Sunday, August 31, 2008

Maybe Taking a Break

As noted in an earlier post, I'm off to Lisbon tomorrow. I may or may not take my laptop with me, may or may not have internet access in my room (officially, it's available, but it might not work, or there might be a surcharge that I won't want to pay), and may or may not be bothered to write entries. So, if you don't hear from me in the meantime, feel free to hijack the blog via the 'comments' mechanism.

When I get back, I promise not to post any holiday snaps, as I still don't own a camera. Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, I haven't assigned a guest blogger - if you really need a blogging fix over the next week, may I suggest Molly's blog, which updates regularly, even if she occasionally spells 'pique' incorrectly. (Molly, I have no alternate blog to recommend to you. You'll just have to channel the extra time available into inventing new and exciting martini recipes. Hopefully, that will dull the pain a little.)

My achievements of the week

By contrast with last week, with its endless whirl of parties and events, this week was a study in not doing anything much. Other than the Cowal Gathering yesterday, my biggest achievement was mowing the lawn. This probably wasn't the best of ideas, what with the grass being damp, and my having a cough to fight off, but it was also my last opportunity of 2008, so I wanted to get it done.

The only other thing of note was that on Monday I actually went into the office. There was something left in my car that I felt had to be returned promptly, so in I went. Conveniently, I arrived just as everyone was going to lunch, and thus was able to justify the trip as my being too lazy to cook.

The Cowal Gathering

The band didn't qualify for the competition proper. Worse, it was my fault.

As it has been the each of the past two years, the rest of the day was pretty much a bust. That 5am wake-up call is a real monster (made worse by not actually sleeping before it). Then lots of sitting around waiting, first to go on, then to find we haven't qualified, then for the chip shops in town to open so we can get something to eat that is actually edible (and not priced at 400% what might be considered reasonable), then the long wait for the parade down the street (the parade itself is actually quite good), and then a wait for the bus to get on the ferry, so we can actually go home.

At least the weather, while not actually being pleasant, wasn't actively hostile.

And so ends another competition season for the band. Oddly, the Pipe Major was actually fairly upbeat about it all. I suppose he takes heart from the fact that the band is once again moving in the right direction, the numbers are going up (with all the benefits that go with that), some of the dead weight that's been holding us back has been shed, and if things continue along the same trajectory, then we should actually have a good year next year. I'm not an optimist by nature, so will wait and see.

On the plus side, I did get ten solid hours of sleep last night, which is more than for a very long time. And I'm off to Lisbon tomorrow, which should be... well, a change at least.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wish Me Luck

Tomorrow is the Cowal Gathering, our biggest and last competition of the season. Tomorrow we find out if all the hard work we've been putting in for the past couple of months, and all the improvement we have made over that time, was in any way worth it.

Tomorrow is a Big Day. (Although it must be admitted, not as big for me as for some others.)

Yes Chris, I do know the Macarena

Of course, amongst the festivities at the weekend there was inevitably the need to dance at least a couple of dances. Such is the rule.

And so it was that I found myself on the dancefloor, dancing first to S-Club 7's "Reach for the Stars", and then to "The Macarena". After which, Chris expressed his surprise at my knowledge of such a thing.

Here's the thing: of course I know the Macarena. More to the point, however, I admit to no shame in dancing it. See, normally at the disco I face the conundrum of what to do with my hands. I have never found a suitable answer to this. (And, in all honesty, it's even a problem in the rest of life. Fortunately, when simply standing there is the option of clasping them behind the back in an at-ease posture... but this doesn't work when dancing.)

Anyway, when the dancing is of the disco breed, this has been known to lead to a certain amount of confused and undignified flailing about. The overall effect can best be described as disco of the Thunderbirds school, and that is not a good thing.

And so, I feel that all discos should really be limited to only playing tracks like "The Macarena", "Saturday Night", "Reach for the Stars", "Timewarp", or anything by Steps. Either that, or they should just go for the "Thunderbirds March" for best comic effect.

The Wall

So, Saturday...

Woke up early, hastily made ready, walked the dog, and piled into the car for a long journey down South. We made good time, as is to be expected at that time in the morning.

Stopped at Burger King for lunch. We later discovered that the rest of our party, having been lazy in the morning, actually passed us while we ate. Oh yes, we had made up a three-hour time difference in the morning.

About 3, shortly before we arrived, I hit The Wall. Suddenly, I was extremely tired. This is not the best of conditions to be in when driving. Fortunately, there was a variety of music to keep me going, first "Team America" (America... America...), then the dulcet tones of Black Lace (apparently, dancing to Agadoo is something best left to the passangers. Who knew?), and finally "Silly Songs With Larry" (the "Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" trio didn't quite work - Bonnie had to sing Mister Lunt's part, and she's a dog).

Anyway, we arrived, checked into the Bed & Breakfast, unpacked, and then headed over to the family gathering. Shortly thereafter, we departed the family gathering, returned to the Bed & Breakfast, had dinner, and made ready for the party.

By this point, I was rallying somewhat. I had reached the point where my psyche had fractured into two, the part that was becoming increasingly impatient as the wait for the food to arrive went on (and on, and on), and the more rational part that tried to calm the other by pointing out that getting annoyed wouldn't actually make things go any faster.

And then, to the party!

The party mostly consisted of talking to a variety of cousins, significant others, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and various other family members.

Of particular note:
  • Fame at last! During my uncle's speech thanking everyone for coming, he referenced my blog post about ironing. Huzzah! Of course, I have now referenced his speech, referencing my blog in my blog, which is all starting to get a bit mind-bending. All we will need is for him to reference this blog post in another speech, ideally mentioning that it referenced his speech referencing a previous post, and heads may explode. Something to look forward to, there.
  • The DJ elected to fill the evening with a variety of interpretive dances, firstly to Abba, and then to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Truly, it was a wonder to behold. Indeed, so silly was it, that I thought perhaps I might be hallucinating. However, Chris was on hand to inform me that it was, in fact, real. (But then, if you think you might be hallucinating, how can you trust the word of someone who might themselves be an hallucination? Luckily, Albert Einstein was also there to inform me that this was not the case.) I was going to take a picture, or even a video, of this for your enjoyment, but I don't actually own a camera. Instead, I considered doing a series of stick-figure drawings (which you could print out and then riffle to create a poor-man's animation effect), but I have since decided I can't draw.
  • Chris and Cousin RJ have asked me to pipe at their wedding (I wasn't actually going to mention this, but Chris has alluded to it in an earlier comment, so it seems it is now fair game). I had half expected that this might occur, and so had prepared a response in advance. Although, to be honest, I'm not sure, "yes" required too much preparation.

And then, at about 9, I hit The Wall again. I had thought there was only one, but no! It turns out that there is an ever-expanding corridor just full of walls for people to hit. Still, I manfully carried on until it was beyond midnight, and my lift back to the B&B was giving up for the night. Because, you know, it is important that it wasn't me who had to leave.

One final incident: As I returned to the B&B, there were a trio of folk standing outside having a smoke (England having ripped off Scotland's smoking ban, having decided it was a good idea). There were two men, one slightly older than the other, and a somewhat attractive blonde woman.

Anyway, as I approached, the younger of the two men decided that it would be hilarious to mock the Scotsman by loudly enquiring, "Why would anyone wear a kilt?" Naturally, such a cruel and unwarranted attack would have devastated me, save for one thing.

While he was talking, I caught the eye of the somewhat attractive blonde woman (who might potentially have been with the younger guy, or might not). She proceeded to flash me a rather suggestive smile.

I believe that's one-nil to me.

And that was Saturday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day Five

Yes, it's the long-awaited first post in my epic recap of the weekend.

Thursday night saw sleep once again prove elusive. I woke up feeling half-dead, but consoled myself with the knowledge that I had only 192 minutes of work to do that day, followed by a game of badminton, and then it would be the weekend.

However, three tasks remianed for me at work. Individually, these were quick, but when operating under a deadline, and in the knowledge that they all had to be finished before I could go on holiday, it proved tense.

In the end, I finished two, but not quite the third, before badminton. I therefore had to return to the office in the afternoon to retest my fixes for the last problem. Still, it was a matter of some twenty minutes, so not a disaster.

I remain on a losing streak in badminton. The issue here is that we have a new player, who is a keen triple-jumper, and therefore absurdly fit. He's also just slightly better at badminton than I. This means that for the first couple of games, I narrowly fail to beat him, but run myself ragged. After that, there's no chance of recovery, or victory or, well, anything really.

The afternoon was spent running around getting presents, and cards, and packing, and eating, and generally running around. And then on to party three.

Party three proved interesting, as it was the first to require moving around, there being a disco and all. So, I duly danced some dances and then, my obligation fulfilled, spent the rest of the evening talking to people.

Somewhat disappointingly, I noted that there was a mass exodus of people around eleven. Apparently, this is a very common activity amongst that particular group, but this was the first time I recall having encountered it.

Tsk, tsk.

Still, I suppose not everyone has the same boundless reserves of energy as me, which must explain why they just couldn't carry on. Lightweights. :)

The evening ended with a slightly awkward conversation with my friend's fiance about payment for piping services (basically, she wants to pay me, and I'm rather less keen on the idea). Given my policy of not arguing with women when they are emotional, I tactically withdrew. Another conversation for another time, I feel.

Then there was a quick walk home, the discovery of a rather nasty hole in my ankle, a quick walk of the dog, and then nice time for seven whole hours of sleep. Naturally, I got about four.

More bad science from MPs

This time, it comes from the Tory party. Apparently, they believe that there is no excuse for obesity.

Apparently, our Shadow Health Secretary is due to say, "Tell people that biology and the environment causes obesity and they are offered the one thing we have to avoid: an excuse."

This is all well and good, except for one small thing: we don't know what causes obesity. It is entirely possible that genetic, hormonal or even viral factors cause it. Indeed, it is exceedingly likely that one or all of these is a factor.

The novel "Fat" actually goes into this at great length. It points out that virtually no-one actually chooses to become obese. It points out that at any given time, huge numbers of people (mostly women) are on some diet or other. It also points out that the overwhelming evidence is that diets are actually counter-productive except as a short-term step - most people put the weight back on, plus bit, pretty quickly.

And it points out that most food guidance on this matter is predicated on a simple sum: if calories in < calories out, weight will be lost. Yet this great and simple sum fails to account for the complexities of the situation: if it were that simple then it wouldn't matter if we ate six tiny meals or one huge one in the day, since the calories in would be the same... but this is patently nonsense since the frequency with which we eat (and also what we eat) also affects the 'calories out' part of the equation.

And then there are the idiotic recommendations in other areas. About a year ago, I saw a so-called expert on TV extolling some new finding, effectively saying that anyone who dares ever eat red meat, drink so much as a drop of alcohol, or even dare look at ice cream, then that person would definately get cancer and immediately drop dead.

This wonderful expert then went on to say that not only should we seek to drop our weights until we get to the recommended BMI (despite them being crap - statistically, most of our Olympic medallists are obese according to their BMIs), but that we should in fact seek to be as far under the recommended BMI as we can manage. Fortunately, no-one paid any attention, since being underweight is really, really bad for you. But I wouldn't expect an expert in nutrition to know that.

Another problem with Andrew Lansley's great vision for a fit and healthy Britain is this: when people are feeling happy and confident, they will naturally find it easier to drop weight and keep it off. They will feel more motivated to exercise, less driven to comfort eating, and will generally do better. Stigmatising fat people, as he suggests, will just make them more fat, especially since many of them have probably already tried a bunch of diets, and failed to lose weight each time.

At this point, I considered adding a scheme for dealing with the obesity problem, but I actually did that some ages ago. Therefore, I won't bother (it wasn't exactly revolutionary, anyway). Perhaps I should instead run for office?

Wednesday, August 27th, 12:50 pm

Mark this moment in your calendars. I just heard my first Christmas song of the year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Comparitive Fast Food

On my return from the US, the question I was asked most often was, "is fast food very different in the States than it is in the UK?" (No, really.)

The answer I gave was that, yes, it was in fact really quite different. But I could never quite think of a good example to illustrate this difference, until now.

On returning from England, Graeme and I stopped at one of the service stations for dinner, where we ate at Burger King. There was one group in front of us at the queue, while at the tills there were two girls. However, rather than us getting served immediately, one of the two girls steadfastly ignored us while tallying receipts or something, while the other girl busily took orders, then ran around assembling orders, and generally running the front end of the restaurant.

That simply would not have been tolerated in the States. There, if it is at all possible for a customer to be served quickly, then they must be.

The reason for this is really quite simple: competition. Usually, US restaurants will not sit in isolation, but will be close to one another. And, the psychology of the American fast food customer is such that they don't go out to McDonalds (or Burger King, Arby's or wherever), but rather they go out for fast food, and will therefore join whichever queue is the shortest.

In the US the emphasis is very much on the 'fast' part of 'fast food'. Which is probably as it should be - people generally don't go to these places for the quality of the dining experience or the taste of the food.


Sorry about the delay in my blogging schedule. I am officially Not Well.

Technically speaking, it's just a cough, but it's one of those coughs that just nicely knocks everything else out of alignment enough to make you feel generally miserable.

The most likely cause is extreme tiredness, coupled with the not eating right that comes from travelling long distances.

With luck, things will be back to normal in a day or two.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A report on recent events will follow

For now though, I'm just going to say, "Thank goodness I don't have to go to work tomorrow."

Thank goodness I don't have to go to work tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Day Four

Sleep continues to elude me. I have now started hallucinating, which is probably a bad thing. At least, my new friend Albert Einstein seems to think so.

Made something of a breakthrough at work, but there remains much to do. Given that I'm only doing 192 minutes of work tomorrow, and have three large tasks to do in that time, things are looking a little tense. But then, I'm on holiday!

The moat at work had gone down slightly, reducing the risk of crocodile attack. Similarly, the recurrence of sandwiches for lunch reduced distraction to a minimum.

Graeme's party was somewhat successful, despite it not being his birthday until tomorrow. He seemed to have some difficulty with the candles, a clear sign of the infirmity that comes with age.

And then, on returning home I was confronted by the biggest spider in the world. So, I calmly explained my no-killing policy regarding arachnids, and suggested we could co-exist. The spider had other ideas, and promptly siezed control of my bed. I now write this from my new web, tucked away in one corner of the living room.

It's fair to say that life hasn't turned out quite as I had imagined.

The BBFC versus "The Dark Knight"

I happened to be on Jen's blog earlier, and noted her comments on "The Dark Knight", which I saw some weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed. The comment attached to that post questioned why the BBFC considered the film suitable to be seen by children.

The truth is, I hadn't given a moment's thought to the rating assigned to the film. Since I'm 32, and don't have children, I really don't care. In fact, my only interest in the ratings of most films is whether they've been cut to get them. I would much rather see a film uncut than cut, and so don't want to see my films cut down to get a more box-office-friendly rating, thank you so much.

So, I had been completely unaware of the storm that had been brewing over this film. Apparently, the BBFC has rated it 12A, and a whole lot of parents have been complaining that this was unacceptable, since it made it possible for children of any age to see the film, provided they were accompanied by an adult.

(At this point, I'll just note that the 12A certificate came about because most of those same parents wanted to take their children to see "Spiderman", but couldn't because of the 12 certificate. It is ironic that the certificate was changed due to massive complaints, and now there are massive complaints because the change is being applied.)

However, the BBFC got it wrong. This Batman film is a dark, violent and disturbing vision. It may well be a 'comic book movie', but it's no more for kids than the latest "Rambo" film.

Indeed, I sometimes question whether the people at the BBFC even watch films before they slap a certificate on them. Did the "South Park" movie get a lower certificate because, well, "it's just a cartoon"? Did "The Dark Knight" get a pass because "it's just a comic book"?

To say I'm unhappy about this would not be inaccurate, much as saying it rains quite often in Scotland is not inaccurate.

I'm now going to outline how I think film classifications should work. Before, I do that, though, I'll quickly outline the UK and US systems.

In the US, films are rated by the MPAA. Strictly speaking, this process is optional, but none of the big cinema chains will show unrated films, so it is effectively required. You do, however, quite often see unrated versions of films later being made available on DVD, which is quite nice.

In the US, there are five (?) different ratings: G rated films are especially suited for family viewing. PG rated films are slightly more mature, but generally suited for everyone. PG-13 films are the next step up, and typically include "teen comedies". Children aged 12 or under can see these films, but only if accompanied by an adult. Then there are R rated films, which you have to be 18 to see unaccompanied, but which parents can still take children of any age to see. Finally, there is the little-used NC-17 rating. To see such a film you have to be at least 18; parents cannot overrule this certificate for their children. However, the NC-17 rating has become associated with porn, and so is rarely used. Indeed, most cinema chains simply won't show such films, so film companies might as well go unrated.

In the UK, films are rated by the BBFC. Film classifications are mandatory. Furthermore, companies are not allowed to publish different versions of the film at different ratings on DVD, so there is no equivalent of the "unrated" version of the film on DVD. (Where you see "Unseen at the Cinema" DVD versions, these either will exist to the exclusion of the cinema version, or will share the same certificate. And, in any case, you're better off getting the US unrated version if you want to see the 'uncut' film - assuming you have a multi-region DVD player of course.)

In the UK there are also five different ratings: U rated films are suitable for all (equivalent to G). PG rated films are slightly more mature, but generally suited for everyone (PG). 12A films are the next step up, and typically include "teen comedies". Children aged 12 or under can see these films, but only if accompanied by an adult (PG-13).

The system diverges with the next category, the 15. Here, no-one under the age of 15 is allowed to see the film. Parents are not allowed to overrule this classification. Most R-rated films receive a 15 certificate in the UK.

Finally there are the 18s, which catch the rest of the R rated films. As with the 15, no-one under the age of 18 is allowed to see the film, and parents aren't allowed to overrule the classification. It is likely that some films that would receive an NC-17 in the States would get an 18 over here, but most such films get cut down to an R anyway.

I believe there is also an 18A rating, used for porn films. These films are never seen in a mainstream cinema, and can only be sold in speciality stores. I'm discounting them, as I'm only interested in mainstream films here. (Plus, see my note above about US unrated versions.)

Oh, and finally, the BBFC have the ability to ban a film (or, more commonly, a video game) outright, by refusing to grant any certificate.

So, here's my thoughts. Firstly, I think mandatory classification is a good thing. Secondly, I think the role of the BBFC should be to classify films, not to censor them, and not to ban them. Thirdly and finally, I think the US policy, where parents can overrule the classifications for their children is a good thing. (Yes, that does mean that parents could, in theory, take their five-year-olds to see "Saw". I don't believe it is the job of the state to stop them from doing something so obviously stupid.)

So, I would leave the classifications as they currently are, except that I'd rename the '12A' back to '12'. I would change the rules for the 15 and 18 so that parents can overrule the classification. And I would expand the 18 certificate to include 'anything else'.

I would also change the role of the BBFC. Firstly, they seem to have been taking the view lately that standards in society have changed, and so film classifications should change to match. And so, "The Dark Knight" gets a 12A where "Robocop" got an 18, and yet the former is much more violent and disturbing than the latter. (And no-one has reclassified "Robocop", so a 12-year old will be able to buy one DVD but not the other in a few months, which is... odd, to say the least.) I disagree with this emphatically. Rating standards should remain consistent, so that people can actually trust the ratings that are given to films.

Secondly, I would remove their ability to order cuts from films. In fact, I would go one step further: I would forbid them from offering advice to studios on how to cut films for lesser certificates. The finished film should be presented to them, a certificate applied, and that should be the end of the matter. (I really don't like watching cut films.)

Thirdly, I would remove their ability to ban a film. Their job is to classify, not to censor. If someone is stupid enough to go see a "Saw", "Hostel" or "Captivity" film, then they really should be complaining about all the horrific violence - they should have known going in that the films have an 18 certificate, that that actually means something... and they should know what these films are about and what they entail.

Back to "The Dark Knight". It is a fantastic film. I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it should be at least a 15, and perhaps even an 18.


So, England scrape a draw against the Czech Republic, and now the papers are full of every pundit slating the team. The lustre is clearly off the 'new dawn' of the Fabio Capello era, and he'll be on his way soon enough.

Um, what?

Here's the thing: friendlies don't count. Occasionally, maybe, you'll get a friendy played in a truly competitive spirit, just before a major tournament where one manager needs to keep his team in fighting trim. But just after a major tournament, at the start of a new season, where no-one much cares beyond avoiding injury? Yeah, not so much.

The time to start thinking about judging Capello's performance so far is after the Andorra match. And, probably more tellingly, after the Croatia match. If he gets four points from those, he's doing very well indeed. (Croatia are a very good team - it wasn't a fluke that they beat England home and away last time out.)

Oh, and as for Scotland's performance against Northern Ireland? Um, yeah, friendlies don't count. I hope.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day Three

Still not getting enough sleep.

Noted this morning that I only have one more day on the Shredded Wheat to go, and then I'm on to the Sugar Puffs. It's only a small thing to look forward to, but it's something at least.

Noted also that I have lost two pounds since the weekend. I dread to contemplate the obvious connection there.

Went to work, and found the moat flooded (in the UK, we not only all live in castles, but we work in them too). Managed somehow to avoid being eaten by the vicious crocodiles in the moat.

Finished the easy-but-tedious task! Huzzah! Now I only have the absurdly difficult task to complete by the weekend, and I'm golden.

Lunch was sandwiches, without distraction. I think the meat may have been slightly off, and the bread was definately slightly stale. Still, I think I made my point.

And then the first party of the week, as mentioned in my previous post. Very exciting. No more invitations received. Tomorrow is Graeme's 22nd, which should be... quiet, I think. Although he's not actually 22 until Friday, so it's all a bit of a cheat.

Didn't feel terribly well this evening. At one point, I actually thought my heart had stopped, but then I realised that I've actually been dead for the past year anyway, so it wasn't that. Turned out to be indigestion. Still, it was a little worrying, even though I shouldn't have anything to worry about on that score (playing the bagpipes is excellent cardio-vascular exercise, so although my blood pressure is somewhat high, there shouldn't be a problem there).

And now, the mystery: will I sleep tonight?

No wonder they're called the terrible twos...

It was my nephew's second birthday today (which is frankly absurd, but that's another rant for another time - what little time I have left, that is). With a gaggle of aunts and uncles, that boy is quickly acquiring a fearsome array of toys, fit for any child to put away in a closet and rarely if ever play with.

Actually, I think there may perhaps be a need to have a couple of conversations about gift values - certain aunts seem to be rather more extravagant in their giving than certain uncles, which isn't actually terribly fair. Especially when dealing with a child, who by virtue of age might not grasp that just because a person doesn't give as much doesn't mean that they don't love as much.

However, that's not really what I want to talk about. Instead, a reflection on just why that difficult third year is sometimes referred to as the "terrible twos":

When a child is new-born, everything is being encountered for the first time. The crushing banality of life hasn't really had a time to set in, and things are really quite exciting.

Then, when the child turns one, there follows the most productive year of his life. He learns to walk, and to talk, and it's all very exciting. Extremely significant events, there.

But once the child is two, what is there left to do? Well, I'll tell you: potty training. Certainly important, but it lacks the glamour of walking, and talking. Let's face it, you're never going to get quite the same buzz from, "behold, I am no longer waddling in my own poo!" as you do even from merely being able to say, "behold" in the first place.

And then there's the toys. Go to a toy store, and you'll find plenty of toys for children at 3+ months. Likewise, 6+ and 9+ months are both solidly represented. As is 12+ months, and so too 18+ months.

Then it jumps to 3+ years. All the really good toys are for children of 3 and over. But for the two-year-old? Nothing.

So, one has the choice: does one purchase a toy suitable for a child of 18+ months (which, frankly, seems rather young even for a child of 18 months, never mind 2 years), or does one ignore the guidelines, and go for a 3+ years toy?

Well, the answer, actually, is that you can't do the latter. While the parents can elect to ignore the guidelines, knowing the capabilities of their child (and, perhaps more importantly, the risks they are willing to expose their child to), the well-meaning uncle can't really make that call.

And so, not only does the two-year-old only have a rather mediocre year of intermittent non-poofulness to look forward to, but they also get a haul of fairly lame toys as gifts.

No wonder they're tetchy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day Two

Another day, another lack of proper sleep. At this rate, I'll be collapsing in a heap come Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, I'm on holiday next week, but not jetting off to Lisbon until the week after.

Reached work, and threw myself into the easy-but-tedious task with gusto. The morning therefore passed uneventfully, apart from extensive apple contemplations.

Expanded the lunchtime diversion to a full dialogue, although I'm not entirely certain that three words really deserves that lofty title. ("Salad?"/"Yes. Please.") End result: I'm on sandwiches tomorrow.

No progress on the party front, either in invitations or attendance.

Have found that cold beer tastes better out of a glass than directly out of the bottle. Not entirely sure this is relevant. It's also not much of a revelation - I kinda knew that already.

And that's more or less it. I'm marshalling my resources for the parties ahead, so won't be doing anything more this evening. At least, nothing of any significance.

The tension is quite unbearable...

As I sat contemplating my apple (more on this later), the rain started battering down on the metal roof of the office. Relaxing as this is, I do find myself cursing the unfairness of the weather. See, kids in Scotland have gone back to school this week, which should be an absolute indicator that we're due for a couple of weeks of really nice sunshine. Instead, we get lashings of cool, copious rain.

So, apples, and the contemplation thereof. Each day, I have a piece of fruit at 10:30 as one of my five a day. Sometimes it is a banana, sometimes an orange. This week, it's apples, currently enjoying a revival of the gala variety.

Except that today 10:30 came and went, and I was not hungry. And so, the apple remained. 11:30 arrived, and the debate began: shall I eat the apple now, or shall I wait until mid-afternoon? Certainly, at this point I am quite hungry, but would eating now impact on lunch? And I might also be quite hungry in mid-afternoon, so perhaps better to wait.

The life of a software engineer is a never-ending stream of extremely complex decisions. Shall I wear this clean white shirt, or shall I wear that clean white shirt? Shall I wear the blue tie with coloured spots, or perhaps the black tie with entirely different coloured spots? Or perhaps a tie with frogs on? Should I continue this list of trivial decisions, or have I made my point? Shall I eat the apple now, or save it for later.

So, I ate the apple. It was nice. I then wrote a lengthy blog post about eating the apple, and all the complexities inherent in this action. Exciting, isn't it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day One

Last night, after posting my rant about my weekend (and I'm not sure the film reference actually works, by the way), I gave myself a metaphorical shake, and decided to really seize the week. Then I went to bed.

Naturally, I failed to sleep. Consequently, I finally woke up with my alarm (which I have successfully shifted from 7:02 to 6:58), and immediately regretted it. Still, up we get, and off to work.

This week at work I have two tasks, one of which is immensely difficult, and one of which is very easy but extremely tedious. Technically, the easy task has priority. However, fifteen minutes into it, I decided I just couldn't face it at this point, so instead elected to make no progress whatsoever on the difficult task.

There was one minor diversion, which has led to me not making sandwiches for tomorrow. However, my rakish new haircut met and failed its first test. Not a good sign.

Then home, and to band, which was fine.

I have now been invited to two more parties. This takes the total to five, plus two weddings (although the reception might be considered a party, it would be inappropriate to refer to the day as such, so I will not). One of the new parties is fancy dress, where I shall once again make use of my classic "man in hat" costume.

The other is an eighteenth birthday party. It has been a while since I was invited to an eighteenth. Indeed, it may be that the last I attended was Cousin A's, and since she's thirty next year, that was quite some time ago. I think for this one I shall forgo my zimmer, and make do with a single walking stick, the better to fit in with the young crowd.

So, if there are twenty people in my office, and only one is openly female...

During my surfing for the day, I encountered this particular article, that really annoyed me. In particular, I really disliked the line, "Outsports said this must be way short of the real figure and argued that a more accurate estimate could even reach 1,000."

I'm sorry, but why exactly must it be way short? Firstly, estimates of the incidence of homosexuality in the general population have ranged from 0.1% to 10%, with the most recent surveys coming back somewhere between 2% and 7%. This places the figure of 10 in 10,000 right at the low edge of the range of estimates.

Secondly, and more tellingly, the assumption that seems to be being made is that the incidence of homosexuality in Olympic athletes must be the same as that in the general populace, which simply doesn't follow. (Indeed, the article itself points out that being an athlete at this level requires a uniquely singleminded focus, something that is unlikely to be achieved by a child being bullied for being gay. That isn't how things should be, but if we're realistic, we have to concede that it is all too often how things are.)

But the misinterpretation of statistics wasn't really what bothered me, if I'm being honest. Frankly, I've gotten used to it, and anyway I'm much more annoyed by the "women are better drivers" and "women earn 80% what a man earns for the same job" lies.

What really bothered me about this article was the line, "It is just easier to hide and deal with one's sexuality later."

Here's my question for Outsports: what business is it of yours? Whether one is a gay-advocacy group, or just a random person on the street, what right do you have to know the orientation of an athlete, or anyone else for that matter? And isn't the whole point of achieving true social equality that we will one day come to the point where we finally realise that, actually, it doesn't matter, that being at the very top in one's field has nothing to do with whom one finds attractive? Why the need to call it 'hiding', when one hasn't happened to mention something that, frankly, has all the relevance of the athlete's favourite colour?

Or am I crazy?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's all a bit "Dead Poets' Society"

The week ended with such promise. Work was done, the "Clone Wars" beckoned, then a band engagement, and then perhaps a night on the town.

Oh, what a fool I was to believe such things.

Actually, I rather enjoyed "Clone Wars". For a change, the absurd adverts and trailers at the cinema worked in my favour, because we arrived slightly late, found there was a queue, watched the single assistant work more slowly than I previously thought possible, and so got into the theatre just in perfect time for the Lucasfilm logo to appear. Huzzah!

It wasn't the best film ever, nor even the best of the year or month (that honour belongs to "The Dark Knight"). But it was fairly enjoyable as far as it goes. Bubblegum for the eyes - a sweet taste for a while, but absolutely no lasting impression.

Saturday was spent buying presents and watching "Stargate". My game was cancelled, as the wedding at which the band was playing required my presence at 7:15, which was just too early for the game to occur. Given an extra hour, or better two, and we would have been good to go.

So, I got ready, and went to the hotel, arriving at 7:05 ("five minutes before five minutes before", as someone once told me). At 7:12 the phone rang - the Pipe Major apologised for forgetting to let me know of a time change. We weren't needed until 9.

I returned to the hotel at 9, and we played. Naturally, during the performance I learned that a key change had been made to one particular piece on Thursday (the one practice I have missed in the past month), leading to me making a key, and very noticable, mistake. Damn.

And then, because we had started late, we finished late, which meant the night on the town was cancelled. Probably just as well, since someone had thought it would be hilarious to say, "Stephen ruined the wedding" in an annoying sing-song, just loud enough for the whole band to hear.

So, I returned home, and watched the concluding episodes of the eighth series of "Stargate". Then I retired for the night.

Today has been totally uneventful, thus rendering the weekend something of a catastrophe.

I really don't want to go back to work tomorrow. It's going to be yet another hard week. Not only is work going to be tough, but from Wednesday my evenings are going to be a never-ending party, the likes of which the world has never known. And I really don't feel like making merry.

Sometimes, I just want to shout my frustration to the heavens, to scream a barbaric yawp to the world. But such things are just not done, you understand, and so we persevere.

Plus, I seem to have completely lost the taste for alcohol. I can't even drown my sorrows. Gah!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Yes, I'm a little annoyed...

Periodically, we get a bout of articles online making the extremely clever assertion that the modern man isn't any longer manly, because some absurd percentage of modern men are now more comfortable ironing than maintaining a car.

Bloody idiotic, it is.

Here's the thing: ironing has not changed appreciably in the last forty years - take a hot flat plate, and run it over slightly damp fabrics that are placed on another flat surface. The flat surfaces press the clothes flat, while the combination of the heat and the dampness cause the fabrics to 'set' in their new uncreased configuration.

By contrast, car maintenance has changed significantly. Once upon a time, the internal combustion engine was a marvel of engineering, but was fundamentally something that could be taken apart, understood, and put back together. Nowadays, the modern car engine has a hundred different functions controlled by an onboard computer that is sensitive to its environment. Messing around with it without knowing exactly what you're doing is a sure way to run into trouble. Beyond fairly simple maintenance, there's actually not that much the layman can really do.

That said, there's very little excuse for anyone (man or woman) not being able to either iron a shirt or change a tyre.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"How old are you, really?"

One of the people at band took exception to my superb new "Adult Mutant Ninja Turtles" t-shirt. I feel this was a little unfair, for two reasons:

1) I wear a shirt and tie to work every day (except Fridays). I feel, therefore, that I am allowed to wear a silly t-shirt during my leisure time.

2) Everyone knows that the Turtles hit the peak of their popularity right at the end of the 80's. This means that they are now newly retro, making me cutting-edge, and therefore achingly hip. In fact, I even have groupies.

(Okay, in point of fact, this last statement isn't entirely true. But I did get a smile from the cute girl in Tesco who rammed my with her shopping cart. I might even have opened dialogue, using my excellent "swapping insurance details" line, except that the force of the blow had left me in an inverted spread-eagle atop a fallen pyramid of Diet Irn Bru cans. The whole experience was therefore only slightly more pleasant than actually drinking said Diet Irn Bru. And there wasn't even an Olympic Judge on hand to assess my form in the Can-Splatting event in the Supermarket Olympics.)

My biggest concern, though, is that in a couple of years the "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" will be due their revival. Around about the time S Club 7 reform and are hailed as a "classic act from yesteryear".

Very annoyed

The second series of "The Tudors" started the week before last. Now, I'm not a massive fan of the series, but enough of one to actually want to watch it. And, furthermore, I would much rather see all the episodes, rather than have to fill in the gaps.

Naturally, I managed to miss the first episode by all of four days... just long enough to miss the repeat. And, what's worse, unlike virtually every other show on modern TV, there is only one repeat. Eastenders gets six repeats before the next episode airs two days later, but "The Tudors"? No, one repeat is your lot, mate.

Fortunately, the BBC have invested a huge amount of money in their delightful iPlayer, a tool that allows people to watch TV on demand. And mighty fine it is, too, although I have never actually had cause to want to watch a whole episode on it (only a Children In Need Doctor Who special).

So, I figured I would use this wonderful tool to watch the first episode, and then I'd be caught up and ready to watch the second episode. And what do I find? "The episode is not available online."


Sunday, August 10, 2008

It's a comedy, and a good one at that, so why am I not laughing?

While waiting for my watch to be adjusted, I wandered (lonely as a cloud) through the pedestrianised area in Falkirk. My interest was piqued, briefly, by the sounds of a lone piper, but when I sought the busker I instead found that it was a weeding in progress. There were many gawkers, but having seen many a weeding in my time I elected not to join them.

Instead, I made my way to Waterstones, where I purchased the second James Bond novel, "Live and Let Die" (the order of the novels is completely different from the order of the films), and Rob Grant's novel, "Fat". This latter I started reading yesterday, and have finished this evening.

(Note: spoilers follow. If you don't want to know, stop reading.)

Now, Rob Grant is one half of the team that created Red Dwarf. Perhaps tellingly, he is also the half that departed the show before the disasterous seventh and eighth series. He has written several novels, all of which I have now read. And, I have found them all extremely funny, until now. (In fact, "Incompetnece", which I consider his best work to date, had my laughing so hard I actually lost my voice.)

I did not find "Fat" funny. It really should have been: the characters were well-drawn, the plots were amusing (all but one), the observational humour was spot-on, and the style was the same as in his other books.

So what was wrong?

Well, fundamentally, the problem was the plot surrounding Hayley Griffin, one of his three main characters. Who, being a teenage girl in a world obsessed with weight, does what too many teenage girls in our weight-obsessed world do... which, frankly, just isn't funny. It's awful. And it's especially awful when the chapters are written from her point of view... and she speaks with a 'voice' that reads eerily like Cousin RJ's now-defunct blog.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the book shouldn't have tackled the subject. I'm not even saying that it is a bad book - on the contrary, it is a very good book, and I strongly recommend it. It's just not a funny subject, and as a consequence, it's just not a funny book.

Having now become thoroughly depressed with this all-too-real of a near-future world where being overweight is a crime, I shall retire for the night. I have work tomorrow, which I'm sure will lighten my spirits.

Friday, August 08, 2008


At work on Monday, it was a matter of some concern when a package arrived for me that was heard to be quietly ticking. However, this turned out not to be Graeme's long-awaited revenge for my use of the Squirrel Ballet joke, but rather a rather spiffy new watch that I had ordered last week.

Truly, it is a thing of beauty.

However, because nothing quite works out perfectly, there was a small wrinkle in the tale, for the braclet of the watch was too loose for my wrist, such that wearing the watch would be an exercise in fear that it might drop to the ground and be stolen by a passing squirrel (or other creature of nefarious intent).

And so, I elected not to wear the watch to the ceilidh I didn't attend on Wednesday (don't ask, for it is a terrible and tragic tale, of love, loss, and closed roads).

So, instead, I waited until today, before taking the watch to my favourite jeweller (and by 'favourite', of course, I mean "the first one in the list when I Googled for jewellers in Falkirk"). There, I explained the whole wrist/squirrel conundrum, and arranged to have some links removed from the bracelet in order to confound my nemeses.

I was told to leave the watch to be done, and come back in half an hour. Which raises the question: if I've left my watch, how am I to know when half an hour has passed? Surely, a mystery for the ages.

31.2 minutes later, I returned to the shop to collect my watch, which had been suitably modified. I then made my way back to my car, ever-alert in case there was a need to mock a passing squirrel for his inability to tell the time.


Of course, what remains now is the question: given that I had not one, but two perfectly good watches in my possession (and had, in fact, recently replaced one watch with a suspiciously identical cheap black watch), why did I feel the need to purchase a third watch? Was stereo time no longer adequate, such that I felt the need for a surround-time system?

The answer lies in the title of this post. See, when it comes to bling, I take the somewhat old-fashioned view that less is more, especially where men are concerned. Not for me a fistful of golden rings, or a plethora of fool-pitying medallions. And absolutely no piercings. Instead, I will confine myself to a suitably characterful tie, a smart set of cufflinks (and then only when wearing a dress shirt), and a dress watch.

Which of course necessitates the purchase of a suitable dress watch, as has now been done. Did I mention that it is a thing of beauty?