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June 4th 2012
My mother emailed me recently to warn me against being a Scrooge. This could be a response to my previous post here, which struck me as curmudgeonly even as I wrote it, but more likely it is because this weekend is beset by Diamond Jubilee celebrations and I am a republican. I can't be bothered to restate for the hundredth time all the arguments for and against the monarchy: the former are too risible, and the latter too obvious, to bear repeating once more, and I have long since learnt that monarchists are insensible to rational thought. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me with a straight face that the monarchy should remain because it is good for tourism.To bunt or not to bunt
Anyways, this is all leading me towards Scrooge-like territory, so I might as well cut to the chase. While I can cope with people celebrating the Jubilee (so long as they don't try to interrupt me doing the crossword), what annoys me most about this weekend is the co-opting of the Union flag as a monarchist symbol.
Patriotism is, at best, pretty silly - and, at worst, rather hateful. It is, as George Bernard Shaw suggested, the ultimate arrogance - "your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it" - and is certainly no virtue. Don't get me wrong, I very much like this country and am immensely glad to return to it whenever I leave, but I realise that this owes more to my own familiarity with the land than any of its actual benefits ("I'm a patriot, and I love my country, because my country is all I know" - Jackson Browne). I am not proud to be British any more than I am proud to be male, white or middle class, although I am very content to be all of these things. That being the case, I do not like to see the Union flag being displayed as synonymous with Jubilee celebrations, with people (like my brother, in fact) decking their houses out in the things as if they implied something. I am a republican: this does not make me non-British.
The inescapable retort - as both Simon and Anna have told me - is that my feelings this weekend are the same as the feelings of many when St. George's flag is co-opted as a symbol of football. I can't argue, I suppose, and it is unfair that Simon must take down his bunting before the Olympics begin, or risk being viewed as a lover of sport. But if I can't chunter here, where can I chunter?

On this day in 2009... The genuine, real Matthew Perry, universally acclaimed as the best actor of his generation [note to self: check this, too] writes sub-140-character messages to me, his loving public.

June 9th 2012
I don't know about you (obviously), but I'm rather excited about Euro 2012, which kicked off yesterday evening. Despite the fact that England's chances of victory are somewhat lower than my chances of a call-up to the squad - considerably lower, in fact, given that (i) I played left back for my school house once in middle school; and (ii) my brother has never been racially abused by John Terry. So far as I know. Anyways, even though I want England to do well, I have never been particularly partisan about them, so their (you see, I say 'their' rather than 'our' - at least until we win) feeble squad doesn't much dampen my spirits.
A major international football tournament comes around only once every two years, and while I do not expect any of them to recapture the magic of the first one I remember (Euro 96), I intend to make the most of this one. The wall chart is up; the fantasy team is picked; the sweepstake is entered (c'mon Ukraine); the predictions for every game are in. All the matches kick off in the evening, meaning that I'll get to watch some or all of most of them (unlike the last World Cup, where time zones were not helpful) and I intend to. Two games down so far, and there has been plenty of excitement - 7 goals and 2 red cards - which bodes well for the rest of the tournament.
Footballing events in Ukraine & Poland have, however, been overshadowed by the racism and antisemitism that is surprisingly prevalent in that part of Europe - if you haven't seen the Panorama programme about it, I recommend that you do so. It is as astonishing as it is vile that vast numbers of fans make Nazi salutes and use 'Jew' as an insult; it is disgraceful but it is also fairly perplexing. Antisemitism has never been a thing, really, in my experience. As school children we were certainly not paragons of virtue, and it was common to hear taunts relating to mental and physical disability, homosexuality and occasionally nationality, but no one even considered Judaism to be used in insult, or even particularly commented upon.
Perhaps that's because I grew up in an area that didn't have a significant Jewish community (the splits in Eckington, such as they were, were more along class lines than anything else), but it is also true of my later experiences in this country: I can only recall ever hearing two people make antisemitic comments, and neither of them were British. By 'antisemitic' I mean comments against people who are ethnically Jewish - as a Christian I take no more pleasure in Judaism as a religion than I do Islam, Buddhism, atheism or any other belief system, but the Jewish ethnicity is clearly distinct - along the lines of the world being controlled by some kind of Jewish cabal. Such comments are clearly nonsense, and not only do I disagree with them but I also fail to understand where they come from. When I hear Bob Dylan sing, or watch a Jesse Eisenberg film, or laugh at Ed Miliband, their Jewishness is the last thing on my mind.
I'm not saying we're perfect in this country, by any stretch of the imagination. I get embarrassed by the FA, and our newspaper columnists, getting outraged by racism in Eastern Europe and at the same time dismissing the despicable chants at our own grounds as 'banter', or at the worst 'a small minority spoiling it for everyone else'. While it is indeed a triumph that racism is rare at our football grounds, and antisemitism even rarer, these are not the only possible sins: I'd rather be called white than be called a paedophile, and that's the challenge facing English football. I'm hoping Euro 2012 is a great tournament, and I'm hoping that UEFA doesn't turn a blind eye to the idiots who make 'monkey chants' or unfurl antisemitic banners. But as long as England fans chant about the Germans, or the Welsh, or travellers, or homosexuals - or any of the other groups that are viewed as fair game - let's not kid ourselves that we can take the moral high ground.

On this day in 2007... Number 67, Westwood Road made its first steps towards disintegrating yesterday (in a purely metaphorical sense; in a literal sense, those steps were made months ago) as Anthony left these fair walls.

June 19th 2012
From Friday afternoon to Monday morning I had the pleasure of staying with Rob in leafy Kent, spending some time in our nation's capital and being generally ignored by all the passers-by who were keen to inquire about the state of Rob's broken leg. I'll save you the trouble: it's broken. He fell down a rabbit hole, or something equally Carollesque. Anyways, we managed to fill our weekend well despite the fact that we only had seven working limbs between us.
I arrived on Friday somewhat earlier than I was planning, due to an error in booking the train (I blame the website, myself - though perhaps not in that order) so filled my time by gazing upon the Houses of Parliament and strolling down the South Bank, noting as I did so that being English put me in a small minority amidst my fellow strollers. After buying an over-priced burger (this is London, baby) and incorrectly thinking that I'd seen David Lake, I went into the Tate Modern. I've been a few times before and never fail to be astounded by the rot that people can get away with in these places: it's like the Emperor's New Clothes, except that it's not just one small boy who can tell he's naked; there are millions of us.Look! No clothes! Don't get me wrong, there's some great stuff there - including the Metamorphosis of Narcissus, which is probably my favourite painting and which I hadn't realised was there - but some of it is miles beyond satire. I've long said that if I could do it then it isn't art: apologists for such things tend to respond that I wouldn't have thought of it, but that is a red herring. Take, for example, the piece to your right, which is 'Counter-Composition VI' by Theo Van Doesburg. It is so poor that I felt compelled to spend sixty-five pence on a postcard of it. Not only could I create such a piece with consummate ease - I reckon I could even stay within the lines if I had to - but, had I done so before Theo got around to it in 1925, no one would have been astounded at my artistic genius. The painting would not have found itself in a frame anywhere and no one would have parted with 65p for the privilege of a miniature recreation of my brilliance.
Anyways, that was Friday afternoon. After I met up with Rob, we went to watch the England game in a ridiculously cramped pub in Bexley, cheering gladly as the England goals went in (less so when Sweden scored) and being buffeted whenever anyone wanted to get to the bar.
The highlight of Saturday was, for me, going to see Abbey Road and walk across the crossing that the Beatles once famously crossed (OK, not the same crossing, but it's pretty close). Incredibly, 43 years after the release of Abbey Road - the album that I regard as the best ever recorded - there were still queues of people either side of the crossing, waiting to be photographed by their friends in hastily-posed re-enactments of the album cover. Rob and I didn't hang around as we crossed, for which passing drivers were probably grateful - it can't be much fun driving that route regularly and being held up every time by Beatles-loving tourists, and some motorists were honking their horns long before they approached the crossing. Mind you, I reckon it might just be easier to drive a different route: there are plenty of roads out there that don't feature in a picture on my bedroom wall.
On Saturday I also visited M&Ms world, a four-storey shop by Leicester Square dedicated to the notion that if people enjoy eating something, they'll want to tell the world about it through a range of brightly coloured merchandise. I enjoy M&Ms as much as the next guy, but I wasn't tempted to buy a figurine or a scrubbing brush to that effect... however, they seem to be doing decent business, so good luck to them. To round the day off, we went to see the film version of Rock of Ages, which was enjoyable and had plenty of catchy songs - I've never been a devotee of 'hair metal' but some of those tunes are solid gold classics,, and it was all I could do not to sing along to the likes of Here I Go Again and I Want to Know What Love Is. The storyline was reasonably ignorable, but the songs more than made up for that, as did the casting of the very attractive Julianne Hough and Tom Cruise's intriguingly high - but strong - singing voice.
On Sunday we walked / hobbled to the local parish church, turning up half an hour late due to a mistake on their website. It's a very old building - in the Domesday book, donchaknow - and we were welcomed warmly, with no discernable tutting at our late entrance. Later that day I joined Rob, Rob's Mum and Rob's Mum's partner at a pub quiz where we once more resurrected the name Ricky and the Red Stripes, seven years after its first outing. After a hard-fought contest we emerged victorious - OK, there were only three teams taking part, but it's the first time that Ricky and the Red Stripes has won a quiz, so it rounded off an excellent weekend and was a big day for me and Rob.
There was also a big day this weekend for one of the more regular members of Ricky and the Red Stripes in its golden age (2004-05), as Tom got engaged on Saturday - so many congratulations to him! If you bump into him, give him a hug from me, eh?

On this day in 2004... Still seven exams to go, including two STEP papers which are unnecessary and which I fully expect to fail (having done little preparation), but hopefully I can conceal from Warwick University the fact that I ever did them.

June 26th 2012
Pride and Prejudice is widely regarded as one of the greatest books ever written, and I am - as I'm sure I have espoused before - amongst this width. It is a timeless classic, and as such has been repeatedly adapted for screen or stage over the years as each new generation takes a fresh look at the will-they-won't-they relationship of Lizzy and Darcy (hint: they will). Of course there is more to P&P than the central couple, and - much like in the Simpsons - it is the strength of the supporting cast that cements the book's greatness. Characters as well drawn as Mrs Bennet, Mr Bennet, Mr Collins, Lady Catherine etc. etc. would each grace a book of their own.
Of all the many adaptations that have been produced, the 1995 BBC series is, for me and for many others, the definitive version. Over its five and a half hours the book is done full justice, with no characters excised (shorter versions tend to do without Mr & Mrs Hurst at the very least, and it's hard to argue with that approach), most of the book's events faithfully recreated and much of the original dialogue used. From the sets to the costumes to the astounding cast, it's hard to find serious fault with this version.He's the last person she could ever be prevailed upon to marry, you know
Not so the 2005 film. While Keira Knightley's performance was excellent and well deserving of her Oscar nomination, every male character of note was badly miscast (with the exception of Tom Hollander's imaginative and genuinely novel rendering of Mr Collins) and it was a shame to see Mr Bingley as a buffoon and Mr Darcy as something of a wet fish. People still say 'wet fish', right? All in all a worthy effort, but somewhat superfluous in light of the 1995 version. Mind you, with that kind of attitude Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle would never have gazed at each other across a crowded ballroom: the BBC had previously created adaptations of Pride and Prejudice in 1938, 1952, 1958, 1967 and 1980. On top of that there was the 1940 film starring Laurence Olivier, and in more recent years we have seen the story transferred to Bollywood in 'Bride and Prejudice' and to Utah in 'Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy', this last being described by Wikipedia as receiving "largely negative reviews outside Mormon enclaves". You've gotta pick your audience, and if they're largely from enclaves you probably need to set your budget low... check out the trailer and wonder to yourself which part of the novel requires Lizzy to cling onto a balcony for dear life.
Anyways, I didn't come here today to convert you to Mormonism, nor even to persuade you of the joys of a fantastic novel. Neither am I going to point out that 2013 sees the release of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (well, I just did, but that's by the bye) or sidetrack you with references to Lost in Austen or Bridget Jones's Diary (well, again, I just have. Try to pretend that I haven't). No. Instead I want to lead you towards an ongoing adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which I came across after my brother's housemate mentioned on Twitter, and which takes the form of a video blog.
Right, let's take a breath. Let's pause for a moment.
A fact universally uploaded. Sorry, I didn't much effort into that.When I wrote 'video blog', you might well have done one of two things. Either you thought to yourself: "aren't they called vlogs?" or you rolled your eyes in disgust. If you're in the first camp, then the answer is no, apart from a brief two-month window in 2003. If you're in the second camp, please stay with me, the 21st century has its good points. If you're in neither camp, then... sorry about this paragraph. I've just wasted your time.
The video blog is called the Lizzie Bennet diaries and can be found on YouTube. Every Monday and Thursday, Lizzie - with help from Charlotte, Jane & Lydia - updates us on the events of her life and the lives of her family. As I write there are 23 episodes, and based on the amount of story they've covered I imagine that there are scores left to go, at the very least. If the vlogs (that's for you, Mr 2003, but it's all you're getting) aren't enough for you, the characters are keen users of Twitter and Tumblr, and you can keep track of all their escapades at one central website: www.lizziebennet.com. I must admit that I haven't delved that deep yet, but based on the videos alone I would say that this is a superbly original adaptation of Jane Austen's work and a worthy addition to the pantheon. The multiple jump cuts are a bit off-putting at first, but the translation to the modern day is convincingly and thoughtfully done, and the cast are excellent (particularly Laura Spencer, whose Jane Bennet might actually be the best I've ever seen. Which isn't to say that Ashley Clements (Lizzie), Mary Kate Wiles (Lydia) and Julia Cho (Charlotte) aren't also great... because they are). If you do nothing else today, I recommend that you watch the first episode or two - they're only a few minutes each - and, if you're anything like me, you'll soon be hooked.

On this day in 2006... Let me fill you in on the quest Ant and I engaged upon to photo every number 67 in Earlsdon...

what was I listening to?
Selfportrait - Bob Dylan
what was I reading?
Lucky Man - Michael J. Fox
what was I watching?
Me & Orson Welles
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