Monday, 31 July 2006

Happy Birthday Mark

Many happy returns to Mark, my longest serving friend (he just pips James in that regard, by a few months).

I hope you agree that thirty isn't so bad, buddy.

Weather With You

A curious phenomenon – at least curious to me – has occurred.

I’ve always been a sun worshipper. Not in the sense of particularly wanting to be outdoors when it’s sunny, and certainly not in the sense of enjoying sunbathing (tans are overrated, and tend to make a person look common). But I do prefer brightness. This applies to the indoors too – I am thrilled if I find myself in a nightclub and it’s well-lit, and I always have the lights on during the afternoon.

Yet I found myself looking out of the window today and being pleased that it was overcast. It’s been so sensationally hot that sleep has been difficult, and a half hour walk has threatened to be terribly oppressive. I still like it to be sunny, but breaks in hot weather are increasingly welcome to me.

This attitude has crept up slowly. It is a jolly good thing, as the British weather was always the biggest stumbling block to my feeling certain I’d want to live here forever. This greater tolerance, coupled with a bit more sun (God bless global warming) means that I can enjoy our green and pleasant land to a much greater extent.

I am seriously considering ditching another article of faith. Further details to come.

Saturday, 29 July 2006

Life Ain’t Fair (Thank God)

Mark and Becca both texted me about this story the other day, apoplectic with rage that political correctness has been allowed to triumph over the independence of individual colleges.

Initially I failed to match their passion. I didn’t approve of the change, but I have become somewhat (and somewhat dangerously) resigned to announcements of ill-thought out policy. I also have to confess that I am less interested than some at goings on at my former university. It’s a fillip if we win the Boat Race, but only the most minor of disappointments when we do not. And that feeling is not specific to rowing.

On further reflection however, I do acknowledge that this change in admissions policy is a bad thing. Central planning rarely works. The colleges are very different, and a candidate should be allowed to express a preference. And the system is fine as it is – although they should not have scrapped the entrance exam.

But my major objection is to the central aim of the change, which is to make admissions more meritocratic. And I object to that – because I am not a meritocrat.

Bear with me here – this is going to get challenging.

As far as I am aware, there is almost universal support across the mainstream political spectrum that achieving fairness should be the ultimate goal of government. Even racists and communists couch their arguments in terms of evening things up. Some politicians (they are decreasing in number, particularly in the two main parties) admit that the goal of just deserts for all may be extremely difficult to achieve. But there is near-total acceptance that we should try to get there. I don’t think we should.

Imagine, if you haven’t just thrown your computer out the window, a world which really was – or was widely accepted to be – an absolute meritocracy. One where we agreed that universities offered places to the best candidates, that people were paid a fair wage, that everyone found the life partner they deserved (and that that might be no-one at all). Where football teams selected accurately on the basis of talent, the best musicians enjoyed a string of Number Ones and girl bands went unheard on national radio. Nirvana? More like the Seventh Circle of Hell.

How long do you think the Welfare State and NHS would last if we all thought that people found the position in life they deserved? Anyone and everyone struggling to make ends meet would be derided as a useless bum. Fat people who had paid high levels of tax for years would either be denied treatment on the NHS because they were imprudent eaters or jump to the head of the queue on the grounds that they had made the largest contribution.

On a global scale, we would cease to care about others living in abject poverty if we believed that they had the means to dig themselves out. Aid would dry up altogether. Sir Bob Geldof would go on national television and cry “Don’t give them your f-king money”.

And what if our meritocratic convictions came to extend to the spiritual side of things? What if we were all Glenn Hoddles, united in our belief that disabled people were paying for the bad karma that results from transgressions in a previous life? Why, we would be overturning wheelchairs in the streets. Earthquakes would be a cause for celebration by those of us lucky enough to escape them (not that luck would come into it!).

In our meritocratic Hell, self-esteem would drop through the floor. Contemplate, please, facing the fact that you have not been promoted at work because you are a moron. Or the reality that you are spectacularly unattractive. Or that the reason no-one reads your poetry is because it is hopelessly shit. Or that you are not, and never have been, and never could be, funny (shudder).

A meritocracy denies us that most precious of human rights - the right to feel hard done by.

Now let us consider an alternative world. One where we tackle especially egregious cases of discrimination, but where we accept that life will never be and could never be fair. A world in which we have the wit to realise that sometimes when we try to be equitable we have the opposite effect – as with positive (sic) discrimination. A world where we understand that some decidedly unmeritocratic institutions actually make a big contribution to making life better for all of us – like the old House of Lords.

In this world, only the fantastically stupid suppose that ANY examination or interview could accurately test and reflect the infinite complexity of a human being. In this world, we accept that such things are hit and miss. In this world, when it ain’t broke we don’t fix it. Oxford University’s admissions policy ain’t broke, no matter what those with an agenda will claim. Sometimes clever people get in, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes great people (like Becca) get overlooked, sometimes dickheads (too numerous to mention) get in.

But the colleges should make the decision as to whom to admit, because that reduces the extent to which the choice is meritocratic. Perish the thought it should all be on A-Level results. Perish the thought that tutors should obliged to deny places to academically-less-than-first-rate students if they are rich (great for much needed funds), related to a past student (ditto), beautiful or handsome (great for the other students), talented at sport (great for college morale), famous (great for gossip and bragging rights) or just plain nice and life-enhancing (invaluable).

So – bring us inequality, bring us privilege, bring us blind prejudice. Give us big noses, fat bellies and inadequate brains. Bar us from entering posh restaurants with or without a tie, and let private members’ clubs ban women who are not whores. But spare me from the Hell that is living in a meritocracy.

James And Co.

I have been meaning all week to post about last weekend.

I was going to write that it was just fantastic to see James again after nine years, and that I am chuffed to bits we're back in touch. I meant to write that I am delighted that I will now get to know his charming wife Sarah. I also wanted to add that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Tim again, as well as James and Sarah's families, and meeting their friends.

I had planned to observe that it is immensely pleasurable to spend a weekend in the company of fine people, largely just talking. I was going to add that sometimes you lose touch with people for no good reason, and that although I've said that before on the blog, it bears repetition.

I'd meant to do all that, but I didn't. Blast.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

The Entertainer

Billy Joel

I am the entertainer
And I know just where I stand
Another serenader
And another long-haired band

Today I am your champion
I may have won your hearts
But I know the game, you'll forget my name
And I won't be here in another year
If I don't stay on the charts

I am the entertainer
And I've had to pay my price
The things I did not know at first
I learned by doin' twice

Ah, but still they come to haunt me
Still they want their say
So I've learned to dance with a hand in my pants
I let 'em rub my neck and I write 'em a check
And they go their merry way

I am the entertainer
Been all around the world
I've played all kinds of palaces
And laid all kinds of girls

I can't remember faces
I don't remember names
Ah, but what the hell
You know it's just as well
'Cause after a while and a thousand miles
It all becomes the same

I am the entertainer
I bring to you my songs
I'd like to spend a day or two
I can't stay that long

No, I've got to meet expenses
I got to stay in line
Gotta get those fees to the agencies
And I'd love to stay but there's bills to pay
So I just don't have the time

I am the entertainer
I come to do my show
You've heard my latest record
It's been on the radio

Ah, it took me years to write it
They were the best years of my life
It was a beautiful song
But it ran too long
If you're gonna have a hit
You gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05

I am the entertainer
The idol of my age
I make all kinds of money
When I go on the stage

Ah, you've seen me in the papers
I've been in the magazines
But if I go cold I won't get sold
I'll get put in the back in the discount rack
Like another can of beans

I am the entertainer
And I know just where I stand
Another serenader
And another long-haired band
Today I am your champion
I may have won your hearts
But I know the game, you'll forget my name
I won't be here in another year
If I don't stay on the charts

Thursday, 20 July 2006

Picture This


I'm not very good at technological fings - not least because I am not at all curious about them. But I am pleased - with some guidance from Richard - to have worked out how to post photos on the blog.

Here's a picture of James Taylor to get us started.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Murali The Mafioso

I had a very good weekend. Much of it was spent with my old friend Murali, who now resides in Croydon, and controls most of that town’s drugs and vice trade. It’s good to be in with a genuine gangster, and we had liberal access to the best pool halls, cathouses and Italian restaurants that Croydon has to offer. Otherwise we hung out and played Playstation and watched Sin City (highly recommended) and some ROCK VIDEOS.

Parts of the paragraph above are a flight of fantasy.

Last night – the following is all true – I did a set at Bonitos in Banbury. This is the scene of my first ever gig, back on 15th January. Bonitos – which is run by Leroy, with whom I used to pump iron – is one of the venues for the Kill For a Seat Comedy Club.

These shows are very ably (and amusingly) run and compered by Silky. He took a punt on me in January, and if he hadn’t, I’d likely still be wondering if I should try stand up. That would be a shame, as I would have missed out on six months of fun, meeting some exceedingly nice people (many of whom are also very funny), and a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe next month. So Silky, thank you VERY much for getting me started.

I had a solid set, and got lots of great feedback (and good wishes for Edinburgh). This is a world I’m so glad I joined. It’s populated by life affirming people, and gives me the only creative outlet that I can imagine being any good at. I’d said that I’d give this a whirl for a year and decide if I’d keep it up. I think there’s little doubt now that I will.

I could write about how I still get nervous beforehand, and sort of hope that I always do. I could acknowledge that I have a lot to learn, and hope to keep on making improvements. I could say that I sometimes worry that it’s not possible to be quite as funny on stage as it is when you and your friends are getting really hysterical with each other. I could write all this, but all I really want to write is this: I LOVE stand up comedy.

Thursday, 13 July 2006

So You Think You're Funny?

So I've made the semi final of 'So You Think You're Funny?', which is to be held at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. My semi is on 6th August.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

I’ll Hug Him Alright

I think David Cameron is quite right to suggest we hug-a-hoodie.

Certainly it’s a tactic I might well employ if confronted by one. Long range strikes to the head, torso or leg can be effective. But sometimes in a combat situation (especially if one is stronger than one’s opponent) it’s good to get in close and grapple.

A swiftly employed bear hug will pin the hoodie’s arms to his sides. He can then be taken to the floor, or pushed back for a headbutt. Or the hug can be applied around the neck, hopelessly disabling him, and causing him to pass out.

It’s good to see the Tories offering practical law and order advice, so that British subjects can be empowered. Well done Dave!

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Money Makes My Head Spin Round

Thank God that I am no longer self employed. I’ve just filed a tax return; it took all bloody day, and was TORTUROUS. Admittedly I am hopeless with that sort of thing, but I can hardly be unique in that.

I’d like to see tax slashed, but also made much more straightforward. I don’t think I want income tax abolished and a sales tax put in its place, although that would sure make it simpler. Maybe a flat tax is the way forward. Any road up, if I ever become self employed again, I may need an accountant.

Monday, 10 July 2006

Which Is Your Favourite Popular Beat Combination?

Jamie D, as I do not know him, is one of my best friends. He has a new and improved website. Check it out, as I believe fans of ‘pop’ would put it.

James (sorry, I can't get used to abbreviating his name, even for the purposes of funky house) and I are starting out in the worlds of DJing and stand up comedy respectively at the same time.

A funky-stand-up-house-comedy collaboration is inevitable.

Funny Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha

Herewith a couple of links to some brother comedians. Richard Brophy and Fleeming Jenkin are both very good.

They are also, like the talented guys I do stand up with at the Ministry of Mirth and watch at the Oxford Imps, disgustingly young.

Monday, 3 July 2006

SYTYF?

I should mention that I find out if I have advanced in the stand-up competition So You Think You’re Funny? in mid-July. I’ll let y’all know.

Sunday, 2 July 2006

The Worst Of Times, The Best Of Times

So there we go.

I watched the game in Cambridge, a city I once called ‘the Other Place’, but of which I am now so fond that that seems inappropriate. I particularly like the Corn Exchange, of which more in a moment.

In the company of Oliver and Richard, and Richard’s flatmate Tom, I joined an enormous number of England fans in a huge pub in Cambridge. Mercifully I spotted a small screen on the way in, so we had a great deal more space than we could have anticipated, and also seats. The main part of the pub was jammed solid. I had hoped not to have to watch a single game in a pub; in the event I was glad to be in the good company I was in.

We had to leave as soon as the game was over, so this time there was no sitting in stunned silence as we were hurled out of the World Cup. But it is telling how surprisingly agonising it always proves. To an extent I like that – I like to feel that some things other than family and friends (who are a given) really matter (not that they matter as much as family and friends). It’s the same reason why I can handle pre-comedy nerves – they make me feel alive, and I didn’t feel that way for a very long time.

I think the rights and wrongs of how we played are subtle and nebulous, and I only have any respect for the views of bone fide experts. A sensible case can be made for or against Sven’s tactics and selection. But for what it’s worth, my take on key issues is as follows.

Sven DOES care, and assuming that he doesn’t because he had an eye on other opportunities, or is foreign, or is undemonstrative, is wrong. But he has not managed to make the team greater than the sum of its parts, which is what any manager must do, especially at international level where you have the blessing of already talented and knowledgeable players, but the difficulty of necessarily limited selection choices.

Owen Hargreaves is a good player, and did well. Aaron Lennon was excellent whenever he came on. Several other players underperformed. It was right to take Rooney. I wonder if they should have realised Michael Owen was so fragile, but we may never know the answer to that one.

It’s galling to lose yet another penalty shootout, but that method of deciding a game is preferable to tossing a coin, or calculating possession or the number of corners won, or removing players or having a golden goal. Playing on until someone scores after extra time is up is not guaranteed to be practical. As Ray Wilkins once said, at least with the shootout it is decided by the skill of the players. It is not unique in that sense, but for other reasons I still think it is the best way to do it.

International footballers should be able to hit the target in normal circumstances. I’m no good at football, but I can take a pretty much unstoppable penalty (I can also sky the ball over the bar, or pass it straight at the keeper). My flatmate Paul is right – you can’t recreate the atmosphere of a World Cup penalty shootout, but would you rather stride out for one having taken 100 penalties or having never taken one?

Yet Sven says they did practice, and I think we can only conclude that taking a penalty in a World Cup shootout is almost intolerably nerve-wracking. And imagine scoring, only to be told to retake your penalty, like Jamie Carragher was.

So we’re out. Who’s going to win? Right now, I don’t really care. I don’t dislike whole nations, so I’ve got nothing against any team (although I agreed with Oliver when he said it would be a bit hard to stomach France having two stars on their shirts (for World Cup wins) to our one). And right now, I am still grieving.

So the evening was – inevitably – miserable, right? No - so very, very wrong. I was in Cambridge to see a concert with the aforementioned friends Oliver and Richard. Kate Rusby was in town, and having been introduced to her music properly by Oliver, it was a no-brainer to go when Richard, who lives in Tabland, suggested it.

It was a wonderful night. Kate is lovely, and hit just the right balance in cracking jokes about England’s exit. She has a startlingly good voice, and is backed by an absolutely first rate band. It’s a gift, albeit one that I know needs to be replenished and embellished by lots of hard work, to have that level of musical proficiency. And how life affirming it is to see people having and enjoying the chance to share that gift. The best of music and the best of stand up comedy is a completely no lose thing – no-one has to suffer for others to excel, and it is a communal event in the best possible sense. Don’t get me wrong – I love sport, but sometimes it’s nice when everyone can leave with a smile on their face.

The Corn Exchange is a splendid venue, and the staff are very pleasant. I enjoyed seeing Omid Djalili and his support act Hal Cruttenden giving a stand up masterclass there in February, and last night was just terrific. I fell a little bit in love with Kate, got a tiny, tiny bit jealous at her effortless ability to make people laugh between songs, and most importantly enjoyed some really, really fabulous live music. That I was able to lose myself in it so soon after England were knocked out of the World Cup is a tribute to Kate and her boys.
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