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July 1st 2009
I have a confession to make. I actually like children. Not as much as some people do, sure, and I still think a great many of them are annoying - but, contrary to popular opinion, I am a fan of kids. Not so long ago I was moved by watching a father playing football with his young son, and stood watching them for a while. Thinking that this may be misconstrued, I concealed myself slightly behind a tree, then realised that watching a kid whilst hiding in the bushes was a notch higher on the warning scale. So I left.
Then, a week or two ago, I was watching a sketch show. A woman is outside a cafe that has a lion painted on the window, and she leans over her son in his pram: "Look Josh, a lion! Shall we go in?" I swear, mister, it fair near broke my heart.
So, there you go. I'm not some kind of icy dead-inside monster. I'm just a soft-hearted monster.
In other news, Simon and I went on a Youth Hostelling expedition around Devon and Cornwall last week, and a good time was had by all. It was by way of being Simon's first big driving adventure, including his first motorway excursion, and despite some dodgy navigating from your diary writer (after leaving Beer YHA, we somehow ended up back in Beer fifteen minutes later) we managed capably. There were some low points, including the world's loudest snorer in our room one night - he sounded like a mix between heavy machinery and angry bears - and being beaten at Trivial Pursuit by an American (don't we all hate Americans? Don't you, Ant?) but all in all 'twas a good time. And spectacularly sunny. Youth Hostels are a great, cheap way to get around, and are often interesting and varied buildings - I recommend them. But then, I've previously recommended hitch-hiking to Scotland with someone who doesn't know where Rotherham is.
Speaking of geographical ignorance, I have another confession to make: I know very little about world geography. Pathetically little, in fact. This was made vividly clear in another game of Trivial Pursuit, when Ben & I claimed that Congo's coast hit the Pacific Ocean. Sufficiently shamed, I have now made my desktop background (at work) a map of the world, and fill spare minutes with learning where countries are. Thus far I have been most surprised by Mauritius, Indonesia, the Sechelles, Kazhakstan (who knew it was that big?) and Korea. I hope to vanquish my ignorance over time.
I will finish with a question. Why can so many people not use apostrophes correctly? They are really quite ludicrously simple, but most of the emails I get at work seem to have apostrophe errors - if I see another person write "the clients policy", I'm going to scream. This is an issue I've raised on Facebook, to general agreement; one friend did point out that, being dyslexic, she had a good reason for mistakes. Fair enough, but there is no excuse for those people who aren't dyslexic (in this number I include about 80% of people who claim to be dyslexic. You're not. And no, you don't have OCD either, just because you like to have your fork at right angles to your spoon). The rules for apostrophes are very, very simple. Off the top of my head:
1. To denote ownership. If the owner(s) ends in 's', put the apostrophe at the end. If not, put it before the 's'. e.g. "Colin's diary", "children's playground", "James' beard", "cats' tails"
2. When you're abbreviating 'is', 'has', 'not' and a few others. e.g. "it's not my fault", "that's got to hurt", "that won't work" - DO NOT write "sha'n't" if you live in the 21st century.
3. The ownership thing doesn't work for 'its' - e.g. "What is its purpose?"
4. Er... that's it.
5. Just in case you didn't get that, here are some things that are wrong: tomato's, DVD's, IFA's, 10's, menu's, mens, two days time
I may have missed something out - please let me know if so. But, otherwise, I hope you'll [wow! another example] never make a mistake again.

July 7th 2009
Like the teenage ne'er-do-well before me, my story is sad to tell. It's really quite hot at the moment, and this is having a devastating effect (Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun - RAVEN!) on how long my food lasts for. A loaf of bread was mouldy in about three days; my last pint of milk lasted only two. Now, I'm not a lacto-fanacto, but I am borderline addicted to tea, so this is a problem. What's a guy to do? Buy more milk?
Well, yes, as it happens. I bought some more milk. But I ain't happy about it.
In other news, we're off to paint a playground in Portishead tomorrow - rain having stopped play previously - so hopefully that'll go well. I'm supposed to be organising the thing with a colleague, so if things go wrong the buck lands here. Wish us luck!
Speaking of... well, not much... I would like to reiterate a point I've made before about PG Wodehouse being the funniest writer I've come across. He just is. I'm reading another Jeeves & Wooster book at the mo - as you'll see, right - and they never disappoint. I strongly recommend. The TV series, featuring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, is also good but in a rather different way... the books are hugely better, as either Fry or Laurie would admit in an instant, but you could do far worse than give the first few series a watch. I've been keeping up a steady Hugh Laurie input by watching series four of House recently, and it's also good stuff; even better when people aren't coughing, or otherwise distributing around the place, copious amounts of blood.
In other news, I read in the paper the other day; "Doctors say swine flu parties are 'not a good idea'". I can think of better uses for a medical degree.

July 12th 2009
I don't have any particular problem with the working classes, apart from their propensity to read Heat magazine, but I do wonder why a lot of popular TV shows have made so much effort to be working class (pronounced, by the way, with a short 'a'). Take Doctor Who, for example. On the rare occasions I have watched the new series, it seems to be wall-to-wall celebration of the working class as poor but honest, salt of the earf kinda folk. If ever a middle class chap is seen, it is fair odds that they're the villain, or at best a genial twit who only holds back our p but h, s of the e heroes.
Then there's Gavin and Stacey, which I've been getting into a bit recently. It's a funny and genuinely romantic show, even if it crosses the line more than it ought, but it's unremittingly a notch below middle class. And it's because the BBC - not the only culprit, but a major one - seems to believe that anything that isn't working class isn't 'the real world'. It's often complained that politicians, bankers or whoever else is baddie of the month don't live in this 'real world', and it's always palpable nonsense. They live in the same world as everyone else; it's just that they don't work on a construction site, read the Sun and eat chips whilst watching Eastenders. Please, BBC folk, wake up to the realisation that there are many of us out here who are middle class (or even, heaven forfend, upper class), and we exist too. At least we have the Top Gear episodes that don't involve the army.
There is an A A Milne quote that my brother rather overuses, but it is a good one, so I shall finish on it: "People are always telling me I should write about Real Life - preferably in a brothel or public house, where Life is notoriously more Real than elsewhere".

July 14th 2009
Somewhere along the way, the romantic fairytale seems to have died. Or, at least, been modified for this curious century.
Love, marriage and sex, you see. That's the chronology I'm aiming for - so far I've only ever given the first one a shot - and it always used to be immortalised in that way, from Romeo & Juliet ("What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?") to Pride & Prejudice (see how messed up it gets when Lydia and Wickham get the order wrong). But nowadays this appears to be a quaintly old-fashioned view, with sex begetting love begetting marriage (or not) being the order of the day, as it were. I watched the first episode of Gavin & Stacey tonight, and as well as being exquisitely working class (cf. my last entry), it buys wholeheartedly into this world view - the titular characters getting extremely drunk and sleeping together on their first meeting. The romance stems from the fact that they actually want to see each other again, and to me that just doesn't seem enough.
Anyways, you know whom I blame? Education, education, education. I read yesterday that school children are to be taught that they 'have the right to a fun sex life' (presumably when they get a bit older...), and I'm quite astonished. I was a kid who believed what he was told by his teachers - a contributory reason, along with my lack of curious idiocy, for my never doing drugs - and I'm sure there are many who, if told that it's OK to go out and sleep with whomever they feel like, will take it at face value. I can't quite believe that our schools are teaching kids the values espoused by Crosby, Stills & Nash-addled hippies, without even paying lip service to the moral beliefs of millions worldwide, not to mention more or less everyone before 1960.
In fairness, what I read was only a small story, so I may be over-reacting. We'll see. I guess I just hope that the fairytales of tomorrow revolve more around Romeo & Juliet and less around Gavin & Stacey... apart from the whole dying-at-the-end thing, obviously. That's never fun.

July 17th 2009
There are few areas of my life that I am perfectly happy with. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any. But I always used to have academia, if nothing else - throughout school I almost always got the grades I was looking for, and my proudest achievement to date is a first in my maths degree from Warwick. But the news tonight is that, for the second time, I have failed an actuarial exam. The same exam twice, in fact.
So I have failed. Or, to put it another way; I am a failure. The first cut is the deepest, they say, and the second one isn't much more fun, and you can tell me all day that almost everyone fails an exam or two, but it still means I'm a different person, no longer a passer of exams. That identity has faded, replaced with a kind of heightened mediocrity.
I'm sure by the morning I'll have started rationalising this, so the ebb won't be so low... by the time I actually mention my failure to anyone it will be with a wry grin and only minimal signs of anguish. But now I'm going to bed.

July 18th 2009
Well, sorry about all that yesteday. Just over 24 hours later and I'm feeling much better - an improvement on the 3 days it took last time. I have happier exam news, in that Adam Perryman, a top chap from Uni, recently got awarded his first in maths. Like Rob before him, I'm going to claim some entirely spurious credit for this, as he occasionally asked my advice as to which modules to take. Good work, anyhow, Adam.
In other news, my laptop has started running rather slowly these last few days, and I've discovered that I'm using something like 80% of disk space - this confuses me, as I don't store large volumes of videos or such like. I do have 17.4GB of music, which won't help, but that hasn't changed recently... ah well. It's not too slow yet, so I'm coping fine. Speaking of computers, I showed my age the other day (in the world of technology, 23 is ancient) as I watched a bit of a chat show in which a kid was given 'a notebook' by some charity or other. He looked rather excited, and I wondered why - it's only a notebook, after all; a couple of quids' worth at best - but, of course, a notebook is a computer these days. Actually, I'm not entirely sure I'm not typing away on a 'notebook' right now.
In cinematic news, I went to see Harry Potter 6 last night, so before I continue you should have all the spoiler warnings you could desire. Er... spoilers coming up. Right here, get 'em while they're cheap, spoilers - yes, madam, home grown and organic. Buy one, get two free, that's three for the price of one, take it now before I change my mind.
I think you could reasonably claim that every Harry Potter film so far has been the best yet. The first was, by default. The second was, because the first was pretty rubbish. The third was, because it was actually quite good and the second one was still poor. The fourth was, because it was very good, and the fifth may just have edged it again, though I'm not entirely sure. The reviews of this sixth film suggested that the trend has continued, and I'm just about inclined to agree, though it was certainly flawed. What I can say for sure is that the best bits of Harry Potter 6 are by far the best of the series to date, but there are some weaknesses which were absent in previous films.
Almost every Harry Potter book can be roughly divided into two; the first two thirds, which are based around relationships and the trivialities of school, mixed with more serious matters; and the final third, which covers the more weighty happenings as Harry takes on whomever it is. This dichotomy is probably most pronounced in the sixth book, as the romantic intertwinings of Ron, Hermione, Harry & Ginny are dealt with at length, before Harry & Dumbledore jaunt off to find a Horcrux in sensational fashion towards the book's close. It is in these earlier scenes that the film truly excels, with huge chunks devoted to the main trio in the main hall or the common room, just sitting and talking, or preparing for Quidditch (another success in this film, although the directors' different ideas over the series rather give the idea that Quidditch tactics have been completely rethought by the wizarding community every couple of years). My favourite films are the ones where characters and relationships are thoughtfully developed - it's why Return of the Jedi is my favourite of the Star Wars films - so this was right up my alley. The saga of Hermione & Ron was very well done, with Rupert Grint on fine form and Emma Watson having become vastly more attractive than the producers had any right to hope for when she was first cast as a pre-teen - even Daniel Radcliffe exhibited some excellent comic work: this was probably the first film which could justifiably rely on the three to carry the film, rather than being backed up by older acting talent.
Indeed, the luminaries of British film didn't have a lot to do for much of the time. Peter Pettigrew appeared in one scene in which I don't remember him speaking, and Lupin & Tonks were only in a scene or two - indeed, there were several series regulars who had brief appearances at best. Perhaps it's in their contracts, and they'll have more to do in the final couple of films... Jim Broadbent, whom I generally don't like, wasn't bad as Slughorn, though Bob Hoskins may have been better.
The big issue of this film, for me, was whether it could be believable that Harry and Ginny would get together, and this was about as successful as the film-makers could have hoped; that is to say, it was believable on more than one occasion. The lass who plays Ginny was not, I'm afraid, one of the successes of the series - she acts fine, but she simply does not fit my view of Ginny, either in look or behaviour - and, while this was a problem, there were one or two moving scenes involving the pair.
The biggest weakness of the film was that certain scenes just didn't seem to fit together, and the worst culprit was the burning of the Burrow (the Weasleys' house) by Bellatrix and others. Not only did it sit awkwardly, and serve absolutely no narrative purpose within the film, it also didn't even vaguely resemble anything that happened in the book. Such an unnecessary and nonsensical addition - which raises several questions about the security of the Burrow and the knowledge of the baddies, as well as giving one to wonder where Bill & Fleur's wedding will now occur - seems a classic example of a film-maker getting carried away by his own ego. As I say, this was by far the worst culprit, but there were also a few others that disrupted the narrative flow of the film in a way that didn't happen in films 4 and 5. For this reason, I can't be entirely sure it's the best yet - I will probably get another chance to decide, though, as I could well be going with some guys from work. What can I say? I was in the front row this time, it would be nice to see the film from a more distant position.

July 26th 2009
Only five months till Boxing Day! One thing I didn't mention about Harry Potter last time round is that I thought Tom Felton (as Draco Malfoy) was excellent. Although he is the 'child actor' who is most obviously too old now, he was probably the best of them all, carrying off a nuanced performance brilliantly. If I were feeling uncharitable, I would have to say the actors playing Fred & George were, as usual, the weak links. I'm afraid they simply can't pull off a single line convincingly; even a simple "Hi Harry" sounds heavily scripted. Which, I guess, it is.
In other news, when was it that you realised Gordon Brown was a useless Prime Minister? Personally I can date it back to the 42 day detention debate - not because I'm against the measure itself (it seems remarkably trivial whether someone is kept for 28 days or 42; there are deeper matters at hand) but because of the way Dr. Brown (oh, yes) went about it. He traded favours and offered all sorts of 'pork barrel' concessions to anyone who asked, just to scrape together enough votes for the measure to get through the Commons. It was simply designed to show how powerful Gordon was, and it managed to prove exactly the opposite. By getting down on his knees to various unsavoury characters, as well as using the Labour whips disgracefully - if there is any other way to use them - he demonstrated that, to him, Gordon Brown matters more than policy. All this, knowing that it would be defeated in the Lords anyhow.
If I hadn't realised how useless Gordon was then, the Alan Sugar affair would have been enough to convince me. In a horrendously populist move (and, in the wake of the expenses 'scandal', we're seeing quite a few of those), Gordon appointed Sugar as the 'enterprise czar', making him a lordship to go with it. Enterprise czar? I ask you. Lord Sugar will have absolutely nothing to do, and even if he did, he wouldn't be the right man to do it. This is a businessman whose defining actions in life were to move focus away from computers in the 1990s, and instead put his money into Tottenham Hotspur. If he were any kind of businessman, Amstrad would be a big name today. Instead, Gordon has appointed him because of The Apprentice, which is to the world of business as Renford Rejects is to Premier League football. I don't have much faith in the Great British public, but it seems that Gordon has even less, actually believing that we'd be impressed with Lord Sugar forming part of the 'government of all the talents'.
We are going to see a Conservative government soon, pretty much inevitably. My reason for voting Tory will be Gordon Brown's disastrous populist ideas and almost megalomanical self-interest. What will yours be?

July 30th 2009
I had intended to write a decent sized entry this evening, but then I went to a farewell gathering at Helen & Bronwen's. So, instead, I shall merely inform my reading public that James Corden and Ricky Gervais have the same laugh, and bid you goodnight.
Oh, OK. You want more. I played squash tonight - and won - and in fifteen hours' time I'll be playing again. What fascinating tidbits I give you.

what was I listening to?
Dusk and Summer - Dashboard Confessional
what was I reading?
The Music of the Primes - Marcus du Sautoy
what was I watching?
Yes Man
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