Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why I will never understand anything

Somebody pointed me towards this clip from Tyra Banks's TV show, in which she reveals her "number one beauty secret" to an audience of female fans.

Watching it provides a glimpse of the full, frightening extent of the depth of my inability to understand:

a) Americans; and
b) women.

Brace yourselves, chaps. This isn't pretty.

Friday, March 30, 2007

I refute it thus

So, Think of England gets panned for being nothing more that “watching Brit wrestle every deep philosophical problem through "dunnoism", (which as far as I can tell is defined as ordering another pint, complaining about the English soccer team and watching clips of Amy on YouTube)”.

I would like to protest in the strongest possible terms against this slanderous and unfair critique.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson argues that the English soccer team is responsible for crushing the academic aspirations of a generation of young working-class men:

It is precisely because so many of our young males have such reverence for football, and identify with footballers, that we need to think anew about the relationship between English football and education, and it is time, as a nation, that we faced a horrendous truth. We just don't seem to be much good. We weren't much good in the World Cup, and we have just had an agonising draw against Israel. For all I know, by the time you read this we will have been thrashed by Andorra, and if manager Steve McClaren keeps his current form, we can expect a run of torrid goalless draws against San Marino, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Luxembourg.

It is time, moreover, that we addressed the crisis, and faced the appalling possibility that there is a correlation between our footballing achievements and our general attitudes to education. Of course this is a nation already suspicious of intellectuals, and there is nothing more hilarious and deplorable than a swot on the pitch.

Is this true? I dunno. But mine’s a Staropramen if they’ve got it, and although sticks and stones may break my bones, my tears will dry on their own.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Some favourite philippics

Word of the week, brought to us by Mark, is 'philippic'. According to Harry, a philippic is basically a rant in verse format.

And as Harry correctly notes, you don't see too many of them these days...

...Except for on Think of England, of course! In a shameless piece of self-publicising, here are some ToE philippics of recent times, in case you missed them:

Philippic against chavs; against reverse art snobs; against gym culture; and against DIY.

Andorra: my new least favourite team

Yes, England were appalling (despite a 3-0 win and with the honourable exception of Stevie Gerrard ). And yes, McLaren is many nautical miles out of his depth. And yes, even without the Worst International Footballer in the World clogging things up, this was another dismal performance.

But let us not overlook those plucky minnows Andorra. They too put in a sterling display of awfulness that belies their lowly ranking of 161st in the world. Why should England hog all the criticism when Andorra did more than enough to deserve a healthy share of the abuse?

I’m racking my brains, but I don’t think I have ever seen a more degrading performance of fouling, diving, cheating, whingeing, play-acting, time-wasting and negativity by an international football team. And I’m counting Portugal.

My intuition that Andorra are the dirtiest team around is, I find, backed up by hard stats. In the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, they picked up more red and yellow cards than any other nation.

The mind struggles to comprehend the motivation of the Andorran players. If you’re going to be minnows and lose every single one of your qualifying games, as Andorra unfailingly do, why not be brave, admirable minnows? Why not at least attempt to at least have an attempt on goal? You’re not going to get any points, so why not bring some joy into it, instead of making the game, and the world, a slightly nastier place?

The time has come to stop giving these nihilistic football pygmies the chance to kick lumps out of superstars who entertain millions of club fans every week. Let San Marino, Andorra and every other team in the ranking high hundreds play their own little tournament, with the winner getting a chance to play in a WC or EC qualifying group. Unedifying spectacles like last night’s game should become a thing of the past.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rooney's Rocket Fells Fat Frank. Nation Slightly Cheered Up .

Wayne Rooney has given England a massive boost ahead of their crunch qualifying match against the mighty Andorra.

His ferocious shot in training has nobbled The Worst International Footballer in the World.

"Let's just hope Rooney's shooting is as accurate when it comes to the game", quipped long-suffering England fan Brit.

You can say what you like about Dawkins...

...but he gets to the point.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How green was my valley?

Who is the greener: the crunchies or the carbonophobes?

A fascinating intra-green battle was described on Radio 4’s ‘Crossing Continents’ programme last night.

Iceland’s government wants to build a simply mammoth dam to feed energy to a new smelter and ultimately to sell ‘clean’ hydro energy to the world. It is estimated that by using this 'clean' energy, carbon emissions from aluminium production are reduced by some 90%.

But wait. The dam will mean flooding some places, draining others and generally wrecking the aesthetics of the landscape. Omar Ragnarsson, who seems to be an Icelandic version of Jon Snow, claims that the Karahnjukar dam has “the greatest irreversible environmental impact possible in Iceland.”

Environmentalists from across the world are charging to Iceland - presumably after neutralising their flights – to protest against the carbon-reducing green power. And Bjork has written a song about it.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Gerald was a mole.

Mexican post-postmodernism

A new theme park gives thrill-seekers the chance to play at being desperate Mexicans trying to illegally cross the border to the US.

Visitors to the Parque EcoAlberto are put in the position of workers struggling to escape across the Mexican border. They must hike through undergrowth, dash down steep hills and across rivers, and slip under barbed-wire fences, reports Metro.

Also, they must stay out of the crossfire of watchful border guards during the four-hour night-time ordeal known as 'caminata nocturna'.

Each visitor pays the equivalent of £10 for the privilege at the theme park in Hidalgo, actually a comfortable 700miles from the US border.

I'm not normally one for saying that the World Has Gone to Hell in a Handcart, but...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Googleproof Quiz update

Two questions from the Googleproof Quiz have been answered correctly.

1. Who was Gerald? Was it PA, BH, RB or TE?

2. Who was the fat, funny guy who was in the one with the guy who went into the head of the guy who said it was beyond his control?
Answer: Jack Black. John Malkovich repeatedly said that it is "beyond my control" in Dangerous Liaisons, John Cusack went into his head in being John Malkovich, and Jack Black co-starred with him as the fat funny one in High Fidelity.

3. Who said (Nox3)?
Answer: Amy Winehouse. She said No, No, No in the song Rehab.

Congratulations to Adelephant who got number 2, and to Duck who got 3.

Here's a clue for 1: it's from a British novel. And the man who discovered Gerald was GS.

(Note to Duck, it is not sufficient merely to guess correctly from the multiple choice. You have to explain why.)


Two avid readers* of Think of England conduct interviews with great minds this weekend.

Bryan Appleyard interviews Ian McEwan, and Robert Crampton talks to Garry Kasparov.

*Well, both have popped in anyway. (That's Appleyard and Crampton, not McEwan and Kasparov. As far as I know.)

The Worst International Footballer in the World

Don't get me wrong, Frank Lampard is a terrific club footballer.

But exactly how bad, how consistently, stinkingly, hilariously rotten does he have to be to get dropped from the England football team? Must he execute clownish fresh-air swings every time the ball comes to him? Must he pick up the ball with both hands and fling it into his own net? Must he commit scything career-ending tackles on his own team-mates? Must he continuously and insanely blast own-goals for a full 90 minutes?

As he plods incompetently around the midfield game after game I find my desperate laughter becoming hysterical and frightening.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Back to black

Here's Amy's latest.

Bits like the bit where it goes all slow after about 3 minutes are what raise her above the rest.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The danger of isms

Mick Hume in the Times:

Coming soon to a bedroom near you: the Good Mosquito? Scientists are reportedly trying to engineer a genetically modified bug , with green eyes or fluorescent testicles, to combat the spread of malaria. But beating a disease that kills almost 3,000 children a day will involve swatting other green pests who put their concerns before those of Africa.

Anti-malarial GM mosquitoes remain a distant prospect. Yet already The Times has to report that any such innovation “would prove controversial with environmental groups”. These same groups have crusaded for 30 years to stop people killing mosquitoes with dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT) — with devastating results for Africans.

Last year the World Health Organisation finally conceded that indoor spraying with DDT is safe and effective. Better three decades late than never, some might say. Yet many still suffer DDT-denial. Eco-alarmists who claim that the science of global warming “proves” malaria is coming to Britain seem less keen to face the scientific case for DDT, instead of searching for any alternative.

Thus the BBC’s Red Nose Day jamboree last week broadcast just about every taboo word except “DDT”. Instead, their antimalaria campaign, fronted by ghoulish pictures of a child dying, asked us to buy mosquito nets for Africa. Is that really the best we can offer? Colonial-era “technology”, updated with some insect repellent, under which Africans swelter while we sleep with a clear conscience? Oddly, there was no mention that South Africa has now abandoned these nets in favour of indoor DDT spraying, which one US senator describes as “a huge mosquito net over an entire household for round-the-clock protection”.

The trouble with environmentalism is that it has become an ism. And, as with so many isms, it ends in anti-humanism.

Googleproof quiz

As we all know, Google is the most powerful information tool ever devised. You have at your fingertips all of mankind's accumulated knowledge and stupidity. Compared to you, Samuel Johnson was blundering about in a dark swamp of primitive ignorance.

The only drawback to this is that quizzes are too easy.

However, I have devised the following (hopefully) Googleproof questions, for which you'll need to rely on your brain. Give it a go, it'll be retro fun.

1. Who was Gerald? Was it PA, BH, RB or TE?

2. Who was the fat, funny guy who was in the one with the guy who went into the head of the guy who said it was beyond his control?

3. Who said (Nox3)?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Deeper into Voltronese

I have had no proper sleep since Tuesday night, so the prophesies are coming easily today.

Once Voltronese has become the universal language and has drastically reduced the variety of souls on the planet, we will see various splinter groups appear.

Youths, responding to ever-faster development in technology and online virtual reality games, will introduce new slang terms at a rate that terrifies the original Voltron generation. Reactionary organisations called things like the Society for the Protection of Proper Voltronese (or, in Voltronese, the Puretalk Voltron Massiv) will be formed, demanding that all lingo should be limited to the official Voltron Grammar and Vocabulary as laid down in the ultimate authority, Wikipedia. These organisations will sprout terrorist extremes.

Scientific leaps will mean that everybody is medically immortal, so age ceases to be a factor. National and religious boundaries will have evaporated as globalisation, reinforced by the dominance of the Voltronese tongue, turns the world into a monoculture. The only thing that divides people will be the strictness of their adherence to the Wikipedia Voltronese. The Third World War will be fought over whether Shakespeare was the original Voltron.

In the rubble of the nuclear aftermath, rambling survivors will discover tiny clandestine pockets of rudimentary civilisation. Here, crude aboriginal languages are still spoken. Welsh, for example.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Village Green Preservation Society

Today I run around like a loony until the small hours trying to find something interesting to write about in Gordon Brown's Budget, and then trying to say it again in different ways, so in the meantime here's the Kinks with a song for England.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The art of chindogu

Mike Beversluis brings us news of this gloriously unnecessary innovation: the digital sundial.

Made in Germany, this is a valiant European attempt at chindogu: the Japanese art of 'unuseless' invention.

An 'unuseless' invention is one that does solve a 'problem' in a literal sense, but in practice only creates further problems of its own, usually extreme social embarrassment or excessive fiddliness.

Examples include a gluestick-like butter dispenser, and this noodle cooler:

And, from the the International Chindogu Society, this brilliant back-itch locator.

You are invited to boast below about your own chindogu innovations...

Why men should not sing

After dancing, singing is the next thing for men to avoid wherever possible. Usually anyway. Sometimes bad singing is good.

Talking of being Lost in Translation, in the movie of that name Bill Murray sings one of Bryan Ferry’s prettiest songs so badly it's quite beautiful. I'd happily have this on my Desert Island.

Karaoke is like blogging: a revolutionary democratising force that removes the barriers of privelege, networking, money and finally, talent.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lost in translation

This story about how Lewis Carroll came to Russian readers raises questions about translation – and the absolute dependence of the monolingual reader on the translator to capture not just the basic meaning of a text, but all the other subtextual and metatextual and whatnottextual stuff which gives a work its soul.

If ever there was a book where wordplay and unsettling weirdness matter, it is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But how can we ever know that any of the various Russian translators replicated exactly the essence of the English original? It seems almost impossible that they could.

Likewise, when we read Russian or other international authors in translation, are we seeing only a pale reflection of the original literary world? I suspect so, but how can we ever know?

Beckett wrote in French because he claimed it was easier to write ‘without style’. The trilingual Nabokov described the transition from one language to another as the slow journey at night from one village to another with only a candle for illumination.

Charlemagne claimed that “To have another language is to possess a second soul”. I can order dinner and ask where the train station is in French, German, Spanish and, at a push, Italian. But alas, I only have the one soul. I can’t help thinking there are whole other lives to be led if only you stick with the languages past A-Level.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Mild Manifesto

Talking of Robert Crampton, he discusses man-dancing in his Beta Male column and, like Think of England, advises sticking to Hitch’s rule.

He also nicely summarises a point of view to which I heartily, repetitively, and occasionally infuriatingly for others, subscribe.

And back in the bogs Steve says there should be a revolution, and Gary and I say what are you talking about, and Phil smiles in a scholarly way and says, well, Hackney does have a fine radical tradition, and Steve says take over the City, the banks, something big has to change, and Gary and I say, yeah, but, c’mon, nothing big does have to change, does it? Something small perhaps, pave over the lawn, get a new stepladder, something medium maybe, do out the loft, carve out that extra bedroom, but nothing big, not really, because isn’t life pretty good as it is?

I think I shall call it Pragmatic Optimism. It states that as rubbish as some things are, and as right and proper as it is to point out rubbishness where it exists, all things considered it’s still better than it ever was, and better than it still is for nearly everybody else.

There is the Death Nausea of course - that’s always there lurking in the background - but you learn to live with that and otherwise as hard as I try to joing in with general pub grumping, the heart is rarely in it.

(Unless stricken by a head cold or that peculiarly acute kind of hunger that only comes on shopping trips with the missus, of course. (So much for free will.))

Around the blogs

A couple of TofE's favourites earn their Thoggers:

Bryan Appleyard ponders the legacy of Susan Sontag and incidentally makes the observation:

All airports aren't the same any more than all Gothic cathedrals are the same, indeed their surface similarity dramatises their differences.

This is the best kind of observation: something which is obvious but generally missed.

Meanwhile, Gordon McCabe writes a typically brain-bleeding piece on the Ultimate Question.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Suicide worms

The next few mornings, I would walk into the kitchen to see a crack team of suicide worms fanned out across the floor, their carcases dried up and stuck to the Lino.

This extraordinary line is taken from Ben's terrifying, eerie, inspiring, pathos-ridden and ultimately deeply consoling Tale of the Tiger Worms, which appears over on Woolgatherer and is surely the most eye-popping comment yet posted on a blog by anyone.

It also puts one in mind of the ultimate computer game.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Finkelstein v Galloway

The Times's Daniel Finkelstein winds George Galloway up on Sky TV.

Reasons to be cheerful

The ever-readable Robert Crampton explains why we've never had it so good.

I concur, and here are some more reasons...

State of the Union address

Tony Blair (or whoever writes these things for him) defends the Union in the Telegraph:

We celebrate this year the 300th anniversary of what can justifiably be claimed to be the most successful voluntary union between two countries.

It's a partnership that has brought the citizens of both Scotland and England prosperity, stability and an astonishing influence in the world. We can now see, too, that it was an arrangement well ahead of its time, enabling the countries of what was to become the United Kingdom to keep their distinctive identity, but to co-operate to their greater good.

I do think Tony wrote some of it. (You can tell by strange sentences like: It's true, of course, that the Union has not stayed the same, nor the reasons for it. ) I mostly agree with him.


League's shoot-out plans savaged

Football managers and chairmen have laughed off proposals to decide drawn Football League games with a penalty shoot-out.

League chairman Lord Mawhinney wants to introduce shoot-outs to allocate a bonus point at the end of a drawn game.

Bristol City chairman Steve Lansdown has described the plans as "a crackpot idea" and his Cardiff counterpart Peter Risdale thinks it is a "nonsense idea".

That these ‘plans’ were savaged is not interesting. What’s interesting is that Lord Mawhinney is still somehow in the job when he has so clearly demonstrated that he has not the remotest understanding of the game that employs him.

He should have been sacked the moment – the very moment – this cretinous suggestion emerged from his ignorant mouthbox.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More on the long-serving heir

All this pondering on the fate of Prince Charles has left me with a sense of deep, only partly ironic melancholy, which as ever can only truly find expression in a quick burst of verse...

Heir Apparent

An old hand – the oldest – at waiting,
But still never learned to sit still.
An old master’s thwarted apprentice,
A grand young duke, over the hill.

Neither up nor down, but always marching,
But on every newsreel falls the cursed
shade of the shy exhibitionist
blonde mistake that you fell into first.

Now her branches beneath you are spreading,
Their flowers bloom bright while yours dim,
And it’s hard not to fall when a life is
spent so publicly out on a limb.

So on with the ceaseless crusading,
Set forth once more unto the breach,
For country! For farming! But purpose
is forever just out of reach.

But perhaps one day yet you’ll find meaning
in those rustic pub, foxhunting scenes,
Or maybe you’ve found it in love now
(or in whatever ‘in love’ means).

Blatant pyramid scheme targets vanity of smart alec bloggers...

...and succeeds admirably.

Gordon McCabe, having himself been nominated by Bryan Appleyard, very kindly nominates TofE for a 'Thogger' (a thinking blogger award).

Naturally, I will perpetuate this benign scam by nominating all my pals in The Post-Judd Alliance (see the links in the side-bar), with an honorary mention for the mother of them all.

The loneliness of the long-serving heir

Channel 4 threw a barrel-load of rotten tomatoes at Prince Charles in the recent documentary The Meddling Prince. Most of them missed. Throwing rotten tomatoes at Prince Charles is a bit of a national pastime. I’ve even indulged in it myself, on occasion.

However, in this defiant Telegraph piece, Alice Thompson makes the startling but undeniable observation that Charles is possibly the most prescient political pundit in Britain.

Edward VII idled away his time shooting and eating. One of Prince Charles's brothers spends the hours playing golf, another enjoyed dressing up to play It's a Knockout. But that wasn't enough for the Prince of Wales. Nor could he accept the cruel advice of Harold Nicolson to condemn himself to a lifetime of hard labour: "If he possesses the required reservoirs and aqueducts of duty, he will bow his head obediently to this cruel fate. In fact, he must surrender his personality to the exigencies of his task."

So he started "meddling". But what impressive meddling. Unlike politicians, the prince seems to know instinctively what the country will worry about in 10 years' time. He has never used a focus group to work out the tastes of Middle England. He may prefer polo to football and opera to the Arctic Monkeys, he may be surrounded by flunkeys and courtiers, but he does seem to reflect many of the anxieties of his people. Labour and Tory MPs who privately deride him are all nicking his views now.

The first time the Prince of Wales mentioned the environment he was 21. He talked about "the horrifying effects of pollution" and was called a crank. When he installed a bottle bank at Buckingham Palace, he became a joke. Nearly 40 years later, the two main political parties are still trying to catch up. His concern about genetically modified food was once ridiculed, but his views are now shared by most of the Cabinet. He was a fan of localism before David Blunkett or David Cameron had heard of the word.

His love of gardening preceded a thousand gardening shows and was developed long before Charlie Dimmock's cleavage. He was proved right over foot and mouth, and his obsession with organic food has been emulated by everyone from Tesco to M & S. Long before 9/11, he was talking about Islam and the importance of understanding the underlying religious tensions in this country, and he warned about the dangers of jettisoning traditional teaching in schools years before politicians started calling for a literacy hour. Some of his theories are half-baked, some still appear nutty, but no one is being forced to agree with his views. When he fires off a letter to a minister suggesting that the elderly may not be having a particularly pleasant time in hospital, they will not be hanged, drawn and quartered for refusing to act.

Then there is the Prince's Trust. He tries to raise about £25 million a year from private donations. Since 1976, the trust has made more than 50,000 awards to young people to help them to set up businesses….

… When he finally does become king and falls silent to contemplate his reservoirs and aqueducts of duty, we may yet miss his meddling.

Recycling, organic food, Islamic relations, the entrepreneur society, traditional literacy teaching... Charles got there first on all of them.

I have generally casually dismissed Charles as a bit of a buffoon, an idle dabbler in the more trivial elements of tree-hugging environmentalism and reactionary fuddy-duddism. But as the years go by, as his lonely heir-apparent’s path stretches further and further with no end in sight and his prospects of pre-senility rule diminish daily, my views towards him have softened.

Charles’s most infamous blunder came in an interview following his engagement with Diana, when he responded to a comment suggesting that he was in love by saying “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” (The moment comes right at the very end of this toe-curling clip).

What sad sub-Monarchical depths were betrayed by this youthful, Princely gaffe!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I’ll have to hurry you

Bamber Gascoigne, the memorably-named, formidably-foreheaded ex-host of University Challenge has been somewhat busy, it seems.

He has created a search-engine/encyclopaedia type thing called Timesearch, which he thinks identifies a niche as yet unfilled by either of those brilliant behemoths Google and Wikipedia.

The idea is that you can find things you didn’t know you were looking for, by browsing historical periods, themes and geographical locations, rather than searching for particular words.

The site contains over 10,000 articles so far and (here is the news that rocks me to my foundations of bone-idle inadequacy) it seems that Bamber has written them all!

No doubt his eventual reward for this Samuel Johnson-like productivity will be to make a mint selling out to one of the behemoths. And good luck to him, says I.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle (part 3)

Mary Ann Seighart reiterates the case for the Precautionary Principle in The Times.

She muses:

It is odd that the few remaining sceptics are largely on the Right. Conservatives should believe in conservation, in handing the world on in good shape to future generations.

The reason for this oddity can be found instantly by looking at Seighart's comments. Take this one from 'Ottorino'.

It's sad that people won't face facts (see all the rubbish above this entry), and think that the whole thing is a conspiracy. This is a fantastic opportunity to completely redefine the way we live and work. Accept the challenge and make it work : it's not that hard.

Which is exactly what worries conservatives: that a lot of not very clever people are looking for any opportunity to completely redefine the way we live and work, and AGW provides a 'fantastic' one.

Why men should not dance

I learned you could dance but still look tough anyway” lied Billy Joel in his song Keeping the Faith.

No, men can’t dance and still look tough. Rather, they have a straight choice between inconspicuous and bloody stupid. (Hence Will Smith’s advice to his client in the film Hitch.)

The only other escape is shameless clowning (and this has a strictly limited shelf-life). US guitar band OK Go have deservedly gained a cult following in Blighty for this magnificent single-take routine (which they then topped with this treadmill-based effort).

However, browsing some classic Elvis Costello numbers on Youtube, I stumbled across the real deal. Let these skinny Liverpudlians show you how white male dancing is done…

Summarising England in a sentence...

...from McCabism:

Due to Crufts, there's no Culture Show tonight.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle (part 2)

Janet Daley hits the proverbial nail in The Telegraph:

There is big money to be made now out of climate change, and not just by huge supermarket chains and manufacturers cashing in on the government grants and the contracting market which will be produced by eliminating smaller suppliers.

Clever entrepreneurs have seen an opening: "carbon offsetting" is a completely unregulated growth industry that offers to take your money in return for cancelling out your contribution to global warming, by all sorts of dubious means such as planting forests, which may or may not survive. Rather like the medieval papacy selling indulgences, the offset people give absolution to the better-off in return for cash.

But the lower-paid in Europe will be less hard hit in the green scenario than the wretchedly poor of the developing world. One of the disturbing points in the Durkin documentary was that some of the most desperately backward areas of sub-Saharan Africa are being told that they must not exploit their oil reserves to create electricity because more use of fossil fuel would damage the planet. Without using oil to electrify the countryside, these African nations will be effectively prevented from bringing the benefits of modern life - safe water supplies, irrigation and lighting - to the mass of their peoples within a generation. Well, the green apologists say, even if our computer models are flawed, and our extrapolations prove unsound, isn't it better to "clean up the planet" anyway? Why not take the steps to reduce carbon emissions and pay the hard price just in case it is all true?

I don't know about you, but before I can feel comfortable asking people in emerging economies such as India to forgo the benefits of economic growth and mass prosperity, before I can sentence some of the poorest people in the world to living indefinitely without modern technology, before I am even prepared to ask the lower-paid of this country to give up the improvements in their quality of life to which they have only just become accustomed - I want to hear any and every argument that is to be had about this theory.

And to the comrades in the green movement, I would say this: before you slam the lid on debate, and put your invasive restrictions into place to deny people freedoms and comforts that have transformed their condition, you had better be damned sure that you are right.

Gordon Brown delivers his Budget next Wednesday. For reasons too tedious to go into, I will have to write about this in my real life. We've already prepared ourselves for a whole new taxation concept: that of 'Green Taxes'.

I regard environmentalism as I do all religions: I neither begrudge people their beliefs, nor do I scorn them for their beliefs. Some of their beliefs might even be true. I don't even mind millenarianism . All so long as they don't insist on imposing them on everybody else.

But I do get progressively more concerned according to the degree to which the importance of improving the lives and prospects of actual people alive now is downgraded in favour of The Grand Theory.

Give and take

Shilpa Shetty’s commendably stiff-upper-lippish response to bullying by grisly uber-chav Jade Goody on Big Brother prompted some commentators to note that archetypal British qualities are now more frequently to be found in India than in the mother country.

I was somewhat sceptical about this claim, until I read that Liz Hurley had to wait for the Indian leg of her absurdly protracted nuptials for the traditional Wedding Punch-up.

Can't get much more British than that.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

In which ToE sells out by writing a poem in return for beer

ToE received its first poetic commission the other day. (The brief was as follows: I had a great idea for a poem …as I struggled with trying to repair the drywall in the master bedroom. Something like "the do-it-yourselfer's lament". As I continued to get a smooth surface through endless cycles of mud-patching and sanding, the thought occured to me that in addition to vacuums, nature abhors a flat surface. I'm sure there's a poetical way to express that insight.)

It’s neither very long nor very profound but the rhyming scheme is so brain-achingly intricate that I reckon Duck owes me at least six beers for this.

There is a rhythm to it, which you can achieve by leaving a pause of two beats after lines 1, 2, 4, 5, 9 and 23.

Do It Yourself
for Duck

Is it just nesting,
or besting the neighbours
that commands these labours?

Lilliputian in scale,
In travail Herculean,
and lasting an eon.

The Stygian depths we have to plumb
behind the sink. The hammered thumb
turns salmon pink, and then goes numb.
And I’ve given my all
to that dumb drywall.

So I’m off for a drink.

“Well that’s what you think,”
replies the Trouble-
and-Strife, “With the dust and the rubble
you’ve left in the hall! And trust me, the pub’ll
still be right there - no please don’t swear -
when you’ve swept up it all.”

So I must perform a painful manoeuvre
with a dampened cloth and a stain remover,
And have to assume that, as seems plain,
Mother Nature abhors a flattened plane
as she does a vacuum.

And as I hate a Hoover.

Random Sunday post

Life doesn’t get much sweeter than a lung-busting hour of five-a-side football with your mates, followed by Desert Island Discs and a procession of powerful coffees in the garden on a bright springish morning, then a pint of Old Speckled Hen as Sunday lunch roasts gently in the oven with the promise of a glass of red, forty winks and an England rugby match to come.

The perfect sequence of uppers and downers, to help maintain a tolerable equanimity.

A broad generational range of Britons will immediately understand when I mention the Sunday night dread of Monday morning, with homework undone and the eternal Songs of Praise/Antiques Roadshow/Last of the Summer Wine triple whammy. If this feeling still exists in your life, you must change it as soon as possible.

So perhaps the secret of happiness hides in the ability to enjoy one’s Sundays.

Nonetheless, there’s always some cloud on the horizon. Stick 'em a few quid but buy an umbrella.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Irony Police are watching

A Scottish town is to set up a Star Trek memorial to celebrate its claim to the fictional birthplace of Scotty the engineer.

Ironically, the scheme - at Linlithgow - has been given the go-ahead by West Lothian's "enterprise committee".

It goes without saying that that isn’t remotely ironic. It is, however, desperate.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Some loose ends

Time for an update on some popular TofE concerns.

First, Anthony Gormley’s Another Country statues are to be allowed to continue their existentialist vigil at Crosby.

Meanwhile, Gordon McCabe posts an evocative description of the London Underground, which perfectly captures the weirdness of the thing, and also provides an update on the singular expression of genius that is the Tube Map.

Finally, Think of England's Unlikely Mascot, Amy Winehouse, has won a potato lookee-likee comp.

The Great Global Warming Swindle

A shattering programme on Channel 4 last night: The Great Global Warming Swindle, and perhaps an opening volley in the forthcoming backlash against the concept of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) currently being predicted by AOG and David.

Amongst its many heretical claims:

1) That, contra Al Gore, the ice records show that increases in carbon dioxide lag behind temperatures by an average of 800 years, so although high carbon dioxide levels and high temperatures are related – a key piece of evidence in An Inconvenient Truth – the former cannot have caused the latter.

2) That the sun is the primary cause of all climate change and none of it is our fault.

3) That there has been no correlation between the rate of industrialisation and the rate of global warming.

4) That volcanoes alone produce much more carbon dioxide than all human industry, planes, cars etc. And volcanoes produce virtually nothing compared to plants and animals. And plants and animals produce virtually nothing compared to the oceans. And that it doesn't matter anyway because carbon dioxide makes no difference to global temperature.

5) That the arctic glaciers break up dramatically every year and always have done.

6) That environmental scientists and the new breed of ‘environmental journalists’ now have to be sensational to have any chance of being funded and published.

7) That there is a huge constituency of people dependent on the multi-billion industry that is the global warming research/scare lobby. Sceptics are ostracised.

8) That, according to Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, the environmental lobby is founded in the rump of the anti-capitalist, anti-US left that has been left directionless by the collapse of communism and socialism as a viable model

10) That the draconian measures imposed by the Precautionary Principle will have a disastrous effect on the world’s poorest. For example, the environmental lobby is demanding that African nations depend on the hopelessly unreliable and impossibly expensive solar and wind power rather than investing in using the continent’s coal and oil to generate the electricity that could immediately transform millions of blighted lives. This is where the environmental lobby becomes morally repugnant.

I have long been a waverer on AGW.

Like all lay people, I rely on what the media tells me is the scientific consensus, but a) I remember spending hours on ridiculous admin work to 'cover' our business in the advent of the Millennium Bug; and b) I have always been very sceptical about people who want to change our lifestyles based on weather forecasting, which ranks pretty high on the list of Things We Know Sod All About.

Following this programme, I am even more bewildered and befuddled, with an additional sense that I have a right to be angry with somebody. I’d like to see a point-by-point rebuttal of the programme, because so much of it was convincing.

As with so many things these days, we laypeople have both too much and too little information.

What seems absolutely clear is that we must not take any drastic action to reverse any technological and lifestyle improvements merely because the environmentalists demand it. We have to have a period of stopping and thinking. Or rather, carrying on and thinking.

Perhaps the next big question will be: which scientists, journalists and pundits will be the first to break ranks and admit they were hopelessly, humiliatingly wrong about AGW? And once the trickle starts, will it soon be a flood, leaving the anti-capitalists as stranded and embittered as they were after the failure of communism?

UPDATE: Gordon McCabe has a crucial clip from the programme here.

UPDATE: Part 2 on this programme here.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The twelfth man

Again, to clarify for my North American readers, when Tom Hicks, the new American owner of Liverpool FC said of Anfield: “I’d heard so much about the fans, but that was spectacular. I’ve seen a lot of sporting events all around the world, but nothing that comes close to that”, he was not trying to ingratiate himself with the scousers, nor was he gloating over gate receipts, which do not generate serious profits for football clubs. He was simply stating a fact.

If you’ve never been amongst 45,000 people packed inside a close stadium, all singing the same song in unison as loud as they can, and continuing to roar, bellow and chant other songs for 90 minutes, you can’t really fathom the experience. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in human activity, except maybe Zulu warfare. No orchestra or choir or even heavy rock band makes that kind of visceral impact. You don’t hear it through your ears, it transmits directly to your intestines.

The purple-clad people in the video taking pictures and trying to join in with You’ll Never Walk Alone are Barcelona fans. Barcelona play at a much bigger stadium: the Nou Camp has a capacity of over 98,000. But they’ve never experienced that kind of atmosphere.

As Peter likes to remind us on Diversely We Sail, North American sports don’t have the problems of soccer. They are family affairs: kids fidgeting, dads gallumphing off to stock up on hotdogs.

Hooliganism is the dark side of football tribalism. Anfield on a European Cup night is the blinding bright side.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

We'll win it six times

Here's one to astound and baffle my soccer-ignoramus readers.

Last night I was utterly engrossed in, and then ecstatically celebrated, a magnificent 1-0 loss by my favourite football team.

That's right, a magnificent 1-0 loss.

Even the new Yank owner got it.

Liverpool certainly made an impression on their new owners, who bought a 62 per cent stake in the club last month.

“It was my first time to Anfield and everything I’d heard was true,” Hicks said. “It was a special night for all the fans, a wonderful occasion. I’d heard so much about the fans, but that was spectacular. I’ve seen a lot of sporting events all around the world, but nothing that comes close to that.”

In which ToE brings you eye-witness journalism from the frontline

The above picture was taken on my mobile phone. The shop – a retailer of ski and skateboarding stuff – is next door to my office.

On Monday afternoon a loud crash brought us all onto the street, there to bear witness to a quite surreal scene. A poor old dear, perhaps in her 80s, was sitting in the above car, engine still revving, looking quite bemused.

Quite how she managed to attain both the required speed and the perfect angle to reverse up onto the pavement and through the shop front is a mystery not even the BBC can resolve.

By some miracle, nobody was hurt, and even the little Scottie dog that normally sleeps in the window is still with us.

The end of one old lady’s driving career, I suspect.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Will it help if we call them ‘Neets’ instead?

Two op-ed pieces that make an interesting juxtaposition today. Here’s Libby Purves in the Times:

Long-term unemployment is a curse: it not only bankrupts the state but leaches self-respect, health and hope from the individual. Often enough it leads straight on to claiming incapacity for depression and stress (such claims have risen by a third since 1997). The bald fact is that anybody able-bodied, with no serious domestic caring to do, should earn their keep. Daytime TV is no life, nor is the well-documented route whereby the young untrained unemployed — “Neets” — are 50 per cent more likely to drink heavily, take drugs and fall ill.

… because of what happened to working people in the faltering 1970s and then the brusquely callous 1980s, when tens of thousands were thrown out of the steel, coal and manufacturing industries — the stigma of unemployment faded. It had to. Mere humanity demanded it. For a couple of decades we had in our midst a vast number of people excluded from work by circumstances beyond their control.

Thus evolved a sense that living on benefits, even without young children or a verifiable illness, is OK. Not perfect, not luxurious, but no disgrace. The euphemism “unwaged” handily put carers under the same umbrella. But a nihilistic sense of benefits as a permissible way of life got passed to the next generation. At the same time a poverty trap developed whereby a low wage brought in less than benefits. Gordon Brown’s working families tax credits (although sometimes chaotic) have helped, but the trap still exists: if a single unemployed parent gets even a tentative job, the free school meals, transport, dentistry and prescriptions abruptly stop...

John Hutton is right: the status quo is unacceptable both in economic and in humane terms. But those who brandish carrots and sticks and hair-clippers must understand that often their enemy is a fatalistic state of mind which, though unhelpful, is explicable. That, not simple idleness, is the difference between a second-generation British refusenik and an ambitious Pole who still believes, owing to his very different national history, that life’s natural path leads upwards.

Meanwhile, John Harris in The Guardian offers a leftist view: the priority is not to actually try to address the problem of the anti-socialism engendered by generations of welfare-dependency. Nor is it ok to disapprove of anti-social behaviour. Rather, the important thing is for all of us to stop being so mean about 'chavs':

Here, then, is a modern folk devil maligned just about everywhere, from schoolyards to the offices of upscale newspapers. The Daily Telegraph's venerable Simon Heffer, for example, almost exactly echoed the students' responses back in January: "Our underclass has been allowed to get out of control ... They and their children regard school as optional. Drug dealing and theft are the main careers, nicely supplementing the old staple of benefit fraud." He might loudly harrumph; millions crystallise the same sentiments in the habitual use of a single word.

Yeah, sorry about that, John.

The site that keeps on giving

The more time you give to Beedogs, the more you'll get from it...

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with a beedog. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the beedog. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the beedog about it: "Beedog, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me."

And the beedog said: It is because I cannot be trusted off-leash, and I ran away.”

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Singular Man

JP Donleavy - that strange, Brooklyn-born tough-guy Irish country gent with the semi-aristocratic English accent - was the guest on Desert Island Discs this week.

In my early twenties I went through a period of Donleavy obsession, spending an inordinate amount of time trawling the second-hand bookshops of Bristol for paperbacks, and reading them on the bus to work.

The received wisdom on Donleavy is that he wrote one masterpiece, The Ginger Man, and then just kept re-writing it over and over again in ever-paler imitation.

This isn’t quite true: he wrote two masterpieces, The Ginger Man and A Singular Man, and kept re-writing these over and over again in (mostly) paler imitation.

The normal rules of lit crit don’t and shouldn’t apply to Donleavy. Rather, he is a one-man genre and you either like that genre or you don’t. His books are about unlucky, angry, melancholy, hyper-active, amoral men, grabbing whatever they can from an immoral world.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


To be read aloud through gritted teeth, whilst pedalling on a static bicycle.


This poem has been temporarily removed, for secret reasons.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

On circuses and the fidgets

Confirming the trend identified by Clive James, the restless planners of Bristol have succumbed to the fidgets and changed the name of the shopping centre - which is being redeveloped and adorned with some mighty new monuments to Mammon - from Broadmead to ...wait for it ... Cabot Circus.

"We were looking for an identity that reflects the bustle and vibrancy of a thriving city centre. Cabot Circus allows us to do this - whilst creating a focus for the area and a destination for visitors to the city," said some time-wasting clown or other.

The people of Bristol will, of course, ignore the superfluous name-change and continue to refer to the area as "town".

Friday, March 02, 2007

God in the 700s

From the Guardian:

You can find heaven, and part with a small slice of your personal fortune, if you take a trip to the 700s. There are pastors on the phone, and gospel singers crying out in exultation as they make hysterical appeals for your cash on Sky channels 760 to 780. With names such as Inspiration and Loveworld, all but two of this cluster of evangelical Christian stations are beamed to the UK from abroad. In their midst at 765, however, sit a middle-aged couple from Surbiton chatting about the morning newspapers. It's a bit like a coffee morning in slow motion.

….Welcome to Revelation TV. For the past four years, the Conders have broadcast from a tiny jumble of a studio a minute - and light years - away from the sleek, amoral television companies of Soho and Charlotte Street. When not presenting - although sometimes they do these things while they are on live telly as well - Howard and Lesley direct, produce graphics, answer the telephone, book guests and order equipment. They are helped by their four children, the youngest of whom, Bethany, 11, has her own show, R Kidz, and a youthful staff of 15. Shunned by mainstream advertisers and barred by Ofcom from raising funds on air, the Conders have scrimped and saved and remortgaged their house to keep on broadcasting.

Now all that has changed. Despite the opposition of the Church of England, which fears the "potential for exploiting viewers' sensitivities", Howard Conder's lonely lobbying has paid off: Ofcom has amended its regulations to allow Revelation TV to ask for money on air. Is this the birth of British televangelism? Will well-fed pastors coerce money out of Brassic of Bolton while happy-clappy hordes charm cheques from Gullible of Guildford?

Not content with baseball caps and McDonalds, those crazy yanks are now forcing televangelist hair on us:

Sporting a silvery thatch of hair that miraculously thickened shortly after he took up Christian broadcasting, 60-year-old Howard Conder reads the Sun's front page on Robbie Williams…

Wisdom of Winehouse

Amy Winehouse on Dido: "Background music - the background to death."

And on Kylie: "She's not an artist... She's a pony... like a little, cute, beautiful, beautiful pony."

Her lyrics are equally great.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Funnily enough, it’s exactly what my Vocational Assessment Test predicted

Here are some jobs to make one's parents proud.

First, Gloucestershire CCC, of which I am a member, introduce us to one Wraye Wenigmann, who is the Women’s Officer for the German Cricket Federation.

Having taken a few moments to absorb the full import of that prestigious title, meet Michael Knott. He’s just landed a role playing John Prescott’s arse.

"I'm a bit of a fatty but my bum's pretty pert. It's quite smooth and not hairy or pimply. I look after it by giving it a dusting of talc each night,” boasts Michael, 54.

please please please

Two requests this morning.

The first is for Virgin Media and Sky to please resolve their silly spat and restore Sky One and Sky Sports News to my package, so that I can resume feeding my twin televisual addictions of The Simpsons and endlessly repeated interviews with Arsene Wenger. Thank'ee.

The second is for my silent readership. As blogs go, TofE is pretty lively, but silent readers still outnumber commenters. Conversations offline have suggested that some people might feel a bit 'intimated' by the general smart-aleckery, but the reality is that comments are the lifeblood of blogs, everybody is welcome and valued, and bloggers are pathetically grateful for any kind of comment short of outright personal abuse. So come on in, you bloody voyeurs, don’t be shy: the water’s lovely.