Monday, 8 October 2012

Don't stray too far to the left m'dear...

Casting my mind back to October 2010, I am sat in a Political Science class at the University of Hull and I remember the unmistakable feeling of being completely out of my depth. Indeed, I had had the same feeling earlier in the week in my first lecture of my University career. Sat with a friend (also a first year) we soon deducted that we were in a class full of second years. The class began and of course the discussion was of a high caliber so to speak, which left me trudging home with one thought in my mind: "what have I done? Why did i choose this course?"


Labour's Original Logo, used until 1983
I had come to University to study Law with Legislative Studies not to refine my knowledge, but instead to learn it from the ground up. In reality I felt completely unfit to be at University, clearly i was not up to the level of peers who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the law and British Politics.

I hadn't studied Politics or Law at school, so it was all new ground. Back in my political science class we were discussing topics for an upcoming presentation we all had to give individually. Seeing as all of us would be giving our own presentations my tutor suggested we choose our own topics. (On a side note, I can't praise my tutor enough, Dr Colin Tyler. He had a dryness about him yet at the same time an energy for Politics which I was at the time very much in awe of). One of the topics available, upon suggestion, was "Is New Labour dead?".

I didn't understand the question so much. As mentioned, my knowledge of Politics was limited to who the Party Leaders were, and the policies each party stood for. At this point i wasn't fully up to speed on what New and indeed Old Labour was. At the time I was very much an advocate for the Labour Party, and I felt a certain disgust and indeed confusion about a peers suggestion that the Labour Party was no more, New Labour couldn't govern in future.


"Trying to please everyone, all of the time" 
I know of course understand. The project of aligning Labour more centrally, the baby of Blair, Brown and Mandelson, had at this point run its course. New Labour and its leader Gordon Brown had been rejected in the 2010 General Election. The question of "Is New Labour dead?" was asking whether or not New Labour would again reposition itself further left, or remain left of center.

The point of New Labour in the first place was very much to distance itself from the old Tory war cries of "the Looney Left". They moved to the middle to appeal to more voters; which while not true to the (Old Labour) core support of the party of socialists, it did show Labour were willing to compromise with the electorate: to reach a middle ground through which realistic, achievable reform could be made.

Indeed, the rejection of (New) Labour and its programme in 2010 led to suggestions of moving back to the left. The Liberal Democrat performance in coalition Government (a poor one by all accounts) may well encourage Labour to occupy the Lib Dem ground: to appeal to Liberal Voters left disenfranchised by the Lib Dem's broken promises and divided party. While Labour would be right to believe they can win Lib Dem seats at the next election - for the future of the Labour party and indeed the country - I consider it a mistake to return to the days of Old Labour and the Red Flag.


Red Ed/Middleband (Ed Miliband)
Yes, Labour can offer a similar alternative to the Liberal Democrats, but they should be mindful of slipping too far to the left. Old habits die hard: Labour should be cautious of toeing the line that kept them out of government for 19 years during the Thatcher/Major years. Many at the time considered them a party unfit to Govern. They were not an alternative to Government, they were merely a party of protest. Policy was only developed if it was the polar opposite to that of the Tory's. This is not a party ready to Govern, these are characteristics of a protest group, that while will appeal massively to a few, will not appeal to the majority of aspiring Liberal left voters who are willing to compromise on the New Labour ethos of social democracy meeting neo-liberalism. 

Ed Miliband may well have been tempted to venture into Socialism territory in his Party Conference speech, making a statement about Labour returning left. However, his much publicised reference to Benjamin Disraeli's thesis of "One Nation" indicates - in my opinion - a reluctance to move too far left. A Conservative statesman, Disraeli's "One Nation" will pander to the floating middle and center right voters. 

If "One Nation" is anything to go by, it is a sign that Ed Miliband may well be trying to shake the tag of "red Ed" in favour of "Middleband". If this is the case, I applaud, for while New Labour of 1997 may well have run its course, I do not consider the ethos that surrounds the principle to have died. It was that very ethos that got Labour into office for a party record of 13 years. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Ed Miliband is on course

You're supposed to be answering the questions, good sir 
If you follow me on twitter ( @alexsmith321 ) you'll know that one thing that really gets on the proverbial tits is when David Cameron asks questions of Ed Miliband during PMQs. To further enlighten, PMQs stands for Prime Ministers Questions, it does not stand for Shadow Leaders Questions. Until SLQs is scheduled for Parliament, I would much prefer it if Cameron chose to answer questions asked of his Government, not ask questions of the opposition leader. For me, this is a big flaw in his game, and the Labour party should exploit it more.

One of the most frequently asked questions by David Cameron in the direction of Ed Miliband is along the lines of: Where's the manifesto?

No Republican policy until Romney was on the Scene
Its a weak response to what is usually a testing question about Government Policy. It is weak because rather than give the media a soundbite about policy (which would most probably be a negative one about the Government's shortcomings), he gives the press a soundbite which sounds something like "We'll comment on our policy to do with ...xyz...when the opposition leader has told us about his party's policy!"

Little does Cameron know, Milibands approach here is actually spot on. There is no harm at this stage in not having released his mandate to Govern. 

Tony Blair was reasonably quick when it came to developing his mandate "because Britain deserves better" because a rather turbulent Tory party was in Government. A General Election could have been called at any time, particularly because Major after the 1992 Election eventually lost his overall 21 seat majority. A vote of no confidence could have occurred at any time, or simply Major could have gone back to the polls to try and increase his stake in the Commons. 

No such thing can happen this time round. The Parliament Act 2011 now allows for fixed term Parliaments of five years, meaning unless we experience some very extreme and rare circumstances, we'll have to wait until 2015 for the next Election.

We now operate a system very similar to the US. They don't issue a mandate after a year in opposition, largely because they haven't selected a Presidential Nominee! They instead cause the Government nuisance, holding them to account, questioning policy and being, in general, a thorn in the side of the party in Office. 

No sense in getting out the traps too early
Seeing as Miliband knows there won't be a General Election until 2015, he's doing the right thing in delaying any kind of policy announcement. Instead he spends time on policy development and strengthening the party, before eventually releasing a mandate, at say the Party Conference in 2013, to give it a year and a half to sink in and develop. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Andrew Mitchell - Answers, not apologies needed

We are in a brief passage of history at the moment where the Police service appear to be in the news an awful lot. Beginning last Wednesday (12 September 2012) with the statement from the Prime Minister, apologising and condoling with the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 football fans went to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forrest and never came home. The statement at last seemed to put to bed who was to blame, which for years was the victims as a result of a police smear campaign.

JFT96
News then broke Wednesday morning (19 September 2012) of the killing of two police women in Manchester, after an apparent hoax call, leading the two officers into a death trap. 

Within 24 hours the Police were once again at the center of a media storm, as Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell allegedly shouted abuse at Police guarding the gates to Downing Street for not letting him through on his bicycle. The claims made by the Police include Mitchell shouting "do you know who I am?", "...best learn your place", "I'll have your jobs for this" and "...you're fucking plebs".

Dubbed as "Mitchellgate", "Plebgate" and "gategate", the story raises the important point of status and position in British society. 

Thrasher
While some may or may not agree with the methods used by the Police, but there is no doubt in this situation, someone has gotten above their station and used their status as a means to try and quieten the other into submission. 

On the one hand, the Police could be seen as being too unreasonable in this instance. Let the man through on his bike, no harm done, Mitchell gets home 5 minutes earlier. Or, as was the case the Police stick to the protocol laid before them, and do not allow Mitchell to pass through security. As a result, Mitchell kicked off. 

Now, the Police no doubt will be given tongue-lashings invariable around the country, infact i'm sure the Police have probably heard a lot worse on a Friday night outside nightclubs. This however is not the issue in my opinion. 

What's gone on here is a Cabinet member to get above his station. Using his power, threatening to "have his job for this" is unacceptable. The power bestowed on him by David Cameron, can just as easily be taken away by him, if not the electorate in the next general election. There is no absolute and infinite power MPs have. Serving Government and the people should be a privilege, not something used a bargaining chip in the game of life. He should be asked where he gets off on the idea that status, position and power should be a means through which he can be treated differently. Had I asked to get through the Downing Street gates, then called the police "fucking plebs", i'm sure I would have walked away in 'cuffs. 

In a social democracy, we should be able to resolve conflict such as this through sound reason and judgement, not resorting to a "my-dads bigger than your dad" esque confrontation. While perhaps not role-models, a Politician of his position should not let down the electorate by making such remarks. 

Already dubbed as "thrasher" for his tough persona, Mitchell has not helped his cause here. "I'm the Chief Whip" may well impress the bourgeoisie, but it won't impress the likes of the working-class. The gap between Politician and electorate is something, in my view, we need to eliminate in order for politicians to be more accessible. Stories such as this do no good. Cameron should make a stand and have Mitchell stand down in order to make the point that in reality, MPs are just elected members of society, not social heavyweights who can bully their way through life. 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Nick Clegg - A Political train wreck?

Nick Clegg, with David Cameron and Chris Huhne
Okay, so this week Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg made a heart-felt apology, filmed in his own home, with regards to the raising of tuition fees for higher education students. Signed into effect as the The Higher Education (Higher Amount) (England) Regulations 2010, this year marks the first intake of students that will have to pay higher fees to go to university: a maximum of £9000 will now be charged to university students compared to to previous maximum of £3200.

Within a day of making the apology the video had appeared on YouTube as a remix "Nick Clegg Apology Song - Sorry." No sooner had that appeared before Clegg had latched on and given his approval for the song to be commercialised, with profits going to charity. There is of course a serious point to all this: it rather does emphasise the ridiculous nature of the whole affair.

It seems to me like a completely misjudged attempt at redemption, dreamt up by the office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

To begin, he wrongly makes the point that he was wrong to make a promise that in reality he could not follow through on: i.e. we could not afford to NOT raise tuition fees. While some may be accepting of this and others quick to reject it as an excuse, it raise an important question about his party's ability to govern. Having a grasp of what one can and cannot afford is important in all walks of life, especially so in Government. Not being able to afford to keep the cap in place should have been something his party should have known - given the importance of the issue to many of their core voters: students. In ability to foresee this issue raises questions about their ability to Govern.

Dr Vince Cable
Secondly, I would suggest that there are instances where apologies are appropriate and others where they are not. I remember when I was younger, mother would tell me and my sister off when something happened, and the blame was sometimes (rarely) not squarely left on my shoulders. I would profess "I'm not apologising for something i didn't do." Perhaps a poor example, but again it raises an important point: apologising here does all but apportion the blame fully on his shoulders. It's an unfortunate position to be in, but let us remember the following: the Statutory Instrument was passed in Parliament offering all MPs a chance to vote on the issue, 21 Liberal Democrats voted against whereas 28 Lib Dems voted in favour, and of course former Liberal Democrat deputy leader and current Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills spearheaded the bills development. All this considered, it is very much a "team responsibility" if you will, rather than the blame resting solely on the one man. I would therefore consider "the apology" very damaging for Clegg. We live in something of a blame culture i believe, and rather than sharing the blame, by appearing in the video he has taken the flak himself.

Finally, one has to consider his image, and how it has been effected by the apology video. As mentioned briefly above, it rather does entrench his position as the Liberal Democrat scapegoat. Had the video been spun (sorry, Government's don't spin) written in a tone of "honest explanation" rather than an grovelling apology, he might have come out with his head held slightly higher. Instead, I believe his reputation and image in the public eye is left in tatters, because in reality "I'm so Sorry" is something I have said to numerous ex-girlfriends, not something i would like to have said to me by the deputy Prime Minister.

With the conference coming up, one has to wonder, how will Nick Clegg will perform; and perhaps more importantly will his performance be well received by party members. If the Liberal Democrat members are getting restless, the time for a leadership election is coming, infact with the election less than 2 and a half years away, the time might be now.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Madden 13: Something completely different

So I bought the latest installment of the Madden Franchise, Madden 13, on August 31st, and at last I have had a chance to scour the games new features in order to give you a bit of a review. This is of course the European version of the game I, it may well differ to the NA version, in which case I do apologise. I'll break it down into different sub-categories for you.

Gameplay

The game is now fronted by Phil Simms and Jim Nantz, both CBS broadcasters for real-life NFL coverage. The new feature includes commentary from the guys, as well as a brief 30 second clip of them talking about the match up. If the match is being played between two rivals (Cowboys versus Eagles for example) you get some good discussion about the rivalry, however if it is something of a nothing game in terms of rivalry or interest, the two will just talk generally about "the importance of matches late in the season" and "the two defences will be hunting down the oppositions QB". It's a shame there aren't more sound bites from the two, in order to make the pre-match build up more complete. The commentary in-game however feels much more complete, with evidently over 9,000 unique pieces of commentary. Having said that however, Nantz always seems to manage to throw in "The QB had so much time there, i'm sure you could have even made that pass!" at Simms.

The players now feel more real, particularly during the running game. Rather than just smashing into the line and hoping a gap appears and you'll slip through in previous Madden games, the user must now be patient in choosing their running lane. In Madden 13, if the running lane just isn't there, the running back will bounce off the O-Lineman, or lose his balance and fall over. Further, if the running back runs toward a player who has fallen over, the running back will trip if the user fails to jump over the fallen player. This makes the experience slightly more realistic, if not also more difficult.

Franchise mode/ Connect careers

I tend to spend much of my time playing Franchise mode. This year however, Franchise mode has been replaced by "connected careers". I would compare this replacement to franchise mode as more of a "Coach mode", whereby you put yourself into the game as a coach rather than a general manager. With the inclusion of EA Sports Gameface, you can take a picture of face, and have it rendered to actually feature in the game. This works with either "Coach Mode" or "the old Superstar mode".

Franchise mode used to be famously easy to manipulate in terms of trading players and getting picks. All "tricks" aside about how to create a team of all-stars, it is now much harder to get involved in trades. The game includes the option to trade draft picks for the upcoming draft and the following draft. Considering this, DeMarcus Ware, plus my 2013 and 2014 first round picks was not enough to lure Cam Newton to Cowboys Stadium. Teams can no now longer simply pay kings-ransoms for a player of their choice - if you're trading for a starter or franchise player, you can forget about trying to get him into your team. Instead you must be more calculated in your approach to trading. You must first consider which player you are willing trade away, and then trade with a team who are "in need" of a player in that position. You are given a hint of how interested the team are in your trade, but from this point there is no guarantee your trade will be successful. While this is perhaps more realistic (you rarely will see a franchise QB/RB switching teams), it makes the came slightly less enjoyable. As a Cowboys fan, I would always look to trade away either Marion Barber/Felix Jones and a couple of draft picks for a future HoF RB - those days i'm afraid to say are no more.

The game therefore creates greater emphasis on free agency and future draft picks. The Free Agency period during the off season is much more in depth and more competitive between teams and players. Drafting is also very much reliant on scouting. During the draft, teams can "trade up" while a team is on the clock, as well as there being a running commentary about who has picked who and which college they came from. This makes the Madden NFL 13 Draft experience unique, and in my opinion the best yet.

A new feature of the game is players coming out of retirement a la Deion Sanders. I was pleasantly surprised to find Kurt Warner available in free-agency - with a generous 87 rating, I snapped him up.

That'll do for now. As i play more i'm sure i will uncover more about the game, and when I do i'll be sure to post. Please comment and share if you liked what you read.

Friday, 13 July 2012

I didn't like the amazing spiderman

Self-explanatory post this really. I didn't like The Amazing Spiderman, a film adaptation of a comic book series, released July 2012. That's about the gist of this post, if you've had enough move on, if not, read on and i'll give my two cents about what was wrong with it, in 5 sections.

Comparisons

Having seen the film with some friends, some feedback i received from those with me was "It was so much better than the Spidermans with Tobey Maguire!" I haven't seen those films, infact, I lie, i saw about half an hour of the first film before falling asleep. Going on this, I never watched it/any of the other Tobey Maguire Spidermans ever again. Perhaps to my advantage, I didnt have to watch this film through shit-tinted spectacles (which were given out to all viewers of the first three Spiderman films). Now, i enjoy the TV show Scrubs, but I don't compare the most recently seen episode to the last in terms of enjoyment, so I didn't for this film. Hence, it may have been better than the others, but it was still poor in my book.

Arrogance

Again harking back to Tobey Maguire (daft way of spelling the name Toby by the way), it is evident that he played Spiderman with a monotonous indifference to everything around him, friend or foe, love interest or villain. Hence again, some people i've spoken to enjoyed Andrew Garfield's on screen cocksure attitude. Watching the film through blinkers so to speak, he was just sure a far too cocky, far too sure of himself for a teenager. To put things in perspective a little, this character is an orphan, and during the film saw his Uncle (who was his defacto father) get shot AND got a ridiculously harsh community service punishment for "making a fool" out of one of the school bullies (despite having had the Bully earlier clock him in the jaw). Now, for a man who has been aggrieved and luckless in his young life thus far, he was remarkably arrogant. I'm not suggesting that they should have trodden on The Dark Knights toes, but really what had happened to Peter Parker should have resulted in him being a bit more angsty when in the spidey suit.

Plot filler? 

Despite only being 136 minutes long, it felt like one of the longest films i've ever seen. Me and the chap next to me in the cinema would frequently lean toward one and other and make some kind of smarmy remark about "How long is this film??" and "When's he gonna start fighting the bad guys??" Both justified statements, I probably wouldn't be far off in suggesting that we have to wait about an hour until anything remotely classed as action happens. Between the beginning and that point, it just seems like unnecessary filler: Oh my word estranged teenager, bit of an outcast at school, has the hots for someone, oh my god she works at the same firm who her dad works for, haha cheap laugh, ooh they're going on a date! etc etc... Really, when you tot it all up, Spiderman only engages in two note worthy fights, both with The Lizard (I looked the name up, that's the baddies name if anyone was wondering), one on a bridge and the other on the HQ of OsCorp. Not much really, considering IMDB describes it as an Action, Fantasy, Adventure, Thriller.

A massive waste of everyone's time

No, not the film. Here i'm referring to the Peter Parker's relationship with love interest Gwen Stacey (played by the lovely Emma Stone). It's a bit will they won't they for the first half of the film. At a good 20 years and a half old, I don't wish to sound arrogant but i must say i'm above all the teen romance bullshit, so in truth i didnt so much get into that aspect of the plot. They then kiss and it's quite nice. Then after a secretive relationship, he goes round to the Stacey's for dinner and doesn't get on with the father (been there). The father of course is a police commander, and being Spiderman (a vigilante) there is a conflict of interests. The relationship goes on, and when the Police Commander eventually finds out Peter is Spiderman, there is a swing and all of a sudden he trusts him, and lets him out of police custody to get The Lizard. After it's all done, and the dust has settled, the two unlikely partners in bringing down the evil villain share a moment. The dying Commander, asks Spiderman to "leave Gwen out of it." Now, in my head for some reason i assumed he meant "don't turn her into your sidekick, leave it in the bedroom, you know what i'm saying...?" Well, he didn't mean that, of course he was on about them breaking up. Which they did. And their whole relationship was a massive waste of everyone's time.

Plot-hole? 

Spiderman came about as the vigilante he is, because he was on a vendetta to find the man that killed his uncle. After several failed attempts, Spiderman moves on with bigger fish (or Lizards) to fry. They never came back to it, and again, i'm wondering if the criminal that shot his Uncle got away with it or not?

Saturday, 7 July 2012

An Elected House of Lords is a recipe for disaster

The temptation to write what would possibly be my fourth "film-related" post was, trust me on this, incredibly tempting. However, for the meantime I shall delay said idea for a blog and return to my blogging roots, harking back to a time when all I bored you with was politics. Compared to my essays on the subject, i'm going to dumb it down a touch, just so it can appeal to world en masse (2,250 hits worldwide in just over a year, whoop whoop).


To my dismay, the Government's House of Lords Reform Bill is set for its second reading on the coming Monday (9th) and Tuesday (10th of July 2010). [I ought to mention to those who don't know, a Bill is a proposal for a policy to be enacted into law, to put it simply]. This is an incredibly important part of the process of law making. The first reading is merely an announcement of the proposed legislation. The second reading however is the meat and drink of the legislative process: The House of Commons will debate and then vote on the issue. Expect there to be fireworks between what should be a particularly busy House of Commons. 


Indeed, unlike other Bills, this is particularly important because it has the potential to change the constitutional framework of the United Kingdom. Now, the United Kingdom doesn't have a written, codified constitution. The United States are of course the prime example of a country that does have such a document, which is often why you hear many controversial issues described in America as "Unconstitutional". The UK, does have a constitution of sorts (that is, an idea of how the country should be run), but it is not found in one place, it is found in several, in Acts of Parliament produced over hundreds of years. Naturally, these Acts of Parliament  get old, and Political Parties tend to fight elections on the basis that they need updating. Classic examples would be an Act of Parliament allowing marriage only to be between a man and a woman; many years ago this was fine, but as countries and indeed democracies develop, opinion changes, and in 2005 an updated Act was passed to allow marriage to also be allowed between same-sex couples. 


Coming back to the reason for the blog, the three main parties (and this happens very rarely) all agree that the House of Lords needs to be updated to be more aligned to  other aspects of the modern political framework. The House of Lords at present is unelected, members exist by virtue of nomination. This is deemed undemocratic by the party machines that exist in the UK. Naturally, the word "undemocratic" is incredibly inflammatory to the public, because often "undemocratic" and "dictatorship" are found very close to each other in the political dictionaries around the world. 


Of course, changing it would be great, but I shall highlight three problems with making the House of Lords an elected chamber:



  1. It will be party dominated - much like the House of Commons, anyone who wants to stand has a better chance if backed by a party. Indeed, anyone can stand for the Commons (famously, Katie Price once stood for election as an MP). However, the electorate tend not to vote for independents and smaller parties. In the bigger picture, they see 1 of at most 3 parties getting into Government, and setting the legislative agenda. A vote for an independent is considered a wasted vote, because of the support that the steam rolling major parties can create. Indeed, the House of Lords at the moment consists of a vast array of intelligent, independent minded members, who contribute massively to the legislative process. People will not go to the polls and vote for Mr Independent on the basis he has contributed massively to medical research (as he would have been nominated to the Lords for). Instead, they will vote for the party, as people do time and time and time again in the House of Commons. The Lords would just mirror the House of Commons in terms of its composition. You think legislation is fastracked through the Lords at the moment? Imagine how quick it would get through, with a Majority in both Commons and the Lords. 
  2. They will have an elected mandate - Gordon Brown as Prime Minister never won an Election as a party leader, hence he was Prime Minister without an "elected mandate" for his Premiership. This damaged his credibility severely, because of the way he inherited his post as PM. Indeed, if the Lords are elected, they will carry an elected Mandate into their role. Great! Wrong. Lords will have been elected in the UK by a proportional system of voting. This is widely accepted as a fairer system, because the amount of votes received tends to equate to the amount of members elected (i,e, if Labour recieve 25% of the vote in the Midlands, expect 25% of Labour candidates from the Midlands to be elected to the Lords). Without wishing to debate the merits and demerits of the system, there is a consensus that a PR system is fairer than the system in place for the House of Commons: a Single-member list system. If members are elected by a fairer system, what is there to stop members saying "Hang on a minute, we're here fairly, you lot [in the House of Commons] have been voted in via safe seats and on 36% of the popular vote, what we say is far more legitimate than what you say!" The point is, the Lords may well get into a position where it is superior to the Commons, which would upset the political system of the UK (the Prime Minister would thus be drawn from the "unfair" House of Commons).
  3. Loss of expertise - I pose the question, will my University Professor stand if the House of Lords become elected? Well, I did ask him that and he said he wasn't sure. In reality, as a Conservative member of the House of Lords, he would only be able to stand if endorsed by the Party. Punch Lord Norton into Wikipedia, and you will find the quote  "the United Kingdom's greatest living expert on Parliament". At the moment, he can weigh in during the legislative process, something i quite like the idea of, particularly if the debate is with regards to anything about our political system. An elected House may well exclude such experts, as indeed its very much down to the parties as to who gets in and who doesn't. It would become a chamber not so much of experts, but loyal party candidates, who are more than willing to vote inline with the party. At present there is a very lax whipping system in the Lords, regardless, there is no majority in the Lords because of the existence of 181 independent cross benches. 
Indeed, I would suggest three good arguments, as to why the Lords should be kept as it is. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Movies you should have seen but probably haven't.

Once again treading on toes here, with a movie related post that isn't really what i write about usually. However, we have a large collection of movies in our living room, most of which are box office hits, however some are slightly lesser known. As the title suggests, these are movies you may not have seen, but probably have. If you have seen them mind, do comment and validate my choices with something like "ooh yes Alex, very good choice."


The Business


Danny Dyer et al feature in what can only be described as a bunch of guys who are criminals from Peckham, who en masse decided to up-sticks and become criminals in the more continental temperatures of the Costa-del-Sol. The protagonists have many fingers in many criminal pies, but the brunt of the story is based on the fact they bring drugs to the Spanish south coast. The story has numerous hurdles mind, and this indeed makes the film. Not particularly action packed, it is funny on the odd occasion, which leaves the biggest selling point down to the acting and the drama involved. Now, the biggest criticism of Danny Dyer i've heard is the fact it's difficult to take him seriously: believe me, in this role, he and Tammer Hassan work together beautifully, and really do make the film. Throw in a killer 80s soundtrack, and this is actually a very good movie.




Reign Over Me


Adam Sandler is an actor who divides opinions no end - however Reign Over Me is far from his usual grade of comedy. Reign Over Me is about a dentist (Don Cheadle), who runs into an old friend (Sandler) one night, and the old friend mysteriously does not remember anything about Cheadle. It develops that Sandler has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as a result of his family being killed in the 9/11 attacks on America. The film is actually an incredibly delicate, respectful and altogether tasteful look into the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sandler wasn't originally down for the role, it was infact Tom Cruise. While i am a big fan in general of Tom Cruise, i think Sandler plays the role better. Cruise i think may have added a bit too much glamour and (no homo) been to handsome for the role. Sandler (no disrespect to him) has the scruffy hair, bedraggled face and his nasally voice contribute to a great character as part of a great film.



The Orphanage


Spanish film this. A Horror/Thriller about a couple who take on an old abandoned Orphanage (where the female grew up). Through the work of the supernatural, the couple's son goes missing, which results in a lengthy hunt for the son, which in the end spreads across the whole of Spain. The film is not your run of the mill horror/thriller, which is after cheap thrills. The film is so well shot, with such tremendous acting by the lead BelĂ©n Rueda that you end up engaged in the story. It is this engagement and sympathy toward the lead that draws you in, and indeed become involved with the atmosphere and feel very much part of the experience. To say the films strong point is engaging with the audience, given the film is in spanish with sub-titles, it says an awful lot about the quality of the film. Evidently Guillermo del Toro is working on an English remake, that sticks to the main themes and settings of the original, this is something i am looking forward to if it happens. 




Do give these films a watch if you get the opportunity. A final note, is that as i write the Blog is very close to 2000 hits, one of the readers of this blog may well be its 2000th viewer, to which i offer my thanks, and a sincere congratulations.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Knowledgeable, open-minded, thinker....

Bright eyed and bushy tailed i was in 2008, signing what become to be my life away to the IBO...

The years studying the International baccalaureate left me mentally drained indeed, and the years since i have been vocally critical about not only by decision to study a course plainly too hard for the common man to take, but also the organising of the course itself at my school.

However, upon reflection, it was not perhaps as bad as i might make it out to be. While you might enjoy a blog about the pitfalls of IB a bit more, this blog is actually going to lavish some praise on the IBO, and it starts with giving credit, to the IB Learner Profile. 

The IB Learner Profile
At the time it was a big joke, we would laugh about how the IB was supposed to make us: Principled, Risk-Takers, Knowledgeable, Balanced, Communicators, Reflective, Caring, Thinkers, Open-minded and Inquirers. All a bit to good to be true. When we were told this is what we would become, i couldn't help but sense the undertone of a children's TV show, i can imagine somewhere there is a program installing these values into five year olds...

Do the IB they said, it'll make you better people they said. Bah! I scoff at your perfectionist model of how we can be brilliant. Excelling individuals? I just lost my virginity and i'm doing just fine thanks. 

Two years on, and i did not have much to show for my efforts. One grade less and i would have failed. Two years of study and i nearly had no qualifications at all. You may read with concern, I wear my sixth-form under-achievements as a badge of honour.

Second lowest point score of all my class mates. Yet, I look at where i am today with disbelief. 

Okay, i am not the Maitre'd a the Ritz, nor am i a Professor at Cambridge. But...University of Hull, about to do a years placement in Whitehall? Things haven't turned out so bad. I have no doubt this recovery, coming "back from the brink" in the words of many a famous writer, is down to a certain resiliency and desire i have to do well. Was i born with it? Did it come from Mum or Dad? Or did it come from that course i did when i was 18? (We don't actually talk about the IB in our house anymore).

The IB taught me - admittedly the hard way - about how to cope with big workloads, with reading endless material and in general, taught me about how to give up a social life in order to get my head down and meet a deadline. For sure, this is something my peers lack at University i have found. Yet, i tend to come out of deadlines relatively unscathed. No meltdowns, only two all nighters to my name thus far. I'm taking Uni life in my stride. I have no doubt because i've done this all before, i know how it works. I've been there, and i actually did by a teeshirt...

Nonchalantly i walk into the exam hall. Slight smirk on my face, other people are sweating, crying, in the distance someone is actually loading a gun and putting it into his mouth. Meanwhile, smoke off the page, i'm churning out acceptable work, if not good work, no problem at all. There is no panic revision, there are no tears to mum and dad on the phone, embarrassed at the pending idea of having to resit the year. 

I'm sure this sounds like i'm tooting my own horn. I'm doing that a bit yes. But the point is when it comes to working, i'm pretty much the definition of the IB learner profile. I'm coping just fine. For that, Thanks IB.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Gordon Brown

The book i've been gorging on most recently is "Brown at 10", and i tell you it is a slog. The content is engaging don't get me wrong, but it is a very long book. Of course, it was put on hiatus while i was revising for exams, but i still am reading this book, its been nearly 6 months! Indeed, testament to the fact how long it is, i do cite Anthony Seldon's book in an earlier blog, that was published in February and we're still going. 

Anyway, i'm up to April 2009 of Gordon Brown's premiership, a year from the 2010 General Election i thought i would share some thoughts about about his job thus far. 

Reading what is a finely written book, a few things come across about Gordon Brown's strengths and weaknesses. His intelligence truly is remarkable, and i think it is often underestimated. Say what you like about the recession, i am in now doubt that Gordon Brown is a very clever man when it comes to Economics. Unfortunately, as Prime Minister, he had to go from a Chancellor, specialising in monetary policy, to an 'all-rounder' that is the role of PM. Indeed, his economic interests often clashed with those of his Chancellor, Alistair Darling. The two clashed far to often, disagreeing on policy far to often. The fact is the Prime Minister should have kept an eye on, but not got in the way of Darling. This was not the case, and as a result i think what were, i believe, sound economic decisions were made to seem rushed, muddled and even haphazard. 

His commitment to international development is touching. Brown rather blew hot and cold when  it came to oratory performances, however some of his most moving came when talking about foreign aid and global development. It is regrettable that his Premiership will forever be scarred with the wounds of a global economic crisis. Had the crisis not been on the scale it had been, or indeed not happened at all, i'm sure Brown's commitment to economic development would have been applauded for many years to come. 

Indeed, during the G20 summit held in the UK in April 2009, while many leaders where ready to bash out deals regarding their own financial interests, Brown was insistent on not forgetting Less Economic Developed Countries during the crisis. Indeed, many considered Brown's chairmanship of the G20 summit to be one of his finest hours. His ability to converse with global leaders is something he was readily praised for. Brown's engaging personality earned him many friends on the global stage. Indeed, Brown's suggested most unlikely of all playmates, George W. Bush, was very complimentary about their relationship during their last conversation before Bush handed over to Barack Obama. 

Even the illustrious Sarkozy, pomp and circumstance and all, got on well with Brown. While the two shared different ideals, they came together at a time or global economic need. However, while Brown's globetrotting was beneficial in building bridges, notably in the Far East and China, it is not global relationships that win General Elections. While on the international stage Brown was eloquent, charming and overall a leader, his domestic control always seemed to be lacking. The communique from the G20 summit was applauded as a success, safegaurding international development and economic security. However, domestic policy blunders such as the 10p tax debacle and extension of detention for suspected Terrorists, resulted in a generally unhappy cabinet and an unhappy electorate. 

As a result, numerous plots against his leadership never painted a picture of a leader. There are only so many mutiny's a captain can stand before his credibility is all but wiped out. Damning press-releases, the most infamous perhaps by David Milliband in the Times in which he effectively announced his readiness to run for leadership at some point, did no good to Brown's effectiveness as a leader. 

Some were keen on over-throwing Brown, which was not helped by the fact Brown had a tendency to alienate most of his cabinet, the majority of Junior Ministers and near enough all of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Brown took most of his advice from Ed Balls, Ed Milliband and the likes of Number 10 staff such as Jeremy Heywood, which left most other high-profile MPs in the lurch.

Altogether, Brown was always under intense pressure. Perhaps it was his personality; in general  being quite difficult to work with and a bit of a perfectionist. Maybe it was always living in Blair's shadow got to him? With a botched General Election, which was expected in 2007, Brown never had a mandate, he never laid down a policy proposal in a manifesto that the public voted him in for. As a result, he never had a direction to pursue, policy was always a bit reactionary. His speeches at Party Conferences never pointed members in the direction he was going to take the Government - perhaps this is why domestic policy never got him any plaudits, and perhaps this, aside from global success and recovering an economic crises, resulted in failure to win the 2010 General election. 

My Movies

Ah, welcome back, it's been a while. Coursework and Exams unfortunately meant my blog had to be sidelined for a while (commitment to the blog's cause indeed), but we're back, and this time we're here to stay, or at least stay until my next bout with coursework.

Inspired by the "My movie life" section of Total Film magazine, this blog is much like my previous blog Desert Island Discs, but it's for films. Here we go.

The First Movie I ever saw

101 Dalmatians (Disney, animated version) - I'm 99% sure this is the first film i ever saw in the Cinema, at the now defunct St Albans Odeon. A quick IMDB search about the film suggests it was released in 1961, which makes me assume there must have been a re-release of the cartoon version to tie in with the 1996 version of the film, staring real people and real dogs. I don't remember much of the experience mind you, nor much of the film. Unlike the first (proper) book i read, Band of Brothers, it's not something i feel i could go through again, hence why i haven't seen it in a long, long time. In fact the only thing i remember from the film is the song: Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, if she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will.


Movie I hate but everyone else loves

Spiderman (Tobey Maguire) - Never really got into this movie. The first time i watched it i fell asleep, which perhaps has not helped the films cause. Every time i've tried to watch it since, i give it a fair go, but always end up drifting off or finding something better on the TV. In general i'm not a big fan of superhero films, though when they tie a bit of personality and enjoyable storyline a la Dark Knight they can be bearable, if not enjoyable.

The Movie that always makes me laugh

Difficult because i tend not to enjoy comedies as much as i used to (i'm quite boring you see). I'd have to say Meet the Parents i think. De Niro and Ben Stiller are both polar opposite actors in what they do, i would say, which is why this film just works. As well as the funny moments such as Stiller being dragged out of an airport for saying "Bomb" on a plane, the general ambiance and body language between the protagonists, Father and Son-in-law make the film so very watchable. Meet the Focker's was also alright, if not more fabricated to pander to a mass audience, and i have not seen the latest installment, Little Fockers.

Last movie that made me cry

Senna (2010) - I may have cried at a film more recently than this, however if i did the experience obviously didn't stick with me. Senna on the other hand is not a tragic film, it is just plain up tragic. There are of course no actors or camera trickery. As a Formula One fan, you know it's coming, and i remember wondering how it would be shown at all. The on-board camera follows senna for a whole lap of the San Marino Grand Prix Circuit. You feel sick as you know whats coming. And then  it happens. You watch a man die.

(Interestingly, or perhaps happily is a better word, the television producers cut-away from Ayrton Senna's on board camera, only moments before the accident. There is of course no film feel in the car recording the footage, it's just broadcasted as and when the producers see's fit. As a result of the producers cutting away from the on-board shot, there is no "clear" video evidence of how he died. He died in the crash of course, but the specifics are unsure. Perhaps it is best the camera cut away, and we'll never know.)

The Movie Character I most identify with

I could be a bit ordinary here, be predictable and say Batman in the Dark Knight, the anti-hero. Instead, i'm going to cite a character from a TV Show. Richard Shiff's character, Toby Ziegler in The West Wing, is incredibly intelligent, down to earth and over all focused on the job. However, an ex-wife and streams of disappointing election campaigns later, he cannot be blamed for having a withdrawn personality. This makes him more serious, and it's his seriousness to the job and his life that makes him respected in what he does. The monotonous personality however is all there is to him, tested he will explode into a rage, holding a grudge and fuming against those that wrong him. Sound familiar?


The movie i haven't seen  but should have

So many. Quite a few "classics" spring to mind: The Good the Bad and the Ugly, neither of the Godfathers, Shawshank, i've never even seen Grease! However, i do love the work of Michael Sheen, and the content is right up my street, hence my choice Frost/Nixon. Okay, yes, perhaps the aforementioned titles (with the exception of Grease) should maybe be given  more attention, however no doubt those films will be shown for the rest of time they will get their chance.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A belated review of the Rugby World Cup 2011 video game

Only one word can describe this game: shocking. It was a long time ago when i purchased this game, back when i did, i remember hating it, and for some obscure reason i gave it a second chance this Easter, and it remains very, very poor.

I remember my first impression of the Rugby World Cup 2011 being something along the lines of "This is exactly the same as EA Sports Rugby 2006." Indeed, the buttons are the same despite being released 6 years on, and the similarities don't end there: the "special moves" are the same, there are the same old glitches and the same old general fallacy about the whole experience. The thing is, at the time Rugby 2006 was pretty advanced and well informed as a Rugby Game for the PS2. The game was so good in fact i still own it and a PS2 to play it on. For this not to have advanced is disappointing.

Then we come to specific issues within the game. The biggest is the licencing problem. If you bought the official FIFA World Cup video game, you would rather expect Brazil and Lionel Messi to be featured in the game. Alas, in the RWC video game, New Zealand and Australia (two of the best teams of Rugby Union) feature, however with "Fictional" player names because of licencing issues. It is very confusing that the best Rugby team in the World and the hosts of the World Cup are not featured in the tournaments official game. Again, you might hope the official kits for the world cup are there, but this is only the case in the "World Cup" game mode, not for the exhibition match game type.

Again, there is a general issue with squad selection, which were not up to date at the time of the games release, nor is there any downloadable content to update the squads and players. Indeed, England's sensation at the three-quarter position Manu Tuialagi is not in the game, despite featuring in warm up matches.

Gameplay issues swamp the game aswell. In the lineout for example, do not expect to win your own line out too often if you play on the "hard" difficulty, which just seems odd. Earlier today i was pinged for the penalty because "Ball unplayable in ruck" despite the whistle blowing when the ball was in the hands of my Fly-half. Now i'm not a complete expert on the Rules and Regulations of Rugby, however i'm sure a penalty occurs where the infringement happened, not on the half way line from where Rory Jackson took his penalty kick. Penalties in general are awfully designed, with "Dangerous Tackle" awarded every time you make contact with a player off the ball. This incident occurs frequently because of the camera angle used, "side on" is rather one dimensional and hence tackling players is difficult because they move along a different plane to the one the camera is aimed at.

I won't even get started on the awful player design or robotic commentary, all that is left to say is be certain to remember this game is absolutely awful and as a buyer you should not be tempted by it when it is on offer for £15.

Overall 2/10.

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Woman in Black

So, last night i watched the Woman in Black, the cinematic version with Harry Potter. It's fair to say me and my dad don't do horror movies, both of us were left uncomfortable throughout the film, getting all jumpy and watching through half an eyelid during the majority of the film.

In truth my experience of horror movies doesn't stem much further then the Final Destination series and all the Scream's, these serve as humorous gore rather than actual horror hence why this film "shit me up" suitably. I have seen The Orphanage before, a Spanish film quite similar to The Woman in Black (In the The Orphanage an aging woman supernaturally manages to kidnap a kid and kill him), which as a film is just full of thrilling peril.

Indeed, the film was full of the same old tension building moments which as usual climax in a host of loud noises and sudden images which well and truly surprise the viewer. It was quite funny actually, in the cinema screening i was in, everyone jumped and then resorted to a dull chuckling after each "jumpy moment." As if in laughing we somehow collectively brushed off the humiliation that was the grouped fear fest.

As far as the protagonist goes, Harry Potter has not done too badly since Hogwarts, working in a Law firm which requires him to go to a spooky old house "up north" and go through the paperwork of a deceased woman in order to determine the inheritance or the sale of the house. Harry Potter as a person though, hasn't really changed. I'm worried he will never grow out of the dull, the worlds against me, my parents are dead attitude that has plagued his life thus far. Indeed, his child in the film drew a nice picture for him, and had characterised his dad with a frown.

Now, i didn't particularly like the Harry Potter films, all a bit fanciful, that's all wrapped up quite nicely until next term type of sequel film. As a result i have become quite cynical with regards to the characters, saying things like "Why does Harry and his friends have to go looking for trouble? Why can't they just behave? Why don't they just get on with their school lives?!" Well, it's the same old, same old for Harry in this film. A reasonable man, upon hearing some creepy noises/seeing the dead in a creepy old house would bail on it faster than greased lightening. Of course, stupid is as stupid does, and rather than leaving the house and showing the proverbial "fuck you" to his bastard law-firm, instead he decides to probe the issue, and explore the house, opening up every door and every box or trunk in search of god knows what, only to find sudden noises and scary non-beings. Indeed, despite having been well and truly being spooked in his first visit, he decides that he should spend the night at the house in order to get work done! Needless to say, without wanting to reveal spoilers, shit hit the fan, screams and all.

As a film its actually not too bad. The plot as to why there is a "woman in black" is quite interesting, and we learn more and more as the film goes on. However, with about half an hour to go, both dad and i shared a look as the film become a little bit too far fetched for our liking. Harry suggested to the only other sane person in the town that they some how "reunite" the woman in black with her dead son in order to relieve the woman in black of her supernatural pain and suffering. Indeed, what a brilliant mind Potter has to figure that out, rather than do the sane thing and just leave... Of course, this idea results in possibly the most atmospheric 10 minutes of cinema i have ever seen.

t
The film is set in that era where big creepy houses in the country were the norm. Indeed, you can understand  where these stories came from. Big city writer leaves the city for the country, only to be greeted by strange folk who talk of strange goings on up at the old house.

I'd recommend to be honest, it was a pretty nice change to the usual horror stuff i've seen, even if it did make me awfully frightened.


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Coming at you with another Film review....

As yes, i do recognise with this being my second film review in almost as many days, i appear to be treading on some of my friends toes (a far better film critic writes here: My friends Blog and here: My friend's film review blog). Still, forgive me but i like having literally 1,500 worldwide hits within a year, i'm going to press on regardless of how many stolen ideas i regurgitate (technically my last blog was the "anniversary" blog as i first started posting seriously again in response to the 2011 budget).

Today i watched Starter for 10, for the University Challenge viewer, you will understand the reference, because indeed the films protagonist is a Student with a quest for knowledge (not unlike myself, i smiled when he mentioned his longing for reading Plato) who makes Bristol University's team for the University Challenge competition.

Not too much is made of how he gets on the team and how he gets on when competing, instead the storyline is drawn from his struggles surrounding being on the team, which result in impaired performance. While being a drama in genre, you still get the Rom-Com story line, the hurdle that is the misinformed love interest, the balls'd up attempt at choosing the right love interest and the falling out with the best mate.

Despite the "predictable" aspects of the films storyline, i was still rather engrossed by the main character, Brian (Played by James Macavoy) and his meandering life. As a whole the film is a loose (i say loose because it was the plot development had degrees of subtlety) transformation from working class lad to grown-up, smart in most sense adult.

At no point did was i ever on the edge of my seat, nor did i cry or wish the film went on for 30 more minutes. However, i did sit and watch very content in the knowledge that while the ending did strike me as a foregone conclusion, i did not mind the road we took to get there. Indeed, along the way there are certainly laughs thanks no doubt to the work of Macavoy and Bendedict Cumberbatch.

Set in the 80's, the film is also gifted with a terrific soundtrack, of pop and a lot of alternative rock such as the Smiths, which went down very nicely.

Its a BBC made film, so by all means keep an eye out for it in on the BBC one night as they try to fill up some air time. My all means worth the watch.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Parliament, Take Two.

Last week, on Wednesday 21st March I found myself in Parliament for the second time this academic year. The wider scope of the day was to basically smile and nod a lot as my perspective employers sized me up as whether or not I would be suitable to work at Westminster next year, my Placement year. However, these activities would not begin until 2pm, so i was free to do as i pleased until that time.

Oliver Cromwell, the catalyst of change that brought power back go Parliament
I turned up very early, being budget day and Prime Ministers Question's being on, i anticipated a lengthy wait to get in, queues all round the place. I was very wrong. After a 30 minute commute, it took me only 5 minutes to get from the Visitors entrance, through security and to the admissions office where i had to pick up my tickets for Prime Minister Questions.

I decided rather than to sit idly in the cafe for a few hours, i ventured up to one of the Committee Rooms and sat in on the Education Committee's evidence session on how best 15-19 year olds should be tested. Most if not all of the spiel was well over my head, however one exchange did prick my ears up. They were discussing how some courses such as module based GCSE courses offer "Easy Routes" to get good grades. What this means is of course a syllabus is set and it is up to the school to choose how to teach it. They want to change the "easy routes" course to make it more challenging, rather than getting "safe" marks and safe grades. Now up until this point, you may not have found this story that interesting, however, other than module based courses they also mentioned another GCSE that was offered too many easy routes. You can guess what is coming. Yes, Geography, the infamous "Colouring in" course, defended by those who take it and slammed by those who don't for being a weak subject. Well, i'm sorry, but it would appear it is official, Geography is just "colouring in".

I left the committee at about 11am, where more fun was to be had. Having just left the Committee Room, i was summoned back by one of the Committee Room attendants, where we had the following exchange:
State Opening of the Commons after the 2010 Election

Attendant: Are you Press?
Me: No.
Attendant: General Public?
Me: Yes.
Attendant: You think you can just help yourself to water?

Now, an brief explanation. When i entered the room i was ushered into a seat on the side of the room. The room was reasonably full, but not over flowing so i did not really think anything of being sat in a different position to all the other observers. In front of me, were glasses and a bottle of House of Commons branded water. Being a very old building made up of a lot of windows, it was quite hot, and i helped myself. Now, back to our exchange:

Me: Excuse me?
Attendant: You cant just help yourself to water, its meant for Press and official visitors. (This was said quite aggressively)
Me: Well, i was told to sit there and i saw everyone else helping themselves to it so i just assumed...
Attendant: Yes it was our mistake to sit you there, but water isn't for general public.

And that was that, he wandered off back into the room and i was left wholly perplexed. I didn't worry too much about it, my thirst was positively quenched.

I then made my way down to the Central Lobby. There all visitors loitered, waiting for the Chamber to be opened. Sure enough at 11:30 rumbling voices became hush as one of the Clerks shouted "SPEAKER" loudly down the corridor. The mass of people parted and the speaker, clerks and ceremonial mace walked through toward the Chamber at a slow pace, the speaker graciously smiling at the visitors.

Up the the gallery we went. A long queue meant i didnt get in until 5 to 12, at which point the Chamber was already buzzing, full the brim with MPs waiting for the Prime Minister to show up and answer questions.

While PMQs itself was not particularly spectacular, the atmosphere was still electric, a gladiatorial showdown between Left and Right. I would say the Conservative won the bout, Ed Milliband never really got into a stride because his questions were bi-partisan "Support of withdrawal of troops" rather than political attacks. David Cameron made a jibe about Ken Livingstone, which went down well with the Right and hence probably edged him to victory in the competition that is PMQs.

Then, the budget. Interestingly, the Speaker left the chamber, the reason because the Speaker and his Clerks are servants of the King or Queen. And as of the Glorious revolution of 1688, the King/Queen is no longer trusted with the money, so convention dictates they leave the chamber for the budget.

Osborne led with an hours discussion about the details of the Budget, which at times was met by cheers from the Tory backbenchers, waving their notes in the air as they did. At others, Labour jeered, indeed Ed Millibands quip about a Millionaires Budget went down grandly with the opposition.

The good bits where built up with an increase in his tempo and volume, with the occasional fist crashing against the dispatch box. Of course, when he retired down, withdrew himself and his body language, it was obvious he was revealing a measure of taxation that would not be popular. Overall however, his delivery was quite good.

Messer's Osborne and Alexander's work within the famous red box
Unfortunately however, i could not stay for long, as i had other business to attend to, which involved Q and A sessions with various MPs and dignitaries, including Baroness d'Souza and Robert Rogers, Clerk of the House of Commons (and author of How Parliament Works). It was a great day, and i would recommend a visit to anyone who has not been. It is of course a public building, paid for by the tax payer.



Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cashing the cheques



Aha! Yes you were expecting a post about the budget (given i was in the Chamber for the budget on Wednesday 21st March i would not blame for expecting one!). However, i'm talking about Mr Cash. Mr J. R. "Johnny" Cash.

Yes it has been a busy week for me, travelling home for the Easter Vacation, a trip to Parliament to be in the chamber for Prime Ministers Questions (which as a comment was particularly tame) and then be in the chamber for part of the Budget. I then met with various MPs, Baroness D'Souza and Robert Rogers (Clerk of the House) for a discussions all things Parliament. On Friday i had an interview, which i tackled with ease, only really bamboozled by the notion that "If you work with us, Labour will be your party for life, expect hostility from any connections you make if you choose to defect." No, this post will be about a film i watched on Friday night, Walk the Line. Released in 2005, i am a little late to the party but this film was just that good i had to write about it.

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon play the roles of Cash and June Carter (the singer/love interest of Cash) with great personality, energy and intensity, which really made their relationship and performances connect with me. For those who do not know me, i am not particularly Film of Musically savvy, hence why my last sentence rather emphasises this films brilliance.

The merits of the film are reflected in its nominations at the Acadamy awards, Best Lead Actress of course was won by Witherspoon. Further, a not so modest budget of $28million reaped a handsome $187million at the box-office.

It wasn't a particularly moving film, which are the kind of films i tend to connect with, it was instead just a "good" film. The plot flowed nicely (as you would expect given its not a fictional script i suppose...). The music was good, both sung by Phoenix and Witherspoon very professionally as actor/actress rather than singer. The main positive of the film however is the chemistry between the lead roles, which has been described by film critics as "fiery" and "spine-tingling." I'll throw my hat into the ring and describe their ebb-and-flow relationship as: positively electrifying to the point of receiving second degree burns.

I would recommend watching this film to all. Rather like the richter-scale measures the magnitude of earthquakes, the "Alex Smith-Scale" for measuring films is the authority on motion pictures, and is given only one measurement criteria: does Alex get on with the film? If the answer is yes, then you will too. Walk the Line receives a solid Yes/Ja/Oui/Da/Affirmative.

As a post-script, i would note that this week mother analysed my history of girlfriends/celebrity crushes and has concluded my type is the brunette (she probably isn't wrong). Witherspoon in this film is Brunette as opposed to the usual blond, and i can confirm she looks F.L.Y. So fly, there is a picture below. Hands off, she is mine. Dibbs on Eva Green and Evangeline Lilly too.


Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Faux-Paso? I'm just a Faux-Dancer



It was mother's birthday yesterday (48) and during our lengthy discussions she probed me on an event she wants me to take part in, which in a nutshell is supervising an old time dance session in the local church. While not against my participation, i had to explain dancing isn't as easy as it looks. Her cries of "how hard can it be to teach them 1,2,3 - 1,2,3?" fell on deaf ears as i tried to explain how much of a lay-dancer i am.

When i dance a routine or "pattern" as some of our members call it, i never think of the choreography involved, nor am i particularly mindful of what direction i'm going in. Rather, i have learnt a sequence, and memorised the sequence. The sequence involved however isnt: Lock-Step, Chassis, Spin-Turn, its a series of "moves" as i call them, under the names i have chosen for them. For example, i name a move after the action it represents such as a "wehay!!" or a "cha-cha real smooth".

Further, i cannot count the dance, that is pick up the rythem and follow it, dancing on time. This is where my partner becomes useful, as she can lead me into the timing (she can actually count the dance). My brain is not particularly arty, and hence i cannot easily pick up a beat. Given the necessity to dance on time, i'm not entirely sure how mum expects me to teach this. Further, while waltz for example employs a simple 1,23-1,2,3 sequence, the Quickstep has slow-slow-quick-quick-slow. Again, as a lay-dance it is incredibly hard to count in something that isn't a sequence of numbers.

Aside from these concerns i do mostly enjoy dancing. Its something very different, although for years i wanted to give it a try. My past has been all about contact sports, aggressive acts of passion and fury that culminated in me being something of a warrior on the field. Ballroom on the other hand has little place for this kind of attributes (excluding perhaps the Paso-Doble, a dance that represents bull-fighting). Having said this however, i do manage to transfer some of personality's intensity onto the dance floor, people have observed my "smoulder" as i dance some of the Latin routines. This isn't a deliberate choice of facial expression however, instead usually my unhappiness at my partner forgetting the routine...again.

Indeed, while dancing was meant to be some light relief, giving myself a chance to compete at something without putting myself in any serious danger - i find it very difficult to compete in contact sports having split one of my vertebrae at the age of 16. While i can compete in contact sports, i always suffer from a mental road block if you will - in my comeback on the Rugby scene i never wanted to throw myself around too much.

Dancing offers a relatively pain free experience, competition does exist and is a great way to satisfy some of my alpha-male urges in trying to win competition. I would recommend dancing to anyone if they get the chance, give it a few tries and you'll start to pick it up. If not for the sporting aspect of it, join so you can observe some of the skimpiest outfits you're ever likely to see during the Latin section of the competitions.


Monday, 20 February 2012

Blink and you'll miss it...

This is a sequel to my last blog, which is effectively a documentation of my memories since 2008. However, as some TV series tend to do, they give you a cliff hanger with so many unanswered questions, which don't get answered for a good few episodes. So, in answer to "what happened on August 19th?" you'll just have to wait a little longer. This is going to be a chronicle of the things i'll miss, now i'm all grown up.

I'll be honest, the two years of sixth form flew by. Even now, i remember the Sixth Form induction week, in fact i remember having an argument with Phil about who was dressed the smartest, him or me. Given i was in Shirt and Tie, and him in Jeans and shirt, i can only assume he was trolling or something, because plainly i was the smartest. In fact, i remember one day dressing in a pretty little purple number, love Cotton Rich shirt from next (which was later ruined in a freak painting accident) and silk tie. Unfortunately my fashion-savvy choice was lost on my classmates, they drew comparisons with it to "blueberry's" and "Violet from Charlie and the Chocolate factory".

So here we go, what i'll miss:

  • Having a locker - I miss my locker, i really enjoyed having it. Like a home from home to store by bits and pieces. Some lockers were better than others of course, thankfully i always had one near the top of the stack, god forbid if i was unlucky enough to have a floor situated locker. Indeed, the Lockers were more than just storage units. They were places to socialise and rendez-vous "meet you by the lockers?" Actually....I think i still have my locker key, so really this post is kind of redundant. Since i never gave my key back, i guess my Locker in Sixth Form is still mine!
  • School Lunches - They were the best of times, they were the worst of times. Indeed, i look back fondly at my year 7 school dinners, i maintain Turkey Twizzlers had a certain va-va-voom, je ne c'est quoi about them. Lunches were a bit shit from Year 8 onwards thanks to Jamie Oliver's petition, offering a pretty bland selection. Until Upper sixth that is with the arrival of Cucina as our cafeteria's maitre'd. Who could forget "Taco Thursdays"? The thing i loved most was they're flogging of unsold food. Naturally in the free periods in the afternoon you'd head up and grab a bargain. I'll never forget my Sticky Ribs in a bun for 50p :')
  • Reading in English - Yes, perhaps the most underrated aspect of School life. Hilarity was on the menu when the English Teacher would divvy up the roles in a particular play (or "Character Book" as i once referred plays as). Of course if it was a foreign play, someone (me) would have bought a different translation to everyone else which would result in some seriously disjointed reading. And of course, every now and then we were given a character to play who had an accent. Laughter. Was. Not. Contained.
  • Being the biggest and hence the best - When you arrived at sixth form, there was an unspoken rule that we ruled the roost. Whether it was free-passage down the Staff corridor, jumping the Lunch queue or being able to wear what you like, there was a telepathic agreement of something along the lines of "Shut the fuck up, child." Indeed, perhaps the best thing about being a Sixth Former was the occasional abduction of a lower school child. Yes every now and then a child would be taken from the playground and kept in the maths blook for an indeterminate amount of time.
  • Generally being a knob and getting away with it - I say this with reference again to lower school pupils. Examples: A Child walks into a classroom and asks "Do you have any spare chairs?" to which the class pipes up with "No", "Sorry We dont" and "get out". The Child promptly leaves presumably to sit cross leg'd at the front. Another Example: Everyone now and then a child would be sent to a sixth form class as punishment having been sent out, at which point we would pipe up again "You fool, what were you thinking?", "Ah mate, bet you feel like a right twat now...?" and "You fucking dickhead". At one point at Verulam School, two of us were challenged by a boy to a fight after school. Needless to say we chicken'd out.
Just a few examples of things i'll miss. Life seems less full of mischief nowadays. I have fun, but it isn't quite the same as the old days of "school mischief."

Moral of the story, enjoy it why you can.