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July 1st 2011
As I write this, Andy Murray is in the process of losing the third set of his Wimbledon semi-final against Rafa Nadal. I can't really complain, as I'm a fairweather fan who jumped on the bandwagon when it looked like we might have a British winner at long last, but it's a rum old thing. I switched on at the end of the first set, and Murray was totally dominant, bossing Nadal around the court like he owned the place. Having won the first set, Murray missed an easy chance to break Nadal's serve in the second, and from then on his entire game crumbled, as he lost seven games in a row (and he's just lost the third set, in fact). It's strange that a player's form can turn on a single shot, and that one poor game leads to another and another. Is it psychological? Is it that he gets worn out from running backwards and forwards? People who know more about tennis than me can probably answer that one, but the way it's going I'd be surprised if Murray's still competing in Wimbledon in half an hour's time.
In other news, I've been thinking for a while that, for no specific reason, I'd like to compile together a list of song lyrics about dreams (by which I mean 'believe in your dreams' kind of dreams, rather than 'last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again' kind of dreams). By coincidence, Pop Thy Collar's long-awaited return to the blogosphere is entitled 'Dreamer', so it seems as good a time as any. Anyways, these are some of my favourites:

"You got some big dreams, baby, but in order to dream you gotta still be asleep" - When You Gonna Wake Up? (Bob Dylan)
"Who am I to dream? Dreams are for fools, they'll let you down" - Wonderful World (James Morrison)
"She sits on the porch of her daddy’s house / But all her pretty dreams are torn" - Racing in the Street (Bruce Springsteen)
"Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over" - Don't Dream It's Over (Crowded House)
"I walk this lonely street / On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams" - Boulevard of Broken Dreams (Green Day)
"No one ever cried for me when my dreams fell through / Nobody but you" - Nobody But You (Jackie Wilson)
"The child is grown / The dream is gone / I have become comfortably numb" - Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
"I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee" - You're So Vain (Carly Simon)
"You took my dreams from me, when I first found you" - Fairytale of New York (The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl)
"Wendy, let me in, I want to be your friend, I want to guard your dreams and visions" - Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)
"His American Dream is beginning to seem / More and more like a nightmare" - American Dream (Casting Crowns)
"For once I can touch what my heart used to dream of / Long before I knew / Someone warm like you / Would make my dreams come true - For Once in My Life (Stevie Wonder)

And, of course, this Les Miserables classic...

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hopes were high and life worth living,
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

Then I was young and unafraid,
When dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine untasted.

But the tigers come at night,
With their voices soft as thunder,
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dreams to shame

And still I dream he'll come to me
And we will live the years together!
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather.

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

On this day in 2004... I am officially the only person in our year still doing exams, with a second STEP maths paper tomorrow.

July 3rd 2011
The Department of Administrative Affairs in actionSince we're comparing UK and US television (yes, I know you've just joined me, but imagine that we were in the middle of a discussion about Shameless US, or perhaps the relative merits of Doctor Who and Pimp My Ride), let us turn our thoughts to Yes, Minister and the West Wing. These are both excellent TV series - both of which I own in their entirety on DVD - but represent almost completely different views of our respective governments. It is worth noting that Yes, Minister is a sitcom whereas the West Wing is not (although it is often very funny) which partly explains the disparities, but I think there's rather more to it than that.
In the West Wing the lead characters are all very intelligent people, driven by a desire to make things better for their country. They're not always completely pleasant to be around - Toby, particularly, is argumentative and has a permanent expression of disbelief at the stupidity of people who disagree with him - but they're mostly sympathetic characters, and there's no doubting their commitment or passion for their job.Fairly liberal Democrats They work long hours, generally for a lot less money than they could make elsewhere, and are essentially the best in the country at what they do. By comparison, Yes, Minister's view of politics is that the politicians are power-hungry incompetents whose only desires are to win votes and get themselves in the spotlight; they are fundamentally dishonest and hypocritical and couldn't be trusted to run a bath. The civil servants, on the other hand, are the ones with the real power but they are similarly selfish, aiming to maintain the status quo while gaining themselves peerages and exorbitant financial benefits. Neither Jim Hacker nor Sir Humphrey Appleby are pleasant characters, so it is great testament to Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne that they are actually almost likeable on the screen. In this view of British politics, nothing ever gets done and nobody admits it, or really cares.
Perhaps this completely different attitude to fictionalised politics reflects our national characteristics, with the British always keen to proclaim themselves cynics and the Americans never scared to show a bit of idealism. Or perhaps it's because the West Wing was an exercise in wish-fulfilment from dissatisfied Democrats (even though it first aired under Bill Clinton's leadership, rather than George W Bush's) whereas Yes, Minister was aiming more for verisimillitude - apparently it was surprisingly close to reality, and was actually informed by people inside the civil service. Whatever the motivation, the difference of approach is clear all the way through, even from the title sequence. Whereas the West Wing opts for a jingoistic flag-daubed series of hero shots, Yes, Minister uses grotesque cartoons of its lead characters (see below).
It's also worth noting that the party represented by Jim Hacker in Yes, Minister is never specified, fitting in with the standard British "they're all the same" attitude to politicians, and further emphasising the lack of idealism within the system. Hacker doesn't have a vision for Britain, or a particular group to champion: he wants only to stay in power and keep out of trouble. In the West Wing, on the other hand, the President and his team are Democrats, and the programme isn't shy about mentioning the fact. This is partly because people in the acting/writing business tend to be left-leaning, but mostly because the "they're all the same" attitude simply wouldn't work Stateside. The USA - at least as far as it is painted in the West Wing - is a country which is pretty evenly divided into two groups, who disagree about practically everything. We simply don't have that dynamic over here; the closest we get is the class system, but since pretty much all politicans - even Labour ones - are upper-middle class at the least (something else that Yes, Minister plays upon) the distinction is less dramatic.
Both programmes are, as I say, excellent, and I can only recommend that you seek them both out, if you haven't already. Personally I prefer the West Wing - the end of series 2 remains quite possibly the best bit of TV I have ever seen - but there are some bits of Yes, Minister that are absolutely hilarious. I leave you with one of my favourites (taken from Yes, Prime Minister, a series that followed the original Yes, Minister, and in which Jim Hacker had somehow reached the premiership):

On this day in 2004... In other news, Sharapova has just won the tennis, which is nice.

July 10th 2011
This week was a tough one for the gutter press arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Not only did the News of the World (abbreviated, inexplicably, to NoW by a lot of commentators. I'm going to go with NotW, because I can't see the logic of maintaining the 'of' but not the 'the') cease to be, but the Sun's front page headline yesterday was one of the all-time worst. Perhaps affected by the traumatic events of the preceding week, the sub-editors greeted British Gas's price hike with the phrase "A thumping stack of cash on your gas gas gas". This weak attempt to crowbar Rolling Stones lyrics into a punning headline was perhaps the true disaster of the week.Don't worry, I bought the Sunday Times too.
I, like many others, bought the final ever NotW today despite holding the paper in contempt in the normal run of things (I think I've previously bought one copy, when Rob asked me to pick one up for him at Costies). Whatever your thoughts of Britain's best-selling Sunday paper, its closure is a significant event and the final edition a memento worth buying, especially since the money's going to charity. I've had a quick flick through its pages, many of which are devoted to supposedly momentous previous editions, and the general message is summed up on the front page: "After 168 years, we finally say a sad but very proud farewell". Personally, I don't think they've got much to be proud of - this is not a question of a fine newspaper being betrayed by the phone-hacking scandal; it is the story of an unpleasant little rag being hoist by its own petard.
Looking back over the splashes of previous years, the NotW's 'proudest' moments seem to fall into one or more of three categories: (i) intrusions into the private lives of celebrities; (ii) sting operations (particularly here I'm thinking of the 'Fake Sheikh'); (iii) a particular brand of moralising that is focused purely on recrimination. It is this third point that has caused the paper's downfall (and what I meant by it being hoist by its own petard): campaigns such as the one for Sarah's Law and against Ian Huntley had more to do with hatred than a desire for justice, and when the paper was found (er... allegedly?) to have hacked Milly Dowler's phone, its readership was never going to react forgivingly. It hasn't been shown how. And it's no surprise that the likes of Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, who have been on the wrong side of the newspaper's apparent misunderstanding of the public interest, delighted in its downfall.
This is, of course, only the thin end of the wedge. The Sun, the Daily Star, the People and the Mirror (and I don't imagine that that list is exhaustive) peddle the same hate-filled and intrusive nonsense that was the NotW's calling card, and they almost certainly have skeletons in their own closets. I'd like to believe that we are witnessing the beginnings of a more responsible press, where the successful and famous are not automatically deemed to have forfeited their freedom; possibly even one where the long-standing British desire to puncture pomposity, regardless of whether it exists or not, falls by the wayside. Maybe we will get a Press Complaints Commission that actually does its job. Maybe people like Sienna Miller won't have to go through the courts to prevent photographers from following them everywhere they go. Maybe we will no longer hear the hoary old argument that inviting OK! to take photos of your wedding means that you can't complain when 'journalists' sift through your dustbins (I was invited to several of Anthony & Becca's weddings, but I think they might get cross if they found me selling their old gas bills). I'm not holding my breath... but maybe, just maybe, this country has just taken a step in the right direction.
When Princess Diana died, Elton John released a re-worded version of 'Candle in the Wind' to commemorate her life. Is it too much to ask for a re-release of another of his songs, the title track from the same album?

So, goodbye News of the World
Where the dogs of society howl...


On this day in 2010... Let me give you prior warning that my next exam results come out on Thursday. Either I'll be popping the champagne (er... ginger beer), or you'll be needing to hide by [sic] belt & shoelaces.

July 12th 2011
There have been a couple of stories in the Times this week that include statistics that I found a bit odd. In the first, the reporter was trying to make the point that some schools provide a lot of Oxbridge students and some don't, and the statistic used was that the bottom 2000 schools only produced 972 Oxbridge students last year. Which, to be honest, is vastly more than I would have thought - I would have guess a number about 10% of that. Even allowing for my notoriously poor estimating skills, the suggestion that every other school in the bottom 2000 provides an Oxbridge student is, to me, testament that Oxbridge is opening its doors wider. By the by, stories of this type - and we see a near-identical report once or twice a year - always frustrate me by not seeming to realise that some of us didn't actually want to go to Oxbridge. Good luck to those who do, and all that, but going to Warwick was the best decision of my life, and I know a lot of other people who feel the same way.
The second statistic of the week came in an article claiming to describe the average person's week - you know the drill: the average person wakes up at 7.32am, eats 0.88 bowls of porridge in the morning and has 1.5 X chromosomes. I can't remember many of the stats, but the one that threw me was the claim that the average person watches 9 hours of television a day. 9 hours? I watch more television than most people, I reckon, since I have a large DVD collection and a mediocre social life, but I'd struggle to get near half that amount... and if you take into account all those people who don't watch any TV at all, we've got to be looking at some people for whom News 24 is an invitation. Personally, I think it must be a misprint.
In other news, for those of you who don't read the comments, let me direct you towards the blog of a chap I knew at Uni called Tom Maj. The blog's title, Prunus dulcis, is better known to you and me as the almond tree, in case you were wondering.
In mobile phone news, I decided when I got my most recent mobile in July last year that I would delete text messages once I'd read them, because I was tired of searching through scores of messages to find the one I was after. That being the case, I've got 1040 messages in my sent items (2.97 per day, I make that), but only 16 in my inbox (0.05 per day, since you ask), so I thought I'd share with you the 16 messages I've decided to keep:
1. Cool. :) [the first ever text I received on this phone, from my mate Steve]
2. A message from my Mum about the royal family
3. A recorded message from my old housemate Steve, a journalist, who accidentally recorded himself talking about a Bristol-based news story, and then accidentally sent me the recording
4. Dush announcing the birth of his son
5. A nice message from Rob
6. Ant letting me know that Becca finally got her visa
7. Bassaam telling me that we won the Hare & Hounds pub crawl/quiz
8. An amusing anecdote from Simon about overhearing someone on the train
9. Ant telling me that one of his pupils recognised me on his website
10. Olly announcing his wife's pregnancy
11. Jason letting me know his address (I need to get round to putting that in the address book...)
12. David Long announcing the birth of his son
13. James Lee announcing the birth of his son
14. Ben announcing his wife's pregnancy ("A wee bit of news...")
15. A helpful tip from Natwest about card security
16. Rob passing on his preferences for Olympic tickets
This is the bit where I feel I should sum up that list to give you an analysis of my social interaction and the things I regard as important in my life. But I guess it speaks for itself: people having children, useful information, amusing stories about people who speak too loudly on the phone when they're on a train. All human life is there.

On this day in 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').

July 17th 2011
That Was The Week That Was
Monday
I started working on WLUK MCEV. My boss was aware that I'd be leaving Friends Life in a few weeks, but the person who was allocating my work wasn't, so he rather had plans for me that covered several months. Between us, my boss and I were trying to avoid any long-term commitments, but without letting slip that I'd be off. After a morning's work, I took holiday in the afternoon to continue studying for my SA2 retake in October - study went fairly well, although I was finding it difficult to get enthused about memorising EEV principles. After studying, I joined Dave & Jim for the Shakespeare quiz, where, despite being severly understrength, we came in second. The most interesting question of the night was probably identifying which five Cadbury's products (currently on sale) have been around for the longest time - we got 3/5.

Tuesday
I continued work on WLUK MCEV. My back was hurting a bit, so I dosed up on pain-killers and excused myself from home group (which, in any case, was cancelled due to hardly anyone being able to turn up).

Wednesday
I spent the day at work sweeping up the various pieces of work I had that weren't related to WLUK MCEV (and, no, I'm not going to bother explaining what either of those things mean, in case you were wondering after seeing them for the third time). That included documenting improvements to the expenses backend (now known as the expenses MCEV manual, because our Friends Provident colleagues found the word 'backend' highly amusing, for some reason) and tech-testing some Scenario Analysis spreadsheets. Rather more interestingly, today was also the day that my resignation was announced in team meetings across the department. I'd kept it quiet from almost everyone so, although one or two people had guessed it might be on the cards, there were plenty of surprised people around the place, some of whom even said that I'd be missed. I also put it up on Facebook, so various AXA folk found out that way.

Thursday
A reasonably uneventful day at work (I made some good progress on reserving assumptions for WLUK MCEV), but hovering over all our heads was the knowledge that exam results were coming out on the actuaries website at 8pm. My general methodology on these occasions is to distract myself as best I can and check the website at a time when I can be sure of getting through without repeatedly hitting F5 and watching the thing crash as every other actuarial student in the land tries to go on the site at the same time. So it was that - having switched my phone off - I settled down in front of my TV at 7.45pm to watch an episode of Party of Five, which lasts about 45 minutes, so that I could discover my fate at around 8.30pm. I was waiting on two results, from ST1 (estimated probability of passing: 72%) and SA2 (estimated probability of passing: 4%). I'd spent the last few months telling anyone who'd listen that I didn't stand a chance on SA2, hence the fact that I was already a month into revision for the inevitable re-sit. It wasn't just that the exam had gone badly: I had decided several weeks before the exam session that I was never going to be able to get up to speed on both, so I focused on ST1 and pretty much ignored SA2 from that point onwards. Even with a gap of several days between the two exams (SA2 being the second one), I couldn't be bothered to do any revision, so certain was I that I couldn't possibly pass. When I entered the exam room on that fateful day, I had never properly looked at an SA2 past paper, and wsa even toying with the idea of not sticking out the whole 3 hours of the exam (I decided against this partly because it would have been unprofessional, and partly because Simon was picking me up afterwards at a pre-arranged time).
Anyways, given that background, I decided to scroll down the site to check SA2 first, before scrolling back up to ST1 (I never risk the Ctrl+F method of checking, because neither 'Colin' nor 'Thomas' are uncommon enough not to fill me with false hope when, say, Thomas Smith has passed something). So, when I saw my name under the list of SA2 passers I was totally shocked. I quickly checked ST1 too - if I'd passed the harder one, I reckoned I must have passed the easier one, and so it proved - before announcing to Matt: "You're looking at an actuary." Then I went back to my computer to check a few more times, because I still couldn't quite believe it. I phoned Matt and Steve and we went to the pub for a few celebratory drinks, which was great - Steve qualified last year, and Matt's in the early stages of exams, so they both know what this means to me.
Actually, having said that, what it means to me is a fairly complex bundle of emotions. The main one was surprise, which makes a pleasant change from my general response of relief - in most exam sittings, both at Uni and since, I've more or less expected to do well, which robs success of some of its joy. This time, success was so unexpected that the joy was greater. Mixed in with this was a healthy side-helping of trepidation (people are going to expect me to know what I'm talking about now...) that I decided to ignore for a few days at least, and the amazing realisation that I need never do an exam ever again, pretty much (let's not count my driving test, here).

Friday
As you might expect, the day after results come out is generally a cake-filled celebration at work, but is more or less always balanced by the fact that some people will have failed, and today was no exception. There was generally a good set of results, though, and a good turn-out at the pub at lunchtime, where I spent two hours (my boss had effectively told me not to bother doing much work that day). There was also a great turn-out at my qualification presentation, where I was presented with a bottle of champagne by the only other teetotaller I know at work, and had a few nice words said by Brian (one of the managers), who managed to avoid dwelling too much on the traditional motif of "you ain't seen nothing yet, kid". I said a few words, but kept it short because I didn't want to waste my best material before my leaving speech in a few weeks' time.
After work - many of us had to leave our desks by 4pm because everything was being moved up a couple of floors - a group of us went from the Friends bar to a couple of pubs in town, where I was surprisingly unsuccessful in buying drinks for people (don't worry, I bought quite a few, but I think my teetotalism made people take pity on me, so I didn't rack up a four figure - or even three figure - bar tab). At about quarter past midnight, when the masses were heading off to club, I went home - it'll take a darn sight more than finishing my exams to get me back inside a club these days. It was a good night out; among the highlights were eating an all-day breakfast, discovering that Gemma has a deep fear of food that looks like a face, laying down a £10 bet with Ed that Norwich will lose back-to-back games this season, and finding out that Wolves have signed Roger Johnson.

Saturday
Cairns Road Baptist Church was celebrating 202 years of youth work (I'm not entirely sure why, but who needs an excuse for a party?) and I'd been asked to help out, so I rolled up shortly after 10am to don a high-vis jacket and sit in the media room, making sure no one stole the computer equipment. Nobody did steal it - although Craig was tempted - so I'm chalking that up as a success. I did help out with a few other jobs, and didn't damage my back despite lifting a few things, so I'm calling that a double success. In fact, I also grabbed a few cold sausages while taking down the marquee, so that's a triple success. When I got home afterwards I fell asleep for a couple of hours and then did most of the Listener crossword, so all in all it was a good day.

Sunday
Sunday is still happening, but so far I've been to church, received much congratulations from my lovely home group - and others - and received a chocolate champagne bottle from Jenny, to make up for my reluctance to partake of the actual champagne bottle I got on Friday. This afternoon I'll be watching the final Harry Potter, and doing some work in preparation for next week (hopefully this last will not become a regular thing now I'm qualified, but is instead a by-product of doing very little work on Friday). It's been a good week.

On this day in 2007... I make no apologies for the political nature of my last entry ('pontificating' as my mother has called it), since I'm interested by it, and I think it's worth mentioning. It also might make AXA think I'm smart, if they come across this page.

July 23rd 2011
First off, I should thank Ant and Simon for mentioning my recent qualification in their respective blogs. And thanks to the colleague (who shall remain anonymous, largely because I can't remember who it was) who suggested that, now I've qualified as an actuary, I can buy a decent phone. I have to say that I'm not tempted to smartify my mobile (that's what people say these days, right?), but I'm giving serious consideration to replacing all my holey socks with new ones. It's a consideration that probably skips a generation.
By the by, in an event that some would categorise as 'serendipity' and others as 'dull', the film featured to your right is S1m0ne, which aired on Film4 today - and Film4 crops up in my 'on this day' line below. It's tidbits like this that spice up my day.
Speaking of days being spiced up, let's talk about mnemonics. Now that my revision days are behind me, I no longer have to commit to memory things like D.R.A.W.N.T.V.C.R.M.A.N. or D.R.I.V.S.D.R.I.V.S.C.J. in order to pass my exams, but the mnemonic still plays an important part in all of our lives. For instance, My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets remains useful despite being slightly out of date, what with Pluto having been demoted some years ago, and I rely heavily on "30 days has September; April, June and November" even thought it's a simple statement rather than a learning device. In fact, it's a bit like trying to remember the names of the planets by using the helpful mnemonic: "Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, [Pluto]".
I'm starting to wonder if I use these devices more often than is normal. Whenever I need to decide between 'stationary' and 'stationery' I have to remember the 'e' in the latter stands for 'envelope'; more convolutedly, when choosing between 'affect' and 'effect', I always use the fact that the latter begins with an 'e', which is in the word 'verb', and thus 'effect' is not the verb. I only wish I'd come across earlier the rather better mnemonic of R.A.V.E.N., which stands for Remember: Affect = Verb, Effect = Noun. Of course, this ignores the fact that effect is also a verb, but that's probably not too big a concern in the normal run of things.
Despite this paean, mnemonics aren't always great. One that's annoyed me for about half my life is the phrase that we were taught in middle school to remember which is the x-axis and which is the y-axis: "Along the corridor and up the stairs" - you may not have come across this one yourself; the idea is that x precedes y in alphabetical order, and so x '= along the corridor' (horizontal) and y = 'up the stairs' (vertical). My complaint at the time (and to this day) is that there is no earthly reason why one shouldn't go up the stairs and then along the corridor, so the phrase was not an easy one to commit to memory: certainly no easier than simply memorising the fact that the x-axis was horizontal, say. Fortunately Jonny Molyneaux (and there's a name I haven't thought of for a long time. Weirdly, as a Wolves fan, I went to school with both a Jonny Molyneaux and a Lawrence Molyneux - but no 'Molineux's) came up with a far better mnemonic: "x is a cross". Y'know, like 'across'. I'd be lying if I said I use it still, but I recommend it to any maths teachers of my acquaintance.

On this day in 2006... Film4 should hit our screens in its incarnation as a free channel today. This is a fabulous new opportunity for us down here in Zummerzet to read 'No Signal' instead of 'Coming July 23rd'.

July 29th 2011
I don't understand women ("That makes 3 billion of us", as Pete once said to Ant, according to the latter's Facebook wall. Reason for having Facebook #327: you can steal people's witticisms). I say this not as a general point, but specifically in reference to Heathcliff, Mr Rochester and Henry DeTamble, three fictional men who were created by women and are, apparently, desirable specimens of menfolk.
Taking them in order; Heathcliff is a murderous (I use the word advisedly) villain, who wishes he'd killed a baby, strives to keep a girl away from her dying father in order to spite him, goes out of his away to make his wife's life miserable (including trying to kill her puppy for no reason other than to make a point. Although, based on my friend Becky's reaction to Marley & Me, the loveable dog-filled film, this might be seen by some as a point in his favour) and deliberately allows his de facto adopted son to be as uneducated as possible. Then there's Mr Rochester, an irritable and rude man whose only redeeming feature seems to be a big house. And just to prove that this love of unpleasant men is not limited to the Bronte household, the third example I gave above is from a much more recent book, and really the reason I came to muse on this topic today. Henry DeTamble is the time traveller of The Time Traveler's Wife, and is so arrogant, mean-spirited and aggressive that I couldn't enjoy reading the book (his wife wasn't much better, in fairness). I guess I'm not making an original point, here: girls like bad boys (note the lack of capitalisation; no woman has ever liked the film Bad Boys).
Anyways, I have just finished reading One Day, a book that I believe appeals to much the same crowd who raved about The Time Traveler's Wife a few years ago and has been an essential ingredient of book groups over the last couple of years. Unlike The Time Traveler's Wife, though, I found the characters largely sympathetic - certainly much more so than I was expecting - even when they're doing stupid things, like getting drunk and taking drugs, or having affairs (plural). This is partly because of the format of the book - we see one-day snapshots of the lead characters' lives each year, always on July 15th - which means that even their worst excesses will become memories in just a few chapters; examples of how stupid they used to be. But I was wondering if I also found the characters (Dexter, particularly) sympathetic because they were written by a man. It makes sense, doesn't it, that a man can write better male characters than a woman can?
Well, no, it doesn't. I wandered round with that hypothesis in my head for a bit, before realising that it was nonsense. I mean, I still don't understand why so many women would like Heathcliff, Mr Rochester and Henry DeTamble (and, of course, that list is far from exhaustive), but of my three favourite male characters in fiction, two of them were written by women: Atticus Finch and Henry Tilney (Bertie Wooster being the exception). I have written here before about all of them, I believe, but to save you trawling the archives: Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) is a wonderful man, a dedicated lawyer fighting against racism, and - more importantly - a devoted single father to Scout and Jem. Then there's Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey); a frequent criticism of Jane Austen is that her male characters are less well drawn than her female ones, but I have to disagree. I don't understand any man who doesn't want to be like Henry Tilney (though the less said about Colonel Brandon, the better).
So, there you have my attempt at literary criticism (done rather better over at Stuck in a Book, of course), although my fellow mathematicians might prefer to see it more as a null hypothesis ("Women can't write men") along with sufficient evidence to reject it at any reasonable significance level. Yes. Cold, hard, facts here, people.

On this day in 2006... Incidentally, this is the 446th entry in my diary (at least, it is now. I deleted one or two in the Grand 2005 Censorship). In case you were wondering.

what was I listening to?
Undiscovered - James Morrison
what was I reading?
Yes, Prime Minister - Antony Jay & Jonathan Lynn
what was I watching?
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
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