Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Jolly by name

Happy Birthday to one of my regular readers and colleagues, Christine! 73 today.

ID cards - we win on points

They're still going ahead, but they'll be entirely voluntary, so it'll be no more onerous than carrying a ProveIt card (for young drinkers), and the rozzers won't be able to demand your papers, as now.

Not that I'd have been affected: I have an Irish passport and would have relied on that if ID cards had been made compulsory for UK citizens. Some of you are from states which require ID - what's your experience of it?

My sense is that the police would have used it as another means of harrassing the people they already target: black people. I feel that the right to go about your business without having to identify yourself unless you're committing a crime is symbolically important: the state has the right to intervene if you've transgressed laws democratically voted on, not on the whim of the local bobby. Cards wouldn't be effective in preventing terrorism (a justification they've quietly dropped) anyway - though they might have been useful for identifying the corpses afterwards.

The grande oeuvre is complete

That's my conference paper finished. It's about O. M. Edwards's Cartrefi Cymru, an 1896 Welsh travel book in which our hero visited the homes of various dour religious and cultural leaders, from whom he thought the Welsh could learn (i.e. pray more, don't listen to the nasty socialists, obey your betters) - but he also used the book to turn himself into a cultural icon of bourgeois Welshness and to get over marital problems and his sense that he wasn't really Welsh any more - he'd lived in Oxford for decades and spent a lot of time with the movers and shakers in London.

OK - it's beautifully written and 'nicer' than my rather cynical synopsis, and I'm hoping that the trans-cultural and psychological themes will grab my audience tomorrow - none of whom know anything about Welsh literature, and very few of whom are literature specialists at all. I'd recommend Edwards to you, but the only translation ('Welsh Homes') was in 1936 and may be a little hard to get hold of.

Michael Jackson: victim of global politics

I've cracked the Jackson case. The simple rule is cui bono, or in English, who gains?
What story was all over the press for two weeks previously, and what story immediately sunk like a stone?

That's right. Iran. QED - the Mullahs murdered the Shah of Pop to distract attention from their electoral shenanigans. Let's see how far we can get this round the web, mateys.

It's Pay Day!

So I can sack work off and start buying books and music!

After praising Sweden to the skies yesterday, apparently it's all gone tits up, to use a terrible phrase from the 90s.

Right. Time for coffee with Neal, who swam alone today because I overslept for the first time since I finished my PhD. Alan's told us all about the Nightingales at Glastonbury - hundreds of people lapping up their arty noise rock. Another triumph!

Monday, 29 June 2009

We are a charitable lot

In the middle of another story, here's an astonishing statistic, if true:

The number of students prevented by their parents from attending sex education classes increased during the Iraq war, when many Muslim families immigrated to Sweden. The Scandinavian country, with 10 million inhabitants, granted full refugee status to 24,799 Iraqis between 2003 and 2007, compared with 260 by Britain.

How astonishingly mean-spirited. The UK invades a country on a false pretext, having previously armed and encouraged its dictator, wreaking havoc and a concomitant civil war, then found room to accept only 260 individuals, despite the immense hardship. Meanwhile a much smaller country with no global pretensions and no responsibility for the war opens its doors to a much greater proportion of refugees.

Förlåt, Sweden!

Here Comes The Rain Again

Proper thunder, wind, everything I've been hoping for. Shame that I came to work only wearing my lightest summer trousers and shirt. Shoes too. You've all been very quiet today. Surely you aren't all on holiday? Or is it because I've been going on about books and news.

This is the news

Obviously I've plenty of work to do, so I'm wondering how other countries deal with news and what they prioritise.

Here's the English version of Deutsche Welle (the equivalent of BBC World): vaguely liberal and highly international. Good European citizens.

France24 is also wide ranging, featuring Madoff, the Honduras coup, Argentina's election, Afghanistan and Jackson. There doesn't seem to be any particular focus on French colonial links.

The BBC's World page is, of course, top quality, though it does feature stories with a UK link slightly more often that the others.

I have a real soft spot for America's NPR (National Public Radio), which always struggles financially but produces great programming on a minuscule budget, a bit like Radios 2, 3 and 4 put together. It's not quite the equivalent of countries' international channels, so is far more domestic, but it's an interesting read. There's a particularly good review of my favourite Renaissance music ensemble, Stile Antico and a concert to listen to online.

Any other international services you lot rate? Back to hiraeth for now though… Here's the news in Welsh, though rather disappointingly, the BBC appears to think that Welsh-speakers are only interested in Wales.

Michael Jackson: the final word

Not from me, from Charlie Brooker, who makes fine points when he isn't showing off:

But the news is not the place to "celebrate" Jackson's music. The Glastonbury stage, the pub, the club, the office stereo, the arts documentary: that's the place. The news should report his death, then piss off out of the way, leaving people to moonwalk and raise a toast in peace.

If I was God, here's what I'd do now. I'd force all the rolling networks to cover nothing but the death of Michael Jackson, 24 hours a day, for the next seven years. Glue up the studio doors and keep everyone inside, endlessly "reporting" it, until they start going mad and developing their own language – not just verbal, but visual. And I'd encourage viewers to place bets on which anchor would be the first to physically end it all live on air.

And while that was happening, I'd create some other stations that covered other stuff. Current affairs type stuff. I think I'd call them "news channels". They might catch on.

Jump into the pool of books

Obviously I have loads to do, so I've been ordering books. Not, thanks to my iron will and steely resolve, all the ones I want from the three weighty newspapers I eviscerated this weekend, but some. All this furrowed-brow treatment of the Jackson story in the formerly serious press (presumably feeling that it's their chance for redemption after ignoring Hendrix and Presley's deaths) has given me a thirst for some theory, so I've gone for some classic Habermas - The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and Theory of Communicative Action (only in translation), Philip Reeve's prequel to his wonderful Mortal Engines series, Fever Crumb, Nick Turse's book about the militarisation of corporate life (or the corporatisation of military life), The Complex (nothing new: the Roman Empire became a tax machine to keep the army going, leading to its collapse), and for some light relief mixed with adult morality, Le Carré's A Most Wanted Man.

A miseryguts writes…

Happy Monday you lot! There used to be a tradition called St. Monday in Northern cities, including Stoke. A heavy weekend required a day off - a religious festival. In industries with highly specialised skills such as pottery, enough individuals absent meant that a whole crew couldn't do any work - so men took turns a few times a year. This is how I feel today, except that I'm at work and absolutely nobody else is other than the cleaners, who are always very cheery.

It's hot, sticky and horrible, yet I've already seen one student (advice: don't nick your resit from the internet and characters with speaking parts usually aren't dead in Renaissance literature). I've got to write a conference paper for Wednesday ('O. M. Edwards, Travel Writing and Definitions of Welshness' or something similar and the beer festival is still weighing heavily on my guts.

We all had a good time, without getting hammered. Except for Mr. Radford Sallow, who arrived many hours late and proceeded to catch up in spectacular fashion. Poor old man isn't used to drinking. He took the pledge in 1934…

Many of you seem horrified that I'm indifferent to Michael Jackson's oeuvre. Sorry, I just didn't listen to much pop at that formative age. My parents didn't believe in radios in every room, and they listened to mainstream classical, bits of folk, and a lot of religious music. Dad's concession to Irish culture was a U2 cassette and one by the Dubliners, and Mum played a lot more music than she listens to.

If it's any consolation, I watched Blur's performance at Glastonbury last night. All the presenters were talking about it being a seminal, wondrous, amazing set. I didn't. I thought they were quite good. Maybe I'm just getting grumpy. Wonder how the Nightingales went down? The BBC didn't see fit to broadcast any of their set.

On arrival at university I owned a cassette of Automatic for the People given to me by a schoolmate. A few days later I walked into the fabulous Recordiau Cob Records in Bangor and opened up a financial vein which flowed freely for many years to com. I bought two interesting looking records: Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's Patio and Tindersticks Kathleen/ E-Type Joe, both on 10" vinyl - not bad for a random pick. Henceforth, I'd go in on Thursday and pore over the list of next week's releases, making a list. On Monday, I'd collect several groaning plastic bags, to which the helpful gimps behind the counter would add 'some things we thought you'd like'. Years later, I realised that this meant 'our own records because nobody else will buy them [hello, Ectogram] and anything we've ordered in and realised won't sell'. Add to this the stuff I bought because I trusted the record label and all the secondhand bits, and you get the beginnings of my 30,000 collection, surprisingly little of which I now regret. Except for Cast's album: played once, put away for ever. I had to sell some once - 250 7" singles to Norman's Records simply to survive one summer. very depressingly. The collection is now like a smile with several teeth missing.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Au revoir, until Monday

I'm off home now, so you won't hear from me until Monday. I'll leave you with an amusing image posted over at Pharyngula. If you can't see what's funny, you need remedial classes.

Damn - over an hour later and I'm still at work - reading a paper on Foucault and Professionalism in PR. It's very good, despite its author's addiction to 'indicative'!

Never mind Michael bloody Jackson

Swells is dead! Steven Wells, the wonderful, angry, witty, committed music writer from the days when NME did more than print bands' press releases. He died of the seemingly inevitable cancer: his final column (for the Philadelphia Weekly) treats cancer pretty much the same way as he treated all the bands I liked - with total contempt.

How I loved buying NME on Wednesday morning to see what fresh torture he'd inflicted on the English language to express his true feelings towards Slowdive, the Field Mice or anyone else who wasn't absolutely bloody furious every single day. Charlie Brooker learned everything he knows from Swells, though he as yet hasn't managed to write an anarcho-Trotskyist novel entitled Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty.

Help! Inspiration lacking!

My third sister gets married next week. I hate wedding presents, they're all utterly unimaginative. I don't want to mark one of the greatest days in someone's life by giving them a toaster. What do you suggest? She's cool in a Belle and Sebastian way, and he's just finished a PhD in theoretical geometry mathematics or something like that, and they're in their mid-twenties.

Raise your glasses to the Map Twats

It's Stafford Beer Festival tomorrow - I'll be there from noon until they toss my beer-soaked corpse out with the trash, along with the Map Twats and the Ginger Twins (actually husband and wife). I'm particularly looking forward to a foaming pint of Comrade Bill Bartram's Egalitarian Anti-Imperialist Soviet Stout. Only a hero of the revolution can manage a pint of this 6.9% brew!


After making a cameo appearance at the staff pissup (particularly bad free buffet at the Hogshead - insulting considering we spend a good deal of our time and salaries there), I accompanied Emma to Fleet Foxes, last year's critical hit, performing in Wolverhampton as a warm-up for Glastonbury.

Zoot Horn has already compared them to Crosby Stills Nash and Young - I can see why, but I thought of FF as much more similar to a gentler 70s folk band, America, a rather wet but commercially successful lot who were actually only half American. Fleet Foxes are part of this 70s revival going on in indie at the moment - beards compulsory, close harmony singing, mostly songs about love.

The problem with this sort of stuff is that part of the attraction is the musical skill - craft rather than excitement. It runs the risk that band and audience want to hear the album exactly as it is on vinyl, admiring the harmonies and fretwork. However, it wasn't like that last night. These hirsute, portly chaps wandered on and introduced themselves as Blur, and kept up a fairly witty stream of banter for the whole evening, taking potshots at the Killers, and generally having fun. Two thumbs up! Incidentally, they asked from the stage whether the rumours that Jackson was dead were true, but nobody paid much attention. So when people ask where I was when I heard, I'll be able to say that I was listening to some decent music.

All in all, it was very impressive, were it not for Student Grant behind me, talking about himself throughout, punctuated by the occasional whoop as if to prove that he was listening to the band, and attempting to pogo most inappropriately. I decided not to have a word. As the only person in the room not wearing a checked shirt, I already felt rather exposed.

Oddly enough, having seen Fleet Foxes, I met an actual fox on the way home, sitting in a driveway as I walked past. It was only a cub, and seemed completely unbothered by me - it just sat there watching as I came within a few feet of the little fella.

Final thought: watch out for The Nightingales on Glastonbury coverage tomorrow. They're on at 11 on the Peel Stage, as befits Peel's favourite band. Making a special appearance on accordion is Helen Apperley - what a professional debut!

Yet another Friday Conundrum

You've spent a pleasant evening (or extended period of time) with someone you think might make you happy. Suddenly, his or her response to something you say indicates that s/he has absolutely no comprehension of your outlook, philosophy, ideology or whatever you want to call it.

Do you

a) carry on regardless - who cares, the pheromones are raging;
b) carry on, accepting the hit however many times it happens because there's nobody else around;
c) run away - you can only repress the rage for so long?
d) something else

No laughing matter (unless the jokes improve)

I'm utterly indifferent to the passing of Michael Jackson, beyond the human sympathy for an individual dying young. My initial thought was that he seemed perfectly healthy on Radio 4 the other day, discussing the Iraq war inquiry. Turns out that it's another Michael Jackson who died.

However, because I'm interested in the way and the speed at which people generate humour, you're invited to leave your jokes here. I have no comment to make about quality.

I was sent the first at 8 a.m. BST, from Zoot Horn:

Jackson's last words: 'Treat me in the children's ward'.

The second and third came an hour or so later:

What do Alex Ferguson and Michael Jackson have in common? Neither will be playing Gig(g)s this August.

And finally from my sister:
Police have drawn up some suspects. They're not sure who to blame it on. Will it be the sunshine?, the moonlight?, the good times? or their number one suspect, ....the boogie

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Where have all the nerds gone?

Turns out I'm late to the party. I've been blogging for about 9 months - just when everybody else is giving up, or at least very rarely posting, according to this Guardian article and the New York Times, which noted that only 7.5m of the 133m Technorati tracked were updated within 120 days. Apparently everybody's Tweeting or Facebooking.

Which is odd: both those outlets are more about social contact than content - I'd have thought there'd be room for both, unless Twitter/Facebook fans have nothing to say and the good grace not to say it at length on a blog. Don't worry though - I'm going nowhere. Either I drone on here or send my colleagues mad…

I'm off to Fleet Foxes tonight - will be intriguing to see what they're like live, as I think they're good but too tame on record.

Transient random noise bursts and announcements

A quick bit of sport, even though lurker Jo doesn't like it: the US are in the Confederations Cup final after beating Spain 2-0: their biggest result since 1916.

Another book in the post today: Fiona MacCarthy's biography of Eric Gill, painter, sculptor, typographer and child abuser. Should we take down art (especially the religious art) of known paedophiles? Or does art transcend the weaknesses of its composer? I'm quite a fan of Gill Sans and its close relative, Edward Johnston's Johnston Underground (designed for the London Underground).

Hiking The Appalachian Trail

People have affairs, even those who proclaim their moral superiority, such as Governor Sanford of South Carolina. So really, we should leave him alone to rebuild his life, apologise to the injured parties and so on.

And I would, were it not for his brilliant grasp of euphemism. Having flitted off to Argentina for five days to be with his mistress, he informed his staff, and therefore the public, that he was 'Hiking the Appalachian Trail'. I love it. It may have to replace Private Eye's 'Ugandan Discussions', which derives from a sexual encounter in the 60s between a journalist and a politician at a party, when they explained their absence by claiming to have been discussing the Ugandan situation.

More on dead tree media

Talking of things that make you re-evaluate your world, I guess the same criterion can be applied to books: bad ones reinforce your existing positions or make no difference at all, good ones make you re-orient yourself, or at least re-examine your beliefs, tastes and attitudes.

I'm currently reading Angus Wilson's Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, and re-reading some Gwyneth Jones. Wilson's book definitely fits into the 'bad' category, for all its status as great twentieth-century literature. It's not a bad read at all - amusing characterisation and all that, but it's yet another smug set of upper-middle-class characters adjusting themselves to the post-war Britain: neither they, nor Wilson, have much to say. Jones, on the other hand, not only tackles the big subjects: political failure, the dark stirrings of the collective unconscious, feminism, science, our social dispositions, but she does so in compelling, confusing, serious but also exciting and often amusing ways. Kairos is perhaps her weirdest attempt to upset our conceptions of what society means (particularly in relation to sex and gender), while the Bold As Love series uses the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle as the basis to examine the purpose and point of nations and states, amongst other things.

Jones is also gradually posting her earlier books, including Bold As Love, as free (updated) texts on her website - presumably as a response to the gradual death of the book marketing model and as the equivalent of the 'director's cut'.

Everything you know is wrong. Discuss.

Maurice Charlesworth was my philosophy lecturer at Bangor University. He was, to me at least, something of a legend. He came to work dressed in a brown suit with brown shirt, tie, socks, shoes and briefcase. He was perhaps the world's only Tasmanian nationalist, had a dry and cruel sense of humour which he directed particularly towards the Christian section of the student body, and told us that he took a few minutes during his wedding reception to prove the non-existence of God to his new mother-in-law. He also dealt with people signing in as Donald Duck by undertaking graphological analysis of the entire class. His favourite illustration of the degenerate nature of our times was to remind us that whereas he used to employ a psychologist in his philosophy department, he was now the philosopher in the psychology department.

All this is tangential, however. The abiding memory I have of Maurice is his mantra that a class has failed if the participants think they understand what's just happened, and that the world is just as they thought. He always managed to leave me exhilarated, confused and inspired - the mark of a great teacher, I think. Every session left us drunk with intellectual curiosity and wonder.

Maurice's philosophy colleague, Ed Ingram, was equally bizarre and brilliant, though totally contrasting. Ed wore shorts and vomit-inducing Hawaiian shirts. He clearly had an absolutely brilliant time in the 60s or 70s, and had barely recovered. He was a former computer programmer who handled all the science-related philosophy with amazing precision and joy. We'd turn up, have our heads completely messed up by quantum physics and the like, then go for a soothing drink. We'd then meet Ed in the street and he'd ask us things like where he lived, or what day it was. Between them and Tony Brown, my learned, kind and wise English tutor, these people made teaching a potential avenue for me - shame the only quality I share with them is a gift for sarcasm…

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

I Foresee Calamity Befalling You At The Next Election

Never mind moat cleaning, duck islands, gold monogrammed well covers and servants' wings (that's wings on the house, not some hideous surgery to create flying servants a la Montgomery Burns) Tory MP David Tredinnick spent £510 of our money on astrology DVDs - and he wants to run the country. The utter, utter, wanker. I predict an election defeat. Actually, I don't, I just want him to lose badly.

All aboard the effete train

Cynical Ben and I are on the verge of starting our sort-of culture/book/stuff online club: The Culture, Cheese and Pineapple! Thanks to Ben for sorting it out. We'll get going before long, so sign up for excitement, adventure and really wild things, as Arthur Dent is promised, much to his horror.

Top of the Popes

It's the Vole's birthday in July: my dear sister, mindful of my devout Catholicism (ahem), asks whether I'd like to choose from this catalogue. Most of these would earn you a shallow grave in most parts of Northern Ireland (pronounced locally as Norn Iron), but this one would get you there much quicker, particularly in Celtic colours.

Court Short

What an appalling waste of a day. Rather than swimming, writing and blogging, I dragged myself out by 8 a.m. to get to Brierley Hill, where Dudley County Court is based. It's a converted office block in the midst of a depressing business estate (mostly To Let) - but at least the legal toffs have to travel through the concrete jungle to get there.

Once inside, the victim, her mother, their (Lithuanian) translator and I were left in an airless, featureless room for 6 hours. We got over the language barrier and chatted a bit: our first meeting was rather fraught and social niceties weren't observed. I've been to Lithuania so we talked about Vilnius, and the translator studied in the Philology department at Vilnius University, where I gave a paper, so we discovered mutual acquaintances, but after a while, boredom, the upcoming confrontation, and the artificiality of the situation intruded on our sunny dispositions.

Turns our there was nothing to anticipate. First the defendant's lawyer and his interpreter (don't know which language) went to the cells to point out that he was guilty as sin and should give up now in exchange for a lighter sentence. Then there were apparently several hours of legal argument. Then we were informed that the defendant had sacked his lawyer and the new one would need a few months to acquaint himself with the case.

So my day was wasted, the victim was left without resolution and still clearly terrified of this bloke, a professional translator had been hired for the day, plus a night in a hotel, plus the very expensive legal teams (all paid for by the state) - what a farce. And it's all going to happen again at some point in the future. At least I got to read the paper in peace, get a long way through Anglo-Saxon Attitudes and avoid a deathly staff discussion day, though the architecture and decor were virtually indistinguishable from the university. There's a joke about incarceration and Kafka in there somewhere, but I'll leave it to you.

Still, I saw a little bit more of the West Midlands and can tick it off the list of places to visit. Dudley was closed and Brierley Hill had clearly recently been used for a post-apocalypse film (although Survivors made the postwar city look livelier and cleaner). There's something rather sweet about listening to Bach's Cello Suites while gazing out on post-industrial decay, the grey relieved only by the occasional splash of vomit on the pavement.

How's your day been?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The wheels on the bus…

It's turned out to be an annoyingly tedious day - my workload allocation is becoming nightmarishly complicated and changes by the hour. And now I find that the court appearance I have tomorrow has been changed from Wolverhampton (walking distance from home) to Brierley Hill - over an hour by two buses. What joy. So you won't be hearing from me tomorrow. Unless it's in the newspapers.

Missed me? Didya didya didya?

Hurrah. Two meetings down. The first one (research) was useful. The second one was UCU (Universities and Colleges Union) Negotiating Committee in which we don superhero capes to defend our members against the depredations and stupidities of management. At least, the others do, and I listen in shock.

This time, I've emerged with another job - deputy secretary. Damn. What's being going on in the world during my absence? All I can concentrate on at the moment is my incredible back pain.

Something else to annoy Ewarwoowar

Quick break between meetings. Further to my comments on police behaviour, here's a much better writer looking at the big picture: George Monbiot. It's turning into quite a big story.

(Sorry, Ewar, I'm only teasing you!)

Morning all!

You won't be hearing from me much today - meetings, across two campuses - will take up my time. Should be fun though: one's on research strategies and the other one is the union Negotiating Committee. Beer, sandwiches and subversion. Pretty much my ideal lifestyle.

Talking of which, Neal and I had a perfect summer evening last night. We made an effete salad (mint, olives, mozzarella, chorizo, rocket, pine nuts etc.), bought fine local beers (Staffordshire Brewing Company and Wood's of Shropshire) and sat in the evening sun doing pretty much nothing. Then this morning, we ate the finest croissants outside Paris (from Snape's of Woore) before setting off to work. I'm still in immense pain from fencing though. It's a young man's game, I tell you.

Which oddly enough, seems to be the case for Speaker of the Commons. Well, young by their standards. Bercow's made a surprising move from the extreme right to liberal centre, to the displeasure of his own party, and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a backlash from the Tories and their friends in medialand. For all the hype though, I distrust these people who go into politics supposedly to represent their electorate, then become dazzled by the machinery or the pomp of the institution. There's no way that politics can return to the ethic of service if its practitioners are fixated on ceremony, precedent, wigs and heritage - it becomes a game for the ruling elite rather than a tool to effect social change.

Labour are saying that Bercow's improved through marrying a Labour supporter. I cannot imagine forming a relationship with somebody with an opposing ideology. What's wrong with her? How can one love a Tory, let alone a Tory MP? There can't be any respect between two people, of whom one is right and the other so mentally and emotionally misguided that they support greed, selfishness and spite? OK, he's got better taste than she has, but how can this fundamental divide be bridged? He must be amazing in bed…

Monday, 22 June 2009

Any sign of white smoke?

Every other blogger in the world is endorsing a candidate for speaker, so I thought I should too. Surprisingly, it finds me in agreement not only with the Daily Wail, but with Britain's most evil, ill-informed, stupid, reactionary journalist, Melanie Phillips. (Don't follow that link - it leads you into a weird world in which everybody you know is a degenerate, evil, terrorist-loving, immoral, hate-filled scumbag, in her eyes. She doesn't know anything about science either, which doesn't stop her writing about it at length to the detriment of public health and understanding).

Yes, we both support Ann Widdecombe, Phillips' favourite Tory MP and Mail colleague. Not, however, for the same reasons. Phillips wants a vicious, evil troll in the Speaker's chair because she agrees with her views (AW doesn't accept climate change, instituted the manacling of prisoners who were giving birth, but does oppose hunting). I want her to become Speaker because they aren't allowed to utter a batsqueak about their own views and preferences. They put on a wig and do a lot of ceremonial nonsense. So by electing Widdecombe Speaker (ironically), MPs could achieve blissful silence from that ranting, intolerant corner. The world would be a better place.

Alternatively, there are two Sir Alan's standing (Lord and Haslehurst).

Uneasy Lies The Wig

Today we learn the answer to the question that's been on all our lips: which superannuated pompous idiot wants to stop representing their constituents and instead slip on wigs, gaiters, stockings etc. and spend their declining years weakly insisting on 'order' amongst 'Right Honourable Gentlemen'?

The live (though barely) blog will help sustain enthusiasm for an election with all the transparency and user-friendliness as those we've recently seen in North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe. Result around 10 p.m.!

The Mailbox Always Beeps Twice

I mailed some of you personally this morning (that's how many readers I have): you won't have received it because outgoing e-mail is down and likely to be so for several hours. Brilliant.

I've just returned from swimming - 30% slower today thanks to the pain and stiffness incurred during yesterday's fencing marathon, but the swim helped. As did the toasted bacon and egg sandwich at Jay's afterwards.

The Map Twats apparently had a good time in North Wales - drinking whiskey all night round a camp fire waiting for the solstice. Apart from James, an early lightweight casualty.

Testing… Testing… 1, 1 2, 1, 1 2

Let's see if this works - then I can torture you all with my 'taste' in music. A gentle one to start with: Deer Friend and Zoot doing 'Waltzing's For Dreamers'

I used podbean.com - slightly fiddly but got it working in the end.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Wisdom from the master

I went shopping recently, and reported to you that it was a dispiriting experience. I was right, and my instincts have been justified by an impeccable source. Who said this?

I look forward to an eco-friendly future where everyone wears drab and similar clothes until they wear out, just like I do. Obviously I don't do it out of environmental conscience, but laziness and the fear that, if I try to demonstrate taste, I'll be exposed as a twat.

But however puny my motives, I am basically right not to buy expensive yet flimsy new togs all the time.

That's right. My alter ego in his latest column, amongst many other pearls of wisdom.

This old dog DID learn a new trick

I'm back, obviously, and in severe pain. Last night I had a fine meal and a few drinks with Shrewsbury's counterculture. This morning, I thought I'd help set up the Shropshire Closed competition, come a respectable 5th in the foil and go home.

It didn't quite work out like that. Arriving at the venue, I was bullied by the young, thin kids into signing up for the epee and sabre too, presumably because they wanted an old man to push around and make them look better in the Master of Arms competition (awarded to the most consistent performance across all three disciplines).

Well, today the worm turned. Despite never, ever entering a sabre competition before, I won. Accidentally, badly, pragmatically, but I still won, despite knackering my back and lungs fighting the first 6 without stopping. The final was against my friend Jim, tall, rangy and good-natured. Next up, without a break, came the epee. This should be a bit better than sabre - I did an epee competition last year and won (another fluke), but it was tough this time: equal third, and Jim won.

Finally came the foil. This is really my weapon, but I'm the Stoke City of fencing. I fight ugly, cautiously, annoyingly: messing up the better fencer's game is the only way I can win. I fluke my way through the seeding poule without losing any, then hit a couple of difficult fights on the way to the final - powerful young men who injured me pretty badly. I think my hunch has been cut in two.

By the time the final came round, against Jim again, I was happy to be standing. I won, but every point was greeted by my coaches with a scowl, a grimace, a headshake, hands over the eyes - I started to get the idea that my style wasn't winning friends or admirers. It didn't help that Jim's twice my height and very tricky: I only have one move that works on him, so I used it, over and over and over, to his huge frustration. He's a much better fencer than me, but he's always been vulnerable to a triple feint delivered in a fleche (basically, flying towards him without leaving the point out, so he can't work out where the hit's going to land and has to wave his blade everywhere, until I smack him in the middle of the chest). Still - his dad's beaten me in the final every year for as long as I can remember, and Jim won the Master at Arms because he came second in sabre, first in epee and second in foil.

So the moral of the story is: ugly points are still valid points. I know you footy fans admire silky skills, flowing moves and nifty tricks. Fine. But we can't all aspire to such great heights. It was only a small competition, but the occasional success does marvels for one's self-esteem. Obviously, I'll have to slink into the club on Wednesday and endure the scorn of my coaches, but it's a small price to pay. The immediate legacy is more bruises, cuts and strains than I've ever received in my fencing career, inability to bend over and bruised feet. I may hire an invalid scooter tomorrow. Never again…

Ello Ello Ello, what's goin' on 'ere then?

Don't ask policemen for the time. Certainly don't politely ask them why they aren't wearing their identification numbers, as legally required. That gets you a beating, then four days in a cell, without charge. Even better, the police themselves film it, presumably to show down at the masonic lodge or the policeman's ball.

No wonder that some good folks have founded Fit Watch (Forward Intelligence Team) to keep an eye on these loveable bobbies.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Another leisurely weekend

Just a quick hello on this sunny Saturday. I've had a civilised lunch with Neal (Wolverhampton Art Gallery - very good), bought some books (Hensher's The Northern Clemency, which is another condition of England book set in the 80s, Gavin Esler's political thriller A Scandalous Man and Cheeta's Me Cheeta - the 'autobiography' of the Hollywood chimp which is actually a sly way of doing a bit of muckraking. Should be fun. I do like The Works. The Birmingham one is a bit rubbish, but the Wolves branch usually has some decent history and biography, and a fair supply of literary fiction. These three set me back £10 - bargainus maximus.

Now I'm packing my gear, checking my blades and testing my bodywires ready for the Shropshire Closed tomorrow. It's going to be a disaster… I've hardly fenced this year.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Another wasted Friday

That's enough for today. I've been in the office for several hours and got very little done other than deal with e-mail from yesterday's day off. I've wasted a large amount of time contributing to the Guardian's Readers Recommend list (unemployment today - I didn't have many tracks) and despatched notes to various people (if you were expecting e-mail from me today, it's because I try to put substantial time aside for substantial responses).

I'm just feeling a little weary after yesterday's highs and lows. I skipped swimming this morning due to exhaustion, and I'm not in the mood to read the two inches of papers I've printed out for this PGCE essay on curriculum design. I'll do some tomorrow. I also need to find some way to prepare for Sunday's fencing competition. I haven't fenced regularly for a few months due to work, and haven't competed for a year or so - coaching slows you down. Still it's always fun to humiliate yourself in front of your coaches and old foes. I'm considerably lighter and fitter than a year ago though, so maybe that will make up for some of the rustiness.

So tonight - a few drinks in the usual haunts, with the tragic exception of the Little Civic, cruelly snatched from Wolverhampton's social scene. No longer will I be accosted by drunk strangers with the words 'you failed my essay' while I'm trying to organise my feet for the tricky break in The Only One I Know. Happy days…

What are you all doing this weekend? Staying in Wolves?

Hippies: death from above

As the more hippy-minded amongst you will know, tomorrow's the shortest day of the year, and thus the solstice. The Map Twats are celebrating by camping out on a Welsh mountain, the lucky sods.

The authorities are obviously worried about a mass uprising of hippy terrorists. These hardened criminals must have an awful lot of heavy weaponry - they're clearly the successors to the Taliban, IRA or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. How do I know? Well, the police are planning to use unmanned drones against them, in case they leave their cider bottles near Stonehenge. Just like they do in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Is this really the best use we have for the police? Is that what multimillion pound technology is for? Or do the cops feel they have the absolute right to treat anyone with whom they aren't in sympathy like terrorists? They can't even claim that Stonehenge might be damaged: the area has been a national disgrace for 50 years as successive governments refuse to move the highly polluting, damaging road away from one of the world's oldest monuments.

I'm no hippy. quite frankly, I'm pleased that they place themselves in camps. Saves a lot of effort, but there's no way that some hippy ravers deserve to face the full weight of a highly militarised paramilitary force deployed against them. Still, the Daily Mail appears to run Scotland Yard these days…

You literally couldn't make it up (unless you were very cynical indeed)

I've always thought of Blair as a grasping, hypocritical, lying, ideology-free, sanctimonious turd of a human being, so it's no surprise to learn that he's a thief too. It's the small things which reveal a man's character. What other word can describe a millionaire who claims £7000 from the taxpayer to do up one of his houses two days before resigning as an MP and departing public life?

Likewise, how do we trust Gideon George Osborne. Not only is his idea of fun watching his own speeches on DVD: he charges us for them. Even more revealingly, the subject of his performance is Value for Taxpayers' Money. Laugh? I almost wept.

This week's Friday conundrum

Worst (or most misleading) book title, band name, album or other creative effort? What's the most disappointing experience of your life? The event or thing that seemed to promise everything, only to let you down? ('Birth' is not allowed).

Stone Roses' Second Coming gets some points for presumption, and loses several million for being rubbish. The Beatles is a pun beneath even me… I'll think of more later.

Didn't we have a lovely day the day we went to Oxford?

Hello again. How was your Thursday, and Friday morning? I had a spiffing day in Oxenford, then a lie-in this morning for the first time in years. Thanks to Zoot for driving and Mark for his incisive commentary: he told Zoot that 'you two were by far the best - and I wish that were a compliment'.

I took some photographs - most of Deer Friend and Zoot Horn performing at Catweazle (yes, I know, what a cringe-makingly hippy name). I didn't bother with many of Oxford - you'll all have been there or will do one day, and wandering around with a camera in such a place is likely to see me filed under 'tourist'.

Not that I'm not a tourist. We wandered around the market, visited several bookshops which was highly profitable (for the booksellers), drank fine beer in quaint pubs, then adjourned to East Oxford Community Centre for their open mike night. And open it certainly was - from enthusiastic youngsters, grizzled old folkies and the world's worst storyteller (and a racist Indian comedian channelling the spirit of Bernard Manning). Outside, smokers admired each others' poetry. I'm not joking.

All this was forgiven, however, when Zoot and Deer finally got on stage - last, as they'd been forgotten. Wiping the floor with the competition, they sang Richard Thompson's 'Waltzing's For Dreamers' and the old spiritual 'I'll Fly Away' to rapturous, well-deserved applause.

And now Deer Friend is quitting these shores for ever. She's off firstly to Berlin for recuperation, then Egypt from where she'll no doubt keep leaving comments here and doing her PhD, leaving her friends and bandmates bereft. Deer: it's never going to rain there. Just think about that! No blossom, no snowball fights, no sledging, and sand in your ice-cream every single day!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Toodle-pip, old beans

Right, that's it. I'm off to do some more ironing because that's the kind of glamorous life I lead when not teaching. Tomorrow I'm off to Oxford to look intellectual, though I've drawn the line at goatee, teddy bear, bowtie and tweeds. I like tweed though.

Iran is still in ferment. I can't help thinking that overt support from other governments for Moussavi is a terrible idea. If Ahmedinejad retains power, he'll be angry as well as nuked-up. If Moussavi wins, he'll have to prove he's not pro-American if he's to have any chance of governing successfully (this is the Kennedy/Clinton/Blair/Brown strategy: be more rightwing than rightwing parties so that they can't accuse you of being weak on communism/defence/paedos or whatever.

See you on Friday.

Indier than thou

Hurrah! A New Paradise Motel album is coming. At some point this year. On a record label. Perhaps. Their wonderful mournful Australian melancholic old stuff isn't on the web anywhere (perhaps Last.fm), but here's the new song they've posted. I play their music most days and occasionally have to remind myself that almost nobody else has even heard of them, let alone rates them so highly. It just seems obvious to me.

Followed by another of my favourites, Hydroplane, who seem to have melted away into other Aussie bands.

A random accretion of things

'Anonymous' (must be a big family) has left another Twitter alternative which absolutely deserves your applause.

Twitter for dermatologists: Zitter.

I shall inform Vole's father, a dermatologist, forthwith.

It's raining today. Being a watervole, this makes me very happy indeed, even though I'm stuck in the office rather than being up a mountain. The Map Twats are off stargazing on Saturday night, without me. I'm competing in the Shropshire Closed on Sunday and just can't manage the logistics to do both. Very disappointing.

Still, I did my own stargazing yesterday. While ironing, I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture. To be honest, it's a bit cheesy, a little too touchy-feely: the climax is Decker achieving 'a higher state of consciousness' rather than a deep-space battle, which isn't a very subtle way to drag the franchise into the 70s. Still, the industrial architecture is beautiful, and McCoy's still irascible. There's definitely a subversive streak in that man.

Tomorrow I'm running away for a day off. More specifically, I'm going to Oxford with Zoot and others to buy books, leave CVs at their establishment (ho ho ho) and see Zoot and Deer Friend perform live. I'll take some pictures, but won't be blogging so you'll all have to entertain yourselves.

Avoid the greenwash

Being a boring do-gooder, I frequently get frustrated trying to work out what's greenwash (green-sounding bullshit) and what isn't. It's early days, and American-focussed, but Good Guide may help. Consult before buying.

Blogging from the ivory tower

Sorry for the navel-gazing posts today. I'm avoiding substantial work. Googling 'academic bloggers', there's a clear divide between my type of general stuff by someone who happens to be an academic, and blogs clearly focussed on research and teaching, often using blogs as a way of disseminating research more widely. Perhaps when I get the chance to do some research, I'll get a bit more specific.

There's also a lot of angst and fear around academic blogging. Sure, our superiors aren't interested or convinced, but a lot of people worry that blogging will be seen as facile, pointless, or even damaging.

Activities that do not lead to a revenue stream, such as teaching too well, writing for the public, and, above all, blogging, are considered a sign of an undisciplined and romantic mind that is unlikely to produce a strong ongoing revenue stream.

Perhaps they're right…

Save our Bloggers

Random Acts of Reality, an emergency medical technician who blogs brilliantly, puts the case for public-sector anonymous blogging far better than I ever could:

What bloggers do is humanise and explain their section of the world - public sector bodies do well to have bloggers writing within them, after all these are the people who care about what they do, about what improvements should be made and about where the faults come from. They highlight these things in the hopes that, in bringing this information into the public consciousness, they can effect a change that they would otherwise be powerless to bring about.

Anonymity provides a protection against vindictiveness from management who would rather do nothing than repeat the party-line, or lie, that everything is perfect, there is no cause for concern. Having seen management do, essentially illegal things, in order to persecute and victimise staff - anonymity is a way of protecting your mortgage payments.

I Get Reviews

Occasionally I post on Chronicle.com, an American higher education website. A while ago we were talking about the Vietnam War, something I teach. I noticed today that a university teacher, no less, left this charming response to myself and 'one who served': Needless to say, I'm surprised by the claim that the media should be 'loyal', especially as it totally contradicts his objection to Baudrillard's point that mediatised war can't convey the 'truth' of war.
Hey, “one who served,” ever consider how the disloyal press manipulated film footage to undercut our efforts in Vietnam (as in Iraq) and ennoble the campus cowards who protested the war in Vietnam? And “Plashing Vole,” faithfully invoking the patent Baudrillard rubbish that the Gulf War didn’t happen makes one wonder why you are allowed to teach anything, even in a shameless pc-ridden nanny-state like what the UK has devoled into.

Needless to say, I'm surprised by the claim that the media should be 'loyal', especially as it totally contradicts his objection to Baudrillard's point that mediatised war can't convey the 'truth' of war. He doesn't seem very keen on evidence, intellectual coherence, grammar or reasoned argument - and yet according to him I'm the one who shouldn't be teaching!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

We have a winner

Mr and Mrs Caswell were on Radio 4 just now. They've just won £25 million and say they don't want it to change their lives. Why the hell would you try to win multiple millions of pounds if you're happy with the life you've got? If I won that (I don't play the lottery), I'd spend most of it on levelling Stoke, and then buy some books. Oh, and give some to really extreme leftwing political groups just to annoy the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile, I've added Lecturer Notes to my bloglist - she's an interesting academic blogger. Wonder how she copes with her institution…

Who is the Plashing Vole?

Most of you know anyway, but I'd rather be discreet because I don't want to get myself or anyone else in trouble, including my institution.

So I'm a little concerned that the High Court has determined that anonymous bloggers can be identified by the press - that blogging is a 'public activity' which doesn't carry the right to privacy. I guess this is logical, but it doesn't make me feel any more comfortable. I'm likely to be much more truthful when the threat of the sack doesn't hang over me, and having a secret identity, as well as being cool, means that readers don't treat me as their teacher.

All this has come about thanks to a case involving Nightjack, a police blogger who won the George Orwell Prize this year. There are lots of uniformed bloggers including paramedics and others - presumably the demands of the job, the strict rules, the requirement of obedience wthout question and the daily exposure to the best and worst of human life are conducive to good, critical blogging. Much better than my 'went to a committee today'… Added to that - copper tend to be very rightwing, which leads to strongly expressed, simplistic opinions which work well on blogs. Nightjack's conservative but interesting.

Pitch n Putt with Joyce and Beckett

Genius. Last bit of Bloomsday nonsense.

I'm an academic get me out of here

It's hot, stuffy and boring. One of our number is being driven to scavenge Marks and Spencer rather than face the bureaucracy. Others are loosening their ties or have simply launched themselves from the window ledges. Nothing appears to be happening in the world - even in Iran - and all you student bloggers are obviously outside.

I'm reading the English subject centre's Benchmarks for English degrees. Amazing what you're meant to know by the end of it!

So to break the boredom: one of my favourite bands of the early 80s (though I was quite young then) - The Pale Fountains

Death to… well, somebody. A recount, at least.

The Iranians are participating in the democratic process with some energy today. Follow it live here, or (if you must), at twitter (#iranelection).

I'm in the office (of course) avoiding looking at my final PGCE essay. Instead, I'm trying to quell the panic while I fail to understand what I should be doing with my Workload Allocation Form, Scholarly Activity Form, Appraisal Form and all the other things which document how much work I couldn't get out of last year, and how much labour will be extracted from me next year. What I really want to do is get back to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is actually brilliant, though the author occasionally regresses to American English expressions and spellings. Still, Elizabeth Bennett is even feistier (and perhaps kinkier) than she was in Austen's first attempt.

A Clip Round the Ear?

Every night our screens are full of jovial coppers, with a voiceover telling us that these guys are the knights defending us against the darkness. This is what you can actually expect if you're a drunk idiot - 4 over-muscled, under-educated bruisers out to give someone a kicking. This is also why the police and government are outlawing taking pictures/video of police officers.

I fear those big words, Stephen said, which make us so unhappy.

Well, today is Bloom's Day, the annual celebration of James Joyce, named after his character Leopold Bloom of Ulysses fame. If you're in Dublin, as a couple of my readers are, you should be tracing the route he took today, from toilet to pub. I'm expecting to hear from Zoot Horn today, as he's Wolverhampton's - and thus the world's - premier Joyce expert.

Here's the opening line:
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
But it isn't nearly as evocative as the opening of Finnegans (or Finnegan's) Wake:

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Iranian election turns violent

Massive peaceful protest in Tehran has run into shooting from the security services - what a shame for a vibrant society. Situation ongoing, live coverage here.

Web = collective wisdom

This is of interest to students and staff at my institution only.
Amongst the Brazilian, Iranian, Slovenian and other surfers washing up on my blog today was someone from Surrey University, who googled 'Pebblepad is awful'.
They're absolutely right. It's the worst piece of software ever used. It's the child porn of software: unpleasant and unnecessary.

From balls to, well, more balls

Now 110-8 with 50 runs required from the last 9 balls.
Ho hum. Time to follow the House of Commons Speakers' Hustings live blog. Wonder if they have to do a comic turn as I did when standing for election at my old students' union?

Googly to silly mid on

Ireland look like they won't quite make it against Pakistan - required run rate of 17.something. Oh well - we mixed it with the big boys quite convincingly.

More dead tree media

I thought you might like to see the pile of books I got last week, just because it's aesthetically pleasing. My room is full, so I've had to get everything sent to my office for the last few months. At some point, colleagues' goodwill is going to run out. Then I'll be building a shelter with books on the ringroad…

Support the SOAS cleaners!

SOAS is the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London. Given that name, you'd think it would be good on multiculturalism.

You'd be wrong: the private cleaning contractor ISS (typical - give the dirty work to some grasping gangmaster), the university and the police got together to imprison and interrogate the cleaning staff about their immigration status - at their place of work. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that they waited until the end of the shift, to extract a few hours work without interruption. In response, the students have occupied the building.

OK, you might object to the presence of undocumented migrants working here. That would be fine, if it wasn't the case that illegal labour pays our way. We rely on slave labour all round the world to make cheap goods for us. Even the expensive goods, such as my lovely old Mac, are made in the cheapest, most exploitative conditions available to corporations. How many UK citizens do you know who deliver pizzas, sell kebabs, clean your offices? These things are too cheap because we don't want to pay people properly, especially those whom we never meet. My institution, at least, pays its cleaners direct - and get good service in return for proper conditions.

By contrast, cleaning, especially in London, is the preserve of the poorest, the most desperate. When they start to agitate about illegal pay levels, dangerous conditions, or unreasonable burdens, their employers sack them or, if they're feeling particularly vindictive, call the immigration service, as has happened in this case.

Yes, local people should have jobs - but a lot won't take 'menial' work, and many more won't take illegally-paid jobs (the minimum wage is £5.73, in case you want to check your wage packet) on principle, which is quite right. This country owes its colonial victims a lot more than £5+ an hour - and we need to run our economy justly and fairly. Until this happens, unscrupulous companies will employ the desperate to do what we won't, then cast them aside. Support the SOAS cleaners!

More dead wood

More books arrive. I can't vouch for their quality this time, as they're both recommendations from friends (including The Deer Friend).

They are: Trenton Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, and Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. The first is a children's book, the second a work of literary fiction - which looks like a revival of the 'condition of England' tradition. I'm in the mood for something fun at the moment, so perhaps the first. Then perhaps something a little racier - life's a little dull at the moment, except for the things I wish were more dull!

President Strangelove, I presume?

Just back from a swim (good job I have flexible work hours). Despite possessing the hydrodynamic qualities of a brick with an eating disorder, I managed my 40 lengths of backstroke in 27 minutes, so I'm feeling triumphant. And sick.

I see that everybody's jumping up and down about Ahmedinejad's re-election (if such it is). Plenty of people are screaming that Iranians shouldn't vote for a man hellbent on nuclear weapons. Er… isn't that what the UK has done every four years since 1950? That the US electorate has done since 1945? Etc. etc. I happen to be a CND member - and all the NPT-compliant states have signed a treaty committing them to abolishing nuclear weapons. Just as I do absolutely nothing to help, so do the big states. Worse than that, we allow India, Pakistan (mmm, stable relations), Israel and several other states to have them without any commitment to abolishing them.

What steps have we taken to abolish them in our own countries? Well, Obama's actually talking about reductions, but that's about it. The UK is about to spend £20-30 billion we don't actually have, on replacing Trident. Apparently, the ability to kill hundreds of millions of people in a few minutes isn't quite enough. We need more, bigger, missile to deal with… er… those pesky guerillas in Afghanistan. No, that isn't right. There's a definite threat from, well, someone, which can only be dealt with by turning entire cities to molten glass, whole civilisations to rubble, sterilising huge chunks of the earth's surface. It's just that I can't think of one right now.

Why shouldn't Iran have nuclear weapons? They're caught up in an insane race with Israel. The intellectual justification's very simple. It's all about having a huge, barely metaphorical penis. When Labour MPs and others objected to Britain pursuing a nuclear weapon in the 1940s, Aneurin Bevan, the British Foreign Secretary, clearly saw the ability to kill millions of people as a replacement for the British Empire, a justification for Britain remaining a powerful state rather than becoming a calm, civilised Scandinavian-style democracy: without nukes, he said, 'you will send a Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber'.

So there you have it. Without a nuclear weapon, Iran is another weird country holding the oil we all depend on. With it, they can negotiate on a slightly more equal footing. I know this is the politics of the madhouse, but we're all inmates…

Down with the kids, for a weekend

I went to see Doves in a forest this weekend. Not the birds, but a popular beat combo named after a type of ecstasy pill distributed in the 1990s. Which is odd really, because beyond the occasional post-euphoric number, they're quite downbeat.

Being an idiot, I assumed a few things - like cold weather and a campsite near the venue. So I took along woolly t-shirts and my newish red DMs (which earned an accusation of National Front membership from Cynical Ben, because mentally he lives in the West Midlands circa 1981). It turned out that the campsite (populated by students and refugees from the early 90s) was a good 5 miles away.

Despite John's ability to break his new tent and lose tentpegs, he proved a genial tentmate for a Manchester United fan. He neither tried to 'tap me up' or 'unsettle' me in any way. We ate fine steaks and then took the hour and a half trek with good humour, despite the hilarious drive-by abuse from people in SUVs. Amazing that possession of a dangerous, poisonous lump of metal gives these morons a sense of superiority.

Obviously we missed the support band, Delphic, which was a shame. But Doves were just right for the occasion - the sun set gently as their melancholic notes wafted over the Cheshire countryside. The beer was no more expensive than a trendy pub of the kind I tend not to frequent, and the mellow aroma of cheap grass filled the air. The weather was balmy - I wore only a t-shirt (on my torso) and didn't feel at all cold. I've put a few pictures here. Meanwhile, a taster including Cynical Ben's bottom - being a ground-dwelling mammal, my view is rather limited at these events.

The journey back was equally lovely, though everybody's feet ached, and we weren't overly pleased to be greeted at 1.30 by the drunken voices of public school students comparing A-levels or whatever they do - I jammed in my headphones and listened to some John Adams until they lapsed into sullen silence, about 2 hours later.

Sunday brought a large breakfast, some quality cheese purchases in Chester, a sweaty journey home, and blissful unconsciousness for twelve hours. All in all, the perfect weekend.

Plus de liaisons

Hello again? Did you all cope with the searing heat this weekend? I found it quite difficult. Anything above 23% makes me feel like a polar bear in a microwave.

So. On Friday, after a few ales in the Great Western, a select band of us ended up at the Little Civic, Wolverhampton's premier indie dive to mark its last night.

Few people attended Mozart's funeral, so fallen was his reputation. This was the mood in the Little Civic. The five of us danced to the finest cuts of indie beef, as the DJ indulged our whims for the very last time. Scattered around the edges were a very few onlookers, and once in a while, drunk wandered in looking for Yates's, scorned us and left. I've been attending these Friday nights for almost ten years now, have seen the Nightingales and many other bands play the upstairs room in search of that elusive break: then, indie kids danced, rejecting the mockery of those with shaven heads and checked shirts. Now, it's a sad outpost of a lost culture. The boards are going up, the turntable is long defunct, the Field Mice will echo mournfully round an abandoned building long after the DJ departs. A moment of silence please, for another distinctive, shabby, wonderful place.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Weep, you brutes

I'm off home now - the first time in months that I've gone home before 7 p.m. Before I go, I'd like to plug a song I heard for the first time today.

Unfortunately, I can't post The Deer Friend (vocals) with Zoot Horn (guitar) performing 'Waltzing's for Dreamers' utterly heartbreakingly, as this blog can't do sound files. Instead, here's Richard Thompson's original, followed by June Tabor's slow, sadder version - which is still not as evocative as Deer/Horn's version (see what I did there?). I thought I knew a lot of Thompson's stuff, but he always has something more to surprise us. I've just had to buy the Tabor album, The Quiet Eye.

Have a good weekend. I'm calling into the Great Western later, then off to Doves at Delamere Forest tomorrow, so won't be blogging at all until Monday.

Another colossal, brilliant, waste of time

Welcome to The 'Spill - the overflow from the Guardian's Readers Recommend. Obsessives live there. I'm coming home!

Boötes Call

Zoot Horn suggests a trip to somewhere dark on the morning or evening of June 27th to see the Boötes meteor shower. Who's up for it?

Hey løøk. I can gö all mëtål and Nördîc!

Everybody's a critic

The Guardian's reviewer didn't like Kröd Mandöon and the Sword of Fire (BBC2) very much. Did you watch it? I did, and thought it bearable - some funny one-liners and a decent enough idea, as though someone had gone through Terry Pratchett's bin. However, it paled somewhat because a couple of days previously, I'd listened to Radio 4's parody of sword and sorcery tales, Elvenquest. Like virtually all of that channel's 'comedy', it's pretty weak, but it's a hell of a lot better than Krüd (though the presence of Julius from The Thick of It helped).

Luckily, the next show was the new series of Mitchell and Webb, which was much stronger than the last, and, as you'll expect if you know that Mitchell is my physical and spiritual doppelgänger, it was a strange experience. I particularly enjoyed the Mitchell talking doll, which uttered lines extremely similar to those I use in seminars ('that was a particularly banal contribution…').

Just a little longer

I'm not a vindictive man. Well, I'm not usually a vindictive man. OK, sometimes I can be non-vindictive. Now is not one of those times. I just noticed that Margaret Thatcher has broken an arm. That's what happens when a woman in her eighties greets the BNP's victory with the traditional stiff-armed salute.

Before you all start whinging about how cruel it is to take pleasure in the pain of an old woman, I should point out that she is the most damaging, actually evil individual every to take control of this country. I have mixed views on Oliver Cromwell even though he massacred thousands of Irishmen in cold blood. I don't have the slightest tinge of sympathy for Thatcher. Brought up to despise anyone poor, foreign, or who saw the world differently, she allowed her personal prejudices to develop into an ideology which simultaneously yearned for the past while encouraging her friends to make money by making the world worse - culturally, educationally, enviromentally, politically. She supported Apartheid South Africa, despised the working classes, took tea with Pinochet and never met a fascist or hereditary despot she didn't like. She literally denied the existence of community ('there are individual men and women, and there are families') and did her best to destroy the organic communities which grew out of stable employment.

Her lessons that greed, selfishness, wealth, consumption and individualism are the only standards by which success should be judged is at the root of our atrophied education system, our stunted NHS, our poor public services, our low-tax, low-pay economy, our awful railways and clogged roads: Blair and Brown are her spawn, the reason why there's no space in the current political system to discuss collective effort for collective gain.

I haven't the space and time to cover her crimes against humanity - but I do think that any minor bit of pain and suffering is nothing compared with what she's done to us. When she dies, I'm holding a massive party. Every year, I'll visit her grave to make sure she's still dead, and water the wreaths with poison.

A Friday Friday conundrum this time

It's so late! Sorry everybody, I've had a load of work to do, and I got caught up in the Guardian's Readers Recommend shenanigans - see if you can work out who I am, as I've picked a different username for reasons that now escape me. I'm around page 7.

So anyway, I was wallowing up and down in the pool with all the grace of an escaped bouncy castle, and wondered why I was doing this - the answer, of course, is so that I can slave away for some of you for an extra few years rather than gratefully accepting the massive heart-attack which was pencilled in for about 2015. So today's question is:

What do you do unwillingly, because they're good for you, or because others expect it of you?

(Were it not swimming, I could put 'turn up for work', though actually when things are going well, it's brilliant). I also go to Mass at Christmas with the family simply for a quiet life, and (this may amaze you), I often shut up when internally I'm screaming with fury and have something very offensive to say. My PGCE colleagues called me Mr Angry, which seems most unfair.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Au revoir

That's it for today - I'm enjoying England's abject collapse against South Africa, but I'm hungry and there's ironing to do. See you all tomorrow.

Irish eyes aren't smiling

So Ireland go out to New Zealand, comprehensively beaten - but then very few of Ireland's team are professional cricketers (or Irish, come to think of it). It was fun mixing it with the big boys though, and getting further than Australia in a sport a long way down the national pecking order (football, hurling, rugby, soccer, horse-racing, golf - yuck) is very funny.

I'm still not convinced by Twenty20 - it's the equivalent of table football. Give me the slow, thoughtful strategy of a Test match, occasionally enlivened by a wicked spell of fast bowling or the deviousness of a good spinner.

'ello 'ello 'ello part 324 - Only in Texas

Pharyngula notes that 'hello' has now been officially replaced in a Texan county by 'heaven-o' because of the first satanic syllable of the traditional greeting. Think it'll catch on? Any alternative suggestions? What other words will we have to dump to stay on God's good side?

The doctor is out - of his mind

Here's a bit of fun. The American Medical Association is desperate to stop Obama founding national health insurance because it's 'socialist' - the argument they've deployed since 1900. The plan isn't even nearly a proper National Health Service such as ours, tired though it is. We only got it because the Labour government gave in to the doctors and 'stuffed their mouths with gold' - but anything which smacks of sensible collective provision is pretty much communist in US political debates.

So here's Ronald Reagan, then a famous actor and aspiring politician, warning that government health insurance will lead to the gulags

Kiwi jam

The New Zealanders are giving Ireland a pasting - 38/0 from only 3.1 overs. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Warped dilithium crystals

This is available on a t-shirt from xkcd.com - the mouseover on the website says 'bonus points if you can identify the science'. Neal took one look, muttered something about blackbody radiation and is now explaining the maths and telling the tragic tale of Boltzmann's Constant, which helps explain why this curve isn't a straight line (his critique of classical physics was vindicated a couple of months after his death - the little k is his constant in this equation). It plots the energy carried by a photon of light by its frequency (though light's a particle too). A blackbody radiator radiates all the heat/light it absorbs.

I shall buy Neal the t-shirt in honour of his superior nerding.