Wednesday, 29 February 2012

10 things... Worst Films

I reviewed The Artist here yesterday. Whilst I was at the cinema to see it I also saw a trailer for the re-release of Titanic. That was the inspiration for this post - 10 of the worst films I have seen, in no particular order:

1. Titanic. Near, far, wherever you are, just sink/die already. Over-hyped and over-long with an over-blown theme song.

2. Top Gun. I managed twenty minutes of this before then bf asked if I'd prefer Top Gear instead. There was only one answer to that question.

3. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Switched off after 30 or so minutes. Should have asked the Livingston Blockbusters for a refund.

4. The Legend of Zorro. A friend (she knows who she is) wanted to see this ahead of Corpse Bride. I've not spoken to her since...

5a. The Matrix Reloaded. It's all about the Benjamin's.

5b. The Matrix Revolutions. I had to look the title to that one up, it was so forgettable.

6. Fantastic Four. Despite some nice scenes with Chris Evans, I'd have felt severely cheated if it weren't for my UGC/Cineworld pass I had at the time.

7. The Phantom Menace. Another film getting a 3D re-release. One long special effect without any substance or plot to speak of.

8. Austin Powers in Goldmember. The law of diminishing returns in action.

9. The Holiday. A prime example of why I don't really do RomComs - too much Rom and not enough Com.

10. Confessions of a Shopaholic. Forced into cinema by sudden rainstorm, limited choice (and a date who really wanted to see it) forced me into this. I don't really do Chick Flicks and this must be one of the best/worst examples of its kind.

All those and I didn't even get to mention Sex and the City...

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 21

This week, I've gone for a song by the fabulous Ms Diana Ross. 

Now, I'm not normally a fan of too much schmaltz or, indeed, torch songs (or not that I admit to) but this is a great song. It's not just a power balled, either, Ms Ross manages to imbue it with tenderness and passion, holding back as well as letting go, controlling the song not letting it control you.

Here she is with "When You Tell Me That You Love Me":


Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Film Review: The Artist

I finally got to see the multi-BAFTA, multi-OSCAR winning The Artist today. In this context, this review would only really be noticeable if I were to completely trash the film.

I won't.

It's an astounding and towering achievement. I understand it won't be to everyone's taste, but on it's own terms it is, quite simply, amazing.

The conceit, for anyone who has had their head buried in sand for the past couple of months, is that in telling the story of a star of the silent movie era, the film itself is silent. After 8 decades of "Talkies", could such a film find an audience?

Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a matinee idol whose life gradually falls apart as his marriage becomes increasingly strained, his Studio moves to making talkies, the stock market crashes and his personally funded "Tears of Love" is a box office flop when it opens against "Beauty Spot" starring Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a star of the new technology whom Valentin had met as an extra on  an earlier production.

It would seem that things couldn't get any worse from this low point but they can and do - will the former leading man be reconciled to the new age and will he accept the help of the world's newest star?

Michel Hazanavicius direction is superbly adapted to the silent medium, allowing the story to be told through the visuals (and occasional, but not too many, title cards) without over- or under-labouring points. The film is beautifully shot to reflect the spirit and look of films of the 20's and has a classy as well as classic feel. Dujardin gives a stunning performance, without the "mugging" Peppy claims is favoured by the silent actors... Bojo's performance is full of fun, vigour and vitality. 

Perhaps the biggest star of the film, though (other than Uggie, the Jack Russell) is the score. When you take out the words and background noise, you need a strong score. Ludovic Bourse's score is precisely this and encompasses (with a few brief exceptions) the whole film, expertly supporting the ebb and flow of the story and the changing pace and tone.

So, for once, believe the hype. And if you've not seen it yet, I'd thoroughly recommend it.


Tuesday Titter 18- Let's Dance for Sport Relief II

The second of my selection of three performances from the various series of Let's Dance... is Rufus Hound as Cheryl Cole performing "Fight for this Love":

Enjoy... and, as before, please visit the Comic Relief site to see the great work that the money they raise does.


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sunday Sounds 35

This week's Sunday Sound is courtesy of Fats Domino, a prime example of the phenomenum known as Nominative Determinism if the ever there was one. [He was actually called Antoine Dominique Domino, Jr. "Fats" was just a nick-name. - Ed] One of the greatest musicians of the Rock n' Roll era of the late 50's and early 60's, his most famous track is probably Blueberry Hill, but it's worth spending some time on You Tube or Spotify to listen to more of his work:


The Question 2

It's time for the second episode in the Stephen's collective blog experience - The Question. This month the question is:

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

So, here's my take on it. Why not post your own response and put the link on Stephen's blog? Even if you don't, do pay a visit to see how else it's been answered!

The best bit of advice I've ever had was probably given to me by Stephen when we worked together... but if it was, then I've long since forgotten it.

My dad always advised me not talk about personal finances and this served me well for years. He also taught me to think for myself and, whilst I can be gullible on occasion, this is also excellant advice.

Elton John advised me not to go breaking his heart. As far as I know, I haven't, although he may have been address his comments to Kiki Dee or Ru Paul* at the time. (* Delete depending on your age and/or preference of song version.)

But the best advice I ever received was to "Wear Sunscreen"...


Saturday, 25 February 2012

In which I agree with the Coalition for Marriage...

On their website, right above where you can sign their petition supporting "the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others [and] opposing any attempt to redefine it" they have a section of text which says this:
"People should not feel pressurised to go along with same-sex marriage just because of political correctness. They should be free to express their views. The Government will be launching a public consultation on proposals to redefine marriage. This will provide an opportunity for members of the public to make their views known."
I agree. People shouldn't feel pressurised to go along with it, particularly not if that is due to "Political Correctness". People should be free to express their views. The Government is launching a public consultation and there will be a chance for the public - and groups like "C4M" - to make their views known.

So, there you have it, I agree with the Coalition for Marriage... That, though, is pretty much as far as my agreement goes.

Under a headline that says "Marriage is Unique", the coalition then proceed to argue that it is, in fact, common: 
"Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman. Marriage reflects the complementary natures of men and women. Although death and divorce may prevent it, the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and a father."
I don't have enough knowledge to argue whether children do do best in a married household - I believe this is questionable, especially in those households where parents resist divorce for religious or moral reasons, or stay together "for the sake of the children". And I believe that non-married households can also provide good environments for children. I know for a fact, though, that there will be very little data comparing married heterosexual couples with children and married homosexual couples with children and determining whether there is a difference in level of care and love.

Marriage, apparently, reflects the complementary natures of men and women - does this mean that woman are well suited to housework? And do they think that couples in a homosexual relation cannot have complementary natures too... I'd suggest that most relationships, regardless of the gender of the people involved, rely on the parties being complementary.

It is true that in most societies marriage has been between Men and Women but this is a comment on those societies and the historic prejudice against homosexuals rather than on the virtues of heterosexual marriage itself. The argument that this is the way it's always been is an argument for belief in a flat Earth or for the Earth being the centre of the Universe - and it neglects the fact that many societies have arrangements for real, or defacto, polygamy including many of those in the Old Testament.

This appeal to a questionable tradition of monogamous marriage is interesting - as the next section on the website warns of the "profound consequences" of broadening a definition of marriage to same-sex couples is the slippery slope argument. Have a guess where C4M believe we may end up...
"If marriage is redefined, those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined. People's careers could be harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster could be excluded, and schools would inevitably have to teach the new definition to children. If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?"
No doubt, if that isn't scary enough, Bestiality and Necrophilia will be hot on it's heals.

I don't understand how broadening the definition and scope of marriage will sideline "traditional marriage". Do they believe that such a move will put off heterosexual couples from getting married themselves? And, whilst it would be sad if people felt they couldn't adopt or foster in such a situation (not sure how or why in this context) or that they couldn't in conscience perform their jobs, this is not a reason for society not change and develop. At the end of the day, this consultation is about Civil Marriage and the council officials responsible need to be able to exercise the law without letting their personal views get in the way - or leave.

Finally, C4M claim that there is "no need to redefine" marriage as:
"Civil partnerships already provide all the legal benefits of marriage so there's no need to redefine marriage. It's not discriminatory to support traditional marriage. Same-sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us."
Perhaps Civil Partnerships do have all those benefits... but, at the end of the day they are not marriage. No-one has a right to redefine marriage but society does. Those in  favour of this move are not seeking to redefine marriage in any case - merely to open it up to many more people. To change the legal definition, not the institution itself.

So perhaps I don't agree with the Coalition for Marriage after all...


You can read a piece by Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone here and I anticipate returning to this topic soon.

K25 Part 2 - On A Night Like This

Last month I posted this blog about my relationship with Kylie over the years and featuring her first treat for fans - a superb rendition of Finer Feelings.

Yesterday, the second recording from Abbey Road studios was released - an orchestrated, slowed down version of On a Night Like This, which was the follow up single to the smash hit which was Spinning Around.



Friday, 24 February 2012

Book Review - The Edible Woman

Although I consider Margaret Atwood one of my favourite authors, I had only previously read three of her 20 novels (which are but half of a body of work which includes, children's books, several volumes of poetry and a number of non-fiction works).

The Edible Woman was her first novel, published in 1969. It's main protagonist is Marian, a single woman in a changing, but male dominated, world. Unlike her single colleagues (the office virgins) or the older spinsters amongst whom she works, Marian is taken, and on the road to being engaged and married. This apparently conservative approach to life is contrasted by her flatmate, Ainsley (who wants a child but without the ties) whilst her future is envisaged in the form of another friend, Clara, who is married and pregnant with her third child.

All is not as it seems in her ideal world. As the novel progresses, Marian finds herself being torn between her future with Peter and a complicated relationship with Duncan, a student who remains un-named through much of the book. Her life changes out of it's routine and staid pattern becoming increasingly erratic as she is forced to confront what she really wants out of life.

This is a book of three parts - the first and third are written in the first person whilst the second is in the third person as Marian becomes somewhat detached from herself. I found I raced through the first part but that the book became less engaging in the second and as the novel went on - indeed, as Marian became more detached from her ideal life, I found myself becoming detached from engaging with the book.

It's a novel about identity and society, about love and expectation. About how our circumstances shape what society expects of us and how we, in turn, then choose to act. About how our expectations of life shape our behaviour and how our behaviour changes our expectations. Specifically, though (and in common with much of Atwood's work), it is a book about female identity; in particular, it is about individual feminine identity in a masculine world and the costs of asserting this against the grain of with societal norms.

In many ways it was a typical first novel - a good idea, and interesting structure, some grand themes and a great deal of promise but slightly disappointing execution. Whilst I would say I liked it, it's not on my list of books I love. I do anticipate I will re-read this at some point in the future - but only on account of it being an Atwood and not for its own sake.


Something Tapped

Although I like to read, I haven't read a great deal of the classics - although I am slowly starting to rectify this. One author I intend reading at some stage is Thomas Hardy, author of Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure amongst many others.

As well as novels, though, he also wrote poetry, much of it dedicated to his first wife. This volume of his poems was one of the subjects of Radio 4's A Good Read this week and listening to the programme inspired to look up and read some of his poems... This is one that I particularly liked:

Something Tapped by Thomas Hardy

Something tapped on the pane of my room
When there was never a trace
Of wind or rain, and I saw in the gloom
My weary Belovèd's face.

"O I am tired of waiting," she said,
"Night, morn, noon, afternoon;
So cold it is in my lonely bed,
And I thought you would join me soon!"

I rose and neared the window-glass,
But vanished thence has she:
Only a pallid moth, alas,
Tapped at the pane for me.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Good Evening, Here is the News

A couple of years ago, I posted this video by Cassette Boy which skillfully edits Nick Griffen's pronoucements on Question Time for comic (but all-too-real) effect.

Last night my cousin (whom you can follow on twitter here) posted Cassette Boy's latest video on his Facebook page. This time, he has re-edited the BBC Six O'Clock News. 



Wednesday, 22 February 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 20 - The Cover Version

NOW! 20 was the first of the NOW! albums to feature cover graphics in the style to which we have become accustomed over the years.

Released on the 30th November 1991, it features any number of great tracks I could have chosen. After choosing two tracks last week, though, I've imposed some discipline on myself this week and only chosen one track. I will divulge, though, that this was the runner up.

In a way, I have still managed to have my cake and eat it. The chosen track is a cover two great songs, a Mash-Up before we knew what Mash-Ups were! Here are the Pet Shop Boys with Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You):


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A Lib Dem Gain: Vince Cable appoints Les Ebdon as head of OFFA

Cross-post from Lib Dem Gains, first published yesterday evening:

Today, the (Lib Dem) Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary, Vince Cable, appointed Les Ebdon as the head of the new Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the body charged with safeguarding and promoting  fair access to Universities and helping ensure that admission policies do not unfairly discriminate against those in state schools or from less privileged backgrounds.

Tory backbenchers (as well as Michael Gove and, it is said, David Cameron) were against the move, and the right-wing media are crying foul. These pieces, from The Telegraph and The Spectator, are especially sneering (written, coincidentally, by former pupils at, respectively, Eton and Winchester who both studied at Cambridge). Much is made of the rejection of his candidature by the BIS select committee.

These protests smack of faux-indignation at a Government minister rejecting the wishes of parliamentarians and completely overlooking the fact - despite the fact the committee is finally balanced with 5 Tories, 5 Labour and 1 Lib Dem - the sections in the report which specifically questioned Mr Ebdon's suitability were voted down by Conservative members.

The truth is that the idea of a Lib Dem Secretary (with the support of his Tory minister, David Willetts) exercising their right to appoint the person they see most fit for the job. At least two of those committee members - Margot James and Nadhim Zahawi - come from precisely the privately educated, Russell Group University background* that breeds the sort of advantage that Mr Ebdon role seeks to help redress. A group that seem to want to keep the insular cloistered world of the Elite Institutions both insular and cloistered.

I can't pretend to know anything about the merits or otherwise of Mr Ebdon as a candidate, per se, but it does seem from a relatively casual reading of the situation, that Mr Cable has been right in asserting his ministerial power. Judging by the howls of protest from the right, I'm almost certain he is. If so, he has done so at the expense of a conservative/Conservative establishment who seem not to recognise a problem in the system, let alone desire any kind of remedial action.


P.S. Lord Bonkers over at Liberal England has written an interesting piece on current University admission policies and contrasts it with his own experiences in the 1970's.

*In fairness, Simon Kirby, who also voted against Mr Ebdon, did not have a private or "elite" education. I couldn't find any information on Rebecca Harris' background.

Tuesday Titter 17 - Let's Dance for Sport Relief I

Let's Dance for Sport Relief is back on the tellybox, although I must confess I missed it on Saturday. For those unaquainted with the show, the format is simple: various comedians, actors, singers and personalities recreate classic dances - often for comic effect - in a televised contest raising funds for Comic Relief (the charity which Sport Relief is in aid of. (I may have mentioned it once or twice in the past...)

I was discussing this with a friend the other day and we fell to reminiscing about various favourite performances from previous series. I've decided to share three of these with you over each of the next three weeks. First, here's a performance from the first series of the programme, back in 2009. Although runners up, this was one of my favourites - Paddy McGuinness and Keith Lemon with some Dirty Dancing:

Enjoy... and please consider donating. You can do so here.


Monday, 20 February 2012

The Mark of the Beast

I don't want to freak anyone who is superstitious... but I was checking my Blogger stats last night and I noticed that my recent post on Dexter had had a significant number of readers:


Ads on You Tube...

...dontcha just hate 'em?

Well, yes, normally (some of them can be rather intrusive) but not when they're the feature of the video themselves. And, of course, benefit from the passage of time to numb the banality of some of them.

Here's a collection I found from 1992 which feature a young (or younger) Paul Merton:

and here are some from 1988:

I could be here all day - but I shall leave them at that for now!


Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Art Fund Prize

The Art Fund Prize Longlist has been announced - 10 museums and galleries which are competing for the £100,000 prize, previously known as the Gulbenkien Prize. This aims to "recognise and stimulate originality and excellence in museums and galleries in the UK, and increase public appreciation and enjoyment of all they have to offer."

Previous winners which I have visited are the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which won in 2004 for "Landform" - the superb sculptural landscaping of it's front lawn by Charles Jencks:

Picture from the National Galleries of Scotland

The SS Great Britain in Bristol won in 2006. I've blogged about it before - it truly is a fantastic visitor attraction:

Last Year's winner was the British Museum, specifically for their "History of the World in 100 Objects" which was accompanied by an excellent radio series.

This year's list has two institutions I've visited and two old friends which have been extensively refurbished but which I haven't been back to since they reopened.

Bristol's M Shed is housed in the former home of the Industrial Museum and is a hands-on, interactive museum which tells Bristol's story as a centre of trade and commerce, slavery and home to an ever-evolving ethnic-mix. Somewhat controversial locally (it ran over-time and over-budget), it is the type of museum which benefits from repeated visits, rather than seen as a challenge to "do" in one visit.

A similar thing can be said of another leading candidate - Glasgow's Riverside Museum. It's a replacement for the Museum of Transport but covers elements of social history and the shipbuilding heritage of the Clyde on which it sits. To top that it is designed by Zaha Hadid and is, quite simply a fabulous building. Two future photo blogs are planned (I visited it when I was home at Christmas) but here's a teaser picture:

Edinburgh's refurbished Portrait Gallery and the extensively refurbished and redeveloped National Museum of Scotland (blogged about by Caron at Caron's Musings here) are also nominated - they're also top of my list for visits next time I'm home!

The remaining candidates are:

Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes

Hepworth Wakefield

Holburne Museum, Bath - as this is about 12 miles away from me, I have little excuse not to visit!

Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter

Turner Contempory, Margate

Watts Gallery, Guildford

Full details are on The Art Fund Prize website - I look forward to seeing the shortlist and the eventual winner.


Sunday Sounds 34

It's a funny old world - two weeks ago on The Jonathan Ross there were three interview including Jesse J who was there to promote and sing her current single. Last week, the musical guest wasn't interviewed as Mr Ross had three other interviewees, each promoting a film.

Now, it may be that the week before someone had dropped out and Jesse J had to fulfil both roles. Perhaps last week was a particularly busy week for actors promoting films. It could be that the various interviewees were considered to be more relevant to the show's audience.

Any or all of the above may apply but I was left shouting at the screen "If you have someone of the calibre and experience of DIONNE WARWICK gracing your studio, surely an interview is in order?!" We are talking about a woman with a lifetime of experience in showbiz, a contemporary of Aretha Franklin, a cousin of the now sadly deceased Whitney Houston. A lively, entertaining, enlightening interview could have been had - regardless of whether she was promoting anything.

As it happens, Ms Warwick was promoting something. Not a new album, film or book, though - but a Gala Concert in aid of World Hunger Day, raising money and awareness of the 1 in 7 of the world's population which lives in extreme poverty. Mr Ross did get the plug in, but I can't help feeling it was a missed opportunity.

Anyway, here is the beautiful Dionne Warwick, with Walk On By:

Enjoy, Andrew

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The New Tory (il)Liberalism - Why Pickles is Wrong.

The BBC is reporting that the Government is to give councils powers to have prayers as part of formal meetings - and this is confirmed on the Department for Communities and Local Government website.

Now, as a Liberal Democrat, I'm all for people's freedom to worship. As someone who grew up in evangelical church circles, I believe I have a better understanding than most of the types of opprobrium than can be directed at people for sincerely held views. I believe that the aim of a Liberal Democracy should be to facilitate the freedom of expression and observance for people of all faiths - and none.

There are those - Baronness Warsi, for example - who would have you believe that the freedom to individual expression of faith is under attack. Specifically, that the Christian faith is under attack from something called "Militant Secularism".

I neither subscribe to such a notion nor believe that this is somehow being inflicted on people of faith. I do subscribe to a view of society that says the State, it's institutions and services, and those providing them should do so without fear or favour. This means that they should neither seek to subscribe to one set of religious ideals, impose these on people of other faiths - or none -, nor oppress those of any given faith.

In this context, I believe it's completely right and proper that any religious exercise, such as the saying of prayers, does not form a part of the formal proceedings of council meetings. (I would extend this further, to Parliament and Schools for example, but that is an issue for another day...). Should councils wish to have a time for reflection, prayers, or whatever, they should be free to do so, but not as part of their official business.

Such a move is not an attack on the Church of England, faith in general or the Judeo-Christian culture and heritage we have - it's a genuinely Liberal position which recognises that faith is a private rather than collegiate matter. Context, is, as they say, everything.

And this is where I come to the real inspiration for this blog-post; the Communities and Local Goverment Secretary, Eric Pickles. Mr Pickles is quoted as saying, taking the recent High Court judgement against council prayers as his starting point:
"The High Court judgement has far wider significance than just the municipal agenda of Bideford Town Council. For too long, faith has been marginalised in public life, undermining the very foundations of the British nation.
"As a matter of urgency I have personally signed a Parliamentary order to bring into force an important part of the new Localism Act - the general power of competence - that gives councils the vital legal standing that should allow them to continue to hold formal prayers at meetings where they wish to do so.
"This should effectively overtake the ruling and it also shows that greater localism can give local councils the strength and freedom to act in their best interests.
"We will stand for freedom to worship, for Parliamentary sovereignty, and for long-standing British liberties."
I fundimentally disagree with him on the position of faith in public life - and the idea that moving towards greater secularism as society somehow denies the Church's historic importance in the forming of the country.

But the comments that really exercised me were these ones quoted on the BBC website:
"By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness."
The reason I'm so worked up is that, whilst I can agree with much of it - localism, freedom to worship, a general dislike of society which is too quick to resort to the courts - I cannot agree with his definition of illiberal.

These comments - like those of Baronness Warsi this week - give the lie to the notion that the Tories are more liberal than the previous Labour government, just that it is expressed in a different way. Labour's illiberalism was authoritarian, the Conservative illiberalism is, it transpires, about resistance to change. (This could equally be said of their general view of immigration.).

Whilst they portray their views as liberal, it is a version of liberalism that resists change to time-honoured traditions. A liberalism-of-convenience which is about the freedom to do what we've always done, a freedom to resist societal changes and a freedom to impose "traditional" "values" on those who happen not share those.

That is not a liberalism I can endorse. Mainly because it is not Liberal.


Guilty Pleasures 10

This week's guilty pleasure is as cheesy as they came: Atomic Kitten's Whole Again.

Aside from being a slab of pure pop, it has the audacity to start with the same first line as one of the best songs ever written; Bacharach and David's Walk On By! Any song which can do that and pull it off deserves plaudits in my book!

Enjoy, even if you don't want to admit it!


MyFitnessPal, Fitness4Less and the Eurythmics

I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions, although I typically have an idea of some aims and objectives in my head which I occasionally commit to paper - and to posts here in years past. This year I didn't specifically identify any but, given that the aims have been repetitive over the past few years, perhaps I didn't need to.

One of the things that has habitually been something I've talked about is losing weight and getting fit. 12 years ago I was 9st 13lb. That was when I was working in Grocery Retailing, on my feet and active all day. Then I moved into office-work and hit my late twenties and thirties and my weight started to go up... and up.

I have at various points over the years tried to stem the tide by either cutting back on food, increasing exercise or both with varying degrees of success. I'm now trying again, but with the help of (which is also available as Android and Apple Apples). After putting in some basic details of your current weight and desired rate of weight loss, the app calculates a target net calorie intake.Then, just log all you eat and your exercise each day.

I've found it a real help with putting in place a disciplined approach which is really paying dividends. I've already lost 9lbs this year and feeling so much better - and I've saved money now I'm not snacking on Sausage Rolls, Scotch Eggs, Pork Crackling or Chips on my way home after work! I've also moved from being, according to my BMI, marginally overweight to being healthy!

But losing weight alone isn't enough (especially when it comes off everywhere apart from my paunch)! I have therefore joined a gym, Fitness4Less. It's not a swanky one, but it is cheap - the clue's in the name. £15 a month (plus a £25 joining fee), no contract and conveniently timed classes, it will do me. I've now been 4 times over the past two weeks and I'm rediscovering how good you feel all night after a workout!

But where, you may be wondering, do the Eurythmics fit into all this. Well, for my first session I loaded my iPod with Eurythmics tracks to keep me company as I pounded the treadmill! Tracks like this:


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 19

So, here we are at NOW! 19... and I'm going to indulge myself. Although the idea is that I choose just one track from each album, this week I'm choosing two. My blog, my rules!

First, as this blog does not have enough Gregorian chanting, here is Enigma with Sadeness (Pt 1):

And in contrast, the wonderfully rich voice of Oleta Adams with Get Here:


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Monday, 13 February 2012

Left, Right or Liberal?

There has been a flurry of activity over the past few days with the launch of two new groupings within the Liberal Democrats - Liberal Left and now Liberal Reform. There have also been a number of blog posts by some prominent Lib Dem bloggers, including Stephen Glenn, The Hon Lady Mark (also here), Neil Monnery and Gareth Epps - although you may be quicker checking out the latest Lib Dem Golden Dozen for links!

As someone on the fringes of being particularly active - at least for now - my contribution to date has been limited to just one tweet: 

 I’ll explain why later. But first, I wanted to take a broader view of the idea of groups and factions within the party. 

To my mind, Liberalism is about openness to ideas and debate. It is not about dogma and ideology much beyond a belief in individual freedom and a desire for a state which facilitates these. This is summarised in the very first paragraph of the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution:
"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives."
(Incidentally, I tried - and failed - to find a comparable statement of the core values of either the Labour or Tory parties - the closest I could find is this from Labour. In comparison, the full constitution of the Lib Dems is freely available - and easy to locate - on the website!)

I believe Liberals are pragmatists in a philosophical sense of the word - willing to assess the practical outcomes of policy and seek intelligent, not uninformed, practice. We are not bound by ideology or custom, not afraid of change and not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Liberals welcome new ideas, are able to see and explore alternative viewpoints, exhibit an openness of mind and a willingness to discuss and debate. Democrats believe in submitting to the will of the majority. Practically every Liberal Democrat I know cherishes the fact that policy is decided at and by conference. It is proposed not imposed. It is debated, assessed, improved and approved. Where it is proposed from above, the leadership has to carry the party first then the country – not the other way round. 

The yardstick for any and all policy is the Preamble - does the policy further the desire for individual freedom and societal fairness? It shouldn't matter whether the measure would be - typically - described as left or right. As Nick Clegg said: "We have our own label: Liberal".

Obviously, though, the classical terminology of left and right is easy shorthand. Indeed, I typically describe myself as "left of centre but economically right" but it's Liberalism - Socially and Economically - which is at the core of my political being.

The left/right division is a side show. The true dividing lines are between statist policies - whether proposed by the left or right - and Liberals on one hand. Between those whose Libertarian views would seek to absolve the state of any duty to redistribution, poverty alleviation or community support and our Social Democratic commitment to all of these on the other.

Liberal Democrats cannot, I believe, subscribe to authoritarian polices whether they be those imposed by Labour in Government or those favoured by many Conservatives, particularly in the realms of Law and Order. Equally, Liberal Democrats do not believe a Laissez-Faire approach to benefits which abandon the poorest in society.

Liberals are not Libertarians. (Social) Democrats are not Socialists.

Groups within the party should be welcomed as far as they exist to constructively propose and discuss policy and contribute to debates on our vision, outlook and direction of travel are to be welcomed. Groups whose aim is something other should not be.

Two existing examples are the Social Liberal Forum, which accepts the rationale for the coalition while acting as a "left of centre" pressure group and Liberal Vision which verges on a Libertarian approach. As far as I can tell, both these groups seek to promote their views of Liberal Democracy positively.

And so to the new groups - Liberal Left and Liberal Reform.

Liberal Left describe themselves as existing to:

  1. Provide a voice within the Liberal Democrats, opposing the party leadership on economic and fiscal policy, and advocating a positive alternative.
  2. Seek every possible opportunity to build good relations across the left, between Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Greens, and the non-party liberal left, recognising that organisations such as Compass already offer a thriving space for such dialogue around democracy and sustainability.
Liberal Reform, in contrast, describe themselves thus:
    "Liberal Reform exists to promote four-cornered freedom in the Liberal Democrats – personal, political, social and economic liberalism. We are an organisation founded and run by members and activists, to both propose policy in keeping with the party’s liberal heritage and to continue arguments for free people and free trade in the future political direction of the Liberal Democrats. We seek, through active debate, policy initiatives, and broad campaigning, to foster an understanding of the party’s heritage and philosophy.

    Although the Liberal Democrats remain at the cutting edge of much of liberal politics in the United Kingdom, maintaining our position as the party of personal freedom is not guaranteed. We believe in extending opportunity to all, in devolving power to the lowest level, in placing people in control of their own lives, and in freedom itself as a force for good.

    We desire a liberal society, which will need a significant level of public spending, to be financed primarily by taxation rather than state borrowing. We argue for a fair tax system which rewards hard work and entrepreneurship, that punishes social harms, and that places the greatest burden on the broadest shoulders. Taxation is a significant but necessary reduction of individual freedom and should be kept as low as possible, consistent with the goals of a liberal society.

    Liberal Reform supports and endorses no political party other than the Liberal Democrats, and favours no relationship with any party over another."
    Whilst I believe in greater pluralism in politics (although more specifically, I believe in creating a more pluralistic system of politics; a nuanced but important difference), I'm not in favour of building pre-election coalitions or electoral pacts.

    More importantly, the failure to accept the pragmatic need for the coalition - and the lack of any viable alternative in 2010 - sets Liberal Left apart as more than a pressure group. It becomes a de-facto internal opposition. And we all know the old maxim about divided parties...

    Liberal Left may wear it's heart on its sleeve but there is a danger of it playing into a divide and rule policy - I expect Ed Milliband's already drafting letters to it's leading lights... 

    Liberal Reform on the other hand - for all the negativity in founder member's Charlotte Henry's blog on the launch of Liberal Left - has a rather more constructive "mission statement". I may not be able to agree with it as written but the gist is certainly recognisable as being within broad Liberal Democrat thinking and adopts a positive approach. It also makes clear that we should stand alone and independent.

    So, for now, I remain outside of any of these groupings. I hope that we don't descend into factionalism and internal division but that positive and invigorating debate is the result. And I hope that Liberal Democracy is the winner as we move towards the second half of this parliamentary term and the election beyond.

    P.S. One final link - Kavya Kaushik has written a good piece on this very topic.

    Sunday, 12 February 2012

    Sunday Sounds 33: Whitney Houston 1963-2012

    Earlier tonight (or, rather, this morning) I read a Digital Spy story about Whitney Houston being wanted as a judge for the second series of X Factor USA. Barely half an hour later her death was announced.

    Houston was one of the biggest, best and most talented stars of the pop era. Her story is also one of the most tragic as her life, and to some extent her career and reputation, was destroyed by addiction. Her legacy is a songbook which is beyond all but the most talented of singers.

    Here she is with one of my favourites, the Barcelona Olympics anthem, One Moment In Time:

    Supreme as she was at belting out Power Ballads, she also had a wonderful gospel voice as this performance of the Battle Song of the Replublic demonstrates:

    Finally, here she is with the R&B-tinged Heartbreak Hotel from the 1998 comeback album My Love is Your Love:

    Whilst the best of her career was, sadly, behind her, her death today is no less tragic. The world has lost a true legend and star.


    Wednesday, 8 February 2012

    NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 18

    So, my weekly [sic] journey through the NOW! albums reaches 18 - only 62 to go... After last week's (OK, yesterday's) entry from Depeche Mode, this week's was harder to choose. After much deliberation, though, I've gone with what must be one of the seminal hits of the Nineties. The La's with "There She Goes":

    Next week, The Clash, The KLF, Massive Attack, Kylie Minogue, Hale & Pace and The Stonkers, Enigma, Oleta Adams, Robert Palmer, Bill medley & Jennifer Warne, The Righteous Brothers, Seal, Chris Rea, Chris Isaak or Free...


    Tuesday, 7 February 2012

    NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 17

    After over a week of not blogging, it's catch-up time here at the widow's world. So here's the NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! that I should have posted last week. Enjoy The Silence: