Thursday, 30 December 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: P

Well after a few days leave, it's time to start regular blogging again with the latest episode in my personal tour of my CDs. This week I was tempted to go with Placebo, Pulp or The Proclaimers but in reality I couldn't really not go with the Pet Shop Boys - making them (by my reckoning) the third eighties pop duo to feature.

So, here's West End Girls:

and here's What Have I Done To Deserve This? featuring Dusty Springfield:

Enjoy! An entry for Q next week...


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Virtual Christmas Card

Merry Christmas from snowy Scotland
All the very best,

Friday, 24 December 2010

It's Friday...

...but it's also Christmas Eve! If all goes well, this post will go live just as my flight from Bristol to Edinburgh takes off, bearing me homewards to the bosom of my family, via the shops of Edinburgh where I will be completing my Christmas shopping!

No doubt when I'm out and about I'll hear lots of Christmas songs and maybe the odd carol, like this one, sung by the peerless Annie Lennox:


Thursday, 23 December 2010

Where I Stand

Every since I was a teenager I've considered myself a Social/Liberal Democrat. 

Growing up in Scotland in the eighties, it is, perhaps, no surprise that I consider myself to be left of centre, although this has always been tempered by a belief in free markets (subject to some limited qualifications). My formative years were also probably responsible for the develpment of my liberal inclinations, albeit in a much more difficult way to quantify.

The Political Compass is a tool which seeks to assess where you stand not just in terms of crude left and right but also plots this in relation to Authoritarian/Libetarian principles. 

Here is where I stand:

You can take the test here. Feel free to report your results below!


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: O

Hands up who guessed that my entry for "O" would be Ocean Colour Scene, purveyors of Brit Pop since 1989:

So guesses for "P" next... as ever post them below! 


To get a link to the previous posts in this series, click on the page link to the right.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


Courtesy of Mrs Stephen Fry and her Twitter Advent Calander, here's an animated short film by Rodrigo Blaas, an animator with Pixar:

You can find out more about the film here. Enjoy!


Monday, 20 December 2010

The X Factor and The Christmas Number One

It's that time again and the Christmas Number One is back in the hands of an X-Factor winner and the music snobs are bleating about the manipulation of the charts by one Simon Cowell.

To which I say rubbish. Or, rather, not rubbish.

The charts are, year round, the result of the manipulation of the record buying public. All that happens at Christmas is that the act has had an audience of some 17 million to sell themselves too. Simon Cowell provides the shows competitors (and the guest artists) the biggest platform available in this country.

The X Factor is popular. The charts are a measure of a) popularity and b) promotional activity. The result is inevitable. So-called "real music" lacks the same level of popularity and promotion. In addition, those who complain loudest about the manipulation of the Christmas Number One are those least likely to buy anything as a single - so how disenfranchised have they really been?

And I have another problem with those who lament this monopolisation of the Christmas Number One - without Cowell, we've had, amongst others, the likes of The Spice Girls (for three years straight), Mr Blobby and Bob the Builder. Hardly what the music snobs would call "real music".

Anyhoo, this year Matt Cardle is number one with his cover of Biffy Clyro's Many of Horror (retitled as When we Collide). 

Biffy Clyro is one of those bands that have somehow passed me by despite being both guitar-led and Scottish. Matt's version has forced me to look into their oeuvre at last. Here's their own version of Many of Horror, which is at number 8 in this week's chart:


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Four Lions

Last night I finally watched Four Lions, Chris Morris' comedy about bungling and inept suicide bombers.

Morris made his name in edgy satire and has always been keen to "push the envelope". After establishing himself in the Radio 4 comedy "On The Hour" and the TV version "The Day Today", he created "Brass Eye" for Channel 4. This satirised the media's - and more generally, society's - approach to major issues such as drugs, science and crime. In the process it fooled celebrities and politicians into unwise public pronouncements creating controversy and howls of protest from those involved.

The zenith of the show was reached with a special in 2001 when, at the third time of asking, an episode tackling paedophilia was aired. Satirising the hysteria the media is capable of whipping up, it whipped up a storm of hysteria of it's own; rather proving the point it was making.

To my mind, Four Lions was less controversial - and less satirical. Although the subject matter isn't to everyone's cup of tea and is, of course, extremely sensitive the film is more of a situation comedy. A group of Muslims become radicalised and set about Jihad but entirely lack the resources, wherewithal and intelligence with which to mount an effective attack. After a disastrous trip to a training camp in Pakistan and the accidental martyrdom of one of the cell, the remaining four decide to target the London Marathon. In fancy dress. 

There are, still, some great satirical flourishes, one of my favourites being a police marksman turning to a colleague and saying "He must have been the target, I shot him" but this is more of an old school comedy and much less controversial than it at first sounds. If you've not seen it, I'd thoroughly recommend it. Here's a clip:

Read more about the film on Wikipedia and watch Mark Kermode's review here. Kermone's review also brings out the human element of the film.



Saturday, 18 December 2010


It's James Bond's first term (or rather, his first half) at Eton and things take a bit of getting used to. Odd rules and customs seem incompressible and some of the older pupils can be, well, bullies. Soon, however, it's the Easter holidays and a chance to rest at the home of his Uncle in the highlands of Scotland, near Loch Silverfin. Little does he know that things are about to take a dark twist and he will find himself drawn into an adventure he never expected...

This is the first of Charlie Higson's Young Bond novels, which are fully authorised by Ian Fleming Publications. In it he begins to construct a back story for Bond' and his early life as a child in post World War I Britain. 

Higson has cleverly taken the essence of Bond's character  - grit, courage and determination - and transposed it to into a younger, more naive vessel. He has also taken the best loved elements of the films - the manic villain, the chases, the Bond girl - and worked them into the plot, thus enhancing the authenticity of this as a part of the Bond canon. 

Despite being set between the wars, he has given the characters - and their dialogue - a current feel in keeping with his young audience. Although slightly odd, from the perspective of an older reader, this approach does work and the target audience (11-13 year old boys, I'd say) will take it for granted.

There are a couple of places where, for me, he does misses the mark, though. For instance, I thought naming the girl Wilder Lawless was fun but naming her horse Martini was a bit much. Such squabbles were minor though and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. Indeed, I liked it so much I have already added the next, Blood Fever, to my Amazon wish list.

I'd thoroughly recommend Silverfin to any fan of James Bond, young or old.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Theo and Deborah go Green for The Prince's Charities...

OK, so the end may be more than a bit twee but the beginning of this video is quite entertaining, as Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden embrace flower-power...



Thursday, 16 December 2010

Announcing Lib Dem Gains

Three posts in one day... can you tell I'm not at work!

Further to my post on the Pupil Premium, I have today established a new blog to act as a digest reporting on postive achievements of Liberal Democrats in government.

You can find it here - aside from a summary of what the blog's about, you'll find reporting on the government's announcement of the ending of Child Detention.


An A-Z of my CDs: N

Firstly, apologies for the tardiness of this week's post - yesterday was a long day and I didn't have the time or energy for posting in the evening. Besides, The Apprentice was on!!

The choice for N was a simple one - I only had one option! I've featured this artist previously but he is so good, I'm more than happy to feature him again. So here's Paolo Nutini with Simple Things - a song about being grounded in life.

The official videos have had embedding disabled, but you can find more here, starting with Coming Up Easy...

Next week, it "O" and, again, I only have one act to feature... but who? Guesses below!


Tarting up the widow's world

Regular readers will have noticed that I gave the blog a new swanky look a week or so ago, which I hope you like. 

Today, I've taken a further step in developing the blog by adding a number of pages - you can see the links at the top of the sidebar. Each of these contains a summary of my main blog strands and a link to all the posts relating to, say, poetry or architecture.

My hope is that each of these will make browsing my blog easier for regular and new visitors alike as well as letting those who are only interested in, say, my occasional political ramblings, find them easily.

I trust you like these new pages. As always, feedback is most welcome!


Tuesday, 14 December 2010

It's a small world...

You may have seen this amazing image which Facebook released today. looking rather like an airline route map, it shows the areas where Facebook is most used - and those where it isn't - along with connections of varying strengths between cities, countries and continents.

A larger version can be seen here and more details are on the creator's blogpost.


Monday, 13 December 2010

The Pupil Premium

On this post on Lord Bonker's blog he laments the lack of publicity given to the announcement of the Pupil Premium even amongst Lib Dem bloggers. This will give schools an additional £430 for each of the poorest pupils and can be spent at the discretion of the head teacher. In my area - Bristol South - this will amount to £1,490,810 p.a.

Some of the responses he received to this have been churlish, suggesting that as this was a Conservative policy too, the Liberal Democrats cannot claim it as a triumph. This led me to look back at the manifestos and see what was promised in each. First from the Tory's "Invitation to Join the Government of Britain":
"Education’s real power lies in its ability to transform life chances, but we can’t go on giving the poorest children the worst education. That is why we will introduce a pupil premium – extra funding for children from disadvantaged backgrounds."
and now from the Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010:
"Increase the funding of the most disadvantaged pupils, around one million children. We will  invest £2.5 billion in this ‘Pupil Premium’ to boost education opportunities for every child. This is additional money going into the schools budget, and headteachers will be free to spend it in the best interests of children.
The extra money could be used to cut class sizes, attract the best teachers, offer extra one-to-one tuition and provide for after-school and holiday support. This will allow an average primary school to cut classes to 20 and an average secondary school to introduce catch-up classes for 160 pupils."
It was, indeed, part of one of the four key commitments of the manifesto and the promise of a fair chance for every child. 
Finally, for completeness, from the Coalition's Programme for Government:
"We will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere."

Now, the policy as implemented is at a much lower level than the Lib Dems proposed, and isn't, yet, "a significant premium" although it will increase through the term of this parliament.

The point of reproducing the above, however, is to show the difference in approach. The Liberal Democrat policy was thought through, costed and a major part of the manifesto, whereas evidence of this is lacking in the Tory plans which didn't even quote a ball-park figure.

So, whether or not it was in both manifestos, Liberal Democrats should be trumpeting that the pupil premium as a major piece of Lib Dem policy being implemented by the coalition - and detailing how much further we could have gone.


Saturday, 11 December 2010

Adolf Hitler vs. Darth Vader: Who Would Win a Rap Battle?

I normally try to keep this blog suitable for a family audience but this latest post carries a "Parental Advisory" sticker.

Courtesy of @0megear on twitter, here's a rap battle between: Adolf Hitler and Darth Vader.

Click here for more from nicepeter, including the foul-mouth Santa Gangsta.


Friday, 10 December 2010

Simon's Cat in Santa Claws

The latest Simon's Cat episode is a festive affair... and a familiar scene for cat owners countrywide:



Thursday, 9 December 2010

Time to Move On

Aside from a brief mention here, I've not raised the issue of tuition fees in these pages although I have been following the arguments (on both sides) in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere. During the course of the debate I found my views hardening in favour of the Government's approach.

That said, the whole issue has been badly handled by the party leadership - indeed, I've found myself describing it as a debacle more than once. Throwing an opportunistic opposition and a militant NUS into the mix has served to rub salt into self-inflicted wounds.

The history of the unhappy saga has been rehearsed many times. Now the policy has been passed, though, it's time to move on and for the Lib Dems to take stock and work out where we go from here. In light of that, I'd like to make some observations:

1. Party policy remains the abolition of fees. This needs to be debated and, potentially, revised in light of the current situation. Not least of the considerations is whether this would be a credible policy to carry into the next election. I'm sure no candidates will be signing pledges next time, though...

2. The leadership need to learn lessons in communicating with both MPs and the broader membership. While dissent was always going to be inevitable, Clegg and Cable forged several rods for their own backs in addition to the policy decision.

3. The leadership and others need to communicate how the policy is more progressive than the current system, that proposed by the NUS and (parts of) Labour and what may have come from a Conservative government.

4. There is some suggestion that Lib Dems are becoming frustrated that the Tories are happy to let them take the flack. Clegg could follow this up with Cameron although ultimately we can't rely on others, even within the coalition.

5. President-elect Tim Farron has shown his independence of the leadership by voting against and will have solidified his reputation with the grassroots in the process. He should, I believe, have a key role in liaising between party and leadership in handling any future contentious policy. His public presentation skills should also be utilised.

6. There is an AV referendum and Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and local elections next May. People from both sides of the argument will have to put their differences aside and come together and fight these. Magnanimity on both sides will be essential but it can be done.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

An A-Z of my CDs: M - A second bite at the cherry

Those of you who know me, and regular followers, may have been surprised at my choice of artist for "M" earlier, expecting a certain Pop Princess to feature rather than Pete Murray. Well, I can't really not feature Ms Minogue, so first here's "Can't Get Blue Monday Out of My Head":


and here's Slow:


and finally, a link to the video for Spinning Around, and those Hot Pants!



An A-Z of my CDs: M

The star of this week's blog was going to be Australian. Unfortunately the record company the artist is signed to has requested You Tube disable embedding. So instead of a video, here's a link:

What, you mean that's not what you were expecting? Well, the album was a gift from my sister on her return from being down under and one of my favourites.


Monday, 6 December 2010

From the Vaults: November 2009

This is the second in a series of retrospective posts looking back at previous posts, this time it's some from last November.

My first choice is a piece from Room 3 of my virtual gallery, which featured etchings by Erik Desmazieres:

The next choice is a link to a poem by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Warming Her Pearls is a fantastic narrative poem of unrequited - and forbidden - love.

My final choice is a post about positive thinking - Three Positive Things - which was inspired by a programme I heard on the radio just when I was feeling particularly down. For a while it inspired by other blog. More recently, things have been on a much surer footing but I do still want to explore positive thinking techniques more.


Sunday, 5 December 2010

5 on the 5th - December

It's time for Stephen's 5 on the 5th and this month's theme is "Faces". I've taken this completely literally and present 5 pictures of me, sporting various hairstyles over the years.

Unfortunately, due to the technical difficulties of taking pictures of passports/driving licences, only three of the photos (or photos of photos) were actually taken today!

Summer 1994
Spring 2002

March 2004

February 2010
Today, working the Hungover Hair look...


Saturday, 4 December 2010

Counting Myself In to Act Aware

Last week was World AIDS day and inspired by this post by Stephen Glenn and this statement by Lib Dem MP and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone (also reported here),  I have decided that I really should Act Aware.

Regular readers will know that my personal life does not often get a mention here, but I feel that this is issue is so important I'm going to reach beyond my comfort zone. While I've been celebate (partially through choice, partially through circumstance) for some time*, I still think it makes sense to be certain of my HIV status and follow the Count Me In pledges:
  • I will know my HIV status
  • I will not assume I know someone else's HIV status
  • I will take personal responsibility for using condoms
  • I will value myself and my health
  • I will stay informed about HIV and how it is spread
I'm not sure when I'll fulfil the forst of these pledges as the local clinic does not seem to have the most flexible opening hours but if I can't do so in the next month, I shall by the end of January.


* I know this is somewhat vague but it's the most specific I'm going to be!

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Gylne Turner Show

Promotional videos for the Gylne Turner show on Norwegian TV. Presented without comment:



PS Hat Tip to Emma Kennedy for tweeting these links.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

A Phenomenal Christmas

Although I like to maintain a "bah-humbug" persona in the extended run-up to Christmas, there are things I like about this time of year. The availability of Mince Pies and other assorted Christmas fare, for instance. And while I think annoyance at Tesco wishing me a Merry Christmas since the first of November is justified, now it's December I know I need to be a bit more accommodating.

Which is why I'm posting this:

Have a Phenomenal Christmas. When it arrives!


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Iconic Images 12 - World AIDS Day

This post in the Iconic Images series pics up on the UK's response to the spread of age in the late eighties through Public Health broadcasts, leaflets and billboard posters:

The gravestone image was the basis of the television campaign:

Finally, a question which is still relevant today:


An A-Z of my CDs: L

Although there were a number of candidates, there could only be one choice: Annie Lennox. Well done to Stephen for his correct guess.

As it's World AIDS day today, and as Annie is almost as known now for her campaigning work as for her music, I have not featured music videos this week Instead, we have two videos  - this  one in connection with a Rankin exhibition in London's City Hall raising awareness of AIDS in London:

AIDS is, of course, one of the causes Annie feels strongly about. Another is Africa; this video was produced for Comic Relief and features a project for woman living with AIDS in Uganda:

You can find more on World AIDS Day here.