Monday, 29 November 2010

Opening eyes

Because of the strange hours I work, I often finish a shift after the point at which it's possible to get public transport home, in which case I'm entitled to a cab. I therefore spend several late evenings, often after midnight, talking to cabbies about whatever's on their mind. I've had some extremely interesting coversations with some of these lads but, perhaps because many of the drivers are Muslims and their faith is important to them, the most frequent topic of discussion seems to be theology, or the relationship/debate between theology and science.

These discussions have, without exception, been friendly, mutually respectful and interesting, however strongly each speaker may have held their beliefs, but something I learned the other night nonetheless left me saucer-eyed with surprise. A chap driving me home had never even heard of the theory of evolution. It wasn't that he didn't believe in it, or had been taught some other theory, he had literally never heard of it. Only by talking to me did he learn that not everybody thinks that God, or Allah, or whatever you call your deity of choice, made animals and plants exactly as they are now. I had to explain how the theory works - what evolutionists think happened (and is happening, of course). He asked the same questions that everybody who doesn't subscribe to evolutionary theory thinks, though in his case he asked out of a detached interest in my beliefs rather than to try to refute them.

He asked: If Man came from apes (a simplistic explanation given the likely tangled routes of our hominid evolutionary past but the best I could do to explain it to somebody who had never even heard the theory before), what was before the apes? And what was before that? And before that? And where did it come from in the first place?

Why aren't apes still evolving into humans? (A question I've heard before, but one which so completely misses, or misunderstands, the point that it's hardy worth answering).

Why aren't we, and all other plants and animals, still evolving?

I answered as best I could but I'm not an evolutionary biologist, my grasp of divergent evolutionary theory is not sound enough to be thinking about passing it onto other people and the cab ride was only 25 minutes.

For his part, his biggest surprise was that, just as he's completely committed to his beliefs, so am I to mine, despite that fact that mine contains bits marked 'I don't know'. For him, the central beliefs by which he lives his life are utterly certain. Mine are not, and he couldn't reconcile what he saw as a contradiction between my committed atheism and belief in science, and the fact that science is full of uncertainty, indeed built upon it. There are gaps in our understanding of the origins of the universe, and of life on our planet, but I'm as committed to my beliefs as he is to his. For me the beauty of science is that it's principal position is 'we don't know'. It's still capable of new revelations, of new beauties, of changing a position you believed in completely before with some startling new piece of knowledge.

But I started this post really not to write about my bumbling efforts to explain evolutionary theory to a man interested in hearing it but absolutely 100% committed to a different belief, but about my shock at the fact that there is anybody out there, anybody at all, living in a Western culture in the modern media age, who's never even heard of it. I find this so staggering that I just had to put it down here.

Monday, 22 November 2010

More good telly

I know that the lives and loves of early 20th century young, posh Oxbridge students are not the most original subjecs for a telly drama, but that doesn't mean they can't be good.

Sunday evening's Any Human Heart on Channel 4 featured a fictional elderly writer, living a lonely end to his life in a rural cottage, reflecting on that life and those loves. A melancholy Jim Broadbent the perfect choice for this one. Cut to his earlier years, starting with his desperate efforts to lose his virginity in his last year at University some time in the 1920s.

Oh to have been young and rich in England in that period. Cars, clothes, manners, even indiscretions were exquisite. I love pretty much anything set in this era - Jeeves and Wooster, Prohibition-era mobster movies, anything. So I was predisposed to like this, but it was also thoughtful, well acted and, let's be honest, liberally scattered with attractive ladies dressed and made up in the type of glamour so redolent of that time that makes these things eminently watchable.

It was the first of four parts on consecutive Sundays and promises much. Recommended.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The big split

OK, so I've finally made the split and set up the Albion-specific blog, which is called 'You can tell them all that we stand or fall...' Those of you familiar with Brighton & Hove Albion will know what that's all about. Those who are not, well just be assured that a crack team of naming experts worked round the clock to come up with it.

I'll tweak the design over time, as it's extremely plain at the moment. It can be found here:

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A marriage made in the media

Left-leaning though I may be politically, I'm not some Republican, anti-Monarchy, class war activist. I don't believe Britain should throw away the cultural trappings of history and pageantry lightly, especially when there does seem some genuine merit to the argument that they bring trade and tourism to Britain, and they have demonstrably increased giving to charities to which they've lent their patronage.

However. Today's announcement of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Whats-her-face is not what I call news. It's utterly drenched the media today, who have clearly had their pieces ready for some time in anticipation of the event we're all talking about. Well, they're talking about.

So the economic crisis, the compensation paid out to the Brits held without trial in Guantanamo Bay, all the various long-running genuine news stories (Darfur, Pakistan, Indonesia, Burma, just to name a few picked at random) have utterly disappeared into a morass of fawning, gushing, delighted news readers and reporters. They all seem to have put their best pearls on for the day, and can be seen grinning like Stepford Wives as the news that's being described as 'breaking' even at 9pm on the News Channel is repeated for the 43rd time today.

It's utterly, utterly meaningless. In what's already a story entirely constructed of fluff and fill, we've been blessed with the news that Esther Rantzen is 'delighted' (we can all sleep soundly in our beds knowing that), that Sophie Wessex is 'thrilled', and that Royal Crown Derby had been pre-prepping plates for the occasion for four years, among countless other inconsequentialities. I've even found out that Camilla Parker-Bowles is down with the kids, describing it as 'wicked'.

Surely, surely, most of us simply don't care, do we? The news that the Royal family has invited in a bit of common blood (surely a necessity as the Royals of Europe are so inter-bred that they must be in danger of sprouting extra limbs out of inconvenient places) would, in any society not utterly obsessed with celebrity, be relegated to a footnote after the actual news.

As they look back over the day's 'events' for the umpteenth time, I do wonder if some of the journalists responsible for regurgitating this over and over again wonder what happened to the news, dammit.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Slaughtered with a Blunt instrument

I bought a Sunday paper the weekend just gone, a rarity in itself these days, as I had the luxury of the time to sit and read it on the train back from York. Not being into music, and being a self-confessed ignoramus on the matter, I usually don't bother to read reviews of singles or albums, but I did happen to catch their review of the new James Blunt album. The digital version is here, should you wish to read a review as vituperative, venomous, angry and scathing as any they're ever likely to publish.

The passions that this bloke incite in people have always intrigued me. A mate who's into his music in the same way I am football is moved to visible fury just by talking about him. I suggested that he's just an inoffensive warbler, but that was what seemed to move my mate to such ire in the first place. Mr Blunt's very inoffensiveness was what so offended said friend. Apparently he, and others like him, would rather listen to a diabolical, assault-on-the-senses cacophany than any of James Blunt's efforts because at least they incite a visceral response, even if it's a negative one.

This idea baffles me. You could probably put Blunt's album on in the background and, unless you're of a similar mind to my muso mate, not even notice it's there. The same could not be said of loud, tuneless, cacophonous shite. This is probably one of the reasons I'm not really into music, I just can't see what can get somebody so cross about something because it doesn't offend you. I simply don't care if it's just musak, fit for the lift or as hold music. Let it go! You musical types out there are a funny lot.

I suspect that there are plenty of people out there who will buy this thing and I seriously doubt Blunt gives a toss what the IoS make of his album as the royalties come in, but it's most interesting to note the almost plaintively furious response of the critics like Simon Price, who seems almost personally affronted that he should put it out. Unlike many of the things that get me wound up (X-Factor being the main culprit, surely a more deserving candidate for such ferocious opprobrium from music professionals) it's not sufficiently ubiquitous as to be unavoidable, so just don't listen to it.

That said, the album cover is faintly irritating.

In the meantime...

I will get to that split, I promise, I just can't think of a bloody name for the Albion one. This may seem like a trivial matter to you, but to me it's vital that such a venerable and august institution as they be afforded the respect of proper consideration of a moniker when writing about them.

For now, let me bore you further with my latest bit for Wonderlance. They let me write about Star Wars!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Following advice from both my girlfriend (who, to be fair, said this from the start) and lately others, I'm going to split the blog up into a football-specific one and the any-other-business one. Hopefully this will mean that anybody who reads this who doesn't, unfathomably, give a damn about football in general or Brighton & Hove Albion in particular, will not have to wade through the increasingly hysterically happy nonsense that's being posted on their progress.

This'll probably happen next week, when I've got time to set up another one for the footy. Any comments or feedback as to the wisdom of this move are welcomed.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Danny Baker

Get well soon, Danny Baker. The distressing news that my favourite broadcaster in any medium is suffering from cancer was horrible to hear, though depressingly expected given his mysterious absence from many of his recent programmes 'poorly', as the Delphic explanations of his co-presenters had it.

He has, of course, reacted with the positivity which so strongly characterises his show and makes him such good listening. A constant string of new and inventive subjects and the widest cultural referencing you'll hear anywhere make him absolutely peerless in terms of what a 'talk' DJ should really do, rather than the deliberately provocative tripe that comes out of most of their mouths.

His refusal to cloak himself with anything but the scantiest of Emperor's clothes when it comes to the whole showbiz veneer thing (a typical introduction to a guest is often 'Tell us about your new project. We wouldn't gather here with an aerial on the roof without good cause.'), he nonetheless refused to let negative talk of his cancer 'infect' his shows. He sees and speaks for the best in all of us and is genuinely funny with it, the affection for him from his listenership clear whenever he sends out a call for their participation.

I download his Saturday show ('Take the sausage sandwich game judge's adjudication seriously or the whole thing's pointless...') as a podcast for later, and often repeated, listening, to make my journey to work pass quicker. The airwaves will not be the same without him as he fights his illness. If goodwill and best wishes were any medicine, he'd have beaten it already and returned to work with a skip, such is the outpouring of support from his listeners, but sadly they're not. That's not, though, going to stop me wishing him all the very best for a full recovery.

4-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-0

Our last four results, all in our favour! A frankly easy win against Exeter last night with some lovely football played. It's a bizarre feeling, heading toward Brighton for home games lately expecting to win, and then having those expectations justified by the players! I'm not quite used to it yet.

Monday, 1 November 2010

'Nightmare at London Road'

So sang the massed Albion fans behind the goal at Peterborough as Posh's self-styled 'Cup Final' went horribly, horribly wrong for them. I'm just running out of superlatives for the way the boys are playing at the moment. I've been going for 25 years and it was the best performance away from home I've ever seen. But fans who have been going since the 50s were saying the same thing. We utterly, utterly thrashed them. Their goalkeeper, who was their man of the match by a country mile, and who made a string of saves, including a penalty, to stop the score becoming an absolute embarrassment, had been quoted as saying that Albion played 'total football'!!!

It's an absolute, unbridled joy to watch at the moment. Passing, movement, goals in the side, three clean sheets in a row, 8 points clear at the top of the league which is otherwise bunched up. I can't remember enjoying it so much. Not even when we won back to back titles and we had Zamora, the best player I've ever seen in a Brighton shirt, did we go to grounds like Peterborough, the top scorers in the entire country and averaging 3.5 goals per game at home, and completely dominate them.

Some comments from their podcast: "Men against boys," "They dominated from minute one," "Some of their short, quick passing was superb." A Posh fan came up to me at the station afterwards, shook my hand and said we'd 'shown them how to play football'.

It makes us Albionites want to burst with pride, frankly. What an absolute pleasure it is to watch them and write about them at the moment. We're at home to Exeter on Tuesday night. Surely, surely the wheels have to come off at some point, don't they?