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September 5th 2007
Today: Large creature is depressed with hot beer (4,5)
Last time: Indication of modern trends, with a lion and a unicorn? (4,2,3,5)
Answer: sign of the times
I wrote quite a lot about my first three days of work here. Then I accidentally discovered some new way to close windows (something to do with Ctrl-something) and lost it all. Some day soon I'll put it back, but not now, because I'm worn out. To summarise: good so far, lots of information to take, got to sign up to Institute of Actuaries, could do with A-Level certificates which are lost, thinking about getting replacements if can be done, went to laser quest with modelling team (joke about how modelling team can be misinterpreted) which was excellent, colleagues look like Jim Murkett and JD's brother in Scrubs... actually, that was more or less it. Maybe I'll write all my diary entries this way in the future. What can I add? The vast majority of guys at work are 'smart casual' and so wear no tie - I have thus far bucked this trend by wearing a variety of ties, and intend to maintain this until the end of the week at least. I think I'll sign off there for now, with apologies for not mentioning most of the things I wanted to say...

September 11th 2007
Today: INRI? These could be cryptic (10)
Last time: Large creature is depressed with hot beer (4,5)
Answer: blue whale
I'm afraid I've often made little mention of major events of my life on this page, instead preferring to celebrate the, somehow important, trivialities of existence. Which is why I haven't gone on a lot about moving out, starting work etc - suffice it to say that, with a few ups and downs, everything seems to be going well. So long as I focus on the Lord, and work for Him in everything (even the mundane stuff. And yes, there may be some) I can't go too far wrong. That's all you're getting, really, since I don't want to break the pattern that's made this page the 3,494,392,218th most popular on the internet. So, I was watching The Last Kiss for the first time last night - for those of you not in the know, it stars (but is not, as I previously thought, directed by) Zach Braff of Scrubs fame. Essentially it's about going through a crisis at the age of thirty, when everything becomes set in stone and there are no more surprises - Braff plays a guy who's feeling bored with his pregnant (and beautiful) girlfriend, despite the fact that he loves her. And if he sounds like an idiot, that's because he is: a selfish, blind idiot. Therein lies the big problem with this film: there is absolutely no way that Braff's character can be regarded with an ounce of sympathy, or even understanding, as he repeatedly lies to his pregnant girlfriend, then sleeps with another girl. OK, everything he does after that is highly commendable, but those actions are so completely without justification (at least to a 21 year old who sees marriage as some kind of oasis in the desert) that you don't really want his girl to take him back. Actually, the film ends on a bit of a question mark - she lets him back into the house to try things over, but the viewer has no idea if it'll work, or even last more than ten minutes. But this was a rare occasion (the only other one that springs to mind is Collateral) where I thought an 'unsatisfying' ending was probably for the best. So, should she take him back? It's a tough question, and since I can't get my head round his motivation, or their situation, I don't know - certainly she should forgive him, but that's not the same thing at all. I guess the film was successful in emphasising the betrayal of sleeping with another girl (even if this success was detrimental to Braff's character, and hence the film as a whole), which is no mean feat in the climate of today - indeed, the climate of the post-Friends era. Maybe I set too much stock by the sitcom, but I maintain that its biggest failing (alongside the constant blasphemy) was that it massively devalued sex (it's times like this I'm glad I don't still have Google ads). When Ross 'cheated' on Rachel - they were on a break! - it was enough to break up their relationship, but characters had sex with other characters so frequently that it didn't have the impact it might otherwise have done, given that sex is supposed to be the ultimate expression of a loving relationship (see Genesis for more. The book, not the band). So, to jump back a few lines, the enormity of what Braff's character did was impressively, if detrimentally, conveyed. With such a main character, the film was always going to disappoint me, so a good but unremarkable supporting cast - with their sundry storylines - made little difference to my opinion of the movie. The lass who plays Kim is exceptionally attractive, and it is she who sleeps with Braff's character, not knowing that his girlfriend is pregnant. While she comes off as a little annoying early on, it's good to see her emotions coming through towards the end - the cover shot of her is very misleading, by the way, as it seems to portray her as a home-wrecker, which decidedly she is not. All in all, this film was disappointing, and not because I was expecting Scrubs-like humour, as I suspect many fans were (the trailer did nothing to help here, picking out the few slapstick moments, much to Braff's chagrin), but because of the totally unsympathetic lead character, as well as a lot of swearing and several unnecessarily detailed sex scenes. If you want to see a Braff film, definitely go for Garden State, which (apart from some very odd moments in the first 20 minutes or so) is a touching, interesting story well-filmed and well-acted. In other news, not to diverge from the trivial (apologies to the majority who probably had no interest in The Last Kiss, and little in what's to come), I had the greatest ironing experience of my life the other day! You wouldn't believe how the creases came out with this iron, it was phenomenal. Seriously. A tenth of the effort I'm used to.

September 12th 2007
Today: Bust down reason (9)
Last time: INRI? These could be cryptic (10)
Answer: crosswords
Today's clue is a little tricky for this page, I'm afraid, but several setters regard it as their favourite. To give you a start (and a finish), it starts with a B and ends with an H. Anyways, if you can't work it out, Google it. Now, I can add nothing to the sum of human knowledge by musing on the McCann case here (you notice that it has become the McCann case now, rather than the Madeleine case?), but I'm afraid I'm going to mention it. Actually, I mentioned it previously, I believe, merely to condemn the British press for their reporting of the first suspect in the case (a point made by Matthew Parris much later in the Times, marking a change from the normal tripe he wrote) and that point stands. Actually, we've learnt more about the press from the whole affair than anything else - Mr. & Mrs. McCann attempted to use the media as a tool, and ended up where everyone (except Max Clifford) does when they try that: caught in the backlash. I make no comment about their innocence or otherwise, but the very fact that I can mention the issue here shows that they've delivered their lives into the public domain. I heard some kid today telling his mother 'it looks like the parents could have done it' - that is what their lives are now. Indeed, it's hard to type anything here without speculating about whether a mother and father killed their daughter, a horrific speculation to make about anyone, which I don't want to make - and speculation, by the way, which would have had me strung up a month ago. The McCanns have played with the media - for the best possible motives, if they are innocent [a clause every newspaper, and blog, has to add into these sentences now] - which is a dangerous game. One point I will make: would they have staged such a widespread media campaign if they were guilty? It doesn't seem to make any sense. Anyhow, the newspapers are confused now, and the ludicrous "one look into her eyes is enough to know she didn't do it" and "the Portuguese police are incompetent" have been replaced by the equally ludicrous "not suspecting the McCanns was class prejudice". Oh, the hell with it all, I don't want to write any more about the affair; doing so is every bit as pointless as the media coverage I rail against. Instead, I will turn to far less important matters, and bemoan the loss of Fopp, an excellent high street CD & DVD store which sold things far too cheaply to remain solvent. I know it happened some time ago, but I must have been away at the time, because I missed it in the news: it was only after I saw three Fopps that had closed that I suspected something, and it was confirmed in the Times. Shame.

September 18th 2007
Today: Expensive - sounds like it could be several bucks (4)
Last time: Bust down reason (9)
Answer: brainwash (bra-in-wash)
Frequent readers will know that I take little care with my opening sentences - it is a rare occasion indeed that I will plan 'em in advance; instead, words tend to tumble out. But in the last couple of weeks (and months), there have been a few openings I've been working on, all about different topics - and they're all going to have to wait, as it is my sad duty to report the death of Robert Jordan. Some time ago I wrote here about his rare blood disease, and the inevitable has happened - two days ago, he passed away. Jordan's work is not as well known in the UK as it deserves to be - his major success was the Wheel of Time, an epic 12-part series of books (the 12th remained unfinished when Jordan died, but it is believed that family members etc will complete it) in the fantasy genre. Describing it like that is enough to put off a large percentage of readers, but they would be missing out on a moving, humorous and thoughtful - if occasionally frustrating - series of books with characterisation second to none. Well, possibly second to Jane Austen, but there's no shame in that. The sad truth is that a lot of readers will switch off as soon as mention is made of battles or magical creatures - but there was never any danger of Jordan making such things the crux of his books. Instead, he used them as the backdrop. Jordan will be sorely missed as a person, and sorely missed as a writer. He was a Christian, and I look forward to congratulating him (in the unlikely event that such things still cross my mind) in Paradise.

September 25th 2007
Today: Endless vibrato on 'Born on the Fourth of July' - it's old hat (6)
Last time: Expensive - sounds like it could be several bucks (4)
Answer: dear
If you were listening to Radio 4 [mumble incoherently] years ago, you may have had the good fortune to hear "Mrs. Dean's Dilemma", a short story competition winner by one Anne Durdin. That young lady later became Anne Thomas, within a few short years was my mother, and made her triumphant return to Radio 4 last night on The Learning Curve, talking about twins in education. I missed the actual programme, as I was at a pub quiz (didn't do too badly, but didn't do well. I got the Beatles question right, anyhow) but listened on Listen Again, which you yourself can access on the Radio 4 website, and marvel at my mother's Natural Radio Voice. The host of the show is Libby Purves, although Mum didn't see her face-to-face (nor indeed vice versa) who also writes occasionally for the Times. It was she - and can I draw novice bloggers' attention to this, since it is what we in the business call a 'seamless link' - who wrote a particularly stupid article in the Times last week. It was regarding the Northern Rock situation, and clearly she didn't know what she was talking about - she wrote that the FSA had confirmed Northern Rock were solvent, but that if you looked closely, account holders were only guaranteed a maximum of 31,700 (or whatever it was). OK, Libby, but you've got your facts horribly mixed up - Northern Rock being solvent means that they have enough money to pay everyone everything, if that's what people want. The 31,700 figure (or, indeed, whatever it was) was the amount that account holders are guaranteed in the case of insolvency, a completely unrelated situation. I'm surprised the Times let her put it out. Mind you, it wasn't even the stupidest column on that page: that honour goes to Mick "Did I mention that I'm Marxist?" Hume, who wrote that we shouldn't help the people of Darfur. Essentially, if I remember rightly, because it's arrogant, it's morally correct (anyone, particularly famous people, expressing morals is looked down upon) and it's a bit like Iraq. Leaving aside your feelings about Iraq, it just isn't. Actually, there have been something of a spate of columns in the Times recently that have prompted me to briefly consider rethinking (very Bingleyesque) my newspaper of choice... Times2 is rarely free from misandry thinly veiled as equality-seeking. Today there was another article about the Community Officers (is that what they're called?) who didn't attempt to rescue a drowning boy. The Times hasn't been as hyperbolic about this as most newspapers, I'm sure (the Daily Mail, Sun etc must have had a field day) and has actually reported some extenuating circumstances, as it were, that I feel should be aired. Yes, when you read the headline 'Officers stand by while child drowns in pond', the immediate response is anguished bewilderment - and probably anger. Scorn has been poured on their reasoning that they were 'untrained' - today's Times article pointed out that the boy himself had dived in to save his sister, with no training - but people are missing the point here. It wasn't passing the buck, it wasn't saying "sorry, that's not my job" or "I haven't got tht certficate" - it was realising that in the circumstances, diving in would have caused more problems than it solved: it would most likely have done little more than add another casualty to the list. Which is, sadly, what the boy did himself by trying to save his sister. Training is important - why else would it happen at all - and if they'd just dived in and trusted to instinct, they would have been worse than useless. I can fully understand the parents' looking to lay blame - heaven knows what I'd do in the circumstances, but I'm confident I'd lash out wherever I could - but I can't accept the deliberately inaccurate response of the media. It comes back to what Tony Blair said about the search for impact - and it's tantamount to encitement to hatred. A dispassionate response is nigh-on impossible, and seems heartless - but when it comes to lifesaving, a dispassionate response is vital. Running back into the burning building, diving into the dangerous waters, standing up to the mugger: these things may be heroic, but they cost lives. The job of the police isn't heroism.

September 30th 2007
The iconic photograph

And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

- Edmund Sears

what was I listening to?
The Learning Curve
what was I reading?
The Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan
what was I watching?
The Last Kiss
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