52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Monday, February 28, 2005

my heart, my heart, stop beating so...

Speaking of fantastic foxes.... The Urban Fox has returned.

Welcome back Fox. You have been missed, and in case you hadn't noticed, there's an election brewing.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Getting on like hand and blister

I picked up a copy of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" at my mum and dad's at the weekend and zoomed through it in about ten minutes. It's a pretty simple story: three farmers get sick of having their livestock pinched by a fox, and so attempt to kill him and his family: first with a shotgun, then by digging him out, then by trying to starve him out (strangely they didn't try chasing after him on horseback with a pack of hounds - apparently the most efficient way of keeping the fox population under control). Naturally, Mr. Fox outsmarts them all and comes out on top.

You can read it as an allegory of nature winning out over technology, if you so desire, but that's not what makes this a classic, and it certainly isn't what hooks the kids (or me, for that matter).

Roald Dahl was a genius, and what makes him a genius is that he knew that kids are vicious, dirty little brutes and are only interested in blood, muck and guts. Examples of this are all over his books - the repulsive kids accompanying Charlie around the Chocolate Factory, the other giants in the BFG, the Twits.... and so on. In this particular story, Mr. Fox has his tail blown off by a shotgun pretty early in the story, leaving only a bloody stump, and the three farmers are delighfully vile:

"Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were nonetheless equally mean."

Dahl revels in making the farmers as revolting as he can, and in sparing his readers none of the details: he tells us that Bunce eats only doughnuts stuffed with mashed goose livers and we learn that Bean has some trouble hearing because he never washes, and his ears were full of "all kinds of muck and wax and bits of chewing gum and dead flies and stuff like that".


I'm currently almost halfway through "The Invention of Solitude" by Paul Auster, but I'm beginning to realise that life's too short, and I'm going to see if I still have my copy of the BFG lying around. Now don't get me wrong - Auster is a great author, but he's no Dahl, is he?

Friday, February 25, 2005

His lips are warm while yours are cold....

So, the Catholic Church doesn't believe in euthanasia. Have I got that right?

This 84 year old guy is pretty ill, and has been for a while. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few years ago, and has been visibly wilting ever since. Ten days ago he was admitted to hospital with "flu-like symptoms", but just when the cardinals were starting to get excited, he was discharged. Now he has been readmitted with problems breathing and has been given a tracheotomy - a tube has been inserted through his throat to aid the supply of oxygen to his lungs. Naturally, this means that the Supreme Pontiff has been unable to talk, but he is said to be "serene and tranquil" after the procedure, and has raised an arm to "acknowledge the team of doctor's caring for him".

But how will the Church function whilst God's Representative on Earth is so ill?

Ah that's okay, you needn't worry. He may be extremely ill, barely conscious and have a tube through his throat, but the Vatican have deemed that the Pope is still capable of making important decisions.


Considering he has been so ill, the Pope has been surprisingly productive over the last few days actually. Apparently a lot of saints have been created, many of them Polish. Is this the last rush of a man who knows his time is running out? Maybe. The (even) more cynical view is that his adminstration, many of whom are Polish, are desperately trying to get as many changes made as possible whilst they still can.... when the Pope dies, they will be out of a job. New Pope, new administration. No wonder they are so keen for the Pope to make important decisions from his deathbed, er, I mean his hospital bed. Apparently there has been a stream of senior advisors to his bedside, many of them no doubt clutching important papers to be signed. All this whilst Catholic figures debate whether or not it is right to use life-support machines to artificially extend the Pope's life.

Dear oh dear. So much for the dignity of the position. It's all very unseemly. Although, to be fair, renaissance Popes used to die in much more colourful ways - red hot pokers shoved where they wouldn't leave a mark, that kind of thing, so it could be worse.

There are hundreds of millions of Catholics, and according to Catholic doctrine, the word of the Pope carries the same weight as the word of God. What he says goes. That's quite a responsibility, and the world had high hopes of Karol Worjtyla when he became the youngest Pope of the Twentieth Century in 1978 at the age of 58 (The cardinals aren't daft: electing the pope is their great power, so they usually make sure that they go for someone who won't last too long. They appear to have miscalculated this time). He was dynamic and wanted to take the church to the people. Shame then that the legacy he will leave is one of conservatism and a Catholic Church as out of touch with the modern world as it ever has been. This is the man who, at a time when AIDS is sweeping across the world and especially across Catholic Africa, spoke out against contraception. He has also spoken out against abortion, homosexual unions and rights for unmarried couples.

And this is a progressive Pope.

I'm sure God is waiting for him with open arms.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Now everybody do the propaganda

er...in a word? No.

At least, I don't think so. Unless you were thinking that you would rather gouge out your eyes with a blunt pencil and insert red hot coals up your own fundament than vote for the Conservative Party at the next election, or indeed, ever. Is that what you were thinking? No? Didn't think so.

There is going to be a General Election this year at some point. Everybody knows it. Because the Government has not formally announced the date, thus officially kicking off the election campaigns, we are having to endure a kind of phoney war, with all of the parties lining up to creep their key policies out into the public domain. The other week the Prime Minister and the Chancellor travelled around the country in a helicopter announcing the key policies that will form the main planks of their manifesto, and the other main parties are following suit.

This particular item has appeared on billboards across the country, and is part of the campaign to encourage the Great British Public to vote for the Conservative Party.

In one way, I suppose you have to take your hat off to them. It's a snappy slogan, isn't it? "Are You Thinking What We're Thinking?" It will stick in the memory, certainly. Snappier than the Labour party equivalent: "Britain is working: don't let the Tories wreck it again". The stark black and white of the poster really catches the eye too.

It's vile isn't it?

Leaving aside the fact that they are playing squarely at the racist instincts and fears of the British voters, I don't like the slogan. There's something of the playground about it. It sounds smug and bullying at the same time. I think it should be said with a wink and a leer.

"We're daring to think the unthinkable. Are you thinking it too?"

There's almost an implication of: "We think England is for the English. If enough of you vote for us, and not those idiots from the BNP or the UK Independence Party, then we'll be able to kick them all out"

I expect nothing less of the Conservatives.

What else have they got up their sleeves?

Oh, the usual...

- Keep the pound
- Oppose the European constitution
- Spend more on our armed forces
- Annual limit on immigration
- build more prisons
- cut back political correctness

And so on, and so forth. Blah blah blah.

Here are some of the other poster slogans:

"What's wrong with a little discipline in school?"
"Put more police on the streets and they'll catch more criminals. It's not rocket science is it?"
"I mean, how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?"

How stupid must they think we are? Please tell me no one will fall for this drivel?

The Labour party are a bit better:

- Your family better off
- Your child achieving more
- Your child with the best start
- Your family treated better and faster
- Your community safer
- Your country's borders protected

I'm not too fond of that last one, but otherwise at least it is taking a positive spin on what the Government are pledging to do, rather than focusing on what they will stop. It's a bit less, well, about HATE.


Maybe all this really says is that the Conservative Party are aiming squarely for the votes of the great unwashed (assuming they can read the posters - maybe they should have stuck to simple cartoons?) and the Labour party are pitching themselves at the middle class majority.... people like me. They have no doubt focus-grouped all the issues, and know exactly how to spin them.

I find the whole thing so depressing.

I don't like Michael Howard. I remember when he was Home Secretary under the last Conservative government in the early 90s. It will be a cold day in hell before I cast my vote for a party with him as leader.

That's not to say that my vote is in the bag for the Labour party either. Don't think I've forgotten about the way we went into Iraq. The way we have shamelessly prostrated ourselves in front of Bush's America, only too eager to act as a figleaf to his ignorant and oppressive unilateral agression. Don't think either that I've forgotten about the way that my basic rights as a citizen of this country are being eroded away in the name of "home security".

I haven't forgotten.

I suspect my vote will count for nothing. We have a first past the post electoral system, and I live in a seat with a comfortable conservative majority, and a comfortable MP.

It's great living in a democracy isn't it? We should take this system around the world and offer it up to all other nations as the BEST way to run a country. Actually. It's the ONLY way to run a country, if you want to do it properly. Hey look! The USA had an election recently, and they had a clear winner with a massive popular mandate of a few thousand votes in a few key states. And now he's the most powerful man in the world! cool!

Come on in Iraq! Come on in Iran! Come on in North Korea! The water's lovely!

The worst part is that they haven't even started their campaigns yet.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

one man he resist....

Someone just hit this blog with the search term "piss in the sink".

I'm so proud.

I hope they found what they were looking for.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Some men rise, some men fall

He was white. Of course he was white. Stood on the concourse above Muffin Break. About fifteen years old, although I'm no judge of these things. It wasn't his whiteness that I spotted first though; I think it was his clothing. Yes. Definitely his clothing. I don't even know where you go to buy clothes like this. Somewhere deep in the land that taste forgot, anyway. A land not so very far, far away; a land where natural fibres are unknown; where static lights up the night sky like the aurora borealis; a land where one size fits all because that size is XXXXL and they have a very loose interpretation of the word "fits".

He's tall and thin, and the moonscape of his pale skin glows gently in the artificial light of the shopping centre. He has a stooped, simian gait; the bandy shape of his arms and legs clearly visible in spite of their swaddling of luridly branded leisurewear. He is accessorised: a saggy baseball cap is perched at the very crown of his skull, peak deeply curved and artfully askew. Brightly plated base metal chains hang from his neck, and huge rings drip from his fingers.

He idly smooths the soft hair on his upper lip and sniffs.

I pass at a comfortable distance. He doesn't even look at me. Why should he?

The future is his and he knows it.

making all his nowhere plans for nobody...

Holy shit. I think I've been categorised.

Have you heard of "£50 man"?? Here's an article about him.

Let's examine the evidence:

"This is the guy we've all seen in Borders or HMV on a Friday afternoon, possibly after a drink or two, tie slightly undone, buying two CDs, a DVD and maybe a book - fifty quid's worth - and frantically computing how he's going to convince his partner that this is a really, really worthwhile investment."

Check. In my defence, I am unlikely to get into town before Saturday, and when I do, I am likely to go to Selectadisc or FOPP, and only go into HMV if it's an emergency. As for convincing C. it's a worthwhile investment... well, I try.

The 50-quid bloke is a big user of the web


He shops at Amazon as well as the high street

Well... yes. But not just at Amazon.

He loathes Pop Idol, telling the kids it devalues everything rock music stands for

Hm. I loathe the manufactured tripe that this kind of show produces. Does that count? And kids? [shudders]

He likes the White Stripes, Coldplay and Blur and has persevered with Radiohead through the difficult last three albums

Well, yes.... But Radiohead would be better not holding their breath waiting for me to buy their next album on the day of realease. Oh no. I may keep them waiting a whole day.

His latest buys are the debut albums from the Stands, who remind him of the Byrds, and Franz Ferdinand, who remind him of the Glasgow art-school bands of 1982

Ha! No!. I own nothing by The Stands and I bought the FF album because I thought they were ace. I couldn't name a Glasgow art-school band of 1982 if I tried, although weirdly it annoys me that I can't.

He has given up on Radio 1 and listens to Radio 4 more than any music station, though he likes the less cosy bits of Radio 2, such as Jonathan Ross on Saturday morning. If he had a digital radio, he would love BBC6 Music, with its slogan "the great, the new and no fill" and its habit of playing Franz Ferdinand alongside the Clash.

Nope. All the radios in the house are tuned into Five Live, not just for their excellent sports coverage, but also because I really like a lot of their other programming. I find Radio 4 far too stuffy. Worryingly though, my dad has given up on Radio 4 as well, and now listens to Five Live too. I had a very strange conversation with him the other night on the phone because of this:
"Oh, sorry, are you watching something on the telly?"
"Yes, it's England v Holland"
"Ah yes, that's the friendly match being played at Villa Park. Sven has picked both Beckham and Sean Wright-Phillips and it looks like Andy Johnson from Crystal Palace will get a game...."

Why weird? Because my father has absolutely no interest in football at all, and has no idea who any of these players are (possibly, but not definitely, excepting David Beckham)

I do like Jonathan Ross' show on Radio 2, but I only ever listen to it when I am travelling somewhere in the car on a Saturday morning. I also like 6 Music, and tend to have it on in the background when I am working from home (it seems to have about 2 listeners though, as whenever I am moved to send them a text message, they always seem to read it out... or am I really, really funny in 160 characters or less?)

He adores DVD

Yes. But I liked video too. It's about having things. I have videos that I bought when I worked for HMV in 1995 (great discount) that I still haven't watched, nevermind any of the DVDs.

The 50-quid bloke probably has an iPod but uses it as a radio rather than a substitute for his CDs

It's not a substitute for my CDs and I still use them in the car and occasionally in the house, but this description doesn't work for me. I use my Ipod as a gloriously portable way of accessing the depths of my music collection (witness my recent Scott Walker obsession)

His favourite recent film is Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray shows his own 50-quid tendencies by crooning a karaoke version of the Roxy Music song More Than This.

No. I enjoyed Lost In Translation, but left with the impression that it wasn't quite as good as the reviews were making out. I have to say that my favourite film from the same sort of time as that is probably Spider-Man 2 (which probably says a lot more about my qualifications for the "geek" category than it does for the "50 quid man" category)

He has been in love with music all his life - "He's got the High Fidelity chip embedded in his brain," says Jerry Perkins, publisher of Word magazine - but his interests have broadened along the way

Definte yes to the High Fidelity thing, but although I used to make tapes of the chart show off the radio when I was quite young, I wouldn't say that I really started to love music until my early teens (and Iron Maiden, or is that a contradiction in terms?)

He is not a great telly-watcher but loves The Simpsons and The Office and will miss Friends

I'll watch the Simpsons if it's on. I liked the Office. I watched Friends but didn't bother with the last series at all, don't know what happened at the end and don't own any of the DVDs

he may be a she

Dammit. Is nothing sacred?

I refuse to be pigeonholed! (and yeah, I have also started buying and reading Word magazine).

Monday, February 21, 2005

But you soiled my obession...

I've been reading Belle De jour - The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl.

If you're a blogger, you're probably familiar with this. Belle is the nom de plume of a high-class call girl in London, and she caused something of a stir about a year ago with her blog, which won a Guardian web award in 2003 and had something like 15,000 hits every day (yeah - read that and weep, so-called internet celebrity Statue John). It seemed hard to believe that it was real - apart from anything else it was beautifully written - and there was a lot of speculation about whether it was a hoax, and who the real author was (the smart money was apparently on someone from the media world trying to prove a point). The inevitable six-figure book contract followed, and the blog closed its doors in September 2004 (although I see that she is back - the girl's got a book to plug, after all).

I picked the book up yesterday, and it's good. It's been tweaked a bit from its original format, but still appears in the form of chronological diary entries, and is very readable indeed. Whether it is real or not is pretty much irrelevant to my enjoyment, but I choose to believe that it is. It is certainly written with real style, but Belle tells us that she is a graduate, and since when has good writing been the sole preserve of people working in the media?

It is not an especially erotic book though, for all that it describes the day-to-day life of a sex worker. I think the attraction lies with the narrator herself - she's sparky, honest, witty and clearly intelligent. She's sort of like a modern day equivalent of one of Jane Austen's heroines.... sort of....

My favourite bit so far:

"Someone asked recently what services I would be unwilling to provide, and I was unable to think of anything good. Now 'imitating a stick-insect Freddie Mercury from Lowestoft' has become the first entry on the list."

Yup. Our Belle is evidently not a fan of The Darkness. Apparently:

"...anyone who looks like the bastard child of Robert Plant and Steve Perry via Austen Powers's dentist has no business as a rock god".

The Darkness immortalised (if not exactly eulogised) in print!

Justin Hawkins - you are most definitely not worthy.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)

When I was about 7 years old, all I wanted from life was to become a motorcycle policeman. CHIPS was on the telly, and I had a great helmet and goggles set that I used to wear when I was riding my bike around outside the house. I'm sure riding about the home counties would not have been quite as glamorous as California, and I suspect I would have had less need to the mirrored shades, but as ambitions go, it wasn't a bad one.

By the time I was a teenager, my ambtions had shifted, and I was now determined that I wanted to become a lawyer instead. A shift due, at least in part, to the fact that my father is a doctor, and he regularly attended road traffic accidents, and was all too aware of the casualty rate amongst bikers - he made it absolutely clear that I would only have a motorbike over his dead body. By this time though, I had also become a little bit more aware of my own intellectual capabilities, and I loved the idea of the cut and thrust of the courtroom, as demonstrated by such heroes as Rumpole and Perry Mason.

This ambition lasted until I came to choose the course I wanted to do at University. At a careers day, a solicitor told me that a law degree was tedious, and that I would be much better served doing a degree that I was interested in first, and then if I still wanted to be a lawyer, I could always do a conversion course. I did a history degree, and then a masters degree in Medieval Studies, and at some point along the way becoming a lawyer dropped off my agenda, and I sort of drifted into my current career as an IT Consultant (I applied for loads of jobs as I was finishing my masters, but for some reason the majority of the invitations for interview came for IT jobs).

I was thinking about this last week. Work was tough. I get paid pretty well, but I am not currently finding the work that I find myself doing particularly inspiring or challenging. I need to find something else to do. I believe that opportunity exists in my current company (over 300,000 employees worldwide), but I need to get off my arse and find something I do want to do.

I don't want to be melodramatic about it, but where did it all go wrong? How did I end up here?

I think I reached the peak of my potential in 1987 at the age of 13. I was head boy at school and had been awarded a scholarship to attend my next school. I was frighteningly mature - worryingly sensible, and probably even less fun at parties than I am now. It's pretty much been downhill ever since. Yes, I continued to achieve good academic results, but I just reckon that things started to tail off. I was coasting. I was bright enough to get a 2:1 in my first degree without really busting a gut, but it could and should have been better than that (although, I seriously doubt that getting a first class degree would have made anything different apart from serving to further swell my intellectual vanity). I drifted into my Masters degree because I wasn't sure what else to do, and had in mind some hare-brained scheme that I would go on to do a PhD because I was bright enough to do on, not because I had some important contribution to make to historical scholarship. And then I drifted into business, where I'm still drifting today.

I'm not going to get on my high horse here and start bleating about how I should be doing something more worthwhile. I donate money to charity, and I am planning on donating some of my time this year as well. I have no problem with working for big business, and do not think that I would be making the world a significantly better place by heading out to Africa as a VSO volunteer or something like that (although I will not dispute that the people who do this are clearly contributing something worthwhile. I just don't think it's for me.) For me the key is that I need to be intellectually challenged. I don't need to be Managing Director, and I'm not all that bothered about status either - although I do expect to be paid what I believe I am worth. I am not being challenged and I need this to change or I will go mad. It's one of the things I like about blogging actually - it gives me a creative outlet that I do not get in my normal working day. I always used to be good at writing, and although I get to use this ability to some extent at work, it's not quite the same as being able to really express myself in the way that I can here (albeit on subjects as high-brow as peeing in the sink).

I know I have lots of things I should be grateful for: I have a lovely girlfriend, a job that pays me pretty well (if not as well as I would like, but a lot better than most people), a nice house.... all that kind of stuff... but I have found myself wondering over the last couple of weeks how much simpler life was when I just wanted to be a motorcycle policeman.
Okay - couple more CD purchases to report this weekend:

Climate of the Hunter
- Scott Walker (bizarrely featuring both Billy Ocean and Mark Knopfler)
Silent Alarm - Bloc Party (I elected to buy the version without the DVD. I never watch the bloody things, and all this extra packaging is starting to really annoy me)

I've spoken a fair bit about both in the last few weeks, so I'll try not to repeat myself by talking about them again here. I'm sure you've noticed though, I'm going through something of a Scott Walker phase at the moment. At work on Friday, whilst working on an incredibly tedious spreadsheet, I listened my way through Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3, Scott 4 and Tilt. Not exactly uplifting, but it worked, and I got the bloody thing finished. Tilt in particular is a really challenging piece of work - Walker doesn't even really sing in his trademark baritone, favouring some kind of semi-operatic syle. It's not something you could listen to everyday, but it still rewards the listener, some 10 years after it was released. It's also a natural progression from 1984s Climate of the Hunter.... he's apparently in the studio again now, so I await the output of that eagerly.


Sorry about that. I appear to have banged on about Scott Walker at length again....
Cruz Beckham
. A traditional spanish girl's name. For a boy.

Way to go genius.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Watered by the tears I cry....

This is the first in an irregular series of appreciations of the obscurer songs residing on my Ipod.

Angelica (Weil / Mann) - Scott Walker

Regular readers will probably know all about my love affair with Scott Walker. In my opinion there has never been a singer that comes near (perhaps Jeff Buckley, but compared to Scott Walker he was a bit showy for my taste). He has the most gorgeous, honeyed bass baritone and an air of tremendous melancholy. Scott Walker could make a trip to the supermarket sound like the cause of great torment and existential anguish (which, now I think about it, sounds about right).

Scott Walker became famous as a member of the Walker Brothers - who I suppose you might say were one of the boy bands of their era. They were enormously successful and sold millions of records worldwide and had hits like "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and the glorious "Make It Easy On Yourself". They were huge; they had screaming fans and everything. At the height of it all, troubled by the fame and adulation, Scott couldn't take anymore and disappeared. When he re-emerged, it turned out that he had taken solace in a monastery (and apparently he still wears the key around his neck, probably just underneath his hair shirt).

When the Walker Brothers broke up, Scott went solo and released a string of solo albums (Scott, Scott II, Scott III and Scott IV). The albums contained a mix of original compositions and covers (mainly songs by Jacques Brel). This certainly wasn't traditional chart fodder: the songs dealt with loneliness, death, alienation. The success of the Walker Brothers and the continuing popularity of Scott as a sex symbol and his regular appearance on TV (he hosted his own show for a while) led to the happy abberration that intially these albums charted highly - "Scott" was a number one album. In the end people cottoned on that he was by now recording work of a challenging and uncommercial nature, and by the time "Scott IV" was released, it failed to chart at all, which is a shame, as it is comfortably the best of the quartet - featuring as it does "The Seventh Seal", a song about playing chess with the devil....

Walker slowly withdrew from public view, with album releases becoming rarer and rarer. His last album ("Tilt") was released in 1995, and the album before that ("Climate of the Hunter") was released in 1984. I suppose this means that he's about due, and he's apparently in the recording studio now....

This particular song is taken from "Scott", his first solo album after the end of the Walker Brothers in 1967. It is a cover version of a song by Weil / Mann, and I have chosen it because it is the most ridiculously lachrymose song I think I have ever heard. It even starts with a bit of funereal organ, just before the lush orchestration kicks in. Just check out the lyrics and then imagine the song being sung in that majestic baritone....

Each night I meant to say
I missed her through the day
But I'd forget it
I never said it

I passed the flower shop
Lord knows I meant to stop
But I said tomorrow
Perhaps tomorrow

Tomorrow there'd be time
There'd always be another spring
Time to make her laughter ring
Time to give her everything

Angelica, my Angelica
There's so much you never knew
So much I always meant to say
And do, for you, for you

And then the cold winds came
And when I spoke her name
And felt her near me
She couldn't hear me

Her shadow had been cast
Too many springs had passed
For Angelica
Sweet Angelica

Now in my solitude
I tend the flowers that I buy
As they slowly fade and die
Watered by the tears I cry

for my Angelica, my Angelica
There's so much you never knew
So much I always meant to say
And do, for you, for you

It's so overblown, it could almost be a parody of the tearful ballad, but I love it.

Now please excuse me, I have to go and have a good cry.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I won't do you no harm....

Today is the last day before the ban on hunting with hounds becomes law. The last challenge in the High Court has been dismissed, and nothing can now stop the ban coming into force. Not surprisingly, every hunt in the country is expected to be out and about today. If you are a fox, you might do well to stay in bed today.

This law has generated a lot of protest, and there have been threats of widespread disobediance. With this in mind, there have been a lot of interviews with the police in the press, asking how they are going to be enforcing the law when it comes into force. The police have in the main been keen to indicate that they will not be spending their time following illegal hunts, and making arrests over the corpses of foxes as they are torn limb from limb by a pack of slavering hounds. They have stressed that there will be prosecutions if the law is broken, but that they prefer to spend their time working with the hunts to make sure that they understand the law, and that if they do go out (say to go drag hunting), they will be able to do so within the bounds of the law and thus under the protection of the law. The maximum penalty for breaking this law is a fine of £5000.

I think the bottom line is that the police aren't sure how they can practically enforce this law, and are hoping that the hunts stay the right side of the law.


I do not approve of fox hunting. I like foxes. I do not have much sympathy for many of these people, because I dislike what I see of them. I do not believe that the countryside will fall apart without the patronage and good husbandry of the hunts. I do not believe there will be widespread countryside unemployment. I do not believe that the country will be held to ransom by packs of marauding foxes, their populations no longer humanely controlled by packs of dogs and posh people on horses. I have little patience for the threats of mass public protest either. What makes these people think they have the right to simply pick and choose the laws that they obey?

"Oh, Margot and I do find it difficult to get to Newbury, so we think a bypass would be a great idea, and they should dig that Swampy chap out of his tunnel with a JCB and throw him to the dogs. What what?"

"Ban hunting? Are they mad? I shall be out there as usual on Saturday and they can just try and stop me!"

What the hell gives them the right?

Having said all of that.... I do have a liberal pang of guilt about the fact that I am quite happy to watch an activity that thousands of people love, that is a centuries old tradition being swept into the dustbin of history by a metropolitan government. What happens if Labour choose something I do care about next? What if they try and take us into a disastrous and unjustified war?


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I hear the drums echoing tonight...

Had a long email conversation with a friend today (one of those days at work). It started off when he asked me if by any chance I had borrowed his copy of The Jam's greatest hits. No, but weren't they a great band? Down The Tube Station At Midnight, Eton Rifles, Going Underground, David Watts ("fa fa fa fa fa fa-fa-fa oi!"), That's Entertainment..... all started to go wrong around The Bitterest Pill, and then it was all sharp suits, the Style Council and dad-rock nonsense from there on. Shame really.

This naturally led us onto a conversation about bands that broke up when they were successful. There are loads of them. Of course there are. But how many of them went on to bigger and better things? I'm sure we can all name people who have left bands and disappeared - what else explains why bands like Motley Crue, The Happy Mondays and The Las are all reforming? Forced to return to the scenes of your former glory and make the best of it because you couldn't make anything better anywhere else?

Does anyone leave a successful band and move on to be more successful?

We decided that Robbie Williams and George Michael don't count, because we arbitrarily judged that Take That and Wham weren't proper bands (our game, our rules - alright?)

Is Sting more successful than the Police? (we could debate this artistically for, oooh, seconds)

I thought probably Scott Walker.

Dave Grohl has done pretty well with the Foo Fighters, but would anyone really suggest that it came close to Nirvana? Same thing applies to New Order and Joy Division.

and on and on it went.

We ended up playing some sort of weird version of rock family trees where we were listing bands for any number of tenuous reasons:

- Bands where there was a star and his band (The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Bob Dylan and the Band, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Billy Bragg and the Blokes... and were Bon Jovi and Van Halen bands in their own right, or should they be included in this category?)
- Bands with Eric Clapton in (Cream, Derek & the Dominos, Blind Faith, The Yardbirds...)
- MOR bands (Boston, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Toto...)
- whatever happened to the Super Group? (Cream were one, CSNY were another - do Velvet Revolver and Audioslave really count in this category?)

As a direct result of this, when I was in the pool (64 lengths, 1536m, 39 mins - thanks for caring) I spent the whole damn time thinking about bands with Ronnie Wood in, or wondering if I really cared if Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel have been more successful in their solo careers than they were as members of Genesis. Does anyone care?

It's certainly a more interesting way utlise my brain-power than pulling together a requirements matrix for a new SMTP gateway. That's not to say that I didn't carry on working on the requirements matrix (by now listening to The Jam on my Ipod), but let's just say that I allocated some of my mental resources into the more interesting task.

Int email brilliant?

oh, and I gave up after "I Just Called To Say I Love You", but apparently "Unchained Melody" was number one.... please God not the Robson & Jerome version.... although I'm sure if they asked Simon Bates what he thought was the definitive version...

Monday, February 14, 2005

I run for the bus, dear...

....the excessive commercialisation of Valentine's Day blah blah blah.

I'm not going to talk about it here because I'm sure you've seen enough of it for yourself over the last few weeks and I think every blogger in the world is talking about it (perhaps even the corporate ones, eh?)

I just wanted to check in to say that I have been stupid enough to turn on the TV, and now I'm stuck in front of "The Nation's Favourite Love Songs" or somesuch.

And now I'm annoyed.

We've only got to about number 24 ("Close To You"), but alongside such cast iron classics as "Say A Little Prayer" and "My Girl" is such terrible shite as "The Wind Beneath My Wings" (Westlife version), "Words" (Boyzone version), and I'm sure there's worse to come.

I know I shouldn't let it get to me, but I have. That terrible, insipid shite that is targeted at kids who don't realise what awful rubbish it is - pale, lazy, colourless cover versions performed by bland karaoke puppets . Gah! (and now Simon Bates has just claimed that the UB40 & Chrissy Hynde version of "I Got You Babe" is better than the original... Fuck off! I can't turn this off! help!)

For reference, I'm spending the evening sharing a pizza and a pot of tea with my beautiful girlfriend. I hope you are as lucky.

...in rented rooms and foreign places

I'm very dubious about corporate blogging. Actually I'm fairly ambivalent about blogging full-stop, but I'm especially dubious about corporate blogging - that is to say, weblogs that are written by employees of a company with the full support and encouragement of the company in question.

My company's intranet posted a link to this article from the Economist. It's about Robert Scoble, a guy who works for Microsoft as a "Technical Evangelist", which apparently means that he spends his time writing a blog for the Evil Empire (although I notice that his blog isn't hosted by Microsoft itself). There's an ever-growing number of them, apparently, and they are being written by ever more prominent executives (there are persistent rumours that Bill Gates himself has one).

What are we supposed to get from these things? Are they ever likely to say anything interesting (and I mean really interesting - to be honest I'm not all that interested if the number two at Sun Microsystems launches attacks on Hewlett-Packard from his weblog)? Would you read one?

The reason I mention it, and the reason that my company had an article on this posted on the homepage of the intranet, is because this is something they are trying to encourage themselves. We, as employees, are being actively encouraged to start up our own weblogs. They are hosted on the company servers, and the authors of every single one of the thousands of blogs already there are readily identifiable by their company email address.

I started one today.

We all know what happened to the Woolamaloo blogger, don't we? Sacked by Waterstones for some extremely innocuous comments about his employer made entirely in passing on an otherwise completely inoffensive blog (he's got a new job, by the way).

I think we all moan about our jobs to some degree on our blogs, don't we? I don't really talk about mine directly, but if you were determined enough, you would be able to find out where I worked pretty easily, I think (you could ask me, for starters - it's not a secret). Is there really anything on here that might get me the sack? My taste in music?

So I started one.

I'm not entirely sure where it's going to take me, and I think I may get bored of it pretty quickly. I put two posts up today, and I have a feeling that it's going to be basically about work, although I am going to make some effort to make it a little more interesting than that sounds. For starters, I decided that I was going to give it a name - there are loads already on there, and all bar a couple were called "My Weblog" (and the others were called things like "Wireless Network Protocols" or "My Life in ERP"). With a hat-tip to Tom, I decided to call mine "Mother I Can Feel The Soil Falling Over My Head", which is already making it stand out (which I'm not altogether sure is a good thing.)

Ah. To hell with it.

I'm throwing this open to the floor. Any suggestions for topics?

On the CD front this week I've picked up a couple and rediscovered a couple of old ones buried away somewhere:
- Clearlake - Lido (thanks to Damo and Serena Wombat for this - it's excellent)
- Radio 4 - Gotham
- Stereophonics - Word Gets Around (after talking about it last week and realising I left my copy with an ex-girlfriend about 6 years ago... )

The rediscoveries were excellent. They were CDs that I picked up about 15 years ago in a bargain bin for 99p each because they had no sleeves.

- Kraftwerk - Radioactivity
- The Stranglers - Greatest Hits
- Leonard Cohen - Greatest Hits
- Robert Johnson - Delta Blues Legend

I'm especially pleased with the Leonard Cohen, as I was looking at this very album on Saturday and very nearly picked it up for a fiver.
I was at Twickenham yesterday. My girlfriend is a French citizen.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

A simple prop to occupy my time

What's your favourite lyric ever?

You've probably noticed this about me, but I've always been a lyrics man. A good tune can hook me in, but ultimately I derive the most satisfaction from the words. My favourite bands are all wordy bands: - The Smiths, Manic Street Preachers, Scott Walker, The Darkness.... (cough cough) Above everyone else, it has to be Morrissey though, I think.

I think my favourite of all time is:

"And in the darkened underpass
I thought Oh God, my chance has come at last
But then a strange fear gripped me
And I just couldn't ask"

I didn't get into The Smiths until long after they had broken up. When they performed "What Difference Does It Make" on Top of the Pops in 1982, I can clearly remember sitting in front of my TV watching. Do I remember them? No, of course not. All I can remember of the programme is Billy Joel performing "Uptown Girl", but certainly not the peculiar sight of a rather gauche man waving flowers around his head. By about 1987 I was at least aware they existed as a band, but by then my head was addled with heavy metal, and in my infinite wisdom, I lumped The Smiths in with The Cure as bands that I hated out of principle. Without listening to them.

I later did much the same thing to the Stone Roses.

Yeah. I know....

I finally discovered The Smiths properly in 1993 when I was a first year undergraduate. It was "Half a Person" that hooked me, and I finally made a connection with Morrissey (it's only recently that I have started to appreciate what Johnny Marr brought to the party).

I've been an acolyte ever since. Even through the barren years, I kept the faith ("Roy's Keen" anyone?). 2004 was a great year - You Are The Quarry was a blistering return to form and British music's most famous exile was back with a bang. I like The Streets, but that Brit Award belongs to Morrissey.

In 1993 I was nineteen. I didn't have a girlfriend. I had absolutely no idea how to go about getting myself a girlfriend. Who would have thought that Morrissey might appeal to me?

"There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" in particular spoke to me. All that longing. Knowing your moment had arrived, and also knowing that you would never do anything about it. I felt like I could relate to that. I think I still can.

What lyric speaks to you?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

confusion's familiar...

I heard a fantastic new song in the car on the way to work this morning. It was slightly fuzzy sounding but had the most fantastic guitar lick that I have heard all year. I parked up and headed into the office with a real spring in my step and a big smile on my face. It was that good - one of those songs that sends a little shiver down your spine and reminds you all over again why music is so fantastic.

A cause for celebration then.

So why did it leave me feeling a bit confused?

I'll tell you why: because the song was Dakota by the Stereophonics.

Yup. The Stereophonics for Christ's sake. The kings of lazy trad rock bollocks.

I used to quite like them. I own their first two albums and songs like "Local Boy In The Photograph" and "Just Looking" are genuinely good songs, I think. Then something went wrong and they stagnated - even if they were far more successful than they had ever been. For me it started the first time I heard "Mr Writer". Writing a song about a journalist who gave you a bad review is pretty weak, in my books, and things only got worse from there. The success of "Handbags and Gladrags" only seemed to encourage them to play it safe. "Have a Nice Day" and "Step on My Old Size Nines" were just more of the same. They even sacked their comedy drummer. They played Glastonbury in 2002, headlining the Saturday night, and I actively avoided them (Rod Stewart roundly took the piss out of them the following night when he reclaimed his song from them as he closed the festival on the main stage - they played it as an encore; Rod played it about second song in....). Actually, I have fond memories of the Sterophonics being onstage. They drew a big crowd, so it was a great time for wandering around other parts of the festival, and I was soon rewarded for missing their set with the sight of a ballerina performing whilst hanging suspended from an illuminated hot air balloon being slowly walked through a field.... a really magical festival moment.

And now they've produced this, and I take my hat off to them. In fact, I've just put my 79p where my mouth is, and have gone to ITunes and downloaded it. On second listen, the lyrics don't sound great (and they are the most recognisably Stereophonics part of the whole thing). That guitar is just excellent though.

Worth a look.

Now all they need to do is bring back the comedy drummer, ridiculous hair and all....

I've borrowed some tools to chisel you down...

It's a good site, and I've urged you to go and have a look at it already, but you really should make your way over to Stand By Your Statue.


Well. Because it's funny. Because you can easily join in. Because it's been recommended by people like Yahoo and Metafilter. Because the stats don't lie: Statue John has had more hits in a month than I have had in nearly a year!

All good reasons to go and have a look. The best reason of all though, is because it currently features me.

Did you need any other reason?


(and don't listen to those lies about my batting average either. All rubbish. He's not factoring in the not outs. And I was an opening bowler anyway, so what's the big deal?)

Anyway - if you want to learn how a "tiger" is really done, you should check this out...

Vain? Me? In those sandals?

Monday, February 07, 2005

But I promise not to cry anymore....

Nottingham Rescue Rooms is a pretty small venue. It's just around the corner from Rock City, and it says it has a capacity of 500, but it doesn't look like it (although I suppose I've never been up on the balcony, and that could be like the TARDIS, couldn't it?). Whatever. Last night, Lord Bargain and I popped down there for the first time since we went to see The Bluetones a couple of years ago... to see The Dears.

It's actually Lord Bargain's fault that I went at all. He heard them on the radio, and managed to persuade me to buy it (without having heard it), on the grounds that it was right up my street, and that if I didn't like it, he would give me the £10 it cost me. Fair enough. They are often said to be reminiscent of pre-Parklife Blur and of The Smiths/Morrissey. Although I kind of know what they mean, I don't really agree. That's not the comparison that springs to my mind. The singer, Murray A. Lightburn (pictured above) has a wonderfully rich baritone, which actually reminds me a little bit of David McAlmont (only a little bit - he doesn't quite have that kind of falsetto range, but who does?).

I have to say that the album ("No Cities Left") didn't grab me immediately. There are a couple of really good songs on there ("Lost in the Plot" being the best), but it wasn't one of those albums that I couldn't tear off my stereo (from 2004 - Interpol, Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand...). It's good, but not great. When I saw that they were touring Nottingham though, I thought they were worth a go, particularly in such an intimate venue and when the ticket was only going to cost me £8. Naturally I decided that the least that Lord Bargain could do for getting me into this in the first place was to accompany me on the night.

I had a pint of Staropramen (nice!) from a plastic pint pot (not nice), but I suppose you can't have everything.

Support came from Pure Reason Revolution and Ambulance Ltd. Both were pretty good. Pure Reason Revolution were quite heavy, but had an almost folky vocal harmony style, that I thought was a bit reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac or (oddly) The Mamma & The Papas. The female bassist in particular had a lovely voice. As no gig review is complete without a brief fashion critique, the singer has terrible haystack hair and looks like he used to be in the Wurzels, but on the whole I thought they were pretty good. Ambulance Ltd. are from New York (where I think about 50% of the world's guitar bands are from, the majority of the rest coming from Manchester, Liverpool or, er... Oxford.... oooh remember Ride? shoegazing personified). They seemed alright. Lord B liked them, but I'm afraid I can't really remember anything about them. Not exactly a ringing endorsment, I know, but they were okay.

When they finally came on, The Dears filled the stage. It's a small stage, and there are six of them, including 2 keyboardists, who both have their keyboards facing directly out into the crowd. I suspect they'll have a bit more room when they inevitably play a sunday afternoon slot at Glastonbury - they're that kind of band. They all have their moments, but two of the band catch the eye particularly - Murray Lightburn, of course, but also Natalia Yanchak, who stares glacially out into the crowd for most of the set. She has a lovely voice, and sings the utterly heartbreaking line:

"I have never cried
In anybody's arms
The way that I have often cried in yours"

During "The Death of All Romance", a duet with Lightburn.

I don't know their songs well enough to be able to give you a rundown of what they played and what they didn't play, but they were pretty good. They seemed to be troubled by technical glitches and excessive feedback, but overall I thought they were a pretty tight unit. The thing that really marks them out though is Lightburn's voice: rich and powerful, and as capable of a harsh bellow as it is of taking off and soaring. He does have a slight Morrissey-esque turn of phrase, I suppose, but nothing I thought was too blatant (although I notice a link to Morrissey's website from their own pages). I certainly didn't hear any Damon Albarn in there, thank God.

£8 well spent, I thought, and it inspired me to put the CD on in my car this morning, which I think is a good sign.

I'm also very much looking forward to seeing Thirteen Senses in such an intimate venue in March....

On the album front this week, I expect I'll be popping out to buy the Bloc Party album, "Silent Alarm". That album title sums them up. They are so of the moment that their album is named after a tidal wave early warning system (and yeah, I did read that in the sunday paper.... had you not realised there isn't an original thought in my head yet?)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Deep seated urban decay, deep seated urban decay

I'd just like to make the following announcement:

I don't give a rat's arse what Kerry McFadden thinks of Brian and Delta.

And for the record, I couldn't care less about Brian's insights onto his new-found happiness and the breakdown of his marriage.


Whilst we are on the subject, I'm not much interested in Brad and Jen either, nor do I care to hear them lie about how keen they are to remain as friends.

I'm not much enamoured with Paris Hilton either.

Or any of the rest of them.

Why do these people insist on trying to perpetuate their desperate celebrity by whoring out their personal tragedies for the entertainment of the dirty, white tracksuited masses?

Spare me.

Forgot to mention the CDs I bought this week:
Athlete - Tourist
Feeder - Pushing the Senses

I've talked about them somewhere else... so I won't repeat myself here.


I've also just watched Trainspotting for the first time in ages - and it's ace. It made me think of what a brilliant book it is.... I don't think I've ever read anything like it. You'd think it was unfilmable, but I reckon that they just about pulled it off. It has such a fantastic ensemble cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller.... Robert Carlyle in particular is terrifying as Begbie. Not at all what I imagined from the book, but no less frightening for that.

Nice bottle of wine, nice big slow cooked chili-con-carne and a decent film on the telly. My enjoyment would have been complete, if it hadn't been for the incessant adverts for magazines offering to tell me all the lurid details of someone else's marriage breakdown.... but that's where I came in.....

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

too young to fall asleep, too cynical to speak

You might remember that in December I brought the website WriteToThem.com to your attention. Basically what this site does is to help you to to discover who your political representatives are (so your Member of Parliament, your Member of the European Parliament and so on...) Once you have found that piece of information out, it enables you to get a bit of background information on them - how they voted etc. - and then lets you send them a fax.

Pretty cool.

I know who my MP is - he's pretty famous after all - and despite the fact that he is a member of the Conservative party, and that he is on the board at Imperial Tobacco, I quite like the old rogue because:
a) he is pro-European and is about as liberal as a conservative will ever get
but mainly because:
b) I have seen him swaggering around Trent Bridge during the Test Match wearing a linen suit and a panama, cigar in mouth, glass of red wine in one hand, bottle in the other.

frankly that's the kind of thing in an elected representative that is bound to appeal to me.

Anyway. I decided to put my money where my mouth was, and instead of just moaning about stuff here, I thought I would voice my thoughts to my MP.

Here's what I said:
Dear Mr. Clarke,

I am writing to you as my representative in the House of Commons to make you aware my concerns over 3 issues:

1) The recent government proposals to introduce ID Cards. I am alarmed that the government is looking to introduce these measures that I see as an infringement upon my civil liberties. Nowhere have I seen it explained to my satisfaction how this scheme will help to prevent terrorism in this country, and I am appalled by the cost of the proposed scheme. The government may have a comfortable majority in the house of commons, and they may be being supported by your party on this issue, but I wanted to make you aware of my vehement opposition to this proposal.

2) Making Poverty History. We have a great opportunity next year when we have the presidency of the G8 to make a real difference to the poor and hungry across the world. I have been disturbed by the scale of the crisis in the West Darfur region of the Sudan in particular. I personally plan to take a more active role in campaigning and raising money to help other people in 2005, and I would urge you to do
everything that you can to make the government sit up and take notice.

3) The war in Iraq. The government took us to war on a pretext in the face of public opposition, and with no clear objectives beyond the removal of Saddam Hussein. Now it looks as though they have no way out, and soldiers and civilians alike are being killed everyday. Tony Blair seems to believe that the ends have justified the means, but I do not agree. I continue to be opposed to this war, and I am ashamed that the British Government are acting as a figleaf to this US unilateral action.

You are my representative in the House of Commons, and so I thought rather than moan to all and sundry about what has been upsetting me, I thought I would do something constructive and pass my thoughts on to my MP instead. I'm sure that you don't neccessarily support me on these issues, but I think it is important that you know what issues are on my mind, as one of your constituents.

Thanks for listening, and hopefully I'll see you at the Trent Bridge Test Match again this year.... bring on the Aussies!

When I got back home after New Year, I had a little card from the House of Commons through my door telling me that Mr. Clarke had received my letter and would be replying in due course. February rolled around, and I was becoming a little sceptical. Until I got home tonight and found a lovely House of Commons envelope on my doormat with a lovely typed letter inside.

Here's what Ken had to say:

Thank you very much for the e-mail which you sent to me during the Christmas break. I did read your views carefully and agree with you on two of the points that you make.

I do think that it is important that the developed world gives a higher priority to the reduction of absolute poverty in the developing world. To be fair to the present Government, I do think it is taking an active role on this subject and the Prime Minister has said that it will be one of his prorities during our presidency of the G8. I can assure you that I will certainly contribute to the arguments that our Government needs to turn as much of its rhetoric into active measures as possible.

I also agree with you entirely in your comments about the disastrous and unjustifiable decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq.

Probably because I am a former Home Secretary, I must confess that I am in favour of the principle of the introduction of identity cards. I have always thought that a system of national ID cards would be the only effective way to deal with identity fraud and multi-identity claiming for state benefits and the illegal employment of people not entitled to work here. In the modern world, every citizen produces a driving licence or credit card to identify themselves from time to time and the need to do so is not a serious infringement of our civil liberties, in my opinion.

I can, however, reassure you that I think the detail of the legislation on ID cards needs to be worded with care. I will oppose any requirements that citizens should be required to carry an ID card at all times and would resist any penalty for failure to carry the card. I also believe that the information carried on the card should be restricted to whatever is necessary to prove identity and should not be extended to all kinds of other confidential information. I am also extremely dubious about the Government's intention to produce an extremely sophisticated, high technology version of the card, which would run the risk of billions of pounds being spent on an elaborate system which is quite likely to fail in practice.

I was grateful for hearing your views.

Yours sincerely,

The Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke, QC, MP

So there you have it. I know it's only a relatively small thing, but I was really pleased to have got a letter back. I am not so stupid as to imagine that Ken tapped this out himself on his typewriter, but I do like to imagine that he had some hand in the contents of the reply. Whatever. The thing that encouraged me the most was that the reply has been clearly written as a response to my original email. It's not a standard letter. Somone has taken the trouble to write back properly. He doesn't agree with me on everything, but where we disagree, there is a rational explanation. He's even fair to the Government, for heaven's sake. Good for you Kenneth Clarke. I still won't vote for you, but fair play to you.

My favourite bit? The "disastrous and unjustifiable decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq".

That's my boy!

I declare the experiment a success, and I hereby call on YOU to write to your elected representative with the issues that have been bothering YOU.

These people work for you. They are accountable to you. They should care about what you have to say.

I'd love to hear what they have to say.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

And all the things you do

I'm now going to seriously lower the tone: if you are of a nervous disposition, or if you harbour delusions that I am some kind of sophisticate, please look away now.


Who am I kidding? You're all still here, aren't you? Nobody thinks I'm a sophisticate?

Well, don't say I didn't warn you.

I have a question for you.

I was inspired by something that Charlie wrote over on Late Night Radio (one of the first blogs I ever found, actually. Discovered using the "next blog" button and still a regular read).

Over to you Charlie:

"after years of reluctance, and after the longtime recommendations of all 3 roommates and several of my friends, I finally found an opportunity and peed in the shower last night. I didn't like it, and don't think there will ever be an encore."

As I said over there, on the one hand, that's gross. On the other hand, his roomates have clearly been pissing in his shower for months, so it's partial payback, right?

Before you take the moral high ground here, think on this:

Have you ever had a bedroom with a sink? Could have been a room at University, a room at college, could have been a bedsit, perhaps even in a prison - wherever.

Here's the question:

Did you ever take a piss in that sink?

Come on now. Be honest. You can tell me.

take these lies and make them true somehow

As anti-fraud measures go, it's fairly basic. No biometrics here. You vote, you dip your finger into the paint to make sure you can't vote again. Simple. It's become more than that though - it's become a symbol. It's a Churchillian 'V' for victory.

As Kurdo says:

"All these fingers are up for you terrorist, anti-democracy, pro-beheading, suicide-bombers, Baathiest, Saddamist and anti-peace people."

This election was going to be a massive failure. With no other coherent exit stategy from a desperately ill-conceived invasion, it was set up by the "coalition of the willing" as a way of getting the hell out of Dodge as quickly as they possibly could. There are thousands of American troops in Iraq. There are thousands of British troops in Iraq. With every day that passes, more of them are dying. Some are being killed by "insurgents", some are being killed in accidents, some are being blown up by splinter groups... whatever... with every single body bag that is shipped back home wrapped in the flag, the political authority of the governments that sent them is being eroded. Why were they over there? What the hell were they fighting for? What have they died for? All difficult questions to answer. Impossible even.

So: Saddam has been removed, all the juicy reconstruction contracts have been awarded to George's buddies... so what's left? Ah yes. Set up a stable, democratic regime and exit with heads held high and return home in triumph.

Just like in Afghanistan, right?

So the date was set for the election in Iraq and no amount of suicide bombing was going to stop the progress of democracy. All of the press coverage (at least in the UK) seemed to focus on how the candidates were all hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, so great was their fear of reprisals. Polling booths would be bombed, we were told. Everyone would be too scared to leave their home and cast their vote. It was an election carried out under the shadow of the gun.

And what happens? An estimated 72% turnout. That figure looks like being a bit of an excitable over-estimate, with the real turnout likely to be something over the 60% mark, with something like 8 million votes cast.

Do you remember the 2004 US Presidential election? Surely you must do - it was one of the most hotly contested ever, where both candidates polled more votes than any other candidates in US election history? The one that gave George W. Bush an 'overwhelming mandate' to carry on his ill defined "war on terror"...

The turnout? 60.7%

As far as I'm aware, there wasn't an occupying army in the USA at the time, and there was little other than apathy to keep the population away from the polls.

I suppose we should look forward to a time when Iraq is that secure in its democracy.

So what's next for Iraq? When the last vote has been counted and the results have been announced (with the winner receiving something less than the 99.9% that Saddam enjoyed in the last election), can we expect the new democratically elected government of Iraq to take office, and for all conflict to be resolved? Will there be a surge of goodwill that enables the occupying coalition armies to hand over the reigns of power and withdraw, heads held high, to return home in triumph (or to Iran, or to North Korea, or to whoever is next in the Democracy World Tour)?

No, of course not.

For now though, I think we should celebrate the fact the woman pictured above is able to go to a polling booth, cast her vote and proudly, defiantly display that fact to the world.