Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Hobbit: How It Should Have Ended...

Some people (fools!) think that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is too long. They cannot understand why anyone (me!) can be looking forward to the Extended Edition coming out. (I've seen October rumoured for this...)

Ho hum, each to their own.

The folks over at How It Should Have Ended have come up with a way of shortening The Hobbit Trilogy (and The Tolkien sextet) quite dramatically and with great comic effect. Keep watching past the closing credits too, for an additional Dwarvish treat...


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 69

This week's tune is from the new "Global Creative Director" of Blackberry, Alicia Keys...

...however, that is coincidental to her appearance here with the massive hit "No One":


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

In Which I Agree with the @Conservatives...

Well, kind of... The Government's plans for the reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 were defeated today when Liberal Democrats voted against the Tories in favour of a motion to delay Boundary Reform to at least 2018. And when I say that the Liberal Democrats voted against - I mean every last one of them - all 57, according to the BBC. (if you want to check Hansard yourself, feel free...) - and I am very happy with this state of affairs.

But why am I so opposed when I agree with the equalisation of constituencies and the reduction of the overall number of MPs? Well, it's not just about the Tory failure to deliver on Lords Reform - although that comes into it...

For context let's revisit the manifestos. The Conservative's 2010 election manifesto promised this:

"[to] reduce the number of MPs by 10 per cent"
and, in a section entitled "A new agenda for a new politics" it said:
"The Conservative Party has led the way in sorting out the mess of MPs’ expenses. In government we will go further, by cutting the size of Parliament, cutting the scope of Whitehall, and cutting the cost of politics. We will make politics more local, more transparent and more accountable. We intend to build a new political system that serves people rather than politicians. Together, we can change our politics for the better."
Many (most? all?) of my readers will probably agree with me that the claim that the Tories led the way in reform of expenses is, ehm, dubious, at best. A further section takes the theme further:
"We will also cut Ministers’ pay and reduce the number of MPs in Parliament. Then we will go further, far further, since the expenses scandal was just the trigger for a deeper sense of frustration. We promise a total overhaul of our system of government, so that power is passed from the politicians at Westminster back to the people of Britain. But this is the very least that is needed to fix our broken political system."

What of the Lib Dems? Didn't we propose a cut in the number of MPs - an even bigger reduction in fact? Well, yes we did:
"Liberal Democrats will [c]hange politics and abolish safe seats by introducing a fair, more proportional voting system for MPs. Our preferred Single Transferable Vote system gives people the choice between candidates as well as parties. Under the new system, we will be able to reduce the number of MPs by 150."
And what is more, it was proposed as part of a package of measures which included this one:
"Replace the House of Lords with a fully-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House."
You can find the Tory Manifesto here and the Liberal Democrat one, complete with a full range of proposed constitutional reforms to support House of Commons reduction, here.*

Equalisation of constituencies whilst retaining First Past the Post would, of course, broadly favour the Tories - and this is the unspoken purpose of its inclusion in their manifesto. But the Liberal Democrats exist to promote fairness, so we cannot oppose them on this basis alone - although it would have been easier, politically, to have made the stand against the boundary reforms if the reduction in number of MPs hadn't be part of the same "bullet point" in the coalition agreement.
It is spurious to argue for constitutional changes on the basis of cost to the public purse. When it comes to public representation, I'm a bit of a Chartist: democracy costs, and we should not be ashamed of that. Yes, we should be against excess and profligacy but MPs should be properly rewarded for a (pretty much) 24/7 job and recognised for the employment they provide (an MP's office doesn't run itself).

It's also odd to argue that you will make politics "more local, more transparent, more accountable" when the net effect of the reduction of MPs (notwithstanding that some constituencies will shrink whilst others grow) is to increase the number of electors per representative and, therefore, reduce how local each MP would be. (Indeed, some of the odd constituencies proposed as a result of the various boundary reviews, Clackmannanshire and Dunfermline West & Bideford, Bude and Launceston ("Devonwall"), for example, illustrate this point).
This point about accountability becomes odder when you consider that a smaller Commons will lead to a stronger executive. Without other reforms: PR and an elected Lords, a smaller Commons weakens our parliamentary democracy - and does the opposite of  "passing power back to the people of Britain".
To truly pass power back to the people we need wholesale reform of the Commons and Lords. As things stand, the Lords is not only unchanged, but is ever-increasing in size (another batch of en-noblements is expected to be announced this week). Every new Peer reduces the democratic accountability of Parliament. Every new Peer concentrates more power with politicians at Westminster. Meanwhile, the Commons is unrepresentative of the electoral will of the people.

If we had an elected second chamber, the additional representation that this provided would allow for the number of MPs to be reduced to compensate for reduced workloads. The weakening of the Commons which would be a problem with no other changes is rectified by presence of additional representation. A weaker Commons could be balanced by a democratic Lords.
So I whole-heartedly agree with the Conservatives that we should reduce the size of the House of Commons. I even agree with some of their (stated) reasons. But not without changes elsewhere in our parliamentary democracy. I want to see a House of Commons which is smaller - but not for reasons of cost. I want to see equal constituencies but not for (Conservative) Party Political gain. I want these things for reasons of fairness - and as part of a proper programme of reform not as a standalone measure that further skews the system in favour of the Government - any Government.
Boundary reform is now off the agenda until 2018. I've said before that I don't think that at the next election (and in any coalition negotiation that may follow), we should bang on about constitution reform. In the absence of any further moves in that direction, the most we should do is support equalisation without reduction.
The Tories broke the coalition agreement over Lords reform - not in the Lobby, granted, given that Cameron couldn't drag his MPs anywhere close. Clegg was right to lead his troops to, and through, the Lobby in opposition to a Tory manifesto policy. Tonight, I am proud of every single one of them. 


* Just a gripe: it bugs me that this isn't more prominent on the "What do we stand for?" page of our website rather than the Coalition Agreement. We may (broadly) support the coalition agreement, but it isn't what we stand for. I've just visited the aforementioned page of the website and note it has had a revamp.

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Anthology 39 - "Sleep, Angry Beauty"

I can't believe I'm still up (the things I do for the party, tedious work with spreadsheets and PDFs...). I really should have been asleep for a couple of hours... I have therefore chosen a poem about, amongst other things, sleep. Although this is how the sleep of a angry lover can be a blessing.

Sleep, Angry Beauty by Thomas Campion

Sleep, angry beauty, sleep, and fear not me.
For who a sleeping lion dares provoke?
It shall suffice me here to sit and see
Those lips shut up that never kindly spoke.
   What sight can more content a lover's mind
   Than beauty seeming harmless, if not kind?

My words have charmed her, for secure she sleeps,
Though guilty of much wrong done to my love;
And in her slumber, see, she close-eyed weeps:
Dreams often more then waking passions move.
   Plead, sleep, my cause, and make her soft like thee,
   That she in peace may wake and pity me.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday Sounds 65 - Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin

For this week's Sunday Sound, I've chosen a clip from a film - Kevin Spacey's biopic of Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea. This is the title track, with a spot of dialogue to top and tail it:



Saturday, 26 January 2013

Saturday Six 23

Good morning evening, welcome to another Saturday Six... This time brought to you by my new iPad... (Honestly, I do promise not to bang on about it too much!)

First this week, Caron reports on President Obama's second Inauguration and a depressing aspect of the American Dream: the unspoken assumption that there will always be poverty to be climbed out of.

Even though I'm an atheist, I am interested in faith issues. This piece on Buddhism piqued my interest, as it analyses the darker side to what is an often idealised religion.

Cameron made his BIG SPEECH on Europe this week - Mark Reckons that the Lib Dems should be in favour of his referendum.

I'm not a particularly sentimental person - but this piece about a straight teenage boy attracting the attention of his gay classmate and how he responded touched me. Not in a soppy way but because it illustrates how the world should be.

Julie Burchill's  rant in The Observer a couple of weeks ago shone a spotlight on the difference between free speech and hate speech. Polari Magazine discusses some of the issues and also analyses some of Suzanne Moore's attitude to sexuality politics.

Here's an infographic to end on - The Lord Of The Rings Project presents a handy history of the One Ring....


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Votes for All... (well, from 16 anyway...)

Can you remember the first time you voted? 

The trip to the local school, library, church or scout hall. Nervously standing in line for with your polling card, waiting for your name to be checked and the ballot issued. Going into the age-old wooden booths and marking your cross with a pencil on the end of a string (and not before reading and re-reading the instructions at the top of the paper). Folding the paper, and posting it in the box. Leaving the station with a sense of - of what? Satisfaction and elation? Relief? Achievement?... A sense of maturity and engagement with civic society.

If you are anything like me, you will still love this part of the democratic process. Even though the done thing amongst political activists is to vote by post (as this ensures more time for campaigning), I really don't want to give up the positive action of going to the polling station and casting my vote in person. The one time I did use a postal vote, I found the process less symbolic. (Ironically, it was the one time I voted for a winning candidate in a Parliamentary election!)

Can you remember what age you were for that first General Election? Did you just reply "18" automatically , or did you stop to work it out? The chances are, you were around 20-21 the first time you had a vote in a general election, if not older. If I hadn't been sent a polling card for the April 1992 election (when I was 17), I'd have been 22 and a half the first time I voted in General Election.

Now I'm a politically interested person so I was never going to not use my franchise. But there are many who have no interest in politics - especially once they have left school and moved into a real world where idealism gives way to cynicism. And that's fine, to a point - we can't all be politically nerdy - but engagement is to be preferred to apathy; and this could be engendered in school if pupils thought they could vote in real elections and not just mock exercises.

Tomorrow, Bristol West's Liberal Democrat MP, Stephen Williams will move a resolution in the House of Commons on reducing the voting age to 16;  a move he has blogged about here. (There has also been a Private Members Bill introduced in the Lords by Lib Dem peer Lord Tyler.)

Extending the franchise to 16 year old's could help build a culture of involvement as school pupils engaging with the issues in school. Combined with the rise in the school leaving age to 18, and fixed parliamentary terms of 5 years, around half of those eligible to vote for the first time will be at school, with the rest having relatively recently left. Giving them a chance to vote for real is surely preferable to letting them move into the rest of their lives and confining school political exercises to yearbooks and memory.

16 year old's a quite old enough to examine he issues and think through the implications of policies. There are quite capable of interpreting media messages and understanding political philosophies. What they may lack - or lose when they leave school and it's structured environment - is the impetus to look into the options and exercise their vote.

There are those who say this is a cynical Liberal ploy aimed at garnering the votes of the (small-l) liberal young. There are others who cast doubt on the maturity of young men and woman and their ability to make reasoned judgements on the merits of candidates and Parties. There are those who say that a list including the ability to have sex legally, marry, join the army, work full time & pay the corresponding taxes and do a host of other things that minors can't shouldn't be extended to include the democratic franchise.

As a rule, these and other arguments against votes at sixteen are weak, at best. On the flip-side, granting votes at sixteen could entrench involvement in civic society in a new generation; carrying involvement in school democracy and mock elections to the Ballot Box, Westminster and beyond.

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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 68

This isn't going to be popular (well certainly amongst certain quarters) but I don't care. My blog, my rules.

This week's post is Leona Lewis with Bleeding Love. It's a cheesefest which reminds me of a great week spent in Padstow with two very dear friends - this song seemed to follow us round! This is for them:


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Pop Looks Bach...

Hands up if you know the programme whose signature tune is also the name of this post, and the links it has to this:

Any ideas?

Well, on the BBC News website today it is reported the Vanessa-Mae wants to compete for Thailand in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games is Sochi. She's announced that she intends to take a year off from music in order to compete in the required number of events to see her qualify.

Pop Looks Bach, meanwhile, is a track that takes some cues from the Bach's Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor and is, fittingly, the theme music for this:

Perhaps we'll be seeing Vanessa-Mae on Ski Sunday soon. It's just as well she's taking a year off though... there's only 380 days to go!


Monday, 21 January 2013

Anthology 38 - I am a hunchback

This week's poem is by that Scots literary icon, Robert Louis Stevenson. The author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and a A Child's Garden of Verse also wrote this poem which is much more than the ditty it may appear at a casual reading:

I am a hunchback by Robert Louis Stevenson

I am a hunchback, yellow faced,
A hateful sight to see,
'Tis all that other men can do
To pass and let me be.

I am a woman, my hair is white,
I was a darkhaired lass;
The gin dances in my head,
I stumble as I pass.

I am a man that God made at first,
And teachers tried to harm,
Here! hunchback take my friendly hand,
Good woman, take my arm.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday Sounds 64

This week I re-listened to the podcast of  last year's "Your Desert Island Discs". The most requested piece of music amongst listeners was Ralph Vaughan Williams "The Lark Ascending" - with its beautiful soaring melody. It's no wonder it's a popular choice - and not just with Radio 4 listeners, but also amongst Classic FM fans - it was Number 2 in last year's Hall of Fame.

Here's the fabulous Nicola Benedetti performing it:


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Saturday Six 22

It's Saturday evening, so I'll just get straight into listing this Saturday's Six:

Charles Moore in the Telegraph discusses the Operation Yewtree report into Jimmy Saville and highlights the problem with now treating all allegations as fact. There may be no doubt that Jimmy Saville was a paedophile  but there will never be a chance for due process to determine this as fact.

Next up is a review of Tom Daley's "Splash". I've not seen the programme but I just love this line from David Bowden's review: "diving is straight-up, 100 per cent, balls-out, why-don’t-we-see-that-Mapplethorpe-exhibition homo-eroticism." H/T to @stephentall for the link.

The Fluffy Elephant has done it again: this time with an OPTIMISTIC PIECE about the LD future.

Nicole Cooke retired from cycling this week and the BBC reported that she had some strong words on the subject of drug cheats in the sport: "When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards - just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances."

Mark Thompson reports on the progressive nature of the changes in Income Tax payable at different pay bands under the coalition.

Finally, M&G's Bond Vigilantes report on an increasing bubble in the Chinese housing housing market.


Friday, 18 January 2013

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty - 4 Months and Counting!

This week, I purchased tickets for Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at the Bristol Hippodrome. It's still 4 months away, but I'm really looking forward it! Here's a flavour of the production:


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 67

I think I may be hitting a period (the late "noughties") when my interest in pop diminished - I know that I could barely identify the vast majority of the tracks on NOW! 67! Still, I suppose that made choosing this week's track easier, in a way!

Anyway, out of the limited choice I had, based on the criteria for this blog series, I've gone for Paolo Nutini singing about his New Shoes. I know the feeling, having recently got myself a lovely new pair in the sales!



Faith, Homosexuality, Boxes and Steve Chalke...

Regular readers will know that this blog isn't of the "confessional" kind - and that whilst it represents me as a person, it isn't about me. The subject matter of this post has been on hold for a long time, mainly because I've not felt that these pages appropriate for such personal subject matter. Indeed, I'm not the type to share too freely in any circumstances, not just online!

Previous thoughts of posts on this topic have been, typically, prompted by posts by my friend Stephen Glenn and some of his friends involved with these issues in Northern Ireland. Today's post has been prompted by Stephen's blogpost "I like Steve Chalke cos he is a nice guy." In it he references this (extended) piece by Mr Chalke which is well worth a read and this video in which he elaborates his reasons for raising the issue of pastoral care of gay and lesbian people.

Coming across Chalke's name was a blast from the past and that's what has finally prompted me into composing this post. I remember a series of videos he presented entitled "Lessons in Love" from my teens as well as hearing him speak on a number of occasions at various Christian youth events and at the "Spring Harvest" conferences. But that's jumping ahead...

I grew up in a Christian Brethern household and going to the church (or, rather, the Assembly) was a large part of my parents' lives. On a Sunday, we would have the Breaking of Bread, Sunday School, Ministry Meeting and Gospel Meeting. In the summer this would be augmented with the "Open Air" (an outdoor evangelical meeting) and there were additional meetings during the week as well as on Saturdays, particularly over the winter when many assemblies would host day-conferences.

As a teenager, I joined the assembly after being baptised on my 16th birthday (a coincidence of timing, there is no significance in that). Not long after we moved churches as a family but I continued in faith even after moving away from home - first in Edinburgh and (after another period at home) subsequently in Dumfries.

During those teenage and early-twenty years, I began to move in wider church circles - always within the Evangelical fold but often in more charismatic circles; it was an interesting time, especially given the advent of the so-called "Toronto Blessing". This was when I also became aware of Chalke amongst many of his contemporaries in (what felt like) a burgeoning and growing evangelical community.

Of course, as someone who has grown up attending Ministry Meetings from childhood and various books on Christian Missionaries and Martyrs, I was well aware of the Church's teaching on a whole host of topics. Years of learning memory verses meant I knew sizable chunks of the Bible off by heart. And I was acutely aware that my attraction to men went against all that I knew was right.

So for years I lived with feelings I could neither act on nor reconcile with my faith. Or, to put it another way, for years I lived with a faith that denied me the opportunity to express who I was. For years, nobody (or so I thought) knew who I was. For years, I believed that I would (and could) live a celibate life.

But I always felt like a bit of an outsider - like I could never fully join in. I wasn't free to say who I was, to love who I could, to fully express myself. So I was always holding something back - and for someone who doesn't easily form close friendships, this exasperated that.

I was, of course, aware that there were those who argued that the Bible wasn't as cut and dried as I had always been taught. Who had, through interpretation, found ways to reconcile their faith and sexuality and, in doing so, found others with whom to celebrate their love and their Christian believes. Personally, though, I was never convinced of the theological basis on which they based their convictions.

And so, gradually, I began to move away from the church and to explore life without the same level of (self-imposed) discipline. It should be noted that I've never taken what could be termed full advantage of this - but that's another matter!

At the time, when church friends asked if I didn't feel there was something now missing in my life, I would (perhaps glibly) say that no - I had packed up my faith in a box and put it to one side, whilst opening up a box that I'd previously stored away.

Of course, such glibness masked that both the packing away of the first box, before replacing it with the box marked "faith" played down the fact that those years had had many difficult moments, including a period of mental illness. The desire to suppress ones nature - whether it comes from external or internal sources, or both - is liable to do this. Even when this period had passed, the risk of its return never really seemed distant enough.

Would teaching such as Chalke's made a difference to me? I don't know; as I said, my interpretation of scripture was, of itself, quite traditional. Perhaps the thought that there was someone with the evangelical church (as opposed to those from other traditions) with understanding would have been encouraging. I suspect, though, that I would still have made the transition from believer to "agnostic apostate" (as I used to term myself) and eventually to Atheist.

I'm sure, though, that Chalke's words will already be helping many who struggle with these issues - and those trapped in situations like the various cases he mentions in his article. They may not be in his direct Pastoral Sphere but for someone from his background, with his prominence to seek to move the agenda on this is to be applauded, and supported.

One of the things liberals (and Liberals) are supposed to be keen on is tolerance. But we - especially those of us without a faith - can often be remarkably intolerant of those who do have a faith. This, of course, is often compounded by the tone adopted by certain religious organisations, particularly over moral issues - in particular those around human sexuality issues.

Whilst one could hardly expect him to express a similar change of views, I can't help but feel that others in the church at large (I'm looking at you, Archbishop Nichols, amongst others) could learn something from Mr Chalke. His contribution should be welcomed as an honest effort to sensitively address an issue which causes a great deal of suffering and anguish to those who struggle to reconcile their faith. Liberals from other faith groups (and none) should recognise his bold move, support it and engage in the dialogue he has started.


P.S. Chalke's Oasis Trust runs a number of Academies. Whilst I retain reservations about this (as I do with any and all religious organisations running state schools - including the CoE and RC churches), I hope this new approach is also reflected in the support of LGBT pupils in these schools.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Anthology 37 - Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

There's been much talk - though little evidence of - snow in the UK* over the past couple of days, so coming across this poem against that background makes it seem apt. I make no apologies for including this second poem in the space of three weeks by Robert Frost!

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


*I tend not to watch the News or Weather Forecasts and I've not seen any here in Bristol.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sunday Sounds 63

Julie Burchill's vile and disgraceful article in The Observer, which followed a week in which a throwaway remark in an article by Suzanne Moore spiralled into a Twitter-row in which she a) failed to understand why it had caused offence, b) apologise for said offence and c) used derogatory and inflammatory language, has been exercising my mind throughout today. A summary of events can be found here.

Like Stephen Tall, I wanted to write a post - but like Stephen, it's not really my usual domain. I can't begin to imagine what gender dysphoria feels like, how difficult it can be to come to terms with, let alone imagine living with it in a society where even medical professionals are insensitive to its implications.

Roz Kaverney has written an excellent analysis of Burchill's article, arguing that using her platform in The Observer, she has legitimised the language of hate. Caron has also written about the peculiar brand of feminism that Moore and Burchill perpetuate in which failure to agree makes you a puppet of Patriarchy. She also suggest that her readers seek to challenge perceptions of Trans-people through social media tools such as Twitter.

When I was out earlier, I heard Emili Sande's "Read All About It Pt. III". Tonight it came back to me whilst seeking to choose a track for Sunday Sounds. (I ruled out dedicating Lulu's Shout to Burchill on the basis that whilst she does indeed make me want to shout, I don't want her to say that she loves me). It strikes me that the lyrics could be applied to the Trans community, and to Liberals in general:
We're all wonderful, wonderful people
So when did we all get so fearful?
And now we're finally finding our voices
So take a chance, come help me sing this


The Lesser-Seen Bristol

A few days ago I posted a few pictures taken in and around Bristol... Here are a few more but these are of the lesser observed and celebrated side of the city:

Entrance to Redcliffe Caves

"The Matthew" in Dry Dock

Lights at Red 1

Lights at Red 2



Other photographic posts can be found via this link.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Saturday Six 21

Good Afternoon, welcome to another tour of some of the blogs that have caught my eye this week. As always, they are in no particular order:

First up, Mark Valladares argues against seeking to anchor policy in the "centre ground". I agree.

Next, something entirely different; one disgruntled man's feelings towards a trip to see Les Misérables. My own review of the film can be found here.

Caron Lindsay regularly features in these pages - mainly because she is a) so prolific and b) so often right. In this piece she makes a strong liberal case against the capping of benefit increases at 1% - something which is inherently unfair dressed up as fairness. (It's a similar argument to that which supported the "Community Charge" or that advocates of a flat taxation system advance.) I disagree with her with regards to whether our MPs should have been voting for it, though, in that the 1% cap is compromise ironed out of a Tory desire to freeze benefits and sees a reduction in the pension funding annual (and lifetime) allowances - reducing the amount of tax relief paid to those on higher incomes.

The London Underground was 150 this week - and this blog is a fantastic tribute to it. I'll be paying repeat visits over the next few weeks and months to explore it's wealth of photos and features.

You probably noticed the Government's mid-term review this week. Jonathan Portes, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, had a look at the performance in relation to those Deficit Reduction targets.


Review - Les Misérables

Les Misérables is one of my favourite musicals. Although it is over a decade since the last of my four trips to see it, I still know huge chunks of by heart. I have, therefore, been looking forward to seeing the film version. I didn't necessarily intend to go on the day of release but, somewhat spontaneously, I decided to go last night.

Earlier this week, it received 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway) and Best Original Song. Good news, I thought.

The film has stuck almost completely to the stage version: a brave move given its length and the lack of an interval when viewing it on film. Consulting my copy of the Original London Cast recording has confirmed that only a couple of numbers were cut (although a few were abridged) - and that the running order has been varied.

As with the film version of Evita, there is new song, with music penned by the original composers Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil and lyrics once again provided by Herbert Kretzmer. I must confess to having been concerned about this but I was pleasantly surprised. It may have been a wee bit twee but it bridged a gap in the stage version and moved the story on.

So much for the good stuff, but what did I think of the film itself? Well, I was worried you might ask that... I'm afraid I couldn't get really get past Crowe's singing, and to a lesser extent, Jackman's. My immediate post show Facebook tweet sums up my thoughts in this regard: "When casting a Musical it would help if the lead actors could sing..."

Jackman's voice improved through the film but Crowe's didn't. The films unique selling point is that the singing was recorded with the action, rather than pre-recorded and then dubbed on. As I type this, I'm listening to the soundtrack (which was recorded after the film) and I don't think that capturing the singing as part of the performance is to blame - I really do think they were poor singers and this had a real impact on my enjoyment of the whole film.

Hathaway, on the other hand, was a revelation as Fantine and, in terms of the actors, head and shoulders above the rest. Her rendition of the "I Dreamed A Dream" was fantastic. Sasha Baron-Cohen was good as Thénardier, complete with comedic French accent. Helena Bonham-Carter was also good, as Madam Thénardier. Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks performed well in the roles of Cosette and Eponine, Barks was particularly good although the former was slightly patchy in places. Eddie Redmayne made a passable Marius.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the various numbers sung by the chorus - which were performed with the right level of joy and levity to lift the mood and the tempo. And, despite my earlier comments on Crowe and Jackman, the vocal (and physical) duelling track "Confrontation" between them was excellent.

Visually, the film captures the grit and grime of revolutionary France and the various sets are good (although the barricade not necessarily as impressive as the stage version). Those who have seen the stage show, though, may feel that some of the magic of theatrical sets and effects has been lost in the transition to the screen - although director Tom Hooper does make an effort to retain the impact of some of the deaths.

Hooper is keen to mine the emotion and expressions of the actors in the way that a singer projecting to the back of a Victorian theatre can't. In doing this, though, I found some of the camera angles and shots strange. There were also too many close ups of people almost (but not quite) singing to camera. It was also oddly notable that the female leads were considerably smaller than their male counterparts - and this was often accentuated by the choice of shots.

So, I came away singing (somewhat predictably, Do You Hear The People Sing) but disappointed. Ultimately the stars of the show - other than Hathaway - are the songs and the score. And they're available (in many versions) elsewhere. I would recommend going to see Les Misérables: but go and see it on stage!


I should note that my review seems to be at odds with the Oscar nominations garnered and the generally favourable reviews elsewhere. There was also a small round of applause from some of the audience in the screening I went to, so maybe it's just me...

Friday, 11 January 2013

Bristol Photos

Some photos from around Bristol...



Boat (under construction)

Bristol Bridge


Thursday, 10 January 2013

An Optical Illusion... Bristol Fashion

...but only on screen. In real life, this image did not seem to rotate the way it does here...


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

NOW! That's What I Call A Tune! 66

This week's tune has such an irresistible joie de vivre, I defy anyone not to like it!

Should I bend over, should I look older, just to be put on your shelf?...


Monday, 7 January 2013

My Mid Term Review

I'm not normally a fan of arbitrary "stock-taking" exercises, especially when they mark random things like "the first 100 days." I grudgingly accept, though, that there is a bit more logic to the "mid-term review", particularly in the context of a coalition where the yardstick is the negotiated coalition agreement, rather than a single party's manifesto.

I had hoped to be able to blog in some detail about the review itself, but I've not had the chance to have more than the most cursory of glances at it so, for now, I'll review to Stephen Tall's piece on Lib Dem Voice. That has a somewhat depressing conclusion - and I fear that he may be right.

Anyway, here are some comments by way of my own Mid-term review:

It's the Economy, Stupid. 

Well, it always is, isn't it. And, of course, we came into power to "clear up Labour's mess" Since then, growth has failed to materialise, we went back into recession, and the deficit reduction plan has had to be extended. And the fault for this?: international events, the Euro Crisis and sluggish economies elsewhere.

I have a couple of problems with this narrative. I understand the politics of it but I think it's disingenuous to blame Labour entirely for the economic circumstances into which this government stepped. But they can be lamed for fiscal mismanagement prior to the events of 2008 and, in particular, of spending the surplus which had been accumulated in the early years of their tenure.

And whilst it's not fair to ignore the international aspects to the 2010 situation, it's not fair to only blame the international circumstances since. We should have done, and need to do more, to encourage growth: through limited capital expenditure (as well as the much-vaunted guarantee schemes) if necessary.

That said, there is no magic bullet to encourage growth - and Labour lie when they suggest as much. Continued public expenditure at the levels it was at would have led to market confidence (such as it was) evaporating and our costs of borrowing escalating, along with a deficit creating artificial growth: a vicious circle which would have left us only marginally better off than Ireland, Greece et al.

There are signs of stabilisation in the economy but there's no getting away from the fact that things will remain rocky here (and in most of the developed world) for a long time to come...

Wasn't it supposed to be about Freedom, Fairness and Responsibility?

I'm going to say no more on this, other than to link to this post in which I urged Nick Clegg to meet campaigners against Closed Material Procedures. I am, and will remain, a Lib Dem to my core but Secret Courts are not being enacted in my name and I will be supporting Lib Dems Against Secret Courts motion to Spring Conference and a Special Conference if necessary.

Let's not talk about Constitutional Reform.

Best not. And best not too much at the next election either. And best not make it feature of any coalition deal that follows (should that happen, should it even be desirable). No one believes in major constitutional reform more than I do but next time we have the chance, let's spend on political capital on other policy areas. I'm not suggesting giving it up, just giving it a break.

It could have been much, much worse.

I know things are far from perfect. 

I know that we have alienated the soft support from those who lean to the left. 

I know we have made enemies in the chattering classes, the Guardianistas and comedians and panellists on Radio and TV news review programmes.

I know there is going to be an electoral price to pay.

But I also know a Tory (or Labour) Government would have been worse in their own ways. It may feel worse at times, as we're seen as (and are) complicit in things that go against our grain but stop for a moment and imagine what the ideologues in the Conservatives would have done without a restraining hand. And what they wouldn't have done without a kick up the proverbial.

And, for the avoidance of doubt, I think that many of the battles we've had with the Tories would have been fought with Labour, had a viable coalition been possible. Not least on Tuition fees but also on Civil Liberties  (ending ID cards, Data Communications, Secret Courts). They may have been more amenable to fiscal policy which taxed the rich and cut welfare less but we'd have still, for example, seen VAT rise. And don't forget, they laid the foundation stones of the NHS and Education reforms which the Tories have built on and awarding Atos a contract to do assessments for the DWP in 1998.


Ending Child Detention. Increasing the Personal Allowance. Canning the Draft Data Communications Bill. The Pupil Premium. Equal Marriage. Increasing Capital Gains Tax Rates. Green Investment Bank. Instigated a "triple-lock" on State Pension Increases. Stopped the Tories freezing benefits (although conceded a 1% cap). Fought to keep a 5.2% increase in benefits in 2011 Autumn Statement against Tory resistance. Scrapped ID cards. Ended compulsory annuititisation of pensions at Age 75. Introduced Shared Parental Leave. Fought Tory "fire at will" proposals.

In summary.

We've made political mistakes. The coalition's made policy mistakes. But two and a half years on, whatever way you cut, the alternatives in 2010 were worse than what we have. We could have done things better, but things are better - for the country - than if we had sat in opposition. And for the party - at least in Westminster - as we would not have been forgiven at the polls if a minority Tory administration had gone to the polls again the Autumn.


Anthology 36: The Way Through The Woods

This week's poem follows on from last week's (The Road Not Taken) and talks of a road even less taken.

The Way Through The Woods by Rudyard Kipling

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods ...
But there is no road through the woods.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sunday Sounds 62

This week's Sunday Sound comes courtesy of the fantastic The Blue Nile and Tinseltown in the Rain. Whilst undeniably Eighties, I think there is something timeless about the music: something which can't be said for the video!


Gay Footballers: What are the Chances?

One of my favourite Radio 4 programme's is Tim Harford's More or Less. It takes a weekly look at some of the statistics and numbers in the news and explores the basis of these: often uncovering cases of these being misapplied or misrepresented.

Yesterday I listened to the 2012 "numbers of the year" edition in which various journalists, reporters and personalities chose a significant statistic and explained something about it.

Bill Edgar, Statistics in Football writer for the Times, and author of Back of the Net: 100 Golden Goals decided to look at the chances of there NOT having been a gay footballer in the English League since the last (and first) openly gay footballer (Justin Fashanu) ended his English career at Torquay, some 20 years ago next month.

Assuming that a) the proportion of gay footballers is similar to the percentage in broader society and b) that this percentage is a conservative 1.5%, the chance that there has been no gay players in the English League is...

Of the 13,600 players to have played in the League in the past 20 years, the chances of none of them being gay is (drum roll please)

1 in 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

In the Premier League, there have been 3,200 players in this period. The chances of picking 3,200 men at random from the general populace and not picking any gay ones is:

1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

The only recorded case of an active professional footballer being openly gay, anywhere, is the (Liverpool-born) Swede Anton Hysén (pictured) - you can read more about Hysén over on Stephen's blog. For more of More or Less, you can download the podcast.