Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Isn't the BBC Reporting on Catalonia?

There's trouble brewing in Spain. The Catalan government has decided to hold a binding referendum on independence, in defiance of the Spanish government and the constitution. The Spanish government have responded by laying charges against Catalan government officials, by shutting down pro-independence websites, sending armed police to seize referendum materials, ordering newspapers not to publish any information about the referendum... and even by sending in tanks.

And on the BBC... nothing. There's nothing on their news homepage, there's nothing on the European news page, and nothing on the TV news. Basically, as far as the BBC is concerned, it's not happening.

Now, I've written before that I consider the question of Catalan independence to be a matter for the Catalan people, and I consider that the Madrid government is making a bad mistake in their handling of the whole matter. But I'll readily acknowledge that other interpretations are entirely valid - and in particular, the argument that the constitution needs to be respected is a strong one.

But regardless of your views on the specific issue, what surely can't be denied is that Barcelona is a popular travel destination for Brits going abroad (even this late in the season), and it's the focal point of this whole great mess. That being the case, surely the BBC have the duty to report the facts of the situation, so that people can make an informed choice if nothing else?

So, BBC: what the hell are you playing at? Why isn't this being properly reported?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Competition Season 2017 Wash-up

And so, we get to the end of another competition season. A year ago, I didn't expect to be doing another one of these - I thought we would have been moved long ago, and would probably have left the band at that point. But as it happened, the move wasn't until quite late in the season, by which point I'd committed to seeing out the year.

The season was very much a major/minor split - we had very disappointing results at all four of the majors we attended, but actually had quite a lot of success at the minor competitions. That's very much a step forward from last year (barring one very good result at Forres in 2016), but it's still quite hard to take. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any prospect of the band being moved up for next year, so my hopes of seeing that done before I leave have come to nothing.

There's actually not much more to say than that. We had some poor behaviour at Forres, and some drunkenness at some other events, but nothing like the disasters of previous years. Which is good, but still not really good enough. But I'm filing that under "someone else's problem".

The other big thing, though, is that the season is just too damn long - far too many events in June, and too many events after the World Championships bring an end to the 'real' season. On the other hand, it does make the decision to leave a no-brainer, as I simply cannot commit to being involved in the band (or indeed any competing band) for the whole of the summer.

Moving forward, my next step is to find a non-competing band to join, so that I retain the motivation to keep practicing, and to do their few events. But I'm done with competition, probably forever.

Innerleithen Highland Games 2017

And now, the end is near.

The last competition of the season was at Innerleithen yesterday. It was a good day, mostly, though the competition itself didn't go as well as might be hoped.

Actually, it's worth noting here that there's a classic mistake that the band always makes. We know that if we play too long in the preparation, our drones get wet and start to go wrong. And so every time we say to ourselves that we're not going to play too much before going on. And then, every single time, we play too much before going on, our drones get wet, and that wrecks the sound.

Oh well.

The day itself was pretty good - it looked like rain, and yet we managed to avoid it. We tuned up, we went on, and we played. The performance was... okay. Not great, and the other band that were up for Champion-of-Champions were markedly better, but it was okay. Then, a bit later, we tuned up and played in the grade above, which was also okay. (That said, both times our Pipe Major, who wasn't playing for health reasons, had a real go at the pipers after the competition. Which I thought was both a little unfair and also wasn't terribly helpful. But it's not my problem any longer.)

And then we came to the march past, the prize-giving, and the street parade. And for all of these, in honour of it being my last competition, our Pipe Sergeant asked me to take the lead, which was very nice of him I thought.

In the event, I had to go collect three prizes - we won the Marching & Discipline prize (not sure how, really), came second in Grade 4B (2nd for piping, 5th for drumming, out of 5), and fourth in the Grade 4A (4th for piping, 3rd for drumming, out of 5). We missed out on Champion-of-Champions, which was not unexpected - it went to Davidson Mains & District, who also won the Grade 4B contest. The truth is that the result wasn't particularly close - although we were second to their first, we were a very distinct second to their clear first.

And that was that - a decent day to end a hard season, and a fitting end to my competition career. And now there is just the AGM, and I'm out. Which is quite a thing.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Peebles Highland Games 2017

The penultimate competition of the season was last weekend at Peebles. The most intriguing aspect of the day was that our pipe major was absent for health reasons, meaning that we were led out by our pipe sergeant. As has been standard for the last month or so, I didn't use the bus but instead took the car across, allowing me to play and then leave.

We played twice, in the Grade 4B competition and then again playing up in Grade 4A. Both performances were okay, if not the very best of the season.

In Grade 4B we came 6th out of 13, being 6th in piping and 3rd in drumming. In Grade 4A, we were 4th out of 7, 5th for piping and 2nd for drumming. So a respectable result, but not a stellar one.

The final competition of the season, and my final competition with the band, will be tomorrow at Innerleithen. I'm looking forward to it... and looking forward to it being done, and another long, long season being over.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Day 250: Update on Goals

We've now reached Day 250 of the year, so it's time for another update on goals. Given the completion of the house move, we have a rather bigger update this time!

  • Weight: The scales came out of storage, and didn't make for pleasant reading. Basically, I'm back to where I started. Sigh.
  • Books: By day 250 I should have read 41.1 books. At the time of writing, I have completed 40 books, so I'm slightly behind here. Additionally, I'm behind on one of the sub-lists, that being the "Culture" novels by Iain M. Banks. Still, none of that is too troubling - I expect to be able to recover any loss before too long, and should end the year at or just over the total of 60 books.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This was completed on the 4th of August. Hurrah!
  • Part Five: The House: Having assessed the house with a more critical eye, I think we've concluded that two rooms need redecorated fairly promptly. (There are one or two others we'll probably change eventually, but on no fixed timescale - basically, next time we decide to refresh the paintwork, etc, we'll probably go for a different colour, but we won't touch them until then.) In addition, there are several bits of furniture to source or replace, appliances to change over, and a few other sundry things. In short, there's a lot to do!
  • Part Five: Church: LC and I have been recommended to a church in the area. We certainly intend to check that and a few others out with a view to restarting regular worship somewhere.
  • Part Five: Band: The competition season concludes this weekend, and then the band have their AGM next week. Additionally, I have identified a local, non-competing band that looks like my best candidate for a new 'home', in order to keep me motivated to actually practice.
  • Part Five: Gaming: This remains on hold. However, I do hope to get a little gaming in some time this year - I kind of have to, since next year is unlikely to allow for much!
  • Super Secret Goal #5: N/A

So that's one huge goal completed, and another that was abandoned. The rest are in reasonably good shape, all apart from the weight goal, which is just a disaster. So, a fairly positive update all told.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Speaking of Which...

I think I've now reached the conclusion that if you're going to support a football team, it should be the (professional) team closest to at least one of the homes you have lived in. So, for me, the choice would be between Clyde, (Yeovil), Falkirk, or Livingston. (I could probably also get away with Airdrie, on the grounds that they were the closest until Clyde moved their stadium. However, given that they liquidated and then came back...)

An exception would, of course, make sense if there was a personal link to some other club - if, for instance, a family member had played for a given club some time in the past. Which doesn't apply in my case.

In the event that Tadpole decides that he or she wants to support a team, then I'll troop along to the games as required. Though the fact that it would have to be to Almondvale to support Livingston might prove a useful disincentive...

The Transfer Window

Money has pretty much destroyed professional football. The big problem is that the reward for success is large amounts of money, and the route to success is to spend large amounts of money. So, almost inevitably, leagues are rapidly becoming divided into the 'haves' and 'have nots' - where the 'haves' are those with regular access to the Champions' (sic) League.

(It's most notably in countries where only one club has such access, of course - it's not Celtic's problem that they are so far ahead of everyone else in Scottish Football, but it's a big problem for our domestic game and is only going to get worse.)

But probably what bemuses me most about the professional football these days are the absurdly inflated transfer fees... not for the top players, who of course will always attract a massive premium, but rather the absurd fees that are now paid for fairly mediocre players.


I would like to suggest three small(-ish) changes that I'd like to see, and that I think would make a fairly significant contribution to improving the game overall:

  1. The Transfer Window should shut at midnight on the night before the first league match of the season, and there should be no second window in January - the squad of players that you have when the season starts should be the squad you have when you end the season (barring players who are out of contract, that is).
  2. There should be a fairly tight limit to the number of players a club can have registered in their squad for the season - I would advocate that a club should be allowed no more than 30 players in their first team squad. Sure, they can sign more players if they want... but they're consigning some of them to spending the entire season on the sidelines before a ball is kicked.
  3. There should likewise be strict limits on the use of loan players: a club can have no more than 2 loan players in their squad for the year, all loans are for a season exactly, you can't loan a player to another club in the same division, and you can't loan out a player two seasons in succession.

The net effect of all of this will be that the market for the very top players (Ronaldo, Neymar, etc) will go crazy (well, crazier), but that the market for everyone in the second tier will suddenly lose a lot of heat - no longer will the biggest clubs seek to just sign up any and all players of quality (and then loan most of them out), but instead they'll fight tooth and claw for the few players right at the apex. And clubs that currently rely on players loaned from those biggest global clubs will now (a) not be able to rely on those loans, but also (b) will be able to actually sign some of those players (since they're of less use to Man City, Real Madrid, and the like, so the 'value' will be less, and the fee will then be manageable.)

Oh, and is also means that smaller clubs won't be descended on in January by richer-but-underperforming clubs and have their top players ripped away.

Or we could just carry on as we are, with transfer fees nudging £200M for the best (how long until that is £1B? 2030?), the game becoming skewed entirely in favour of the biggest clubs, and the whole thing rapidly becoming unaffordable for the fans.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Sort of Things That Vex Me

When shelving our many DVDs, I of course sorted these into alphabetical order. Or, rather, a semi-alphabetical order where some films are grouped together by a series name (the James Bond films are under 'B', for example). Oh, and "The..." and "A..." don't count, of course!

That worked fine, as far as it went, but it left the question of what to do about films where the title either is or starts with a number. What to do about "300"?

My solution was simple enough: I filed such films according to how the film title would appear if written out long-hand: "300" became "Three Hundred", and filed next to "The Three Musketeers".

Alas, my carefully worked out scheme fell into utter ruin when I found myself faced with an irreconcilable dilemma: how to file "27 Dresses" and "28 Days Later"?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Slowdown

Thus far, my reading in 2017 has been fairly metronomic - five books per month almost exactly, with April and July sneaking in a sixth. However, August hit a bit of a snag, with a meagre three books being finished - "The Power" (which I'd actually started in the last few days of July), "The Secret Garden", and now "Measure of the Magic". Which means that I've gone from being two books ahead to being right on target for the year. (It also means that I'll be entering September behind in one of the sub-lists, albeit ahead in another one.)

The reason for this is superficially simple: with the house move being completed, I've been spending a lot of time sorting things out and so not spending a lot of time reading.

But it's actually a little more complex than that, as it's actually not the case that I've been short on time to read. Or, at least, it's not like I couldn't have found time if I'd wanted.

No, the truth is that I got rather bogged down in "The Secret Garden", and then got really bogged down in "The Measure of the Magic" (which, in fairness, just wasn't very good).

And now I turn to the penultimate book in Iain M. Banks' 'Culture' series, "Surface Detail", and I again find myself uninspired to tackle it. The slowdown looks set to continue a little longer.

I think my plan for the next few weeks will be to set aside "Surface Detail", and instead tackle some of the books in the 'Other' sub-list - I have a few of these in stock, and they'll give me a bit of a break from my sequence. Which isn't ideal, since it means storing up two big 'Culture' books for later in the year, but if it kickstarts the reading again then it will have served a good purpose. I guess we'll see.

(Of course, it's worth noting that some of this is just the general malaise that seems to have started to infect me over the last few weeks - now that the big challenge of the house move is done, and the list of things to do is both annoyingly long and filled with annoying tasks, it's hard to stay motivated. Mostly, I need a holiday.)

#40: "Measure of the Magic", by Terry Brooks