Friday, 23 April 2010

A poem for St George's Day

It's St George's Day today and, although not an indigenous Angle, I thought I'd celebrate by posting what is, arguably, the most English of songs: Jerusalem.

I'm not, it has to be said, a particular fan of the words or the sentiment but this, dear reader, is for you:

Jerusalem by William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.


Thursday, 22 April 2010


One of my favourite songs of the past year has been Alicia Keys' version of Empire State of Mind, the original of which she sang with Jay-Z. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find that, but I have found this - a live version of Fallin', another song I absolutely love! Enjoy.


Monday, 19 April 2010

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Vote for Change

Well, the election of 2010 is now shaping up to be a classic. The first of the leaders' debates, and Nick Clegg's performance, has shaken up the polls in the most extraordinary way.

At the start of the campaign, the Lib Dems would probably have counted themselves lucky to hang on to the 62 MPs they currently have - now the aim must surely be higher.

Of course, there are still 3 weeks to go, and a lot can happen in that time - particularly in the two remaining debates. Of course, polls are notoriously unreliable, although there have been a clutch over the weekend suggesting this has truly transformed into a 3-way election. Of course, the higher profile of Clegg and the party will lead to higher scrutiny and greater attacks.

But... There is a real sense of a sea change in attitudes. A perception that the third party isn't just about making up the numbers and playing fantasy politics. A realisation that the political landscape can be changed, and changed permanently.

It really is time to Vote for Change. Not, though, for the Tories, but for the Lib Dems and a new future for British politics.


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Jawdropping (2)

The McLaren M4-12C. It may not have the most catchy name ever, but it more than makes up for that in stunningness! Here it is being tested by Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button:

If that's whetted your appetite, you can configure yours here.


Wednesday, 14 April 2010

10 things... Election Special

Following on from previous 10 things... postings, this one focuses on policies I would like to see implemented. Some of them are party-political, some of them are personal, some short-term priorites, others long-term aspirations:
  1. A form of proportional representation introduced
  2. A local income tax to replace Council Tax
  3. An elected second chamber
  4. An English Parliament within a federal UK, or at least the introduction of rules forbidding MPs from voting on legislation which does not apply in their constituencies. e.g. an English Grand Committee
  5. A simplifed tax system including a raised personal allowance and capital gains tax at rates consistant with income tax
  6. The introduction of index-linking for Inheritance Tax thresholds and the Annual and Lifetime Allowances for pensions
  7. The UK meeting the UN target of 0.7% of GDP to be spent on overseas aid
  8. The introduction of an ongoing scrappage scheme aimed at increasing sales of "greener" vehicles
  9. Extensive reform of the European Union which places more emphasis on the Parliament and removes power from the commission
  10. The establishment of a British Republic
I'm sure there could have been many others and while most of these are close to my heart, it's not necessarily a "top 10"!


Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Iconic Images 4

In a break from images related to war and conflict, I've chosen the (in)famous advert for Wonderbra featuring Eva Herzigova. First published in 1994, the adverts became iconic of the 90s and regularly features in lists of the best advertising campaigns ever.


Monday, 12 April 2010


If you don't know which way to vote, this might just help you find out where sympathies are best placed. Based on a series of questions and the areas you personally prioritise, it rates how closely the policies of each of the parties match your own views.

If you do know what you want to vote for, this should provide confirmation!

Have a play, have a think and go out and vote!


Sunday, 11 April 2010

Tyger, Tyger

To coincide with Tiger Woods' return to competative golf at the Masters this weekend, and in order to create a somewhat tenuious link, the latest entry in my anthology is William Blake's The Tyger...

The Tyger by William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Great Buildings 2 - Scottish Parliament

Architecture is, by it's very nature, controversial. No other branch of Art and Design has as much impact on everyday life and the environment of towns and cities. Ally to that the fact the biggest projects are often publicly funded and the recipe for controversy is complete.

The Scottish Parliament building is one of the best examples of this. Popularly said to be 10 times over budget (although the "budget" figure used in this calculation was a rough estimate by civil servants for a debating chamber on land already owned by the state and even excluded VAT!), there is no doubt that the project was mis-managed right from the start.

The result, however, is a great building that sits comfortably in the landscape - see the pictures showing the grass strips that literally connect the building to the adjacent Royal Park. Seen from certain angles in the opposite direction, the building mirrors the natural forms of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags.

Comment is often made about having such a modern building at the bottom of Royal Mile and opposite Holyrood House. Such comments overlook the presence of other modern buildings nearby and the fact that the building replaced a Victorian brewery.

The greatest triumph of the building is, perhaps, the debating chamber with it's beams of Oak jointed with Steel and the sky-lit lobby linking the MSP offices from the public areas.

Good architecture costs and great architecture even more so. What Enric Miralles achieved (although he didn't live to see it completed) is a world class building that is at once a tourist attraction, an iconic symbol of devolution and the political heart of Scotland.

Much more can be found in this excellent entry in Wikipedia.


Saturday, 10 April 2010

A conversation with Stephen (1)

This entry is the result of a conversation I had via Facebook with my friend and fellow blogger, Stephen:

Stephen: You are well read, do you have a book in you?

Andrew: I don't know. I did start one once, but that was about as far as I got. I've always got a book by someone else on the go though! What about you?

S: I am sure I have a couple of books in me, but not fiction. I want to write a fun self help book one day. And I don't mean THAT kind of fun self help either.

A: Damn, that's just the kind of self-help book I would read! So, when it comes to self help, what are the key things you would suggest for a more fulfilled life?

S: This answer is definitely "do as I say, not as I do"... it's all about trying new (and perhaps unusual) things and pushing yourself - I try, but am very good at putting things off. I have a part-written London walking guide that may never be finished!

What's the thing on your to do list that's off-the-wall, but you want to try it anyway?

A: I'm not sure, to be honest. I was never really into to making lists like that. Once upon a time I'd have baulked at the idea of doing a bungee jump, on the basis that I'd only go as far as a parachute jump. Having done the latter, I'd may do the former now. I know you do keep lists, but do you have a masterplan for achieving it?

S: My plans are in my head and are all jumbled up. So, the answer is probably no, I don't have a plan! As parachuting is just mad, do you like a bit of danger and risk in your life?

A: Not really - the parachute jump was for charity and actually, truth be told, it was slightly disappointing. I had built it up in my head that it was going to be an amazing experience. Of course it was amazing but not on the scale of how I imagined it. Generally speaking, I'm more a pipe and slippers man with little appetite for danger. What's the most dangerous thing you've ever done?

S: I am risk averse in so many ways. Buying a house was risky to me and there is no way I'd jump from a plane! Pipe and slippers suggests more than low risk, does it mean that you are comfortable with life?

A: I suppose I am quite comfortable with life - which isn't to say there's not things I want to or would like to change.

Things have been quite busy so far this year – I have a new job and am moving house later this month. Am returning to city life, so hopefully will get more chances to socialise and enjoy various cultural activities!

You made a move in the opposite direction - how does non-city life suit you?

S: It's not quite "non-city", we live in an estate on the edge of a town but within easy reach of grass and fields... but also only 30 minutes from Kings Cross. I like living here very much.

Do you intend to go clubbing every weekend when you are in Bristol and hit the gay scene?

A: Well, I intend to go out more often and try and widen social circle but I'm a bit old for clubbing every weekend!! I've never been a huge fan of the "scene" either - so while it will be good to have it there, it's not going to be the be all and end all of my new world.

In any case we're going to end up entertaining various visiting friends and relatives on a regular basis! Do you do much entertaining?

S: It's on my kitchen list to do more entertaining. I want to do another poker night and lose money again (certainty).

Talking of "the scene", I find it a little odd that some gay guys live their lives around bars and clubs that MUST be gay - any thoughts?

A: Hmmm... I've never understood that - to me it's a kind of ghettoisation. It's similar to the concept of the "gay community" - I find the concept of a community based purely on sexuality scary!

That said, I do understand that some people feel more comfortable, safer and more at home with those with whom they feel they have something in common, so who am I to suggest they shouldn't! It's just not my scene (pun intended).

When was the last time you ventured out to the scene? For me it must be getting on for two years (if not more) since I was at a gay club night!

S: I cant remember when I went out "on the scene". It was years ago. It was never my thing... ever.

I'd feel more comfortable going to a B&B with a Conservative! :-)


Friday, 9 April 2010

NICs vs. VAT

So, the main theme of the first view days of electioneering has been the proposed rise in National Insurance Contributions in April 2010 for those earning over £20,000 p.a.

The Tories have, they say, identified the opportunity for additional cost and efficiency savings which they propose to use to remove this rise for those earning under £35,000, arguing that the current proposal would be bad for employment levels at a time of recovery.

This is an argument that may have some validity, although the same arguments were made against the introduction of a National Minimum Wage. The hope would surely be, however, that by the time the tax is introduced the country will have had a year of growth and companies and individuals will be better positioned to deal with the increased costs.

There is, however, some doubt as to whether the additional savings (on top of efficiencies already announced in Darling's budget) are actually achievable. The willingness to commit these (if they do exist) to tax cuts rather than reducing the deficit smacks of opportunism.

Hanging over the argument is the suspicion that VAT may have to be raised by an incoming government. On this issue, the Tories have form, having done so early in Thatcher's first government despite election denials of this possibility.

The argument will be that made that "the books are worse than expected" and that VAT is a discretionary tax. The first point is nothing more than lazy politics but I find the latter argument somewhat disingenuous. While a number of essential items are either zero-rated or taxed at a lower rate, people still have to live and that means spending money on VAT rated items.

If VAT truly was a discretionary tax, raising it would have an impact on spending which may adversely affect what will hopefully be continued recovery. Instead, it is seen as a reliable and easy way to increase government income for which everyone will pay.

So, it seems that we now have a choice - NIC increases or VAT rises. Indeed, it's not impossible that we'll end up with both in due course!


P.S. These entries are in orange for a reason - it's a not so subtle clue as to my voting intentions!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

What do you think of Wilkins coffee? (2)

Further to this recent post, here's another two collection of Jim Henson's Wilkins coffee adverts:


Click the Directory and Links buttons for more about me and the things I like.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

And they're off...

Well, the starting gun has been fired - there will be an election on the 6th May. At last, after months of phony electioneering, the parties can set about it in earnest. Indeed, they already have - the Tories were even out in force leafleting commuters at Bristol Temple Meads last night!

I love elections. Ever since I was a teenager, I've been interested in politics. Ever since I could vote, I've voted in every election and referendum I could. There is something about the voting process that I find almost magical. Presenting the polling card, getting ticked off, receiving the ballot paper, going into the booth, reading it through, marking my X next to my chosen candidate and then posting it in the box.

It's a solemn and responsible undertaking and I don't understand the majority of people who won't or don't vote. I respect people who don't vote for religious reasons and those who "actively abstain", e.g. deliberately spoil their ballot. It's apathy I don't get - it's just so defeatist and a form of self-fulfilling prophecy: my vote won't change anything, so I won't vote.

All that said, I'm not going to be going to a polling station this year. I'm not going to be entering the surreal world of canvassers and sealed boxes.

Don't get me wrong, though, I'm not throwing away my democratic franchise - it's just that as I will have just moved house, I'll be voting by post. I will reserve my judgment but don't believe sealing and posting an envelope will have quite the same resonance as going to the polling place.


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

What do you think of Wilkins coffee?

I recently came across the following video on You Tube. It's a series of adverts for Wilkins coffee made by Jim Henson in the early 60's, prior to The Muppet Show. Rather than the hard-sell, Henson employs violent slapstick, using muppets it seems this is acceptable (which it wouldn't be if it were human actors!)

Take a look...


Click the Directory and Links buttons above for more about me and the things I like!

Monday, 5 April 2010

5 on the 5th - April

Once again it's the 5th of the month and time for Stephen's 5 on the 5th. The premise is simple - take 5 pictures on the 5th of the month and post them online. This month the theme I've selected is Spring - these pictures were taken in Taunton an overcast and windy day with the sun glinting through occasionally.

It's an odd time, some trees still bare and sporting mistletoe, some starting to bud and some in blossom. Hyacinths and Daffodils were in bloom, although the Tulips hadn't quite made it out!

Hope you enjoyed these and are inspired to take part next time.


Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Pale View of Hills

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite novelists and I find reading one of his books is a bit like putting on a pair of old shoes that haven't been worn in a while - slightly strange at first while your feet adjust to the contours and feel of them. Once adjusted to his writing style though, he carries you along with tales which hint at hidden secrets kept tantalising just out of reach.

As with some of his other novels, much of the story told in flashback and explores the reliability of memory and the perspective that comes with age. If the past truly is a different country, though, it is doubly so here, set as it is in post-war Nagasaki.

The main protagonist is Etsuko who following the death of her daughter is reminded of a friendship she formed as a young woman in Japan before she moved to England. The book is largely set in a Japan in the throes of post war reconstruction and the Atom bomb is still a recent memory.

While some of the dialogue may seem overly-formal, stilted and lacking naturalism, I take this to be a reflection of the societal norms in Japan at that time. In places, it's almost as if it had been written in the Japanese and re-translated to English.

Throughout the book seems to be nothing more than a middle-aged woman remembering the events of a summer years below from which she is drawing parallels with the obvious future path of her own life. It is only in the last few pages that the extent of the unreliability of memory - and the ability of the mind to consciously or subconsciously construct it's own perspective of events - become, for want of a better word, clear.

This is book which leaves so many loose ends it's hard to know where to begin to sort them out. Paradoxically, it is this lack of clarity which makes the book all the more satisfying. It's as if by leaving the reader with lots of questions, Ishiguro neatly illustrates his point.


Friday, 2 April 2010

A Poem for Easter...

...though not a poem about Easter. This time I've chosen the A E Housman poem, Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now.

The casual reader could be forgiven for thinking that this poem lacks any real substance, but on reflection, this is not the case. It's about grasping the opportunities that life present and seeking to maximise the time available.

Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now by A. E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.


For more about me and my blog, click on the Directory link below the masthead.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Resolution Check 3

Well, three months down, it's time for another update on how my non-resolution resolutions are going. They are:
  • Continue to reassess, manage and improve my finances
  • Lose some weight/get fitter
  • Read more books than last year - say 25-30
  • Blog around every 2-3 days (c. 147 posts)
  • Re-start my entries to Three Positive Things and explore positive psychology further
  • Commence work on a piece of fiction of my own (other than this list!)
So here we go:

Finance-wise, things still going well, although my impending move will - in the short-term - be a costly exercise.

Having weighed myself at the start of the month, I do think I'm making some but limited progress towards the goal of getting in shape. Increased exercise when I move will help.

I am well on track towards my reading target for the year, with four books completed in March.

My postings still tend to be a bit sporadic in frequency, but I'm keeping up the quantity. I even managed to make a posting to Three Positive Things!

Progress on my editing of my friends novel has stalled - a project to return to in April.

It's been another positive month, in what promises to be a vintage year!