Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Win In The Sun

I left a nervy Sheffield to travel to today’s game between Nottingham Forest and Scunthorpe; nervy because of an impending derby that could confirm the relegation of Sheffield United to League One. It was an atmosphere that didn’t seem to match the weather, sunshine and a light breeze, not the kind of weather you associate with fear and depression.

I was greeted by the same good weather once I arrived in Nottingham but a very different atmosphere. It’s a mood of cynical optimism; fans hopeful for getting into the play offs yet lacking any faith in the play offs as a means of promotion. You can hardly blame Forest fans for that attitude, three play off disappointments have taken their toll on those supporters.

The ground was close to full by the time the teams adopted anthem, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ rang out around the City Ground. The only substantial empty spaces were in the Scunthorpe end where only a determined few had travelled down; hardly surprising considering their relegation was all but mathematically confirmed.

It was a first half of brief periods of activity interspersed between extended sections of flat play from both sides. The first 10 minutes were dramatic with Scunthorpe actually starting the brighter, Mark Duffy drawing a decent save from Lee Camp, but on 9 minutes a Chris Cohen through ball picked out Kris Boyd who did what he did at Rangers for several seasons; give him the service and he will score. His lack of effort can at times cause supporters to question his place in the team but it can’t be denied that when he is given a chance he tends to tuck it away. In 6 starts and 3 substitute appearances he’s scored 6 goals, that’s good by any standards.

Scunthorpe keeper Joe Murphy made two good saves to deny an Earnshaw shot on the turn and a long range drive by right back Chris Gunter but he could only watch as Chambers powered in a header from a corner despite the best efforts of a defender on the line.

They were given a lifeline when Gunter collided with the Iron’s winger Nunez on 36 minutes and the referee signalled for a penalty. O’Connor was clinical with the penalty and the remainder of the first half passed with little event.

Throughout the first half the majority of Forest fan’s frustrations were focussed on two Pauls who previously had been held in high regard. Liverpool loanee Paul Konchesky has been a real disappointment considering the ability he undoubtedly has; it seems his move from Fulham to Liverpool has sapped not just confidence but a degree of assured quality and it showed as he repeatedly gave the ball away, at one point almost costing Forest a goal. The other was Paul McKenna; the defensive midfielder is a favourite of manager Billy Davies and at times last season was the midfield general Forest relied on, but this year he’s looked sluggish and careless in possession and lacking in both pace and positioning.

Forest were winning but it wasn’t as convincing as many fans clearly would have liked against a side that had nothing to play for, there was a lack of creativity and a certain lack of drive to push on and improve their goal difference by winning heavily.

It appeared though that Davies agreed with the fans assessment as at half time he brought on Guy Moussi for Mckenna and pacy winger Paul Anderson for the hard working but ineffective David McGoldrick. It proved to be a very intelligent move as after the break Forest dominated from start to finish. Moussi was immense from the moment he came on, breaking up Scunthorpe's play and also taking on other players and starting several of Forest's best attacking moves. He's an ungainly looking player yet somehow keeps control and out strength much more physically imposing players.

The third goal, just 3 minutes after the break, seemed to kill off the remaining fight in Scunthorpe. A McGugan free kick from out on the left wing wasn’t cleared and Anderson managed to squeeze in a powerful shot at the near post.

The match was short on clear opportunities for the next 30 minutes or so, with what few chances there were falling to Forest. They eventually got their fourth when a cross was, after a scramble, turned in by player of the season Luke Chambers.

The fifth wasn’t far behind though it came with a bit of controversy. Moussi won a free kick on the edge of Scunthorpe’s box. Several Forest players surrounded the ball, all eager to have a dig and there were calls from around the ground for centre back Chambers to try and complete his hat-trick. While the referee was still trying to organise the wall, Earnshaw’s eagerness to try and add his name to the score sheet got the better of him and he curled the ball over the wall and into the net before the ref had blown his whistle. As he’d been booked in the first half his dismissal was, by the letter of the law, correct, but in reality it seemed unnecessary and petty. One of those situations where a referee would do no harm by just showing common sense; telling the Welsh striker to wait for his whistle and take it again would probably have been sufficient.

As it was a slightly bemused looking Earnshaw left the pitch so that the game could continue and Boyd immediately smashed the ball in via a deflection off a foot in the wall.

5-1 and the stadium echoed with songs full of that hope I mentioned earlier, the cynicism forgotten for the time being.

By the time I got back to Sheffield the tension had boiled over into anger and frustration. If I’d had any doubts about whether United were definitely down or not, the aggression and threats I received for wearing a Forest shirt made it pretty clear. United’s season had ended in defeat and there were a lot of middle aged men looking to take out their aggression. One of the very rare times I have felt genuinely uncomfortable and unsafe in the city centre.

Today’s song is by The Flaming Lips and is called ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah song’. Enjoy.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Enjoying The Worldwide Element Of The Web

The Internet is kind of scary. The sheer scope and scale of it is incredible and though there are a lot of brilliant sides to the world wide web, it has it's flaws and the very freedom it grants people is often abused or misused.

My reason for writing this is that last night highlighted for me just how brilliant it can be. It was a bit of a weird night all in all; i couldn't focus on any one thing for the majority of the evening and kept chopping and changing what i was doing, but eventually i started writing, working on a fledgling idea for a new story, and somehow i managed to keep going until it was gone 3am. I'd had no intention to stay up so late but i've written so little creatively this year that when i am in a mood like i was last night i'm loathe to stop myself from writing more. Like i said though i ran out of steam a little after 3, but i still wasn't all that tired. It was then that i remembered something i'd seen on Twitter earlier that day but dismissed as impractical. Frank Turner was playing a gig in Brooklyn, New York yesterday evening and he'd posted a link on his twitter page where the entire gig would be streamed live from 3am onwards.

It may have been late but a chance to watch a Frank Turner gig live, even if on a computer screen rather than in person, isn't something i was going to miss out on. Here is the link to why i think the Internet is incredible; for two hours i sat watching a live video of a man playing a gig on the other side of the Atlantic, talking to other fans who were watching the gig via the stream and just enjoying this sense that distances were somehow made smaller by the web. The picture and sound quality was great to say it was a live stream and it made it all worth while staying up that late when i got to watch him perform one of my favourite songs of his - 'Smiling at strangers on trains'. I've never seen it performed live and, as someone who values live music pretty highly and Frank Turner equally so, it was a big deal for me.

The sense of being connected with people thousands of miles away was a more intense version of the feeling i get when i look on the statistics bit of this blog and see that it was read by people in Singapore, China and Indonesia. I'll never meet these people, i almost certainly have very little in common, yet on the far side of the world there are people who've read things i've written. It's a cool concept.

An extreme example of this inter-connectivity is the role the Internet has played in the so called 'Arab Spring'. Social networking sites have allowed oppressed communities to organise protests and mobilise people in a manner that the various "security" forces of the region simply weren't prepared for. It also allowed people to get their stories heard by the wider world even as governments desperately attempted to stifle the flow of news in and out of their countries. Though their problems are all very different and each situation is unique, the revolutionaries in different countries drew inspiration and practical advice from each other, for example Tunisian protesters advising their counterparts in other countries how to deal with tear gas. The Internet didn't cause these revolutions or even inspire them, the reasons for the unrest in the region goes back much longer and are much deeper than that, but it facilitated them, it offered citizens a weapon to fight back with against repressive governments.

The Internet's undoubtedly got it's flaws; it offers people anonymity to be crueller than they'd ever dare be in person, people feel free to insult and threaten other people from the safety of their computer keyboards, never having to face up to the consequences of their actions. Even the most cursory glance at the average YouTube video will show you that the old adage "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all" isn't really acknowledged online. The song 'Friday' by Rebecca Black is a terrible song, but the level of abuse thrown at this teenage girl by people who get some sort of kick out of writing the most horrible thing they can think of is just depressing.

I'd write more but one of the consequences of staying up past 5am watching a gig in America is that i'm extremely tired already this evening and i fear if i write any more i'll lose any sense of narrative flow or structure and it'll just become a complete ramble, rather than the traditional partially rambling nature of my blogs.

The song to finish this blog post is the Frank Turner song i mentioned earlier. That feeling of being so close to the answers, yet so far away, especially when it comes to girls, is one i'm more than a little familiar with and that is at least part of the reason i love the song. Plus it's just a good tune.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

An Englishman's Take On Some American Issues

There's going to be a definite American focus to today's blog.

First of all my condolences, for the little they are worth, go out to all those affected so far by the storm system and tornadoes that have struck the southern states of the U.S. It appears so far that Alabama has been worst hit with North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia also badly affected. The current estimate from the USA today website is that the storm has already killed 269 people and the tragic reality of natural disasters is that that figure will almost certainly rise.

Here is the USA Today coverage -, here's the BBC's take on it - and here's a collection of photos from North Carolina that hint at the destruction across the affected States - The videos and photos on those pages capture the sheer power of the tornadoes as they struck cities and towns.

The devastation to homes and work places will also take a long time to mend but it is lives lost that are, and always should be, the focus of the coverage of and reaction to any event like this. To anyone reading this who either lives in the affected region (and i know it does get some views in the States) or has family out there i hope they're unaffected.

Stories like this from the US or the Tsunami in Japan or any of the other natural disasters to affect people all across the globe in recent years make me very grateful for the twist of fortune that saw me born in the UK, a region relatively untouched by the potentially devastating sides of nature. It kind of puts our collective national hysteria whenever it snows into stark contrast.

Staying on that side of the pond the whole, ridiculous "Birther" conspiracy took what i really hope will be one of it's final turns towards conclusion when Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate as proof that he was born in the United States. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released on Monday only 38% of American's believed Obama was definitely born in the States and therefore eligible to be President.

It is staggering to me that such a idiotic conspiracy theory had been allowed to gain that level of traction and that so much of the American public was willing to even vaguely consider it. As an Englishman our interest in conspiracy theories and the like is at times frustrating (the Diana murder one springs to mind but even that is only believed by a tiny minority), but i just can't imagine this sort of thing taking hold. It's the kind of idiocy even the Sun and Daily Mail would probably dismiss as too far.

A right wing media and political campaign has been making the location of Obama's birth a key political issue for the past year and recently the business magnate and attention craving figure, Donald Trump raised the "birther" campaign's profile yet further (a worrying side note is that he seems to be being at least touted as a potential 2012 presidency candidate).

Yesterday he proved, what should but won't be, once and for all that he was, as he has always claimed, born in Hawaii to an American mother and Kenyan father. I say it won't be because within moments of the birth certificate's release, almost before they'd finished crowing about their 'glorious' victory in making Obama publish it, they were questioning it's validity and changing the content of their argument to be whether having a Kenyan father disqualifies Obama from being President. Basically they don't like him being the President and they're going to keep changing the goal posts of what makes him a legitimate President for the entire time he is in office.

I believe that's one of the reasons why it's taken so long for Obama to publish the certificate. He knows those same media figures and politicians will move onto some new reason to distrust him and so while they were banging on about something so clearly untrue he was almost tempted to let them do so, but now it had become, i suspect to his surprise and alarm, a genuine political issue he's had to take steps to quash that particular lie.

Another reason i suspect may be simply an understandable reaction from him of "Why on earth should i have to prove to a bunch of right wing manipulative liars that i am who i say i am, when i clearly couldn't have got to be the President if i wasn't?" It would be a perfectly reasonable argument, but the problem arises from the fact that reasonable arguments and the American media (on both sides of the polital spectrum) do not go well together.

When i first read the story yesterday evening i could almost hear what Obama wished he was able to say to the main players in the campaign, i imagine it went something like this; "Well there you go. You wanted proof, there's proof you scaremongering, shameless, idiotic fools. Now can we please forget this stupidly childish game and actually try and get on with running this country?"

He said something impressively close to that, but seeing as he's an elected official rather than a news presenter he had to go with a polite version. I hate feeling this cynical and i don't doubt for a moment that this doesn't apply to the vast majority of Americans, but it just feels like certain elements are unable to come to terms with having a black President whose middle name is Hussein and whose surname rhymes with Osama. Linked to that is the terrifyingly high number of Americans who seem to belief that Obama may be a Muslim, despite the lack of anything really resembling solid evidence. Yes he grew up in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest population of Muslims, but that doesn't make him a Muslim, just as growing up in an ostensibly Christian country hasn't made me Christian.

I worry that Obama's legacy will be one of racially driven political sniping and media hysteria rather than anything actually to do with his policies. The actual politics of Congress is as partisan as it has been in a long time and worryingly American society seems to be following suit.

An interesting side note that i can't deny i found brilliant was this article i stumbled across via Twitter - - it basically says that in an official press release on their website the KKK said that they didn't agree with the Koran burning, Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church or the Tea Party. Now their difference of opinion doesn't always stem from reasons i agree with (at least that applies to their dislike for the Tea Party) but it did make a quite amusing thought occur to me.

When the KKK turns around and says they can't support your hateful rhetoric or actions, you surely know you've gone too far.

It only feels appropriate that the song i finish this blog with is by an American band, so i chose one of my favourite songs by Bright Eyes, "Bowl of Oranges". If ever a band somehow managed to make their songs simultaneously depressing and uplifting it's Bright Eyes, which may go someway to explain why i enjoy them so much.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

An El Classico Lacking In The "Classic"

3 down, 1 to go.

Most football fans will have guessed that i am talking about the El Classicos; the games between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It's one of the fiercest rivalries around and one look at the combined team sheet of the sides instantly explains why pretty much the entire football world gets VERY excited whenever they meet.

The collective excitement went up a notch after Real Madrid disposed of Tottenham in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League and confirmed that there would be 4 El Classicos in the space of 18 days.

Sadly the anticipation hasn't been matched by the games so far. All three have descended into scrappy affairs where diving, petty fouls and intimidation of referees has dominated and high quality football has been frustratingly sparse.

Tonight's semi-final first leg has almost certainly been the worst of the bunch with all those negative elements taken to extremes. For 70 or so minutes there was very little to commend this game and i was so disappointed that a game which could have been a footballing masterpiece instead was a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

The first half was low on chances and incredibly broken up as both teams seemed to forget the level of football they're capable of and focus instead on kicking each other, falling over and making referee Wolfgang Stark's job even harder than it inevitably was going to be. The worst offenders in that period were Barca players with Pedro and Busquets both causing flash points by over reacting to innocuous looking collisions.

Even just going down the tunnel at half time proved too difficult for several of the players with yet another outbreak of squabbling and posturing leading to Barca's substitute goalkeeper Pinto being sent off.

The second red card of the game was pretty much inevitable considering what had gone on up to that point. When Pepe went in on Dani Alves with a feisty challenge it was as much Alves theatrical rolling around and the manner in which the Barcelona players swarmed around Stark that led to the red card as anything to do with Pepe's tackle;which was ill-judged but really not deserving of a straight dismissal. Mourinho was sent off for how he reacted to the decision and though i'm far from his biggest fan his frustration was perfectly understandable.

From then on it was almost all Barcelona as you would expect and the breakthrough eventually came on 76 minutes and it was from a man who stood out as a great player even amongst the illustrious company he had on that field, Lionel Messi. He flicked in a cross from the substitute Affelay for his 51st goal of the season in all competitions. 51 goals; it's an incredible return and the Argentinean maestro was only just getting into his stride so far as this game was concerned.

His second, a goal which will make it almost impossible for anyone to look past Barcelona getting to the final, was something special; it was a moment of pure skill and elegance so out of character with the rest of the match that it made the other 89 minutes all the more frustrating. He picked up the ball 30 yards out and ran at the defence, taking on 3 world class defenders with an ease that almost seemed to mock them, then flicked it past Casillas as he charged out of his goal.

It was the sort of moment that you hope to see in a game like this, where one of the many brilliant players on display manages to produce something extra special to help their team; it's just a damn shame that even a goal of that quality was tarnished by the match it was scored in.

For fleeting moments throughout the game one or more of the players seemed to remember the kind of football they are capable of, but too much of the time they seemed more interested in kicking each other and whinging.

As i'm a glass half full kind of guy when it comes to football i still harbour a little bit of hope that the 4th match might actually live up to some of the hype the fixture always earns; Real Madrid will have to try and score while staying strong at the back, not something easily achieved at the Nou Camp. My heart says it will be an open, high scoring game but my head tells me it'll be a scrappy, bad tempered game, just like the other 3.

Today's song is an audience recording of Dallas Green, otherwise known as City and Colour, covering Adele's 'Hometown Glory'. I'm very jealous of the person whose video this is as i wish i could have been at the gig, but thanks to Youtube i get the next best thing.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The 10 Most Coherent Thoughts I Had Today

I had a couple of ideas for slightly lengthier blog posts but it's now late and i don't have the energy or inclination to write them, so i'll save those topics for another time.

This is just going to be a list of 10 things i've thought today or that have cropped up.
  1. The play off game i wrote about yesterday if (and it's a pretty sizable if) we get there, will be on the 16th, i.e the day before my political theory exam. Bit miffed really but i guess that's just sods law.
  2. Man United are pretty much guaranteed a place in the Champions League final now, 2-0 away at Schalke is a great result and i just can't see the German side going to Old Trafford and winning by the necessary margin.
  3. I'm full on falling in love with the new Fleet Foxes song that i posted in my blog yesterday, very optimistic for the album.
  4. I'd forgotten how nice a decent whisky can be; i had a single of whisky, neat of course, at the bar i went to with a few friends and it's probably the first time i've drank it in months.
  5. After a couple of days worth of reflection i definitely liked the new episode of Dr Who (a definite geeky guilty pleasure). Confusing and almost overflowing with potential time paradoxes, but good fun at the same time.
  6. I might be able to go to the Forest match on Saturday against Scunthorpe at home. I hope the plan works out because i'd love to be able to watch the game; the radio's all well and good, but it doesn't compare to being in the ground.
  7. 'The Northern Lights' is a ridiculously readable book; it may be primarily aimed at younger readers than me, but the story is good, the characters well written and i've made better progress through it than i have through many books in the past year.
  8. I'm getting close to having had 2,000 views of my blog; it's not a huge figure all considered, once i'm getting 2,000 views a blog post then i can start gloating, but it's still nice to know a few people are reading, perhaps regularly. The size of the audience was never one of my reasons for writing, but that doesn't mean i can't enjoy the ego boost from knowing there's readers out there.
  9. I'm getting film withdrawal symptoms; i've not watched a film in whole for a couple of days now and i feel like i'm failing in some way. I'll have to sort that out tomorrow though i have no idea yet what i'm going to watch, guess i'll just have to see what mood i'm in.
  10. This story has to be considered 'good news' though it saddens me that there are so many countries where a step like this has to even be debated - The idea of killing someone for the person they choose to love is one of the most abhorrent around and it's a hatred i simply can't, and never want to, understand. Any move away from this, no matter how small or overdue, has to be worth cherishing.
Today's song is one that came on my iPod as i was walking home from the bar this evening and it kind of captured my mood perfectly; i was in a very reflective mood i guess.

Monday, 25 April 2011

How Will This Season End?

Don't plan on today's post being a long one, especially as though it didn't involve much work, last night's one will have been a bit of an epic read compared to a usual post. I really do appreciate anyone who soldiered through and i'd be interested to know what people made of it, but then again that goes for any of these blogs. I write regularly because i want to for the sake of writing and because it's an effective way to practice, so feedback can be an important part of that.

After Forest's win today which may not have been comfortable but was as important as any other 3 points we've gained this season i annoyingly can't help but wonder about the Play Offs. If we win our last two games (against Scunthorpe and Crystal Palace, teams we should in theory beat but who are fighting for their lives in a relegation scrap, making them very unpredictable) then we're into the play offs and i can experience all that uncertainty and nerve shredding excitement all over again.

Due to a combination of my past experiences with play offs (3 attempts, 3 defeats) and the fact that we've not been playing particularly well recently there is a part of me that almost wishes we'd just fully dropped away and were out of the running for the play offs. I suspect even if we make it we'll lose in the semi-finals and it'll put a bit of a gloss on what has to be considered a bit of a disappointing season. However i'm a football fan and one of the caveats of that is that no matter how pessimistic you are, on some level you want your team to win every game, to have the chance to compete for trophies and promotions.

One potentially interesting side note about this year's play offs is that the second leg of the semi-final will be played on either the 16th or 17th of May. My Political Theory exam is at 9.00 on the 17th. It will definitely make my day much more stressful regardless of the outcome, but there are a few different ways i can imagine it panning out. If we play on the 16th and we win i won't be able to celebrate as i would like, plus i'll be stressing over that rather than focussing on the impending exam. If we play on the 16th and lose it will mean that i go into that exam, one i am already dreading, in one of the worst moods anyone will ever see me in; the post play off blues are intense and throw in an exam on some old political theorists and you've got a cocktail of depression for me. Then again if we play on the 17th and win it could be brilliant; the relief of having got the exam out the way adding to what will be a high level of excitement already, with the celebration of a victory being the perfect way to cap off the day and i will be free to get as drunk and as daft as i want without too much in the way of consequences. If we play on the 17th and lose it could go down in my own personal history as one of the darkest days i can remember; screwing up an important exam and watching Forest lose yet again in the play offs would make for a pretty unrelentingly miserable day.

The above highlights the exact reason i almost wish we weren't in with a chance of getting into the play offs; it makes me think too much, makes me simultaneously pessimistic and hopeful, makes me play out scenarios in my head for how it might all pan out. Basically it makes me experience all the worst elements of being a football fan and i wouldn't have it any other way.

Today's song is a song off an album released in a few days which i'm as excited to hear as any in quite a while; an accolade in itself considering how many good albums have come out this year (White Lies, Elbow, Strokes, Warpaint, Washed Out, Rise Against). The song is called "Helplessness Blues" and it's the single off of the new Fleet Foxes album of the same name and i am really impressed. The video is a fan made one but unlike some fan made efforts i feel it really suits the song and the band. (I've worked out how to embed videos again - they changed the layout on the page and hid the embed option beneath a couple of others)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Let Me Tell You A Story

Tonight's blog is a short story i wrote a year or two ago, one which i've always been quite proud of as it was an interesting experiment. As most people will know i write quite a bit and have made several attempts at writing fiction. All but one of the stories i've written have been based in the here and now, inspired by and working around the people and relationships i see around me on a daily basis, but this was different. I guess this would fall within the 'fantasy' genre if you were desperate to put a label on it and the nature of that school of writing granted me a freedom i haven't usually enjoyed to stray into the world of metaphors and figurative speech.

I post this because i assume two things; Firstly that if you're reading my blog you have at least a vague interest in what i have to say, regardless of whether it's about current affairs or the products of my imagination. Secondly that you know the kind of guy i am and so you won't be shocked by the nature of the story. Here goes, i titled it "The Statue" but it's very much a working title.


The boy was sat on the balcony of his bedroom, enjoying the feeling of the sunshine on his skin and the breeze through his hair. He was staring out across the countryside, over the river which split the visible land almost perfectly in two and was flowing fast and strong with the added water of the recently melted snows. The gradual shift from white to green as the predominant colour of the landscape had pleased him; the beginning of spring always seemed like a hopeful time to him, a time with promise and potential.

He paid little attention to the herds of cattle, even happier than him to see the green shoots of grass return. The land was fertile and most of it was used for various forms of farming but his focus was on the mountain which dominated the horizon.

The snow was slowly retreating up its sides, driven back by the comparative warmth of spring after the cold of a harsh winter. It still clung to almost the entire top third of the mountain, gleaming in the late morning sunshine. The mountain was out of bounds to the boy, by order of his parents who felt it held too greater danger for him.

The very fact that it was forbidden made the mountain almost unbearably desirable to the boy, for he was in many ways a perfectly normal boy, and it is common knowledge that to make something infinitely more tempting and interesting to a boy you merely have to make the thing forbidden.

However as the boy had grown up, his wish to visit the mountain had changed in nature from merely wanting to disobey his parents in an attempt to claim independence and make himself seem grown up, to a longing to visit one particular point on the mountain.

Over halfway up the steep and rocky sides of the mountain was a monument. Built long before even his grandparent’s time, the tall gold and marble statue was visible even from where the boy sat now, more than a day’s walk away. He could see it was there, could almost make out some details, but it was indistinct, he wished to see it closer. Almost 10ft tall, the statue was that of a woman. The boy himself had never seen the statue close up, but everyone who had ever seen it said the woman was almost painfully beautiful, that the expression on her face was so serene and kind that it was impossible not to feel a great calm and sense of well being fill you as you looked upon it.

The mystery was a major factor in the boys consuming interest in the statue, the fact that it was reported to be so beautiful, yet only a handful of people had ever seen it, that you had to earn the beauty, made him long to make the journey to see her.

More than once he had walked to the limit of his family’s land which skirted around the base of the mountain. From here the gradient of the slope meant that the statue disappeared from view, hidden behind outcrops of rock that looked ominously sharp. On two separate occasions he’d even taken a rucksack full of the equipment that his common sense and a climbing book had suggested would be needed for the climb, much of it stolen from his father’s supplies. He’d stood at the base, staring up in the direction which he knew the statue lay in; he’d stood there for hours, daring himself to start climbing, but in the end he’d turned around and gone home, replacing the things he’d stolen and hoping his parents were none the wiser.

If it had merely been a case of wanting to disobey his parents, he’d already have attempted the climb. But as he’d grown up he’d begun to realise that his parents rules had reasons behind them, that the climb was quite probably beyond the skills of an inexperienced young boy.

One of the reasons why so few people had ever seen the statue up close was that the climb was considered highly treacherous as well as long. It was a full days climb for an experienced climber to the statue, meaning you had to stay overnight up there.

The knowledge that there were several good reasons why he should give up on his ambition to see the statue did not serve in any way to diminish his urge to make the climb and see it. The very idea of its beauty captivated his mind in a way that nothing had even come close to before.

The obsession did not lessen with time or distractions, the boy attempted to fill his life with friends, with music and with sport; he showed a particular interest in rock climbing, and he was by all normal standards, a happy boy, but it could not be denied that he felt like something was missing, like to be complete he must visit the statue.

His parents had at first feared he would do something stupid and injure himself in the process, but as time passed their fears for his physical safety subsided slightly. However the idea of him coming to some serious physical harm had always been only half their reason for forbidding the child from climbing the mountain. Many of the climbers who had visited the statue had spoken on their return of things they had previously viewed as beautiful seeming dull in comparison, that the rest of the world held nothing for them that could compare to the statue. This realisation had led many of the climbers to suffer from depression, for it is fair to say the statue, though the most beautiful thing they had ever witnessed, had spoilt the rest of the world for them.

Most people live their lives in the pursuit of beauty and happiness, so it is an interesting and unfortunate thought, that to succeed in that pursuit would not actually make you happy, but depress you; for if you know you have seen the most beautiful sight, and felt the purest of happiness, then what is there to search for, what is there to keep you going?

The boy’s parents were terrified; they couldn’t bare the idea that their child could find himself drifting at such an early age, without hope or drive, so they had done everything in their power to make sure he didn’t even attempt to reach the statue, claiming it was just that the climb itself was too dangerous.

The boy himself could not effectively explain to his friends, his parents or himself, why it mattered so much that he see the statue. To put the intensity of his desire into words seemed both impossible and undesirable. He didn’t consider himself skilled enough in the ways of the words, to do justice to the emotions which the statue evoked in him.

The boy sat on the balcony, his thoughts orbiting around the statue, circling it, both drawn to and afraid of thinking directly about it.

His gaze was momentarily drawn to a bird of prey soaring high on currents of air, it’s wings spread majestically so as to make the task of flying and hunting seem almost effortless. As always when he looked upon the birds that flew overhead, he felt a great jealousy towards it. That bird could visit the statue whenever it wanted, could choose to soar all the way there. To the boys mind it was unfair, that something like a bird which would have no real appreciation of the beauty of the statue, could visit it whenever it wanted, yet he, who would cherish even a second of looking at it, was unable to go once.

The boy continued to grow, going through life as a fairly cheerful and successful person, becoming a young man who was loved by many, and loved many in return. The older he got, the more the statue scared him almost as much as it amazed him. He was now old enough to appreciate the commitment that goes into loving something or someone. To accept your own love for something is to accept the pain and fear that would come with losing the item of your affection. He knew it wasn’t wise to love something he’d never even seen, but he knew now that it was love that he felt, for the statue, and for what it represented.

When he thought about it he realised the features of the statue in his imagination were not always the same. That as time changed they shifted, taking on elements of the girls he knew, the girls he found attractive. The thought didn’t bother him, for he was certain that the statue would be so beautiful that nothing his imagination could create would even begin to do it justice. It struck him though that as of late the statue always resembled one girl in particular. She lived near him and he saw her nearly every day. He didn’t deny for a moment that she was stunning; in fact he believed her to be the most beautiful girl he had ever met and her smile at times captivated him to such a degree that he lost his grasp on his location in time and space such was the way it filled his thoughts, nor that he enjoyed her company; if he could choose to be with anyone for any length of time it would be her. But he simply did not feel that it mattered overly much, for from his point of view, he wasn’t interested in finding a girl, his heart and his mind were committed to the statue, for better or for worse.

His friends were frustrated by him much of the time, for his obsession with the statue blinded him to much of what he could enjoy in life. It was common for his attention to drift away from them to the statue, even whilst they were talking to him. They pitied the girls who liked him, for it seemed they were competing with something which could not be beaten. There was one girl who it saddened them to see was just as beyond the boy’s attention as everyone else; for she was beautiful and kind and intelligent, and she loved him despite the disinterest with which he often treated her. She was known for the skill with which she could carve wood, a hobby of hers, and she was widely considered to be a highly skilled and creative. The boys friends wished there was some way to make the boy realize the real happiness he could feel with the girl, rather than this to them unhealthy love for a statue.

In many ways the boy’s friends were right, he would be better loving the girl than the statue, but they failed to understand the complexity of the statues appeal to the boy.

The boy did not just love the statue because of its mysterious beauty, he loved it because of what it represented. To him the statue spoke of perfection, of his first and truest love, of the care and passion with which it must have taken to create such a statue. It reminded him that there are things of true beauty in a world which at times seemed dark and cruel to him. It taught him to appreciate the potential within human beings for acts of great creativity and emotion.

One day, near his 20th birthday, the girl declared to him the strength of her affection, telling him that she loved him and handing him a perfectly carved wooden heart, telling him that he had hers and she wished he would let her have his. His reply was kind, and to his mind considerate, but in the negative and the girl left with tears in her eyes. The boy felt anguish at causing the girl pain. He had been thrown by her declaration, for he had never truly considered the affection between them to be more than that of mild interest. But the statue meant so much to him that though he attempted to consider it rationally and comprehensively, there was only going to be one outcome. His heart belonged to the statue, it would have been wrong to give the girl any other impression. He placed the small, smooth piece of wood in the pocket of his shirt so that it rested over his own heart and had gone to meet his friends.

The boy’s friends were furious with him when they heard what had taken place, for to them it seemed inconceivable that their intelligent and generally kind and caring friend would be so blind and stupid. The conversation between the boy and his friends grew heated and the boy stormed off, angry and upset that his friends could not even try to understand what the statue meant, that it was more than stone and metal, but the basis for his beliefs, his attitude and his hopes.

Still in a state of anger and confusion the boy returned home and made a decision as much informed by anger as any logical motive, to climb the mountain that day and see the statue. His stubborn and intense love for the statue had meant that he had defended his decision when his friends had challenged him, with a passion and certainty that was evaporating with every beat of his heart, bit by bit.

Like anybody whose faith is challenged, the boy was desperate for some affirmation, some proof that the belief he had felt all his life for the beauty and power of the statue was not misplaced. The very thought that it could be filled the boy with a sick feeling.

In his state of near panic and certain disillusionment, he set off towards the mountain. The walk to the mountain base took much less time these days, his long and strong legs allowing him to cover the distance in a matter of minutes. The sun was high in the sky as he started to climb the mountain; at times he could walk normally and at others he was climbing almost vertically, relying on all the skills he’d spent his teenage years learning to make any ground.

Several hours passed and he continued to climb, stopping only briefly to drink from the flask of water that he had brought with him. He turned at one point, to look back towards the village and saw that the sun was just beginning to sink below the line of the forest which bordered the village on the far side from where he was now stood.

Realising he needed to reach the statue before nightfall he pressed on and it was only another quarter of an hour before he reached a small plateau. He could see that after quite an easy 10 metre climb further he would be on the plateau which held the statue, he could just see the finger tips of the statues right arm, which he knew from reports was raised above her head as if to wave at the village far below. His heart started to race and his mind was filled with an intensity of anticipation that had him laughing out loud to himself at the thought of actually seeing the statue.

He started to scramble up the slope when a misplaced foot stemming from over excitement and poor light sent him falling face forward towards the rock. He managed to get his hands up to protect his face, but his chest and knees took the full brunt of the fall. As his chest hit the earth he felt an intense pain in the left side of his chest; a blow which felt like it could have broken a rib. He reflexively rolled away and as he did so the shirt pocket which had been torn up by the stones, spilled out the girl’s wooden heart and it fell to the floor on the lower plateau. Moving slowly and gingerly he climbed down to it and picked it up. He turned it over between his fingers, and felt tears start to form in the corners of his eyes and his knees went weak as he looked at it; half of the heart was as immaculate as when she had first given it to him, the other was scratched and dented. His knees gave out and he sat down on the rocky plateau. He couldn’t quite understand why it hurt him so much to see the heart like this, but hurt it did, an intense pain in his own chest and a lump in his throat that threatened to choke him caused him to wish there was some way to undo the damage, take back the mistake.

The girl had carved this so carefully, clearly putting a great degree of emotion into the piece of wood, and he realised as he sat on the cold earth, that that effort was a sign of the strength of her affection. The statue created haze lifted for a moment and he understood that he should have been aware of her emotions long before it came to as open a declaration as the one earlier that day. She loved him, she had loved him for a long time, and he had been blind to it, so filled with his passion for the statue.

Abruptly the boy felt that he was no longer sure which mistake he most wanted to take back; the misplaced step, or the misinformed and misjudged words he’d said to her earlier. The wood was cold between his fingers as he ran his thumb slowly over the bumps and scratches inflicted on the wood by the stone, and it pained him to know that he had inflicted worse on the warm and beating heart of the girl.

It was now night, the mountain lit solely by the moonlight and the stars. Under that silvery light the boy was filled with a simultaneously familiar and confusing longing. He longed with all his might to see something awe inspiring, to wonder at the complexity, serenity and passion in the world, to feel that belief in love, creativity and pure beauty rewarded. But as he glanced over his shoulder towards where the statue stood, closer to him now than ever before in his life, he found that the longing did not draw him up the mountain but down. He wished to walk through the village which he knew would be silent by now, to see the thatched houses and listen to the rushing sound of the river. He longed to walk to the girl’s door, to wait there patiently and then as light came and she awoke, to see her, to talk to her, to hold her and try and heal the heart he had hurt.

The night passed and slowly the boy drifted asleep under the watchful gaze of the crescent moon. One hand was behind his head in an attempt to make the cold rock more comfortable, the other rested on his chest, fingers wrapped around the piece of wood, holding it tight as if he feared it would disappear while he slept.

Eventually day came and the boy was awoken by the cry of an eagle soaring high overhead. He realised as he slowly and stiffly stood up that he no longer need be jealous of the bird; it would be the simplest thing to climb the last little slope now in the light, and look at the statue in all its undoubted glory. He had just as much freedom to view it as the eagle. He could finally look at it after all the years of waiting and wishing. But he didn’t want to. He felt only the mildest of curiosity at seeing the statue, for the invisible rope which had gone from his heart to the statue, pulling him towards it, guiding him through his life, giving him a certainty of purpose and meaning, was still attached just as firmly to his heart, but it no longer bound him to the statue. His point of meaning, his basis of belief and cause of hope was back in the village and so he followed that guide just as he had for the past 15 years, picking his way down the mountain as sure of foot as he was of purpose.

As he walked towards the village he reflected that many people would expect him to feel regret that he had “wasted” so much time on his obsession with the statue. But he didn’t feel it was wasted time and he definitely didn’t regret it. The statue was the reason and the cause for his belief in love and beauty; it had brought him great hope and happiness over the years and had brought him to this place as the person he was; a person experiencing for the first time the all consuming thrill of falling for someone who loves you back.

He hadn’t needed to see the statue in the end, for he had finally grasped that everything that the statue had ever and could ever promise to mean to him, was completely dwarfed by the need to see the girl’s smile, to look into her eyes and see that there was still hope, that he could repair the damage done to her heart and start to earn the love she had so generously and beautifully shown him.

He had by now reached the door of the girl’s house and by his reckoning it was around 10 o’clock in the morning. He stood there, his shirt torn and his hair a mess, but the feel of the wooden heart in his hand told him not to worry about that. He turned briefly and looked back the way he had come; he could see the statue glistening in the morning sunshine, and he felt his heart fill with hope. He smiled to himself as he knocked on the door.

He could feel his own heart of tissue and blood beating hard as he waited, hopeful but nervous. Slowly the door opened and there stood the girl. The boy stared into her eyes for several seconds as her face went from upset to surprised to confused to hopeful. The boy reached out and took her hand in his. He took a step towards her and neither of them spoke as he slowly raised her hand until it rested on his chest, touching the bare skin through the ripped shirt. The boy knew the girl could feel his heart pounding beneath his chest. The smile which had captivated him even while he was blind slowly crept across her face and the boy felt almost light headed, a ringing noise filling his ears as he took in the beauty of a smile on her lips because of him

The boy waited while the girl’s eyes were on her hand as they stood there in silence for more than a minute, then slowly the girl’s eyes looked up and as their gaze met, the boy spoke.

“It’s yours.”


Today's song is one i only heard for the first time this evening but i'm liking it quite a lot, it's called "Lemonade" and it's by a band called "Braids".

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Thoughts I Thought Today

Today's post is going to be one of those eclectic combinations of thoughts that is probably the most accurate representation of what's going through my mind that the format of a blog will allow.

Firstly i watched Forest play Leicester on Friday evening and i have to say that despite how happy i was with the win, i can't see us winning the play offs even if we scrape into them; we're too mistake prone in defence and no where near clinical enough going forward to threaten any of the teams above us over two legs.

I was frustrated by Davies' team selection yesterday; We're at home against a local rival, it's an opportunity to make a point to the teams around us, eliminate a rival from the pursuit of that final play off spot and build some confidence for the run in, yet he played two defensive midfielders (McKenna and Moussi), with a central midfielder on either wing as well (McGugan and Cohen). As much time as i have for the 4 players he picked as individuals, all 4 of them playing in the same team simply doesn't work. We looked desperately short of width and inventiveness and it was frustrating to watch Davies persevere with it for effectively the entire 90 minutes. We have a good right winger in McCleary and i don't understand why he isn't given more of a chance, especially in home games where we should be really attacking teams, rather than merely setting up not to lose.

I've got a lot of respect for Davies, compared to Megson or Calderwood he's practically god-like, but i get frustrated with how unwilling he is to go on the attack sometimes. 5 wins and 5 defeats gives you more points than 10 draws, a fact that he doesn't seem to appreciate.

A promising element of the match was the debut of Robbie Findley. The American striker came to us injured, then just as he neared fitness around February became injured again. Due to this it's been impossible to know what he might offer us when fit; i've never watched much in the way of MLS and youtube videos are hardly guaranteed to be fair representations of a player's ability. However within moments of coming on he showed signs of being a very good signing; he looked pacy, determined and capable of a bit of skill, three elements we've been lacking in recent months. Earnshaw and Tudgay are useful but inconsistent and slow, Boyd could be good given the right service but we don't play to his strengths, McGoldrick is just poor no matter how much effort he puts in and Tyson may be quick but sadly it's becoming clear he has no idea what to do once he gets into a decent position. Maybe it's the desperation brought on by this lack of consistent quality but i am definitely hopeful that Findley could chip in with a few goals, especially if next season he can stay fit and have a sustained period in the team.

In other news the efforts of the rebels in the Libyan city of Misrata are hugely inspirational; isolated and seemingly out-gunned they have held off Gaddafi's forces since February and are actually occasionally making gains. This is despite daily bombardment from mortars and other artillery as well as the constant threat of sniper fire. Their courage and determination is undoubtedly at least partly born out of a fear of the reprisals the loyalist forces would inflict on the city if they surrendered but this doesn't take anything away from the importance of what they are doing or the respect they deserve.

So far as Britain and NATO's involvement in the conflict is concerned my opinions are less clear cut; the Iraq situation has tainted any questions of intervention regardless of the comparative nobility of this situation. I'd be loathe to see British troops on the ground in Libya, creating another situation where they have to be there for years, taking away from the home grown nature of the revolution. At the same time though i'd feel sick to read about Gaddafi's forces eventually storming Misrata or even Benghazi and crushing the rebellion while the 'West' stood and watched. It's an impossibly delicate decision and is one of the few policy areas that, for the time being at least, i'm not going to judge Cameron on; there is no amount of money that would make me want to have to make those particular decisions. Whatever he decides to do he will be slated by some elements of the media/society in general and what's worst is they will have a legitimate point.

Elsewhere i spotted this story on the Guardian's website - "Tuition fees will deter state school students, admits Cambridge University". My reaction was a simple, "Well, DUH." May not be my most eloquent moment but it's perfectly accurate. The idea that charging £9,000 a year was going to increase the number of state school students attempting to get into the most prestigious universities was one born utterly outside of reality.

The last thing i want to mention is the fantastic storm that my area of Sheffield enjoyed this afternoon; after a week of beautifully warm sunshine mother nature decided to surprise me today. The perfect BBQ weather of the past few days was replaced with thunder and torrential hail storms. It was almost surreal in how abruptly different it was to the weather i've become used to recently and i've rarely seen hail that heavy or dramatic; my mind almost immediately reminded me of the scene in Tokyo in the film 'The Day After Tomorrow'. The fact that about 3 hours later we'd returned to blue skies and a mild evening only added to the peculiar nature of the afternoon's weather.

To finish this blog i'll post a song that is so bad it rivals Rebecca Black's classic "Friday". It's called "My Jeans" and it's by a girl named Jenna Rose. I post it not because i want to join the ranks of people who've posted frankly disgusting insults and threats to either girl for simply making a music video via the anonymous medium of the internet, but because there is a simple pleasure in any art form being produced so terribly; the film that's so bad it becomes good (Dead Snow and Volcano spring to mind), the TV show so utterly inane it is bizarrely watchable (The first couple of seasons of Big Brother for example) or the play so poorly acted and directed it becomes entertainingly farcical (one performance of Romeo and Juliet i saw at the Lyceum would fit this description). So here it is - - enjoy, despair or both, it's your choice.

Friday, 22 April 2011

A Vote On How To Vote

Today a 'No to AV' leaflet arrived for me in the post. Now i've been going to and fro on how i'm going to vote come May the 5th. To use one of the hot political phrases of this time last year, "I agree with Nick" when he said that AV is a "miserable little compromise" in many ways. There are plenty of flaws with it and it isn't a huge step towards proportional representation of voters desires so previously i would have probably been opposed to a move to AV.

However i am strongly against First Past The Post as a voting system. Due to the political make up of our society it pretty much guarantees that the person/party that gets into power will not have received a majority of votes, or to put it another way, the majority of the people have expressed no interest in having that person lead the country. It seems to lead to a higher level of voter apathy as people don't consider their vote to count unless they vote for whichever of the two main parties is dominant in their constituency, making anyone who lives outside of a swing seat feel fairly powerless.

What's made my mind up to write this blog and also to some extent influenced the way i think i'm going to vote on May 5th is the sheer degree of, excuse my language but it's the most appropriate word for it, bullshit, that the 'No to AV' campaign is publishing as fact in their efforts to make sure our voting system stays as it is. The leaflet i received today is a prime example of this.

On the front it is titled 'One Person, One Vote' pandering to the suggestion that some people's votes get counted more than once under AV. NOT TRUE. Under AV if people have voted for the least popular candidate their vote is eliminated and redistributed according to the choice they marked as their second preference. Contrary to what the 'No' campaign is saying, it going down to third preferences will be quite rare, and the whole purpose of this system is to make sure that the majority of people actually are allowed some say in the running of their country. For example, I might want to vote Green, but they're unlikely to get into office under either system. Under FPTP i would probably not vote Green simply because my vote would be wasted, under AV it is less likely to be so as i could state that an acceptable alternative would be Labour perhaps. This cartoon that i found is a crude over-simplification, but it does capture part of the argument for AV.

The front page also includes a note in one corner saying "None of your taxes have been used to print this leaflet". Now none of your tax payer money has been spent on leaflets by the "Yes to AV" campaign and the 'no' campaign knows this, but they're happy to suggest the opposite.

The 2nd page focuses on the cost of the vote, £250m they claim. There's a few problems with this. Firstly, the vote's happening, so voting no won't make any difference to the cost of the referendum itself. Secondly there's the claim that £130m of that will have to be spent on electronic vote counting machines; those machines aren't actually going to be used and a number of organisations that use AV get by just fine without them. Then there's the claim that £26m will have to be spent on explaining the new system to voters; seems a little patronising to me and they could save a whole load of money by broadcasting this little video on all channels on May 4th -

Below these claims is a list of occupations such as nursing and teaching with figures of how many jobs the money being spent could create. Now at a time when after only a year in power the coalition government has savagely cut funding for exactly these kind of positions, a potential 500,000 public sector jobs, it's amazing they have the gall to use those jobs as somehow being the referendum's fault.

The third and fourth pages cover the idea that the second or third 'best' candidate can win under AV. Now this really hinges on what they mean by 'best'? In the 2010 general election, under the FPTP system, the Tories won 36.1% of the vote, does this mean that they consider themselves the 'best' despite the fact that 63.9% of the electorate didn't vote for them? The winner under AV is the candidate who get's the widest approval, rather than merely appealing to a comparatively small reliable section of voters. Now it can be argued that this will lead to an increase in centrist politics with the majority of parties moving towards the centre in an effort to appeal to a broad selection of the electorate, but if that means that the big parties have to listen to the interests of the majority of society then is that really such a bad thing?

On the fifth page there's a map of the world and a list of the three other countries that use AV; Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. This is true so far as general elections are concerned but there are two counter points that should be mentioned. Firstly, why is popular the same as good? History is full of examples of where the popular choice turned out to be wrong, either practically, morally or both. Secondly they decline to mention that AV is used for all these other things; Leadership elections for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, most Student Union elections, elections for the Best Picture award at the Oscars, a large number of elections within trade unions, membership organisations and businesses, the Irish Presidential election and a large number of American mayoral, City and District elections. So it's actually not even that unpopular.

The sixth page is an understandably biased explanation of the two systems designed to emphasis the comparative simplicity of FPTP. Again, similar to the popularity argument, why is simplicity necessarily beneficial; this system elects the person/party who will lead our country, maybe a slightly complex system is worthwhile if it's fairer?

A picture of a running race is the dominant feature of page seven, with an arrow indicating that under AV the person who finishes third can win, claiming it is unfair. For a start comparisons between sport and politics are irrelevant, they're two completely separate elements of life and so should not be used in this debate. Elections aren't purely about finding a "winner", or at least they shouldn't be, surely they should be about finding the candidate who best represents the wishes of the electorate?

Below that is a paragraph suggesting that one of the major flaws with AV is that the votes of someone who might support an extreme party like the BNP will count for more. Firstly since when was democracy about ignoring/silencing the voices of the minority, however abhorrent their views may be? Secondly if it's going to benefit the BNP so much, why has Nick Griffin joined the "No to AV" campaign? He's joined it because an extremist party like his is unlikely to be many people's second or third preference, meaning that the likelihood of them achieving a majority of votes in any constituency is VERY slim. This is a point worth making very clear, when voting under AV you rank the candidates you want to then leave the others blank, it doesn't mean that you have to in any way vote for a party you can't stand. If you're really keen on the FPTP system but AV is introduced, just put a 1 by the party you like then leave the rest blank, you're vote is not really any different.

The final page is a direct attack on Nick Clegg claiming that AV will lead to more coalition governments which would lead to more broken promises from politicians. Seeing as FPTP has hardly led to politicians promises being held in high regard it seems a little odd to emphasise this point. The problems it mentions such as:
  • Job Cuts
  • VAT increase
  • Tuition Fees rise
  • Public Spending Cuts
would all have happened under a Conservative majority government; the coalition nature of the current government has had no impact on those actions, it may even prove in the long run to have tempered them. A campaign predominantly and proudly backed by the Conservative party using 4 central elements of it's policy as negative effects of coalition government is beyond duplicitous.

Also by attacking Nick Clegg this page seeks to suggest that a vote for AV is a vote for Nick Clegg. Now i really do dislike Clegg right now, he's proven himself to be spectacularly deceitful and lacking in morals/backbone, but this vote is much bigger than one two faced politician. Anyone who lets their feelings for a particular politician who will probably be almost forgotten in 10 years times influence how they vote on a electoral system that we will have for potentially several decades is being incredibly naive. Clegg will have his time as Cameron's lap dog and then drift into the background of the Liberal Democrats while the results of this referendum will impact on every election for at least a generation.

I feel a lot of the coverage from both sides of the campaign has been patronising as to the intelligence of the electorate. If a series called "Wonders of the Universe" can be hugely popular, where the science being explained is staggeringly complex, why is it assumed that the British public isn't capable of understanding a change to the voting system? Both sides have gone negative far too quickly and just attacked each other rather than actually emphasising the strengths of either system. Maybe the "yes" campaign just needs to get Brian Cox to explain it all?

Now as i said earlier AV is far from perfect and for fairness' sake i'll post a link here to a friend's blog arguing the 'no' side of the argument much more eloquently than the actual campaign -

I'm not 100% yet, but the more i read and the more i see of the 'no' campaign, the more i feel i'm going to vote 'Yes' on May 5th.

Today's song is simply one of the most peaceful songs i can think of, the perfect way to end a slightly angry rant. It's Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World' -

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Just Popping In

Very, very short blog post today, i'm going to write a proper one about the AV vote tomorrow but i'm off out in a minute and am unlikely to be in a fit state to debate the finer points of voting systems when i return in the early hours.

I've done very little today and that's fine by me, but i have started re-reading 'The Northern Lights' by Phillip Pullman. I remember really enjoying the series a few years ago and fancied reading something a bit light and fantasy based to counter the revision i'm doing of various political theorists.

The song today is one that i just listened to, partly to get me in the mood for going out. It's "Heads Will Roll" by the Yeah Yeah Yeah's.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A Run In The Sun

Today was a brilliant day; it may only be April but it was in many ways the ideal summers day.

Sunshine, blue skies and just the slightest bit of a breeze to make sure it doesn't get too hot.

A run, a few TV shows, a BBQ and games of football and cricket. If there'd been some music it would have been pretty much ideal.

It's the kind of day i love, mixing active and lazy periods, enjoying some brilliant weather and just simply spending time with friends. And even better it barely cost me anything.

I ran the same route as i did on Sunday, out along the valley that is close to my home and then back again. Saw a whole bunch of horses, some sheep and some very cute Lambs. Did you know that Lambs wag their tales when they're happy like dogs? I didn't but i'm pretty sure i saw two of them wagging their tales while suckling on their mother. See, running is even educational.

I find there's something really peaceful about running, especially when i can find routes like this one where i'm not having to cross lots of roads or dodge groups of people and can really get a rhythm up, to the extent that i don't really have to think about the actual process of running and my mind can just wander, but due to the ever changing scenery and the activity it's never able to dwell on anything for too long, which for me is a very good thing. Then you have all the endorphins and whatever when you finish the run to give you a lovely dose of self-satisfaction; a rare sense of having done something genuinely good for yourself, a break from the eating, drinking and lazing around that makes up so much of my life. They're wonderful things endorphins, making sure i don't regret the run too much even as the ache sets in on my calf muscles and i notice the blisters on my feet.

I wouldn't advise running at mid-day on a day like this, especially if like me you've not been running regularly recently; the heat made it all a lot harder and i was seriously dehydrated by the time i stumbled back through my front door.

As a final point for this blog i'm just going to write a quick review of the film i watched late last night, 2012. Now it's a Roland Emmerich film so i knew what to expect and i didn't go in expecting to watch a film with great emotional depth or anything, but i was still pretty disappointed by it really. I love blockbusters (have a look at a blog i wrote in late November i think it was about my respect for the summer action genre) but this wasn't a particularly well done one. After blowing up the White House and freezing the entire Northern hemisphere i guess it was the natural next step to make a film showing the end of humanity as we know it.

He gets to play around with CGI earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami's but when you consider the budget and his previous exploits, quite a few of the spectacles fall a little flat. That's not to say there aren't moments which i'm sure in the cinema were stunning; it's just the really good ones are few and far between and their impact is reduced by the sheer constant barrage of effects and disasters. Too many of the dramatic shots look more like a high quality video game cut scene than a big budget Hollywood film.

It's a perfect example of where a director going for quantity over quality ends up spoiling what could have been a perfectly entertaining idiotic blockbuster. Probably can't justify giving the film more than 2/5.

The song today is Arctic Monkey's new song, 'Don't sit down cause i've moved your chair'. I'm still not entirely decided on whether i like this song or not but it's definitely intrigued me enough to give the new album a proper listen when it comes out later this year.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

11 Of The Best From The Second Tier

Yesterday i looked at the PFA Premiership Team of the Year, and today i want to look at the Championship one. I actually agree quite a few of the decisions, but i'll give my justifications for why i agree with them.

Lee Camp (PFA chose Paddy Kenny) - It's a close one and i have huge respect for Paddy Kenny, plus the championship seems to have quite a few extremely talented goalkeepers (Westwood at Coventry, Speroni at Palace and De Vries at Swansea are three good examples), but my choice in goal would have to be Lee Camp. Now i'm sure some people will accuse me of bias here, perhaps with some degree of accuracy, but Camp is one of the most consistent goal keepers i've ever watched and THE best shot stopper i've seen at Forest or anywhere in the Championship. I've lost count of the amount of times he's saved a shot i was certain was going in.

Kyle Naughton (Same) - He's been on loan at Leicester from Tottenham and in a lot of games that quality has shone through. He's a solid defender but it's what he offers going forward with his pace and quality that make him really stand out (5 goals from right back for a player who isn't a major aeriel threat is very impressive and a couple of those, especially the one against Coventry, were stunning goals.)

Luke Chambers (Wes Morgan) - Now i agree that one of Forest's centre back pairing should be in this team as, at least until the last month, our success in the league had been based upon just how tight our defence was and Morgan and Chambers are a major factor in that, along with Camp. The PFA picked Morgan and there's not much in it, but i would actually say Chambers has been marginally better this season; he has a very good habit of getting last ditch tackles and blocks in. He's had to wait for his chance this year, having often been played in his less favoured position of right back, but i think he's taken it well.

Ashley Williams (Same) - The Swansea defender has impressed me every time i've seen him play; big and strong but with a decent ability to distribute the ball once he's won it. The only black mark against his name for me is that when i think of him i can't help but think of the bad luck/mistakes that have led to him scoring as many own goals as he's scored goals for Swansea this year (3, with the own goal against Derby being particularly farcical.)

Ian Harte (Same) - The 33 year old Reading, and former Leeds, Left back has re-established himself as one of the most effective wing backs in the country. I always rated him while he was at Leeds during their successful period and he's definitely showing some of that form now he's at promotion chasing Reading. His biggest asset is his free kicks, they're devastating and remind me on occasion of another left back who chipped in with his fair share of goals, Stuart Pearce. 10 goals from left back is a very useful contribution.

Adel Taarabt (Same) - There's been plenty written about the Morrocan play maker, often gushing praise, often highly deserved. His temperament has been questioned before and i suspect will be again but in terms of pure footballing talent he has no equal in the Championship. A player i suspect only just missed out on the PFA team from Forest, Lewis Mcgugan (who for a while seemed to be attempting to have a two man goal of the season competition with Taarabt) is on his day arguably close, but he's been quieter in the second half of this season while the QPR man has continued to be crucial to their title challenge.

Scott Sinclair (Same) - I've watched Sinclair play a few times this season and one of the main thoughts that strikes me every time is that he is almost unfairly quick, especially when you consider that he can keep the ball under such tight control while running at full pace. He's another player whose form has dropped off in the past few weeks but for the large majority of the season he's been terrifying any defence he's played against and he's responsible for some of the goals of the season.

Andy King (Same) - The Leicester City central midfielder lacks some of the flair of the other men in this midfield but his comparative subtlety belies a real talent. He's the driving force in Leicester's midfield, leading the club's goal scoring chart with 14 in the league and it wouldn't surprise me if he is near the top in terms of assists as well.

Wes Hoolahan (Same) - Hoolahan has one of the sweetest left foots in England, let alone the Championship and so far as passing and build up play are concerned in my opinion there's few better.

Danny Graham (Same) - In a Watford team that's been hamstrung by it's own inconsistency Graham has scored impressively regularly, leading the Championship golden boot race and enjoying the best season of his career.

Grant Holt (Dave Nugent) - Nugent's selection baffled me a little here; he's undoubtedly a good striker but there are plenty i'd list above him in terms of both goal scoring exploits and team play (Becchio at Leeds, Bothroyd at Cardiff, Morrison at Milwall and especially Shane Long at Reading who's in the form of his life right now) but i think any team of the year has to include Grant Holt. His presence here annoys me a little, purely because he was at Forest for a while but used so poorly by Colin Calderwood that we never got to see just how good he can be; instead he dropped down a few leagues to Shrewsbury, then went to Norwich and has worked his way up scoring 64 goals in 120 performances for those two teams. He also works hard for the team and is involved in a lot of Norwich's best moves so how Nugent was picked ahead of him i don't know.

Today's song is a random choice, but it's a song i ended up listening to for the first time in ages when it popped into my head quite randomly earlier on, it's 'Man of Constant Sorrow' by the 'Soggy Bottom Boys', the band from the Coen Brother's film, 'O Brother, Where Art Thou'.

Monday, 18 April 2011

A Premiership Dream Team

So the PFA have announced their teams of the year for all the major divisions in England, as well as awarding individual 'player of the year' and 'young player of the year' accolades. As always it's been met with the usual combination of outrage and over-zealous praise but all in all i reckon they've got it fairly right so far as the Premiership and Championship is concerned (i haven't seen enough football from Leagues 1 and 2 to be able to comment).

The premiership team is: Van Der Sar, Sagna, Vidic, Kompany, Cole, Nani, Wilshere (Young player of the year), Nasri, Bale (Player of the year), Tevez & Berbatov.

Now i'm going to give you my Premiership team of the year with brief justifications for each one. I'll precede it by saying that i don't enjoy putting this many Man U players in, but they've arguably deserved it. I consider the central requirement to this list to be the ability to be consistently good rather than occasionally incredible.

Edwin Van Der Sar (Same as PFA) - The 40 year old has proven himself yet again to be one of the most consistent goal keepers in the league; a great shot stopper who commands his area and his defence well. What more can you ask from a goal keeper.

Rafael (PFA chose Bacary Sagna) - The PFA went with Sagna but i can't say he's particularly stood out this season for me. Rafael however has looked like an incredibly promising right back who's been as consistent as any both when defending and going forward. Yes he needs to work on his temperament and he's far from the finished product, but in a position without any true stars this year he did well i thought.

Nemanja Vidic (Same)- Vidic has to be considered the most consistent and effective centre back in the country at the moment, he dominates defences and has looked solid despite rarely having a regular partner at the heart of Manchester United's defence.

Michael Dawson (Vincent Kompany)- I marginally prefer him to Kompany this season but i acknowledge an element of personal bias may have crept in (Dawson is a Forest academy product and has always come across as a model professional). He's been incredibly solid this season despite lacking a consistent partner and having Gomes' potential for mad moments playing on his mind constantly.

Ashley Cole (Same)- Cole just edges out Patrice Evra this season, but those two have dominated the left back position for the last few years; they both combine solid defending with effective attacking contributions and though i might argue neither has had their absolute best season, they've still been remarkably good. I've gone for Cole because he's managed to continue playing well and ignore the furore over his private life better than i'd have expected.

Nani (Same)- His histrionics and diving are beyond frustrating and he possibly believes he's better than he is, but despite that his failure to even make the short list for player of the year is baffling. He's been a bright spark in a solid but often uninspired Man U team this year; there's been a number of games where United seemed to be struggling to break down a determined defence only for Nani to provide a moment of real brilliance, either in the form of a shot, cross or pass and keep them on track for the title.

Scott Parker (Samir Nasri) - This man was nominated for player of the year and i'm tempted to say he should have won it. In a constantly struggling (and at times painfully poor) West Ham team he has been incredible. A perfect example of the centre midfield captain; tough tackling, accurate passing and able to chip in with the occasional goal he's been superb all year. Add to that the leadership and inspirational qualities he brings to the team and he has to be there.

Jack Wilshere (Same) - This has been his breakthrough season, emerging as a first choice midfielder in arguably the strongest midfield in the league. He's a very un-English centre midfielder; calm on the ball, self-assured and with an eye for the defence splitting pass that we rarely seem to produce.

Gareth Bale (Same) - Now he's been brilliant this year but it has to be said that he hasn't been hugely consistent. In spells he's been undoubtedly the best player in the league in terms of impact, but injuries and lapses in form have meant that others have been more consistent and i don't think i'd have given him the player of the year award on that basis.

Carlos Tevez (Same) - I'm a huge fan of Tevez; he combines skill and work rate like few others and would be a contender of my world wide team of the year, let alone simply the Premiership.

Dimitar Berbatov (Same) - This has been the first season he's looked anything like worthy of the £30.75m transfer fee Manchester United paid for him from Tottenham. He looks likely to be top scorer now that Tevez is out injured for most likely the remainder of the season and it has to be said he's earned it; he's managed to show consistently the seemingly casually applied innate talent everyone knows he does possess and now he looks like a star striker whereas previously he's looked like a distinctly average striker capable of flashes of brilliance.

Tomorrow i'll post my Championship team of the year.

Today's song is one i listened to while walking into town this afternoon. It's by Belle & Sebastian, off their album 'Tigermilk' and it's called 'We Rule the School'.