sentiment, and I believe that the lessons that are being derived from this trial are the wrong ones. We can all agree that, in this particular instance, the Dowling family should not have had to go through what they went through in the courtroom: as the Times says; "On and on the assault went, surely far beyond the moment when it might have established guilt or innocence, far beyond the moment when it might have changed any verdict." And that is the point here: the judge should have dismissed the questioning because it was irrelevant to the jury's decision, not because it was painful for the family to go through. Imagine, for a moment, that evidence of Mr Bellfield's guilt had actually hinged on whether or not Mr Dowling engaged in S&M: then it would have been the court's duty to find proof of this, regardless of Mr Dowling's feelings on the matter. Yes, there is no reason to upset a witness unduly, and more should be done to avoid unnecessary distress in our courts, but this is an issue of manner rather than content - the questions still need to be asked. What, seriously, is the alternative? Sending a man to prison for life in order to spare another man's humiliation? Preposterous. I have written here before of my belief that justice should be - has to be - dispassionate, and that the feelings of those involved have nothing to do with the process of determining guilt (leaving aside, for the moment, pleas such as diminished responsibility). This, by the by, is why victim impact statements are such an affront to justice, as if a murder is worse if the person killed is better loved. Some - including, as I say, my brother - suggest that this viewpoint means I care more about the sinner than the sinned against, but my argument is always that I care about the wrongly-accused innocent. The justice system is built around the ideal that no one is punished for a crime unless it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that they are guilty; I support this position whole-heartedly, and it is nonsense to suggest that in doing so I am siding with the culprit. We cannot lock someone away because they're clearly a wrong 'un, and we can't offer a defendant anything other than the presumption of innocence and a full analysis of relevant evidence. I would want nothing less if I were in the dock. The Dowlings' deeply painful ordeal must not change this a whit, or justice would no longer be blind.
On this day in 2004... I love it when goalkeepers score goals, particularly when from the penalty spot... maybe it's because of my brief goalkeeping career for Eckington First School.