Sunday, 30 August 2009

Simon's Cat

My friend Stephen recently posted this animation of Detective Mittens, the Crime-solving Cat. Detective Mittens isn't the only animated cat to wow You Tube audiences, however...

I love Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield. It's a fabulous series of animations by someone who has clearly observed his cat very closely. If you've ever had a cat, you will appreciate how accurate these are!

The latest animation is below, and he now has his own website too! If you've not come across him before, go check him out - he's fabulous!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Roll of Honour

A year ago, the British Athletics team returned from the Olympics with its tail between its legs. Our athletes contributed just 1 gold and 3 other medals to our haul - a performance that was seen as lacklustre, falling short of a target of five medals and paling next to stunning Cycling, Rowing and Swimming performances.

Last weekend the World Athletics Championships in Berlin came to an end. At the beginning of the week a certain amount of cynicism about our prospects would have been understandable. Our target was 5 medals again, but how would we fair in the real world? Well, the answer was surprisingly well - a six medal haul (2 each of Gold, Silver and Bronze) - was our best result in 10 years...

As always, there were highs and lows - some disappointments and some unexpected (at least for the casual follower) successes. I've already made mention in this column of Jessica Ennis and Phillips Idowu in this column - but I make no apologies for mentioning them again!

After missing the Beijing games, Jessica Ennis became the latest in a distinguished line of British Multi-Eventers - Mary Peters, Daley Thompson, Denise Lewis, Dean Macey, Kelly Sotherton - to reach the top of her sport, and the first to win the World Championship Heptathlon Gold for Britain.

Phillips Idowu's career began in the shade of the World Record holder Jonathan Edwards and last year he got Silver in Beijing. This year he managed a Personal Best and Gold.

Although the ultimate measure of success is the number of medals won, sometimes I feel we do not recognise those athletes who achieve season and lifetime bests in the pursuit of the goal. This is a theme addressed in this blog by the BBC's Tom Fordyce. It's also appropriate in this regard to mention Greg Rutherford who came fifth in the long jump final but had set a new British Record in the qualifying rounds.

Back in the medal table, however, our next medalist was Jenny Meadows who ran a great 800 metres to claim bronze with a personal best and the third fastest time by a British woman ever. Another bronze came courtesy of the Men's 4x100m behind the Caribbean powerhouses of Jamaica (including, of course, Usain Bolt) and Trinidad and Tobago.

Our final medals came on the last day; Lisa Dobriskey gained a silver in the 1500 metres after the second placed athlete was disqualified and our 4 x 400m squad went one better than the sprint relay team and took the second place.

So there you have it - the British Roll of Honour. We may have missed out on medals from Christine Ohuruogu and Paula Radcliffe. There may have been other athletes who under-performed. But the team as a whole produced a sterling effort to beat expectations as they begin the long road to London 2012.


Thursday, 20 August 2009

Bonus Blog - Bolt does it again.

Although I have already blogged today, I couldn't not mention Usain Bolt's latest achievement. Follow the link to see the full 19.19 seconds it took him to cover 200 metres:

See it
here (UK only, I think)


P.S. I should make mention of Phillips Idowu's gold in the triple jump and Jenny Meadows' 800 metre bronze. I hope to blog on the Brits' performance overall at the end of the games.

A Measure of Our Humanity?

Who would want to be Kenny MacAskill? The Scottish Justice Secretary must have wished he had the wisdom of Solomon at his disposal in the decision he had to take this week: Should the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing be released from prison on compassionate grounds?

It's an issue which arouses strong feelings, and one on which I'm sure you will have an opinion. Whether it's a compelling belief that he should remain in jail for life or that the original conviction was unsound, views can be very polarised.

So what are the factors that Mr MacAskill would have to consider, whether officially or not? What has led to today's decision?

Well, there are a number of conspiracy theories which suggest that the initial focus on Iran as the suspected source of the bomb was conveniently dropped as relations thawed. Libya, it is said, was more convenient nation on which to place the blame.

While al-Megrahi was convicted in a Scottish court, and had had one appeal declined, there are many who feel that the evidence against him was mostly circumstantial and the case far from watertight.

The decision to release him, however, had to be divorced from these concerns. As things stand, he is a convicted man - and a Justice Minister cannot by himself overturn the decision of the courts. If these were the grounds for release, the appeals process should have been left to run its course.

There are those who suggest the decision is political, or that it is influenced by the amount of oil reserves in Libya, and the prospects for BP and Shell to develop them. They suggest that the recent meeting between Lord Mandelson and the son of Colonel Gaddafi. I may be being naive but I don't sense these factors did play a part. Not least because the SNP government in Edinburgh would be unlikely to respond well to pressure from Labour in Westminster.

So what does it come down to? Why should we release a man convicted of 270 murders? What makes it appropriate to show compassion to someone convicted of a compassionless crime?

I believe it's simply this: "Treat others as you would wish to be treated".

True Justice is about society setting rules and standards - and then meeting them itself. Yes, people should be tried and convicted when they transgress the boundaries of what is acceptable. Yes they should serve a sentence and repay a debt to society.

But when the boot is on the other foot and a terminally ill man is dying thousand of miles from home and family, how do we choose to respond. Do we vindictively insist he remains where he is? Or do we meet the higher standards we set ourselves, the standards which we feel set us apart from the offenders and respond with compassion to them and - importantly - their families?

On balance, I feel Kenny MacAskill has made the correct decision. Perhaps prisoner transfer would have been preferable, but various previous commitments appear to have ruled this out. Perhaps it could have been handled better, and his presentation and subsequent interviews been more eloquent. However it was handled, he has made a courageous decision on behalf of us all, and one which most of us would shrink from taking responsibility for.


Sunday, 16 August 2009


Further to my earlier post, some updates:

Jessica Ennis did indeed do it - Gold for Britain!

After losing the first set, Andy Murray has won in Montreal - 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-1.

And Usain Bolt has annihilated his own World Record, setting a new time of 9.58 seconds! How does he do it? Apparently he thinks he can run 9.4 secs!

Another Sporting Milestone

Ever since the ATP rankings system was established in the 70's, no British man has achieved a ranking of higher than 3rd. Indeed, until this year, no Brit had achieved even that.

As of Monday, however, Andy Murray will be the World Number 2. It will be the first time since 2005 that the top two slots have not been held by Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and marks yet another milestone in the Brit's progression to the the top of his game.

After a successful hard court season at the beginning of the year, and a career best showing on clay, Murray won at Queens and reached the Semi Finals at Wimbledon. Since then he has had a break and a training block at his base in Miami before coming back to the tour for the Rogers' Cup tournament.

This achievement is, however, not without caveats. While he can only control his own game, which has seen him win 4 ranking tournaments so far this year, it follows a period in which Nadal missed a number of tournaments (including Wimbledon) through injury. That said, Murray also missed a couple of tournaments through his own injury worries a bit earlier on in the year.

It should also be noted that Murray has a lot of points to defend in the next few weeks - the Semi Final points from last years Rogers cup (now successfully improved on), Winner's points from Cincinnati and Runner-up points from the US Open.

So, although we should celebrate his success, the true test of his continuing form could be whether he is still in second place in a months time. A win against Del Potro tonight would be a great start in defending the position he's just gained. I'll be keeping everything crossed.


P.S. I couldn't let this entry go by without a mention for Jessica Ennis who, at the time of writing, looks to be on course for a World Athletics Championship Gold in the Heptathlon.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Life gets in the way of my escapism

Ever since I was a child I've loved reading. My parents read to me and my sisters, we were regulars at the library (this library) and our School reading record sheets were rapidly completed.

I remember the Thomas the Tank Engine books (back when they were postcard-sized hardbacks with beautiful glossy illustrations). As I grew older, I loved the Just William stories, Billy Bunter and Enid Blyton's Famous Five.

Then I discovered The Hobbit, and subsequently The Lord of the Rings - books that I re-visit every 4 years and completely adore. I still have my childhood copies published by the long-gone Unwin imprint. As a teenager, I also enjoyed Robert Cromier and went through a phase of reading Isaac Asimov stories too.

But then something happened. Life started getting in the way. My reading habits fell by the wayside. Telly, friends and the internet all have a way of crowding in and taking up time. Before I knew it a day, week and month could go by and I'd have read nothing more than a cereal packet.

So around 10 years ago I started disciplining myself to read regularly - and to keep a record of what I had read. Every so often, though, I fall off the wagon.

This happened recently - a combination of busy work, TV and newly acquired laptop (and blog!) along with a heavy book and I suddenly discovered that it'd been a month since I'd read anything!

Last weekend I replaced the heavy book - A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecroft - with a much lighter one - The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale. It may not be the best book I've ever read but it was exactly what I needed - easy reading, short and straightforward - to kick start my reading habit.

So, if you ever think my posts are too infrequent - it's probably because I'm getting stuck into a book instead! But that's good too, as future posts may well be reviews of those very books.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Answers on a postcard or sealed down envelope...

Earlier this month, I exchanged catch-up e-mails with one of my bestest friends, with whom I had been woefully bad at keeping in touch. In her reply she sent me the following two pictures, taken on a holiday we shared with a third friend in November 2007. She reckoned I should use them as profile pictures but I'm not sure about that... To show I'm game for a laugh, though, here they are:

This first pic was taken on the beach at Watergate Bay after eating at 15 Cornwall. It was a cold autumn day, so I've no idea why I decided it would be a good idea to run round topless - although the girls would tell you I had form for this after a similar stunt in Skye two years previous!

The girls had brought exercise hoops and after a few attempts I was able to get the hang of it, and rather enjoyed it too! Not at all sure this is flattering, though!

You can post your own captions in this exclusive competition* by adding a comment below.


*NB, there is no prize and points will be deducted for anyone who suggests "Does my Bum look Big in This" is a suitable caption. It's not.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

5 on the 5th

As I mentioned in my last entry, my friend Stephen has a regular project called "5 on the 5th". Follow the link to see the images donated by the other participants. All my photos were taken either during my lunch break or on my way home from work.

This is Wells Cathedral, which I can see from my office window. To the left you can see Outside Broadcast trucks which have arrived ahead of Harry Patch's funeral tomorrow.

Glastonbury Tor with the River Brue in the foreground.

The River Brue, fit to burst its banks after days of rain.

Dragonflies (or possibly Damselflies).

The King's Sedgemoor Drain, thick with Algae.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Blatent Plug

One of my friends, Stephen, is a keen blogger and it was him who is partly responsible for me starting to blog - his main blog can be found here.

As well as being a fantastic blogger, he is also a keen photographer. So much so, he has started a side project called "5 on the 5th". This has a simple premise - just take 5 photographs on the 5th of the month and post a link to them. Simples. The result is an online snapshot of the lives of the participants.

I never managed to do it last month, but intend to try this time - I'm sure Stephen would appreciate it if you did too!