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December 3rd 2010
English is, I reckon, a beautiful language. It is not as logical as German or as romantic as French, perhaps, but I would still rank it number one. I am not particularly well-placed to make this assessment, I realise, considering that I am: (i) English, and therefore biased; (ii) pretty poor at German and completely poor at every other foreign language - so I wouldn't know if other languages in fact put English to shame. But I'm pretty sure they don't. The wonderful thing about English is that it is cobbled together from so many different sources; Latin, Greek, German, French and many more - plus Saxon, if that's a language - go together to make a etymological hotchpotch (those words deriving from Greek and French - via a few other places - respectively) that is probably unparallelled.
One outcome of our delightfully multi-heritaged language (and forgive me if 'multi-heritaged' is a neologism too far) is that our cryptic crosswords are the envy of the world - you just can't get the same kind of superlative wordplay in, say, German that you can get in English. We get great stuff like pronoun+cement = pronouncement. Germans get stuff like Natur+wissen+schaften = Naturwissenschaften. Sucks to be them.
Anyways, I was musing on the beauties of English not just because of my consistent love of crosswords, but also because of my antipathy and contempt for the Plain English Campaign. If you're lucky enough not to have come across it, allow me to explain: they are a band of people who persuade companies (including AXA) to pay them to come into our places of work and tell us to stick to 'plain English'. I admit that they are partly right - excessive smallprint and deliberately befuddling language should be expunged if possible - but they come a cropper is in their distaste for Latinate words. These, apparently, are 'pompous' and should be replaced with 'English words' in corporate literature, as well as in the CA3: Communications exam. Maybe the reason I've failed it several times is that I haven't dumbed down enough - I hope that's the case, because the last time I sat it (results are out in February) I repeatedly rewrote what I'd written so that a child of four could understand, and indeed reproduce, it.
Anyways (and please consider that an affectation rather than poor English...), even though I am no linguist, my love of a diverse range of words does not derive from a desire for pomposity (well, not usually), but from the fact that the less common words are frequently more apposite. For example, in that last sentence, 'apposite' is exactly what I want to say, and a slightly more commonly used word would not quite do the trick. So, Plain English people, please don't ruin our wonderful language by reducing it to the smallest possible lexicon. That way lies 'doubleplusgood'.
Oh, I haven't proofread any of this. So I aplogoise if tehre are any spelilng erorrs in waht I've wirtetn.

On this day in 2005... I have to confess myself disappointed with Rob, who almost immediately tried to dye his hair back again, meaning that it now looks almost exactly the same as previously, just slightly more gingery.

December 9th 2010
I promised you a picture of my recent Ghostbusting, so here one is (my ghost-busting team mates were Vicki, Martin, Rich, Bassaam, Babar and Zijian):
Who you gonna call?
In other news, I am generally accused of 'ranting' when I provide y'all with my comments on the political happenings of the day, but I want to get some thoughts off my chest about the rise in tuition fees. I have already expressed my bemusement that the protestors seem astonished that a coalition government has some Tory policies as well as Lib Dem ones, but I am bemused further. But enough of this paragraph, let's drop down to the next one.
The rise in tuition fees makes sense. £9,000 a year, while not a small sum of money, is actually very cheap for a University education that is among the best in the world - if you compare it to the fees paid for private schools, for example, there is no contest. But the value for money is almost beside the point, since the extremely generous student loan system means that you will only pay off the debt when you can afford to - and, if you can never afford to, you don't have to pay it. Try finding a bank that offers you those terms. Not only that, but there is a means-tested funding system that pays some or all of the fees for poorer students (including, for example, me), so that if you can't afford to pay for University, someone else pays for you. So all the talk about poor people being forced out of higher education is utter nonsense.
I'm also intrigued to know what the protestors would put forward as an alternative solution. I mean, apart from those who have proclaimed themselves opposed to 'all cuts', thus not showing a great understanding of what 'deficit' means. Then there's the 'graduate tax' idea, which is difficult to understand - rather than paying up front, people who have benefited from University education will pay for it gradually over a number of years, based on their salary. Er... so that's exactly the same as the system proposed by the coalition, then.
So much for the actual complaints the protestors have. What makes it worse, though, is the manner in which they have protested. It may be true that the acts of violence and vandalism have been perpretrated by a minority (though it looks like a pretty sizeable minority from what I see), but it's not just the violent ones who are annoying. I know that earnestness, a refusal to concede that there are two sides to an argument and a penchant for knitwear are clear indicators of studenthood (I'm an actuarial student still, so maybe that's why I'm exhibiting the secnnd of those...) but I want to scream every time I see an arts student declaiming for the TV cameras (and I'm assuming they're arts students, since science students are generally too busy working, and are also more likely to have a grasp of basic maths).
Perhaps the worst of it, though, is the general attitude to the police. Protestors have continually damaged public and private property, sprayed graffiti and thrown missiles, but all we hear are complaints about the actions of riot police. Students are queueing up to complain that they have been knocked over or got bruised by a riot shield; well, I'm sorry, but you probably shouldn't be rioting, then. The police are doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances, surrounded by the wanton violence of a bloodthirsty mob, most of whom won't face criminal charges however much glass they smash.
I tell you what, it wouldn't have happened in my day. Let's hear it for the class of 2007!

On this day in 2005... I don't know whose idea it was to commemorate the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death, but he was pretty much ubiquitous yesterday, and that's no bad thing, in my book, so I joined in.

December 10th 2010
I hold an NUS Extra card, so the NUS asked me to write to my local MP, complaining about the tuition fee rises. Given my views on the topic, I decided to redress the balance by writing to Stephen Williams MP and telling him that I supported the coalition's plans. Sadly, he (or his lackeys) didn't read my message very carefully - and it was only a few lines long - since I got a stock response explaining why he didn't feel it was right to vote against the proposals. Not impressed, Mr Williams. I voted for the other guy, anyway.
In other news, this is the seventh birthday of this diary. Happy birthday, diary. Have a drink on me.

On this day in 2003... This diary begins, as all good diaries should, on my Dad's birthday.

December 12th 2010
I continue to be amazed by the life of Johnny Cash. As you'll see to your right, I've been re-reading his autobiography (in fact, I finised it on the train on the way home from London), and it is fascinating to see how his life has shaped out, from crazy highs (in more than one sense) to desperate lows, ending up in a place of deep contentment and unwavering faith in God. 'Walk the Line' (the film of his life, starring Joaquin Phoneix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as his wife June) is excellent, but the book goes much deeper and wider. The most inspirational tale has to be the time that Cash, having spent years on drugs and alcohol, and driven away his friends and family (and career, more or less), finally gave up on life:

I parked my Jeep and started crawling, and I crawled and crawled and crawled until, after two or three hours, the batteries in my flashlight wore out and I lay down to die in total darkness. The absolute lack of light was appropriate, for at that time I was as far from God as I have ever been. My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the various kinds of loneliness I'd felt over the years, seemed finally complete.
It wasn't. I thought I'd left Him, but He hadn't left me. I felt something very powerful start to happen to me, a sensation of utter peace, clarity, and sobriety. I didn't believe it at first. I couldn't understand it. How, after being awake for so long and driving my body so hard and taking so many pills - dozens of them, scores, even hundreds - could I possible feel all right? the feeling persisted, though, and then my mind started focusing on God. He didn't speak to me - He never has, and I'll be very surprised if He ever does - but I do believe that at times He has put feelings in my heart and perhaps even ideas in my head. There in Nickajack Cave I became conscious of a very clear, simple idea: I was not in charge of my destiny. I was not in charge of my own death. I was going to die in God's time, not mine. I hadn't prayed over my decision to seek death in the cave, but that hadn't stopped God from intervening.
[...] I started crawling in whatever direction suggested itself. [...] When I walked out, June was there with a basket of food and drink, and my mother. I was confused. I thought she was in California. I was right; she had been. 'I knew there was something wrong,' she said. 'I had to come and find you.'

In other news, I walked to the post office the other day. But there was a long queue, so I didn't go in. That one's for you, Ant.
In London news, I spent this weekend in the Big Smoke with Tom, Cat, Ant, Becca, David, Christine & Rob, and much fun was had by everyone - I always enjoy our reunions, and I'm glad that some or other of us manage to meet up fairly frequently; it was just a shame that Rich couldn't make it this time. We went to the Winter Cirque (thing Cirque du Soleil, but without the Soleil) in Hyde Park, and wandered through a packed Winter Wonderland. If you want to be reminded that you're single, I can think of few better ways than going to a place called 'Winter Wonderland' with three couples (though, thinking about it, I can also recommend going for a weekend away with five married couples, their sundry offspring and just one other single person). I jest, of course (well, mostly), but when an 11 year old child from the Phillipines asks me if I'm getting married any time soon, as happened lately, I have to hang my head a little.
One more thing, returning to my Johnny Cash theme. Did you know that he, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kirstofferson formed a supergroup called The Highwaymen? I'm not really a big fan of country music, but I'm listening to their first album now and it's pretty good stuff. Think Travelling Wilburys, but in cowboy hats.

On this day in 2003... Mrs. Hearle decided that there were too few of us to do any work, but wouldn't cancel the lesson.

December 21st 2010
In previous years I have mentioned the part the Thomas family plays in local village shows at Christmas (alternately in Chiselborough and in West Chinnock), and this year was no different. This year we did a version of Monty Python's "Nobody expects that Spanish Inquisition" sketch, so I can add the role of 'Cardinal' (with, by some distance, the bulk of the lines) to my previous incarnations of Ray Hay (a man with a phobia of rhyme), Colin Thomas (it was post-modern. But didn't really work), a Yorkshire clergyman (a subtle reworking of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch) and Jed (from Jedward). It went down fairly well - they're not expecting much in these here parts - despite the fact that most of us learnt our lines for the first time only hours before the opening night. Indeed, over the two nights we were on (rumours of a Broadway run in the new year are non-existent) Mum was the only one who didn't get any lines wrong. No doubt they'll have us back next time round.
In other news, you may have gathered that I'm down in Somerset for Christmas, and it's a-snowing aplenty. Simon and I did our best to make a snow sheep, and hopefully we will extend ourselves to a snowman at some point, but I have the suspicion of a cold that renders frolicking a dangerous pastime. Trudging is more in my line, and I trudged as far as Stoke sub Hamdon in order to buy bread and a newspaper - it always takes some getting used to that my parents live about 2.5 miles away from the nearest newspaper-selling establishment, considering that in Brissle I have my choice of several within a stone's throw. If you can throw really, really far.
In actual news, there are some things which are, frankly, beyond satire. Julian Assange (head of Wikileaks) complaining about the leaking of confidential police files about him is one of these. Even Assange and his band of deluded worshippers must grasp the irony, surely - though, from his reported utterances, I wouldn't bet on it. The Times described the situation best, I think, in its wonderfully understated front page paragraph: "The 39-year-old Australian said that the decision to publish incriminating police files about him was “disgusting”. The Guardian had previously used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables."

December 22nd 2010
I don't know why it took me this long to sign up to the Times website, considering that I have free access as part of my subscription to the paper. While I can't see myself relying solely on the interweb for my Times intake (as with CDs, I like to have something physical, not just off a computer) it is an outstanding resource, and means that I can see new updates as they arrive, rather than when I buy the next day's paper. Of course, in the case of my current predicament (some distance from the nearest newsagents; copies of the Times usually sell out by mid-morning) it is my only resource, and I enjoyed reading the excellent leading article about Julian Assange at a few minutes past minute this morning.
Anyways, the reason that I bring the Times website to your attention today is not just to provide advertising space for the country's leading newspaper, but to point you towards a webpage I read about on the Comment Central section of the Times site. Google, as you may have heard, has been uploading millions of books to the interweb. Not only that, but they've made these books searchable, and constructed a simple graphical page so that you can see and compare the frequency of word use over the centuries. Below are a few I've constructed myself, and I invite you to experiment:

Supporting evidence for Benford's Law (er... sort of)
An intriguing look at body parts - note the odd spike in the 1830s, and the curious resurgence of 'ankle' from about 1975
Proof that our American cousins are taking over
A slightly inaccurate representation of our political make-up
The Plain English campaign obviously taking hold
A not altogether surprising result

On this day in 2003... Powly appeared to like his bird and reggae CDs (he opened them before Christmas Day!)

December 25th 2010
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete."
1 John 1:1-4

P.S. "Merry Christmas Everyone" by Shakin' Stevens (which, incidentally, was number one at my first Christmas, back in 1985) remains the best Christmas song out there.

On this day in 2006... Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

December 29th 2010
Paul McCartney, Ken Dodd, John Bishop, William Gladstone, Cilla Black, Edwina Currie, Les Dennis, Jimmy Tarbuck, Craig Charles, Gerry Marsden, Heathcliff, Steven Gerrard - can you hear me, Steven Gerrard? - your boys took a hell of a beating!

On this day in 2003... Christmas cards. 90% of them just say 'Merry Christmas' or some such, and so what? Who cares if Uncle John wants us to have a merry Christmas? And it was kind of taken for granted... I can't imagine him sitting at home muttering to himself that the Thomas family get all the happiness, and he hopes our Christmas is lousy this year.

what was I listening to?
Christmas in the Heart - Bob Dylan
what was I reading?
Cash - Johnny Cash
what was I watching?
A Cock and Bull Story
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