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December 5th 2009
Those of you with a weather eye on things will have noticed that James Lee is getting hitched a week today. Nice one, Jimmy. I was only thinking about it because it might be the reason his best man is ignoring my texts and didn't answer my call tonight. And because weddings are on my mind today, what with one thing and another.
Anyways, on the theme of James' wedding, I realise that I never gave you the answers to his stag weekend quiz. You probably didn't notice, but I did, so here you go:

Round One: Putting James to Faces
Anderson; Taylor; Stewart; Blunt; Brown; Earl Jones; Corden; Cracknell; May; Michael Tyler

Round Two: General Knowledge [with a hidden message]
1. Which band had hits with 'Sit Down' and 'Laid'? James
2. What boy's name, when written backwards, is a kind of fish? (And no, 'Doc' is not a boy's name) Lee
3. Which month is mentioned in Shakespeare's 'Shall I compare thee'? May
4. Which airline decided to remove Richard Branson's cameo from its in-flight version of Casino Royale in 2007? BA
5. Which Premiership football team are known as the Lilywhites? Tottenham Hotspur
6. Complete the title of the Oscar Wilde play: “Lady Windermere's _____”. fan
7. What is the surname of the Newcastle player who has played in every Premiership season from 1992/93 to 2008/09? Butt
8. Which games console was released in the UK on the 26th anniversary of John Lennon's death? Wii
9. What word meaning 'zero' is the surname of Mike from the Beach Boys? Love
10. Give a four-letter word without any vowels that means 'song of praise'. hymn

Round Three: Film & TV
1. Which actor has played characters called Jack Dawson, Frank William Abagnale Jr and Billy Costigan? Leonardo Dicaprio
2. What was the first ever programme shown on Channel 4? Countdown
3. Which comedian sprung to fame in the TV series Marion & Geoff? Rob Brydon
4. Which of these Anchorman actors has not appeared in Friends? Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, Steve Carrell, Fred Willard Steve Carrell
5. Who voiced Woody in Toy Story? Tom Hanks
6. For which film did Robin Williams win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor? Good Will Hunting
7. Whom did Paul Merton replace as the host of Room 101? Nick Hancock
8. Which child star appeared in Jumanji, Small Soldiers and Little Women? Kirsten Dunst
9. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have appeared together in Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle and which other film? You've Got Mail
10. Which Scrubs star has appeared alongside Harrison Ford in both The Fugitive and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Neil Flynn (Janitor)

Round Four: Sport
1. Which footballer ended his career by being sent off in the 2006 World Cup final? Zinedine Zidane
2. Name either of the two sports that have been dropped from the 2012 Olympic games. baseball / softball
3. Name the English cricketer whose surname is an anagram of 'cricket shot'. Marcus Trescothick
4. Which footballer has the most caps for the Republic of Ireland? Steve Staunton
5. Hockey has red cards, yellow cards and which other colour cards? green
6. The All-England Club, based in Wimbledon, hosts tennis and which other sport? croquet
7. Which sprinter joined English rugby league team Castleford Tigers on trial in 2008? Dwain Chambers
8. Which football team does Prince William allegedly support? Aston Villa
9. Which retired tennis player recently admitted, in his autobiography, to taking crystal meth? Andre Agassi
10. Who are the only football team to go an entire Premiership season unbeaten? Arsenal

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 Champagne Supernova 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 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"

3. Wise men say only fools rush in
But I Can't Help Falling in Love with you

4. And she won't write a letter, although I always tell her
And so it's my assumption, I'm really Up the Junction

5. So may I introduce to you
The act you've known for all these years
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

6. I'm on my knees, looking for the answer
Are we Human, or are we dancer?

7. Walking around
Some kind of lonely clown,
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down

8. I want to be Bob Dylan
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky

9. I know that it's a Wonderful World
From the sky down to the sea
But I can only see it when you're here
Here with me

10. She's a Killer Queen
Gunpowder, gelatine
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind

Round Six: Literature
1. Wuthering Heights is the only published novel by which author? Emily Bronte
2. Which book begins: “"It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen"? 1984
3. Which Shakespeare play contains the line “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”? Hamlet
4. Which Narnia book comes between Prince Caspian and The Silver Chair in the series order? The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
5. In The Lord of the Rings, what kind of creature is Legolas? elf
6. What is the name of the dog in the Famous Five? Timmy
7. On what book is the film Clueless based? Emma
8. Which Irishman won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995? Seamus Heaney
9. Which novel is narrated by the character Scout Finch? To Kill a Mockingbird
10. Name either of the two cities in Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities? Paris / London

Round Seven: Animals
1. Which football team plays their home matches at Molineux? Wolves
2. According to legend, in which modern day country was St. George born? Turkey
3. Which comedy duo starred in the film Alien Autopsy? Ant and Dec
4. What was the nickname of British Olympian Eddie Edwards? Eddie the Eagle
5. Adam Duritz is the lead singer of which band? Counting Crows
6. Which Canadian-born actor announced in 1998 that he suffered from Parkinson's disease? Michael J. Fox
7. With which sport is W G Grace associated? cricket
8. Aesculus hippocastanum is the Latin name for which tree? horse chestnut
9. What novel tells the story of the characters George Milton and Lennie Small? Of Mice and Men
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!” Michael Fish

Round Eight: Beards
1. Which England footballer sparked a national debate recently by having a beard? David Beckham
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.” David
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? Paul
4. Which is the only one of the 7 dwarves who doesn't have a beard? Dopey
5. In which series of Blackadder does the eponymous hero sport a beard? Blackadder II
6. Which American president supposedly grew a beard after receiving a letter from an 11 year old girl recommending that he do so? Abraham Lincoln
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? it was short and brown
8. Which member of the royal family this year mocked a guest's soul patch as being a 'poor, frustrated beard'? Prince Philip
9. Which was the only James Bond film to feature a bearded Bond? Die Another Day
10. Which band features two bearded members and a third whose surname is Beard? ZZ Top

December 10th 2009
Happy birthday Dad! And, in other anniversary news, happy 6th birthday for this online diary. I'd reminisce, but I've only got a few seconds before it's tomorrow, so I'll end now, while it's still the anniversary.

December 17th 2009
Why I'm writing this instead of learning my lines for tomorrow's West Chinnock Christmas show is anyone's guess. Since you ask, I'm playing John from Jedward, a worker in a Christmas cracker factory - run by Bruce Forsyth - which is the subject of a TV documentary. It didn't seem that surreal when I wrote it (from Mum's source material), but in the (very) cold light of day one has to wonder.
Anyways, I was at Old Trafford on Tuesday night watching Wolves losing 3-0 to Manchester United, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless. It's an impressive stadium, even if Manchester United are not everybody's favourite team - too much commercialism, as symbolised when they removed the words 'Football Club' from their badge in 1998. But the occasion was a controversial one. You see, after Wolves' excellent win at Spurs last weekend, Mick McCarthy decided to play essentially a reserve team - he made ten changes, only the goalkeeper remaining - against Manchester United, so that his first team would be fit for Burnley on Sunday. Well. I'm behind Super Mick, as it goes, and doubly so if we do win on Sunday, but not everyone feels the same way.
In fact, there's a Times editorial on the subject. A Times editorial on Wolves' team selection! You know you've arrived when that happens, don't you? Here it is. Get it now while it's still free, before Mr. Murdoch makes you pay for it.

December 23rd 2009
Whether you read this page to catch up on the important news stories four days after they break, or to laugh over hilarious "telephone/upcoming marriage"-based puns, today's entry is going to please you greatly. For, indeed, I tried to call Anthony the other day, but he was engaged. He must just have given Becca a ring.
I've run out of puns along those lines (She's got his number? He's a smooth operator? I tried to dial Tone? Nope, these aren't working) so in case it wasn't obvious, I'll cut to the chase. My good friend Ant has got down on one knee and is now engaged to the lovely Becca, who clearly decided that his manifest charms more than made up for his incessant Gary Lineker anecdotes. Many hefty congratulations to them both. Now, I haven't had a chance to speak to Ant yet, and have seen no footage of the momentous occasion, so I can only provide you with this artist's impression:
With additional dialogue from Jane Austen's somewhat less talented cousin
I may have missed some of the finer detail, but I think we can agree that all the basic elements are there. Well, the outcome at least is beyond doubt.
I've mused before on this page on my various adventures with Ant, so I won't embarrass either of us by repeating what a lovely chap he is, but - as Becca has, to her great credit, noticed - he is. I look forward to getting to know Becca better (hey, that rhymes! No, wait, it doesn't. Carry on), but my short acquaintance with her already includes her hitting Ant in the head with a stone. This naturally recommends her greatly to any right-thinking man, not least for the accuracy of her aim. Thinking about it, I'm not entirely confident it wasn't actually I who threw the stone, though that could be wishful thinking...
Anyways, before I become yet crueller, I am sure you will join me in wishing them all the best, and I am sure you similarly look forward to the wedding. Though I'm more likely to be invited than some of you are... remember, they can't legally keep you out. It's what I'm trusting to if Ant gets truly sick of my small-head gags.

December 31st 2009
I have mentioned before on this page, I believe, my feelings about Matthew Parris. He is a Times columnist and sometime Conservative MP whose writings used to annoy me greatly, but I have come to respect and appreciate his work (the trick is to understand that it's all a little bit self-deprecating). He still talks nonsense when the subject is faith or Tony Blair, or when he's trying to raise his own public profile - e.g. in 'accidentally' outing Peter Mandelson - and especially when he's trying to do all three at once. In most other cases, though, his viewpoints are thoughtful and intriguing, particularly those informed by his African background (he was born in South Africa).
A few weeks ago he wrote about our differing attitudes to war, and the army in particular, which article can be found here. Since I know that many, most or all of you are too discerning, busy or lazy (rule of three!) to read the whole article, here's part of it:
"We should not be emotionally ramping up what armed conflict is sometimes about. We are using the Second World War language of national survival and conscripted soldiers — “our boys” — to discuss what ought to be discussed as [...] professional service-people working in their chosen career. There is not a single conscript in the British Armed Forces. [...] Soldiers are risking death for reasons other than military victory. They have signed up for these risks. They are being paid to take them. It is what they want to do. [...] Every death, of course, as the Prime Minister likes to remind Parliament at Prime Minister’s Questions each Wednesday, is a personal tragedy. And it is true that in the first nine years of this century we have lost many hundreds of service personnel, killed in action. We have also lost a comparable number of employees in the farming and construction industries — about 90 last year, also killed, if you will, in action. But we do not define these trades in terms of death or sacrifice; we do not count the coffins; they do not come to one place. [...] I do think it time, given the entirely professional Armed Forces we now have, to stop viewing war-fighting as a form of service to country and community that is completely different from other things that people do for a living."
I don't think I can express my views any better than that (though, as you'll see below, that won't stop me trying). For Parris' sake, you may want to read the whole article to get a rounder picture of his views; he is equally critical of pro- and anti-war rhetoric, and has more points to make than I have included here. However, it is this point that is the crux of the article and where I want to focus.
I can't pretend to understand what motivates those men who choose to kill other men for a living. There may be many who sign up to protect their country ("The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori" - Wilfred Owen), but I think it probable that most view the army as a career that benefits themselves, at least in part. As Parris points out, soldiers are not conscripted - being in the army is a job, a career. Yes, it's a job unlike most, with its license to kill, but it's a job nonetheless.
With my repeated references to killing for a living, you might get the idea that I'm a pacifist, but it's not really that simple - certainly it troubles my conscience so that I am not sure what to think, but it seems that the army is a necessary evil in this world. To combat one evil we need another - in my terming it so, we almost lose the humanity. Effective soldiers are machines; they do what they are designed for without error or, indeed, query. As I've said, I know little about life in the army, but I don't think I'm wrong when I say that soldiers are drilled to obey completely and to bear, without question, firm treatment bordering on humiliation (that might be going too far; it might not. I plead ignorance and one too many war films).
Anyhow, this is why I am perplexed by references to 'sacrifices' and 'heroes'. Take, for example, the charity Help for Heroes, which provides improved facilities for injured British servicemen - a charity supported by those disgusted that wounded soldiers should receive treatment like common civilians. I reiterate - and echo Parris - that servicemen have chosen a career in the army (or other armed forces), knowing the risks, and being paid to face them. I've been told that army salaries are meagre, but I'm not sure what they're being compared with - I'm confident they are at least as high as those for working at supermarket checkouts, or cleaning offices. There are heroes in every walk of life.
If people are going to throw around the word 'hero', it boils down to what a hero is. My heroes include Steve Bull, Roger Hargreaves and Carl Gauss, but I'm using the word rather differently. A man who jumps into a lake to save a child is something of a hero; a man who waits to be paid £20 to do so is rather despicable. I'm certainly not saying that a soldier is comparable to the latter, but similarly he is not the former - he must fall somewhere between the two.
I'm not sure that I've contributed anything to Parris' argument, at least partly because I cannot express myself as well as he can. I'll leave you with some (paraphrased) words from Hugh Grant (incidentally, a patron of Marie Curie Cancer Care, a charity I have no beef with). During a rather awkward appearance on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, the host said: "Your grandfather was a war hero, wasn't he?" to which Grant replied: "Well, no, I wouldn't say that. He was a hero to me, of course."

what was I listening to?
The Wall - Pink Floyd
what was I reading?
The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan
what was I watching?
17 Again
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