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December 1st 2007
Today: Request to leave large vegetable (3)
Last time: Father, saint or vicar? (6)
Answer: pastor
I mentioned a while ago that I was thinking of redoing the format of this page (and if my experience today is anything to go by, it looks like freewebs is being a bit silly again, so it's well due) - however, if I didn't warn you then that the change was unlikely to be speedy, I'll do so now. Because when I have the time (which, in all honesty, is most days) I have little inclination or inspiration to re-jig a website. It's the kind of thing I put off for years... consider, for example, the web page of Ant & I trailing round campus buildings. Never been made. Anyways, Rob suggested that I turn this page into a crossword tutorial, at least partly because he's recently started turning his hand to the Sun cryptic (with the help of his talented cleaner). While I would never recommend anyone start with (or, indeed, ever attempt) the Sun cryptic - it breaks far too many rules - I am chuffed that he is giving it a go. But I don't see this page becoming a tutorial, largely because such things exist already, and in a far better way than I could achieve. But also because, if I were to tell you everything you need to know to solve cryptics, then a) you still wouldn't be able to, because the key is practice, and b) it would take away a great deal of the enjoyment of discovery, and I don't want to rob you of that. Also included in Rob's suggestion was the thought that I should make a note of the crossword-solving process, guiding people through my attempts. Again, I'm not going to do this - it would take far too long both in solving and writing up, and there is already the excellent Times for the Times blog to achieve such things. But I liked the idea so much that I plan to do it today - I have yet to glimpse the (prize) Times crossword, but when I have had a go, I will try to get the process up here... be warned, however, that some days recently I've barely got my number of solved clues into double figures. In other news, you've probably all read recently about the teacher who's been jailed for allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear Mohamed - I may well give me two cents' worth in the coming week, but for the time being, I have to ask - why (ostensibly) are Muslims angered by this? 'Mohamed' (or variant) is the most popular name in the world, so clearly they're not offended by usage of the name (as opposed to the image) - so is it just teddy bears who can't be named Mohamed? Or only kids who can? I'm confused.

December 3rd 2007
Today: In hearing, addressed by title? That's irrational (4)
Last time: Request to leave large vegetable (3)
Answer: pea
As promised, I'm going to go through my process in solving Saturday's Times crossword. Which (if I'm fully correct, and as you'll see, I'm not convinced) that means you can win a 20 gift voucher. Spend it wisely. Anyhow, I'm not quite sure how this is going to work, but what I've done is give every answer in the order I solved it (although the ieas I had for each clue are not in order, since I may have thought one thing then moved onto another clue before coming back with another idea ten minutes later), with comments about my process, how the clue works, and maybe some criticism of clue quality. All answers are in capitals, italicised clue number means I used an online resource and '...' means there was a gap between ideas. There might be some confusing shorthand... I'll try to make it as clear as possible without spending too much time. I've realised that you won't have a copy of that crossword, which means everything below will be gibberish, so I'll try to find a link to it or summat. Well, here goes:
12A: anagram of 'off proper suit', indicated by 'change' - thought might be 'put' but then FIT FOR PURPOSE clicked.
2D: 1D might begin 'out of' which means 1A might being with an O - so could begin 'over' - so 2D might begin with an E. Look at 2D to see it's clearly ELK, a hidden word
9A: (see above) T_K_ - probably begins 'take' - T(A KEN) since 'A KEN' = 'a range' - so TAKE NOTE where 'betting system' = 'tote' - not totally sure, so write it faint for now
21D: can't think of a short word meaning 'sell', so that's probably the definition - 'Fine' = F is common - so FLOG where 'diary'='log'
1A: the Times doesn't use complex foreign words, so maybe it's a word that means foreign? Ah! OVERSEAS which sounds like 'overseize'
3D: unknown must be x, y or z - probably y - try 'roses' for 'flowers' - SE(N)SOR+Y (ie 'roses' sent upwards around n=note followed by y, all defined by 'giving such delight'
23A: volunteers=TA is common, as is CIA=spy team - should be a kind of bread ending 'TA' - CIABATTA! being CIA+BAT+TA
8D: should be a homophone ('in hearing') - sirred? - surd? absurd? ah, SURD as in an irrational number
19D: see=lo? ... good = G rather than def? - ah! GRUMBLE G+RUMBLE
13D: Jersey Royal? No, begins with T ... maybe poet is def? Thomas could be first name - T(HO[t]+MASH) = Thomas H- so THOMAS HARDY being T(HO[t]+MASH)ARDY, tardy=slow
15A: anagram of 'stunt'? Or 'maybe'? ... ??O?Y - LOOPY? Yes, being a double definition
25A: Guy? G?Y??? - GUYSER as homophone with 'geezer' - realised later spelled GEYSER
1D: thought 17A begins with a C (no idea why!) so OUT OF PLACE = OUT OF PLA[i]CE jumps out
18D: 17A looks like should have 'alf' in it, 22A might be 'lariat' and 20A might begin 'heroic', which means 18D might be F?R?A?E - so FURNACE being F(URN)ACE
22A: L_R_A_ so I guess it's L(p[AR]k)IAT, 'liat' being 'tail' backwards where tail=follow=dog. So LARIAT=tether?
4D: A?T?P??????? - knew was anagram of 'itch a patient' immediately - probably ends 'ic' - beings 'anti'? ANTIPATHETIC? Don't know word
17A: CO(-)LD? coal? ah! CO(ALF)- so need word for 'chilly' that's CO???? - but COALFIELD fits - ah, it's 'alfie' not 'alf', so CO(ALFIE)LD
24D: tot? tea? ... is teal a duck? Probably. TEA[l]
26A: must be anagram of 'mead rare' ... if 11D ends 'china', it's ?A?E?A?A - DEMERARA? doesn't fit the 'china' theory, and I'm not 100% sure of spelling, but it fits
[took very long break here]
10A: obviously someone who grinds, and word meaning 'one running' with L in it ... MIL(L)ER
6D: probably ends with s=single ... ??I?O?? - single=one? - ??I?ONE - ??ITONE - TRIT[e]+ONE
[took a long break here, too]
14D: I used an internet anagram solver on 'artist lays' to get LYSISTRATA
20A: win? courage? KO = knockout = stunning success? ... H?R?I? suggests HEROIC - ??U???T - ah! HEROIC COUP+LET. Must be something Chaucer used
11D: ends C?I?E so I looked up 'de Chine' on Google to get CREPE DE CHINE
16A: T?P?E???Y - ! TIPPERARY being far away in the 'air' (air = song). TIPPER + A(R)Y with r=river and ay=always
7D: thought ended 'NA' as in 'a new' turned around - VIANA? DIANA being a+n+aid backwards ... second word is A???L - ANGEL? ! FALLEN ANGEL being FALLEN+A+N+GEL being 'leg' backwards
[more or less gave up here, after looking up 'G?G?I' online and being told there was nothing that fit]
19A: grass? or kind of bird? ... G???I - Thought 'GIGLI' was just a film. But while at work realised GIG + LI[kely]. No idea what it means though.
5A: STAFFS? Short for Staffordshire, I think. Don't know if this one is right or not, and if it is, I don't know why.
So, there you go... unless you have the crossword in front of you, that won't mean a lot, and even if you do it's probably useless. But maybe it gives you a little insight into my thought process while solving these things. Not something I'll be doing again, I'm afraid. Since I can't find the means of replicating the crossword here, I hope you've got a copy.

December 6th 2007
Today: Wise man eats a United States foodstuff (7)
Last time: In hearing, addressed by title? That's irrational (4)
Answer: surd
I like sarcastic. But it's robbed me of charmingly disingenuous. In other news, you might know that my brother maintains a literary blog and that it includes a list of 50 books to read before you die, or lose your bookmark collection, or something. Well, actually, as I write there are only 15, but I started reading one of them the other day (not having read any of the others. Now I come to think of it, I think that they're supposed to be books we might not otherwise have come across, hence no Pride & Prejudice or Trev & Simon's Stupid Book) - Watching the English by Kate Fox. It was a birthday present from Becky (who herself has a rather inspired birthday), and in case you've not come across it, it's a pop-anthropological study of the English people (to steal a phrase from Simon). So far, I'm enjoying it. Also so far, the observations Fox makes probably fall into one of four categories: those things that are pretty obviously English (talking about the weather), those that I suspect are universal (not disagreeing with people on first meeting), those that I thought were peculiar to myself (being more open in print than in person) and those that are not characteristic of myself or anyone I've met (desire to conceal one's name on first meeting). We'll see how it progresses. To take a leap into the wider world for a moment, there was a debate at the Oxford Union last week (or was it the week before? Who needs research?) about free speech, which was invaded by protestors, who didn't like the fact that David Irving and Nick Griffin were involved. Now, I know a fair few Oxford students - Simon, for example - so I'm under no illusion that they're a superior race of beings. I'm also under no illusion that they're necessarily cleverer than the rest of us (Oxbridge students, by and large, do not get this. The concept of someone who is intelligent enough to go to Oxbridge but chooses not to is alien to the majority, it would appear. Which shows an admirable affection for the old Alma Mater, I suppose). I did not think they were quite this stupid, however. What, exactly, did they hope to achieve by silencing the views of these two men? Because, of course, they managed the opposite, by putting Griffin and Irving in the spotlight - every commentator I read said that we should expose the two to ridicule by hearing what they have to say and logically reasoning it into nothingness. Which, of course, is what should have happened - by viciously shouting them down, Oxbridge students (and whoever else was there) reversed the positions and made themselves the animals. It's like when a Sun reporter managed to interview Ian Huntley in prison: somehow, Huntley came out of it as more decent than the Sun, which seemed cruel, petty and inhuman. Anyways, I wonder how many of the Oxford protestors knew what it was they were actually protesting about - Nick Griffin is a racist, apparently. And David Irving is a Holocaust-denier. Well, yes, maybe: but I've never read or heard much that either of them have said, and I would not care to stand against them on reputation alone (especially considering that the tag 'Holocaust-denier' is thrown at anyone who says that maybe only 5m Jews were killed, as if six million were somehow enshrined in fact). Setting up bogeymen not only amplifies and glorifies their supposed message in the eyes of some, but removes the logical necessity of ascertaining what that message is. Don't say that Cliff Richard is rubbish if you've never heard his songs; by the same token, don't say that Nick Griffin is racist if you've never heard his views. And I'm betting that most of the protestors hadn't.

December 10th 2007
Today: Excited by a third special occasion (8)
Last time: Wise man eats a United States foodstuff (7)
Answer: sausage
A very happy birthday to Dad, for 'tis that day. With most folk, I wouldn't ring 'em up at 8am to wish them a happy birthday. But Dad loves getting up ridiculously early, so I was confident he'd be up and raring. Which he was. In other news, I've realised I now have eight superhero films (Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman Returns, Batman, Batman Begins, Spider-Man, Spider-Man II, Spider-Man III since you ask). I watched Superman II the other day, having seen it years ago, and on several occasions thought "That's scary! Wait a minute, that's not scary at all... I must have been scared about that when I was a kid." But, despite the non-fear, I think it's a good film that invokes some of the same motifs of human vs superhuman that Superman Returns (and, to a lesser extent, Spider-Man II) does so well. The best superhero films have to have a healthy dose of superhuman action, but far more important is the characterisation. I've talked about this before - watch Spider-Man II! It's great! - so I'll move onto my next theme; how great I am. No, listen - it seems that not only has one of Simon's friends described me as 'cool', and another called me 'hot now', but no fewer than two people in the last three years have thought someone was my girlfriend. I won't embarrass either of the girls involved, but suffice it to say, I was flattered. Next stop: actually being loved.

December 19th 2007
Today: Tradition of copper's cat (6)
Last time: Excited by a third special occasion (8)
Answer: birthday
I completely forgot to mention last time round that it was the fourth anniversary of my online diary - thanks for remembering, Rob! - so I think I can feel a bit chuffed. I'm writing this entry at least partially to apologise for another slack month of updates... I'm heading back to Somerset tomorrow, so I should be able to get a few in then. Hopefully. In all honesty, I have other things on my mind right now (which, in typical fashion, I'm not going to reveal - let's just say I'm worried about a friend). Actually, it's all been a bit hectic of late: the weekend saw me perform in a sketch with the family, in which all but the least sophisticated puns received little or no recognition from the audience. But, thankfully, we'd foreseen this and packed the ending full of puns ("Which ABBA song was inspired by a French artist?" "Monet Monet Monet"). Then on Sunday I headed over to London to see Jason, Steve, Jimmmy and Jez, which was grand (although, as mentioned above, my mind was on other things). Back to work for three - largely unproductive, thus far - days, and then off until 2008. Anyways, to keep you updated on my web plans (which almost never come to fruition), I'm thinking of putting some lists together - all men like lists, right? To give you a taster: people who have appeared in Friends and in Scrubs:
1. Matthew Perry - Chandler, obviously, and guest starred as Murray Marks in an episode he directed in Series 4 of Scrubs.
2. Aloma Wright - Laverne Roberts in Scrubs, and appeared in Series 5 of Friends as a couch salesperson who offered Ross store credit to the amount of four dollars. He took it.
3. James Michael Tyler - the immortal Gunther in Friends, and as I eulogised here some time ago, appeared in Scrubs as Turk & Carla's marriage counsellor.
4. Phill Lewis - Hooch (of 'Hooch is crazy' fame) in Scrubs, and had a few episodes in Series 9 of Friends as Chandler's boss Steve.
5. Fred Stoller - in Friends, he was a colleague of Monica's at Alessandro's, responsible for much of her misery when she started work there. In Scrubs, he played one Mr. Hoffner, who decided to get surgery, against JD's advice.

December 25th 2007
Today: Place of birth is not easily moved (6)
Last time: Tradition of copper's cat (6)
Answer: custom
Merry Christmas, folks. The following was written about 700 years before Jesus was born. Pretty neat, huh?

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (King James version)

what was I listening to?
The Whole Story - Cliff Richard
what was I reading?
Watching the English - Kate Fox
what was I watching?
Superman II
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