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Saboteur

17 December 2011

Charlton 1 Oldham 1

Sometimes I think it's not so bad being in the third division. But then games like this happen: a negative team comes to town with the sole objective of getting a point - and fans who celebrate as if they've won something when that happens - and a third division referee, whose capricious decisions ruined any flow the game ever looked like having. The only good thing I can say is that at least it didn't rain much. And we're still 5 points clear.

09 December 2011

The monthly curse

No, not that one. Chris Powell has been named League 1 manager of the month for November. Thoroughly deserved, of course, but football lore has it that this is bad luck and the good results will stop.

Actually, it is likely to be true that a team's results get worse after the award, but it's nothing to do with a curse. The award recognises that the team's results have been exceptionally good. By definition, nothing exceptional can go on for ever, so the next month is statistically likely to be more normal. Charlton might even lose a game. It's the law of averages.

But this is Chris Powell we're talking about. He's not bound by anything as puny as the law of averages. Even the laws of physics bend to his will. When he used to "jump" from the tunnel after winning games, that wasn't him jumping, it was the earth taking a step back in awe of his magnificence. With him, the exceptional is normal. Wednesday have a very loseable game tomorrow (at Oldham), though sadly Huddersfield don't, and I expect to travel back from Walsall with an 8-point wide gap of a grin.

29 November 2011

Charlton 2 Vincibles 0

All the Sky hype before the game had apparently been about "high-flying" Huddersfield. Flying so high they were five points behind the leaders in league one, whoever they were, and in third place. But this was always going to be a crucial game. Sure enough, Huddersfield turned out to be the best team that's come to the Valley this season. The key to their hitherto-unbeatenness is their midfield: it really was superb, controlling the game for long periods. You can see how they can shut down most opposition.

Their player who usually gets all the attention is Jordan Rhodes. He's scored 13 in the league this season, so he's almost asgoodasbetterthanShaun, and I was looking forward to seeing him. I still am. He was largely invisible, and not in a good way. The sense is growng that we have, at last, a defence we can trust. And we needed it: Huddersfield got 10 corners to Charlton's nil, but the number of times they genuinely looked like scoring was tiny.

Charlton's first goal was a precise header to the top corner by Kermorgant that left the Terriers' keeper completely flat footed, and the second, by Hogan Ephraim, was the result of some quick thinking and fumbly goal-keeping. As usual, the opposition had started stronger, but that doesn't worry me any more. It's good that Charlton take the measure of them before taking control.

In the second half Huddersfield were mostly on top, and I got the sense that some of the Charlton players were feeling the pressure of the situation. But without any real scares they saw the game through, and the buzz around the ground at the end of the game was more jubilant than I can remember for a long time. Maybe the boxing day defeat of Chelsea all that time ago?

Chris Powell had tried to play down the importance of this game. Wisely, he wanted to take pressure off the players, and he's right that it's just game 19 with 27 more to play. But it felt momentous, as if Charlton had absolutely claimed their right to be on top of the league. Now they really are the team to beat. (And my pre-season bet on Charlton to be champions at 11.5 is looking good. The latest price is around 2.6.)

Selected other views
Guardian report (Don't usually see them here. It's a good report with interesting reader feedback. The Independent's report is all about Huddersfield's broken record, so I'm not linking to that. If the Telegraph has a report, it's too well hidden for me.)
Cafc.co.uk match report
Huddersfield website report
Wyn Grant (magisterial, as always)

23 November 2011

Donate a coat

Here's one of the stupidest statistics you'll ever read:
Recent research shows that more than 1.2 million people over 60 in the UK agree that having a warm coat is a good thing during winter.
Let's think how they got that figure.There's around 12 million people over 60 in the UK. So either they asked 1.2 million people the same stupid question before they got bored with getting the same stupid answer, or they asked a sample, and scaled up the response. That would mean that 1 in 10 over sixties agreed with the value of a warm coat. And the rest didn't?

Anyway, the unreferenced and meaningless research is connected to ITV's "Donate a coat" campaign. The idea is that people with too many coats donate one of them, so that the Salvation Army can give it to someone who needs it. Sounds fair enough but hang on a minute ...

So far, they've collected around 2,500 coats. Presumably there's a target of, say, 50,000. That means they're estimating there are 50,000 people in the UK - a relatively rich and relatively cold country - who can't afford a warm coat. That's a national disgrace. If they really believe it, shouldn't they be doing something to change it? "But they're not allowed to be political." But they're being political: making a statement that 50,000 people are living below the most basic standard, but that's OK. Here, have a coat in exchange for a little dignity. You're old and/or poor: how do you expect to actually buy a coat of  your own?

As an illlustration of how charity can be demeaning and reactionary, it could hardly be bettered.

22 November 2011

Grey days and browning leaves

If not winter, it seems autumn is properly here. Not the nice autumn, where chilly sunshine illuminates the last red leaves, but nasty autumn, where permanent drizzle makes everything grey. Every day is a staying-in day, and so it's time to start getting a bit studious again.

Luckily, there's a booksale to help with that. I've written before about the Blackheath Amnesty booksale, held in June. I didn't know they also have one in autumn, but they do, and it was on Saturday, and here are the books I picked up.

First, two pretty volumes of Verlaine published by Editions de Cluny in 1947/48. I'm sure I've got some Verlaine already but couldn't resist these, and look at the generous, elegant and timeless typesetting:
Then two writers whose names end in -o. (That's really the only link I can find.)
Ionesco seems to have gone out of fashion these days. This is a 1960 edition, with many of the browning pages still uncut. The original reader didn't get past the first two plays. I've never (I think) read any Ionesco, but I've just read the opening of La Cantatrice Chauve, which has made me laugh out loud. Here's my translation.
Scene 1
English middle-class interior, with English armchairs. English evening. Mr Smith, Englishman, in his English armchair and his English slippers, smokes an English pipe and reads an English newspaper by the English fire. He has English spectacles, a small grey English moustache. By his side, in another English armchair, Mrs Smith, Englishwoman, is darning some English socks. A long English silence. The English clock strikes seventeen English times.
MRS SMITH: Oh! It's nine o'clock. We have eaten soup, fish, potatoes and English salad. The children have drunk English water. We have eaten well tonight. That's because we live in the outskirts of London and our name is Smith.  
Perhaps I'm just easily pleased.

You would think you can guess quite easily when the Ariosto was published: it's such a 70s design. But the print was 1994, which surprises me.

Next, just because I feel I ought to have read more Pushkin:
And finally, because any help is welcome:
"New"? It was published in 1969 (when Ez was still alive), spent its life in a Greenwich library, and judging by its condition, didn't get out much. Unsurprising, given the terrible, terrible cover design.

So plenty of improving literature to read during these dark damp months. Only time will tell if I actually do.

12 November 2011

The handwritten Bible

I'm not sure what to make of this latest flowering of celebrity culture. It's a project to complete a hand-written Bible. The obvious question is why, and allegedly it's to reconnect the British public with the Bible. And of course these days that means there has to be a celeb element. As the Guardian puts it, there is a "celebrity verses" section, with remaining verses written out by the public. And that may be the real purpose: to give celebs the chance to project a nice image of themselves, while the proles get landed with the lists of dietary laws and all the smiting and begetting.

David Cameron has chosen some of Paul's less contentious advice:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.
Even I can't find anything to complain about in that. Apart from the mention of God, of course. Prince Charles has gone for Genesis Chapter 1 verses 1 and 2. The Guardian links this to his environmental concerns. Balls. It's our future king's way of saying "By hook or by crook, I'm first in this book."

So, readers, Christian or otherwise, which verses of the Bible would you choose to contribute?

07 November 2011

FIFA gets something right

More poppy madness, I'm afraid, and some people might like to look away now. I've just read a tweet that says "The world has gone mad" because FIFA won't let the England football teams have a poppy design on their shirts for their game against Spain on Saturday. (Guardian story here.)

Here's the first provocation, which I feel I should whisper. The world's gone mad when people think footballers should wear a poppy design on their shirt. To amplify on my earlier view, it seems that remembrance these days is all about putting your feelings on display, with the implication that you can't be sincere unless you're wearing a poppy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for about 3 weeks. It's like a few years ago, when everyone was encouraged to wear a pink ribbon to show their opposition to breast cancer. As if anyone is in favour of it... England's footballers can express their views perfectly well without wearing a poppy symbol on their shirts. They could be silent on the morning of 11 November. They could go to a remembrance service next Sunday. They could donate their match fee to the appeal. And there will in any case be a minute's silence before the game.

And here's the even more shocking view: I think FIFA is right. Their rules say that a national team can't change its kit without approval, and that in particular the kit shouldn't carry any "political, religious or commercial messages". It's debatable whether the poppy symbol is a political message. Lots of people would say it is, in that it implicitly condones militarism. I'm not sure. But I think it's right to be careful about these things, and it's better that FIFA should ban anything that looks remotely like a political symbol, rather than get into a discussion of what is and what isn't. I really don't want Sepp Blatter making that kind of decision (or any decision at all, in an ideal world).

Funnily enough, it seems the organisers of the poppy appeal agree with me. A British Legion spokesman says: "We appreciate that showing support is not always possible under some regulations and we would never seek to impose ourselves in these situations."

So, in one morning I've found myself agreeing with FIFA and the British Legion, and disagreeing with (apparently) the vast majority of football supporters. I need to go and lie down. 

05 November 2011

Charlton 5 Preston 2

Looking at the Charlton team at the end of the match, you wouldn't have thought they'd just won 5-2 and gone five points clear at the top of the table, the first team in the league to reach 40 points. They looked vaguely disappointed, presumably at giving away the two late goals. Possibly they were also fearing Chris Powell's post-match comments.

What does that tell you about the spirit in the team this season? They aren't satisfied with anything but the best, and are driving each other onwards. It's easy to believe this is stemming from Powell, who's built the team around his vision, with players who can sign up to it. Like the defeat at Stevenage, you feel he'll use those two goals to draw even better performances out of the team.

Once again, the game was over by half-time after an immaculate performance. It's all about patience and sudden bursts of creative play, and Preston were nowhere near good enough to withstand it. In the second half they played with a bit more freedom - the result of having nothing more to lose - but it was Charlton's switching off that gave them the chances to score.

The fans didn't care about Preston's two goals, to be honest.  We'll be happy if we get a three goal advantage in every game.

It'll be interesting to see how the Football League Show manages to fit the seven goals into the usual 20 seconds. Sooner or later they're going to have to use a split screen so they can show two goals at the same time.

Other views (the pun du jour is "fireworks")
Charlton web site review
Charlton Casual

23 October 2011

Charlton 4 Carlisle 0

Is it wrong to feel disappointed after a 4-0 victory? Going into halftime with a 3-0 lead and the opposition reduced to 10 men, I'm sure everyone expected a demolition job in the second half. Even more so after the fourth goal on 48 minutes. But that was it. Fair enough, Charlton have a game on Tuesday coming up, and all they needed to do was hold the lead.

Charlton's first goal was a thing of beauty: a simple but superbly executed sequence of passes onto Yann Kermorgant's head for the first of his two. The second goal came when BWP exploited a defensive error to score from a narrow angle past the stranded goalkeeper: the goal of a born goalscorer. Kermorgant's second came after a goalmouth melee; usually Charlton don't get these. The half ended with Robson sent off for two (individually fairly harmless) yellow cards.

The second half started with an embarrassing goal for Carlisle, as the keeper let Danny Hollands' shot slip through his hands. From then, though, Carlisle impressed everyone with their commitment to keep playing, although they rarely looked like scoring. Final proof it wasn't their day was when their penalty was saved. Their fans stayed singing throughout. At halftime we'd been feeling pity for them: 500 had made the long journey to see this. But by the end, you couldn't help admiring them. Honestly, Charlton boo-boys, look and learn.

If  you want to read more about the match, here are some people who, as always, put it better than me. (Warning: you may encounter more puns on the word "four" than are permitted by the Geneva convention)

Cafc.com report ("a four-midable response")
Dr Kish ("all is four-given")
Blackheath Addick
Charlton Casual
BBC report
Paul Green in the News Shopper

22 October 2011

Why I won't be wearing a poppy

Any day now, remembrance poppies will go on sale. The poppy season now lasts three weeks. Probably from Monday we'll see no-one on live television without one pinned on. (I imagine the studios have bulk supplies so that anyone who turns up without one can be made acceptable.) The odd rebel who insists on not wearing a poppy will be open to scorn in the tabloids, attacked for ingratitude and lack of patriotism. It can't be long before technology is developed that will enable people in recorded programmes and films to have a poppy cgi'd onto them during the season. So we don't have to see anyone disrespecting our dead. We'll see Humphry Bogart as Philip Marlowe going down those means streets with trilby, trenchcoat and poppy.


I hate the moral and emotional compulsion that builds up around this. Poppy-wearing becomes something you do because it's the thing to do. I don't like being told what to do. Especially, I hate being told what emotions I should have and express. At first, I think "this is too early - can't we at least wait until November?". By November I'm thinking I'll just wear a poppy on the day itself. But by the time that comes, I am full of resentment, and I find myself arguing that, actually, the soldiers fought for my freedom not to do what everyone else is doing. I'll respect the eleven o'clock silence, but I won't wear a poppy.

In theory I would like to wear a poppy, and by buying it, to contribute to the welfare of ex-soldiers. Even though I think recent wars have largely been criminal and foolish, the soldiers who suffered weren't responsible for that, and the government support they receive is shockingly inadequate. That's where the real ingratitude is. On remembrance day we should be protesting about that, not bathing in a feel-good groupthink, too easily hijacked by those who want to keep Britain's spending on defence at its present obscene level (£46 billion pounds a year - these tiny islands have the world's fourth highest defence budget).

I like the idea that one day in the year all of us can show our gratitude and support for the soldiers and our anger at the politicians who sent them abroad to die, and ignored them when they came home wounded. One day a year, we all do something different. That would mean something. Remembrance, as it is now, doesn't.

08 October 2011

Charlton 1 Tranmere 1

It seems to be the pattern that visiting teams set out to make a quick impact, hustling for every ball and disrupting Charlton's pattern of passing football. If Charlton were a website, you'd call it a denial of service attack. That's exactly what Tranmere did, and Charlton never settled in the first half. It wasn't surprising that Tranmere took the lead after 30 minutes or so. A speculative shot from McGurk took a sizable deflection off Chris Solly to beat Ben Hamer. I'm sorry, Chris, but I'd call it an own-goal as I think he was trying to block it but got the angle wrong.

After the break, Charlton played with a lot more composure, helped, no doubt, by Tranmere's decision to hold on to what they had. In their keeper's case, what he often had was the ball and although he got a talking-to, he didn't get booked.

Charlton's equaliser came from a penalty, and the decision was followed by some ludicrous gamesmanship by Tranmere, including the keeper, who actually picked the ball up off the spot after Johnny Jackson had placed it. The referee, D Drysdale, really lost control of things at this point and it must have taken three minutes before Jackson took the kick. Thanks to @hannahbk for this video:


Tranmere are a huge team. In particular Showunmi up front looks about two metres tall, but he's not the aerial threat you might think. Like a lot of big men, he can't jump that well, which was fortunate.

On the other attack, I thought BWP had a slightly below-par game. His touch and movement weren't quite on song, and he missed a good chance in the second half which he'd normally be guaranteed to get. His understanding with Kermorgant doesn't look complete yet but they haven't played together much, so I'm not too worried about that.

So Charlton still haven't worked out how to weather a determined denial of service attack. But they remain top of the league and unbeaten, and the clocks are soon going back. It's still much better than anyone could have predicted.

Two big questions remain at the end of this game. How did Tranmere's keeper get through 90 minutes without a yellow card? Have you ever seen a worse free kick? (You know the one I mean.)

Other views
Charlton website
News Shopper (Paul Green)
briefly put: Charlotte Allen on Twitter (contains strong language)

02 October 2011

Sheffield Utd 0 Charlton 2

I don't normally blog about games I haven't attended, but yesterday's wonderful result shouldn't go unnoticed. And I think this picture typifies the way things are in the team at the moment. This was after the game, when Chris Powell spontaneously got the team together to reflect and celebrate on the victory. You get the feeling that these players would walk through fire for him.

Thanks to @leaburn on twitter for getting the picture, and for cleverly positioning the flash so it's close to Chris Powell's heart!

Another reason for this post is to plug a new blog, set up and written by the kids at the International School in Monaco. John Jones, on Drinking During the Game, says "although not strictly for Charlton, it does have a rather large CAFC bias!" As the kids are presumably all millionaires' children we should certainly welcome their support! Have a look: http://football.ismonacoblog.org/

Other views
Charton Casual
Charlton  match report
Liam Happe (News Shopper)

26 September 2011

Siobhan

I met Siobhan when we were studying on day release for our qualification in housing. It was pretty much love at first sight on my part. She had that curiously Irish colouring of pale skin and dark hair, with slate grey eyes, a cute turned-up nose and a mischievous smile. Over the three years of the course I grew to know her very well, and we'd often bunk off for the afternoon, finding a Hackney pub where, in those less enlightened days, they had to close the curtains and pretend they were shut. When she had a few drinks, she spoke with a Brummie accent, which is always amusing, and when she’d had a lot she lapsed into the Dundalk accent of her childhood.

Our careers followed each other around for a bit. For a time we both worked for Islington, and then we were both at Lewisham when they were developing their Neighbourhood Offices. It was obvious she was going to be very successful. She was brilliantly clever, quite driven and very hard-working. But once she had stopped working - often well into the evening - she definitely switched off and became a fun monster. She was terrific company and the best person to be with, either in the pub or at the theatre.

We slept together a few times but it was obvious there was no future in that. Obvious to everyone but me, that is. Every time we met I'd fall in love with her again, hoping that finally she would see sense and stay with me. I know now, and probably knew then that it would have been better for me to keep her as a very good, exciting, entertaining friend, but I could never do that.

After I left the housing business, more than 15 years ago, we gradually lost touch, but I followed her career. Sure enough, she did well and this year she was the Head of Housing in a London borough. I'm sure this was no less than she deserved. From time to time I thought of contacting her, but I feared a repetition of the heartbreak.

One evening last week she came back to mind, and the next day I did a google search on her name and the name of the council she worked for. The first few results were normal: she was still there, and I found she was Head of Housing (East). I skipped over a few results for someone of the same name who had died – her name’s not that unusual – then found this announcement  in a committee agenda.
[Siobhan ____], Head of Housing East, passed away suddenly on Sunday 24th July 2011. [Siobhan] joined _____ in 2006. She initially worked as the District Housing Manager for _______, and later became Head of Housing Services for the east of the Borough. [Siobhan] was committed to providing the best possible housing service for residents and worked hard to improve the management of our stock. She passionately believed in resident engagement and had a great relationship with the tenants’ representatives in her area. Her passing is a terrible loss to _____.
I did the sums. She must have been 49. That can’t be right. The Siobhan I knew was bursting with life. Death couldn’t touch her. But then I looked back at the results I’d skipped over. A newspaper in Dundalk had reported her death. Not much more detail, but some things I didn’t know. She’d been living in Blackheath, and had a daughter. Suddenly there was a huge gap, a loss. I had missed so much of her life, always assuming I could pick up the pieces later. I found a death notice that had been published in a local paper, with a photo of Siobhan that must have been taken around the time I knew her.

Nearly a week later I’m still in shock. Part of the reason I’m writing this self-indulgence is to try to come to terms with this. I know that with time I’ll stop thinking about her, feel less sadness, feel less guilt for losing her friendship through cowardice. If you’re reading this, and there’s a Siobhan you’ve lost touch with, pick up the phone, give them a call. You may not get another chance.

(Siobhan isn’t her real name, of course. One thing this experience is shown me is that people – even fairly private people like Siobhan, who wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter – have a kind of afterlife on the internet. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Her Linkedin profile is still there: why would anyone ever think to delete it? I don’t want anyone to stumble over this blog entry the way I stumbled over that committee agenda.)

25 September 2011

Charlton 3 Chesterfield 1

See, I thought this was a great game, but the Football League Show disagrees, seeing it as just another 20 seconds of action. Bizarrely, they showed Chesterfield's unsuccessful penalty appeal (no way) but didn't show Charlton's (which looked clear-cut to me live - I haven't seen it again). I really don't know why I even bother recording it any more.

After a bright opening spell by the visitors, Charlton battered them through the first half, and only a few brilliant saves by keeper Fleming kept them in the game. The first goal looked a bit scrappy live, but on television you could see that Hayes put a crucial and quite subtle deflection on BWP's shot. (Oh, yes, that's why I record FLS).

The second goal - a smartly taken set-piece that a better team than Chesterfield should have taken care of - and a hilarious close range miss from Clarke ("are you Torres in disguise?" the Covered End sang - it wasn't a compliment) meant that Charlton took a two goal lead into halftime. And that should have been enough, but

After the break Charlton's play slowed down quite noticeably. Again, Chesterfield started brightly but this time didn't fade. Charlton sat back a bit, and as Chris Powell has said
for a 15-20 minute period in the second half I didn't like what I was watching too much.
Chesterfield didn't look too threatening from open play, though, and needed a penalty (which looked nailed-on) to score. Charlton raised their game after that. Just think what would have happened a year ago after such a setback - negativity, defeatism - and saw out the game fairly comfortably. Very comfortably, after BWP's injury time goal.

So this year's "Football for a fiver" (unlike last year's) was a total success. A pleasantly mild, sometimes sunny afternoon, an incident-packed match, and three points. Three points clear at the top of the league. It's great to be an Addick at the moment.

Other views
Charlton website match report
News Shopper report
Deepest Darkest
Blackheath Addick
Drinking During the Game

11 September 2011

Slavery and Servitude

Slavery and Servitude ought to be one of Jane Austen's grittier novels. It isn't, but it is a work of fiction. The BBC is reporting that 24 people have been rescued from forced labour in a Travellers' camp in Bedfordshire. This is a story I want to keep an eye on, because it presses a number of buttons: some of the "slaves" were east European migrants, and the alleged enslavers were Travellers. A dilemma for the tabloids!

But the BBC claims the arrests were made under the Slavery and Servitude Act 2010. I'd never heard of that Act (Acts of Parliament don't usually have such evocative names) so I looked it up.  It doesn't exist. Less dramatically, the relevant piece of legislation is the Coroners and Justices Act 2009, section 71. It came into force in April 2010.

Well so what, you say, does it make any difference? It bothers me that if the BBC can't get something as basic as this right, how many of the other details of the story can we believe to be accurate? It's particularly important where the story is one where the media might be expected to have a biased view already. As I say, I'll keep an eye on this. And, to be fair, The Guardian also refers to the non-existent Act, so I suppose the mistake arose with the Police or with the news agency that spread the story.


*Ooh, and there's another button pressed: the Act refers to the European Human Rights Convention, which, as every tabloid journalist knows, allows Travellers to do whatever they bloody well like.

Charlton 2 Exeter 0

Another really enjoyable afternoon at the Valley, not always because of the quality of the football.

The key incident happened after 18 minutes. Nardiello thought he'd scored for Exeter, and so did I, but the officials thought the ball hadn't crossed the line. While I was feeling grateful that we don't have goalline technology, Nardiello was taking it out on the east stand linesman. According to one source (@LouisMend on twitter), he said "Lino you p*ick, that was a goal you f*cking cheating c*nt'!" Kevin Nolan's report has the even more asterisked "You’re a ******* waste of space. And while we’re at it, you’re also a ****** **** of ********, not to mention a complete ******." Which is normally enough to get you sent off, after all. The halftime twitter verdict on the "goal" was mixed: even people who were sitting near to each other differed in their opinions. My telebox wisely refused to record the Football League Show, but I understand the goal probably should have been given.

Anyway, the sending off forced Exeter to switch to a defensive style. This wasn't actually a big change in tactics. And it worked quite well until Bradley Wright-Phillips finished a neat passing move after 43 minutes.

In the second half Exeter made all their substitutions in the first ten minutes and you have to give them credit for having a decent go. But they didn't make many real chances. Meanwhile Charlton were only at their best in flashes, but finally got the second goal.

The result, and the fact that MKDons (spit!) lost, puts Charlton 2nd in the table. What might have been less noticed is Charlton's disciplinary record. According to this site, before yesterday's game Charlton shared bottom place in the yellow card table, with just six so far (compared to Sheff Utd's 19, for example. Oops, make that 23.). With no bookings again yesterday, that's where they stay. Another sign that Chris Powell is building a team in his image.

06 September 2011

Charlton 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Deadman and Slaughter were two of the match officials last night. If I were a tabloid sub I could made something out of that. Wednesday should have been deadmen by halftime. That's probably true (metaphorically, obviously*). A great start with a 3rd minute goal by Bradly Wright-Phillips saw a dominant first half performance, but with only one really clear chance. It wasn't the best football Charlton have played this season, but it should have been enough to sweep away a sadly limited looking Sheffield team.

Slaughter at the Valley didn't happen. It was one of those games where suddenly the whole team seems to lose its way. Passes fail, frustration builds up, and the pattern of play disappears. Players fall back onto what they're comfortable with, the apparently safe option of a long ball aimed at BWP. Better than Shaun he may be, but not much taller; he's never going to win these balls against any regular 3rd division centreback. So possession is lost.

Even that wouldn't have mattered though, if Charlton hadn't helped Weds out. Their open play looked unlikely to bring then a goal, but once again slack defending of a corner was Charlton's downfall. Goals from corners should be very rare, but it seems as if Charlton have already conceded several this season. I hate to place individual blame but it struck me that Ben Hamer generally had a poor game in goal, suggesting he hasn't yet established an understanding with his defenders, and that has to be Chris Powell's priority in training.


*Clearly, I'm not cut out to be a tabloid sub. Can you imagine a Sun front page ever featuring the phrase "metaphorically, obviously" after a blast of hyperbole?

22 August 2011

Maple House

I saw reports on Friday that there was a fire in Idonia Street. Deptford. According to the BBC, it was a fire in a residential tower block. There aren't any tower blocks in Idonia Street, though. I know this, because I used to live there. That's why I recognised the unusual, unforgettable name.

So this morning, for a quick ride, I decided to go and see. Here it is:
It's not a tower block, it's Maple House, a four-storey block, and the flat that's burnt out is number 21. I know this because I used to live there. Happily, it seems no-one was injured. Here's the fire brigade report.

I still wonder why the BBC described it as a tower block. Nothing in the fire brigade report says this. Maybe they think all flats in Deptford are in tower blocks.That's a nice stereotype after all. But wrong.

21 August 2011

Charlton 2 Scunthorpe 2

The last couple of years I haven't really been paying much attention to football. I would turn up to the Valley on a roughly fortnightly basis, watch the game, go home, write a blogpost, have a drink, forget, forget, forget. It was nice. I didn't have to put up with Match of the Day or the Football League Show. I almost forgot who Steve Claridge was.

As a result, I didn't know that Scunthorpe had just been relegated from the Second Division. How can that be? Not the relegation, but how did they ever reach those heights? Their results so far this season seemed mediocre, while Charlton had been imperious. So how could anything go wrong? I predicted a 4-0 win on www.charltonpredictor.com.

Turns out Scunny were much better than I'd expected. It was one of those times when I wished I could be the famous "neutral observer" - it was a cracking match, with both teams playing a nice passing game, and chances happening at both ends. The result was fair, even if you could (of course) point to a few mistakes by the referee: he got completely conned at one point by a Scunthorpe dive, and added 5 minutes of injury time to a game where there was only one time the physio was on the pitch. It didn't make a difference: the final goal was scored in legitimate added time, and the game was so open and evenly balanced it could have gone either way.

The most shameful incident was when Charlton got a corner with five minutes to go, and, at 2-1 up, decided to play it short, presumably intending to hold the ball there for the rest of the match. They managed it for about 20 seconds. For that alone, they deserved to forfeit a goal.

So, an odd feeling after the game. Disappointment that Charlton couldn't hold onto the lead, but no sense of injustice.

I've started watching Match of the Day and the Football League Show again, and I've remembered who Steve Claridge is. He's the man who was sacked as Millwall manager without leading them into a single competitive game. He must be worth listening to.

15 August 2011

Carnivorism 2.0

I'm not a vegetarian, though I have been in the past. In the end, I don't think there's a convincing moral argument that eating animals is wrong (though I'll spare you the details of my reasoning). On the other hand there are overwhelming arguments on health, economic and environmental grounds that people in our society ought to eat a lot less meat (again, I'll leave out the details - any number of websites will carry the debate about this).So if, say, 20% of people became vegetarians, it would be a Good Thing. Even if you can't bring yourself to give up meat, you ought to be glad if other people do.

These days, vegetarianism can mean two things. The original meaning is simply not eating meat. But now people possibly expect a vegetarian to be a strident crusader for not eating meat. Vegetarianism 2.0 is a campaign as well as a dietary option.

What I think has been less noticed - though possibly not by vegetarians - is that carnivorism has its preachy wing too. As always, my frame of reference is Come Dine With Me, where the carnivores typically don't only not know what to cook for vegetarian guests, but panic at the prospect of a vegetarian meal. Some go further, and suggest that people are wrong, morally wrong, for not eating meat. Well, if there's no moral argument in favour of vegetarianism, there's certainly no valid moral argument against it. (Except this: if you drink milk, you should be prepared to eat veal.) And it's perfectly possible to have a healthy diet that doesn't contain meat, as hundreds of millions of Indians will confirm.

When I was a vegetarian, I faced this kind of defensive hostility all the time. I didn't understand it then, and still don't. I think there's going to be an outbreak of carnivorism 2.0 tonight, when a team of vegetarians appear on Only Connect. I'll be following this on twitter and I'll be looking out for the funny comments about how weak and pale and generally wimpish they seem to be. I might make a drinking game of it. I'll be pissed before the missing vowels round.


13 August 2011

A Woman Killed with Kindness

Tuesday's blogpost about the "riots" in Lewisham and Catford is by far the most read ever on this blog. It made me wish I still carried adversts. Hail and farewell, new readers! This post is more like the normal routine: a half-arsed review of a play what I have seen.

A Woman Killed with Kindness is a 1603 play by Thomas Heywood. You can read it here, if you like. I did, earlier this week. I wasn't impressed. The language is caught between Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets. It doesn't have the rich verbal texture of Shakespeare or the underlying thoughtfulness of the metaphysicals. The plot and subplot are barely connected, but scenes alternate.

The production, at the Lyttleton, is directed by Katie Mitchell. I'd seen one of her plays before, a production of The Trojan Women. It seemed to me at the time that the production embodied a theory of drama, rather than a view of the play itself. From reviews of other plays it seemed that she had a strange realist view, where the characters quite obviously are talking to each other, not to the audience. She combined this, however, with formalist elements, such as closely choreographed movement, and use of unrealistic music.

I'd read that the production was just over two hours long, with no interval. Theatres don't like not having an interval - it reduces bar takings - so if a director is going non-stop, is it because she fears the audience will leave at half-time?

So, I was prepared for the worst.I even thought of not going, but staying at home, protecting my little corner of Catford from any remaining looters. But I recognised that as paranoia, so took the very slow bus to Waterloo.

And I'm glad I did. I still don't think the play's all that. But that makes it an ideal vehicle for a tendentious production. Mitchell's production is distinctly feminist, picking up on the irony of the play's title and extending it, so that you have, in a sense, two women killed by kindness. It's not entirely convincing, because the two central women aren't given good enough texts. It means that one of the best passages I noted in reading the play, a speech by Frankford, is savagely cut:

A general silence hath surpris'd the  house,
And this is the last door. Astonishment,
Fear, and amazement, beat upon my heart,
Even as a madman beats upon a drum. 
Oh, keep my eyes, you Heavens, before I enter,
From any sight that may transfix my soul;
Or, if there be so black a spectacle,
Oh, strike mine eyes stark blind; or if not so,
Lend me such patience to digest my grief,
That I may keep this white and virgin hand
From any violent outrage, or red murder! —
And with that prayer I enter.
Most of this goes. It's OK to do this, of course, but I wonder if it oversimplifies things.

The staging is striking, and a neat solution to the play's structure. Effectively two sets in one, you have a doll's house view of the public areas of the two locations: the shabby old-money home of the Mountfords, and the new (1920's style) house of the Frankfords. And there was a really stunning final piece of staging. It's as usual a bit worrying, though, when the sets are what you most remember.

There were some of Katie Mitchell's apparent predilections: several times the arrangement of furniture seems to be reinforcing the fourth wall, but less annoyingly here than in The Trojan Women. And her use of choreography to indicate passage of time was generally efficient and effective.

Let's look at some reviews. Lyn Gardner, in the Guardian, doesn't seem to have a lot to say, frankly. Charles Spencer, in the Telegraph, isn't as dim as usual (translation: he has pretty much the same opinion as me), but seems to have missed the chance to have an interval drink. (I didn't find the lack of an interval a problem, by the way: a break would have ruined the play.) Paul Taylor, in the Independent, is the most enthusiastic reviewer, but doesn't quite explain why. I think it's fair to summarise their response, like mine, as being aware that Mitchell is trying to do something very interesting, but not completely succeeding.


09 August 2011

Lewisham and Catford riots

Yesterday evening vague reports of disturbance in Lewisham were coming through, so I decided to go and look for myself and cycled through Catford to Lewisham and back.

At first, it seemed quite normal. Traffic was flowing pretty freely, but in Rushey Green a bus had been parked across the road and traffic was being diverted away from Lewisham High Street. The Argos store had a broken window, and the optician next to it was smashed wide open.

In Lewisham there was a police line across the High Street at the corner with Courthill Road. It seemed as if they were kettling the area, but I couldn't see what was happening inside.

Back at Catford there was a strange, unpleasant atmosphere. There were a lot of people walking around, partly, I suppose, because there were no buses running, partly because there were a lot of sightseers, like me, but I also felt that some were there opportunistically to grab what they could. There was no sense of a riot, no sense of a large mob rampaging. Rather there were groups of four or five, mostly in hoodies, which isn't unusual, but some wearing masks, which is. They had the stance and posture of kids in a mall, wondering which shop to go to next - which is probably exactly what they were thinking. I'd guess there were at most 100 people looking like this. There didn't seem to be many police around. A lot of small shops which would normally be open till 10 or 11 were closed and grilled at 7pm.

This morning I repeated the ride. Lewisham centre was now open and there didn't seem to be any major structural damage: no buildings burnt down. Macdonalds had smashed windows, and a few places were boarded up, but I couldn't tell if that had been a precaution rather than a consequence. A few pawnbrokers seemed to have had their grilles attacked.

In Catford, still the major damage appeared to be Argos and the optician's. At the business centre on Bromley Road it looked as if Curry's, PC World and Comet hadn't been touched. I learned off twitter that JD Sport on Catford Island had been seriously looted, and found a youtube video of that taking place, as well as the trouble at Argos.

Compared with Croydon, or even Ealing, Lewisham and Catford got away fairly lightly. My guess is that the police action in sealing off Lewisham centre was effective both in stopping any serious incidents there and in stopping it spreading down the A21. It also looked as if businesses had been given adequate information  and taken precautions. If that's true, then well done the Police.

06 August 2011

Charlton 3 Bournemouth 0

The levels of optimism before this game were high enough, but after a comprehensive win in fine style, it's going to be hard to be realistic. Bournemouth were by no means a bad team: they played an attractive passing game, and I've a feeling they'll do well this season. But Charlton were a team transformed.

Considering the team was rebuilt almost from scratch over summer, the understanding between the players was impressive. Chris Powell is continuing the work he began last season in getting the team to play nicely, passing between defense and midfield, holding the ball, waiting for the chance to break. It was controlled and patient, but there was also a bit more bite in defence. We didn't see last season's tendency to give up on 50-50 balls.

As the game went on there was even an element of adventurousness. This was best rewarded in Scott Wagstaff's goal, a stunning volley from outside the penalty area, but other players seemed willing to try an unlikely shot.

We'll probably not see a better goal this season, but if the team continues to play like this, happy days are certainly here again.

02 August 2011

How do you like your steak?

One thing my years of watching Come Dine With Me has taught me is that there is a whole semiotics wrapped up in the question of how one likes a steak.

It's clear from the shows that men feel a kind of pressure to say they want their steak almost raw. They say stupid things like "Wipe its arse and put it on the plate". Raw meat: rrrrahhh! I think if a man were to ask for his steak well-done, he'd be pitied so openly by the other guests, he'd have to at least apologise. And would probably cry in the back of the taxi going home, to an accompaniment of Dave Lamb's finest sarcasm.

Women are allowed to ask for a well-done steak. But not if they portray themselves as hard-headed no-nonsense businesswomen (and there seem to be a lot of them on CDWM) - the kind of women who proudly say other women don't like them. For them it's essential they have the steak "blue", or rare at most. More "traditional" women can assert their femininity by asking that it's cooked until it looks as little like fresh meat as possible. They don't win any prestige for their choice, of course.

I'm suggesting that the choice of how a lot of people like their steak has little to do with how it tastes, and I know that people will dispute that. But I like the tang of blood, they'll say occasionally. More likely they'll refer to the juices. I'm not sure that's much different. Eating blood has a semi-magical significance you don't need to be Claude Lévi-Strauss (or, come to that, Roland Gift) to understand.

Frankly, I don't know. My difficulty is that if someone were to ask me How do you like your steak? I wouldn't know what to say. Not that I'm a vegetarian, but I have very rarely eaten steak. When I was growing up, people used to have special steak-knives. I think they were diamond-tipped, because the assumption was that any steak a poor person could afford would be tough. I seem to remember that eating a steak was hard work; not worth the effort.

Later, in my "vegetarian hell" years, four of us were cycling in France. We'd camped about 20 miles outside Paris and the only restaurant we could find agreed to stay open later than usual for us, but all they could offer was steak-frites. Hunger got the better of us, and we all enjoyed the meal, and I'm sure it was very good, but it didn't excite me. There's something about a slab of meat that's just too much for me. Again, it's not the taste that puts me off, but the symbolism: it's carnivorism at its most naked. I've just added the picture to this entry. It's not making my mouth water; it looks more like a challenge than a treat.

But tell me, readers: do you like a juicy steak? What am I missing out on?

15 July 2011

Rebekah Brooks - clever or not?

In her first statement on the phone-hacking - actually an email to staff - Rebekah Brooks said:
I hope that you all realise it is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.
Various commentators jumped on this, saying that of course she didn't sanction the allegations. The allegations (made by others) are that she sanctioned the alleged actions. There's a difference. What she said is nonsense, but it isn't a denial of that.

And in her resignation letter today, there's another odd turn of phrase:
Therefore I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation. While it has been a subject of discussion, this time my resignation has been accepted.
This has been interpreted (eg by the Guardian, here) as implying that she had previously offered to resign. It doesn't say so though. It would have been easy to be clear, if that was the case. Instead she uses a civil-service impersonal formulation. Her resignation has indeed "been a subject of discussion", but nothing here confirms that it's been a subject of discussion between her and Rupert Murdoch.

Is this deliberate or careless? One of the striking features of News International's response to the allegations has been their unwillingness to face direct questions. No press conference, no media interviews - only occasional written statements. Perhaps they are concerned that Brooks might repeat the error she made in admitting to the commons committee that the NotW had paid police officers.

So they restrict themselves to short written documents, which are presumably legally and managerially checked. Which must mean that any meaningless or vague sentence is deliberately meaningless or vague.

I don't know exactly where this leaves us. It's not surprising that NI should avoid saying anything clear that might be prejudicial but I'm not sure the media are quite grasping that they're playing a cunning game, with aims that aren't yet clear.

04 July 2011

Hardcore in Rochester

Sorry to disappoint, but when I say hardcore, I mean hardcore quizzing. Saying this now, however, won't stop spambots from following me on twitter, and won't - oh so unfortunately - retrospectively take away any hits this blog gets.

So I have to say clearly right now that if you've come to this blog looking for details of how to find hardcore in Rochester, you've come to the wrong place. Maybe you should just go to Rochester. I'm fairly sure you can buy all the hardcore you need there, should be be wishing to undertake some building work: a hardstanding, for example.

I went to Rochester on Saturday to take part in a quiz organised by the British Quiz Association. This is the first time I've done this. The BQA does what it says on its tin: it organises quizzes and keeps score of who's best. Rather grandly, it calls its monthly quizzes "Grands Prix". Each one is held in a different part of the country and people travel enormous distances to get to them, pay a £25 entry fee, and often stay overnight before or after. It can be quite an expensive day out.

But Rochester's not that far, so it seemed like a good one to try. The quiz was held in a United Reform Church building and when I arrived to sign in at 11 there were already plenty of people there. The final total of participants was 69.

Some of the faces were slightly familiar: a lot of these people have been on television. There were three Eggheads, for a start: Kevin, Pat and Barry; and several others have been on Mastermind or Only Connect. It was no surprise that contestants were overwhelmingly white middle-aged men, but it was striking how many were, to put it bluntly, fat. I'm not thin, but I began to feel as if I was.

For your £25 (£10 for debutants) you get an individual quiz in the morning, lunch (unsurprisingly including unlimited sausages), a team quiz in the afternoon, and tea (unlimited doughnuts).

The individual quiz is the serious business. Forty written questions on each of six subject categories (so that's 240 questions in all). You have 90 minutes in exam conditions ("you may turn over your paper .... now!")* to get as many as you can. Maximum possible score is 186 because 60 of the questions are "tie-breakers", which are only worth 0.1 points each, because they're much harder. (Yeah, I know. I don't understand that bit either.) Oh no, actually the max is 155 because you drop your lowest scoring category to get your total. (Don't worry. It's not important.)

It was a hot day on Saturday, and a crowded room. People who've recently done their GCSEs probably wouldn't think this was any kind of fun at all.

After the 90 minutes is up, you pass your paper to a neighbour and the answers are given. I was marking the paper of someone who seemed to have done pretty well. I later found out he's in the top ten, and has been in a Mastermind final. You get the paper back, check the score (if you can be bothered) and put a summary of your scores into a basket, so that the organisers can add the scores up while you have your sausage-based lunch. My score was 82.2. I'd no idea how that compared with others, but the paper I'd marked had a score just over a hundred.

In the afternoon you're allocated a place in a team of four. The teams are chosen to balance good and bad players. So it's a welcome insult when you find you're in the same team as Kevin Ashman. For me, then, the afternoon largely consisted of watching him fill in the answer sheets. I was certainly beginning to feel stupid now. We won the first half of the team quiz, but post-doughnut we didn't. There's another bizarre marking system applied, but I'm sure it worked out properly.

The day closes with the announcement of the winners. They get a round of applause and a book. There was an opportunity of going on to a pub for the evening. Tempting - there's real ale and a curry - but there's also an informal quiz. I'm quizzed out, and get the train home.

Next day, the full scores are published. Turns out my 82.2 puts me 37th out of 69, which I'm happy with. It gives me 296 ranking points. I've no idea how these are calculated. But if I go to more "grands prix" I can accumulate points and - I think - if I get enough I can attain the rank of Sage, rather than Novice (and beyond that one can aspire to be a Candidate Master, Master or ultimately a Grand Master).

Will I go again? Probably. I liked the indiviudal quiz and I'm obviously at a reasonable standard. The team quiz got a bit boring, and I'd rather be in a team without a dominating player, even if it means we lose. But the next grand prix is on the first day of the football season, when Charlton are at home, so that's out of the question.

But, disregarding all the flimflammery of points and rankings, it largely was fun, so next time it's somewhere I can get to easily - why not?



* This is a Johann Hari-style quote, and may bear little relation to what was actually said.

25 June 2011

More lovely Penguins

I found these in Kirkdale Bookshop. The first is another Elizabeth Bowen, a 1946 printing.
What I particularly like about this generation of Penguins is the happy dancing penguin on the front. Probably someone has done a survey of the different penguin depictions and how they relate to the national mood. In 1946 perhaps there was a mood of optimism. But austerity too. The pages are printed closely, with narrow margins, to save paper. Which wasn't apparently an issue in 1940, when my next book comes from.
I've no idea what the book is about. I'll probably never read it. It seems to be naval stories, and I suppose it has a patriotic intent. Look at the back cover for a summary, though, and this is what you get:
which is just too beautiful for words. It's the reason I bought the book.

Shalimar's a strange nom de plume. There's an old song, a favourite of tight-trousered pre-war tenors, that goes "Pale hands I loved, beside the Shalimar", and I guess that gave the name to Shalimar hand creme. If you've ever waited for a train at Hove, you might have seen the old Dubarry factory, with its tiles that proclaim Shalimar Complexion Creams For Loveliness That Lasts. Here's a blog about it. I'm glad the building's survived. It's pretty, but still not quite a match for the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir.

18 June 2011

Blackheath booksale 2011

Is it a year since the last Amnesty booksale? It seems barely 12 months. This year didn't seem quite as good; very little grabbed my attention, although I arrived precisely at 9am, joining the queue of about 30 people. People queuing for books! That's nice to see.

In the event all I bought were three Penguins from the 60s, largely because I like the design. Here's the first:

I've really only heard of William Plomer as the librettist of Britten's Gloriana, an opera that flopped largely because of its crap libretto, I believe. But it's a very nice illustration by Robin Jacques, which was clearly already old-fashioned when the book was published (in 1961).

Next is a book by one of those novelists who's always described as unfairly neglected.

Again, a charming illustration (by Paul Hogarth) on the cover of this 1962 edition, which is almost timeless. Only the rather heavy-handed hatching looks dated now. I haven't read any Bowen before and I'm really looking forward to this.

Finally, Jack Trevor Story, a writer who was absurdly prolific in his day, but the brevity of that Wikipedia entry shows how transient his fame has been.

This was published in 1963, and what a sudden transformation there's been. In many ways this is the most dated cover of the three precisely because it was so modern in its time. Designed by Martin Bassett, it clearly comes from the dawn of Beatledom, seen above all in the man's sharp suit (Italian, no doubt) and shoes. But it's a bit cautious: the woman's pose makes you think for a moment she's flashing her thighs,but she's actually wearing quite a sensible skirt. The back-cover matter has an unconvincing bluster to it:

You're bound to laugh at the clipped and bawdy dialogue of this social merry-go-round. But you'll also wince at the cutting edge of this brilliant writing.
Penguin could see it was on the edge of something different, but didn't quite know what to make of it.

I'm very pleased with these slim pickings, though. They were very cheap.

16 June 2011

If Nurse Jackie were a Saturday morning serial

Gather round, children. Once upon a time the grown-ups of Britain didn't know what to do. They all had children, and wanted more children, but so many children in the house meant that the grown-ups couldn't spend special time together. (No-one used to talk about special time in those days, far less discuss it in front of their children.)

And so the grown-ups built cinemas on every high street, just so that on Saturday mornings, they could send their children there to watch some films made especially for them. (In those days, children, most films were made for grown-ups. Can you imagine that? Films for grown-ups!) And while the children were out, the parents could spend some special time together.

When I was your age, children, I used to go to Saturday morning pictures regularly. It was fun. There were cartoons, a sing-song, and a thrilling serial. What I remember most about the thrilling serials is that each week our hero was apparently killed, trapped in an unescapable situation. And then next week you would find out how he had in fact escaped.

What annoyed me even then was the flimsiness of the escape narrative. Say our hero is trapped down a mineshaft. Blank, sheer walls all around him. Up at ground level the villain has found a heavy safe that just about fits the shaft. In the last scene, he heaves it down the shaft and we see a cloud of dust plume out as it plummets. Surely our hero is crushed to a pulp (as a 10 year old, I'd have liked to see that, even in black and white).

Come back next week and we rewind time a little. Back in the mineshaft our hero finds a door which he had somehow failed to see earlier. A quick shoulder charge and it's open and he (and his dog, or some orphans, or a screaming girl) are out of the shaft just as the safe falls. I felt cheated. Almost wanted the hero, his dog, the orphans, and above all the screaming silly girl, dead.

The memory of this eases my pain at the news that Sky Atlantic have bought the third series of Nurse Jackie, which means I won't see it. In fact, I've come to consider this a good thing. For those who haven't seen it, the eponymous Jackie is a senior nurse in a New York hospital. She has a difficult home life, and an addiction to prescription drugs. In series 2, we saw how this got her deeper and deeper into trouble. She lied to her husband and to her only friend and right at the end of the series these lies unravelled. The husband and friend both found out what she had been doing. What will become of Jackie? Will the falling safe smash her to a pulp (in full colour)?

Of course it won't. At the end of series 1, the drug addiction seemed to have single-handedly crushed her and she lay in an apparent coma on the floor of a hospital toilet. At the start of series 2, this was - essentially - forgotten. Jackie just picked herself up and carried on. It was worse than the sudden discovery of a door in the mineshaft. It was the equivalent of acting as if the safe had never been dropped. There never was a safe. I felt cheated.

Of course the safe is never going to hit Jackie. Somehow, the script will find a way for her to continue more or less as before. She has to continue to be a senior nurse with a drug habit and a difficult home life, because that's what people like seeing: that's why there is a third series. I'm sure that if I saw the start of the new series I'd feel cheated again. And this will get worse the more series there are. The end of each series will see Jackie closer and closer to the edge, so that each following series will need increasingly contorted explanations and evasions to return her to the starting point. The only difference really is that Jackie's cliff-hangers take a lot longer than a week to build.

I guess it's economics. It costs a lot to stage a programme like Nurse Jackie and the production company probably doesn't start making profit until the third or fourth series. If a programme survives that long, it becomes increasingly unlikely it's going to change significantly: its very success ossifies it.

So I've added a second rule to my guide to watching American TV: only ever watch the first two series of any long-running show.That way, there's a chance you'll remember it with fondness and not grow to hate it.

Thank you, then, Sky.

02 June 2011

Open Street Map

I don't think the Open Street Map is very well known. It ought to be. It's a collaborative attempt to map the world on a shared, free basis. And I think the results are better than most. Here's a part of the world where I went cycling today. First, here's how Google maps sees it.
While here's the basic view from OSM:
There's simply more information - those red-dotted lines, for example, are footpaths, which Google doesn't show. (I also think it looks better - nicer fonts etc - but that's a personal preference.)

But the real strength of OSM is that users can select the information they want to include. Someone has used the OSM data to produce an OpenCycleMap. Here's its version:
You can see how the roads are rendered differently - cyclists don't need to know that the road is the A225 - some information is left out, but some is included. You can't see it much on this extract, but it shows cycleroutes and - really important for cyclists - it shows contours.

The OSM project is a kind of wikipedia, and like wikipedia is only as good as the people who edit it. The perverse advantage OSM has is that you need a certain level of expertise to edit it, and to create specialised maps from the data. On the other hand, that means that certain parts of the world are poorly covered.

But, if you've got GPS equipment and want to fill in some of the gaps, it's probably not that difficult. Why not try it?