Nov 29

I was fascinated (though slightly dismayed) by this story at the BBC – seems some Italian scientists have worked out that romantic love lasts a year at the very most. Apparently it’s all down to chemical levels in the brain, and over time the levels of chemicals drop to the point where they’re the same in married or single people. It’s a weird thing – I know we need to know how we work and I can understand that the frontiers of knowledge need to be pushed back, but I also like to think that we are something nobler than just a watery bag of chemicals reacting with one another. Love shouldn’t be rendered down into its component parts: call me silly, but I think it has to be more than that.

One amusing thing though – the scientists apparently published their findings in the psychoneuroendocrinology journal. With a catchy title like that, you just know it’s the journal where all the cool psychoneuroendocrinologists hang out. I had a look at their site, looked along some of the article titles, and amused myself with the big words and my utter, utter inability even to put together a vague idea in my head of what the article was actually about. Have a go yourself: I swear if you understand any of them I’ll pin a gold medal to your chest.

Nov 28

Note: before you start reading this one, you should know I am in full-on, maximum power, all-speed-ahead “whining teenage blogger” mode. I make no apologies for any self pity, railing against parents, spontaneous “I’m in pain” poetry or general tantrums that you might find as you read on. You have been warned.

For two nights running now I have been woken up by bad dreams which leave me rattled, on edge and unable to get back into a proper sleep. Consequently I’m probably more than a little cranky today, which is why I am grateful that staff holidays mean I have the office to myself for most of today. This allows me to stamp about, slam cupboards, aim the occasional slap in the direction of the printer and generally be in a foul mood without hurting anyone’s feelings or running the risk of getting fired for mistaking a member of staff for the printer.

Why do bad dreams possess such an ability to get under our skins and rattle us? Even now, hours after I got up, my mind is still wandering. I’m distracted, and I know it as I sit here and look through my list of things to do. I made that up on Friday, and right now I feel as if the organised person who made it up and left it on my desk can’t have been me.

There’s a guy outside my office right now, cleaning the windows. Quite an accomplishment when you consider I am two floors up, and even more impressive when you see he’s in a little basket, attached to a telescopic arm, which is itself attached to a truck, which has a guy driving it slowly round the building so he can clean all the windows. Truly I have struck my lowest ebb – as I sit here, I’m now coming to realise that the window cleaner is having more fun than I am.

Note – this is, obviously, just a minor setback. A brief bleak mood produced by a couple of nights of interrupted sleep by bad dreams. Normal service will be resumed from now on. I’m not going to be any more cheerful – fuck, whose blog have you been reading? – but I will at least try to restrain my inner pasty-faced teenager from getting out too much. Thank you.

Nov 24

Why do poker players in the tournaments on TV wear dark glasses? They’re indoors, in a dark room, and they’re wearing dark glasses. Is that why they lose hands? Can they actually see the cards they’re being dealt? Or are they just sitting there, a single bead of sweat making its way down their foreheads, giving themselves a headache as they try to make out if that’s a 3 or an 8?

When I turned my PC volume up at work the other day to watch the Children in Need Doctor Who special on my lunchbreak, why did I forget to turn the damn thing back down again? I mean it’s no real problem, but when hovering my mouse over a single link makes the TARDIS sound (which is a very distinctive sound) peal across the office while other people are on the phone it gets a little embarassing. And if you want to check that noise out, go here, scroll down and move your mouse pointer over the big blue police box. Just make sure you aren’t in a busy office when you do it.

Is it a mark of how productive my day was that I counted among its high points the fact that I found out (after much confusion) just what a Hollaback Girl is? Ever since I heard that damn song it’s been annoying me, but does it say more for or against me that I was so pleased finally to answer the question?

Should I cave in to temptation and pick up the first seasons of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD? They’re now getting pretty damn cheap, and I never watched them…are they any good? Will I laugh? Or do I watch enough TV as it is? And while I’m about it how about Arrested Development?

Could I possibly have used more links tonight?

Nov 23

Someone told me today that there are only 31 shopping days left till Christmas, and I have to admit I was shocked. When the hell did it get so late in the year? You would think having a blog would help with the whole “keeping track of time” thing, but apparently not: I’m as hopelessly lost and ill-organised as ever, only now I have documentary evidence to show people. Actually, much as I am tempted to write some piece filled with sarcastic bile about the excesses of the festive period, I have to be honest and tell you that I really enjoy this time of year. In fact in many ways I think I enjoy the run-up to Christmas more than I enjoy the day itself…I wonder why that is?

Anyway, Christmas approaches and the usual list of plans and things to be worked out has presented itself: time to get down to work. So tell all – are your plans for Christmas underway? Have you even started preparing? Are you one of those scary people who have it all finished and done with by now?

Someone pass me a pen – I need to make a list and check it twice…

Nov 22

Tonight as I pottered about the flat tidying up I finally yielded to an urge that has been building for a few weeks and stuck Transformers: The Movie into the DVD player. I fully intended to keep working as the film played, but to be perfectly honest it was barely into the second chapter before I had planted my ass firmly on the couch and ditched the tidying up.

It’s been a while since I had so much fun just sitting back and watching a movie. The dialogue is cheesy in the extreme and the rock tracks are as eighties as they come, but the animation is great and it took me right back to the first time I saw the film at Christmas in 1986. Also, Leonard Nimoy did one of the voices and it made me smile to think that I have still to tell the story of how I almost knocked Galvatron flat to the ground one day.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I seriously urge you to check it out. If you have seen it, either rent it out or dig out your copy and give it another viewing. There aren’t enough chances in the world today to see giant robots knocking seven shades of hell out of one another. The rock tracks, dodgy lines and air-guitar worthy riffs are just gravy. Go have fun.

Nov 21

I read something today – well, actually a couple of somethings – that puzzled me, then annoyed me, then just went the whole hog and made me downright angry. By means of background to this story, you should know that a police officer was shot and killed over the course of the weekend. This incident has led to a series of calls from some sections of the media to arm all police officers, the theory being that if the criminals are armed then the police should be too. I’m not going to comment on any of that – someone just died in the line of duty and they deserve better than ending up as fodder for articles. Unfortunately many media outlets don’t observe similar restraint.

For one, we have Michael Winner writing for a tabloid newspaper, in which he calls for all police to be armed. Putting aside for a moment that he refers to the officer that was shot as a “young lady” and not a police officer, he mentions five or six other officers killed over a period of some years and makes the bizarre statement that had these officers had guns at the time of their death, they would still be alive today. Putting aside for a moment the fact that I don’t think you can be alive today no matter what you had at the time of your death, signed note from God almighty himself included, one of those officers was knocked down by a car. So what good would a gun have done there?

Then we have another tabloid, which refers to the dead officer as a “police girl”. Again, she was a police officer, and I think we should have a little respect for that if nothing else and not demean the woman by referring to her as a girl. She was an officer, she was trained, and she died in the line of her duties. Painting her as some defenceless waif, some delicate flower of a girl who should never have been there, detracts in every possible way from the choices that she made, the commitments she undertook and the stand she made to draw a line in a society that desperately needs moral lines to be reinforced.

It’s a horrible situation and like I said, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that should be fodder for every Tom, Dick and Harry with a QWERTY keyboard and a functional internet connection so I’m not going to get too far into this thing here. I’m all for raising the level of debate, I’m all for looking into where we are as a society and making changes, and I can even accept that sometimes, as with this, as with September 11th and July 7th, terrible things have to happen that make us re-examine things we previously took for granted. Reasoned, substantive debate is not something I have a problem with. Barely literate tabloid hacks who couldn’t turn in two paragraphs without running it through a spellchecker twice, it’s them I have a problem with, and I really wish they would just shut the hell up.

Nov 20

…the time I almost slammed into Leonard Nimoy with enough force to knock him to the ground?

…the time my car skidded on ice and crashed into, of all things, a gritting lorry?

…how I became a lifelong sci-fi fan?

…how appearing on TV once got me into a lot of trouble at school? (funnily enough, this is related to the Leonard Nimoy story)

…the first time I held my brothers in my arms?

…the time I proposed?

…the time I danced in the rain with my better half?

…the best Christmas present I ever got?

…the first time I ever asked a girl out?

…my graduation?

Hmmmm. Thought I might have mentioned them some time along the way. Any one in particular you want to hear about first?

Nov 11

On this day in 1918 the guns fell silent, and what was called at the time “The Great War” finally came to an end. With millions dead and entire countries brought to the brink of destruction, it was hoped that the world’s first taste of a fully industrialised war would also be it’s last. It’s hard, even in the dangerous times we live in now, to imagine the scale of such horror. Tens of thousands of young men wiped out in a single battle, often gaining nothing either side. Millions of shells fired. Years spent in waterlogged trenches that gouged across the countryside. The potential and unrealised hopes of an entire generation lost to conflict, madness, brutality and fear.

My father’s father – I always called him “Grandpa” – was not in the Great War, but he did serve in World War II. I remember being shocked when, one day, he showed me his enlistment papers. My Grandpa signed on at the outbreak of war and when asked how long he would serve, he picked the option “Duration of hostilities.” That could have meant a year, two, ten, twenty or thirty years spent at war, which was a hell of a roll of the dice when you come to think about it. He was a kind, gentle, honest and funny man to whom I owe so much of myself, and it is strange to think of him as a fighting man, engaged in the dehumanising process of warfare. So strange to think of an ordinary, nice man who, to me, was the epitome of everything that was secure, safe and trustworthy in the world being stuck in the middle of a hellish war.

I don’t think I would have the courage to consciously sign myself up to fight a war that might never end. I don’t think I could throw myself – a single man – into a horror that chews up countries and spits them out. For my grandpa, for all the ordinary men and women who should never have been there, for everyone who sacrificed their future to secure my present, I’m going to give thanks today when the country goes silent for 2 minutes at 11am.

I wish there was some clever way to end this, but there just aren’t words, so all I can give is silence.

Nov 10

Mister Blair (may I call you Tony?), I couldn’t help but notice on the radio last night that you got absolutely mauled in your vote last night. You wanted to extend the time terrorist suspects can be held without charge, from the existing 14 days to a whopping 90. You sent out the whips, and even pulled Jack Straw and Gordon Brown back from overseas trips to shore up support. Then 49 of your own MPs voted against you, and voted down the 90 day amendment. You tried for 60 days, and got voted down on that one too, eventually settling at 28 days. I think they might also have taken your wallet, mobile phone and car keys too, but I think by the time the voting was over that was the least of your concerns.

As a concerned citizen, I worry that detention without charge is one of the primary instruments of a police state, and I was worried when the existing time allowed by legislation was provisionally doubled in last night’s vote. Imagine then, how shocked I was watching the news that night when I found out that even at 28 days, we were among the softest in the world! Leaving aside those regimes around the planet that don’t even bother with civil liberties at all, I was shocked to find that France could hold suspects without charge for 4 years if they wanted to…and that in the U.S., they could (in the right circumstances) hold suspects indefinitely without charge! And this is the road you want us walking down?

What happened, Tony? You won a general election in 1997 that made “landslide” an understatement, and surfed into office on a wave of popular support that was unprecedented and gave you a parliamentary majority bigger than some eastern european armies. You promised reform of social services, a government that cared about its citizens and would create a society that esteemed respect for one another above all else. You were young, passionate, committed, and you got me to cast my first ever vote for your party. Last night on the news, the tired looking old man who tried to extend the powers of the police to detention for 90 days without charge bore little resemblance to the person I helped to elect. I hate to think it, but in years to come I think the words “wasted potential” will find themselves stuck under pictures of you in history books.

Simply put, I don’t believe we can become more secure in our freedom by sacrificing that freedom a piece at a time. If we gave the police 90 days, how long before they would say they needed 180, 250 or 365? It’s not their fault – it is the nature of police and security services to want things to be secure, that is what they’re paid for, and that is what we need them for. That said, a child will want to eat sweets until he or she is sick, and we don’t let them do that, do we? Sometimes what we want isn’t what’s best. How can you think it is ok to lock people up without a chance to defend themselves for 90 days? Surely you can see that to do that is to create the large numbers of disaffected, martyred, pissed-off people that terrorists are looking for?

Tony, I think it’s time to consider your position and maybe think about moving on. What are the newspapers talking about today? Are they concentrating on raising public debate on the balance between security and civil liberties? Are they examining what it means to be a “free society” in a changed, post September 11th/July 7th world? No. They’re all talking about you and what this defeat means for your authority. You’ve become the story, and in doing so you’ve started to overshadow the things we should be talking about.

I’m always going to be left of centre in my political beliefs and what many people would describe as hopelessly liberal (which, contrary to many, I believe means I’m more realistic and pragmatic about things and not less). I’m always going to believe in a government that maintains a strong presence in modern life and doesn’t abandon people to the tender mercies of the market. I believe in a government that is in a position to help, and should because it’s the right thing to do. I just think you’re now in a position to hurt more than help, and when that comes you should step aside.



P.S. You also owe an apology to some people who read my blog, they just had to suffer through this boring tirade because of you.

Nov 06

After a long and relaxing weekend, I happened to browse through MCF’s blog, where he talked about the Time Magazine top 100 novels, and how many of that list he had read. Being a derivative type I thought I would have a go myself and was worried to find that I had only managed 18 of them. My reading habits have improved a lot since my teenage years (I still read a lot then, but tended towards Star Trek and Star Wars novelisations, which let’s face it are to good books what a stick of bubblegum is to a roast beef dinner) but it’s refreshing – if a little humbling – to see that I still have a lot of reading to do, and a lot of ideas to be exposed to.

For the record, here is what I have managed to get through so far:

  1. Animal Farm, George Orwell
  2. Catch 22, Joseph Heller
  3. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
  4. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  5. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
  6. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  8. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
  9. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  10. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  11. The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
  12. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  13. 1984, George Orwell
  14. One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
  15. The spy who came in from the cold, John le Carre
  16. To kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  17. To the lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  18. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

From reading through MCF’s thoughts on the list, and the comments left at Wendy’s Blog after she talked about the list, I would have to agree that there are many books missing from the list that I would like to see on it: for one thing, if Watchmen made it I think Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series should be in there somewhere. If 1984 got in to fly the dystopian flag then surely Huxley’s Brave New World should get in there to help. If one C. S. got in there then surely C. S. Forester’s Hornblower novels could have featured? And what the dickens happened to Dickens?

Still, entertaining enough to read through. Having just finished Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell (and an excellent read it was too – I highly recommend picking it up if you like a fascinating story written in an interesting way) I’m about to get stuck into Judas Unchained, the second part of Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga. After that…well, who knows, but I now have at least 82 suggestions to work with.