Monday, 31 December 2012

2012: A Blogging Top 10 - Part 3

Here is the third - and final - part of my list of the most popular posts on my blog this year, including the all-important Number 1*. As previously noted, this list only reflects those posts written and published over the course of 2012 - as it happens, the top 3 (even allowing for the perennial favourites, were all from 2012. Stats, again, courtesy of Google Analytics.

At Number 3, pop-pickers, is this piece on Stella McCartney's kit designs for our Olympics and Paralympians. I ended by saying I wanted to see many, many athletes wrapped in the flag come the actual games - and I wasn't disappointed!

My review of Tim Burton's Dark Shadows proved very popular - particularly, I seem to remember, with readers in Turkey!

Finally - big fanfare, please - at Number 1: my (then) newly discovered love of Dexter. Since I wrote this, I've seen all 6 series currently available in the UK - it truly is one of the best things on telly. I will be much disappointed when it comes to an end at the end of series 8.


*By which I mean not at all important, obviously!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sunday Sounds 61 - The Year-end Edition, featuring Annie Lennox

So there's only a day and a bit of 2012 left, and it's time for the last Sunday Sound of the year... but what to choose?

Well, one of my presents this year was (finally) Annie Lennox's 2010 album, A Christmas Cornucopia. It's a sublime album of carols, which ends with today's track: Universal Child, the album version of which features the African Children's Choir who have more recently sang on Gary Barlow and Lord Lloyd-Webber's Diamond Jubilee song, Sing. You can hear that song on the link above, and find out more about the choir itself by clicking "About Us" button.

Universal Child is a hymn to the human spirit - and an exhortation to personal action to help the children of a continent to have a brighter tomorrow and a real stake in a world where we take peace, rights, freedoms and  possessions for granted.

This version is taken from Red Nose Day coverage in 2011 and that point in the night when Annie Lennox is introduced and you know that you are going to be treated to something special. Even without the appeal video footage in the background, this performance is spell-binding and tear-jerking.


2012: A Blogging Top 10 - Part 2

Here is the second part of my list of the most popular posts on my blog this year. As I noted yesterday, it reflects only those written and published over the course of 2012. Stats courtesy of Google Analytics.

At Number 6, some thoughts on The Voice UK. I'm not sure it lived up to it's initial promise - but the format still had a lot to recommend it.

Number 5 was another musical post, this time a review of a concert by del Amitri frontman, Justin Currie, at The Fleece in Bristol. It was a brilliant evening with a man completely at home on the stage, happy to banter with the audience and take requests. *Mental note to self: go to more concerts in 2013.*

Not quite making it to page (part) 3 of this run-down was piece in support of the campaign to persuade Dominic Mohan to end Page 3. This isn't a campaign about censorship - merely sense. Anyway, here is the post at Number 4 in the run-down - it's Not Safe For Work.


Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012: A Blogging Top 10 - Part 1

Here is a list of the most popular posts published on my blog this year. It excludes some of the perennially popular older posts and reflects only those written over the course of 2012. Stats courtesy of Google Analytics. Today, Numbers 10 to 7...

At Number 10, This review of JRR Tolkien's book, The Hobbit. I had read it as part of my 4-yearly programme of re-reading Tolkien's great works, although I have only just started with The Lord of the Rings, so my usual programme is somewhat out of synch.

Another book review makes it to Number 9, this time it's Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman, which I found interesting in concept but ultimately disappointing.

Next up, I suspect that including the words "gratuitous male nudity" in the blog-title of Sunday Sounds 48 may have helped its popularity...

Finally for this instalment of my year's top 10, at number 7, my review of The Amazing Spiderman: sadly it wasn't all that amazing....


Saturday Six 19

Its the last Saturday - and therefore the last Saturday Six - of the year... Fortunately, though, this is a Christmas free zone; and is also relatively free of New Year naval gazing!

First, Neil Monnery reports on the announcement of Suzi Perry as the new anchor for the BBC's F1 coverage, and of the Grand Prix being covered by the beeb next year. Personally (even as a Sky viewer), I regret that the BBC will not be covering either the season opener in Australia or the Monaco races.

Next up, two pieces from Lib Dem Voice. Giles Goodall reflects on what a Norwegian-style relationship with the EU could really mean for Britain and Jo Shaw provides an update n Lib Dem campaign against Secret Courts: simply, the Leadership needs to listen to the party.

Liberal England reports on one Shropshire man's efforts to recruit members and supporters for the Liberal Democrats. 

The under-representation of woman on Have I Got News for You is reported on by Nick Barlow, who has been updating his spreadsheet at the end of the 44th Series of the programme.

Finally, the Liberator Magazine Blog goes off-message with a message about being on-message. Personally, I'm not against efforts to have us all singing (broadly) off one page - I do feel, though, that the message has to be coherently founded in Liberalism. I suspect that's a blogpost for another day, however...


Friday, 28 December 2012

The Auld Grey Toon - Part 2

Yesterday I posted some photos of Dunfermline, with the promise of some of the Monastery and Palace Ruins to come today. The Benedictine Monastery was founded by Queen (also Saint) Margaret, around 1070 and the current ruins, of the Refractory, date to the early 14th Century. Whilst David I moved his court to Edinburgh, the Palace remained significant until the 1603 Union of the Crowns when James VI moved to London; not before the last monarch to have been born in Scotland, Charles I, had been born in the town, though.


Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Auld Grey Toon - Part 1

Yesterday I took several pictures around Dunfermline - including several of the Monastery and Palace ruins, which I shall post tomorrow. There were also a number of others which will, in time, feature on the pages of my Tumblr blog, the widow's window.

Here, though are some of notable buildings and sights in the town:

Andrew Carnegie's birthplace

Doors to the Abbey

City Chambers

Statue of Andrew Carnegie

Pittencrieff House, Glasshouses and the Abbey


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Message to Little, Brown - A Postscript

Earlier this year, I wrote this post, lamenting the covers which Little, Brown had given to recent additions to the Iain Banks' literary canon. Today, when I was out, I noted that the Abacus paperback of Stonemouth, the hardback cover of which inspired that last post, has been published. Whilst not returning to the format of the earlier Banks' covers, it is a distinct improvement on the cover given to the hardback publication:

You can read my review of the book here.


NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 64

This weeks selection is from Sandi Thom whose career flickered briefly in mid- to late- 2000's but never really took off in the way that her first hit (which reached number 1 for a week in 2006) promised. Here is that hit, I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair):


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Christmas. A time for "Peace and Goodwill" to all men. A time for reconciliation. A time for understanding. A time of tidings of great joy, for all the people.

Well, so you may think; but the highest ranked Catholic clergyman in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols (pictured above) used his Christmas Homily at last night's Midnight Mass to launch another broadside at the Government and at Equal Marriage. Furthermore, he attacked those who wish to enter into a marriage which isn't "creative of new human life."

I've generally kept out of the religious aspects of this debate: my own experience of faith is the subject of a separate (long-intended but still unwritten) blog-post. I've no problems with churches teaching that Homosexual acts are wrong - if that's what they (as I) believe scripture teaches*. I've no problem with them not wanting to perform marriages for gay, lesbian or bi couples, if that's what they believe is right - or is God's will. But I do have a problem with them - effectively - seeking a veto over the civil definition of marriage.

Marriage is a social and civil institution - and one in which churches have a big part. Indeed, the churches are part of the reason that marriage has been - and remains, despite falls in numbers conducted over the years - such a popular state. There is an irony then, that they wish to deny access to an institution which they believe is central to society to a chunk of society who want to also share in it. That an institution they believe is essential to a strong society should be exclusive to Heterosexuals only.

But this is the crux: Marriage is a civil institution as well as a religious state. Religious groups (and primarily the churches) come at marriage from a theological viewpoint. They seem unwilling (or incapable) of separating the civil from the religious aspect of marriage. As a result, their arguments against are either irrelevant to the issue of Civil Marriage or spurious.

I believe, therefore, that the Archbishop - and other prominent church figures - would do well to remember the words of Christ when commenting on the issue of Civil Marriage:

"Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." 
- Mark 12 v17

But so much of the debate on Civil Marriage - what about the terms of the debate within the church. What understanding is there of those who juggle their faith and their sexuality?

There are many people of faith, that clearly wish for any commitment of marriage to be performed before their God(s) and not just the state, family and friends. For those in churches whose teachings prohibit this, then they must continue to argue their views inside the framework of those institutions. There are, of course, religious organisations that do, which may provide an alternate home for those who feel marginalised in their current spiritual homes.

As an outsider, it strikes me that the leaders of the major churches would do well to acknowledge that there are those in society - and in their churches - whose lives have taken a different direction form what they consider the "ideal". And that what they expect from the church - especially if they are a believer - is sensitivity, understanding and respect.**

The Archbishop has used a chance to do this in such a way as to rub yet more salt in the wounds of those already struggling with the teaching of the Catholic Church - and to insult those of us outwith it. In speaking of the true meaning of Christmas, he says:
"...Surely it means that all true human loving is now seen to be rooted in, and expressive of, the love which is God, which is seen in this stooping low by God to show us the fullness of that divine love. Surely it means that the love of husband and wife, which is creative of new human life, is a marvellously personal sharing in the creative love of God who brings into being the eternal soul that comes to every human being with the gift of human life." (emphasis mine)
And he goes on to say:
"Sometimes sexual expression can be without the public bond of the faithfulness of marriage and its ordering to new life. Even governments mistakenly promote such patterns of sexual intimacy as objectively to be approved and even encouraged among the young." (emphasis mine)
If this issue had any place in the Christmas message - and one has to question how it does - it should be to seek to reach out and heal some of the hurt that the debate has caused. To acknowledge that strong words do have the power to cause real pain and seek to provide some salve for the wounds. Instead, the Archbishop has sought to carry on the fight against a change in Civil Law which will not affect the Catholic Church this side - one suspects - of Hell freezing over. And, additionally, to steal some Christmas cheer from many within the church, and outside.


*I'm not in favour of them teaching this in Schools, but then I'm also not in favour of state-funded religious schools.

**Such sensitivity and respect should be two-ways: something that is often forgotten on my side of the debate.

Auld Reekie Photos - Part 2

Here are another selection of photos from my trip to Edinburgh yesterday:

The Dome of Old College - and the Bass Rock just visible behind

(For those who know Edinburgh: the Cowgate fire site is finally progressing)


Monday, 24 December 2012

Auld Reekie Photos - Part 1

I went across to Edinburgh today, and managed to get a few pictures, of which these are some:


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Sunday Sounds 60

I came across this on Twitter earlier (h/t to Marie Jenkins) and decided that, although dated, it was a lovely festive song to share with you all...


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Saturday Six 18

Ah, Christmas, so much free time, so little free time... Changing routines, travelling, shopping, multiple demands on your time, sundry obligations. I shall try to keep blogging meantime, though!

First up for the regular Saturday Six, The Week had an article arguing that Obama is right not jump straight into a argument on Gun Control in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

The week before last I was in the audience for Question Time - were the "Extra Guest" commenting on Twitter as the programme was broadcast. These are their findings.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love Tolkien and knows that I love the Peter Jackson films. I do still have a sense of humour about them too, though - and enjoyed this on The Onion.

Peter Oborne in The Telegraph (I'm nothing if not eclectic on these pages) argues that David Cameron's Conservative Backbenchers should be more amenable to the coalition.

David Davies MP: "What? Oh no. Have I said something wrong again? Have I said something really bad? What did I say?" or The curious case of the MP who seems to lack any awareness of how interviews work.

And finally, Caron has a rant... about the "Full Scottish" that John Lewis served me this morning!


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A Christmas Round Robin

Dear ______________

I can hardly believe it's been a year since we did the last Christmas Circular, but here we are again. And if 2011 was a year to forget, then 2012 was completely different. It was, indeed, a Diamond Year - and not just for Her Majesty (of which more anon...)

Anyway, the year started with Joan resolving that she would learn ballroom dancing: I think she wants to be the next Ann Widdecombe! (I'm reading this out to her as I type - she's just told me to take that out and say she wants to be Flavia Cacace...)

Logan turned five in February and Joan insisted on inviting what seemed like half the neighbourhood round. There were screaming kids left, right and centre - brats, the lot of them. Mind you, most of them had more sensible names that Logan - God only knows what possessed us to call him that; it seemed quite trendy at the time. I suppose.

Speaking about God, Logan played Jesus in the School's Easter play although Joan wasn't keen. She kept saying she thought it was a bit blasphemous and worried it wasn't really suitable for a five year old. I kept telling her that a) the Church of England School is the best around for miles and b) it wasn't The Last Temptation of Christ they were doing. And anyway, if she wanted him to believe in the Christmas story, is was probably best he knew how it all ended up.

In May, Joan went to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace - and spoke about nothing else for weeks before and after! It's a whole other world to me, but she enjoyed herself: all dressed up to the nines, queueing for hours before gates opening at three, then lining up in the hope that she might be "presented" to the Queen or Prince Philip when they arrived at four. In the end, she never met either of them - and couldn't tell her story about how she is distantly related to Philip on the Greek side of her family.

Of course, in June, there was the Diamond Jubilee and Joan organised a street party. I'll give this: she's great at organising. She borrowed some trestle tables from the community centre and had them stretched out down the road, and got me roped in to putting up bunting. If you lay aside the reason, it was a great day, but I had to keep a lid on my Republican views! Like I said, it's been a bit of a diamond year, at least for Joan!

We had two family holidays this year: a week in Cornwall and 10 days at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. We thought Logan would love the "Magic Kingdom" but as it turns out he's probably still a bit too young. He did love the Animal Kingdom and the Waterparks, though. I managed to grin and bear it (too many screaming (American) brats: but at least I got a bit of surfing in when we went to Cornwall.

I changed jobs in September; I'm still in accountancy but am now working in house for an import/export company. I'd tell you what they imported and exported but I'd have to kill you. Ha ha, not really, just my little joke.

Joan's still working as a Health Visitor (or Community Nurse, or some such...) - which is why she was nominated for the Garden Party. She clearly uses up all her empathy and understanding on her clients which is why she's so "crabbit" with me. (Sorry, had to write that last bit in code so she wouldn't slap me and make me change - I suggest you use Google to find out what it means!)

I should wrap up now, but one final piece of news: by the time you read this, Joan will have passed her first trimester - Logan's going to have a little brother or sister!

Right - must get this finished and printed off so we can get them addressed and signed before Joan goes out to her dancing. I know I can portray her as grumpy at times but really, she's not as bad as all that.

I think the dancing's been good for her; it gets her out the house, she's made new friends and seems to have really bonded with her dance partner, Will. She calls him her "sham husband" but I think he must be gay. I'm sure I've nothing to worry about!

All the best for Christmas and the New Year, 


The Browley's : Andrew, Joan, Logan and _________?

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 63

Shock, horror, this week's entry in the NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! is on time...

The entry was going to be by Corinne Bailey Rae until I discovered, just before scheduling it, that I had previously featured the track here.

Instead, therefore, here are The Ordinary Boys with Boys Will Be Boys:


Monday, 17 December 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 62

Finally, up to date again! Fingers crossed I can keep normal service up each Wednesday from now until the end of the series in around 20 weeks!

Here are The Kaiser Chiefs with I Predict A Riot, their second release but first hit (initially only at No. 22 but  a subsequent reissue got to No.9 - and probably still their most well known song.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sunday Sounds 59 - The Depeche Mode Edition

I've decided on a Depeche Mode double bill this week:

First up, the ideal track for a Sunday: Personal Jesus.

And next, Policy of Truth - one of my favourite tracks of all time even if it does tend to lurk outside of my memory when people ask what my favourite songs are!



Saturday, 15 December 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 61

The mid-2000's were, it seems a bit of a purple patch in terms of correlation between my musical tastes and that of the tracks in the Hit Parade (as it used to be called!). This is consistent with the general rule that I prefer the music of the even decades: 60's, 80's, 00's... Indeed, the chosen track has elements from two of those decades. Here are the Audio Bullys with Shot You Down featuring Nancy Sinatra:



Saturday Six 17

Another week, another six blogposts for your delectation, education and enjoyment...

First up this week, Graeme Cowie at Predictable Paradox compares Scotland's system of Maintenance Loans with the new Tuition Fee and Maintenance Loan regime in England and Wales with some interesting conclusions.

Next - and I wouldn't normally read or link to Guido Fawkes - here are some graphs showing how the average Income Tax rates have altered in different income bands between 2009/10 and 2011/12. (He links to a table of HMRC data to support his argument - the original data from which that has been cribbed can be found here).

This made big news but I make no apology for linking to the original story: Nick Clegg's interview in The Sun in which he supported the Home Affairs Select Committee in calling for a Royal Commission into Drugs - and for reform of our drug laws:"We've got to level with the British People." #IAgreeWithNick

It's been a good few weeks for Lib Dems at Westminster: from April the Personal Allowance will be just a shade short of £10,000, Clegg has found his voice on Leveson and Drugs, Legislation is now to be brought forward on Equal Marriage and the Draft Data Communications Bill (DDBC) has been ditched. 

The DDBC has had a fraught history; the LibDem leadership had initially accepted the proposals until an outcry from the activists led to a different approach being adopted: the bill was published in draft form to be examined in detail by a cross-party committee of MPs and Lords. From Clegg's point of view, the key member was Julian Huppert MP, one of the view MPs with both a technical knowledge and background, a fundamentally Liberal mind and huge goodwill amongst the active membership. If he had said no to the bill, Clegg would have to too.

As it happens, the report tearing apart Theresa May's bill was agreed unanimously by the committee (5 Tories, 4 Labour, 2 Lib Dems and a Cross-bencher), so Clegg had even more ammunition than the "Huppert Veto" and the bill, in its current form, is dead! So much for pre-amble, here's a piece in The Guardian by John Kampfner. Every Government is prone to persuasion by the Security Services for the need for more powers: Liberals must always stand guard against these being disproportionate to any threat.

Housing is a big issue* which, arguably, we have never got right from the point at which Thatcher introduced the Right to Buy scheme but didn't make provision for the replenishment of the Social Housing stock. This infographic from Shelter highlights some of the many issues involved.

And finally, this from Stephen Tall on another Local Council by-election success; turns out that the Lib Dems really are still "Winning Here", where "Here" is Harrogate (x3), Littlehampton, Brentwood, Sutton, Vale of White Horse, Shepway, Folkestone, Havant, Watford, Eden, North Tyneside, Hebden Royd, Ryedale, Horsforth, Todmorden...


*If you want to read more by an expert in the area, I'd point you in the direction of Alex's Archives...

Friday, 14 December 2012

Ticket No. 30 - My Question Time Experience - Part 2

Well, neither of my questions were selected in the end. Which was, of course, true for the vast majority of those present.

I arrived at the venue for 6 - as instructed - and we went through security (bag searches and frisked with hand-held metal detectors) before being checked off and given a card on which to submit the second question. Last night's venue was Bristol's City Academy - established under the Tony Blair's Academy programme - the  set was in the school theatre and the holding area was the school canteen.

On arrival, the BBC news was playing on a couple of large screens - but this was changed to ITV and then Channel 4 news as time progressed. I think they may have wanted us to be as up to date as possible prior to the programme!

After a while, David Dimbleby took to the microphone to give us a pep talk on the programme, some do's and don'ts and to encourage us to be as interactive as possible. After a bit more waiting, we went through to the theatre and took our seats.

The next stage involved one of the production team hosting a mock version of the show with some members of the audience. This was to ensure sound levels, camera angles, and microphone booms were all working and in the right positions. It also helped relax the audience and get them into the swing of things. Midway through this, the names of those whose questions were submitted were announced, their seating positions identified so that the cameras and mics could get to them seamlessly in the programme.

Next, it was time to move on to the programme itself: another pep talk from David Dimbleby (and a check if there were any men with long hair, to save him calling a lady and making a huge faux pas!) and then it was time for the programme.

The panel* were introduced, the warm up question was taken (another chance to test mic levels) and for the panel to exchange some banter with each other and the host. Then it was time for the series business: roll credits!

A couple of things surprised me about the programme: first, the questioners were not positioned, or re-positioned specifically for the cameras. Everyone who asked questions asked them from the seat they sat in when they entered the auditorium.

Secondly, the programme was filmed in one complete take. Whilst I had never thought that the panelist were cut, I always assumed there was some cutting involved in the posing of the questions. In his pep talk, David Dimbleby did suggest that, should a questioner completely fluff a question there may be some editing, but other than that, what you see is what was recorded.

And so at around 9.40 the evening was over and the recording was in the bag ready for broadcast less than an hour later. An entertaining evening and enjoyable, even if neither of my questions was asked!

Oh, and the second of my submitted questions?:
"Is the reported dropping of the Draft Data Communications Bill a victory for civil liberties and Parliament or for 'Criminals, Terrorists and Paedophiles'?"
I'll leave that one for you to answer. You can read the first question I submitted in this post.


*Will Self, Lord Karan Bilimoria (a late replacement for James Harding who had just resigned as editor of The Times), Justine Greening MP, Stella Creasy MP and Peter Hitchins. And no Lib Dem, again...

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 60

NOW! 60 features a (relative) embarrassment of riches to select from but ultimately it had to be The Killers with Somebody Told Me:


Thursday, 13 December 2012

Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

In his foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien begins "This tale grew in the telling..." So it has been with the film of The Hobbit - originally conceived as two films, one of the The Hobbit and a second to bridge the gap to the Lord of the Rings - it morphed into two films telling the story in Tolkien's book but drawing on his additional material before being further divided to create a new trilogy.

Throughout this process, and particularly from when Peter Jackson took the helm after the departure of Guillermo del Toro, I have awaited the films with great anticipation, a little trepidation and with immense trust the Jackson could repeat what he had achieved with Lord of the Rings.

The main problem that Jackson had was that the tone of The Hobbit is completely different to that of The Lord of the Rings, and vastly different from the version of Middle Earth created for the films of the latter. The first challenge was to tell this tale but to make it of a piece with the LotR trilogy. 

It is desire that has led to the expansion of the films to a trilogy - and having seen the first, one can more easily understand the shape of the remaining two films and the likely material that will be covered... Their names, too, are a help in this regard: The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again. But that, perhaps is for another day: what of An Unexpected Journey?

Jackson begins with "old" Bilbo (Ian Holm) setting out to write his memoirs - and straightaway we're afforded the story of the Lonely Mountain and the exile of the Dwarves* following the coming of the dragon; setting the scene for the appearance of the Dwarves and the quest that Bilbo became a part of. 

This introduction, and the cameo appearance of Elijah Wood as Frodo, are set immediately prior to the "Long Expected Party" at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring". We are then transported back 60 years to when the young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) meets Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the company of the Dwarves...

I shall not, despite the wide knowledge of the book, give away too much of the plot. Instead, I shall restrict myself to a few observations.

First, as a fanboy, I am not without reservations at elements of the changes that Jackson has made to the story as related in the book and accompanying annals. In particular, the introduction of Azog (an Orc Chief) and the sub-plot that will, I'm sure, be present throughout the three films. However, if I divorce myself from the book, this device is probably understandable.

An ensemble cast of 13 Dwarves, a Hobbit and a Wizard could be unweildy and, even though all the Dwarves have been given their own characteristics and idiosycrities, Jackson has sensibly pared things back to a central core of the haughty Thorin (Richard Armitage), Wise Balin (Ken Stott) and the youthful Fili and Kili (Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner) as well as Gandalf and Bilbo.

Martin Freeman captures the essence of Bilbo and Armitage is excellent as Thorin (pronounced throughout as Thorin (the way I always read it) and not as T-orin, which I believe is more correct). McKellen is, once again great as Gandalf and Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee are all on hand to reprise their roles from the Lord of the Rings. 

Also reprising his role from those films is Andy Serkis as Gollum and, for me, he was a scene-stealer. The scene in which he and Bilbo compete in a game of riddles was electrifying.

Jackson loves his battle scenes and the film is liberally sprinkled with these - but the guts of the story remain, albeit with tweaks to make them more cinematic. He is also mindful that, even where departing from the original in detail, to make spoken or visual references to source. Bilbo's buttons may not burst from his waistcoat as he exits through a door being closed by goblins, for example, but they do burst off all the same. Likewise, reference is made to havig moved out of the frying pan and into the fire - a chapter title in the novel.

It's not all swords and arrows either - there are moments of light relief provided too. One laugh out loud moment happened when some of the dwarves buried treasure found in the Troll cave - cue Glóin: "We're making a long term deposit". Sylvestor McCoy as Radagast the Brown also lightens the mood, playing the role of the madcap naturalist and wizard with a zany energy and eccentricity.

It won't be to everyone's cup of tea, but it should appeal to those who liked the Lord of the Rings on film. And, fanboy quibbles aside, it should also appeal to lovers of the book... Now, the wait for the next film commences.


*I have used Tolkien's preferred spelling "Dwarves" throughout, rather than the "correct" English of "Dwarfs".

**This review was of the "normal" 3D version - I have yet to see the High Frequency 3D version although I shall, amongst many other screenings no doubt!

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 59

When I started reading the reading the track list for NOW! 59, I thought I would be hard pushed to see past track two: Maroon 5's She Will Be Loved. But then I saw Hoobastank with The Reason, and whilst the tune didn't come readily to mind, it was enough to trigger some deep memory and make it this week's today's selection:


The Hobbit: Out Today

4 hours and counting...  Excited doesn't even come close to describing how I feel about seeing it later.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 58

Oh dear, I'm 5 weeks behind on this series, so there will be a splurge of posts over the next few days while I catch up!

First up, NOW! 58 from July 2004 and I've chosen Anastacia with Left Outside Alone. Pure, unadulterated, 100% cheesy pop. Enjoy!


Equal Marriage: Everyone's Invited

"Is not marriage an open question when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out; and such as are out wish to get in."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1850

So that's it then, society is doomed. The government has formally announced (after heavy trails at the weekend, and an emergency question in the commons yesterday) that not only is Equal Civil Marriage to be legislated for but religious organisations will be able to opt-in and offer Equal Religious Marriages too. 

Beyond this, the Church of England and the Church in Wales will be outside of the option to "opt-in" with Equal CoE/CiW Marriage made illegal - effectively meaning that this issue will have to come back to Parliament if they ever want to pursue this issue themselves.

Civil Partnerships will remain single-gender arrangements, but there will be provision made to allow these to be converted to marriage. There is also provision for transgendered people not to have to their marriages forcefully annulled when they apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate.

So that's it; we're headed off to Hell in a Handcart. Society is now in the grip of Secularists and Sodomists. Political Correctness HAS gone mad and God has been jettisoned in favour of granting rights to every minority that shouts loud enough. Our Christian heritage has been traduced, and traditional marriage has been devalued.

The arguments against Marriage Equality range from the spurious ("the European Court will force Churches to hold gay marriages") to the ridiculous ("it's a first step to legalised Bestiality and Necrophilia"*). I'm sure many of them were deployed when Civil Partnerships were introduced, yet somehow society has survived.

At their root though, they boil down to a fear that a once dominant position in society has been eroded and their influence has been diminished. If marriage were to be redefined - and church marriages ultimately allowed - they would be marginalised further. The majority know how minorities are treated - those in the campaign against equal marriage are desperate to avoid becoming the minority.

This fear may be real but the forecast calamitous results of Equal Marriage are not. In reality, what today has done has opened up the possibility for hundreds of thousands of men and women that they, too, will be able to have their relationship recognised by the state in exactly the same way as their straight family, friends, colleagues.

It will send a message to young gay, bisexual and lesbians that society acknowledges them as equal citizens.

It even allows some of us who are a bit longer in the tooth to imagine (in our less cynical moments at least) that should the circumstances arise, we too could walk up the aisle to declare solemnly and take this man as my lawful wedded...**

A more equal society - with recognition and protection for all minorities - is not to be feared. Such protection should, rightly, extend to those people and organisations who feel they, too, are becoming a minority. Those of us who are in the ascendancy must bear that in mind - the aim is an equal civil society, not a homogenised one. 

Those who do not wish to celebrate Equal Marriage need not, and should not fear compulsion. They, though, should accept that equality before the law - and before a legal definition of marriage -  is good for everyone. Ultimately, they have created an institution that people want to be part of - why fight to keep them out?


* Polygamy is normally in this list too - omitted here as there are people for whom such an arrangement works well and, in due course, we should look at recognising their relationships in law too.

**There's another blogpost in there somewhere, but once upon at time I harboured such notions as meeting someone and settling down for the long term. When CPs were introduced I probably still had such thoughts but they long since dissipated. Perhaps I should park my cynicism and become a bunny-boiler...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ticket No. 30 - My Question Time Experience Part 1...

It's a programme which politicos love and hate - probably in roughly equal measure. Each week, the Question Time roadshow rolls into a new town and the hot topics of the week are debated. Sometimes, the mix of guests leads to a constructive debate and some light being thrown on the subjects considered. More often than not, there is more heat than light, the balance of the debate is skewed, your point of view is not adequately represented and you end up frustrated and irritable. But yet, you find yourself drawn back again and again...

This week, the circus arrives in Bristol and your correspondent has a ticket. Having filled in the online application a week and a half ago, I got a phone call yesterday confirming some more details, asking what current issues I was interested in, my views on them, and requesting I e-mail the first of my potential questions. A card will be provided on Thursday for a second question.

I've opted to raised Equal Marriage as my first question and, after some consideration, decided on the following form of words to raise it:
"Does the panel agree with the Minister for Woman and Equality that "the Government should not stop people getting married unless there's very good reason and being gay isn't one of them"?"
From my understanding of the panelists confirmed so far, three would agree with the statement and one - the Secretary for State for Defence, Philip Hammond - doesn't.

The other issue I've mentioned that I'm interested in is the Justice and Security Bill - an issue which the member of the production team I spoke to seemed unaware of. That is a) worrying and b) possibly an indication that a question on the topic may not be a flyer. This news regarding the Data Communication Bill could be fertile ground though - I'll have to see if it is in the main news by Thursday, having been charged to "monitor the news".*

The ticket advises that I should be "ready to participate" - unfortunately I don't think this will include the exasperated shouting that Question Time so often engenders. Let's hope I can behave! I'll probably be watching the show and tweeting along when I get back from the recording and will hopefully blog about my experience on Friday.


*Although giving I'm spending three hours of Thursday itself in the cinema to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I'll not be monitoring as much as I should!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Kobo, Audible and kick-starting my reading again!

This year has been a poor year for my reading - various factors have conspired to deprive me of the time I used to spend with my books - and as a result my Goodreads profile indicates I've only finished 9 books this year - a shockingly low number. Worse, it doesn't include the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings which it should have done as this was one of my Tolkien years.

Thankfully, I have lately taken action to start redressing this situation - this has been in three forms:

1. I have finally purchased an eReader. After years of wanting one but having been unable to justify such a purchase to myself, I have succumbed. I would have had one a long time ago if I had a job which involved a commute which allowed reading, or travelling away from home. What I had failed to realise was their practicality even for reading around the house and carrying about on a daily basis. And the ability to change font, font size and spacing is fantastic.

A couple of things finally persuaded me: the new generation of front-lit devices and reports that Amazon say they find that Kindle customers read four times as many books as others - and still purchase a mix of electronic and physical books.

Having got fed-up waiting on the realise of the Nook Simple Touch Glowlight, and having reservations about tying myself into Amazon's ecosystem and never truly owning Kindle books, I purchased a Kobo Glo. It may not be as sexy as Amazon's Paperwhite, but it does the job and the books are mine for keeps.

2. I've finally joined the Library. One of the key attractions of an Open Platform eReader, as opposed to a Kindle, was the ability to borrow eBooks. Joining the library allows me to download time-limited eBooks for nothing and to cost-efficiently explore new authors.

To date, I have downloaded two books in this way: Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father. I had been reading my physical copy for months but was struggling to complete due to other commitments; having a time-limited version focused my mind and I was able to finally finish it   The next book was Roald Dahl's Completely Unexpected Tales (Both his volumes of Tales of the Unexpected) - I finished this earlier and will post a review in the next day or two.

Now I'm about to embark on The Lord of the Rings. Like my edition of The Hobbit, my copies of the three LotR volumes are showing their age (28 years)... so I have invested £13.99 in an electronic version of the complete book.

3. I've joined Audible - which lets me download audio books once a month (and also ad hoc) - and will, I hope, also help to broaden my "reading" horizons. (The library also has an electronic audiobook lending service which I hope to likewise explore!)

My first Audible book from them was "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill. Given it's weighty political philosophy, I need to sit down and properly concentrate on it sometime, so it was maybe not the best choice to start. 

I've since, though, downloaded Alexander McCall Smith's "44 Scotland Street" which I very much enjoyed. Originally written as a daily serial in The Scotsman, its bite-sized chapters were great for episodic listening and his wry wit and all too acute observations cut a scythe through a certain sector of Edinburgh society.

My latest download is a "semi-staged" version of Dawn French's latest novel "Oh Dear Sylvia" - which features the author's own narration, a full cast and additional sound effects. I'm only a few chapters in but am enjoying it immensely.

So, there we have it - 2012 has been a poor year on the reading front, but action has been taken and things are on the up...


Sunday Sounds 58 - the Les Misérables edition

Next Thursday, the film of The Hobbit comes out - and regular readers will not be surprised to know that I've had my ticket booked for about 3 weeks now... very exciting.

Looking beyond that, the next film I'm excited about is the adaptation of the Les Misérables musical - even if it does have Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe in it...

Here's Matt Lucas and Jenny Galloway performing Master of the House at the O2 25th anniversary concert production:

And finally, an international version of Do You Hear the People Sing/One Day More, from the 10th Anniversary Concert: