Sunday, May 23, 2010


So Lost finally finishes in the early hours of tomorrow morning. 97.3% of the world's population will sigh with relief and mutter "thank fuck", hoping that their one sad Lost friend doesn't hear them and start off into a lecture about how it's all really clever, about time travel, and that Locke IS THE SMOKE MONSTER!!!!!!!111!!! The remaining 2.7% are in comas, doo-lally, or are really looking forward to it. Sometimes more than one of them. I'm waiting with baited breath, hoping that it is worth all the effort over recent years; I've not been the greatest fan of this series and was ambivalent (at best) about last week's Jacob episode.

Anyway, to prepare for the end/The End, here are 2 great Lost videos. Firstly, the theme tune that somebody wishes Lost had (and me, too; it's genius and a great parody of US TV), and secondly all 6 series of Lost explained by cats in a minute. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stag Saturday

Hampden panorama
Yes, County lost, but it was a fun weekend nonetheless.

I joined the exodus from north to south in Scotland, on a train that gradually filled up with tangerine-clad people along the way. People from Dundee can be scary, but this lot seemed friendly enough. The general atmosphere of the day was actually very "family" with the County fans made up of seemingly most of the Highlands, be they young, medium, or old. I'm medium, although not medium enough to put a bet on 3-0. Anyway, the atmosphere in Glasgow was fairly relaxed, with the police and security very hands-off; this led to a happy day with plenty of banter (well, as much as you can have with a Dundonian: keep it lowbrow) and mixing of the fans. Any number of County fans, United fans, or locals mentioned how refreshing the lack of an Old Firm presence was.

As an aside, I came to the conclusion that bright orange is not the most sensible choice for a shirt colour: firstly, it is not possible to wear that hue and remain dignified, and secondly if you lose there is not the option of slinking off unnoticed.

The match itself was disappointing. County lacked any real cutting edge and appeared a little overcome by the occasion. This was hardly a surprise and Dundee United were very well organised, stuck to their plan, and in the end won pretty easily. County had a couple of promising 5-minute spells but, to be honest, that was it. The Staggies' fans must take enormous credit though, never expressing too much frustration with the team (who were really trying) and cheering right to the end. The split of fans looked to be about 60:40 in United's favour, but what an effort in terms of people, support, and noise from the Highlands. For most people outside of the Old Firm, seeing your team in the Scottish Cup Final is a once or twice in-a-lifetime event if you are lucky. And I've seen County play in a Hampden final. Magnificent.

A very pleasant weekend was topped off with a couple of wanders around Glasgow city centre (which I grow increasingly fond of) and a delightful bout of dinner and drinks with the Varwells. Summer seemed to finally arrive this weekend, and a couple of whiskies in a warm and sunny Glasgow certainly left me with a warm and sunny feeling.

Some pictures are here, and below is a (pretty rubbish) video that I shot on my phone just prior to kick-off.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Election: some final thoughts

Decision day is almost upon us, so I suppose that it is time for mine. Contrary to almost all expectations, this has been an interesting and policy-focused election campaign, and is the most "exciting" of my lifetime. The race is close, and we seem to be moving inexorably towards a hung department, mostly due to the TV debates. Yes, I criticised the idea and, yes, I stand by much of the sentiment; if you are going to have debates, though, they should be like the ones that we have had. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of substance, the relatively intelligent level of discourse, and the low level of emphasis on "presentation". All sides had their moments, of course: David Cameron's "I met a black man!", Gordon Brown's terrible pre-written jokes, and Nick Clegg's "I AM ANGRY ALL THE TIME".

Talking of Clegg, the rise of the Liberal Democrats has been the force invigorating the campaign. Over the years, the mainstream media (be it Tory or Labour) has effectively ignored or downplayed the third party, but with Clegg front and centre in the first debate it was impossible to ignore. The people listened, and the people liked. The traditional no-hopers were being allowed to have equal time to promote their policies, and what's more they were reasonable, populist, and not pie-in-the-sky. Unless you read the Mail or Express, which will have told you that the Liberal Democrats are crazy Stalinists who wish to bulldoze your grandmother's house with a Nazi tank powered by Iranian oil bought with our new currency, the Hitler Euro. And then fry your baby with garlic and serve it on a bed of pomme puree. Pomme puree! Not even good old British mash!

I may be paraphrasing slightly, but that is basically what they said. Anyway, we have come out of the debates with a 3-way battle for power. Due to the LibDem surge, my original prediction of a narrow Labour victory is looking increasingly unlikely; indeed, Labour may actually end up third in terms of the popular vote (but certainly not in terms of seats). The remaining options are a hung Parliament or Conservative victory. The latter is too horrible to comprehend, but enough people seemed to have cottoned on to Cameron to prevent that. When you have got Charlie Brooker and Peter Hitchens rallying against you, it is fair to say that there is scepticism over a broad range of views. Brooker nails it:
He isn't even a man; more a texture-mapped character model. There's a different kind of software at work here, some advanced alien technology projecting a passable simulation of affability; a straight-to-DVD retread of the Blair ascendancy re-enacted by androids. Like an ostensibly realistic human character in a state-of-the-art CGI cartoon, he's almost convincing – assuming you can ignore the shrieking, cavernous lack of anything approaching a soul. Which you can't.

I see the sheen, the electronic calm, those tiny, expressionless eyes . . . I glimpse the outlines of the cloaking device and I instinctively recoil, like a baby tasting mould. Don't get me wrong. I don't see a power-crazed despot either. I almost wish I did. Instead, I see an avatar. A simulated man with a simulated face. A humanoid. A replicant. An Auton. A construct. A Carlton PR man who's arrived to run the country, and currently stands before us, blinking patiently, blank yet alert, quietly awaiting commencement of phase two. At which point, presumably, his real face may finally become visible.

So to the hung Parliament, which now looks most likely. Despite the Tories' attempts to scaremonger the possibilities, I think that the public is more or less reconciled to the idea of coalition or minority government. Maybe living in Scotland, where it has basically worked, helps matters. The hung Parliament may be the sea-change that we need here, delivering vote reform and collaboration to create policy that actually makes a difference. Next Friday (and onwards) could be very interesting... The spectre of a Conservative majority does, howerver, make me very nervous.

So what about my vote? I've narrowed it down to SNP or LibDem, and have now read both manifestos. I liked the gist of both of them, to be honest, and agreed with the majority of what the Parties said. The SNP manifesto had a nice font, made nice populist points, and won points for its positive (rather than slagging off the opposition) outlook. I did, however, feel like a lot of the ideas were nice but the means of achieving them were not adequately explained; that comment also applied to the Liberal Democrats to some degree. The SNP also danced around the elephant in the room a little, saying that they favour independence, outlined their version (which sounded like hyperdevolution to me), but did not go into the mechanics of how it would work. The UK is not just going to give up North Sea oil and a heap of its military bases...

Comparing the two parties there is not much to choose between them in my mind, with a hybrid of the two being the ideal. Seeing as that is not going to happen, I think that in this election I will be voting Liberal Democrat. My seat is close, so a vote from me will contribute to the 1300 needed to swing it from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. I would like to reward them for a good campaign, and hopefully contribute to the hung Parliament in the process.

So there we are, I have come all this way to end up where I started, voting Liberal Democrat. It has been an interesting journey during the campaign, and at the start I honestly thought that I might vote Labour. I don't buy the media narritive on the last 13 years, and have seen many positive things from them. I believe that Britain is a better, fairer, more modern country because of what they have done. And the SNP: now they are seriously on my radar. It is very, very likely that they will get my vote in the next Holyrood election.