29 January 2009

The only way I'll get to Wembley

Training in Wembley today to an enchanting group of 12 women. It went very well although once again I'm knackered now. We were in the Wembley Plaza hotel, overlooking the stadium from the 10th floor. A very quick group, we sailed through the course, and even easily had time for a quality 3 course lunch in the hotel restaurant. Thanks very much, the people of Brent.

Home tonight to find nothing new in terms of news. Grr. And John Martyn's dead. Grr. Maybe that was foreknown by whoever recommended the OBE. It may have been Gordon Brown himself. I can see him growling along to some of Martyn's gloomier songs. I may have a drink or two in his memory.

28 January 2009


What's happened to Nancy Banks-Smith? Since I linked to her as a funny woman, she seems to have stopped writing for the Guardian at all. The default tv reviewer these days seems to be Sam Wollaston, who's often quite boring. I only read his column if I've seen the programme he's talking about, whereas I'd read NBS's review of the testcard. I've already deleted Vicky, now will I have to remove her? I'm going to give it a while yet.

Meanwhile, another of the funny women, Ariane Sherine, has achieved quite some fame with the Atheist Bus Campaign, appearing frequently on telly. But unbelievably, she can't find a man, and has told the world, which has inevitably brought her loads of (possibly) unwelcome attention. She has handled it with amazing charm, though, and she certainly stays on the list. In case she reads this, here's another suggestion. Be like Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, who was prepared to travel to find a solid relationship and take the roughcast with the smooth:
Like every married couple, we have our ups and downs. We even made it through the terrible disaster of November 9, 1989, when my husband was subjected to frenzied attacks by a mob.

I may be going back on the telly. There's going to be a new series of Only Connect. Because it's recording in March, they may not have time to find new teams, so will invite some of the teams from the first series back again. Maybe it's time to reinstate Vicky after all.

We seem no closer to a decision on redundancies. It's strange to be wishing for redundancy while the rest of the country is terrified of it. If it's going to happen, I need to start making plans. The best idea I have at the moment is to go back to college, doing a full-time MA in something literary, but I'm not allowing myself to spend any time gathering details until I know. Meanwhile our management seems completely unaware of the effects of the uncertainty on everybody whose job may be going, telling us nothing, nothing, nothing. Join my Facebook group: Let's find a million people who think this is getting ridiculous now!

22 January 2009


A fogged-up bus
Working in the public sector, it's compulsory for me to hate homophobes, racists, etc, which of course I do, and would do even if I wasn't paid to. But occasionally people do things that are totally harmless, that make me think they lack some element of what it is to be human. So, while I don't hate them, I realise I could never love them.

Today is wet and fairly cold, so the windows on the bus were thickly steamed up. In the two front seats upstairs, two women sat. Neither of them had made any attempt to wipe away a bit of the mist, to create a looking hole. It's not as if they were reading; they were just staring forward at the fogged-up glass.

That lack of curiosity, of wanting to know what's going on around you, seems strangely inhuman, like some part of the soul has died.

20 January 2009

Inevitably, Barack Obama

Got home too late to see the speech live, but the glow of warmth was still emanating from a freezing Washington. All the news seems to be about the significance of the event, rather than what Obama said, which is a pity, because there's actually some serious content, which seems to mark a clear difference from the Bush years. Some extracts:
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our healthcare is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

Wham! Bush's friends nailed for guilt and irresponsibility, and climate change recognised as a threat.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise healthcare's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

The promise of a new new deal - turning the crisis of economic collapse into an opportunity of public works for the public good. Science! He dares to mention science. Unthinkable in Bush's time.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous.

A clear rebuke to the old regime, universally seen as acquiescent at best to the selfishness of markets.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

The opening rhetoric necessarily recruits past patriotism, to reunite it with the American belief - sometimes annoying - that it can be the light of good in the world. Humility and restraint were concepts that Bush never valued.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers.

Non-believers! That was almost made illegal not so long ago. And interesting that he refers to a patchwork of beliefs, not race. He later talks about dissolving the "lines of tribe" - moving to a country where it's not what you are but what you do that matters.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the west - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Not dodging the real but unnecessary conflict between America and the Muslim world, but declaring respect for those who build.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

And the personal reference before the close of the speech, reminding everyone why the dream of equality and opportunity matters.

This feeling won't last. Reality will damage the dream as it always does. But let's just be happy for now.

18 January 2009

Byebye ...

I'm deleting Vicky Coren from the links on the right. Not only has she never phoned or written since our time together in Cardiff (did it really mean nothing to her?), but her blog is for some reason not posting updates here or on Google reader.

Bye bye also to builder. Yes, the work is complete! As well as a new clean bathroom, it's effectively extended my living room because I threw out so much stuff, or stuffed stuff upstairs. Later on, under cover of darkness, I'll test my theory that there really is room to swing a cat.

Byebye surely to the second division, but I'm not talking or thinking about that.

And hello again to Eddie Butler. Here's today's headline: "Johnson's men must follow mantra of liberation". Now I know it's about rugby, I've no urge at all to read the story, but can just add it to the poem his headlines are writing. Here it is, slightly edited (I'm Pound to his Eliot):

Johnson must follow mantra of liberation,
Sure Betsen starts wasps on their way.
Capital gains leave the French feeling shirty:
Evans the leveller saves quins at the last.

Do better is message for the Celtic giants:
McGeechan needs noise as now is the haste.

14 January 2009

Presents progress

An update on some of the Christmas and birthday presents I've received.

The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Slightly more than 800 pages of wilfully obscure poetry. I haven't finished it yet. But have set up another blog, A Canto A Day, with the madly optimistic aim of reading and commenting on one canto every day. We'll see how long that lasts!

Hex. The complete DVDs of this series, which I'd never seen before. Frankly, the presence of Jemima Rooper got it onto my wish list. I've started watching the first DVD, the pilot episodes, and oh lord how slow moving it is! I might save this until I have flu.

More Jemima Rooper in Lost in Austen. I came late to this series on telly, but loved it - and it sparked my unhealthy interest in J Rooper. It struck me as absolutely uncynical, bizarrely, in its obvious utter love and respect for Jane Austen, in contrast to more straightforward adaptations. This has the real wit and cruelty that Jane Austen always showed, not just nice dresses and wet t-shirts. One rainy Sunday I'm going to watch the whole thing in one go.

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs. Watched this over two nights. It's not up to the standard of the original series, but better than the first movie (Bender's Big Score) and better than most things on telly any time. Will probably be better on a repeat viewing.

Pulling the dvd of the first series is just brilliant. Again, I came late to this on telly. I think it was on BBC3 and so naturally I assumed it was crap. It isn't - it's filthy, crude, loud and hilarious. Can't believe BBC have cancelled it, while 2 Pints of Idiot and a Packet of Idiot is onto series 8.

The Rest is Noise was largely on my list in preparation for Counterpoint. On my application form I said that my favourite period of music was the first half of the 20th century, which this book covers brilliantly. It's my onthetrain book at present. Only problem is it talks in such a detailed way about the musical structure of key works that you you really need an accompanying set of cds and scores.

Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Italian Cooking looks inspiring. Haven't really used it yet, waiting for better ingredients to come into season. I have used some of the bottle of white balsamic vinegar that came with it.

Aberystwyth My Lovely was my secret santa present at work, so once again I don't know who to thank. I've started it, but frankly not impressed so far. It's not nearly as funny or clever as it thinks itself.

And finally Hih by the unfairly unknown Monica Vasconcelos is unfairly unknown.

Thanks to everyone for these and the other presents I haven't mentioned. All I really need is more time to appreciate them. And there's still no news on whether I'll get it.

13 January 2009

Norwich 0 Charlton 1

So glad I made the trip to Norwich, along with must be 5000 addicks for this unmissable game. What a roll we're on! I've just missed the train (ironically) so I'm writing this in the pub outside the station, surrounded by happy happy fans (bit of jostling going on, so I may occasionally type things that aren't actually true) and loads of Norwich supporters wishing us well after a fine display. Even though they also really wanted to win this game And now, oh joy, we've got a fourth round trip to Sheff Utd, unmissable.

12 January 2009


I've started twittering (I think the actual term is tweeting) again. Twitter is a kind of microblog, with the advantage that nothing is too trivial to recount (heaven forfend that triviality might blight a blog). One good reason for twitting (as I believe it's known) is to follow (or 'stalk' as some might say) other people, such as Stephen Fry. Thanks to Twitter (or Twatter as it's sometimes misspelt) I know that Stephen Fry is currently in New Zealand being witty (or twitty, as you, my succulent darlings, might put it).

10 January 2009

Charlton 0 Nottingham Forest 2

My first game for over a month: a two nil defeat making relegation ever more certain, a freezing afternoon at the Valley. Did it have any redeeming features?

Well the first 15 minutes or so was encouraging. Parkinson seems to have worked out how to use Jonjo Shelvey to good effect, lying just behind the 'striker' in a 4-5-1 formation using his impressive speed to make dangerous runs. Very good support for Forest - probably the biggest away crowd this season. Their goalkeeper, Smith, was probably the man of the match with at least 3 superb saves (and a few others that might have been fortuitous.)

And that's it. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Charlton's defence gave two really soft goals away, the second of which was utterly hopeless. At about 30 minutes into the first half the game had degenerated. No-one had any ideas. Charlton were passing the ball around between keeper and centre backs, but one pass was way too short, setting up Robbie Earnshaw to unhinderdly chip the ball over Rob Elliott and effectively finish the game. Deon Burton, who once (ie on one occasion) looked a promising holding striker, was completely invisible.

The next good thing was getting home. Oh the pleasure of coming into a warm house on a cold day!

09 January 2009

Jewish Jesus

Article by Howard Jacobson in today's Guardian, about Christians' discomfort with Jesus's Jewish background. Speaking as a post-Christian atheist, I can't say that's ever been a problem for me, just as long as you bear in mind that although Jesus was Jewish, his father was definitely C of E.

07 January 2009

Counterpoint recording

I'm going to be in heat 6, which is being recorded on 2 March at Broadcasting House. So plenty of time to read The Rest is Noise (thanks, Marion). Tickets are available from the BBC ticket unit but the FAQ I've received says "We can reserve any number of places in the audience, so just let us know names and numbers". So if you want to come along, my lovely claque, please let me know. It looks as if my show will be the last of three recorded that evening. Presumably Paul Gambaccini is expected to be a bit faster than Robert Robinson.

As far as I can see, it'll be broadcast on 13 April - the same times as Brain of Britain: 1:30 on Monday, repeated at 11pm the following Saturday.

So go on, ask me some questions ....

06 January 2009

Atheist buses

Logo of the Atheist Bus Campaign
Congratulations to the Atheist Bus Campaign on its launch today. I've already seen one of the buses, in Whitehall this morning. There's been a lot of talk about the phrasing ("probably") but that strikes me as a useful and appropriate contrast to the certainties of fundamentalists of all kinds.

In other Guardian news, surprise surprise, Tony Blair "is to receive the United States's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from his friend George Bush next Tuesday, at a White House ceremony during the latter's last week in office". The Guardian goes on:

The medal is awarded "for especially meritorious contributions to security or the national interests of the United States, world peace or cultural or other significant public or private endeavours". It was not immediately clear last night under which heading the former prime minister had qualified.

04 January 2009

Is this about Dr Who?

This headline on the Guardian/Observer home page today:

Eddie Butler McGeechan needs a noise as now is the time of haste

and this photo:

Picture of Eddie Butler, whoever he is

I'm guessing the photo is of Eddie Butler, but only because that's the name of the image. But I've no idea who McGeechan is, or what it could possibly mean to 'need a noise'. Is he deaf? Or a blocked musician?

I'm one click way from finding out the answers but I'm sure the reality is uninteresting (it'll be about golf or something - Eddie looks like someone who likes golf) so I'm leaving it alone.

And now is the time of haste? Well, I think you'll find we all knew that already.

02 January 2009


Sunshine this morning, so I caught the pattern of the glazing of the new back door, on the new paint, on the new plaster, next to the new towel ring, holding the old towel.

Photo of towel ring

And the old window catch, salvaged and fitted to the new window, which one day I'll clean.
Photo of window catch