Archive for May, 2009

John Pilger at the CQAF

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Alan in Belfast, and write on a political event at a local arts festival.

It was an interview of crusading journalist John Pilger, by BBC NI’s William Crawley, which was meant to happen a few weeks ago but was delayed because he had a bout of pneumonia. St George’s Parish church was well filled, with a pretty enthusiastic audience. The acoustics weren’t fantastic, but I was near the front, so it wasn’t a problem for me.

Pilger has been writing and making documentaries for a long time (about 50 years), so he has a wealth of experiences from all over the world, and the evening reflected that. His view on Barack Obama was perhaps the most interesting of the evening. To paraphrase, he felt that

Barack Obama is a brand… American foreign policy, like British foreign policy, has continued in a straight line since 1945… Going by the first 250 days, Obama is continuing what Bush had done before…

I thought that was quite interesting. Also interesting, though I guess not surprising, were his views on Israel. He stated that because Israel is a special case in so many elements of international law (nuclear weapons, the continued occupation of Palestine), that resolving that one single issue is a precondition to the resolution of conflicts all over the world, because until justice is seen to be done there, there will be an excuse for it in other places. When challenged on how this could happen, he advocated boycotts, but acknowledged that the UN as it is now wouldn’t do that.

There was also a fascinating question from one member of the audience who asked “How can you, an Australian, sit here in Northern Ireland, and talk about ‘we the British people'”. I don’t think anyone was entirely sure whether he was being funny or provocative.

Pilger is scathing on the modern media, which he believes simply reports whatever is in the best interests of the news corporations and governments which own them. He believes that the kind of journalism that made his name just doesn’t happen in the mainstream media any more.

But he does have hope for the future. Not necessarily in the western governments (especially our MPs with their snouts in the trough), but he sees the people-led movements in South America as being a sign of progress.

It was an interesting evening. He is someone who is very well-informed about the world, and although some of his views are challenging, they can’t be dismissed.

Adventures with nature

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

It was a beautiful day again today, so off I went again on my bike. Not going for any dramatic distance or speed, but just to do something outside.
My cycle was going very well until I was unexpectedly bombed by a bird. I didn’t see the varmint, so I don’t know if it was a precision strike from a great height, or whether he come in low and took time to aim.
But in any case, it hardly matters. I got bird crap on my bare leg. Any time this has happened before, it’s usually been on a good suit, or my nice coat. When it’s on your bare skin it’s even worse – you can actually feel the heat of the birds body still in it. Or maybe it was just burning my skin. Or maybe even my imagination. But it felt real.
Worse still I was going quite a good speed along a road, so I couldn’t even clean it off until I could get pulled in somewhere safely.
So cyclists – be careful out there! It’s not just the drivers that are out to get you!

A Saturday cycle

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

I went out on my bike today.
Since the not-entirely-excellent Marie Curie cycle ride (here and here) a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking a bit lustfully at new road bikes. So today I decided to prove to myself that here’s nothing wrong with my current bike. So I pumped the tyres up (which helped it a lot – amazing the difference it made), charged up my ipod, and headed out down Cycle Route 9 towards Lisburn.
I’d planned to go further than I’ve gone before, and do the whole thing non-stop, but I failed. I made it 20 miles out, to Maze, and was doing well coming back, but it was warm, and I was thirsty, so I gave in at Shaw’s Bridge and stopped at an ide-cream van to buy a drink. But I missed and bought a 99 instead. The 5 minutes that took to eat made a big difference, and I made it home successfully from there.
So yes, I can cycle 40 miles on my bike heavy mountain bike. But not without getting slower and slower, or stopping for a break at some point.
So that road bike is still tempting…

Dear Jim

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

please could you fix it for there to be something decent on tv when I’m at the gym.
It was Gok’s Fashion Fix again…

Dear Jim

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Dear Jim,

please could you fix it for Anne Robinson to be the new Speaker for the House of Commons. I think our MPs would benefit greatly from having more put-downs in their lives. The more brutal and barbed, the better. Ideally, she should make one or two cry.


Dawn of the Dumb

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I finished reading a very interesting book a few weeks ago, but hadn’t got round to writing about it. It’s Dawn of the Dumb by Charlie Brooker, a collection of essays from his newspaper columns for the Guardian. I’m quite shocked that some of these got published – he must keep their lawyers fairly busy. It’s a book that no-one should enjoy, as it is shockingly pessimistic and negative about basically everything that Charlie encounters. I would say that he hates everything, but every so often he unexpectedly admits to liking something, and writes a few warm and enthusiastic words. But it never lasts because he’s a complete misanthrope.

Here’s a quote from the back cover, which is a reasonable summary of the book:

“I don’t get people. What’s their appeal, precisely? They waddle around with their haircuts on, cluttering the pavement like gormless, farting skittles. They’re awful.”

From this, you’ll guess that he isn’t really a people person. Doesn’t he say terrible things about our fellow human beings? Except of course that we all feel that way some days. Well I certainly do anyway.
Here’s the start of the introduction:

Thanks for buying this book. I hope you enjoy reading it more than I enjoyed writing it, because I hated every minute. Well almost.”

I did enjoy reading it. He has some great ideas, and is very witty. Just flicking through, I found his theory about the link between dark matter (which scientists know exists, but can’t find) and Emmerdale watchers (who apparently there are millions of, but who knows anyone who does), who he claims are “Dark matter with shoes”. Perhaps there’s something cathartic about reading a collection of such angry thoughts. Perhaps revelling in irritation, and really throwing yourself into it helps you to let it go. I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to reading his other book Screen Burn, which I guess is more of the same.

But before I go, I can’t resist a few quotes from the essay called “I hate Macs”.

“I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper compuers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui”

What a hoot 🙂

The Marie Curie Cycle Challenge, or Why I’m part of the problem

Monday, May 11th, 2009

We had some presentations from senior managers in work a couple of weeks ago. One of the points that came across very strongly was that our management has a very definite obsession with measuring things to keep score.

I have to admit that this didn’t impress me very much, as it strikes me as a slightly childish way to have to deal with the world, that nothing matters unless it can be counted in some way. The risk is that you know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

But I have to confess that I understood on Saturday that I am, in my own way, part of the problem. There was some excitement in Team Lard when we approached another group of cyclists on the road ahead of us for the first time. And when we passed them, it seemed perfectly natural to count that we had passed 3 people. And so I started to keep score or how many people I had passed, and how many had passed me.

Now there are lots of ways to measure success on a cycle ride. The obvious one would be whether I finished it or not!! A more advanced one would be the time it took. More complex still would be a placing of where my time put me in the overall list of riders (which isn’t possible to calculate, since they didn’t collect times). But I think it’s a bit childish to make up a score based on passing people.

Anyway, however childish it may be, my score for the day was 21-2, with me passing both of the people who passed me after only a short time. A good result.

But I think it shows that when it comes down to it, I’m no better than my managers. I was not satisfied with purely measuring the outcome (I completed the cycle), or even how well I completed it (my time of 2 hours 30 minutes for the 34 miles). I was more excited by knowing that I had done it better than 19 other people.

Oh well. Maybe I have a future in senior management after all 🙁

The Marie Curie Cycle Challenge, or How My Ipod Became Sentient

Monday, May 11th, 2009

The futuristic nightmare of our technology becoming smarter than us and taking over is one of the recurring themes of sci-fi. It’s a constant worry in my life, where I have lots of very clever gadgets, and only one not-so-clever me.

The Marie Curie cycle challenge on Saturday was pretty hard going, for two main reasons. The first is that it was very wet, and the second is that I had to try and keep up with the rest of Team Lard (who were usually ahead of me). Fortunately, I had brought my trusty ipod along with me, so that when I got stuck on my own, I could keep my spirits up with some music.

My ipod was on random play.

  • The first track of the day was 1999 by Prince (which you can listen to here), a nice upbeat track to start off with. Not an inspired choice, but not a bad one.
  • From there, it went straight to SOS by Abba (which you can listen to here). This was pretty appropriate for the circumstances, and made me hard laugh enough that John dropped back to see what was going on. But surely just a random coincidence.
  • What made me suspcious was when it moved on to Save Me by Nina Simone (which you can listen to here). Again, I laughed hard enough to worry the rest of the team. A definite pattern is emerging!
  • From here it went to “This may be the last time” by the Rolling Stones (which you can listen to here) – surely a clear warning from my ipod!

I have no idea what prompted my ipod to become so aware of what was going on around it to provide such appropriate songs. Needless to say I’ll be keeping a close eye on it in future, in case it starts sending me more messages!