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November 13th 2011
For the first time in my life, my pool of acceptable romantic partners no longer includes teenagers. Yes, as those of you familiar with the classic "half your age plus seven" dating rule and reasonably good at mental arithmetic will have divined, I am now 26. Indeed, I have been so for nearly a week now. I took the day off work and spent the preceding weekend with my parents and Simon in rural Somerset, meaning that I was with my brother on our birthday for the first time since 2003 (before this blog began), which is fairly startling. A good time was had by all, and I rounded off my birthday by heading to the traditional Deco Lounge quiz, where we narrowly avoided victory by coming in third. In fact, it was something of a quizzing few days, as Simon and I joined Mum and Dad's quiz team on Sunday. The theme was music, and I have to say that, though I enjoyed it, I don't think the Deco need fear for my continued attendance - seasoned (hey, I'm 26 now) quizzers such as myself have certain expectations, and a music round in which points could only be scored for correctly identifying a song's year of release do not cut the mustard. In this 18-question round (18 questions in a round? I ask you) a point was given for getting the correct year; then, and only then, bonus points were available for naming the artist and song title. Our score of 12/54 was amongst the best.
Anyways, another year older and another year wiser, as they say. A few years ago 26 sounded like a grand old age, but it seems rather younger now; even 30, which is crawling over the horizon, is starting to look like a young man's age. After all, I went to a 40th birthday party yesterday.
In other news, I've been watching a fair amount of Gavin & Stacey recently, and wanted to remind readers that it's a great sitcom; what I particularly like about it is that it is warm-hearted, with a fine message of acceptance being subtly communicated throughout. One of my favourite moments comes after Smithy makes an emotional speech about being a father, and Bryn starts clapping before coming to a slightly embarrassed halt after realising that no one else is joining in. Most sitcoms would have ended the scene there, but in Gavin & Stacey Smithy's response is: "Cheers Bryn. I appreciate that." It's funny, but it's also touching and celebrates rather than mocks. It's comedy that Ricky Gervais wouldn't know how to make.

On this day in 2006... You've probably heard by now. Yes, on Saturday night I jumped from kitchen to sitting room, and was stopped mid-way by a particularly obnoxious doorpost.

November 21st 2011
English football has got its knickers in a twist about racism again. You might have noticed. Over the last few weeks there have been column inches aplenty devoted to whether or not Luis Suarez (of Liverpool) called Patrice Evra (of Manchester United) "a certain word" several times over the course of one match; whether John Terry was using the term "f****** black c***" as an insult or only in order to deny saying it previously; and just how stupid Sepp Blatter was to suggest that racist abuse should be dealt with by a handshake at the end of the game.
All the while, it seems that the rest of Europe looks on in bemusement, as well they might. "OK," they must be thinking, "you reckon that it's perfectly acceptable to call opposing players every name under the sun, and it's fine to have chants about people being paedophiles - but calling someone black is a no-no? Er, what?" Only a minority of sports writers seem to have noticed the irony that in John Terry's outburst the word 'black' was the only one that didn't set the asterisk machine into motion. Speaking as a Caucasian, I'd much rather someone called me white than called me a c***.
I'm not defending racism, of course (although some of the pussyfooting round it is extremely silly; it was my brother noticed that most people, when asked to describe a black friend, would reel off a whole list of characteristics before tentatively adding that they were black) but it is only one of a myriad of evils. I think the reason that we in England get so het up about it is that it is pretty much the only battle that has been won on the terraces. It is wonderful that the kind of abuse that was routine in the 1980s has become so rare that even a hint of it has sent the sport into apoplexy, but we need to redraw the battle lines so that this "Racism: bad; Eveything else; fair game" mentality becomes as alien to us as Eastern European banana-throwing is.
I have written before that insulting someone about their skin colour is an identical crime to insulting them about their hair colour, and it is obvious that this is true on paper: an excellent article by Matthew Syed in the Times, though, showed me that there's more to it than that. Syed argues that many of us still harbour a subconscious racism, as evidenced by a range of social experiments: "400 years of history (slavery, apartheid, segregation) has left a tangible residue". It's mightily interesting, but it doesn't change the end-game; racism will only truly be beaten when someone's skin colour is no more important than their shoe size, and I guess we're not there yet. I don't think we're going to get any closer by ignoring every other form of abuse, though, and that's where we are at the moment.
And so to Sepp Blatter's comments, which have enraged swathes of England and been met with complete indifference almost everywhere else. I have to say that I agree with Blatter that the best course of action is to shake hands and apologise; racist abuse is abhorrent, but isn't that the point of apologies? Forgiving someone doesn't imply that what they've done was fine; indeed it implies the exact opposite. If someone is genuinely remorseful and wants to make amends, accepting their apology is surely the right thing to do. Blatter is a corrupt man who talks a lot of nonsense, but I think he's got this one right. His next step should be to instigate a crackdown on abuse - all kinds of abuse, racist or otherwise - in the world's football stadia,

On this day in 2005... Combinatorics. It would appear that the powers that be are doing their best to make sure no-one studies this module, by putting lectures at 9am and 11am on a Tuesday, and 10am on a Wednesday.

November 24th 2011
Last weekend I had a most excellent time away with 13 people from church, as we rented out a cottage in Ripple. For those of you who don't know, Ripple is a village very close to where I used to live in Worcestershire, so it was a pleasure to be back on my old stomping ground, and to see that Worcester hasn't changed much since last I was there. The weekend involved plenty of games, some walks, a few puzzles of the word variety, and a quiz. It is to the quiz that I draw your attention. Jenny had asked a few of us to provide a round or two each, and I contributed rounds on film and music (for which the rest of my team participated without me; it would have been unwise to allow the question-setter to answer his own questions). While the film round went reasonably well, the teams scored 2, 3 and 4 respectively out of 10 for the music round, leading me to believe that perhaps I'd pitched the difficulty too high. But then I asked my housemate some of the questions, and he got almost all of them, so perhaps it's an issue of musical taste rather than difficulty - to test this hypothesis, would you care to be my guinea pigs? The questions are below, and I'd welcome it if you gave your answers in the comment box below. People who were on the weekend away are banned.

1. Which Beatles song begins: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”?
2. What is the name of Coldplay’s latest album?
3. Who wrote the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”?
4. In music terminology, what does ‘andante’ mean?
5. Which band have had albums called ‘Desperado’, ‘The Long Run’ and ‘Long Road Out of Eden’?
6. Which song begins: “I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay”
7. Who was the first winner of the X Factor (in the UK)?
8. The singer Harry Webb is better known by which name?
9. After a legal dispute, the writing credits for the song ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ were given to two members of which band?
10. What does ‘karaoke’ mean, literally?

On this day in 2005... For some reason, the makers of this paper believed that the commonly accepted hole-positions were too mundane for him, so he ruined my life. Perhaps forever.

what was I listening to?
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle - Bruce Springsteen
what was I reading?
Dragonflight - Anne McAffrey
what was I watching?
A Life in the Day
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