August 14th 2010
Last Tuesday I flew from the land of the free and the home of the brave to the mother of the free, and despite having had an excellent time in the USA, I felt that gladness to be in England that is felt most strongly after absence. As the rain fell upon my baseball-capped head, I wondered, with A C Benson, 'How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?' If we compare these two patriotic songs (The Star-Spangled Banner and Land of Hope and Glory respectively, to those of you who didn't recognise the references or bother to follow the links) it is intriguing to see what our two great nations value. We English are proud of our nation, keen to assert that it was God who made us great, and equally keen to get on with the important business of colonising other, lesser (ahem), lands. The Americans, on the other hand, can't get enough of that flag - I've still not really got my head round the allegiance-pledging that they dig so much - and also like to get in a few words about how often they had to fight against the British. Personally, I prefer ours - the music was written by a Wolves fan, after all - and I reckon it should replace our current national anthem. Unlikely to happen until the monarchy falls, but surely that's got to happen before the end of this century? In other news, I have been annoyed recently by the levels of advertising in football. It's something that is just there, and you tend not to think too hard about it most of the time, but something clicked today when I noticed that the referees' sleeves bore a sponsor's logo. That in itself is not anything new, but it struck me this afternoon how ridiculous it is to fill a gap of shirt like this; football is essentially prostituting itself to the highest bidder, and the referees' sleeves are just one (well, two) in a long, long list. As if it were not enough to have advertising hoardings throughout every stadium, stadia themselves are often sponsored now (The Emirates; The Walkers Stadium; The Reebok Stadium etc), every element of a televised game is sponsored (EA Sports sponsor the pop-up stats on both Sky Sports and ESPN), the match ball is sponsored... at Wolves, the throw-ins used to be sponsored by Banks, though I think they've drawn back from that these days. As I say, it's nothing new. The most obvious sponsorship in football is the shirt sponsor (and some teams, like Bristol City, even have two of those), which was first displayed by Kettering Town in 1976 - under the auspices of Wolves legend Derek Dougan, no less - and legitimised by Liverpool in 1978. But if you stop to think of it, there is nothing natural about adorning your red shirt with AON, or your gold shirt with SportingBet. It's tacky. Imagine (if, like me, you're too young to remember football pre-1978) how good it would be if your beloved team simply wore its colours and its badge, rather than also proclaiming support for an insurance company or an online casino. It would, quite simply, be purer; and there is rarely any beauty without purity. It's not going to happen, I know. OK, West Brom (boo!) did it a couple of years ago, and Barcelona famously refused to be sponsored until adding the Unicef logo a few years ago, but notwithstanding the honour of the latter, we are not going to return to a time when an opportunity to make money might be refused on the grounds of taste. My worry is, though, that football is heading in the direction of F1, a 'sport' contested by people who are almost literally walking billboards. Is there any chance we can rise above that?
August 19th 2010
Things I'm currently musing about, but which aren't interesting enough to pad out to an entire diary entry, are the fact that Empire magazine is always slightly disappointing, that I've just started watching the final season of the West Wing, and that I'm going to have tapas for the first time tonight. In other news, today I'm starting an occasional theme of digging into my diary archives, to remind you of what I said on this day in a previous year. It's necessarily occasional, since there are some calendar days on which I haven't written (even in the heady early months when I was here almost every day), but I'll do the best I can. Forgive me if it's desperately self-referential - and I think we can agree that it is - but I hope it will be of some interest, at least.
On this day in 2004... Exam results day, and I'm pretty happy, since both myself and Simon got what we needed (and some). [...] Simon beat me in P6 (hardest maths exam) and while a B is certainly fine in P6, it is what I'm hoping to do for the next four years... Simon got 90/100, and an A.
August 20th 2010
What Is Wrong With Football (Part 2 of 94): I'm going to a Spurs vs Wolves match soon (the only two teams in the league who are better known by their nicknames than their actual names, I reckon), and I'm sitting amid the Spurs fans. What do you think would happen if I declared my love for Wolves during the match, and asked the Tottenham faithful to celebrate (or, more likely, commiserate) with me? Well, if I weren't punched in the nose I'd be ejected by the stewards - and probably both of those things would happen. Contrast this, then, with the baseball match I saw in Seattle, in which Texas Rangers fans sat happily with Seattle Mariners fans, laughing and joking over the match as it unfolded - you can support your own team without needing to attack others. Where the Seattle Mariners perhaps went a little too far was in selling merchandise from their rivals in their club shop. I'm all for friendliness, but I would not be happy to see Liverpool or Blackburn shirts being sold at Molineux.
On this day in 2004... So, it's Olympic time once more, and it's more or less sunk into farce in several areas. Of course, this perception is largely influenced by a natural English pessimism that is heightened by my own cynicism, but when you look at how many medals have been switched around after the event, sometimes even after the ceremony, with appeals and counter-appeals, you have to feel the IOC (or whoever's in charge of these things) is pretty incompetent.
August 22nd 2010
Here's what I don't understand about people's attitudes towards Tony Blair: OK, you may believe that stopping Saddam Hussein from oppressing and murdering his own people was the wrong thing to do. I don't agree with you, but fair enough, it's a complicated issue. But how can you believe that it was clearly and blatantly the wrong thing to do, that there is no room for argument, and that Blair must be some kind of monster not to apologise for it? That just doesn't make sense. I mention this because Blair is in the news this week for various reasons, partly because he's donating all the profits from his memoirs ("The Journey") to the Royal British Legion. Even this generosity has been criticised by some commentators, usually those who have been equally illogical in most of their writings on Mr. Blair. I don't think that we are yet in a position to judge the former Prime Minister with anything like impartiality, and I suspect that, even in years to come, he will not be remembered as fairly as he deserves. Equally, his book will not be reviewed particularly fairly by either his fans or his detractors, I expect. I look forward to reading it - indeed, I have pre-ordered it already. It's not often that a book publication is an event in my life - only the newest instalment of the Wheel of Time, or the latest offering from Danny Wallace or Dave Gorman, tend to register - but Tony Blair's memoirs should be very interesting. Speaking of things being very interesting, I was wandering through the archives of this page yesterday, trying to get material for my best man's speech at Ant's wedding reception, and discovered that on March 30th 2006 I wrote the following: "Some of my closest friends - Anthony, Christine and Jessica - are coming to the end of a three-week-almost-teaching-thingy." The weird thing is, I don't have any close friends called Jessica. I don't even have any un-close friends called Jessica (and I checked on Facebook). So, what was going on? Was it just a strange topical joke that I now don't understand? Did I use 'Jessica' in place of another name, for some secretive reason that I've forgotten? Or - and I think this is the most likely explanation - did I later marry Jessica, fall out with her, and get her removed from my memory in a thinly veiled rip-off of the storyline from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Answers on a postcard, please. If you find enough room on that postcard, you can also answer me this mathematical riddle: what is this sequence, and what is the next number in it? There may (but won't) be a cash prize. Here it is: 1, 9, 26, 93, 118, 119, ...
On this day in 2007... I feel I owe you an update on the job front - praise the Lord, because (among many other much better reasons) my new boss (or one of 'em) phoned, I still have a job, all is well with the world. So I move over to Bristol a week tomorrow - woah - and hopefully the contract for my new house will come through soon.
August 25th 2010
I am wary of using the word 'pretentious' to describe respected authors (or other creative people), since there must be those who have achieved that which others have only pretensions of. What I mean to say is that Jane Austen, say, is not pretentious, because it is she holds the crown. Rest assured, though, that it is only this wariness that is preventing me from using the word to describe Virginia Woolf today. Long-term readers may remember that I am reading Woolf's Orlando, as part of an arrangement with Simon that means he has to read the Eye of the World, and I have another Woolf to read after this one. You may also remember that, in the earlier chapters, I said it wasn't as bad as I was expecting (unfortunately, as you will see below, that has long ceased to be the case). Even short-term readers of this diary will notice that I am reading it at the moment. I find that reading Orlando is much like listening to Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn: you know that a lot of people regard it as a work of genius, but your prevailing thought is "who would actually publish this stuff?" It's not (just) that it's bad. Bad I could cope with. There are thousands of sub-standard novels out there, which fail properly to develop character, or have a hackneyed plot, or an unimaginative style. At the moment I'm reading Agatha Christie's Taken at the Flood (I need at least one other book to turn to while reading Woolf), and while it's not bad, it's not one of her best - but that's fine. It moves along well enough, and I'm quite enjoying it. I cannot imagine anyone actually enjoying reading Orlando. The plot, such as it is, is that a young man called Orlando turns into a woman one day, then lives for several hundred years. As I promised you above, I'm not going to use the 'p' word, and indeed I can actually imagine how that plotline could have provided an enjoyable book - a clever satire, even, which is what the blurb claims Orlando is. The problem (well, one problem) is that Woolf seems to belong to a class of author who looks down on 'plot' as the medium of lesser writers, much as an avant-garde film-maker might look down on Michael Bay. And while I can agree that only the most feeble of authors writes solely in terms of plot, ignoring character or tone, the fact is that a book needs more to string it together than a series of whimsical observations and satirical authorial comment. Orlando fails here. It flits from maddeningly insubstantial nonsense to maddeningly insubstantial nonsense, a ridiculous pot pourri of ink on water. Its concoction of disjointed paragraphs that amount to nothing greater than a vague sense of tone with a total absence of form reminds me a little of the opening pages of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (beyond which I could not get). Both novels, I believe, aspire to wit. In short, this is a book which may be appreciated by students of literature looking for textbook examples of literary affectation, but it is unlikely to be enjoyed by anyone who actually wants a book to read. Having said all that, I've still got 20 pages to go, so maybe it gets better...
August 27th 2010
A while ago I mentioned that I had lost all my March 2008 entries after the collapse of Geocities. Well, if you check the archive now you'll notice that they're back (including such highlights as my Tea video, and the time that a tree fell down at Mum and Dad's), because I stumbled across a website that has copied my Geocities entries in their entirety. Not just mine - a cursory check shows that they've taken a lot of other people's as well - but it seems rather odd nonetheless. What is even odder is that, in their version of those pages, arbitrary words are now hyperlinks to equally arbitrary websites... the website itself is www.drack.info (I don't recommend that you visit the site yourself, since it could well be dodgy and cause damage to your computer). Anyways, I'm at a total loss to explain that one, but I thank them for saving my diary entries for posterity - and, indeed, they have all the pictures, so I may update the archive so you can see those again. We shall see. In other news, you'll notice from the comments that we have an answer to my recent Jessica question, though no one's solved the number sequence yet. Rob (who is, I believe, the most mathematically-qualified reader of this page) is working on it.
On this day in 2005... In other musical news, I ordered my second Christian album the other day, Good News by Cliff Richard (well, it's two albums on one CD, of which Good News is one), the first being Slow Train Coming by Bob, which I've written about before.