Monday, August 31, 2009

What brings forth a Kingsnorth?

... A Google Alert does, apparently. Taking the effort out of ego-googling, an Alert can act as a Spider Sense for the thin-skinned, tingling whenever someone is dissing you on the Web, so that you can scuttle over there quick and stamp on it. As well as being a bit undignified, the thing strikes me as thankless. After all, if you make a living out of Being Controversial, as does 'Top Ten Troublemaker (2001)' and hellish state school survivor Paul Kingsnorth, then being dissed by bloggers is surely an occupational hazard. But there it is.

On the subject, Janice Moor - she of the Grayson Ellis Official Site - comments below about the remarkarble parallels between Kingsnorth's 'award-winning' poems and certain Ellis juvenilia written in the early 1950s. No suspicion of plagiarism - the Ellis works have apparently never been published.

Fascinating comparison though: you can view it here and decide for yourself. I make no comment (wouldn't want an Alerted Kingsnorth back on my case, after all).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My service record

... in the Great Blog Wars 2003-2009, as explained to angry Roman Catholic vet, Waldo.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Perhaps the funniest thing you will read this year

…is this exchange in Comment is Free , in which posh eco-warrior (and fabulously bad poet award-winning poet, orang utan rehabilitator, McDonalds sweeper and honorary member of the Lani tribe of New Guinea) Paul Kingsnorth* and George Monbiot debate whether civilisation is worth their while preserving in the face of the various imminent financial and environmental catastrophes.

Paul argues that we should embrace the post-apocalyptic future now, while George politely disagrees and decides that no, on reflection, he will continue to use his position as a Guardian columnist to save billions of lives.


(via The Hooting Yard)

*Amendment to original post made in deference to Mr Kingsnorth's perfectly reasonable objection that he is not, in fact, posh and was dragged up in a hellish-sounding state school

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Never but when he is drunk

Worm casts about for Eden here. Poor humans: the fleeting glimpse, caught but rarely between hope and nostalgia, find the river, Ratty and Moley are bobbing about on it somewhere, me my thoughts are flower-strewn, ocean storm, bayberry moon.

Tell me, is there a more luscious heartbreaker in which to wallow, sipping a third glass of red as dusk descends, than the closing song of REM’s multi-nineties mega-hitsmash record Automatic for the People? Maybe Sinatra’s version of Cycles, or No Easy Way Down from Dusty in Memphis.

You can get a really good dose of Wabi Sabi from any of those, much better than Zen, which is bad for the knees. The booze is critical though, otherwise you’re always thinking: “I’m enjoying this song, but consciously, and every second of that enjoyment brings me closer to its termination, and I will only hear it a finite number of times before I pop my clogs or lose my wits or both.” This is why we must produce offspring.

And here we can once again turn to the sharp, bleak wisdom of Samuel Johnson, as related by the faithful Boswell:

He this day enlarged upon Pope's melancholy remark, "Man never is, but always to be blest."

He asserted that the present was never a happy state to any human being; but that, as every part of life, of which we are conscious, was at some point of time a period yet to come, in which felicity was expected, there was some happiness produced by hope. Being pressed upon this subject, and asked if he really was of opinion that though, in general, happiness was very rare in human life, a man was not sometimes happy in the moment that was present, he answered, "Never, but when he is drunk."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

America and race

Having recently watched Gran Torino and The Wire, I was struck by the following observation: race is quite a big issue in America.

I appreciate that the bold originality of this insight might shock you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the Greatness or Otherwise of Andrew Flintoff

There’s been a (slightly silly) debate on the sports pages of The Times about whether the now-retiring Freddie Flintoff counts as a “great” player. Peerless purple-proser Simon Barnes says yea, sensible crap-cutter Michael Atherton says nay.

Atherton’s argument is mostly based on Flintoff’s career stats, which are good, but not, well, great. I’m firmly with Barnes.

This ultimately comes down to whether you take a statistician’s or a more romatic 'sportsman’s' view of cricket (and probably, of sport or even life in general.) I'm a romantic: I barely remember dates, scores and tables, but I never forget the heroes and the villains. Yet if stats could tell the story of a match, it would be just as meaningful to watch it on a Teletext scorecard as in the flesh. Clearly it isn’t; stats are just one facet of the game and averages don’t win Test series or get you an MBE.

The 2009 Ashes proves this: the Aussies had all but one of the series’ top seven run scorers, and all of the top three wicket-takers. Yet they lost. Australia's Clarke and North finished with excellent batting averages, but so what?

Much more important than numbers are the key passages of play which swing matches and inspire teams, often come out of the blue and sometimes don’t show up at all in the stats. This time there were three: Collingwood, Anderson and Panesar manfully blocking out the unlikely draw at Cardiff; Flintoff’s five-wicket demolition job at Lord's; and Broad’s spell of bowling at the Oval on Friday.

Flintoff has been responsible for more of these key winning passages and more great moments than any other England player of this era and therefore he is indeed the ‘great’ player of his generation, whatever the stats might say.

Trotty’s Knock

So we won the Ashes back. Hurrah!

Terrific to win it of course, and a great series, but this was nothing like 2005. The 2005 Ashes was a contest between two almost equally excellent sides, whereas this was a contest between two almost equally flawed and fragile sides. 2009 didn’t lack for entertainment, and was at times almost as nailbiting as 2005, but they’ll sell much fewer DVDs and there’ll be no Trafalgar Square parade. But then what could ever match 2005? It was perfect and unrepeatable and it towers over any other sporting event I've witnessed - pointless to keep comparing things with it.

Anyway, three things stood out for me in this evening's post-match gloats:

1) while we already knew that cricket nickname protocol states that you add an “ey” to the player's surname (or a shortened version thereof), we learned today that when somebody’s name already ends in an “ey”, you simply drop it. Thus Michael “Clarkey” Clarke referred to Mike Hussey not as “Huss-ey” nor even “Hussey-ey” but as plain old “Huss”.

2) Stuart “Broady” Broad came up (deliberately, one hopes) with a really good name for a band, when he praised “Trotty’s knock”.

3) Both captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower were eager to spread the net of credit for the victory beyond the eleven on the pitch at the Oval to “all fourteen players” used in the series, charitably namechecking Kevin Pietersen, Monty Panesar and Graham Onions.

Poor old Ravi Bopara; already the Forgotten Man.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brendan Foster is my new hero

Which sports commentators are the best? is a question I often ponder while pegging out the laundry, or sterilising bottles.

The radio commentary team of Test Match Special are rightly praised for their ability to fluently fill five days of airtime no matter what is happening on the field of play, including occasions when nothing is happening except heavy rain. But in truth the TMS boys have an advantage in that cricket is a game of myriad, multi-faceted complexity – anyone with half an interest in the game can comfortably natter about some aspect of it for hours on end, and if all else fails you can always default to slagging off the ECB.

More impressive to me are those microphone jockeys who really have to manufacture their commentary. I’ve always been impressed by Eurosport’s veteran cycling pundit David Duffield. Stages of the Tour de France unfold slowly, with developments in the action taking all day to reach fruition. Duffield copes with this through his mastery of the art of the lengthy digression, filling the long hours with discussions of yesterday’s supper in a favourite little restaurant in Rouen, or the historical importance of particular French fishing villages. I was once hypnotised by a very detailed lecture he gave on the problems faced by the banana industry in Central America (yes, really).

But again, Duffield doesn’t quite take the prize because there are numerous technical diversions open to him, on bicycle technology or team tactics. For this reason I used to consider marathon running to be the ultimate commentator’s challenge, since it lacks both of these technical options and, for the TV viewer, essentially consists of a great number of shots of people running and not overtaking each other very often.

I say ‘used to’ because last night I realised that even the marathon is a breeze compared to the king of the commentary-defying sports: middle distance track running. At least for the marathon the commentator fulfils a useful purpose in reporting spot times, which allow the viewer to follow whether chasers are gaining or losing on the leaders.

But middle distance track running is a sport where on television the action is entirely self-explanatory. The commentator has literally no useful purpose, so he must instead make the best he can of uselessness. And last night I witnessed a masterclass by the BBC’s Brendan Foster, as he covered the World Athletics Championship Men’s 1500m Final.

For describing the business of runners going round and round in a perfectly obvious order, Foster employs two separate but expertly intertwined methods:

1. detailed speculations about the runner’s thought processes (eg. “And he’ll be hurting now, really hurting, he’ll know that this is the hard part, but he’ll also be thinking ‘This is what I’ve trained for, this is what I’ve put in all that hard work for’, and he’ll be reaching inside himself, and digging deep, and using that pain…” etc)

2. reciting synonyms for the word “accelerate”. Last night Foster came up with the following, which I repeat verbatim: "And you just sense now that the pace is going to change: it's going to gather, it's going to pick up, it's going to multiply and it's going to move."

Any fool can say “I think they’re speeding up a bit.” It takes a true artist to say it in fifty different ways for the duration of a 1500m race. I therefore put it to you that Brendan Foster is the Michelangelo of sports commentary.

Rifftrax Live

Think of England wishes the Rifftrax team the best of luck with tonight’s epic Live Riff event, showing at what they insist on calling ‘movie theaters’ across the USA.

If you happen to live in that great country, go and watch them take the piss out of Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


The world has shrunk to a series of babysecretions and attempts to detect sleeping patterns in apparent randomness. The Middle and Morning Watches are the toughest, though even the Dog has a bite. My night is coloured headache-grey. But it’s amazing how much good a two-hour doze can do you. Thatcher used to run the country on one ten-minute nap per fortnight of course. Mind you Churchill used to spend every afternoon kipping in his jim-jams while Nursey read to him from Sense and Sensibility, so everyone’s different.

It’s also amazing how quickly you become immune to the babysecretion element. Immune is wrong, you become fascinated. Ooh that’s a good one. The hard part is actually getting up in the middle of the Dog Watch to change the nappy; its contents are perfectly manageable. I suggested to Mrs Brit that we play Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock (thanks Nige) to decide whose turn it is. That proved too mentally taxing for daysleepers. Unfortunately so did normal Rock-Paper-Scissors. Even tossing a coin was too complicated so in the end we agreed that whoever lets out the biggest sigh doesn’t have to do it.

No really we’re loving it mostly. I don’t want to go back to work, though next week I must. It being the school holidays, an ice cream van is cruising the area. He’s playing O Sole Mio (the English translation of which is of course “Just one Cornetto”) to lure the kiddies, but something’s wrong with his music machine and it’s playing at about two-thirds the correct speed. This makes it sound mournful and heartbreaking. How can anyone be so cold-hearted as to refuse to buy one of the poor man’s ice creams? I picture him weeping gently into his cones and feel a strong urge to rush out to console him, perhaps by purchasing a Fab. My protective instincts must be over-secreting, I think.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Exceedingly diverted by very small sport

Talking of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, it’s difficult – foolish even – to pick a favourite passage (like Thornton’s Continentals or the big red ball crashlandings on Total Wipeout, there are just too many good ones), but if you pointed the proverbial gun at my head I think it would have to be this one:

I have known [Johnson] at times exceedingly diverted at what seemed to others a very small sport. He now laughed immoderately, without any reason that we could perceive, at our friend’s making his will; called him the TESTATOR, and added, ‘I dare say, he thinks he has done a mighty thing. He won’t stay till he gets home to his seat in the country, to produce this wonderful deed: he’ll call up the landlord of the first inn on the road; and, after a suitable preface upon mortality and the uncertainty of life, will tell him that he should not delay making his will; and here, Sir, will he say, is my will, which I have just made, with the assistance of one of the ablest lawyers in the kingdom; and he will read it to him (laughing all the time). He believes he has made this will; but he did not make it: you, Chambers, made it for him. I trust you have had more conscience than to make him say, “being of sound understanding;” ha, ha, ha! I hope he has left me a legacy. I’d have his will turned into verse, like a ballad.’

Mr. Chambers did not by any means relish this jocularity upon a matter of which pars magna fuit, and seemed impatient till he got rid of us. Johnson could not stop his merriment, but continued it all the way till we got without the Temple-gate. He then burst into such a fit of laughter, that he appeared to be almost in a convulsion; and, in order to support himself, laid hold of one of the posts at the side of the foot pavement, and sent forth peals so loud, that in the silence of the night his voice seemed to resound from Temple-bar to Fleet-ditch.

It happens from time to time that one finds something which others consider to be ‘very small sport’ inordinately amusing, and the more your companions resist or object to the hilarity, the more hilarious it becomes.

I recall a dear University friend insisting with perfectly straight face that he had, in his childhood, improved upon the game of Rock-Scissors-Paper by the ingenious addition of an extra element, Water. I forget which of the other elements it beat or was beaten by, but he indicated it with a wave-like motion of the hand. I was immediately overcome by paroxysms, and the more the rest of the company’s gentle chuckles turned to bemusement at my paroxysms, and the more his good-natured tolerance turned to indignation, the more uncontrollable they became. I had to stagger weeping from the building for fresh air, and for weeks afterwards the mere thought of his wavy hand gesture was enough to have me giggling like a lunatic. Our friendship survived, fortunately; Lord knows he had plenty of opportunities for revenge.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I spoil you

Reports of this blog's death are greatly exaggerated. I've had some sleep and will be roaring back into action soon. In the meantime, I spoil you with this:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And blogging stops...

...said David below. I refute it thus, but posting will most certainly be light for a few millennia/days (I can't tell the difference anymore). Fortunately I write rapidly and without proofreading, so there may still be missives.

Last night was Charlotte's sixth but her first at home. Mrs B has got somewhat used to the experience in hospital. My eyes were opened, in every sense. Well nobody said it would be easy, but also nobody said anything about the graphic, reality-bending anxiety nightmares about dead babies. At 4am I experienced what can only be described as a 'waking dream'. Dear me.

The world righted itself this morning however and I read aloud to Charlotte from Boswell's 'Life of Samuel Johnson'. She showed no signs of enjoying it but it soothed me to sleepfulness and more reality-bending. BRIT. 'Madam, are you weary?' CHARLOTTE. 'No, Sir, I am not'. 'Have you moved your bowels, or are you to some Degree famished?' CHARLOTTE. 'No, Sir, not that.' 'Are you gaseous then?' CHARLOTTE. 'Again, Sir, you mistake my meaning'. 'Then I am at a loss, Madam. To what purpose or intent do you grizzle thus?' CHARLOTTE. 'It is not for me, Sir, to make plain the topick of my communication, any more than it is for the Dog to explain his bow-wow-wow. The intent and the expression of it are One and the Same.'

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Hallelujah... Hello World!

Arriving fashionably late and on a date even I can't forget - 07/08/09 (at 9.33pm to be exact) - is one Charlotte Emily Nixon, aka Brit Jnr, weighing in at a respectable 7lb 15.

It wasn't an easy one by any standards, but everyone is fine and happy and will be home from Southmead Hospital (where the staff are, to a lady, angelic and wonderful) soon.

Thanks for all your kind emails and comments, blogpals!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Peter is right, now is not the time for morbidity and noseybonkery.

Today we leave the house as a duo, to return as a trio. Here's something more fitting. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mr Noseybonk Returns

Mr Noseybonk Returns
(A duet)

Creeping under bridges, peeping through the drains,
Noseybonk goes where no-one else can!
So always mind the gap when you’re stepping off the train.
Noseybonk! Noseybonk! Noseybonk Man!

He can curl up very small, all twisty and bended,
Noseybonk can squeeze into such wee spaces!
So never leave suitcases or bags unattended.
Noseybonk appears in the least expected places!

Who is that moving in the Deep End of the pool?
Noseybonk sees in the gloomiest dark!
So don’t run by the side, and follow all the rules.
Noseybonk can swim like a Great White Shark!

Underneath the pavement, grabbing at your feet,
Noseybonk! Noseybonk! No-one knows how!
So always take care when you’re crossing the street.
Noseybonk! Noseybonk! Where is he now?

Waiting for Godot: an optimistic interpretation

I'm surprised Disney-Pixar haven't snapped up the film rights...

Monday, August 03, 2009


Following the Purdy case, the Yard writes about assisted suicide. The legal position of relatives who assisted with Swiss death trips was previously in a typically fudgy British grey area: illegal but unprosecuted. The Blind Eye was turned. Now we are apparently being forced to shine some legal light on this dark business.

It seems to me that the problem with the assisted suicide debate is that an unstoppable force of a principle meets an immovable object of an argument:

1) each individual should have the final say over how and when he dies – it is no business of the State.
2) a life must have an objective value beyond the worth accorded to it by the individual at any given time - because otherwise we have no obligation to discourage someone who is merely depressed from committing suicide.

This is another interesting instance of the left-right political distinction breaking down, or becoming counter-intuitive. Those on the Left are generally pro-death because of 1, but pro-universal state healthcare because of 2. Position 1 is libertarian but conservatives tend to be anti-death because of 2.

Terry Pratchett was on BBC Breakfast this morning arguing for assisted suicide, but he was soon struggling as the interviewer ran through the slippery slope arguments. Pratchett talked about how in Victorian times doctors would routinely ‘make people comfortable’, ie. kill them softly. The name ‘Shipman’ wasn't spoken but must surely have leapt to everyone’s lips.

There just isn’t a single argument or great, overriding trump card that can win this one and so it defies clean legislation, every attempt at which appears to make things worse. We had the least bad solution already: the British Fudge, the Blind Eye. This is conservatism, I suppose.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Middle names

… are inherently amusing, aren’t they? A second, slightly worse name than your first, secreted away and only brought out under duress, generally to collective titters.

For parents, it’s usually either:(a) a good place to get a bit of familial duty done (grandparents’ names etc); or (b) a consolation prize for daddy in the naming debate; or (c) an early and excellent opportunity to start embarrassing your offspring.

There’s an obvious candidate for Brit Jnr. It begins with a ‘G’.