Saturday, 31 October 2009

Letter to my 16 year old self

Inspired (and cajoled) by my friend Stephen, here is a letter to my sixteen-year old self. Fortunately, I do not have a photograph with which to illustrate this piece.

Dear Andrew,

I am writing this from a distance of (very nearly) 19 years, although even just typing that seems strange. While an awful lot of water has passed under any number of bridges, in some ways it does not feel that long. In many regards I am still the same person as you reading this. Inevitably, though, there are many ways in which you've changed and many things I've learnt.

The purpose of this letter is not to tell you what happens, or where you'll end up, but to offer some advice based on what I've learned along the way. I've decided to pare this down to three individual pieces of advice, although there is much more I could share. These aren't necessarily the most important things I could share but they are things I feel you could benefit from hearing sooner rather than later.

Think of this letter as giving you a head start - you'll have to learn the other things I've learnt for yourself. If I do feel you need further help in the future, however, I will be sure to write again.

The first thing which I feel it's important for you to learn is the futility of having regrets. You will inevitably make wrong decisions and your life will, at times, move in directions that you didn't intend. When this happens, you need to rectify it. Do not dwell on what was, and what wasn't. Don't waste time, effort and emotion on regretting the decision made, instead learn from the incident and move on.

The next thing is to try to live within your means. This may seem hard, particularly with so many spending temptations and widely available credit, but will pay dividends if you succeed. Your eventual career may not be something you have considered yet, but it has the potential to pay well and give you a good standard of living - don't let debt get in the way of that.

The final thing, for this letter, is not so much advice as an exhortation - keep reading. While you may not have a TV yet, sooner or later you will. Other things will also invade your life and occupy your time. Try to take some time every day to read - it will help you escape from life's pressures, broaden your horizons and exercise your imagination. Reading has, to now, been a passion - don't let it go! Some authors you may like - and this is just a hunch - are Iain Banks, Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishaguro.

The next 19 years will not always be the easiest, and you have a lot to learn yet. If you take the advice in this letter, however, things may be easier.

Yours, Sincerely,


You can read Stephen's letter to himself here.

Virtual Gallery, Room 2

This room features works by the Sculptor, Rachel Whiteread.

Whiteread is best known for various large scale works, such as the Tate Modern turbine hall installation "Embankment" and "House" - pictured below. Her works seek to show the world in a different light - often through taking the cast of a space rather than an object and then exhibiting that out of context.

Pictured are, from top to bottom:
  • Untitled (Novels)
  • Untitled (Pair) - which are made from casts taken from Mortuary slabs,
  • Untitled (Domestic) - which is the cast of a stairwell
  • Untitled Monument
  • House - the cast of an entire house

More information on the artist can be found here and here.

Visit Room 1 of my Virtual Gallery

Saturday, 24 October 2009

At Once both Introspective and Retrospective

After a recent fallow period - during which life had rather got in the way of regular blogging - I've clambered back into the saddle recently and increased the blogging rate.

I've also tarted up the page layout, and made some cosmetic changes. I've widened the text columns, mainly as the previous layout was cutting off the edges of You Tube windows, and introduced a new colour scheme.

Other changes are hopefully less cosmetic. As well as the existing list of blog entries, in date order, I've now introduced a search bar on the right. I've also introduced a list of labels, prioritised by number of uses, to link through to specific subjects. I'm going to review all these tags too, to make sure this list as useful as possible.

The final key change is the introduction of response buttons at the bottom of the posts - you can give instant feedback, or leave a more in-depth comment, as previously.

It's not just the style of the blog I've been thinking about - I've been having a think about content too. One of my problems is that I find it difficult to write short entries - I start with an idea and before long I have 600 words! My solution is to mix up the longer pieces with links to You Tube videos and pictorial entries, and you should see more of these as time goes by.

The recent flurry of entries seem to have attracted a number of new readers, as well as increasing regular visitors, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to point you in the direction of some of my favourite entries so far:

Salvador Dali gallery
Tour de France Brits

Henry Allingham tribute
Simon's Cat link

5 on the 5th - a monthly photographic blog
My first Video Log

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Pretty Pictures

I've been thinking about my blog a lot recently and one of my conclussions is that I need more pictures. Today I've delved into my archives and found these pictures from a holiday in Cornwall two years ago.

From top to bottom: Disused Tin Mine building, Sculpture in Barbara Hepworth's garden, View from Lands' End at Dusk, St. Ives Rooftops, Watergate Bay, Tintagel Castle Window.


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Give them enough rope...

On Thursday, the BNP leader will, controversially, appear on question time. Should he be allowed? Well, on balance, probably yes. The BNP somehow manages to stay the right side of the various laws which govern the line between freedom of speech of inciting racial hatred. In addition, they now have over a hundred councilors and two MEPs so they clearly speak for a section of the populous, however objectionable they may be.

While their views may be, at the very least, distasteful they cannot now be ignored. To do so would risk them continuing to spread their bile at low level, letting it fester and spread like a cancer. It has reached a point where they need to be faced head on. They need to be given some (limited) exposure, a spade to dig themselves a hole and enough rope with which to hang themselves.

With the right counter arguments, their views can be shown to be ludicrous. Appropriate questioning will reveal their true colours. Their love for Britain will be shown to be a veil for their hatred of other races.

The British, whom the BNP claim to defend, are not some homogeneous, pure race that have inhabited this island for centuries. Wave after wave of invasions saw Celts mixed with Norsemen, Vikings and Normans. In more recent centuries, we have incorporated further waves of immigration from Ireland, China, the Caribbean and India and Pakistan, amongst many others.

This diversity, and acceptance, is core to British values. While immigrant communities may not always have had it easy, without them we would not be the nation we are today.

So questions for the BNP to answer: In identifying the “indigenous population” who do the BNP seek to defend? Where do they draw the line - families whose routes trace back prior to 1950 or 1900 or some other arbitrary date? Or do they just mean white people?

Nationhood is a complex subject on which there are many different takes. Many people are nationalistic and keen to celebrate their identity. Many people have fixed ideas about what being British (or English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish) means and their place in the world.

Having a sense of identity and belonging shouldn’t be about denying others the opportunity to share this. Being proud of who and what you are shouldn’t be about superiority and exclusion. Expressing national pride shouldn’t be about denigrating others.

You can express Nationalism without being isolationist. You can be patriotic without closing the borders and keeping the country for the “natives”. Above all, Britishness is not about telling Natural Born Britons, or any other residents, they should participate in a voluntary repatriation programme.

Further questions: Where do the BNP draw the line in international co-operation – the EU, the UN? Who would be eligible for voluntary repatriation? Is the Black or Asian soldier less of a patriot than his white counterpart?

While I do not believe the BNP stands for a true definition of Britishness or a correct interpretation of what it means to be a Nationalist, I can’t really question their status as a party – even if clauses in their constitution currently run contrary to anti-discrimination legislation.

I hope that Thursday’s appearance by Nick Griffen on Question Time really shines a light on the true identity of the BNP. They may speak of a love for Britain and it’s people, but at the heart there’s nothing but hate. They may dress themselves up as patriots, but what they stand for is a white isolationist agenda.

Forcing the mask to slip and thereby revealing the truth is the only way to combat the lies, half-truths and innuendo of a party whose core beliefs are contrary to that of the overwhelming majority of true Brits.


Monday, 19 October 2009

Blast from the past - and present!

Driving home from work tonight I took a detour away from Radio 4 and strayed to Radio 1. While there, I heard this, Sonique with "It Feels So Good":

I've never been a big fan of dance music but I've always really liked that song, along with her version of "I Put a Spell on You".

The next song they played is one of my current favourites - The Editors with Papillon. For my money it sounds like The Killers mashed up with an Eighties track I can't quite put my finger on - see what you think:


British World Beaters

Jenson Button has been crowned the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion. Well, I say crowned, but there was no formal recognition of his achievement at Interlagos today. Instead, there were rather chaotic scenes as he celebrated with his engineers, family and the world's media while the race winner, Mark Webber, climbed onto the podium to distinctly muted response!

In addition to the Button's triumph, his team, Brawn GP also won, leading to some touching scenes as the perpetually cool and collected Ross Brawn let the emotion get the better of him. As well as thanking all the engineers and staff of the team, he also paid tribute to the work of 200 staff who had to be laid off early in the season, which was a lovely touch.

It has been a fairytale story - the team which was put up for sale by Honda just over a year ago storming into an early and commanding lead which no other team or driver could consistently match, with the clinching of the two titles with a race in hand. This story has also, however, been much rehearsed, so I shall move on...

There is another fairytale story, though. The story of a man who, in his previous 9 years in Formula 1 had won just 1 race. A man who, while showing great promise as a driver (including finishing 3rd in 2004 had never really had a car able to compete with the powerhouses of Ferrari and McLaren.

Formula 1 is a team sport, and a marathon. It is not sufficient to be a good driver or to have a good car. What is required is consistency - a car which can deliver the goods, a driver who is on form, slick pit-stops, insightful strategy. Luck plays a part, and many say that Jenson has had a number of lucky races. Over the piste, however, luck has a habit of working both ways and luck alone does not deliver world champions.

There are others who feel the title is less deserved as the bulk of Button's points came in the first 7 races when Brawn dominated. This is a weak argument - Usain Bolt's wins aren't less celebrated because he does the bulk of the work in the first 60 metres. Those people making that argument have no alternative. Indeed, the alternative method preferred by Bernie Ecclestone (head of F1) is a to select the winner based on most races won. That would make the 2009 champion.... Jenson Button!

His achievement makes him the 10th Brit to win Formula 1, following in the footsteps of past greats such as Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart and, of course, directly succeeding Lewis Hamilton.

So here's a toast (Cider, as he's a Somerset lad) to the latest British champ - and here's hoping for another one next year!


P.S. Britain won another World Championship today - Beth Tweddle took Gold in the Floor event at the O2.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Just a Minute Reloaded

Some time ago, I came across the following animation. Having recently been reminded of it, I thought I would share it. The narrative is taken from an episode of the Radio 4 programme "Just a Minute" and Paul Merton has been tasked with talking about Sudoku. Cue a typically surreal flight of fancy from Merton...


If you liked that, then try this.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Guest Blogger No. 1 - Stephen Chapman

Some time ago, I did a guest blog entry for The State of the Nation UK. Now it's the turn of Stephen to return the favour. He's decided to post on the subject of being English:

The Importance of Being English

I am pleased to be able to contribute as a guest blogger and would like to discuss the silent majority in Britain… the English!

If you ask the owner of this blog where he is from, he will undoubtedly say “Scotland” and could easily enlighten us why he has national pride without embarrassment or the need for justification.

The majority of people living in Britain are English – a varied group of people with many originating from across the globe. Although most are white, a good proportion is of black and Asian origin, but if you look closer and go back just a few generations, the mix is remarkable.

Whatever the original roots, my perception is that the English almost have to apologise before showing any national pride and when they do, they must provide explanation that their views are not racist or against minorities. It’s ludicrous political correctness that benefits nobody and is killing traditions that go back centuries.

National pride can be as simple as celebrating religious and local festivals, supporting the village fete, being part of a local group, getting behind sporting heroes, reveling in our history or flying our nation’s flag. In my opinion, the flag of St George should be flying above every single public building alongside the Union flag, yet has racist connotations due to a small number of evil activists. Let’s take back the flag and connect it with the many many great English achievements that we should be truly proud of.

Having visited Scotland on dozens of occasions (mainly through work commitments), you get a real sense of national pride. It is everywhere, from business names to shop window displays and from local and major events to what people actively say. I am a little jealous that it’s so natural and freely promoted without any PC analysis. It’s not done with a view to put another nation or group down, it’s just ingrained in the national psyche.

Another blogger I read is pro-British and will correct those who overuse “England” and “English” and technically he is correct. However, if you visit to Wales or Scotland it shows how national pride can be a positive and inclusive thing – irrespective of race and religion. Take the loony councils who want to ban the word “Christmas” stating that it may offend minority groups… it offends no-one and simply divides communities! Being fully inclusive allows everyone to enjoy English traditions. And for religious festivals, appreciating what they stand for means that over time, other faiths will be naturally included as part of English tradition.

Minority groups, whether based on racial, religious, sexuality or any other type, actively promote and celebrate their individuality and we must not be afraid to campaign for Englishness despite the local councils only looking to support minorities. I would love to keep our ways alive and welcome all kinds of people into this wealth of history and tradition, but is it possible to engineer such a thing?

Scum like the BNP have got it completely wrong in my opinion. Those that want to maintain traditions and observe Englishness don’t have to be English and anyone can make a contribution to society, so let me make it very clear: this rant is all about inclusion and celebration. It’s great to be British and it’s great to be English.

The English have an outstanding history and number of traditions that are being eroded by local councils, politically correct biased media, schools, racists and even embarrassment. And to end, consider the words of Ray Davies in the Kinks song “Village green preservation society”…

“Preserving the old ways from being abused,
Protecting the new ways for me and for you”

Stephen Chapman

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

To Infinity... and Beyond

Today I went to see a film in the new generation of 3D for the first time.

I've been keen to see what all the fuss is about so when the opportunity to try it presented itself I jumped at the chance! Even more so, it was a chance to re-watch a film I love but hadn't seen in a long time!

So, what did I think? Well, going to the cinema has not be a cheap option for a long time, and there is a premium to pay for 3D, especially when choosing the "superior" seats. So for two people, off peak, with a large drink each and large popcorn to share there was precious little change out of £30.

After some disappointingly 2D adverts, we were instructed to put on our glasses. Don't imagine these as flimsy bits of card with red and green pieces of cellophane. These were plastic framed with special lenses, the colour of sunglasses. Indeed, while it may not seem cost effective to the industry to collect, sanitise and re-use these, it seems a waste to send people home with them when they will have no further use! Perhaps a discount for re-used glasses should be introduced.

Anyway, back to the cinema and, glasses now position comfortably over my real glasses, the trailers began and, well, the 3D experience was quite amazing. While there were some impressive effects bringing action out of the screen into the auditorium, in the way people typically expect 3D to be, the effect was more impressive when depth was created behind the screen.

There were a number of films trailed, including
Avatar, A Christmas Carol and Up!. Of these, Up!, which opens on Friday, looks the most promising. It may be that animation lends itself to the technology better, or it may be that the others tried too hard, but Up! appears to have understood that, while the scope for effects is stunning, they shouldn't distract from the story-telling experience.

The main feature was Toy Story. I had almost forgotten quite how good it is, with its central themes of jealousy, loyalty and friendship, a great soundtrack, humour (many of the jokes with adult undertones) and some very touching moments. It's a well rounded film which, re-rendered in 3D was even more rounded.

What the 3D system wasn't so good at doing was dealing with fast action. In these scenes, the crispness of the picture and depth-perception were somewhat lost. Perhaps this was a feature of the rendering process, or a reflection of the fact that the film wasn't made for this technology. It will be interesting to see how such scenes fare in custom-made 3D films.

So, while this may be an expensive way to have a cinema experience (particularly for 80 minute long animations!), the added dimension is enjoyable. As the technology develops, problems with action shots may diminish and film-makers will also learn how to effectively exploit the added possibilities without going over the top with special effects.

I want to see Up! and it will be interesting to watch a live action film too. And, of course, there's a re-rendered version of Toy Story 2 on the way ahead of Toy Story 3 next year. While it may not be yet be a technology which can fly, it certainly manages to fall with style...


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A new leaf... and a new logo

...Well, after yesterday's v-log, and 5 on the 5th entry, I'm determined to get back in the saddle with regular blogs!

Today's topic is something of a departure for The Widow's World - namely, the new Doctor Who logo! Now, I'm not a natural fan of DW, but have been drawn into the fringes of it's Universe by some very good friends. I am, however, very interested in branding and logos.

Doctor Who is a brand that has been around for over 40 years. As such, it forms part of the backdrop of British life. Few other television programmes have this kind of heritage. News at Ten has had many different looks over the years, but while different logos and presenters may evoke memories of different television ages, a news programme is never going to induce an emotional response. Many people do respond emotionally to Coronation Street, but the look and feel of that has changed little over the decades, at least from a branding point of view.

The nearest equivalent to Doctor Who, in television terms, is probably Top of the Pops, although that is no longer broadcast - at least as far as being a regular programme is concerned. Few other shows have evolved and changed over the decades in the way these have. It is said you never forget your first Doctor, just as for many people, TOTP is bound up with memories of the rosta of Radio 1 DJs and kids telly stars who presented it when they were young.

Both shows have iconic theme tunes and logos which have changed with time - reflecting changing times, styles, Doctors or, of course, producers.

The logo and and the stars are bound up together in the identity of the show. Together they tell the story of its evolution, and provide a marker for each new generation. Those kids who have been fans of the recent series' with Ecclestone and Tennant will reminisce about the current logo in 30 years time, just as those adults who grew up with Tom Baker feel an attachment to the show's branding from that time.

So, what of the new logo? Well, there actually appears to be two! Firstly, the two words arranged one on top of each other, so that taken together they are in the form of a square. For the fans who remember some of the earlier logos, this is, in part, a return to the past. It ties in with a natural nostalgia and sense of ownership along with acknowledging the heritage and history of the Brand. It's a bold look which makes a break with the recent look which the show has had since its re-launch.

The second logo is the letters DW, arranged to resemble the Tardis. This shorthand version gives a new fresh feel to the show, particularly compared with the previous logo, and has obviously been designed to be very marketing and licensing friendly. This time next year, the shops will be full of merchandise bearing this logo!

Both will elicit a response - often strong and emotive - not just amongst the fans but amongst the general public. Just as the re-branding of BT with the pan logo or replacing the Bisto kids with a family can create countless column inches, so too does the arrival of a new look along with a new Doctor. So while I may not be the biggest fan, the show is so iconic, and it's place in the national psyche is so strong, that it is impossible to ignore.

Monday, 5 October 2009

5 on the 5th - October

This blog is my latest entry to my friend Stephen's monthly blog feature called "5 on the 5th".

This month it's a little pictorial summary of my day: Before and after a haircut, new (sensible, work) shoes freshly purchased, lunch - I'm lovin' it and my computer - all ready to blog!

Video Log!

A Video Log, as per a challenge set me by Stephen Chapman.