Sunday, 31 October 2010

Halloween Costumes...

...for dogs. Yes, it really is a mad, mad world (or maybe it's just USA, but I wouldn't want to assert that - madness happens everywhere!)

Catching up on Have I Got News For You this evening, they featured this picture of a dog that had been dressed up for Halloween:

I found it rather amusing but while looking for it online discovered that this is far from a one off. There are hoards of costumes available for your pooch. Here's a selection of the best (worst?)


Friday, 29 October 2010

From the Vaults: October 2009

Looking back on old posts is always interesting. There are some which you remember well and are particularly proud off, others that you've forgotten and enjoy reading again and, of course, some which make you wonder what you were thinking!

Following my recent "Mystery Blogs" entry, I've decided that I shall revisit some old posts on a monthly basis, but this time I'm going to at least do them the justice of giving them a chance to tempt you in...

This featured the work of Rachel Whiteread, including this piece:

Ahead of the next 5 on the 5th, here's a look what I did on the 5th October last year! Including purchasing new shoes...

and finally, a more serious post, this time on the appearance of Nick Griffen on Question Time. I've posted the first couple of paragraphs:

"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."
Hope you enjoy this selection from last year... you can find more of last October's posts here. Comments, as ever, are welcome below!


Thursday, 28 October 2010

Haircut Hints...

I finally booked a hairdressers appointment this week, so on Saturday I am going to get shorn... but what should I get done? Below are three current pictures, together with one from when I last had it done. 

Should I go for the same again or something different?!


My Twitter Papers

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Twitter is great.

One of the best things about it is using links from people I follow to discover new blogs, stories, pictures and videos I would not have found otherwise. As these have been recommended by people I’ve chosen to follow, they tend to be more focused than “Stumble Upon” recommendations are. They also tend to be new and current as opposed to those things that have been round the internet block once too often.

But the immediacy of Twitter is also its biggest drawback – what about the hundreds of tweets I miss when not online? Dozens of interesting links that just go a-begging – never to be seen by me, never to enrich my life, engage my mind or, occasionally, enrage me? is a neat tool which brings together links from the people you follow into an electronic paper format – allowing you to browse items you might otherwise have missed.
I’ve had a bit of an experiment and produced a couple of papers – have a browse and see what you think:
They'll be automatically updated daily too, so if you like them, check back! If you use Twitter, why not create your own and see what you have been missing.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: G

I can't believe how quickly this strand of posts is whizzing by... already onto episode seven and over a quarter of the way through!

Stephen's suggestions as to what he would choose were Genesis and the Gin Blossoms, neither of whom I have any albums by (although I used to have Genesis' 1991 album "We Can't Dance" on cassette). His guesses for my actual choice were Garbage and Goldfrapp and again, I have neither of these. I hope he was joking about Gary Glitter...

The artist I have gone for, after a bit of deliberation, is Al Green. In the end I thought it was about time I featured some Soul! 

First up is a track I first came across on Annie Lennox's cover album, "Medusa" - Take me to the River:

Next is another track I first came across a cover, this time as a single released by Texas between their second and third albums and a version appeared on their Greatest  Hits album.  (It was also included in the North American release of "Ricks Road").

You can comment on this selection and make your predictions for next week by clicking the link below!


P.S. I have no CD for "I" - any suggestions as to one I could purchase to add to my collection?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

iPod, iPhone, iPlayer... i

Today say the launch of "i" - The self-proclaimed "first quality daily paper to be launched in Britain for almost 25 years". Which makes it the first since the launch of its parent, The Independent
Aimed at the "time-poor", it costs just 20p for its 56 pages - of which only a handful are given over to adverts. The stated aim is to be "a newspaper with quality, convenience and desirability" and "colourful and accessible, concise and intelligent... your essential daily briefing." Or, to put it another way - a cross between The Metro and The Week.

Does it succeed? Well, almost.

For convenience, it certainly does... the News, Business and Sport sections all commence with "The Matrix" - 30 word summaries of the articles in the following pages. Those articles are, of themselves, short and concise. The paper is also well ordered, with News, Views, TV, IQ (the lifestyle pages), Business and Sport all indexed on each page.

On balance, I believe it also succeeds in being desirable - at 20p, it will appeal to those who find The Metro too lightweight but grudge paying £1 for a more substantial read that they'll not get more than a few pages through before the bus or train gets to their stop. The puzzle page and various teasers throughout will also suit those who want to get their brain in gear on the morning commute.

It is the quality where it struggles most. While being, undoubtedly, of a higher standard than The Metro (which is the most suitable comparison outside of London) it will not quite suit those whose preferred daily fix is the Today programme... Indeed, those people will already be a day ahead and several steps ahead. They may have been attracted by today's cover story "The housing crisis of Coalition Britain" but probably not by the story trailed above "Is Bert [of Bert and Ernie fame] gay?"*

But that's not to denigrate the ambition of the paper, which has a great deal to recommend it. In particular, it has a refreshingly international feel, with stories from round the globe, not just Britain and the States. It's certainly colourful, accessible and concise. It is also more intelligent than alternative offerings. On it's own terms, therefore, it comes close to succeeding. 

As a consumer I may have some quibbles - in addition to those already discussed, I would take issue with it's claim to have "Britain's best TV guide". These aside, though, "i" may well see me returning to the daily newspaper market and I wish it well.

*the answer, on page 10, was yes.


P.S. For those of you following the "A-Z of my CDs" strand, the next entry - G - is tomorrow. You can record your guesses at to who the featured artist(s) will be in the comments section of last week's post.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Here comes the Science Bit. Concentrate.

During a conversation at the weekend, and for reasons which I can't now remember, the subject of Tom Lehrer's song "The Elements" came up. For those of you who haven't come across it, this is a (slightly comic) song about all of the elements of the periodic table (or at least those known in 1959). If you have come across it, this will probably take you back to your schooldays:

In case you're wondering where you've heard the title of this post before, I point you in the direction of Jennifer Aniston. Because you're worth it.


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Iconic Images 11

Following on from Marilyn Monroe last time, I've decided to feature two more Screen Sirens. First up: Ursula Andress in Dr. No.

My second choice, rather obviously, is Halle Berry in Die Another Day with a homage to Andress:


Friday, 22 October 2010

100 Iconic Objects... in just 5 minutes

I blogged here about the Radio 4 series "A History of the World in a Hundred Objects". This landmark series told the history of humankind through a selection of objects housed in the British Museum. Today, the last episode was broadcast, although I still have a couple of weeks worth to catch up on.

Neil MacGregor manages to make each episode informative without being too heavy or too worthy. His tone is light and conversation with additional insights provided by a range of experts or public figures with a particular perspective to share.

Episodes can be found in the Apple iTunes Store or downloaded from the BBC MicroSite. In the meantime, here's a video of all 100 objects.


Thursday, 21 October 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: F

F is for Franz Ferdinand and their brand of intelligent Art School Pop/Rock.

First, here's "The Dark of the Matinee":

and here's a version of "Take Me Out" from Later... with Jools Holland:

Hope you enjoyed...


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Comprehensive Spending Review (what else?!)

It's been a while since I posted anything political but today would seem like the obvious day for it. Before I get on to the main topic of the day - the Comprehensive Spending Review - I'm going to say a couple of words about other recent topics:

Liberal Democrat President

Last month, Baroness Scott announced she was not going to stand for a second term as Liberal Democrat President. Since then, Susan Kramer and Tim Farron MP have received the required number of nominations to contest the election.

While the role of President is undefined, I believe that in the current circumstances the party needs someone who can present a distinctive Lib Dem perspective on issues through the media. It also needs someone to communicate grassroots views and feelings back to our leadership and ministers.

While I accept that the role is time consuming - which would favour a non-MP - I think the need for someone who has regular access to both the party leadership and the media leads us back to Westminster. Tim Farron has a fantastic political CV and, it seems, endless energy and enthusiasm. My ballot paper arrived today and my vote will be in the post tomorrow.

Tuition Fees

The government's announcement last week on Tuition Fees aroused much comment in the Lib Dem blogosphere... Most of it negative and eliciting multiple e-mails to party members from Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

It's a debate I followed with interest but at a distance. I sympathise with the MPs and candidates that signed the pledge against a rise in fees and know it leaves them in a awkward position. I think the leadership should recognise this and be more accommodating and less coercive.

That said, though, while it's not a measure I'm delirious about - just as I was opposed to the introduction of fees initially and before that, the introduction of Student Loans - I think it is a Rubicon that must be crossed. While I was drawn to the idea of a graduate tax, it has too long a lead-in time and creates unintended unfairnesses of its own.

In the absence of any other alternative, the focus should turn to making the existing system more progressive even while making unpalatable decisions. Universities should be free at the point of use, have a system of grants and benefits for those from lower income backgrounds and address genuine issues surrounding the "fear of debt". In this regard, the current proposals are an improvement on the existing system.

Comprehensive Spending Review

So, after months of speculation, today we had it - details of the coalition's approach to restoring order to the public finances over the term of this parliament.

Overall, I think it was a fair package, given the circumstances.

The proposals to cut the Welfare state are, of course, controversial but we have to cut our cloth to the economic times. As the largest area of spending, this was always going to bear the brunt of spending cuts. The most positive thing in the announcements in this area are that the government intends to move to a Universal Credit system. Wholesale reform is the is the only long-term solution. We need to create a system which encourages a sense of responsibility and clearly defines rights while supporting those who need it when (and while) they need it.

While the public sector job losses will be painful, some, at least, of these will be achieved through natural wastage over the course of the 4 years. While many public sector workers will not relish contributing more to their pension schemes, this is merely closing the gap with the private sector. Indeed, many in the private sector have experienced pay cuts and freezes, as well as job cuts, over the past few years.

The only measure which I feel strongly negative about is the proposal to increase rail ticket increases by RPI plus 3% (rather than RPI plus 1%) from 2012. I'm not entirely convinced this will not, in some ways, be counter-productive. However, I shall abide by my rule of not opposing anything without citing an alternative cut!

The press angle - that it will impact most on the poor - smacks of lazy journalism. Any measures affecting the consumers of public services will, inevitably affect the poor more than than those on modest to high incomes.But that, in itself, does not make it unfair.

There is also an idea that these cuts are being made for ideological reasons - and no doubt there are many in the Tory Party who will support them for that reason - but that is not a Liberal approach. But it's not true to suggest it's somehow illiberal to seek to reduce the size of the state either. The state should not be cut for the sake of cuts alone but equally it should not be any larger than it needs to be - or can be afforded.

Indeed, I've seen a suggestion - made by Faisal Islam from Channel 4 news - that the split between cuts and tax rises has slipped from the 80:20 originally envisaged by the Tories (and 78:22 in the June budget, if my memory serves) to 73:27. This is closer to Labour's original position of 70:30 and, I would imagine, more palatable to many Lib Dem members.

There were also a number of encouraging spending promises; particularly on schools funding, social care, rail maintenance, a freeze in science spending and maintaining free entry to Museums and Galleries. It was also extremely good to see the government standing firm on its commitment to reach and sustain the UN's target for international aid spending.

The BBC have a summary here and you can read the official document here and if you want a paper copy of the document, it'll cost you £45... Perhaps they should make purchase compulsory!


Those of you expecting "An A-Z of my CDs: F" today will just have to wait 'til tomorrow...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Stephen Fry on Wagner...

Readers with an aversion to The X Factor should look away now.


Good... For those of you still here, here's a fantastic You Tube video featuring Stephen Fry talking about his love of Wagner for a BBC 4 documentary intercut with footage of Wagner from this years X Factor:


Sunday, 17 October 2010

Proud of the BBC

The BBC comes in for a lot of stick from certain quarters - step forward, The Daily Mail - but is, in reality, a fantastic institution and one of which we should be collectively proud.

Of course, not everything the BBC does is to my taste or to my liking. There are, undoubtedly, areas it could reduce expenditure on and savings it could make - and not only because of current economic conditions. 

Even so, at c.£12 a month, though, it represents fantastic value for money, particularly in comparison with with its Cable and Satellite competitors. It also represents good value compared to other countries, which is illustrated on this page.

Mitch Benn, one of the stars of The Now Show on Radio 4 (and occasionally BBC1's Watchdog) has written this tribute:

You can see more of Mitch Benn's work on The Now Show microsite and on his You Tube channel and you can follow him on Twitter. 


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Nick Griffen in his own words... kind of.

Surfing You Tube earlier, as one does, I discovered this absolute gem of a video satirising the views of Nick Griffen and the BNP using footage from his stint on Question Time last year. You can find more videos by the creator, Cassette Boy, here and you can also follow him on Twitter.



Wednesday, 13 October 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: E

This week I've gone for a double-header from two of the finest pop duos that this country has ever produced.

First up, here's a version of The Eurythmics' I Saved the World Today from their 1999 album Peace, sung by Annie... 

(Sadly, all the Eurythmics videos on You Tube have embedding "disabled by request". Given that Annie actively encourages fans to upload her material, one can only assume this is the position of either their record label or Dave Stewart. If you do want to see the official video, click here).

Of course, I could have chosen something more obvious like There Must be an Angel or Here Comes the Rain but that would have been, well, obvious!

Next up it is the much more poppy Always by Erasure:

Who would you have chosen - and who would you choose for F? I think I'll be changing direction with my choice...


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Iconic Images 10

The latest in my Iconic Images series is the famous Marilyn Monroe scene from The Seven Year Itch:


Monday, 11 October 2010

From Stokes Croft to Springfield, Banksy's come a long way!

From Stokes Croft in Bristol to Los Angeles, Banksy has carved out an international reputation as the controversial as a graffiti and street artist who simultaneously commands huge sums for his work while critiquing capitalism. His true identity is a better kept secret than The Stig's was (even before he revealed himself as fellow Bristolian Ben Collins) and this only adds to the interest in his work. For last year's show at Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery, people queued for up to six hours to see the specially commissioned exhibition.

Now he's created a controversial version of The Simpsons opening credits.  As well as Banksy graffiti adorning the walls of Springfield and his trademark rats, he inserts comment on the use of Far Eastern labour to create the animation cells and the extensive merchandising that accompanies the show. It is this latter section which will cause a fuss - depicting poor working conditions for the Korean animators and kittens being shredded to provide stuffing for Bart Simpson dolls.

It's certainly not to everyone's tastes - including, one suspects, some of the Fox executives! 

As the You Tube clip I linked to got removed for copyright reasons, here's the BBC story complete with video (which may be UK only).


Saturday, 9 October 2010


Last night, I went to see Buried. I had seen a trailer for it on my previous cinema trip to see Inception (reviewed here) but all I knew about it was that it features a man trapped in a coffin with just a mobile phone and cigarette lighter... and 90 minutes to live.

While it is not a film about which you want to know too much prior to seeing, I feel I can furnish you with a little more information: Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a contractor for an American conglomerate involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. His convoy has been ambushed and when he wakes up he discovers he's in a box which he rapidly establishes is, indeed, buried.

What follows is, essentially, a one-man performance. Aside from a video text that he receives at one point, all the other actors exist merely as voices on the phone which he finds in the coffin. Having lost his "safe number" he tries desperately to make contact with the outside world and seek help.

Although the film "action" is almost entirely in the coffin, the director does make use of a number of camera shots and angles so as to prevent the film from becoming visually boring. It also makes good use of a blacked out screen when the lighter is extinguished. 

At the end of the day, I'm not sure if Buried is anything more than a thriller about a man trapped in a box. For all the that it raises questions about the role of the west in rebuilding Iraq, how we deal with hostage situations and about how big commercial entities act, these seem only to create a narrative rather than to provide comment and provoke thought.

So does it succeed as a thriller? Sadly, I think not... For me, the tension was not kept a sufficiently high level throughout. While the ending wasn't unsatisfactory in itself, the build up to and execution of this could have been handled better.

I will include a final word, however, in praise of the old-style opening credits which were both a surprise and a joy. I wouldn't recommend going to see a film just for the credits, and I'm not sure I'd recommend the rest of Buried. 

That, of course, is just my view - you may have seen it and disagree or you may wish to form your own views.


Thursday, 7 October 2010

And the winner is... A Lanson Boy

Unfortunately my experimental BlogQuiz flopped with the receipt of only one entry!

Alex, whose blog can be read here, gave me five correct answers with a particularly full answer for Question 1... In fact he spotted a flaw in the question and not only gave me the answer I was looking for but corrected my mistaken assumptions! For that, of course, I am eternally livid grateful!

Here are the questions again with Alex's answers:

As well as the Commonwealth Games, athletes from England and which other 3 countries can also complete in the Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships?  
  • Hmm. Not sure about Q1. Athletes from Scotland, Wales, NI, Jersey, Guernsey etc compete as GB in other competitions. Assuming you do not mean them, Malta and Cyprus send teams to the other competitions listed. Not sure what Gibraltar do - presume their athletes would compete in Olympics as GB?
My answer was, actually, Scotland, Wales and NI. I suppose there was a trick element in that, obviously, they do not compete for those countries at other competiions, but I hadn't thought about the other territories mentioned! I stand corrected.

 What is the "nickname" of the Commonwealth Games?
  • The Friendly Games.
Where will the next games, after Delhi, be held?
  • Glasgow 2014.

Why did the Ryder Cup not go ahead as planned in 2001?
  • Because of the Sept 11th attacks. It was moved to 2002 and has been held in even years since then.

When was the Ryder Cup first contested between Europe and America?
  • GB and Ireland became Europe in 1979.

So it's congratulations to Alex and back to the drawing board for me!


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

An A-Z of My CDs: D

There were a number of candidates for the latest entry in this strand but only ever 2 really serious contenders: Deacon Blue, whom I've featured before on this blog, and Del Amitri. Both are acts that I was a big fan of in the eighties and nineties.

In the end, I've opted to feature Del Amitri who were the first band (other than various Christian rock/praise bands) that I saw in concert. Indeed, the date of that is etched on my memory: December 21st 1992 at the legendary Glasgow Barrowlands.

This is a live version of "Driving with the Brakes on" from their third Album, Twisted, which contains some of my favourite tracks. This is very typical of the brand of melancholic ballad with which they are most associated:

So that's the entry for "D" but who do you think will get the honours for "E"?


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

5 on the 5th - October

It's the fifth of the month, which means it's time for Stephen's 5 on the 5th. This month the theme was "Round" - here's my contribution:

Car Fridge-Freezer Red Nose

Decorative water feature. N.B. Water channel is continuous from  middle to left of picture it's not a maze.

Basketball Hoop

Gates of Bristol General Hospital

at Bristol's Planetarium


Monday, 4 October 2010

Victory for Europe - and Monty.

We did it!

As I write this, I'm watching highlights of today's singles matches. Having only been able to follow play via occasional glimpses of the BBC's live text feed, I'm looking forward to seeing the winning putt (or missed putt, to be precise) and celebrating a tremendous achievement by Europe's golfers.

The Ryder Cup is one of the world's greatest sporting events. It is also unique in that the nations of Europe come together to compete with the might of the US.

Golf is an individual game and, many would argue, also in some regards elitist. While Matchplay is, perhaps, less easy to explain to the uninitiated than Strokeplay, the Ryder Cup manages to reach out to those who are normally indifferent.

This year's event was no different - although the elements forced play into a fourth day for the first time ever and therefore reduced the audience for the singles matches. For all the disruptions caused by the weather, though, the final day was played in glorious sunshine.

As an advert for golf, the top-class competition didn't disappoint, with the session coming down to the final match. In the end Graeme McDowell held his nerve to beat Hunter Mahan and Europe won by the smallest margin they could have won by: 14.5 to 13.5.  It was a truly thrilling contest. That said, it would have been good, from a partisan point of view, if it hadn't been such a nail-biter!

Of course, as well as the players on the fairways, a large part of success or failure is the strategy adopted by the Team Captain, who is responsible for picking the pairings and the order his players go out in. Like a chess player, he has to try and second-guess his opponent. This year Colin Montgomerie rose to the challenge and became a winning captain. His victory is being tagged "Monty's Major" and will no doubt go a long way to compensating for the lack of a Major win in his illustrious career.

So Europe has regained the Ryder Cup...and the show is over for another two years... in the meantime, let's savour the victory and look forward to retaining it in Chicago!


While you're here, why not have a go at my quiz? I'm keeping entries open until Thursday, so you've only got a couple of days!

C'Mon Europe

It's Monday morning. It's 9.05am. Weather permitting, the Ryder Cup singles should be teeing off. Can Europe turn their 9.5 to 6.5 lead into a victory? I do hope so!

I could go on, and may well do so later, but for now I've just one message:

C'Mon Europe!


Sunday, 3 October 2010

Good Tradition

For some reason on Friday morning, I ended up with Tanita Tikaram's Good Tradition running round my head. So, in the spirit of sharing here it is, in a video from 1988:

And you can visit her website here.


Friday, 1 October 2010

The oneexwidow BlogQuiz!

Welcome to an experimental posting - an attempt at an interactive quiz!

Here's how it's going to work: I've set my comments to require moderation, so people can answer in the comments section without seeing the previous responses. I'll accumulate answers over the weekend before publishing them and announcing a winner at the beginning of next week.

Now, I know that this is the internet and you can easily go and get the answers but I trust you, dear reader, not to cheat. I also know you'll be wondering what the prize will be - as if playing for pride alone is not enough!!

So here goes with my first quiz attempt. I've gone for 5 relatively simple questions and it's a topical sports quiz, themed round the imminent Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup...
  1.  As well as the Commonwealth Games, athletes from England and which other 3 countries can also complete in the Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships?
  2. What is the "nickname" of the Commonwealth Games?
  3. Where will the next games, after Delhi, be held?
  4. Why did the Ryder Cup not go ahead as planned in 2001?
  5. When was the Ryder Cup first contested between Europe and America?
Good Luck!