Jun 21

I’m going to say this right at the start, just to stake out my position on this one as clearly as possible: I’m Scottish, but I want England to do well in the world cup and maybe, just maybe, bring home a win. I know that this position probably puts me at odds with about 99% of my fellow Scots but to be honest, I think that’s something I can come to live with. Why do I feel this way? Well…

– I think that hoping a team loses just because of their nationality shows a degree of pettiness and simpleminded nastiness that I’d hope the Scottish people to be incapable of. Okay so I agree that the sports media are still harping on about England’s 1966 world cup win and it’s probably about time to let it go, but the current team are just out there to play football, do their best and try to bring home a trophy. Nothing wrong with that, it’s what footballers are meant to do.

– They’re English. We’re Scottish. Newsflash: we’re all British. We’re connected geographically, historically, economically, culturally, just about every -ally you can think of. We’re neighbours. The least we can do is try to be good ones and try to be decent sports about the whole thing. Can you imagine the cries of outrage that would be heard around the world if Scotland were in the world cup and the response of the average English fan was “So what, in fact I hope you lose?”

– Jack McConnell, our illustrious first minister, should at least have the good graces to wish the English team well. You’re supposed to be head of a devolved government Jack old son, let’s see a little more of that statesmanlike quality and a little less of the attention-seeking mean spirited offers to support any team that isn’t England.

The worst of it is I’m not even a football fan. Seriously, I think I might be the one man living in the west of Scotland who has watched about eight minutes of football his entire life. I’m just tired of hearing from people that their only wish for the tournament is to see England get hammered and crash out of the tournament – for no other reason than it’s the England team. It’s petty, vindictive and should be beneath us. If you don’t want to support them then that’s fine, don’t support them. Just don’t cross that line and start actively wishing that they lose. Let’s try to show the world that we’re willing to wish a neighbouring country all the best, support a local team and act like mature adults watching a sports tournament and not angry babies throwing their rattles out the pram. Please.

Update: Now people who wear England shirts are being attacked and beaten? Bloody hell, this is shameful. It might not have been a Scottish fan who attacked the man but if it was, and if he was attacked just because he was wearing an England shirt, then this is a new low. We’re supposed to be better than this.

Jun 07

Interesting piece over at Kottke.org about a new blogging service that includes a “question of the day” service for its users. Log in, answer the question and boom, that’s a blog post right there. It sounds like a good idea (and one we’ll probably see sneaking into other blogging services here and there, same way every new computer seemed to feature coloured translucent plastic after the first iMacs landed on the scene) and one I wouldn’t mind trying out just to see what it’s like, but I wonder if it would somehow change the experience of blogging for me. When I sit down to write something here I usually have something in mind: an idea, half-formed and ready to be typed up and put out there. Would a “question of the day” service remove that need to come to the table with an idea, as one would be provided when you log in?

I don’t think it would limit creativity at all, I just can’t help but wonder if it would shift the emphasis of a blog from “here is something I want to talk about” to “here is the answer to the question I’ve just been asked”. Some of the stuff I’m most pleased with here has been the result of entirely random thoughts, and sometimes bears little or no relation to what I sat down to write in the first place. If I had been faced with a question when I logged in, would those posts exist at all?

And yes, I know this is blogging about blogging, and I don’t care. In fact if someone links to this post and writes about it, they will score the hat trick of blogging about me blogging about blogging. Then I could write about them. My god, this could be huge!

Jun 03

…and it all goes downhill from there. I just watched “The Aristocrats“, a documentary film about a joke called, as luck would have it, the aristocrats. The joke goes right back to the days of vaudeville and is considered to be the “inside joke” that comedians tell other comedians. Now, depending on your sense of humour and any set of beliefs that you might hold, you might find the subject matter the joke addresses to be either hilarious, incredibly offensive or somewhere in between (personally, I tend towards the “that’s hilarious” end of the spectrum, but that’s just me). I won’t go into the joke itself here (I leave it up to you to do your own research on this one, so don’t say I haven’t given you fair warning!) but I would like to take a moment to talk about what the film got me thinking about.

The documentary was interesting in a lot of ways, but to me the fascination was in the structure of the joke itself and seeing so many different comedians (all with their own styles) adapt the joke and tell it in their own way. It was all in the performance: the joke only really required the performer to open with some variation on “A man walks into a talent agent’s office…” and end with “The Aristocrats!” and everything else was subject to the comedian’s own tastes.

Penn Jillette, talking at one point about his take on the gag, said that the joy of telling the aristocrats was in “…the singer and not the song”. As I watched the film and heard version after version of the joke, I began to see what he meant. Sometimes I would laugh at one version, but not at another. Sometimes the slightest thing could change how the punchline worked, or didn’t – the raise of an eyebrow, a sentence that was just a half syllable too long or a pause that lasted just the right amount of time and no more – I came to see that so much of the telling of the joke had nothing to do with the words used at all. An accent could swing it one way or another. The rhythm of the speech employed (Gilbert Gottfried’s version was a good example of one that worked for me, while Emo Philips just left me flat). The physical gestures (like Drew Carey’s click of the fingers at the end of his version). The pauses. The delivery. The point of view the comedian adopted while telling the joke, and the perspective that placed on the audience (Sarah Silverman was a good example of this, making her version of the joke autobiographical and placing herself in the story). It made me realise that a joke – like all human communication – is actually a very complex operation and that sometimes the slightest thing can mean the difference between a laugh at the punchline and a quiet audience, the difference between successfully getting your message across and failing utterly. The interesting part for me wasn’t in how shocking the joke could be (though that held an great deal of interest, and amusement, all of its own as I watched it) but the whole structure of the delivery and the part the language played in holding the audience in the palm of the artist’s hand right until the punchline.

It’s often said that the world is formed by the words we use. The pen is mightier than the sword, and all that. What the film got me thinking about is just how much delivery of what is said, and also what is not said, play a part in that process. That made the documentary go from just interesting and amusing to genuinely intriguing. I might just be small fry in the blogging world, and I’m fine with being that one single voice in a million strong chorus, but it enthrals me that the chorus has so many different ways to sing.

Jun 01

On Sunday night at about 11.30pm I was driving home with my (soon to be) missus after going out to the cinema to see X-Men 3 (quick review – good, but not as good as the previous film). It was a quiet, still night, very mild, and I was driving along with the window down to try to get some air moving in the car. We didn’t have much else for the night planned: we were both pretty bushed, and I think about the only thing we had in mind was some time in front of the TV. Chilling out, maybe grabbing a late snack, that sort of thing. Not the Monte Carlo lifestyle I admit, but good enough for me. I pulled up at a junction and waited my turn to move onto the road. That was when time slowed down and I noticed the car screaming towards the back of my car at high speed.

I always thought it was a load of bunkum when I read that in stories about accidents or emergencies: people saying that time, or at least their perception of it, slowed down dramatically. Imagine my surprise to find that it’s actually quite true. In slow motion I heard the car’s tyres screech and I saw him vainly try to turn. Not a hope in hell at that speed. With sickening inevitability and an oddly muted crunch, he slammed right into the back of my car. I don’t remember much about the few seconds we had before the hit, but my better half tells me I shouted out a warning to her and then braced myself. I’ll need to take her word for it – I remember noticing the car, I remember things slowing down as my brain crunched the rough numbers, and then I remember the car coming to a halt after being shunted forward about 10-15 feet. The middle bit, all I can remember is the sound and the feeling of my car seat suddenly trying to touch the dashboard via my spinal column.

I was shocked at what had happened, but relieved beyond words to see that my other half was ok. I heard the other guy’s engine start up and thought he must be moving his car out of the way of the traffic so we could exchange details. I turned in my seat, just in time to watch him speed up, turn his dented car and drive off at high speed up the wrong side of the road.

Now the crash itself I can handle. The fact that we were both ok is what’s important to me – cars can be beaten back into shape or replaced outright, people can’t. What I’m finding a little difficult to process is the fact that as far as the other guy was concerned we could have been alive, dead, injured, screaming for help, trapped in a car with a ruptured fuel tank, anything. He didn’t care – he got the hell out of dodge and that was it. And while I’m happy that we both got out of the car with nothing more serious than a few sore joints and muscles, and am sure my car will be back on the road pretty soon, my mind keeps going back to the image of that other car speeding away.

Like I said, it’s a difficult thing to process.