All entries for July 2006

July 22, 2006

Review: Chance Witness by Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris is an interesting guy. A failed MP (by his own admission), followed by an inadvertantly successful journalist, his career trajectory's been quite odd, and his autobiography only occasionally refers to it. Instead, it's a brilliant read because of the bits inbetween.

With the (few) biographies I've read, I've usually tried skipping the start because the 'childhood memories' bit have been like watching paint dry. But Parris's childhood was very different, and so is his writing style.

Much of the book can be described as 'nice' without being derogatory. Parris seems acutely aware of the naivety of some of his actions, especially his visits to Clapham Common which ended up with him being beaten within an inch of his life. Similarly, writing Margaret Thatcher's correspondence provided plenty of holes for Parris to dig himself into, which he seemed to have no trouble in doing.

Parris is perhaps most infamous for 'outing' Peter Mandelson on Newsnight, much to the surprise of Mandelson's friend Jeremy Paxman. A lot of the book feels voyeuristic, with insights into the political underworkings that you rarely see, but without the boring self–obsession that you get from conventional politicians.

Chance Witness is probably the best biography I've read so far, and well recommended for anyone considering being in public life or in the public eye. Read it and you might avoid some of the many pitholes Parris fell into along his way.


Bingo!

Well, not quite, but I've got a House!

At 9am this morning, I had no housemates, no house, and quite frankly, no clue.

At 9pm tonight, I have four housemates, one house and quite frankly, am sorted.

Next year I'll be living in what will probably become known as the 'Purple' House. It's not purple, but the staircase is. I'll be living with Helen, Ruth, Caz and Paddy, none of whom I had met until today, but all of whom (with the exception of Paddy who I haven't met yet, but am assured is lovely) seemed great and should make great housemates. Doing the same course will assure mutual sympathy for being overworked.

And here's a reason not to go to Warwick: the rent. You might only just realise it while you're there, but Leamington's a rip–off. For a nicer property you can pay far less (I'm on about £48 a week now) and the city seems much nicer.

So it'll be a bit late now, but my advice for people who don't have anywhere to live in Warwick yet… Commute. From Cardiff.


July 20, 2006

In Praise Of… BBC Films

Apologies to the Guardian for ripping them off in the title…

I've just been reading about a new production being made by BBC Films about Anne Boleyn's sister, which sounds vaguely interesting. But the cast will include Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana and Natalie Portman!

That ain't bad for a British film!

Granted, it's a slight pity that they have bigger pulling power than almost all British actors, but I'm impressed that there's finally a film studio in the UK which is actually putting together some big casts in big films.

How many of these did you realise were made by the BBC?

  • Match Point
  • Shooting Dogs
  • Billy Elliot
  • Hideous Kinky
  • Mrs Henderson Presents
  • Sylvia

Why don't we have 21st Century planning laws?

Last night's Property Ladder (yes I was a bit bored) got me thinking. The three people followed were all pretty nuts, but all wanted to create an environmentally friendly home. For some reason they thought they could charge £100,000 on top of the asking price because of this, which sounds not only daft but also bang out of order (clearly only insanely rich people – £400,000 for a 2–bed flat in the suburbs – can afford an environmentally friendly home).

But why is this the case? We all know that not only are many energy–saving devices cheap, but because they save energy you get back your initial investment over 10–20 years anyway.

The one that's been bugging me a lot recently is water butts. Why on earth are they not compulsory in all new homes? Especially ones with gardens.

Firstly, it would seem sensible to have water butts above ground level, so that when you turn the tap on (and attach a hose), you can get good water pressure. I've never seen this done, probably because it would be a hell of a lot easier to do when the house is going up.

Secondly, why in the name of John Prescott are we not building all new houses with toilets that use rainwater instead of the ludicrously expensive drinking water that we flush down there all the time? After the past two summers, I don't think people can deny global warming any more, and so we should expect hosepipe bans to become a regular part of life in Britain. I can't believe that installing a water butt in people's lofts would cost more than £100, and would probably be less if it took off and every new home had one.

The government seem to be doing bugger all about this. The new planning regulations that Prescott put through a couple of years ago were widely considered to be utter tosh. There should be rules that state you don't even need planning permission to build solar panels or very small wind–turbines on your property – and far greater subsidies for people to buy them (especially when you consider that the government intends to spend £bns on nuclear power anyway).

This isn't just an environmentalist concern any more – it should be the concern of everyone. Regardless of what damage we're doing to the planet, there are so many energy–saving measures that just seem to be completely sensible (the toilet–flushing one inparticular). I'm astonished that the government's been so left behind by not only public opinion but also by common sense.

=====

Please use the comments to shout at me / agree etc., but also add any other common sense things that I've missed out. I'll start the ball rolling with all new major road developments having to have dedicated cycle lanes alongside. I can hear the complaints from the drivers already (bloody cyclists), but at least this will get them off the road!


July 19, 2006

I've got a good idea…

I've come up with a brilliant idea. The EU are always making us do stupid things, using the excuse that everyone else in Europe has to do it too.

This isn't always bad. For instance our car emissions standards, if replicated in the US, would mean they wouldn't require ANY oil from the Middle East. That's right. SUV drivers are responsible for the war in Iraq.

But that's not my point.

The EU should introduce compulsory cruise control in all new cars. It'd be like the button Formula 1 drivers press when they enter the pit–lane, but would limit cars at 30mph. Whenever a driver enters a 30mph zone, they could elect to press the button and the car will be brought down to a steady 29.9mph.

It makes sense, doesn't it? It's very easy to drift well over 30mph without really trying. And constantly looking at the speedo means you're always taking your eyes off the road. It would slash the number of speeding drivers in residential areas. But of course it would slash income made from speed cameras, and so would probably never happen.

Anyway, it's genius, I reckon.


July 17, 2006

An Open Letter to the Halifax Bank

Dear Howard Brown*,

I am writing to ask you to cease your current adverts which are sung to the tune of a Big Brovaz song. I believe it's called "Who Gives You Extra" or "Halifax Gives You More" or something like that.

My reason for this is that it seems to breach the Trade Descriptions Act of 1968. You assert that Halifax gives you 'extra', yet when I used one of your cashpoint facilities today it gave me no more than the £20 which I had indicated I wanted.

Considering the lack of any extra forthcoming from this machine, would you either a) fix this particular machine as it does not comply with your company philosophy or b) get rid of those adverts, which appear to be based on a blatant lie (whilst also being highly annoying).

Compensation in the form of the promised 'extra' will be much appreciated.

Many thanks,

Christopher Doidge Esq.

* Howard Brown is the guy at the start of the advert – you know the one…


July 10, 2006

Whoops…

It seems FIFA decided on the Golden Boot award before last night's final…


July 09, 2006

Prescott: Extermination edges nearer

(c) Chris Doidge, 2006

The newspapers seem certain that John Prescott's days in office are numbered, and despite there being no smoking gun, they've not been afraid to put the boot in.

The Mail on Sunday comes the closest anyone in the mainstream media has to confirming Prescott had an affair with fellow Labour minister, Rosie Winterton, with a two–page article on the influence Winterton has had on Prescott's career.

Read between the lines of the 'profile' piece and you get the idea of what's been going on:

no woman has exerted more influence over Mr Prescott than bubbly blonde Ms Winterton

Note newspapers only refer to women as 'Ms Anything' if they're involved in something.

Her loyalty has been richly rewarded.
She is proud of her trim figure and keeps her tan topped up through the winter. Her short skirts and knee–high boots have raised some eyebrows, but her fun–loving manner has made her popular on all sides.

And about John and Rosie:

"They've always been special friends. They get on tremendously well and she knows how to handle John"

I bet.

Commons observers couldn't help but notice that Tracey Temple, the secretary with whom Mr Prescott conducted an affair, bears a certain resemblance to Ms Winterton.

Other than these highly subtle references to how well they get on, it's only in the last paragraph that the newspaper goes for the bleeding obvious:

Asked if she had had an affair with Mr Prescott, Ms Winterton said last night: "Absolutely not".

Knowing the rumours, the piece is hilarious to read as the puns, metaphors and allusions come thick and fast. It won't have any impact on Prescott's chances of keeping his job, and to be honest isn't really very interesting (it's more of a Westminster in–joke). But the revelations in other newspapers, while small, are keeping up the pressure on Prescott and will quite probably bring his Deputy Leadership to an end this week.

David Miliband and Jack Straw have been suggested as interim replacements (until the Party Conference in September). But if Blair wants to take the heat off his government's incompetence, he'll have to switch Prescott quickly, or else today's subtle allusions will become full–on allegations next weekend.


July 08, 2006

Two good to be true

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/5161446.stm

But which is which?!Poland's President Lech Kaczynski has a new Prime Minister today.

His twin brother, Jaroslaw.

Can you imagine it happening anywhere else? Imagine if the Speaker of the House in the U.S. was Jeb Bush, or if Cherie Blair was the Chancellor?

And they're TWINS! Identical ones! The puns have unlimited potential!

Only in Poland, I guess. Truly bizarre.


Jeremy Bowen on Gaza

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen has written a sensible and rational piece on the motives of Israel and Palestine for the current crisis in Gaza, and it's well worth a read.

He writes:

…in the 39 years since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, history has delivered a few fundamental lessons, which neither side at the moment is in any mood to absorb.
The Gaza crisis is doomed to run its course, in the same way that Palestinians and Israelis are doomed to live alongside each other.

For those who criticise the BBC for being pro–Palestine, read this article from their Middle East Editor. Perhaps the same rationality isn't displayed in every broadcast, but it's clear from Bowen's article why the story is a hard one to cover: both sides believe passionately that they are right and will fight endlessly to prove it. Complete objectivity in such an environment must be virtually impossible when so many innocents are caught in the crossfire (on both sides).

Not only is Bowen's article essential reading for anyone trying to understand the reasons for the current crisis, it would also be highly useful for those engaged in it.


Joe Cole leaving Chelsea!!!

Paparazzi photographs suggest that Joe Cole has decided to leave Chelsea – in fact football – behind for a new career. He's set to take on the Abramoviches of the world and give the Russian's money to poor people up and down the land. Here is the evidence:

Actually, it's not Joe Cole, it's Jonas Armstrong who's playing Robin Hood in a new BBC adaptation that's supposed to be very good (i.e. it's expensive and if it's not good, heads will roll).

But I prefer the idea that it's Joe Cole.


July 07, 2006

More revisionist history from the States

This guy is Charles Krauthammer (great name, utterly unpronounceable) and he's written an opinion piece for the Washington Post.

He writes:

Our big wars — and the war on terrorism ranks with the big ones — have a way of starting in the first year of a decade.

By way of example he includes 1861, 2001 and… 1941. Yes, that's right. According to Krauthammer (an apt name if you split it in two in the right place), World War Two began in 1941.

His point – if there is one – seems to be that in 1861 and 1941, things were sorted within five years (works fine when you fiddle the figures!), and that after 2001, Bush hasn't "won" the War on Terror. Well, no shit, Sherlock.

Now, it's not a particularly good point, as it could be argued that 1861 and 1941 were ever so slightly different to the "war" that began in 2001. Perhaps 1,000,000 died in the American Civil War, many of disease. It's estimated that 62,000,000 died in WWII. And how many have died in the War on Terror? 10,000? 60,000 if you include those killed in Iraq?

Krauthammer is talking nonsense, his metaphor is crap and his revision of history is offensive to those who died between 1939 and 1941.


Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell - Cloud AtlasDavid Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is, like his previous novel number9dream a complicated affair. There's several different narratives which all pile into each other at various points, with varying levels of success. The story begins in a confusing world of pirates and natives (not the most accessible start ever imagined), before taking turns into Belgium, California, England, South America, futuristic Asia, and then back again.

The most successful of these is probably the diary of Robert Frobisher, an English composer who goes to Belgium to meet his musical idol, and also to scrounge for a while. The tale is mischievous, yet sinister, and although his love–life is easy to predict in advance, it's the most engaging of the six narratives described. The story of the Englishman who is accidentally imprisoned in a nursing home is brilliantly comical and has elements of Last of the Summer Wine in its farcical nature. The futuristic chapters are also well-written, and most similar in nature to number9dream.

Less successful is the supposed "crime thriller" set on the West Coast of America, a genre which would have been best left to Patricia Cornwell. The villains are obvious from the moment they're introduced and the set–pieces are far from unique.

The awards acclaim for this book almost certainly derives in large part from the author's ease with different narratives within one book, although at times the chain between each story seems tenuous. There are few common themes, although many issues are addressed individually in the book, such as democracy, capitalism, freedom of information and artificial intelligence.

Mitchell's writing style is also fluent despite the regular changes in context and culture. That said, the central chapter of the book is too tiresome to translate into English, and the first/last chapter would be best placed elsewhere in the book, as they provide little in the way of a book–end.


Cloud Atlas is certainly proficient, although at times is hard to read and not recommended for the unambitious. If your last read was by Dan Brown, don't be fooled by the attractive artwork: this book isn't for you. If, on the other hand, you want a book to challenge you, then this is as good a candidate as any.


Gordon Brown about to face his first challenger?

The rumour has it that the first challenger to Gordon Brown's coronation as Labour leader (and Prime Minister) will come out from the woodwork this weekend. He'll be scared as his challenger looks set to be the esteemed, notable and highly proficient…......................John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington.

Well, he's all of those things in his constituency at least, where he picked up 58.7% of the vote, beating the unlucky Conservative candidate into second place. If he can repeat this drubbing in the leadership battle then Gordon Brown will be crying into a glass of Scotch whisky as we speak.

Or not… Because it'll never happen. McDonnell represents the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, who are very much to the left of the party, and worship Tony Benn as if he were Gandhi. His 'natural base' is therefore likely to be somewhere in the region of perhaps 50 Labour MPs. Which is a drop in the ocean, especially when you factor in the likelihood that he won't be the only member of the Campaign Group to run against Brown. In fact, fellow MP Michael Meacher is expected to be highly "pissed off" if his lesser–known colleague beats him to it for the leftie vote.

McDonnell voted against the Iraq war, in favour of fox hunting, against ID cards, the terrorism bill and foundation hospitals. All in all, a red–blooded rebel.

The only reason that McDonnell might stand a miniscule chance of coming anywhere near Gordon is the way the leadership will be chosen. 33% of the votes will go to Labour MPs and MEPs, 33% to members of the party and 33% to the trade unions who fund Labour.

Don't be surprised then that McDonnell's leadership bid will be launched at the Durham Miners' Gala on Saturday, where Cabinet minister Hazel Blears will be in attendance, presumably wearing the confused smirk that always seems to adorn her face.

There will almost certainly be a token female candidate for the leadership (and I mean that in the nicest possible way – at least one female Labour MP will run because the Labour MPs will want one, even if they then vote against her), and I suspect there may be at least one more proficient candidate for the job when the leadership election comes. Possibilities include Peter Hain, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson or David Miliband, although Hain would probably be seen as the most likely of those four.

What we can almost certainly take for granted, however, is that Brown will beat his challengers, and will absolutely trounce them if they are as high–profile as Mr McDonnell.


More dodgy World Cup refereeing!

How precisely does this...

FIFA1

...turn into this?

FIFA2

The BBC explains:

Podolski won the prize because Fifa had the final say, chosen by a 14–man panel.

Were they all German?

I've already said that I thought Podolski or Messi should have won, but clearly public opinion accounted for just about bugger all in this poll. Not to mention the fact that there clearly was one English player nominated (in fact, somewhat implausibly, Scott Carson and Theo Walcott were on the list).


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