November 2nd 2009
In the words of the late, great Cliff Richard: "Dash it, that was my bus!"
That's a gag I came up with some years ago, and it didn't really work then, but I persevere. I do indeed want to quote Sir Cliff, in saying 'Congratulations' to a few different folk. 31st October is generally a pretty horrible day, what with all that Hallowe'en nonsense, but there are three - count 'em, three - reasons why October 31st 2009 was a bit of a stonker.
First off was Andy Giles' most recent wedding to Rachael (after the legal one in America and the ceremony in America), which was attended by a whole host of legendary Warwickites with B/ground Andy as best man. It was great to see lots of these people for the first time in ages, and even better to see Andy Giles trebly hitched. The lad's done well.
Back in Bristol - the place, not the daughter of Sarah Palin. People have been confused before - there was more good news as Jay & Becky announced the birth of Lara Grace Evans. I had rather suspected that Becky was pregnant - the overwhelming fatness and ultrasound were contributory factors in my deduction - so Lara was no surprise, but the news was joyfully received for all that.
So, a wedding and a birth. If I were passage-riting then the third momentous occasion of October 31st would be a death, but happily the news was rather better, in that my housemate Steve got down on one knee to Bronwen. She said yes, so I've got to start making plans for a new housemate. Good work, Steve (who doesn't read this page).
So, there you go. Congrats all round. Oh, and I got promoted.
November 11th 2009
It is my opinion, previously expressed on this page, that Gordon Brown is a weak leader whose attempts to court popularity are misguided and invariably reflect badly on him. But, as Hugo Rifkind wrote some time ago in the Times, he is now being bullied.
The Sun has been instrumental this week in spreading the news that Brown's letter to the mother of a dead soldier had his name spelled wrong. The soldier's surname was Janes, whereas Brown wrote James – he also seemed to correct a misspelling of Jamie, and his handwriting was poor throughout.
Well, the first thing is that Mr Brown's handwriting is always poor, and this letter was probably the best I've seen it. The second is that this is in no way a news story; it is an excuse to criticise our Prime Minister, and to play on the grief of a mother in a calculated way, knowing that she cannot be criticised. Mrs Janes not only gave the letter to the Sun, she passed on a recording of her phone conversation with Brown – who records their phone conversations? - and has been interviewed at length about the matter. Sun journalists should be ashamed, but I'm not sure they're still capable of shame.
Should Mrs Janes also be ashamed? Yes and no – as a grieving mother, she cannot be judged under normal criteria, since her world has fallen apart. I can't begin to understand that, though she should remember that Brown, at least, can. Looking back, she may come to realise that she has acted in a very unfair manner to the Prime Minister, who has more important things to do than worry over a spelling mistake. Note that this is one mistake, as opposed to the 25 that she claimed on the phone (I have no idea where that came from, since I've seen the letter in the Times and it's definitely only one).
Of course, Brown is in an impossible position here. It's like 'biscuit-gate' again, in which he knows that the press are joining with the foolish to whip up a storm over the trivial, but he can't say so. This is why Tony Blair had to utilise 'spin' – it was the only way to combat the feral beasts of the media, who were there first.
In chirpier news, I had an excellent birthday last Saturday while on James Lee's stag weekend. It was great to meet up with Uni folk, some of whom I'd only seen once or twice since Uni days - these are among the best people I've ever met, and it was an honour to assist Matt in organising the stag. As Jimmy is a Spurs fan, we got him an Arsenal shirt and cake (bittersweet for me, since Arsenal crushed Wolves 4-1 on Saturday evening); he got me a T shirt featuring our famous Dangerously Articulate photo. On the first morning we played on the beach - beach football, making sand replicas of James and burying him up to his neck were among the pleasures to be had - and in the evening I rolled out a quiz. Since I know that you're a knowledgable lot, I've reproduced the quiz for your enjoyment.
Round One: Putting James to Faces
It's a picture round, and they're all called James.
Round Two: General Knowledge [with a hidden message]
1. Which band had hits with 'Sit Down' and 'Laid'?
2. What boy's name, when written backwards, is a kind of fish? (And no, 'Doc' is not a boy's name)
3. Which month is mentioned in Shakespeare's 'Shall I compare thee'?
4. Which airline decided to remove Richard Branson's cameo from its in-flight version of Casino Royale in 2007?
5. Which Premiership football team are known as the Lilywhites?
6. Complete the title of the Oscar Wilde play: “Lady Windermere's _____”.
7. What is the surname of the Newcastle player who has played in every Premiership season from 1992/93 to 2008/09?
8. Which games console was released in the UK on the 26th anniversary of John Lennon's death?
9. What word meaning 'zero' is the surname of Mike from the Beach Boys?
10. Give a four-letter word without any vowels that means 'song of praise'.
Round Three: Film & TV
1. Which actor has played characters called Jack Dawson, Frank William Abagnale Jr and Billy Costigan?
2. What was the first ever programme shown on Channel 4?
3. Which comedian sprung to fame in the TV series Marion & Geoff?
4. Which of these Anchorman actors has not appeared in Friends? Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, Steve Carrell, Fred Willard
5. Who voiced Woody in Toy Story?
6. For which film did Robin Williams win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor?
7. Whom did Paul Merton replace as the host of Room 101?
8. Which child star appeared in Jumanji, Small Soldiers and Little Women?
9. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have appeared together in Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle and which other film?
10. Which Scrubs star has appeared alongside Harrison Ford in both The Fugitive and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?
Round Four: Sport
1. Which footballer ended his career by being sent off in the 2006 World Cup final?
2. Name either of the two sports that have been dropped from the 2012 Olympic games.
3. Name the English cricketer whose surname is an anagram of 'cricket shot'.
4. Which footballer has the most caps for the Republic of Ireland?
5. Hockey has red cards, yellow cards and which other colour cards?
6. The All-England Club, based in Wimbledon, hosts tennis and which other sport?
7. Which sprinter joined English rugby league team Castleford Tigers on trial in 2008?
8. Which football team does Prince William allegedly support?
9. Which retired tennis player recently admitted, in his autobiography, to taking crystal meth?
10. Who are the only football team to go an entire Premiership season unbeaten?
Round Five: Music
The titles of songs have been missed out from these lyrics. Name the song (the number in brackets refers to the number of words in the song title).
1. Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a  in the sky
2. She said "It's really not my habit to intrude
Furthermore, I hope my meaning won't be lost or misconstrued
But I'll repeat myself, at the risk of being crude
There must be "
3. Wise men say only fools rush in
But I  with you
4. And she won't write a letter, although I always tell her
And so it's my assumption, I'm really 
5. So may I introduce to you
The act you've known for all these years
6. I'm on my knees, looking for the answer
Are we , or are we dancer?
7. Walking around
Some kind of lonely clown,
 always get me down
8. I want to be Bob Dylan
 wishes he was someone just a little more funky
9. I know that it's a 
From the sky down to the sea
But I can only see it when you're here
Here with me
10. She's a 
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind
Round Six: Literature
1. Wuthering Heights is the only published novel by which author?
2. Which book begins: “"It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen"?
3. Which Shakespeare play contains the line “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”?
4. Which Narnia book comes between Prince Caspian and The Silver Chair in the series order?
5. In The Lord of the Rings, what kind of creature is Legolas?
6. What is the name of the dog in the Famous Five?
7. On what book is the film Clueless based?
8. Which Irishman won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995?
9. Which novel is narrated by the character Scout Finch?
10. Name either of the two cities in Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities?
Round Seven: Animals
1. Which football team plays their home matches at Molineux?
2. According to legend, in which modern day country was St. George born?
3. Which comedy duo starred in the film Alien Autopsy?
4. What was the nickname of British Olympian Eddie Edwards?
5. Adam Duritz is the lead singer of which band?
6. Which Canadian-born actor announced in 1998 that he suffered from Parkinson's disease?
7. With which sport is W G Grace associated?
8. Aesculus hippocastanum is the Latin name for which tree?
9. What novel tells the story of the characters George Milton and Lennie Small?
10. Which weatherman gained notoriety when he wrongly said: " Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!”
Round Eight: Beards
1. Which England footballer sparked a national debate recently by having a beard?
2. Who is referred to in this Bible verse? “So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”
3. Who is the only Beatle with a beard on the cover of Let It Be and the only one without a beard on the cover of Abbey Road?
4. Which is the only one of the 7 dwarves who doesn't have a beard?
5. In which series of Blackadder does the eponymous hero sport a beard?
6. Which American president supposedly grew a beard after receiving a letter from an 11 year old girl recommending that he do so?
7. In original editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, what was wrong with Dumbledore's beard in the image on the back cover?
8. Which member of the royal family this year mocked a guest's soul patch as being a 'poor, frustrated beard'?
9. Which was the only James Bond film to feature a bearded Bond?
10. Which band features two bearded members and a third whose surname is Beard?
November 16th 2009
In my head, Ant and Rob were gathered round my last entry like Scouts round a campfire, engaging in quiz excitement and roasting chestnuts. While this probably didn't happen, the image is quite beautiful in my mind - their only previous discussion over this page seeming to be a united damning of my drink-related entry. Which, I maintain, they didn't get. Nobody gets me. Yes, folks, I am a misunderstood genius - you heard it here first.
I'm a misunderstood genius. You heard it here second.
Anyways, Bristol railway stations are now festooned - somebody had to say it; festooned - with signs saying "Last year 6 people slipped and injured themselves at this station. That's 6 too many". Is there anybody who reads that and doesn't think that 6 is actually a very small number in that context? I'm willing to wager that it's rather lower than the average number of slips in an area of the same size in most of Bristol, especially an area that sees so many people go in and out. If anything, I felt reassured that my odds of slippage were happily low - it would not be going too far to say that I walked with less caution than normal, safe in the knowledge that Bernoulli's weak law of large numbers would protect me from harm.
There are yet more signs, though, telling me not to run on the stairs; not to use my mobile while on the stairs ("Sorry, Simon, I've got to hang up. I'll call you again when I've reached the bottom of these eight steps."); to hold on to the hand rail. This last one particularly annoys me at Bristol Parkway, since the stairs are at least three people wide; if they insist upon us all clutching the hand rail, then they're essentially telling us that a third of the stairway was built in vain. And this at the station that - Wikipedia reliably informs me - was the 186th most popular in Britain only four years ago. For shame.
In other news, Simon and I were at Mum & Dad's over the weekend, belatedly celebrating our 24th birthday, and Simon got me Friend Scene It?, a DVD trivia game based around the Matthew Perry vehicle [note to self: check this] Friends. Much fun was had by all, but there is the slight hitch that I am unbeatable. Yes, I know that I should be a gentleman and not boast - I'm not, after all, French. Zing! - but my somewhat obsessive watching of Friends has meant that the rest of the family resorted to playing united against me. Not as one team, you understand, but as three separate players who happened to share a playing piece, so that they got three times as many goes as I did - in such a format they did, I must admit, beat me, but only as a result of Simon's rather generous interpretation of the tie breaker rules. Simon, in fact, knows loads about Friends and would trounce almost anyone else; I rather despair at finding anyone in Bristol to provide me with a decent challenge. Let me know if you're up for it, anybody... Rob? Yeah? Worth the trip from Cov?
In other news, check out this rather old Times article, explaining exactly why the average Briton is not captured on CCTV 300 times a day. Only a Londoner could ever have seriously believed it, anyhow...
By the way, I should correct myself from an October entry - the steam engine gag I credited to Jimmy Carr was in fact the work of the excellent Tim Vine. The poor chap often has his puns - and his work is mainly puns - misattributed, most frequently to Tommy Cooper. Check him out on Youtube, he's very funny and never offensive - and a good Christian chap, I hear.
November 23rd 2009
As I've mentioned before, I think that our MPs have come in for far too much criticism of late; certainly more than the vast majority deserve. It's easier to say that all MPs are liars and thieves than it is to actually think about what you're saying. Anyhow, I now have all the more empathy for them, since I have recently discovered just what it's like to have a second home allowance. Yes, folks, you may have thought of me as a poor but honest kinda chap. But that's before you read my last Council Tax bill, recalculated over the period 24 Aug 09 - 24 Aug 09, and returning 37p due to this being my second home at that point. This has sent me quite light-headed, and I'm convinced that my financial stock - nay, my stock as a person - has risen to its nadir. Or zenith, I can never remember which is which. Sadly, the Cayman Islands are yet to return my calls.
In other news, did you see Children In Need on Friday? I saw about half, and the definite highlight was the Children In Need single (buy it from all good stores now), featuring a medley of songs performed by children's TV characters, past and present. All the original (living) voice artists got on board, sundry folk were very generous with their copyright, the accompanying video is quite incredible, and apparently the whole project took about two years - I can well believe it. We have Peter Kay to thank for masterminding the whole thing, which includes among others Postman Pat, Fireman Sam, the Wombles, the Teletubbies, Andy Pandy, Thunderbirds, Spongebob Squarepants, Scooby Doo, Sooty, Zippy, Pingu, Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Ben 10, Paddington, Windy Miller, Bagpuss... I urge you to buy this DVD single. As a sneak peak, here are some screenshots (the last of which links to a bigger version, currently my desktop background):
November 29th 2009
Jedward were interviewed in yesterday's Times. Perhaps this means it's time for me to pay them some notice. The interview was done with the tone that is generally reserved for such stories; an amused condescension underlined with the prevalent assumption (can you underline with something that's prevalent? Never mind) that no self-respecting Times reader would know anything much about these twins. I have to admit that I know a small amount about Jedward, mostly gleaned from Caitlin Moran (yes, in the Times) and my brother, who long ago was telling the Facebook community that 'The Twins' annoyed him. I'd assumed, at the time, that he was referring to Sebastian & Viola, but I no longer have the bliss of ignorance.
Anyways, the Times claimed that, love them or loathe them, few people are indifferent to Jedward. To which I say 'pfft'. I'm sure that, off the top of my head, I could name several people who are completely and utterly indifferent to Jedward - my mother, Prince Philip and Jimmy Carter, to name but three. And I had thought that I was one of them, but now I'm not so sure. Don't get me wrong, I have no strong feelings at all about Jedward, other than a distaste for their substandard portmanteau (John + Edward = Jedward? Come on, that's all of Edward with just a J bunged on front! Surely it should be Jodward at the very least) but I do have strong feelings aboutthe X Factor. I loathe it, I really do.
It amazes me that the populus are inane enough to watch this tripe, tuning in to the X Factor, Pop Idol, Fame Academy, Popstars, Britain's Got Talent etc etc as if they were in any way different to each other, or to previous series. OK, I know that Britain's Got Talent doesn't just have singers on it (the Jedward punchline is too obvious here, so I'll let it slide past), but the format is otherwise identical. And these shows all occupy months of television with their inconsequential subplots and artificial tension - if I have to listen to another cartoon-like presenter say, tremulously, "And the winner is... [30 second gap]..." then I'll scream - clogging up schedules that are already over-burdened with tat.
All of which wouldn't be so bad if there were any musical justification for the shows. There isn't. From all the contests over the last decade or more, the closest we've had to a decent recording artist was Will Young - while I don't like his music much, he is at least distinctive, and the least likely to be mistaken for a Whitney Houston / Robson & Jerome tribute act. This, in fact, is the nub of why I hate the X Factor and all it stands for - the judges and audience are only ever looking for one style of music, and it is one that was done to death years ago; the mediocrity of Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and, in fact, Mariah Carey. When I say 'medicore', I don't mean that they can't sing, because they are all technically very good - if physically unable to sing one note when seven will do. No, they are mediocre in that they offer absolutely nothing original or interesting; if a computer programme were to come up with a singing talent, it would come up with Leona Lewis. With the predictability and soullessness of a computer programme, she will appear clutching her hair in a sensual manner on her album cover, 'co-write' half the songs on said album, get Will.i.am to re-mix one of them, alternate between 'raunchy' and 'soulful' singles and generally do nothing especially memorable or musically imaginative.
The best way to think about this is to ponder what albums Simon Cowell has on his shelf at home (or on his ipod, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da). One assumes that he doesn't listen to the artists he manages - he's hardly the target audience - but similarly you couldn't imagine him listening to singer-songwriters, or rock, or 80s pop. Or rap, or rock'n'roll, or punk. To be honest, I don't think that Simon Cowell likes popular music at all, except where it concerns his bank account. He certainly seems to have no appreciation of its development, and he shares with the X Factor fans a complete lack of understanding or interest in the great recording artists of the 20th century. In the one episode of the series that I've seen, the judges told a performer who'd tackled a Leona Lewis song that she was making it difficult for herself, being judged against such a singer. They had no such comment to make about the guy who sang T-Rex. If you ask the average X Factor viewer about music before Madonna, they'd probably look at you quizzically, not understanding the question - the names of Buddy Holly, Neil Young and Bob Dylan would almost cerainly be met with a blank face.
Simon Cowell, after all, is a man who said of Bob Dylan; "A singing poet? It just bores me to tears." He also claimed that the Beatles wouldn't have made it past the audition stage of the X Factor. This, though no doubt intended as little more than a headline-grabber, is the greatest indictment of the X Factor yet. Because it's true. This is a show so geared towards mediocrity and unoriginality that the greatest band the world has ever seen would be turned away in favour of Steve Brookstein.
|what was I listening to?
The Resistance - Muse
|what was I reading?
The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan
|what was I watching?