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September 6th 2011
I have been somewhat remiss in cataloguing the recent adventures of my life, so let me make up for lost time by telling you that I've started my new job at AXA... I'll update you with interesting information relating to this if and when I come across any. Don't hold your breath. More excitingly, the Thomas family met up in Bristol on the recent Bank Holiday: the first time we have all been together this year, astonishingly. A good time was had by all; a particularly good time was had by Dad, who beat me at chess. See picture below.
Pluggy keeping a watchful eye on the chess action

Fortunately for my ego, I narrowly won at Boggle, so not all was lost.
In other news, Doctor Who returned recently and I am as hooked as ever; I have heard it suggested that, for all Doctor Who fans, the archetypal Doctor is the one they first watched, and that seems to be the case for me. Matt Smith has a brilliantly unique way of portraying the character (despite the early claims that he was ripping off David Tennant), and he hasn't yet faded in his - admittedly fairly brief - tenure. I understand that there is something of a Who backlash for this series, mainly from people still moaning about the absence of Tennant, but I can't see it myself: OK, not every episode is a classic, but there are enough solid ones to maintain a high average quality.
Not content with boring my friends and colleagues on the topic of Matt Smith's Doctor Who, I have recently started watching the Christopher Eccleston series (a gift from Matt when he moved to Nottingham). It must have been a massive challenge to bring the show back after so many years, so you have to admire what was achieved, but it is considerably worse than the programme as it is now. Under Russell T. Davies - at least, in the first series - the show seemed to be aimed less at children (heavy-handed references to the Iraq war crop up in an early episode, for example), but had less dramatic impetus or humour. While both Tennant and Smith will probably be remembered alongside the greats (William Hartnell, Tom Baker etc), I expect that Eccleston will be viewed as nothing more than an interim Doctor.

On this day in 2006... I've realised that today is the first anniversary of Rich's blog starting. Please keep next Monday free in your diaries, since it's the first anniversary of Rich's blog ending.

September 7th 2011
There are some questions to which no one knows the answer: How was Stonehenge built? Do aliens exist? Are there infinitely many Mersenne primes? Have Westlife broken up? Who is Bobby Sabel? There are, conversely, some questions to which everyone knows the answer: Who was the best James Bond? How is 'scone' pronounced? Which should go first on a scone: cream or jam? (I stole this wholesale from David Mitchell, by the way).
Anyways, I have a couple of questions, which you might choose to view as rhetorical (or which you might answer. Comments box is below): Have Churchill run out of recognisable yet reasonably minor celebrities? Who thought that we didn't have enough body-swap comedies already?
Taking those questions in reverse order (and why not?), today I noticed adverts for a new film called The Change-up, in which Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds play friends with comedically different lives - Bateman plays a married father of two; Reynolds a hip young bachelor - who wake up in each other's bodies. Cue hilarity, as the married chap fends off hordes of gorgeous women who are desperate to sleep with him (I'm single and am yet to experience this phenomenon. Perhaps I need to buy a new jumper, effect a baffled expression and over-act more) whereas the single chap suddenly has to look after screaming babies. But then, you could have worked out that that's what would happen based on the poster. I would argue that the body-swap film has been done to death already - and I haven't even seen It's A Boy Girl Thing, unlike my brother - so humbly request that no more be made for at least a decade. Unless some studio exec chooses to pick up on the idea that Froudy and I started developing today: 'The Switcheroo', in which an Australian (slated to be Paul Hogan, but I'll take Alan Fletcher if I have to) swaps bodies with a wise-cracking kangeroo.
To address my first question (remember that?) you may have been following the range of Churchill ads on TV in which the cheery dog confirms that Churchill insurance will indeed give you a 93% no claims discount (or something like that), only to be contradicted by an onlooker saying something like: "You don't want to believe that. He told me that he helped Rolf Harris move house". Cut to Churchill helping Rolf Harris move house. Anyways, I enjoy these adverts as much as the next guy - Roy Walker was a highlight - but I wonder if they've run out of budget for celebrities; the most recent version contains the unimpressive rejoinder: "You don't want to believe that. He told me that he won a tug-of-war competition last week". Cut to a tug-of-war competition last week. I'm sorry, but that's lame: I want to see Ken Dodd on a fishing trip, or Frank Bruno wallpapering his lounge. Budget up, Churchill.

On this day in 2004... Fear not, I haven't abandoned this page, I've just been a bit busy recently.

September 11th 2011
Before I get going, a bit of house-keeping: you might have noticed that there's now a little search box in the bottom right of your screen (only the main page; not in the archive). So if you want to find out everything I've said about "Strictly Come Dancing", for example, you'll discover that it cropped up in October 2008. I'm not sure how well it works - it was free, after all - but give it a try and let me know.
Now, you are reading this page, so I can only assume that you are an intelligent (not to mention good-looking and well-spoken) kind of person, thus I'm confident that you haven't been watching Red or Black, the new gameshow from ITV. You might even not have come across the thing, so let me explain the premise: about 10,000 people make a series of 50:50 choices (red or black, in fact) based on nothing other than dumb luck, until only one is left. They then make a final choice between red and black, and win a million pounds if they get it right.
It's not unusual for someone to be able to win a Simon Cowell show without possessing any discernable talent, but this is rather more brazen than usual. There is no pretence that skill is involved; no knowledge is required - in a typical round, say, either a red or black box contains a tennis ball, and contestants have to say which one. Except that this is the most expensive gameshow ever made, so rather than having two boxes, it's more likely that two members of One Direction will be wearing jumpers in red or black, and contestants have to guess which one of them is hiding the tennis ball behind their back.
It is, frankly, astonishing that such a pathetic programme would be commissioned at all, even given that Simon Cowell is regarded as some sort of god in the TV world. It defies parody. In fact, it exceeds parody: on How I Met Your Mother there is a spoof gameshow called Million Dollar Heads or Tails, which does exactly what is says on the tin; Red or Black is just an extended version. Ridiculously extended, in fact, taking place over every night of the week as far as I can tell, although there's no earthly reason why the programme should last more than five minutes. Pick a number between 1 and 10,000, flip a coin and it's all over.
What's even more insulting than the existence of this preposterous over-expanded game of roulette is the fact that, despite the explicit admission that no skill is involved, Ant and Dec spend the entire show pretending that it is. "You've got to focus, now." "Do you have a strategy?" The audience is almost as bad, encouraging the contestants by manically shouting out which colour to choose, despite the complete randomness of the game.
I've heard people compare the show to Deal or No Deal, and I can see where they're coming from, but it's not really a fair comparison. Deal or No Deal, despite its random allocation of boxes, actually involves a bit of skill; namely, whether or not to accept the banker's offer. Rather than simply 'dealing' or 'no-dealing' based on the expected prize money, there are issues of risk aversity and indifference curves. It's actually quite actuarial. The same cannot be said of Red or Black, which is about as actuarial as a game of snakes and ladders.
It's probably clear by now that I'm rather cross about the whole Red or Black thing. I honestly view it as one of the low points of television history, treating its audience with a deeply insulting contempt that almost defies belief. But that's not all; it is cruel (imagine missing out on becoming a millionaire, simply because you lost a 50:50 bet based on nothing but chance) and, fatally, it is boring. Really, really boring. Simon Cowell can tart it up as much as he likes, but it's impossible to make the show any more interesting than if it were just a coin being tossed fifty times in a row. Red or Black is an embarrassment to ITV and to our nation.

On this day in 2007... 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.

September 14th 2011
I saw this and thought of you (but only if you're Richard. Which you're not, because Richard doesn't really read this page):
If this video is to be believed, it appears that RPGs are a good way for men to meet women they wouldn't otherwise stand a chance with. Kinda like Christianity (you know who I'm talking about, almost every groom from almost every Christian wedding I've been to). I'm tired of ending clauses with prepositions, so I'll say farewell.

On this day in 2008... You probably have a Facebook profile (unless you're Rob), and - statistically - you're probably 'Facebook friends' with Pluggy.

September 25th 2011
The film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been almost universally lauded, with five star reviews being thrown around like confetti at a particularly confetti-based wedding, so it was with reasonably high expectations that I went to see it on Friday night. And I have to agree with many of the compliments that were flying around. The acting is excellent (Gary Oldman in the lead role, obviously, but there are also highly impressive performances from the likes of Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong and Toby Jones), the music is great, the sound editing - seriously, the sound editing - is first rate: there's one moment when a character is just buttering a piece of toast, and the sound of it tears through the scene. Best of all is the cinematography; the film has a distinctive feel that makes the world of spying seem wearying and drenched in melancholy, as different from 007 as you could imagine. There's only one problem with the film: I didn't have the first clue what was going on. Ever.
Seriously, this was one of the worst screenplays I've ever come across - unlike the majority of the reviewers, I've neither read the book nor scene the Alec Guinness TV series, so I was relying on the film to let me know what was going on. I am not exaggerating when I say that the first 40 minutes seemed to be made up of entirely disconnected scenes of characters talking to each other, without any indication of why they were doing so, or even when they were doing it - there were a great number of extended flashbacks, and even on the rare occasions when it was clear that the scene was happening in the past, it was impossible to know when in the past. All I managed to pick up was that there were four people who were suspected of being a Russian mole, and I'd managed to get that far by watching the trailer.
After 40 minutes the narrative thrust became a little clearer, as we followed Tom Hardy's character's back-story, but this didn't help to explain anything that had gone before, or much that went after. It reminded me of the all-too-familiar feeling from my university days when I would understand a couple of steps in the middle of a complex proof, but soon lose my way again and stare in confusion at the lecturer's beard.
As the movie dragged on I was still impressed by all the things I mentioned above - the acting, the cinematography, the music - but still had no idea what on earth was happening. Smiley saw some people hugging and he looked upset: was one of them his wife? I guessed so, and discovered - an hour later - that I was right. That kid called Bill, wearing glasses: was he the same person as the man called Bill, also wearing glasses? Apparently not; and apparently the kid wasn't in a flashback, he was in a flashforward. Or possibly the man was in a flashback. When the mole was climactically revealed it was only because of the exciting music and the fact that the camera was panning round slowly that I realised that that was what was happening.
I realise that all this might be my fault; the people I was with seemed to follow the film a lot better than I did, and I've only come across one reviewer (Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail, of all places) who has suggested that the jumps back and forth in time might prove confusing to viewers. Perhaps I was just tired; perhaps I'm just thick. But I've always prided myself on, y'know, not being thick, and I feel that even a halfway-intelligent 25 year old should have a fairly decent grasp on any halfway-coherent screenplay. Christopher Nolan (writer/director of Inception and, before that, Memento) has a particular talent for taking complex ideas and making them understandable; Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor (who penned TTSS) seem to have the opposite ability, having taken a reasonably straightforward idea and made it incomprehensible. There are those who regard this as 'sophisticated' writing, and who no doubt glory in the fact that the viewer is not being spoon-fed; personally, I have not been so confused by a presentation involving Russians since Dmitriy Rumynin taught me Algebra I.

On this day in 2004... This is my last update before going to the strange world we call University...

what was I listening to?
Greatest Hits - The Pretenders
what was I reading?
The Insider - Piers Morgan
what was I watching?
Doc Hollywood
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