Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year in 2014

So, the end of another year, and time for another end-of-year round-up. As I said last year, these actually get easier to write each time, as the headings are largely the same and it becomes mostly a matter of comparison with what went before.

The major take-away from 2014 is that it was a much better year than 2013 in all sorts of ways. It started well, and although there was never really a high-point as such, the whole thing was generally satisfying. So, I'm happy with that.

My Year in... Work

Work has been hard this year, but it has also been quite successful. My annual report was fairly stellar, which is always nice, and I've been kept busy with fairly interesting challenges. There was no trip to the US, or indeed anywhere else, this year, which is something of a shame, but otherwise it's been good.

My Year in... Health

My health has been generally good in 2014. There have been a couple of IBS flare-ups, including one that was very nasty, but that's just life now. The only other thing of note was that after the car crash in October my neck was once again painful. That's not hugely surprising, and it's much better now, but it was still less than ideal.

Oh, and my aim to lose weight this year failed utterly. That will need to be addressed again in the new year.

My Year in... Gaming

2014 was a somewhat disappointing year for gaming, mostly because I had not one but two games collapse on me: "Star Wars: Imperial Fist" came to a fairly abrupt end when one of my players dropped out, while my 5e test game failed to attract many players to begin with and so was wrapped up early as well.

Likewise, I didn't get far with running one-shots: both "A Lament for Lustivan" and "Ultraviolet: 2XS" failed to attract a quorum. That said, the Christmas game went very well, meaning that the year ended on a high note.

On the playing side, I was involved in two sessions of "Numenera" and one of "GUMSHOE", all of which were very enjoyable. The "Numenera" game still has one session to run, though it's not clear when, or even if, this will happen.

The other noteworthy thing was the release of the new edition of D&D, which has impressed, and Firefly which looks really good.

My hope for 2015 is to run a number of episodes of "Firefly" - essentially a sort-of campaign built from the pre-published adventures for the system, but with a potentially rotating cast of players. I'm not planning a 'full' campaign of any sort, nor do I have any other one-shots in the pipeline.

My Year in... Band

Band has been extremely mixed this year. Basically, the competition season sucked, and (probably as a result of that) I had some real problems dealing with the pipe major. On the other hand, the teaching I've been doing has been very enjoyable, and ever since the band has resumed after the AGM things have been much calmer.

It would be nice to think 2015 will carry on in the same vein as the past two months, but I think I'll believe that when I see it. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the Development Band will be resumed, so that part of the plan is a non-starter.

My Year in... Resolutions

I've posted about my goals already, and am fairly happy with those.

My Year in... Travel

I've been rather remiss in updating my blog about our trips this year, to put it mildly.

LC and I took three trips this year. In April we spent a few days in Belfast to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. This was a fun, quiet trip. We saw the Titanic museum, went on a day trip out to the Giant's Causeway, and took the bus tour of the city.

In July, we took our long-awaited 'real' holiday to Barcelona. Which was lovely, but soooo hot. We spent a full week there, seeing lots of sights and generally having a fun, relaxed time.

And, finally, we spent a few days in Cardiff. Unfortunately, due to school timetables, we had to go the week before the "Doctor Who Experience" re-opened, which probably means we've missed it - it's not worth doing there for that alone, and I think we've now mostly 'done' Cardiff. Still, it was a good trip for all that.

I'm not at all sure what 2015 might bring as far as travel goes. I guess we'll see - it's an adventure!

My Year in... Faith

This year saw me put right one of my niggling issues, which was that for a long time I didn't have any clear pattern of Bible reading. I had read the whole Bible before, of course, finally finishing it back in Part Two when I was living in Yeovil. Since then, however, I hadn't really been in the habit of daily readings - I find it hard to re-read things I have already read, especially things I've already read recently.

This year, I embarked on a second read-through of the whole Bible, following Don Carson's "For the Love of God" (which in turn uses Robert Murray M'Cheyne daily pattern). This has meant reading a few chapters a day, and saw me read the whole of the Bible once, and the Psalms and the New Testament twice, over the course of the year.

This was a useful experience, I think, although I have decided not to repeat it next year, because of what I said before - I've now read it all recently, so it's too soon to revisit it once more. Perhaps for 2016 I'll get volume two of DC's work and start again.

Otherwise, there's not much to tell. Things are proceeding much as they have done this last age.

My Year in... Love

2014 was a marked improvement over 2013. LC completed her probation year, and then found herself a long-term supply job. She's now finished this and starting another job in January, which will run through the year. This has represented huge progress, and I was very proud with the results of the two interviews she had just before Christmas, which resulted in not one but two offers.

The major downside of 2014 was the sad passing of our little hamster Eowyn, who had to be put down due to suffering several small tumours. This was a sad occasion, and left the living room decidedly less squeaky.

Apart from that there's not a lot to say. 2014 has been our most successful year as a couple, but it's hard to express exactly why in words. So: Awesome; that is all.

My Year... Overall

2014 has been an extremely blessed year all around, although not without its hardships. I can therefore look back on it a lot more favourably than 2013, and can look to 2015 with significant hope. I just hope it lives up to it!

Anyway, this will be my last post of this year (I'll post new goals tomorrow), so I'll end off by wishing anyone who still reads my nonsense a very happy New Year, and all the best for 2015.

Books of the Year 2014

And so we come to the end of 2014. The list below is slightly provisional: there's a slight chance I may yet finish one more book and have to update. However, I suspect "The City" is much more likely to be book #1 of 2015 than to be #63 of 2014. Which isn't a terrible thing, as the next novel is a big one!

Update: Sure enough, I did finish "The City" last night, with about 3 hours to spare. So I've added that to the list and made a small number of changes below.

Anyway, here's the list:

  1. "The Commodore", by Patrick O'Brian
  2. "Ten Little Aliens", by Stephen Cole
  3. "Stalking the Beast", by Howard Andrew Jones
  4. "David Copperfield", by Charles Dickens *
  5. "Pathfinder: Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth", by Wolfgang Baur
  6. "The Yellow Admiral", by Patrick O'Brian
  7. "Dreams of Empire", by Justin Richards
  8. "The Dagger of Trust", by Chris Willrich
  9. "The Wind in the Willows", by Kenneth Grahame *
  10. "The Hundred Days", by Patrick O'Brian
  11. "Pathfinder: City of Locusts", by Richard Pett
  12. "Pathfinder: the Half-dead City", by Jim Groves
  13. "A Memory of Light", by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  14. "Blue at the Mizzen", by Patrick O'Brian
  15. "Festival of Death", by Jonathan Morris
  16. "Skinwalkers", by Wendy N. Wagner
  17. "Scoundrels", by Timothy Zahn
  18. "Pathfinder: Empty Graves", by Crystal Frasier
  19. "The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey", by Patrick O'Brian
  20. "Little Women & Good Wives", by Louisa May Alcott *
  21. "Fear of the Dark", by Trevor Baxendale
  22. "The Redemption Engine", by James L. Sutter
  23. "The Lovely Bones", by Alice Sebold *
  24. "Pathfinder: Shifting Sands", by Richard Pett
  25. "The Golden Ocean", by Patrick O'Brian
  26. "Players", by Terrance Dicks
  27. "Raising Steam", by Terry Pratchett
  28. "Angela's Ashes", by Frank McCourt *
  29. "Pathfinder: Secrets of the Sphinx", by Amber E. Scott
  30. "Firefly Roleplaying Game: Core Book", by Margaret Weis Productions
  31. "Cross-Stitch", by Diana Gabaldon *
  32. "Remembrance of the Daleks", by Ben Aaronovitch
  33. "The Science of Discworld IV: Judgement Day", by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen
  34. "Ender's Game", by Orson Scott Card *
  35. "The Crusader Road", by Michael A. Stackpole
  36. "Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space Limited Edition Rulebook", by Cubicle Seven
  37. "Solo", by William Boyd
  38. "The Cuckoo's Calling", by Robert Galbraith
  39. "Pathfinder: The Slave Trenches of Hakotep", by Michael Kortes
  40. "Pathfinder: Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh", by Mike Shel
  41. "Earthworld", by Jacqueline Rayner
  42. "Pathfinder: Ultimate Campaign", by Paizo Publishing
  43. "The Grapes of Wrath", by John Steinbeck *
  44. "Pathfinder: Fires of Creation", by Neil Spicer
  45. "The Ocean at the End of the Lane", by Neil Gaiman
  46. "Reign of Stars", by Tim Pratt
  47. "Only Human", by Gareth Roberts
  48. "Beautiful Chaos", by Gary Russell
  49. "Pathfinder: Lords of Rust", by Nicolas Logue
  50. "Bleak House", by Charles Dickens *
  51. "East of Eden", by John Steinbeck *
  52. "Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories", by Various Authors
  53. "Pathfinder: The Choking Tower", by Rob Lundeen
  54. "The Silent Stars Go By", by Dan Abnett
  55. "Winnie the Pooh", by A.A. Milne *
  56. "Nightblade", by Liane Merciel
  57. "Red Dwarf: Backwards", by Rob Grant
  58. "Firefly: Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics", by Margaret Weis Productions
  59. "A Christmas Carol and other Christmas writings", by Charles Dickens *
  60. "Pathfinder: Valley of the Brain Collectors", by Mike Shel
  61. "For the Love of God, volume one", by Don Carson
  62. "Holy Bible", by Various Authors *
  63. "The City", by Stella Gemmell

So, that gives a grand total of 63 books, including thirteen from The List (technically, the Bible is on The List, though you can discount it if you want). Of these, there are sixteen RPG books, two re-reads (the Bible and "Backwards"), and I've also completed all of my sub-lists for the year. All in all, it has been very successful.

The book of the year is "The Grapes of Wrath". In fact, I'll go one further and say this is actually probably the single best book I have ever read, pushing Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" into second place. It's really not a comfortable read, but all the more powerful for all that. ("East of Eden" is also a superb book, but on balance I prefer the other. It's close, though.)

The worst book of the year was also an easy choice, being "Outlander". I really didn't like that one!

An honourable mention really must go to the Aubrey/Maturin series, which maintained an extremely high level of quality right to the very end. The final, unfinished volume was something of a disappointment, and so not one I would recommend, but the circumstances behind this provide the obvious explanation. My recommendation would be to stop with "Blue at the Mizzen", which is as perfect an ending for the series as one could wish.

A second honourable mention must go to "A Memory of Light", not because it's a particularly great book in and of itself, but because of what it represents: I've finished "The Wheel of Time"!

Next year I'm aiming to again reach 60 books. Three of the sub-series will continue unchanged: the Pathfinder (12), Pathfinder Tales (6), and Books from The List (12) series will remain intact. Beyond that I don't have specific series planned, though I do have a number of books picked out - there are several new books coming, as well as a number I picked up in 2014 but didn't get chance to read; I'm hoping to tackle the last part of the Musketeer trilogy, which itself is in three volumes; I have several RPG books to read, for the Firefly RPG and the new edition of D&D; and I have the three Shakespearean Star Wars scripts to read.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

End of Year Update on Goals

With the Christmas Game taking place yesterday, I'm now unlikely to make any meaningful progress on any of my goals. Therefore, since I will have several things to post tomorrow, I thought I'd make a head start on the end-of-year wrap-up with my final update on this year's goals:

  • Weight: The first entry is also the worst, I'm afraid: once again I made no progress whatsoever here.
  • Work: This goal was a success, with 2014 seeing me consolidate the good work I did in 2013. Although the last two months proved to be a major slog, the hard work paid off, and I ended quite strongly again. Success!
  • Books: I passed the target of 60 books a few weeks ago, and will finish the year at either 62 or 63 (the former being more likely). I'll post the list tomorrow. Success!
  • Games: This one failed, but only just. I did indeed complete the "Star Wars: Imperial Fist" campaign, although this ended in somewhat disappointing style (actually, the last session was very enjoyable; it was just the lead-up to that that wasn't great). I also ran a short-lived D&D 5e game, but that only made two sessions before again failing. And two of the three planned one-shots didn't happen: "A Lament for Lustivan" failed to draw a quorum at its third and final attempt, and "Ultraviolet: 2XS" disappeared without even a whimper. On the other hand, I did get to play in two sessions of "Numenera" and one of "GUMSHOE", completing that part of the goal, and the year ended very strongly with a successful Christmas Game ("Firefly: Inglorious", for the Firefly RPG). So a narrow failure, with a positive ending.
  • Maintenance: This was done, reopened, done, reopened... and ends the year done. There will be some work needing done on the flat next year (getting the roof fixed, hopefully in January, then lots of little jobs, and a big redecoration). But the goal itself was completed quite handily.
  • Computer: This was completed quite suddenly when my laptop suddenly died on me. This was a fault in the screen, which meant that the hard drive survived, which in turn meant that I didn't lose anything of any significance (possibly a few emails, but even then it was just a few, and nothing vital). Besides, I had backups, so any risk was always minimal. Success!
  • Money: This was also achieved, with me finally paying back the money I owed Dad from buying my car back in August. Of course, this was paid off just in time for the car to get written off when the clocks changed, but that's just coincidence, I'm sure. Anyway, success!
  • Non-Goal #1: Band: I didn't set a goal for band, but I did indicate that I mostly just wanted to enjoy the season. By that metric, I failed. However, there were lots of positives for the band, and we end the year strongly. So, I'm hopeful things will improve.
  • Non-goal #2: The Bible: I also didn't set a goal regarding this, but at the start of 2014 I did set out on a programme of Bible reading, using Don Carson's "For the Love of God". I was a little concerned with this that if I ever missed a day then that would fail, but I'm pleased to report that I've actually completed all but one of the daily readings, with one day to go (the one I've not yet done is, of course, the one for tomorrow). So that will succeed.

So, that's one disaster and one narrow failure, plus one non-goal mixed bag. Stacked up against that there five goals and one non-goal succeeded. All in all, a pretty strong year.

For next year I'll have another set of goals, though I suspect this will be slightly less extensive. In particular, I'll be redoubling my efforts on the weight front, and will want to look again at what I'm doing with regard to gaming. But I doubt that there will be any real surprises in the mix!

Oh, one more thing: this is the 1,200th post on this blog. So add that milestone to the successes for the year!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Yes, it's time for my third and final bitter rant about how they've managed to mess up their adaptation of "The Hobbit" by turning it into a prequel trilogy for "Lord of the Rings"! Complete with parallels with "Revenge of the Sith", and nitpicks of minor characters.


Actually, I'm going to try to be brief, but there are going to be big spoilers from here on out. The non-spoiler version: like RotS, this film has a good start and a good end, but it really lags in the middle. Oh, and that 'good' start and end isn't even all that good - the first was annoying while the second actually left me bored.

Anyway, there are spoilers from here on out.

The film opens with Smaug's attack on Laketown, which is pretty spectacular and generally excellent. I really liked Bard's one-man resistance, and the bit where his son raced to get him the black arrow was also good.

But they messed it up at the end.

Annoyingly, infuriatingly, maddeningly, they decided that it wasn't enough to have their bowman make his one last desperate shot with his last remaining arrow, right in the face of the dragon. No, that wasn't exciting enough. So instead they decided to have his bow break. And so he constructs himself a makeshift bow by wedging the two halves somewhere in the tower he was standing on, and using his son to sight his shot.

And with one spectacularly bad mis-step they undo all their good work to date.

Probably the worst thing about all of this, beyond just the inherent stupidity of thinking you could make any sort of useful weapon like that, is that they actually foreshadowed the way the scene should play out in the previous film - they made sure to show us the ballista, they commented that there were no black arrows left, and then they showed us that Bard did, in fact, have one such arrow. So there's your desperate last stand - after his arrows are done he casts aside his bow to take the desperate last shot with the ballista.

This is then followed by the rescue of Gandalf from capture, which is actually really well done. My only issue with this scene (other than the nitpick that we don't see what Galadriel actually does to that one orc), came with an epiphany about how these prequels could be better...

One of the problems with prequels is that they tie into a story that has already been told. This limits the scope of what you can really do. However, it can be negated somewhat if you can show something that hasn't been previously revealed. And there's an option here:

We know from "The Lord of the Rings" that Saruman the White is both wise and powerful, being the head of Gandalf's order, and his trusted friend. We also know that he comes to betray Gandalf having become convinced Sauron is unstoppable (in the film version, at least). But we never learn how he comes to this point.

So, with one easy switch, we get this fixed: allow Gandalf to convince the wise Saruman of the threat at the White Council. Have Saruman, not Gandalf, go investigate and get captured by the Witch King. (And his motives for going in alone make sense here: he's arrogant in his power.) Show him being tortured by Sauron/the Witch King, and then show him being rescued. And then, at the end of this film, show him holed up in Isengard, bent over desperately crafting his own "ring of power".

And, at a stroke, you eliminate Gandalf's moment of madness in the second film, you tie up a major loose end in the series, and you add an extra link back to both the original trilogy and to the books. Not bad for a trivial character switch, is it?

Anyway, after that we have lots of scenes of Thorin's growing madness, and the build up to the inevitable Battle of the Five Armies. These are mostly good, though they go on too long and are too repetitive. Unfortunately, though, I just don't 'feel' Richard Armitage's take on Thorin. Basically, having spent most of the first film being pretty damn mean to Bilbo, and then in the second film being willing to casually leave him to die, I found there wasn't all that much change between the mad Thorin of this film and the sane Thorin of the previous ones.

And then, finally, we get to the Battle of the Five Armies, which is suitably spectacular... and hugely problematic. Where to begin...

Actually, I'm going to begin with Tauriel, who just sucks. It's absolutely not Evangeline Lilly's fault, but her character shouldn't even be there.

I have two big problems with the character. The first is that we're expected to believe that she and Kili have developed True Luv over the course of the two films - that is, over the course of a few hours spent together across a few days of the adventure, in which time they have one conversation of any depth. And then she's devastated when he dies, thus demonstrating that it's 'real'.

Yeah, that's not love. That's emotional instability. Sorry, I don't buy it, at all.

But the biggest, most damning problem with Tauriel comes with her role as a warrior woman, and is something I've ranted about before. Basically, she's presented as being competent and cool and badass... right up to the point where it really matters. And then, suddenly, she needs a Man to come and rescue her. And, in fact, here she needs two: first Kili and then Legolas!.

Just no. If you're going to feel the need to include a warrior woman because of equality, then let her do her own damn rescuing. Ripley and Sarah Conner did.

As it happens, all the elves are problematic in this film. It's pretty clear, almost right away, that the battle is constructed as it is to show us some cool visuals without any thought to sound tactics or strategy, or even internal consistency.

For example, the dwarves twice form a shield wall in order to repel an orcish charge. This is great... except that both times the wall then gets broken - the first time by elves jumping the wall to engage the orcs in a destructive melee (instead of, I don't know, wiping them out with arrows), the second time by the charge of Thorin and his company... as if adding 13 more dwarves would actually make any real difference. (Actually, in this scenario, it would - lots of dwarves would die unnecessarily.)

Or how about the orcish tactic of using burrowing worms to bring their troops to the battlefield under the earth. That gives us some great visuals. Except... why did they deliver the troops to the battlefield outside the dwarven fortress? Why not burrow past all their defences and attack from within?

And those catapults we see in the trailers, the ones carried by the cave trolls? Those are pretty cool, yes... except that the battle happens during the day and trolls turn to stone in sunlight. I mean, it's not as if that was a key plot point two films ago...

(The difference with the trolls in "Return of the King" is that Sauron has stretched out his hand to darken the day before launching his attack on Minas Tirith - which was also a key plot point.)

See, it's these little details that were so great in the previous trilogy that just don't quite work here, and which are really annoying.

Finally, there's Legolas!, another character who really shouldn't be here. Again, not because of a problem with the actor, or even the character. But he steals the show from the dwarves so thoroughly as to detract from the whole. Plus, this was the film where he stepped from absurd shield-surfing antics to ridiculousness: riding a troll "Ratatouille"-style and then running up a collapsing stairway of bricks.

I've gone on way too long. Truth is, I didn't really expect to like this film, and pretty much for all the reasons I've given. There's not much here that I couldn't have predicted. Ultimately, "The Hobbit" trilogy has proven just to be a big let-down, to the extent that I'd actually rather they hadn't made it (since we now can't get a better version).

All in all, a real shame.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Nevermind Then

I've just received an email advertising the Grand Hogmanay Ball at the National Piping Centre.

"Ooh," I thought.

£95 per ticket.

"Ah," I thought.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dear BBC...

In light of yesterday's weather bombing, with there being significant uncertainty over what will happen with the next weather front, and especially given the somewhat ropey state of our roof, I was quite keen to get an up-to-date weather forecast this morning. Not having time to listen to the inane witterings of the bods on BBC Breakfast (seriously, who does?), I decided instead to access the weather report by using the much-vaunted Red Button, and the extremely handy "Weather" tab therein. So far, so good.

Now, I'm aware that there was a certain amount of controversy surrounding Scotland's place in the UK this year. However, I was reasonably sure that we voted to stay in - partly as a result of being "love bombed" (seriously, what is it about Scotland and bombs this year?). And, indeed, it was the BBC's coverage that was instrumental in an awful lot of people making up their minds to stay, and indeed it was via the BBC that I saw confirmation that that was indeed the result.

What I'm saying is: I'm pretty sure you know Scotland is still part of the UK.

So imagine my surprise, then, when I found that the weather reports in the "Weather" tab accessed by the Red Button from BBC Scotland covered the weather in England and Wales and stopped at the border. As for Scotland (and, indeed, Northern Ireland), there was no mention. Despite us being the ones to have actually had interesting weather recently.

(And, no, the "Scotland" tab didn't have a weather report for us, either.)

So, yeah, thanks for that.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I've just finished my 60th book of the year, thus completing that goal with just over three weeks to spare. Huzzah!

I'm hoping to complete another 3-5 books before the end of the year, so will continue maintaining the list, but that's not a formal goal!

#59 "A Christmas Carol and other Christmas writings", by Charles Dickens (a book from The List)
#60"Pathfinder: Valley of the Brain Collectors", by Mike Shel

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Steph/ven and the Forgetful Day

One cold morning in December, as Steph/ven was getting ready to go to work, he realised that he had to get something out of the freezer for his dinner. "I must get something out for dinner," he said to Lady Chocolat.

"Yes," she replied. "I told you that last night."

"Did you?" Steph/ven asked. "I forgot." And then Lady Chocolat left, for there were eager minds to be filled with all the wonders of English.

As he prepared his breakfast, Steph/ven noted that he had now eaten the last of the Shredded Wheat. (Note: Steph/vens, much like Tiggers, do not like Shredded Wheat. However, as it is awfully good for them, Steph/vens persist in eating Shredded Wheat. Tiggers do not. This may go some way to explaining their respective demeanours.)

"I'll need to go to Tesco to get some more Shredded Wheat," Steph/ven said to himself. "I'll go when I collect that order this evening. That reminds me: I must take the order confirmation with me when I go to work."

Next, Steph/ven had a shower. This created a lot of steam, which filled the entire bathroom, and caused the window to steam up. Steph/ven therefore opened the window. "I must remember to close that before I go. Or else who knows what might get in?" (Although Steph/ven and Lady Chocolat live in a top-floor flat, Steph/ven lives in mortal dread that an organised gang of spider thieves might come in and steal all his webs. Not that he has any webs, being a Steph/ven and not a spider, but how could they know that?)

Later, after he had dressed and taken his neck medicine, Steph/ven left the apartment. He made sure to lock the front door, for Steph/vens also live in mortal dread of non-spider thieves, and went to his car. This was covered in frost, but was quickly cleared, and Steph/ven was on his way!

It was not long, however, before Steph/ven had a horrible realisation. "Bother!" he said to himself. "I have forgotten to close the bathroom window. Truly, I am a person of very little brain."

So Steph/ven turned the car around, and returned to the flat. No spider-thief was going to steal his webs! And so he went all the way back, up up up the stairs, and back into the apartment, and then to the bathroom. He closed the window, went back out the door, locked it again, returned down the stairs, and again left for work.

This time, Steph/ven travelled as far as the M9, that great motorway that connects the great cities of Edinburgh and Stirling, before he again realised his mistake. "Oh no! I have forgotten to bring my order confirmation!"

Alas, it was too late to go back. Steph/ven continued on his way to work. As he went, he recounted the list of things he had to do in the evening, once he returned home: make his lunch for tomorrow, make dinner for himself and Lady Chocolat...

Silly Steph/ven - he has taken nothing out of the freezer! Today really is a most forgetful day!

Monday, December 01, 2014

... is expected to...

In the last few weeks, the Guardian has run several pieces about Gordon Brown being expected to announce that he's standing down as an MP in May. At the time of writing, he is yet to actually announce that he's standing down.

Dear media: any chance you could go back to reporting actual news? Because until GB actually announces he's standing down, what you have isn't news - it's partially-informed speculation.


Lady Chocolat was away this weekend, which provided me an exciting opportunity to get caught up on my general sitting around. Which I did, extensively and with great aplomb. Or something.

Actually, it was a moderately productive weekend. The major task was the long-awaited repair of the bedroom ceiling. I had been holding off on doing this until the council fixed the roof, but the latest update is that this won't be happening this side of Christmas, so I decided not to wait. (It's worth noting that we haven't actually had any leaks since that first night - I suspect that the sheer rate of the rainfall was a key factor.)

The repair job was split into three parts, split across the three days - on Friday I cleaned the affected section of the ceiling, on Satuday I patched up the cracks, and then on Sunday I painted. And I'm pretty pleased with the results.

There was one issue, though - somewhere in amongst the job I managed to get some drops of paint on our duvet cover, a mistake I didn't notice until some hours later, after they'd dried. This is annoying, especially as the washer then didn't get them out, but as LC had already been talking about getting some new ones, it's not the worst thing that has ever happened.

The other big event of the weekend was the pipe band disco. This came out of a discussion at the AGM - some people liked the idea of another ceilidh, some people liked the idea of a dinner dance, so they compromised on a disco. I'm not entirely sure how that works. Anyway, it was an enjoyable enough evening, I guess, though I'm not really a fan of the disco generally. I eventually called it a night at midnight.

Oh, and there was much consternation on Sunday at church - people kept asking me in the most concerned of tones if LC was okay. This was probably because we were on tea & coffee duty last night, and she was conspicuous in her absence (though I was ably assisted by a different, but still glamourous, assistant).

Oh yes, and the Christmas Tree went up, it being the first Sunday in Advent. Although I did consider reverting to my former policy of having a Christmas decoration.

#58: "Firefly: Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics", by Margaret Weis Productions

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Beginning - Middle - End

LC and I went to see "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part One" last night. It's a very well-made film, the performances are all perfectly fine, and it's generally good. But there's one fundamental problem: half of it is missing.

The reason splitting a single novel into more than one film is simple. A novel has a very obvious structure - a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even in the case of a middle volume of a trilogy, this is still true - "The Empire Strikes Back" might end on a cliffhanger, but it still stands alone as a film in its own right.

Splitting one book into two (or more!) films means breaking that structure: B/M/E becomes B/M/E/B/M/E. It just doesn't work.

And so, "Mockingjay, Part One" suffers from exactly the same problem as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One" (and, no doubt, "Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part One") - they've stretched the half of the novel, the bit that's supposed to build up to the climax of the series, out so it's a 2-hour film, and then stopped. And we're left with a film where nothing much happens, and then we get left hanging.

Once Part Two is out, and even better when we have them on blu-ray and can watch them back to back, it will no doubt be fine. But as long as it stands alone, it's just not good.


On the plus side, this does mean that Part Two should be one to look forward to. It basically starts with the climax of the series, can cut straight to the chase, and should therefore be a lot of fun. It's just a real shame that the price for that is that this film has been sacrificed for the sake of an extra opening weekend at the box office.

#57: "Red Dwarf: Backwards", by Rob Grant

Friday, November 21, 2014

The UKIP Narrative

In the last few weeks we've had two by-elections, as a consequence of which we now have the first two UKIP MPs. And in both cases the media have described these as Tory losses and UKIP gains, showing a massive swing to UKIP and the start of a massive shake-up of British politics.

There's just one problem with this narritive: in both cases the winner of the election was the person who was the MP beforehand. What's more, both Carswell and Reckless were, by all accounts, both good and popular local MPs.

So, what we have is not necessarily a big swing towards UKIP as an outworking of the known phenomenon that the incumbent always has a big advantage in an election - it's much easier to remain elected than to become elected. (Which is not to say there isn't some sort of a swing going on. Of course there is. But it's certainly not of the size that may be being presented and may not even be in the direction that's being presented.)

The reason this is important is that we have a General Election coming up. If the by-election results show a massive swing from the Tories to UKIP then that means UKIP can expect to win many seats, where if the results show a much more modest swing then it means UKIP can expect to win only a few seats.

And, yes, based on the results from last night I'm now much more confident of my prediction that UKIP will get between 0 and 5 seats at the General Election. Specifically, they will probably hold Carswell's seat, might hold Reckless' seat, and may possibly gain 1-2 more seats due to defections (and then hold them). And Nigel Farage will probably win a seat, provided he chooses it very carefully.

But I doubt they'll get much beyond that. The First Past the Post system just favours the two big parties to too great an extent.


Band was a bit... odd... last night. The evening started easily enough, with us taking the learners through the material we'd been covering. No issue there. After which, I went and asked the pipe major if the band would be getting the pipes out that night.

At this point he said no, but that he wanted the learners to practice some marching and also starts and stops. Great, I say, and go tell my learners to get their pipes and head through so we can do that.

However, mere moments later they came back, because everyone in the hall was working on chanters instead. So, okay, maybe things had changed. In which case, let's get the chanters and go join them.

But that promptly fell apart, because the rest of the band were working on tunes that the learners have never touched. Which is fine, but not of any use to those learners. So we went back through to instead work on the tunes that they do know.

That lasted two minutes, before the pipe major came looking for us - he wanted us to get our pipes out to play some tunes with the band!

It's worth noting that my reaction to this is more bemusement, with a side order of amusement, rather than annoyance - it was actually quite funny seeing all the plans change every couple of minutes. And the practice on the pipes at the end was no bad thing.

But it would be really good if we could have a consistent plan of action laid out so that we actually know what's happening. (And, actually, it would be even better if the main band could vacate the big hall for a few practices, so that those of us teaching the learners could go through things like marching, starts, and stops without distraction.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fascinating, but Irrelevant

I must say, I'm finding the lead up to the General Election really quite fascinating. So much is going on that it's almost impossible to predict, and it seems that almost anything could happen.

And yet, at the same time, it's largely irrelevant, both in terms of who eventually wins and even in terms of my own vote.

The thing is that, regardless of what happens, we'll end up with one of two things: either a Tory-led government or a Labour-led government. That may be a majority from one party (unlikely), a coalition with some other party (maybe), or a minority (probably the most likely).

But here's the thing: it doesn't actually matter.

If the Tories win, there are a further 37 billion pounds worth of cuts coming. The scale of those cuts is such that it's not really a matter of where they'll cut, or even what their priorities are - everything will need to be cut to the bone.

So that's simple, surely - can't have a Tory government.

The problem is that, at conference, Ed Balls committed any incoming Labour government to follow the Tories' spending plans. Which means that, if Labour win, there are a further 37 billion pounds worth of cuts coming. The scale of those cuts is such that it's not really a matter of where they'll cut, or even what their priorities are - everything will need to be cut to the bone.

And, in the face of £37b cuts nothing else really matters - there's so little flexibility left that the parties might as well not bother with any other policies, because there's no money to fund them.

It really doesn't matter who wins.

Looking more locally, it's also irrelevant, this time because my options are few. In Falkirk there are three options: vote Labour, vote SNP, or waste your vote - UKIP, the Lib Dems, and the Tories might as well not stand, because they have no chance.

But Labour in Falkirk have been an absolute disgrace. Firstly, they're responsible for foisting Eric Joyce on us for the past 17 years. But now, just as we're getting rid, they've somehow contrived to make things worse, firstly by imposing an all-women shortlist (which I object to on principle), and then with the scandal surrounding the selection of the candidate.

The bottom line is that voting for Labour, in Falkirk, and for me, is simply not an option. It has to be the SNP.

(There's one caveat to this. There was a suggestion that Dennis Canavan might stand as an independent candidate. I don't think that's particularly likely, but if he did then that would shift my vote.)

And so, the General Election is actually rather irrelevant to me - it doesn't matter who wins, and the destination of my vote is already determined, if only by a process of elimination.

Yet it's still rather fascinating, because of three big questions:

  • Just how well will the SNP actually do? Surely they'll get more than the 6 seats from last time, but how many? (One set of poll results even suggested they'd get 57 of the 59 Scottish seats - with one Labour and one Lib Dem MP left - but that must be just as unlikely as them getting fewer than 7 seats. Mustn't it?)
  • Just how badly will the Lib Dems do? They're clearly on course for near-annihilation in Scotland, and almost certain to lose a lot of seats elsewhere, but how many? Will they remain the third-largest party, or slip to fourth? Or fifth?
  • And, of course, just what will UKIP do?

Some Predictions

As I said, it's really hard to predict what might happen. Still, here are my best guesses:

I expect the Tories to end up as the largest party, but to fall short of a majority. Further, I expect them to fail to find any coalition partners, and to end up forming a minority government for the next five years. (And, as a consequence of that, I expect the mooted EU referendum for 2017 to fail to appear.)

Consequently, I expect Labour to be the second largest party. I don't really have much to say here, except that an awful lot depends on how they react to the loss. Will they finally engage in some much-needed introspection, reconnect with their principles, and start to win back some repect; or will they simply shuffle the roles and carry on?

I expect the SNP to win somewhere in the upper 20's in terms of seats and to be the third largest party. In theory, this could make them kingmakers for the next parliament, but I don't see this happening - they can't be seen to empower a Tory government (because the Tories are absolutely toxic up here), and I don't think a Labour government could be propped up using SNP votes against the majority will of the English. Besides, Labour hate the SNP.

Conversely, the Lib Dems are heading for near-annihiliation in Scotland, and won't do much better elsewhere in the UK. They'll probably retain about 10 seats.

UKIP are a bit of a wild card. By this time tomorrow I expect them to have 2 MPs, and they may even go into the General Election with a few more if some more Tories do indeed defect. And yet, I don't expect a major breakthrough for them - they might get 5 MPs, but might well end up with none.

Unfortunately, I expect the Greens to lose their one existing seat. A shame.

#56: "Nightblade", by Liane Merciel

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scotland v England

Yes, it's another football post. Don't worry, though - should be the last for a while.

I rather enjoyed the match last night. Largely because it's actually quite rare for the TV to have football on that I care about, what with Sky getting the rights to all our qualifying matches, us never actually managing to qualify, and Scottish football in general being pretty poor.

I felt the result was about right, with one caveat (which I'll get to). I was very glad that it wasn't a humiliation, though it was pretty obvious that England weren't playing at full intensity. (That said, had it been a 'real' match, I suspect the result would actually have been 2-0 England and the match much less enjoyable - in a 'real' game Scotland would almost certainly have gone for damage-limitation rather than trying to win the match.)

The one caveat I have to put on the result is Scotland's goal. The truth is that while Scotland's performance was generally okay, there wasn't really any point at which they looked like scoring. The goal was extremely well taken, but it did seem to come out of nowhere. Though I guess you have to take your chances when you get them.

Conversely, England's three goals weren't unexpected - each was well worked and the result of good play. That's a really bad thing for Scotland, because two of the three were the result of exactly the same sort of defensive problems that caused them to lose to Germany (and, indeed, England last year).

The bottom line from last night's game is to confirm what we knew already: England are a good way ahead of Scotland in terms of football. But it tells us virtually nothing about how England compare with any of the bigger nations - for that, they ideally need to play Spain or Italy.

(The follow-on from that is that it would be good for us to have a rematch, probably in Wembley, next year to see if we've progressed any. But the prospect of such a match should be less appealing to the England management, since we're not the right test for them.)

In the meantime, there are several positives that Gordon Strachan can take from the past year or so. Progress has definitely been made. But in some areas, and particularly in defense, he does need to think again.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Car Four

I picked up my new car on Saturday. It's another Ford Focus, silver, eighteen months newer than the previous one, with 50k miles on the clock. So the whole accident thing is now more or less dealt with - I need to arrange to return the courtesy car, but then I'm done.

The 'new' car is actually a good bit older than I'd expected to get, and has rather more miles on the clock. However, it had clearly been taken very good care of, it's immediately familiar (being essentially the same as the last car), and was a good bit less expensive than I'd intended as well. So, I'm pretty happy with that.

(Ideally, I'll get about 6 years out of this car, and another 100,000 miles. Realistically, I think that may be over-optimistic. But even if I only get half of that, it will still make for a very good deal.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Time's Up

Surely the time has come for Ally McCoist to be replaced as Rangers manager?

The thing is, given the way Rangers have been playing for the past couple of years, there is absolutely no guarantee that they'll win any given match. Yes, they will win most matches, but on any given day they might draw, or lose. What that means is that there is no reason to be confident that they could gain promotion via the play-offs - these require them to win at least two one-off matches, which still remains the most likely outcome but can't be one they're comfortable with.

That means that they need to win the Championship. Second place just isn't enough.

And the truth is that Rangers should be able to win the Championship, despite the presence of Hearts and Hibs in the division this season. The thing is, Hibernian have had huge problems on the field for the past several years, while Hearts' financial woes are scarcely less bad than those at Rangers - just not as well documented. Further, given Rangers' comparitively massive squad, certainly the size of the wage bill, and the nominal quality of the players that are available, they really should be able to win this one.

And yet they continue to stutter, losing to both Hearts and Hibs but also, worse, dropping points to the supposed 'lesser' teams, while Hearts rack up the points week after week, even when away to more difficult sides. (Though, sadly, Falkirk just haven't been doing too well this season either. I had hoped they would be in the mix, though it seems Queen of the South and Raith Rovers are putting in better challenges for the remaining play-off spots.)

I suppose things might change next week. If Rangers can go to Hearts and get a win, that reduces the gap back down to 3 points, which isn't insurmountable. But given the relative play of the two sides this season, the reverse seems more likely, widening the gap to 9 points, which probably is.

(Cynically, since the surest way to ensure a win is to sack the manager the week before...)

Of course, whenever talking about replacing the manager, an obvious question must be raised: who can you get who is better? Well, right now there is one name that springs instantly to mind, a manager who is currently out of a job, but who has spent the last several years getting exceptional results from a team with minimal resources, and even as he lost his better players every season due to financial pressures. Better still, he's another manager with clear Rangers-minded credentials.

Stuart McCall.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

So far, so good

Back in September I posted about what Scotland would need to do to qualify for the European Championships in 2016. We're now four matches in, and so far things are progressing nicely.

I said I figured we would need to:

  • Beat Georgia at Ibrox on the 11th of October. Done.
  • Beat the Republic of Ireland at Parkhead on the 14th of November. Done
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar at Hampden on the 29th of March.
  • We need to beat Georgia in Georgia on the 4th of September.
  • We need to beat Poland at Hampden on the 8th of October.
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar in Portugal on the 11th of October.

Of course, we were beaten by Germany in Germany, which probably surprised nobody. However, we did manage to pick up a point against Poland away from home, which is rather better than expected.

And so we end the year with 7 points out of a possible 12, with Poland leading the group on 10, Germany and the Republic of Ireland on 7 each, Georgia on 3, and Gibraltar with 0 points.

Looking forward, you would still expect Germany to top the group with near-maximum points. Realistically, we're in a three-way race with Poland and the Republic of Ireland, with one guaranteed qualification spot and one play-off spot up for grabs.

At the moment, Poland are very clearly in the driver's seat, having unexpectedly beaten Germany. The one thing that does stand in our favour is that our next match is Gibraltar at home, while Poland and RoI are yet to meet. (Ideally, both the Poland/RoI matches would end up as draws. But almost any split of those six points could help us.)

(Of course, knowing us, we'll contrive to slip up against Gibraltar. That's a match that we should win, but that doesn't mean we will win it. But the thing is that if we don't win it, we can probably forget about qualification entirely.)

So, bring on March!

#55: "Winnie the Pooh", by A.A. Milne (a book from The List)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

¿Si Catalunya?

One of the consequences of the Scottish independence referendum was that I became quite aware of the situation in Catalonia, largely because of the argument that Spain would veto an independent Scotland's request to remain in/re-enter the EU in order to send an example to their own independence movement.

So, it was with some interest that I've been following the events over there in the past few months.

Right from the top, I need to note that there is a key difference between the situation in Catalonia and the one in Scotland: the UK constitution allows for referenda of this type, and thanks to the decision of the UK government to enable the referendum it was entirely legal; conversely, the Spanish constitution states that any referendum concerning the make-up of Spain itself is a matter for all citizens of Spain, and so a referendum about Catalan independence would need to be conducted Spain-wide. (This is also why Spain would have been wise not to oppose Scotland in the EU, since the example made should have been about following established legal frameworks. But I digress.)

After the most recent elections, the regional government of Catalonia decided to hold a referendum anyway. The Spanish government, predictably, moved to block this in the courts. The Catalans, less predictably, held it anyway - albeit in an unofficial and volunteer-driven manner.

And so, on Monday, we found that some 1.6 million Catalans had turned out to vote 'Si'. (This equates to an 80%-ish result for independence, but on a turnout of about 35%. Because of this, and the unofficial nature of the poll, which will have skewed it heavily towards 'Si', the result is largely irrelevant. The sheer number of voters, however, is not.)

Predictably, the Spanish government have declared this meaningless, and are intent on business as usual.

It seems to me that this is a mistake, and a bad one. The turnout at this unofficial referendum, and the results of other polls in Catalonia, have very clearly showed that there is very strong support over there for having a referendum. Support for independence, on the other hand, is much less certain.

Legal obstructionism of this sort, however, can only serve to harder that support - it sends the message that the will of the people is irrelevant. The government doesn't trust them to make the 'right' decision, so won't let them make any decision. In the best case, this feeds support to the pro-independence parties (or, over here, UKIP); in worse cases it leads to Unilateral Declarations of Independence, to civil disobedience, to violence, or worse. (And the argument that the constitution doesn't permit it is awfully weak - constitutions can, and have, been changed, including in Spain. All that's needed there is the will.)

In my opinion, David Cameron was absolutely right to sign the Edinburgh Agreement, to enable the referendum, and then to fight and win the resulting referendum. It's one of very few things I think he's managed to get right while in government. (Further, in my opinion, the government here would be wise to put in place a clear legal mechanism indicating when, and under what conditions, Scotland can have another referendum. Because otherwise we're potentially facing this exact same problem in a few years time.)

(And, yes, that does mean that I support UKIP's goal of having a referendum on the EU, even though I would absolutely vote to stay in. Doing so seems the surest and quickest way to kill UKIP off. Though surely the powers-that-be must know this. If I were cynical, and I am, I might be inclined to think therefore that the reason they don't do this is because they want UKIP around, to soak up the "none of the above" vote.)

As for the topic of Catalan independence itself: I strongly support their desire to have a referendum. Beyond that, though, it's a matter for the Catalans themselves; I don't qualify for an opinion.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Quick Update on my Car

My Car has indeed been written off. So I'll need to go get a new one as a matter of some urgency.

In terms of the insurance pay-out, the amount I'm getting isn't a huge surprise: less than I'd hoped, more than I'd feared, and a little bit more than I'd expected. So that's a win, I guess - though the reality is that I'll be spending a few thousand pounds that we don't really want to have to spend in order to get the new car (since you always buy the car that's 'right' for now, rather than the direct replacement for what you had before).

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Doctors, rated

Having gone through the year reading a Doctor Who novel and short story per month, I've been giving some thought to the various incarnations of the character across the years. That being the case, I thought I'd post briefly about where they rate in my estimation. So, from the best downwards...

The 'Good' Doctors

While I don't think there's ever actually been a truly bad portrayal of the Doctor, it is true that some have been better than others. These, therefore, are the Doctors that I consider to be the particularly good portrayals of the character.

The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker

Yeah, the inevitable choice. The thing is, Baker was both my first Doctor and also was the one who laid down so much of the groundwork for everything that followed. Therefore, he stands at the top of the heap.

The Tenth Doctor: David Tennant

And then, close behind, is the best of the four 'new' Doctors, David Tennant's Tenth. Although his tenure probably went on too long, and although RTD's writing became quite tired by the end, Tennant had some fantastic material to work with, and he embodied the character perfectly. A great Doctor.

The Eleventh: Matt Smith

Given the almost impossible task of following DT, Matt Smith took the character in a very different direction, and excelled in the role. Good stuff.

The Fifth: Peter Davison

More than any of the others, Davison was "my Doctor", and as such he ranks very highly in the order. His era also represents the last point where the 'classic' series was as good as it should be - unfortunately, what was to come was not all that might be hoped.

The Ninth: Christopher Eccleston

Given the big task of bringing the show back, Eccleston did extremely well with the role. By striking just the right balance of silliness and seriousness, he established the format of the show going forward, and gave it a really strong foundation from which to proceed. In some ways, it's just a shame he was followed by such strong Doctors, as it means he is rated relatively low amongst the 'new' Doctors despite an excellent portrayal.

The Third: Jon Pertwee

I'm not hugely familiar with this Doctor, as he's a little before my time, but what I have seen is familiar enough to fit right alongside the Fourth and the Fifth - you can see a clear progression from each to the next. And there's a clear warmth to the character which means there's no doubt about his placement.

The Doctors With Potential

There are two Doctors who showed a great deal of promise with their portrayal, but who barely got a chance with the role. So...

The Eighth: Paul McGann

The TV movie was terrible, but I was always left with the sense that, given better material, McGann could have been a great Doctor. And then came "Night of the Doctor" and, sure enough, he could. Still, he doesn't really have enough to properly be rated amongst the others, and so he fits here.

The War Doctor: John Hurt

Likewise, with only a single episode there's no real way to rate the War Doctor. Given the calibre of his other work, I have little doubt Hurt could have been a fantasitc Doctor (indeed, the BBC could do much worse then some War Doctor specials), but without more episodes to tell, he appears here.

The Weaker Doctors

Which brings us to the weaker portrayals of the character, the ones I don't rate so highly. Sorry.

The Twelth: Peter Capaldi

I really wanted to like Capaldi's portrayal. I can see why they felt the need for a new direction and I can see what they're trying to do, but... I'm sorry, it's just not for me. It's possible that this isn't Capaldi's fault - that perhaps Moffat's tenure has reached an end the same way RTD's did - but too much of the season we've just seen has been 'off', and too much has just been a mess. I'm sorry, but I'm not a fan.

The Sixth: Colin Baker

This portrayal was just killed by the first few scenes of the first episode. That and some truly woeful costume choices just destroys the character. It also didn't help that the show was visibly tired by this point, and so Baker never really gets a chance to show what he can do. He probably does the best job possible with the material he has, but it's really not enough to save this portrayal.

The Seventh: Sylvester McCoy

And, finally, there's McCoy. Just like Baker before him, I think he does the best job possible with the material he has, but that material just isn't all it can be. Worse, this portrayal just leaves me cold - too many of his stories seem to be running from one scene to another followed by some Machiavellian rant, followed by a happy ending. I may be maligning him, but alas I have much the same reaction to McCoy as to Capaldi, only with less good material to work with. (And whereas Colin Baker at least benefits from the excellent "Revelation of the Daleks" and "Trial of a Time Lord" stories, McCoy doesn't seem to have equivalent classic stories to point to. Hence their relative positions.)

The Missing Doctors

I haven't placed the First or Second Doctors in my ratings because, although they have plenty of material from which I could make a rating, I haven't seen enough of it to see where they would be placed. And so I've left them off entirely. Perhaps, one day, I might track down all the episodes and watch through them... but probably not.

So, to Recap

4, 10, 11, 5, 9, 3, 8, W, 12, 6, 7
Not rated: 1, 2

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Raggedy Man

And so we come to the last of the series about the Doctor Who novels and stories. November is the month of the Eleventh Doctor, who at the time of the 50th anniversary was the last.

This month's short story was "Nothing O'Clock" by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors. It features the Doctor and Amy, which puts it somewhere in the first year of their travels.

Unfortunately, it's not great. The issue is really that it's just too short - there's an interesting idea here, and it's written well enough, but just as it gets going it ends. It's almost as if the author had the nugget of an idea lying around, he was asked to do a Doctor Who story, and he just bashed it out. A shame.

This month's novel is "The Silent Stars Go By", by Dan Abnett. Abnett is an author I hadn't read before, but one I had heard of - he's regarded as the 'good' author of Warhammer novels. (Of course, since those are game fiction, 'good' is a relative term. Anyway, having never read his books, I can't say.)

This one features Amy and Rory, and fits somewhere in their second year. And, again, it's... okay. The story starts pretty well, and goes on just fine for a while, but then it seems to run out of steam. And although there is then one rather well-done twist in the tale, that's not really enough to redeem it. Worse, we have that twist and then, scarcely a few pages later, everything is neatly resolved and done. It's a shame, but it means that this novel fits with a lot of the others in the bracket of being "okay but not great".

And so we come to the end. As noted, the best novels were "Beautiful Chaos" (the tenth), "Only Human" (the ninth), "Players" (the sixth", and then "Last of the Gaderene" (the third). As for the rankings of the Doctors themselves... that's a post for another day - after I've seen the last episode of the current season.

#54: "The Silent Stars Go By", by Dan Abnett

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Just a Thought

Scottish Labour find themselves in the awkward position of having to find themselves someone to lead them into the 2015 General Election and then into the 2016 Scottish Elections. Ideally, the person they want would be an MSP or, failing that, someone who intends to enter the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

That being the case, I wonder: would this not be a good time to dispense (perhaps temporarily) with the rule that the leader has to be a current MP, MSP, or MEP? (And, perhaps even more crucially, the rule that if they lose/give up their seat then they must resign.)

The thing is, the (Westminster) Labour party's favoured candidate, and the media's favoured candidate*, is Jim Murphy. To be honest, he's probably as good a candidate as they've got (though I think I'd prefer Darling), but he does have the big weakness that he's an MP rather than an MSP.

(* I'm not sure whether this is because the media are totally useless, and so simply don't know who the other candidates are (or how to use Google), or whether they've decided he's their favoured candidate. Either way, it's not good.)

Because of the current rules, this gives rise to a very awkward situation: in order to be leader, Murphy must stand as an MP in 2015, and yet he presumably does so with every intention to stand as an MSP in 2016, just one year later, and then resign his Westminster seat, forcing an expensive (and unnecessary) bi-election.

Would it not be better to instead make an exception to the rules, elect Jim Murphy leader but have him stand down in 2015, and instead lead the fight in 2016. (And he can be pretty much be guaranteed a seat - in addition for fighting a constituency he can be placed at the top of a regional list, which is as close to a sure thing as you get.)

Otherwise, we get some guaranteed silliness, and real potential for an actual farce in the making. Suppose Jim Murphy is named leader but then he loses his seat in 2015. It's highly unlikely, but the latest polls actually make it a possibility. In which case he would have to resign as leader, prompting another leadership contest to go into 2016. (And, since Labour are almost certainly going to lose that election, there may well then be pressure for that leader to resign. As I said, a farce.)

(There has been some talk of an existing MSP standing down in order to let Murphy have 'his' seat, in a bi-election that potentially takes place on the same day as the General Election. But that's not going to happen, for two reasons. Firstly, the electorate tends not to like being taken for granted in that way, so there's absolutely no guarantee that even Jim Murphy would win that bi-election. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the MSP who stood down in this manner would be losing out of tens of thousands of pounds that gets paid to MSPs who leave office on the day of the Scottish elections - stand down early and you don't get it.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Carefully Nurturing My Annoyance

My courtesy car arrived yesterday. It's exactly like my own car, except that it's 8 years younger, and nearly 100,00 miles fewer on the clock, is faster, is black, and is generally awesome.

The big problem is that I'm going to have to give it back in a short while, after which I'll either get my car back or, more likely, have to go out and buy a new car. Either way, I'll be left with a car that will be, I'm sure, perfectly good and fun to drive, but is just not quite as good.

That being the case, I've been formulating a list of hugely nitpicky little things about the courtesy car that I just don't like. If I carefully nurture this annoyance, perhaps when the time comes I'll not feel so bad about giving it up.

Thus far, my list is quite comprehensive:

  1. When I plug my MP3 player in, it insists on playing the tracks in alphabetical order instead of album order.

And that's it. Plus, I feel that that criticism is somewhat dented by the fact that my own car doesn't even have an MP3 player socket at all!

Heck, I even found that the voice-activated controls managed a Scottish accent! Oh, and did I mention that it has voice-activated controls?

(That said, it didn't recognise my instruction to "transform and roll out!" See? This car just sucks!)

#53: "Pathfinder: The Choking Tower", by Rob Lundeen

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Wrong Answer

If the criticism is made that the Labour party aren't listening to people, and the answer is "but the SNP..." (or, equally, "but the Tories...") then it is the wrong answer. Indeed, not only is it the wrong answer, but it actually proves the point - the person doing the criticising wasn't talking about the SNP or the Tories, they were talking about the Labour party.

The thing is, there are two categories of 'criticism'. There is indeed a category of criticism that is simply unthinking, contemptuous sneering. This generally comes from your implacable enemies, who would find something to object to, regardless of what you do or say. Labour gets this criticism from the likes of the Daily Mail. And the correct response to it is simply to ignore it.

But then there is the valid criticism from people who want to like you, who want to support you, and, in the case of Labour, who want to vote for you. There are an awful lot of people in that category in Scotland. And when those people start deserting the party in droves (as they are), and when they state their main issue as being that the party doesn't listen, then that's a problem - and it's one that the party absolutely should recognise and take action on.

Because the alternative is that the people who want to be your supporters will very quickly become soured on what you're saying, and move very quickly to the other camp. And then you've lost them, permanently.

(That said, the big problem that Labour have is that in fact they are listening. But they're listening to the swing voters in Middle England, since they're the ones who generally win elections for one party of the other. Problem is that their needs are significantly different, and often opposed, to those of traditional Labour voters in Scotland, in the North of England, and in Wales. And by chasing one group of voters, then, Labour open themselves to attack from the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, and even, scarily, UKIP. In which case, maybe they're done.)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

So Tired

It's been a tough weekend. Mostly, I think, because the accident just hit me a whole lot harder than I thought - it seems to have triggered a bout of IBS, with all the fun that that entails, and it's also caused some residual pain in my neck (will need to see the doctor about that). Between the pain and the pain-killers I've been taking, I've just been exhausted.

Another factor in my tiredness is that I've spent the last several days feeling unpleasantly warm, almost constantly. Whether it was in the office, on the bus home on Friday, in the living room, or wherever, I've just been cooking.

Anyway, the latest updates:

  • My car is almost certainly being written off. Apparently, the price of redoing the airbags alone in close to half the value of the car, and there's more damage than that. A real shame, but neither unexpected nor the worst news ever.
  • My journey home on Friday by public transport was a bit of a farce, but it showed me how it could be done. The first problem was that I had a brainfart when I got on the bus, and said the wrong destination. This led to me getting back off the bus and enquiring, which meant I ended up getting the next bus. I then got off that bus a mile too early, which meant a walk to the station. Either one of those two would have been enough to miss the train I needed, so I ended up getting a train to a different station in Falkirk, followed by a taxi home. So, a bit of a nightmare, but now that I know how it's done I can avoid the mistakes next time, if I'm so inclined.
  • There was a bit of an issue with getting a courtesy car sorted out on Friday, which should hopefully be resolved tomorrow. One of my colleagues has graciously given me lifts the last two days, but I'm loathe to ask too many more times, as it's a big hassle for him. So I hope this gets sorted soon.
  • My car was taken away yesterday. As the recovery driver said, "a sad waste of a good car". Sob.
  • I wasn't hugely impressed with Doctor Who last night. I think it would have been fine had I gone in un-spoiled, but alas the BBC in their wisdom decided to spoil one of the big reveals in the teaser last week and in the official trailer. As a consequence, I wanted to shout at the TV "get on with it!".
  • This morning, about 5, there was a disturbance in the stairwell, on the floor below. I don't know quite what happened, but it's just about possible that's partly to blame for my current tiredness!

And that's where things stand at the moment, I think. I'm rather looking forward to this week - with each day that passes we get closer to all the stresses gradually getting resolved. Or, at least, I hope so.

#51: "East of Eden", by John Steinbeck (a book from The List)
#52: "Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories", by Various Authors

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Good News! The Airbags on My Car Work

I was involved in an accident on my way home from work yesterday. Yes, I'm fine. My car, however, is not.

I was driving home, and had just come off the M9. The slip road here descends down to a roundabout, where there is frequently a queue. Very often, at this point I bear right and go through Grangemouth.

However, last night there was a queu in both lanes, which is unusual. That being the case, I decided to stick in the left lane which, if the queues are equal, is the slightly quicker route. So, I came to a halt a good distance from the car in front, and was all set to wait.

I chanced to look in my rear-view mirror, and saw a car coming down the road towards me at some speed. At which point I realised, "he's going to hit me".

And, sure enough, there was a shriek of his brakes, and then a BANG! from behind me, then a BANG! from in front of me as I hit the car in front, and that was that. Somewhere in there my airbags deployed, though I'm not conscious of it.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt. We moved our cars onto the hard shoulder, and then it was the usual matter of exchanging details, calling insurance companies, and arranging for recovery.

Less fortunately, my car is off the road. Obviously, it isn't road-worthy - the airbags going off ensures that - but it also doesn't start, so even if I wanted to move it I couldn't. There is some damage to the front of the car, a cracked bumper and some denting on the bonnet, and rather more damage to the back. The front windscreen is badly cracked on the passenger side, damage that was actually caused when the airbags went off. Oh, and my CD is stuck in the player. I don't want to prejudge it, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's a write-off.

So that's that. I guess any crash you walk away from is a 'good' one, but it's definitely a problem I could do without. And it's funny just how quickly your plans can be scattered to the winds in just a moment.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Update on Goals

300 days done. The final update before the end-of-year wrap-up:

  • Weight: Nothing to report. This goal is simply failed.
  • Work: Work has been really hard of late, but things do definitely seem to be improving. I'm actually pretty happy here, while also being determined to make the next eight weeks good ones.
  • Books: I've ready 50 books, and am partway through "East of Eden". This puts me very slightly ahead of target, which should have me finishing book 50 at the end of this month. I'm also finished two of my sub-lists, and up-to-date or ahead on all of the others. Next month I should finish another two sub-lists. The big challenge remains the books from The List - I got bogged down in "Bleak House", and am unlikely to finish "East of Eden" before Friday.
  • Games: Disaster! "Ultraviolet: 2XS" failed to attract a quorum, and although the "Lost Mine of Phandelver" game got started, it fizzled out due to other commitments. Additionally, the last session of the "Numenera" game didn't happen, which means I don't know how that story should have ended. All in all, this has turned out to be a disappointing year for gaming.
  • Maintenance: The repair to the bedroom ceiling is somewhat delayed, as we're waiting for the council to do the necessary repair to the roof first (and there's no point in doing the one without the other). Consequently, it's looking unlikely that this will be fixed this year. I also have some small maintenance tasks associated with my car and our central heating, though neither is a particularly big task.
  • Computer: Done.
  • Money: Done.

This update makes for slightly depressing reading - it's now pretty clear that the Game and Weight goals have failed, while the Maintenance goal never quite seems to be done. But I guess that's pretty standard.

I'm now starting to give some thought to goals for next year, which will largely be more of the same. Certainly, there will be ongoing Books and Work goals, and a revised Weight goal. In addition, there should be some sort of Game and Band goals, though I'm not quite sure what form those will take. And then there's a big goal for the end of next year, but more on that closer to the time...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Cruel Joke

The nature of the First Past the Post electoral system that we have in the UK is that there is room for two 'main' parties and one "none of the above" party that will hoover up most of the remaining votes. In the UK, and for a long time, that NotA party was the Liberal Democrats. However, as soon as they entered into coalition with the Tories (could have been Labour; the effect would have been the same), they became a "one of the above" party, and ceased to have any purpose - since if people wanted a Labour or Tory government, they would vote accordingly.

In the UK, in 2014, the "none of the above" party are now UKIP.

And that's it: Labour and the Tories are the two 'main' parties, the Lib Dems retain some little relevance because they're not quite dead yet, and the SNP and PC are relevant in Scotland and Wales respectively (and Northern Ireland, of course, has its own parties).

But how is it, I wonder, that we ended up with two largely-indistinguishable centre-right 'main' parties and, as our only viable alternative, a mid-right Thatcherite party that wants to cut us off from our biggest export market? If a people really do always get the politicians they deserve, what can we have done that is so terrible as to deserve that as our 'choice'?

#49: "Pathfinder: Lords of Rust", by Nicolas Logue
#50: "Bleak House", by Charles Dickens (a book from The List)

Monday, October 06, 2014

A Bit Wibbly-Wobbly

The Tenth Doctor, as portrayed by David Tennant, is probably the second-best Doctor overall, and certainly the best of the four 'new' Doctors to date. A lot of this is probably due to the sheer length of his tenure, while a significant debt is also owed to the writers, who produced some outstanding material (as well as some real dross - "Fear Her" probably being the worst example).

Funnily enough, the reading for the Tenth faced exactly the same threat as did the Tenth Doctor himself - in both cases, the previous example had set a very high bar indeed. So I had some doubts going in. Fortunately, just as the Tenth Doctor proved the best possible successor to a very good Doctor, this month's reading proved a very good successor to the novel and story for the Ninth Doctor.

I read the short story first, this being "The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage" by Derek Landy. This turned out to be the right decision, as this story featued Martha as the companion, where the companion in the novel is Donna, and so I managed to hit the right chronological order, which was nice.

The story was a lot of fun, as the Doctor and Martha somehow find themselves trapped in a children's novel - something reminiscent of the "Famous Five" or similar. Funnily enough, the moment I read this, I thought back to a half-remembered novelisation in which this happened... and then the story referenced that very story. Huzzah!

It was then established that they were actually trapped in a storyland constructed from Martha's memories. The story then proceeded to play around with all the other books she'd read (and, in one case, a film she'd seen). This was highly amusing, especially, "Don't judge me!"

And then it pulled out the standard Tenth Doctor rabbit from the hat solution, which was fine - the story had done what it intended, so time to move on.

The month's novel, "Beautiful Chaos" by Gary Russell, was likewise good. This one featured Donna, Wilf, and Sylvia. It was set some time during Donna's season, but was obviously written after that season ended (but before "The End of Time"). And the story was mostly just a standard "alien invaders possess humans" story. However, as with the Ninth Doctor story, it managed to fit in some musings on what makes people who they are, and a very well-done subplot about memory loss and degenerative diseases.

What really made this story work was that Russell got the characters exactly right. Had they filmed this, exactly as-is, it would have fit perfectly into that season. And that was truly excellent - back when RTD (a different Russell) was running the show, I often had issues with his handling of the action scenes, and especially his reliance of Doctor ex machina to resolve plots. However, his big strength was the character work throughout the series, and this novel carries that through perfectly.

That said, as with many of the Tenth Doctor episodes, this novel does have some problems with the climax, where there is one instance of a character suddenly breaking out of character, then snapping back into character, and then going again; and one point where it's not at all clear how two characters could possibly have the conversation they have when they have it. But those are fairly minor quibbles.

One other oddity: unlike most Doctor Who, the ending for this story is distinctly bittersweet. That's not a bad this, just a surprising one.

For the second month in a row, the position of best Doctor Who novel changes hands. Alas, it seems the Ninth Doctor just can't catch a break! There's now only one more month in my reading to go: November is the month of the Eleventh Doctor.

#48: "Beautiful Chaos", by Gary Russell

Monday, September 22, 2014

What I Did At the Weekend...

Yesterday, the band were playing at the "Steeple 200" celebrations in Falkirk. As the name implies, it was a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the building of the Steeple in the town centre. This involved the band parading in the town, a couple of plays, a few musical acts. The grand finale was a performance by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, in which we featured in two numbers. It was awesome.

Here's the video.


So, the much-delayed reaction to the result. I think this post actually gains from the delay, as there have been some recent developments that are very interesting (at least to me), which I can now cover here. So, this post will be split into three parts: my initial reaction, my later thoughts, and some thoughts about what happens now.

Initial Reaction

I rather wisely went to bed on Thursday not long after the polls closed, and woke up at about 6am on Friday, just in time for the decisive result from Fife that took No over the line. As anticipated, my reaction was mixed: disappointment on one hand, and yet a certain quiet relief on the other. After all, independence was the less certain path, so it wasn't too terrible to avoid it. Plus, this way I don't need to explain to my mum that I had helped abolish her country.

So, that was that.

Two other things struck me. The first is that just as the vote for independence would have been historic, so too is the No vote - this is actually the first time the people of Scotland have voted to be part of the UK. In 1707, Universal Suffrage wasn't a thing, so the decision was taken by an unrepresentative parliament; this time, it was by the people. Since we are a democracy, that also makes it, by definition, the right decision.

My second thought was this: Alex Salmond said that this should settle the issue for a generation; David Cameron said it should settle it "maybe for a lifetime". I'd actually go further than that: unless something dramatically changes - be it a huge and visible rise in pro-Independence support, revelations of a rigged vote, or a sudden "miraculous" find of enormous oil stocks in the Clair oil fields in the next three months - this should basically settle the issue forever. I don't really want my grandchildren to have to go through all this again if it's just going to be a rerun with the same result.

The Winners

There are several people and groups who have really gained my respect in all of this:

  • The people of Scotland. The process has been horrendously difficult at times, but it's also been overwhelmingly peaceful. And to have a referendum of this sort, with an 85% turnout and to do it with almost no trouble, is impressive.
  • Our 16- and 17-year-olds. At the time, I opposed the vote being extended to this group, but I was wrong to do so. They've very clearly showed that they are more than capable of understanding the issues, of engaging in politics, and in playing a full role in proceedings. We should roll the franchise out to them across the country as soon as possible.
  • David Cameron. (Hey, I didn't say I liked the guy, only that he's gained in my respect!) Probably the biggest winner in all of this, he gained respect firstly by accepting the mandate to hold the referendum and enabling the process, then by having the wisdom to stay largely out of it. But where he really gained my respect, and a small measure of fear, is in his statement after the No victory - by tying "the vow" for greater powers for Scotland in with "English votes for English Laws" he has rather spectacularly managed to spike UKIP's guns and out-maneuvered Labour. I'll come back to that.

The Losers

There are four groups who have really lost my respect as a result of the referendum:

  • The BBC. The thing about bias at the BBC is that it's like one of those optical illusion posters - you don't see it until you see it, nobody can point it out to you, but once you do see it, you can't unsee it. (Unfortunately, there's another thing to note: it doesn't actually matter if it's there or not; what matters is whether you see it.) Well, I saw it, pretty damn clearly. And so now I don't trust the BBC for their news output. Because if they'll lie about this, what else might they lie about?
  • Labour. Especially in Scotland, the Labour party has lost a huge amount of my respect, both for campaigning hand in hand with the Tories, but mostly for the manner in which they have campaigned. I don't deny that there were massive uncertainties associated with independence, but to hear them tell it we would have suffered Armageddon on Friday had things gone the other way. So much of what they told us was so utterly untrue that, again, I doubt I will trust them on anything again.
  • Better Together. The result was a No, but that's a long way from saying Better Together won. They were horrendous, and turned what should have been a sure thing into high drama. Their campaign was shockingly bad.
  • Gordon Brown. Conversely, Gordon Brown did, probably, win the day with "the vow". He is, indeed, the saviour of the union. Unfortunately, he has been tricked and allowed himself to be used to set a trap for his Labour party (again, I'll come back to that). But the saddest thing about all this is that in the days since he has been making all sorts of pronouncements about "his promise", not realising that the moment the polls closed he reverted to simply being a minor Opposition back-bench MP.

Later Thoughts

Unfortunately, since the referendum result I have been becoming increasingly angry about the whole thing. It's not the result, which I'm at peace with, but rather the antics that have followed.

Firstly, there was the disgraceful incident in Glasgow on Friday, in which a lunatic fringe of No thugs attacked an until-then peaceful Yes gathering. My guess is that this was actually part of the lunatic fringe of Rangers supporters who haven't had a decent fight in a couple of years, but it doesn't really matter: we were poised to hold our heads up high for a peaceful referendum, and they marred the day. (It was also rather shocking that the Daily Mail actually managed to report it better than the BBC. But I guess they do the sensational as a matter of coarse. (Pun intended.))

But then there has been the undignified squabbling over "the vow". Now, I had expected this from Labour and the Tories, as David Cameron sprung his trap for his enemies. But to see Alex Salmond wade in with his pronouncements was less expected, and less agreeable. (It's also why AS isn't on my list of winners, above.)

(For myself, I don't care about "the vow". I never cared about more powers for Scotland, but was all about the quest for better governance. Independence wouldn't have magically given us that, but it would have made it easier. But this squabbling is exactly the sort of shoddy operation that I'm trying to get away from!)

The Tory trap, though, is a thing to behold. They're about to lay out a big package of powers for Scotland, matched with an "English Votes for English Laws" proposal. They'll then quietly instruct a subset of their backbenchers to tactically abstain, so that the Labour party hold the decisive vote on the issue.

This will then create a dilemma for Ed Miliband: if he allows the move through, he critically weakens any incoming Labour government with a small majority (because they won't be able to legislate on England, and thus on health, education...). If he blocks the measure, then he's the one who has broken "the vow" to Scotland and will be punished up here (there's nothing we can do to the Tories anyway)... and he also loses support in England for blocking such a popular measure.

I don't know if DC is a first-rate scholar of Machiavelli, or if he's just really lucky. Either way: well played, sir.

So, What Next?

I had toyed with joining the SNP on the day after a No vote - I didn't feel I could do so while the campaign was live, out of respect for my mum, but once independence ceased to be an issue it was an option.

However, in the event of a No vote my focus has shifted again. As a result of that vote, and since I have no desire for a re-run, I'm back to seeking the best for my country, where "my country", now, is definitively, the UK. But since the SNP are local to Scotland, that would seem to create a contradiction.

On the other hand, the Labour party, especially in Scotland, is a disaster area. I'm not sure whether the thing to do is to smash it and start over, or whether it might be possible to reform it and thus redeem it.

Either way, the first thing to do is to break their complacency in Scotland. For the past decades, the Labour party have been shockingly complacent about Scotland: it didn't matter what they did, because they'd get 40+ MPs from up here.

That needs to stop. If we drive them down to 20ish, then that will force a wakeup, and might start things going in the right direction. And, fortunately, it sounds like there's a movement starting within "The 45" (as they now call themselves) to arrange tactical voting for the SNP come the general election. If they turn out in numbers, they have the ability to take any constituency in the country. It's a long-shot, but it just might work.

(Now, if we could just get our English friends to do the same, and throw their weight behind the Greens...)

So, that's the next step, I think.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Just Sick

I appear to have come down with a cold, which has kicked me right in the head. So I'll not be reacting today.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Vote Is Cast

With luck, this should be my second-last post on the topic of Scottish Independence until 2016 (and even that only if there's a Yes). I'll be as glad as everyone else at that - it's of huge importance right now, but it does get rather repetitive, especially when you're rehashing the same arguments over and over again.

Anyway, I went and voted first thing this morning, as is my wont. It's a Yes from me, though I must confess that it scares the hell out of me. As I said, I might be quietly relieved to lose this one.

One thing I'm very glad of is that there is no exit poll being conducted. I know that the media would probably like to have a break-down of what groups went which way, and the people who study polls would no doubt be fascinated (and, of course, if we do it again...). But...

One of the fears as regards the outcome is the result might be very close, and that the losing side might therefore seek retribution. And if it's know that, say, English voters voted in sufficient numbers to turn a Yes into a No (or any similar minority, for whichever switch), then that could lead to that group being targetted.

I would very much hope this is a groundless fear (especially since I hope for a clear result, one way or the other), but I do think it's better never to know. Let's hope we can then accept the result, whatever it is, and get moving forward together.

(For what it's worth, my expectation is that No are likely to win, probably with a 55/45 split or thereabouts. I'm hoping also for a turnout of 94% or higher, partly because the higher it is the more accurately is represents the actual will of the Scottish people, but also because my understanding is that that would make it a record-breaking turnout.)

For me, for now, it's all over. And I'm glad. But roll on tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tomorrow's Possible Results, from worst to best

I'll be glad once this referendum is all over. Some time in the last week, we reached a point where further talk became pointless - people are now sufficiently entrenched in their positions that they're stifling any notions of debate. (And I should note that it appears the "Yes" activists have been the worse for this - the scenes at Ed's walkabout in Edinburgh yesterday were particularly shameful.)

There are, of course, several possible outcomes from the vote. The polls suggest that the most likely is a wafer-thin win for the No camp, though I have absolutely no confidence in those polls - I suspect the extremely large turnout coupled with the huge number of voters who have never voted before will make a mockery of their calculations of the margin for error. So I don't think anything from an 80/20 split for No right through to an 80/20 split for Yes will surprise me. (Though absolutely any Yes will be a shock, given the momentousness of the decision. But shock isn't the same as surprise.)

Anyway, here's my gut feeling for the possible results, ordered from worst to best:

The Worst: Shenanigans

Be it corruption in the way the votes are tallied, any significant doubts or legal challenges of the result, or attempted intimidation or other interference in the process, the absolute worst possible result would be if this was not, or was perceived not to be, a fair vote.

Fortunately, I don't consider this particularly likely, as we're generally pretty good about the mechanics of democracy, but I list it for completeness.

A Low Turnout

Again, I consider this one so unlikely as to be barely worth mentioning, but a low turnout would be a real problem. Ideally, we want as close to a 97% turnout as possible (that being the percentage of the electorate registered to vote, and so the theoretical maximum). A low turnout would automatically bring the result into question, which would be a bad thing.

(Of course, this is actually several results in one, since the low turnout would be combined with some other result. But I'm sure you got that.)

A Narrow Yes

Probably the worst of the likely results (and, indeed, probably the second most likely result), is a narrow Yes. This gets worse the closer the vote - a Yes win by a few hundred votes would be horrible, while a Yes win by a couple of percent would be slightly less bad. But any Yes win that doesn't see them carry a majority of the electorate (and possibly even a little beyond that), would horribly divide the country. It might be the will of the people, just, but it's not really any basis for setting up an independent country.

An ultra-narrow No

Next worst is a very narrow No, being one where the result hinges on a few hundred votes. I think any win by 51/49 or more would be okay, but anything in that extremely tight region would probably lead to unrest and recriminations.

A Landslide No

However, the next-worst option swings pretty strongly the other way - a landslide for No. That is, a 65/35 split or more. The problem with that scenario is that it will likely lead to the Establishment congratulating themselves on a job well done, going back down South, and forgetting about all this entirely.

The problem with that is that there really are lessons that need to be learned from all this, and whatever happens there needs to be at least some change. If a landslide No leads to them just forgetting about it, the lessons won't be learned... and in a few years we may well be back here again.

The Big Two

At this point I have to confess that I am genuinely torn as to what the best possible outcome could be. After all, independence genuinely would be a huge, very risky step, where the status quo is a relatively known quantity. So it wouldn't be wise to have no doubts. However, I do also genuinely believe that the status quo is fundamentally broken, and I see no possibility of fixing it. So it's a known quantity... but it's a known bad quantity.

On balance, I really have to put the Yes win at the top, given that that's how I'm voting. But I might be secretly relieved if it goes the other way.


Second Best: A Narrow No

This one is anything from a 51/49 split up to a 64/36 split - enough to avoid the problems of the ultra-narrow No, while also not being enough for the Establishment just to forget about us.

The hope here is that this will lead to some genuine introspection and reform in Westminster (and especially the Labour party). I'm not in any way convinced by the 'promise' of new powers, nor am I particularly interested in new powers anyway. In fact, I'd go further - much of what the papers have been talking about in the last couple of days definitely should not happen, it being a manifestly unfair deal for the rest of the UK. What I am interested in, and what would actually be ideal, is real reform of Westminster. Sadly, I don't think we'll get it, or at least not enough of it.

And Best: A Landslide Yes

If we're going to have a Yes win, I really hope it's as dramatic as possible. Not because I have any interest in gloating over those who will be (rightly) gutted at losing their country, but rather simply because the greater the margin, the clearer the mandate for this to happen.

Unfortunately, of all the results this is the one that I think is least likely (well, other than the 'shenanigans' and 'low turnout' options). For it to happen would require the polls to be completely useless and for the 'hidden' voters to be vastly skewed to Yes. While I consider the first of these very likely, I have no idea about the second.

So, take a deep breath, because tomorrow is going to be a long day...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Targeting Qualification

I meant to post this on Monday, but it slipped my mind.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch the Germany/Scotland match on Sunday, as we've cancelled our Sky subscription. I suppose I could have gone up to BtW, but I was hampered by not really wanting to. Still, by all accounts it was a fairly creitable performance, and although the defeat was unfortunate, it was hardly unexpected. Besides, at only 2-1 it was not the humiliation that might have been feared.

Still, it does leave Scotland playing catch-up in a fairly competitive group.

In order to qualify, I think we need to do all of the following. A failure at any point probably puts it beyond us.

  • We need to beat Georgia at Ibrox on the 11th of October. This will be a tough game, but it's certainly doable.
  • We need to beat the Republic of Ireland at Parkhead on the 14th of November. This will be one of our biggest tests, but it's a must-win.
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar at Hampden on the 29th of March. This should be a gimme, but with Scotland you never know - we have a really nasty habit of playing badly against the 'minnows', perhaps out of a delusion that we're not minnows ourselves these days.
  • We need to beat Georgia in Georgia on the 4th of September. This is our best chance of getting those last few points we need - if we fail to win this match we'll need something away to the Republic of Ireland or Poland, or at home to Germany, all of which will be much tougher prospects.
  • We need to beat Poland at Hampden on the 8th of October. This will be the other great test of the campaign, but again is a must-win.
  • We absolutely must beat Gibraltar in Portugal on the 11th of October. If we get this far with even a chance of qualification, it would be tragic to lose it on the last day. Unfortunately, by then it may be out of our hands.

That gives us six wins, for a total of 18 points. That should be enough, since Germany are likely to win the group with near-maximum points, and the second-place teams also auto-qualify. (The best third-place team also qualify, with the other third-place teams going into play-offs. However, I don't rate our chances of getting through a playoff, so we should really target second in the group... which will be a big ask.)

Of course, absolutely none of those results can be taken for granted. Even Gibraltar should not be taken lightly - you still have to beat the team in front of you. And I don't think we should expect to get anything away from home against Poland or the Republic of Ireland - our best hope there is to make sure we win our home matches, and hope they draw their two against one another.

It's going to be a tough group to qualify from, but I think it's also our best chance in a long, long time. So, here's hoping.