Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Water, Water

Memo to Self:

Walking is every bit as wonderful as you blogged the other day, but there are members of the special forces who would have found it heavy going in this heat without water.

Wait until it's cooler or take a bottle with you next time. Duh!

Some dirty puddles were looking mighty tempting on the way back from Nether Worton today.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Podcast


I did a podcast with my friends Ben Walker and Xander Cansell the other day. We've called it the Poshcast.
Here it is.
Update: Apologies to Harry Hill / Peep Show for my describing heroin as "morish". Not my joke - didn't mean to nick it. Also to Fry and Laurie for the phrase "blowing spittle" in reference to wind instruments. Both phrases had obviously lodged themselves in my brain.
Always a danger of improv; always important to apologise afterwards.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Mighty Mark


I'm not sure what is going on here, but it seems as though Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina has decided to spend some time away from email and phone.
I can't say I think that's inevitably wrong. I often feel the need to go dark.
The Governor is a maverick. But I liked him a great deal when I met him in South Carolina, and I think he has a bold and interesting approach to running a state. You have to hand it to him - he walks the walk when it comes to fiscal conservatism (sleeping in his Capitol Hill office, saying that $700 million of federal aid should go on deficit reduction instead of public spending).
I hope all is well. I'd love to see Mark run for President, although it seems to me very unlikely that President Obama won't win a second term.
Update: He went to Argentina.
Further update: He has been having an affair. I know this will seem ludicrously naive, but I sensed goodness in Mark Sanford when I met him. I hope he and everyone involved - not least his family - can rebuild their lives.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Speaker Bercow


I must report that I have always found John Bercow to be thoroughly courteous and hardworking. I'm sure that he will bring both those qualities to his new job.

What should he do to reform Parliament? Here are a few suggestions:
Oversee a settled solution to MPs' salaries and expenses. The online publication of all claims (which has already been agreed) will reduce fraud, but proper conclusions need to be drawn about what is and what is not reasonable. Sir Christopher Kelly's proposals may well be first class, but I'm not sure that the House should agree to adopt them wholesale, sight unseen.
Rule MPs out of order when they use ministerial questions (including Prime Minister's Questions) to make partisan statements. In particular, Speaker Bercow should act as he means to go on this Wednesday by clamping down on any Labour backbencher who asks Gordon Brown "Does the Prime Minister agree with me that Government policy in my constituency has brought innumerable benefits and is in stark contrast to the failed policies of the party opposite?"
Do NOT change the "arcane" rules of the House (e.g. so that members refer to each other by name). They are all part of the charm of the place and that aspect of the system works perfectly well. It's been mucked around enough.
Feel free to go on television and give interviews about his role. Of course there are some areas where the Speaker must not venture, but letting people know what his job entails is a good idea.
Be scrupulously non-partisan and understand procedure. That would be a welcome improvement on his predecessor.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

ConservativeHome

Although I have ceased to edit ConservativeHome's Parliament page I am still a contributor to their CentreRight page.

I've just put a post up there.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Killing Time

Even with a sponge ball I can only manage three or four keepyuppies with my feet. But I can bounce it off my knuckles for ages.

It'd be nice to be able to juggle a football for minutes at a time, but I'm not prepared to put the effort in. I can't decide whether that's shameful or admirable.

Musings On T4


I saw Terminator Salvation (hereafter known as T4) last night.
I'm a fan of the franchise. I love Arnold Schwarzenegger, as any regular reader of the blog knows, and I can tolerate sci fi when it's clever and has a political dimension. T4 handles the unavailability of Arnold cleverly and well (he's got his hands full running his local parish council or something) and Christian Bale provides heavyweight credentials.
The whole experience was very agreeable. There are nights which you look forward to for weeks on end and then there are nights where a friend gets in touch to suggest you do something that evening. Often the latter are better because you get a perfect blend of anticipation and spontaneity.
Mark sent me a text heroically saying he would drive us there and back. (The world needs heroes, especially now the machines are taking over.) On the way I received the welcome news that Brian and Paul were joining us, along with Paul's brother John, aka 'Sid'. This was going to be an adventure.
I love cinemas. I'm fond of DVD too, but sometimes going to a theatre makes for more of an event. And action films lend themselves to the big screen. The movie was genuinely scary in parts. They got the balance between brilliant special effects and maintaining a decent plot right as well.
I have a talent for not guessing twists which means that I enjoy them when they come. I'm also easily confused by a complicated plot and I did need a little bit of help from the others in the post-film discussion. I don't think I'll ever be a screenwriter. But I just about understood what was what.
I'd recommend T4 as a return to form after T3, which I found dreadfully boring. Indeed it's possibly my second favourite of the four, after The Terminator, one of the best films I have ever seen. It resembles Withnail & I in one respect only: it's perfect.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Do You Like This Blog?

If no, then SOD OFF.

If yes, how about telling someone about it? If you fancied emailing a friend (or three, or ten) with the address in the browser or tomgreeves.com which also links here) I'd be mighty grateful.

I'm going to post much more often than I had been, and I would love to get a bigger readership.

Thanks in advance for being so adorable about it.

Oh But I CAN Say That

I had supper with an old friend last night, and the subject turned to state-sponsored murder.

He made the salient point that if the state has to do these things, then by definition they need to be done off the record, and that means that they have to be done outwith the law. This being so, if people get caught they can have no recourse to the law.

This got me thinking about politically incorrect humour.

I think what David Cameron says in the clip below (where he adopts a mock-German accent) is fine and also that it's funny. I agree with those who say that we shouldn't get our collective knickers in a twist about most of these things. (I further think that we shouldn't have a collective approach to underwear at all.)

But I don't want politically incorrect joshing to cease to be taboo. Its funniness is partly dependent on the fact that it seems to us to be beyond the pale. How can one feel naughty if one doesn't think one is doing anything wrong?

Consider the following anecdote about a remark (apparently wrongly) attributed to Noel Coward:

'He was alleged to have been sitting under cover from the heavy rain next to his close friend Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, prior to going in to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation service. Opposite them was another queen who had made her way into the affections of the British public, the vast Salote, Queen of Tonga. “Noël, who is that little man sheltering under Queen Salote’s umbrella?” asked his companion. Coward peered through the rain. “Oh, her lunch, my dear.”'

The reason that's so funny is because it is a knowingly naughty remark. If Coward - or whoever really said it - had actually been a racist, it would have been a totally different kind of humour. There's a world of difference between a joke like that and the kind of hate-filled one liners some of the dinosaur club comics deal in.

Is it hard to tell the difference sometimes? Maybe. But it's worth the effort both to allow ourselves the chance to laugh at something clever and to steer clear of humour that really hurts people (and such humour most assuredly does exist, I'm afraid).

Anyway, here's Dave setting Anglo-German relations back a few years.

The Champ

The champion, inevitably, entered the room to the ghastly sound of rap music. Henry stared straight ahead in a manner which was ultra focussed, even though he looked gormless. So many times he’d wanted to explain that his features simply arranged themselves in a certain way and that his brain was in much better shape than that of most boxers. But it didn’t do to get into such arguments with the quick-witted ponces who appeared on TV and in the papers. Those were fights he couldn’t win.

This was one he could; he was sure of it. No matter what the ponces said.

The next few moments passed by in a blur. The champ preened and danced around, acknowledging his adoring fans with waves. The referee brought them together in the ring, and as always Henry refused to make eye contact. The ponces would have something to say about that too. Apparently it wasn’t enough to get in the ring with the heavyweight champion of the world – you had to look hard as well.

No matter. Henry didn’t value their opinions. It was nice when someone said ‘well done’ or asked him for an autograph, but he measured his worth according to his own conscience. If he knew he’d done a good job – or a bad one – nothing anyone else said made a blind bit of difference.

A quick conference with his cornermen, a slap on the back, and the bell rang. Henry skipped forward. He wasn’t going to get anywhere without coming forward. You couldn’t evade the champ for very long. Whatever flaws he had as a man, the champ was a superb boxer. He could fight on the inside. He had one of the best left jabs of all time – in any weight division. His hand speed was remarkable. He might not have been the biggest hitter to have held the title, but he could sting you to death with a flurry of punches.

Henry knew that pain was going to come, and it didn’t take long. The champ was all over him in moments, and Henry found himself against the ropes. Lip, nose and forehead were tattooed with blinding speed. The champ added a couple of digs to the ribs. If this was going to be a long night it was going to be an ordeal – one of the ponces had said that he hoped for Henry’s sake it didn’t go beyond three rounds. The champ knew how to punish a man as well as how to win a boxing match.

Henry clinched where he had to (there was no room for pride when you were up against the champ), loosed off a couple of half decent jabs, and tried to get inside. But it was incredibly tricky – hand speed counts at close quarters as well as at longer range, and Henry knew that the champ had the beating of him for quickness.

His trainer knew it too. George had been chosen above all for his honesty. Henry had no time for yes men or bullshitters. If he was going to win big fights, he needed people on his side who told him what he’d need to do. He didn’t LIKE getting up at 5 to break the ice and swim in a lake, but if that’s what it took to be champ, what did liking have to do with anything?

And that was the first round – Henry being made to look like a bit of a prat by the champ, but not that much of one. He’d been in with bigger hitters, and as long as he didn’t take liberties Henry reckoned he could go the distance. But that wasn’t going to be a barrel of laughs judging by the fight so far – and how the Hell was he going to win?

George told him he was doing fine, and to stick to the game plan. He had to fight his fight, no matter what the champ threw at him. Now was not the time to improvise or try something flash. Honest advice for an honest fighter.

The bell rang for the second round. This time Henry did look into the champ’s eyes. The champ grinned back. This was going to be an easy night for him. Another payday courtesy of the latest bum of the month.

They danced around each other for a bit, and the champ sent in a couple of zingers. The precision of his jab was unbelievable. The ponces reckoned that his five knockouts from jabs were evidence of his power. George and Henry knew better. The champ had knocked people out with his jab after turning them to jelly for several rounds. Then he’d picked out their temple like a smart bomb and sent them to the canvas. He wasn’t a powerhouse; he was a state-of-the-art weapon.

But Henry wasn’t afraid. Whatever happened, he knew he had to test himself by facing the champ. He wasn’t a loudmouth about it, but yes, he’d rather die in the ring with the champ than run away scared. He’d known cowardice as a boy, and he wasn’t going to know it as a man.

There was a distinction between cowardice and incaution though. Henry kept his guard up, he skipped away when he had to, and he tried to keep out of range of that jab. He didn’t fancy another spell on the ropes either. But he knew that his default setting had to be on Forward. Forward into the threshing machine, to have half a chance of breaking it.

The champ was delighting in his effortless brilliance and superiority. All week he had been lording it over Henry and everyone else. He wasn’t a gifted showman, but he had the arrogance down pat. And he’d just loved telling everyone that even the Brits were rooting for him and not Henry.

Now he was goading Henry again. Chuntering away nine to the dozen, winking at him, dropping his guard, dancing on his toes. Henry had to keep his cool and not be drawn into a brawl. There were plenty of cobbles fighters who thought they’d be able to smash up a boxer like the champ, but Henry was well aware that this was a dream.

So he stayed cool and he carried on fighting his fight. Just like George had trained him to do. Meanwhile, the champ taunted him, and acted the fool.

Then it happened - in an instant.

It was a solid left hook, but it didn’t feel like anything special. Henry had been throwing lefts like this since he was a lad. Sometimes they had an impact, sometimes they glanced off his opponent’s jaw with no obvious effect. This one sent the champ sprawling. Henry looked down. The champ was spark out.

The crowd was going berserk, but Henry was transfixed as the referee went through the count. He kept expecting the champ to get up. He didn’t. The crowd got louder. Someone careered into Henry’s back. It was George.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not in the second round. Probably - Henry had been unable to avoid admitting to himself - not at all. He wasn’t going to win on points in America, so he knew he had to try to take the champ out. But in the second round? He just hadn’t prepared for that possibility.

And now Henry felt something he hadn’t felt since he decided to punch one of the school bullies back. He felt scared. It was a scene of his own making, yet it was impossible to take in. He’d knocked out the champ. No – he’d knocked out the guy who used to be the champ.

Henry’s old life was over forever.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Pimping Myself

If an English gentlemen can't sell himself on his blog, where else can he do it?

I am available for work as a columnist, political researcher, speechwriter, broadcaster, stand-up comedian and actor. (You don't have to offer me a job that involves all those roles for me to be interested, but if you do, I DEFINTELY will be.)

If any of those appeal, or you can think of another option, then please drop me a line at tommywgreevesATyahoo.co.uk.

Thank you.

I Got The Part

I can't really say any more than that for now, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Improbable as it may sound - or even be - I am going to star in a feature film.

Which is undeniably and indescribably cool.

A Ghastly Luvvie In The Making?

I auditioned for the lead role in a feature film last night.

There are - of course - no guarantees that I will get the part, but the whole process was tremendously exciting. It's fun to be around actorly types (maybe that'll change in time!) and to have a sense that one could be part of an EVENT.

I'm going to be directing an improvised play in October. Can you direct an improvised play, you ask. (Or perhaps 'Can you direct an improvised play?'.) 'Yes' is the answer. At least I hope it is, as people are relying on me. Details to follow.

Walking along Friar's Passage of an evening it is sometimes possible - while things are being loaded and removed - to see through the back doors of an Oxford theatre and spy a few rows of empty seats. The mere sight of them is intoxicating.

I suppose other people get the same feeling from being in and around the House of Commons. In my experience it's good, but not that good. Nor does a football stadium have quite the same effect on me.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

You'll Deserve Every Hour Of Your Sleepless Nights ...

M'great mate Jon Spira shot this video for Frank Turner. It features the great man and his band, which is largely comprised of members of Dive Dive, a terrific Oxford band.

Listen carefully to the lyrics and allow them to change your life.


Brainwipe

I just told my mother how to find my blog, and explained that she simply has to type 'tomgreeves.com' into the Internet browser.

I came extraordinarily close to adding 'there is a double E in Greeves'.

But of course she knew that already.

Eye Grooming


A friend of mine once told me that "because the bacteria in your eyes is the same as the bacteria in your mouth" it is medically, if not socially, acceptable to lick your contact lenses if you do not have any solution to hand.
Is this correct?

A Brief Encounter With Bravery

I was feeling grotty yesterday, and went for a walk with my Dad to get my head together.

On the way we bumped into a lady who lives in the village and her family. She immediately put me at ease by the sheer force of her friendliness and interest. She's not been having an easy time of it herself lately, but she was nonetheless eager to ask us both thoughtful questions. The rest of the family were lovely too.

It was a potent reminder of the importance of being nice. We are all social animals (I say that as someone who values the rights of the individual highly) and we all need comfort and encouragement from other people. B has been a stalwart in the village serving on committees, but she has perhaps had an even bigger impact just by being so generous and genuine of personality.

Oh, and when I write that she has 'not been having an easy time of it herself lately' I mean that her husband had died the day before.

There is a special place in Heaven for people with the cold courage to plaster on a smile in the toughest of circumstances.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Ronaldo

Is Cristiano Ronaldo worth £80 million?

Yes.

Yes because that is what someone is prepared to pay for him. Yes because he will generate much more than £80 million for Real Madrid, all being well.

Does that mean that someone's worth can be summed up by their financial value? No. And the societal value of some jobs - think nurses, fireman and soldiers for example - cannot be reflected in their salaries. It's easier when an industry operates solely in the free market, which top flight football pretty much does.

And what of Manchester United? Well, it gives them a great deal of cash to spend. In the old days, the knowledge that they had received such an injection would have raised their transfer costs, as clubs would have held out for more money from United than from other clubs. The potential of clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City to draw on vast wealth means that this is now less of an issue.

Alex Ferguson can afford to buy several really top class players, and perhaps secure the future of Carlos Tevez (although this may not be a priority for Fergie given how much Tevez has been left out of the team).
That said, I bet they'd rather have kept him in an ideal world. You don't rid your team of the European and World footballer of the year lightly. But Ronaldo wanted to go, and so Manchester United must make the best of things. £80 million should soften the blow.

Phoney Tony


When I was volunteering for the Republicans down in South Carolina, I sometimes met with incredulity when I explained that I was not a supporter of Tony Blair. Conservatives in the States often think he's the bee's knees. I've just been asked again why I take the position that I do, and I thought it might be interesting to elaborate.
The first point is that I am a supporter of the Conservative Party and Blair is a former leader of the Labour Party. As we don't separate the executive from the legislature here in the UK, we are perhaps less likely to be won over by an individual when it comes to voting. Remember that the Prime Minister is the person the Monarch thinks is best placed to form a government (almost always the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons). We don't directly elect our premier.
So in order to persuade us to switch from our normal party allegiance and back their party a leader has to be pretty special. Many will say that Blair is a Tory (i.e. Conservative) in all but name. This isn't true.
Not only did Blair stand in 1983 on an incredibly left wing platform which included unilateral nuclear disarmament, he was never as conservative in domestic policy as some made out. He allowed Gordon Brown far too much influence, and achieved little in the way of fundamental public service reform while burdening business with red tape and individuals with much too much tax.
Blair laid waste to our unwritten constitution in a hamfisted and most unConservative manner. He bypassed Parliament wherever possible and announced policy in the media. Indeed effective media management was more than important than principle - time and time again.
Of course I admire his support for America. But it's debatable whether pre-emptive military action in Iraq was a traditionally conservative (as opposed to Conservative) action. Many right wingers take an isolationist stance on foreign affairs.
I also think it's debatable that our venture in Iraq has been right. (I don't see how we could have avoided going into Afghanistan given the Taliban's links to 9/11.) There has been a terrible cost in blood and treasure, and I'm not convinced that the weapons inspectors were given enough time. This is a u-turn on my part.
I retain my conviction that pre-emptive action might sometimes be necessary, and that as desirable as UN support might be we can't always wait for them to come on board. And to say that Saddam Hussein was wicked and venal is to massively understate the reality. Yet I am far less comfortable than I once was that we did the right thing. That said, our troops - as always -have my wholehearted backing.
A final observation on Tony Blair is that he is a proven and almost psychopathic liar. For details, buy The Rise of Political Lying by Peter Oborne. I worked as a researcher on the project, and am very proud to have done so.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Daniel Kitson

There is a lot of hyperbole about Daniel Kitson on the comedy circuit. It's all justified. He's wonderful.

Blogroll

I've deleted a few links on my blogroll, mainly to blogs that seem to be defunct.

If you want a link please email me and make your case.

A Promise

It's good to blog frequently, but there is a risk that bloggers - in their desperation to appear busy - write posts that leave you thinking "Reading that was a waste of time".

I won't do that.

The Beautiful Game


Now that I spend more time in the company of artistic types, I am asked with increasing frequency why I like football. It's a slightly weird experience, as until recently I surrounded myself with fellow travellers - (mainly) men who think that not liking football is deviant behaviour. So I have felt ill-equipped to respond when someone expresses incredulity at the notion that I might see the beauty in the beautiful game.
Let me begin by conceding several things.
Many Premiership players are indeed preening prima donnas who wouldn't last five minutes on a rugby pitch. Ordinary families have been priced out of top flight games. Players who claim to love their club and its fans will put in a transfer request at the drop of a hat if they think the team is underperforming or that they can make more money elsewhere. And it wouldn't occur to them to offer to take a cut in their enormous wages to make matches more affordable for the supporters.
Violence and racist chanting is less common on the terraces, but uncouth and intimidating behaviour is still very much in evidence. It does not speak well of professional football that it would be unthinkable under normal circumstances to sit in a section dedicated to the other team's fans.
Mediocre footballers get lionised as 'heroes' after reaching the latter stages of a tournament - which stands in stark and preposterous contrast to how we treat former and serving soldiers, sailors, pilots and other public servants.
I shudder when I see footage of Englishmen on the rampage in some lovely foreign city, drunk out of their tiny minds, bellowing boorish songs and threatening to assault their reluctant hosts. Moreover, the way that some fans allow the fortunes of 'their' team to dictate their level of self-esteem is ridiculous.
But none of these are inherent aspects of football. There is a distinction between disliking (even hating) some things about the modern game and hating the game itself. For football is a joyous sport.
It is thrilling and life-affirming to smash a ball into a net, or go on a mazy dribble, or hurl oneself through the air to push a ball over a crossbar. (I can just about remember doing those things, albeit with no unusual skill.) It is captivating to watch people who can do these things better than almost anyone else in the world; and it is equally captivating to watch footballers who can't but in whose performance you have an emotional investment.
Anyone who thinks the game is invariably boring doesn't understand it. They may have a basic grasp of the rules of football, but they don't have a handle on the nature of its soul. Part of the charm of the game is that you might see five goals in a match or none at all. Goals are precious.
Rugby and American Football fans enjoy watching players gain territory; in football it's all about trying to score and prevent goals. There is beauty in the way players work towards these ends - through well-timed tackles, through precision passing, through jinking their way past six opponents before curling the ball into the top corner of the goal.
It is as fatuous to say that everyone who is involved in football is a bad person as it is to opine that all MPs are on the take or that all lawyers are charlatans. It is also demonstrably inaccurate.
Last season I went to see Oxford City a few times. They are a good semi-professional team, and play attractive football in a lovely little stadium in town. Staff on the turnstiles and in the tuck shop are remarkably welcoming. The fans are civilised and the players are courteous. Judging from what is worn on the terraces, it is socially acceptable to support both Oxford United and Oxford City, and so I do so with a clear conscience.
I don't go home and wail uncontrollably when either of them loses and I take no credit when they get three points. But of course I punch the air when they win with a last minute goal and it seems absolutely proportionate to go home with a warm glow inside.
Football is compelling theatre - all the more compelling because literally no-one knows how it's going to play out and how it will end. I love music and film, but sport is unique in this sense. The phenomenon is even more acute in football in this country. I wish those of us who condemn it for its ability to divide would acknowledge its ability to unite. Consider this: successive generations of black players have done a lot to convince impressionable young men that racism is undesirable.
Obviously there are much more important things than whether England win the next World Cup, but surely it is uncontentious to say that it would be a boost to our national psyche.
Football is unchallenged as the national game. Many of the things that are wrong with football are actually things that are wrong with the country. The kind of football fan who behaves in an appalling way is otherwise indistinguishable from an equally appalling man who doesn't like the sport. His infantile actions - and those of the less admirable players, managers and chairmen - mustn't be allowed to ruin a game that has brought happiness, a sense of purpose and a legitimate feeling of community to billions.
If it's not your cup of tea, that's fine. But don't be surprised if we fans bridle when you damn the lot of us.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Who ARE You?

Would you like - dressed all in black - to rappel from a helicopter onto the top of a large compound, slaughter all the security guards, make your way to the master bedroom, punch the occupant - who is a war criminal - in the face, drag him out of his room and back onto the roof, fling him over your shoulder, climb up a rope ladder, be flown back to base camp, hand the war criminal over to your superior officers, then watch one night as an evening news bulletin reports he has been found guilty at the Hague of genocide and smile in quiet satisfaction at a job well done - a job only a tiny number of people will ever know you were responsible for?

Or would you RATHER write (and be the main performer on) an album with original and sophisticated lyrics that in some way defines an important period in the lives of a specific part of a specific generation, earns you a handsome if not enormous income, and enables you for a four year period to enjoy the trappings of moderate to considerable fame - which trappings include the best seats at restaurants and nightclubs, widespread critical acclaim, one major and multiple minor love affairs and a bathtub made from black marble?

How you answer this question will tell you all you need to know about yourself.*

* It won't really.

In Praise Of Walking

Walking is very agreeable, you know.

Long before I was so much as an ounce overweight I hated long distance running. I know that people get euphoric or enter a Zen-like calm on a good run, but I was never able to concentrate on anything other than the (demanding) task in hand.

Running flat-out always seems somehow more purposeful. I loved it with a rugby ball in hand, or chasing a football - and even now catching a bus after a quick sprint is a good feeling. But going at less than maximum pace over greater stretches has always been hateful to me. (Which is not to say that I don't admire friends who have completed a marathon.)

A walk is different. I write in my head when on foot, think of stand-up ideas, compose fantasies such as joining Oxford United after several seasons at a Premiership club (and then winning a cup competition at Wembley) and I like to take in my surroundings. This is a crucial difference with running. The walking is purpose in itself, but there are other attendent factors that one can enjoy at the same time.

It is a pleasant solitary pursuit and a splendid social activity. A walk with someone you are enamoured of is a lovely way to slide into greater intimacy. Running gets you hot and sweaty, but not in a good way.

I can see the merits of getting your exercise over swiftly. Yet we should all have time to stop and smell the flowers; or rather gaze at them lovingly as we pass at a sensible, not breakneck, speed.

Happily there is evidence that walking may be better for fatburning than running - and of course it places less stress on the joints. It is a cruel irony that runners with a fabulous heart and lungs may be wrecked skeletally.

Go on, go for a walk.

Observations On The Euro Elections


The above photo features your 'umble blogger and blogging giant Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome in the Brussels Parliament.
The European election results are in and there is terrible news for Labour supporters. There is also bad news for all right-thinking people, as the BNP has won two seats in Brussels / Strasbourg.

The BNP's success, coupled with it winning some council seats, is not without significance. It does indeed speak ill of the other parties that they have not been able to persuade enough voters that they will address their fears and that a vote for the BNP is dreadfully misguided. The BNP has undoubtedly made inroads into perceived respectability as well. Their leader has a punchy sort of articulacy and the party has levered in candidates and supporters who do not look like demons.

The literature that I have seen is quite clever, combining populist policies with rather more coded messages which some people are frankly too stupid to decipher. I think they represent a larger proportion of the BNP's voter base than do the truly wicked - and if that is so we can be not complacent but a little relieved.

The BNP has had to pretend it is not a racist organisation to increase its support. There are concerns and worries here, but I don't see any evidence that there is going to be a fascist takeover.

I think this has been a bad election for the Liberal Democrats. It's long been the case that their Euro-enthusiasm fails to chime with most of the electorate, but they must have hoped that they could show some signs that they can come through the middle between Labour and the Tories. They really don't seem to be making any headway, and I even wonder if they shouldn't throw caution to the wind and ditch Nick Clegg for Vince Cable. Being able to persuade the media that your opinions shouldn't be subjected to scrutiny or criticism is quite a skill, and Clegg looks like nothing more than a poor man's David Cameron. If Gordon Brown goes, the Lib Dems could spin the line that someone different is needed to meet the challenge that his successor (Alan Johnson?) poses.

It might seem odd to focus on the Liberal Democrats - who did marginally better than last time -when Labour have gone backwards and been overtaken by UKIP. Very simply, it is crystal clear to me that, as long as Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister, Labour are badly burnt toast. You can put your house on him not being Prime Minister after the next election. Resignations on this scale, such consistently bad press and the expenses scandal (which denotes decadence) are all much too much. He is in a worse position than either John Major or Michael Foot ever were, and he is a fantasist if he thinks there is any way back.

I'm glad the Conservatives did well. I have a lot of time for many of their MEPS, as I have written on ConservativeHome. But do some of them wish they could stand for Westminster next year, now that it looks like we're going to win a lot more seats?!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Life, Oh Life

Sometimes the truth is staring you in the face, but you don't see it.

Many of us battle with uncertainty. We might be uncertain that people like us, or uncertain that we are a good person, or uncertain about what the future has in store for us in terms of romance and health. But perhaps fewer of us, once we've been out of college for three years or so, struggle with uncertainty about what we want to do with our lives. YOU do, because you're special, because you read this blog. The normal people settle into a humdrum existence. Not me. I know I can't be happy if I don't REALLY go for what I truly want to do.

Over the years I've had a succession of jobs and projects, some good, some indifferent, some I've hated. The best phase so far was working in politics. It all happened by chance.

I went to a different sixth form to the place I did GCSEs. I knew I wanted to do English as one of my A-Levels, but I wasn't sure about the other two. I was buttonholed by a Politics teacher called Ray Benton-Evans, and he made it sound so exciting that I pretty much signed up on the spot. His colleague Stuart Mason was a superb teacher too (I didn't have one duff teacher at sixth form) and I have been interested in politics ever since.

Two years after university and I hadn't really accomplished anything. I was scrabbling around for a job. My aunt very kindly set up a meeting with a friend of hers who worked in publishing. I owe her a lot.

Within minutes she had established that I had no interest in publishing. She asked me to set realism aside and tell her what I would be doing if I could do anything. I said "writing speeches for William Hague". Not long afterwards I was working at Conservative Central Office.

I never wrote a speech for William, but I did do a little bit of drafting for him and I was an adviser to the Shadow Cabinet for four years. Thanks to this experience I went on to write speeches for Seb Coe and Boris Johnson.

After I while I felt I'd done my time and I'd had more than enough of London. Over lunch with a friend who worked for Iain Duncan Smith I said I fancied a trip to the United States of America. She replied "Oh, you mean to work on an election campaign?". I hadn't meant that, but it was a jolly good idea.

I saved up and was helped by my incredibly supportive parents. I went out to South Carolina and worked as a volunteer on Congressman Jim DeMint's successful campaign for the US Senate. It was a memorable experience, and I made some outstanding friends.

In October / November 2005 the whole idea of stand-up comedy started buzzing around my head. The buzzing became rather loud, and I knew I had to try it. I did my first gig the day after my thirtieth birthday. I decided to give myself a year to see how much I liked it. But really I knew what I wanted to be once I made the decision to try stand-up. The moment I got my first laugh, right at the start of my first set, my life changed forever.

I'd spent a long time searching for moments like that. My problems with depression left me feeling numb as well as wretched, and it was deeply disturbing not to feel passionate about anything. I tried to get that fire through lifting weights, but to no avail. I'm not an athlete, of any description (even 'bad athlete'). Nor am I a top rank political official in the making or a putative MP.

I have a theory that we all know what we really want to do, but that most of us bury it somewhere deep. That may not true, and I suppose it's patronising to assert that kind of thing about others. But I do know. And I have reached the conclusion that it would be wrong - financially, morally and existentially - to do anything other than follow my dreams.

So here it is in black and white:

I want to be a professional stand-up comedian, act in films and sitcoms and be a columnist. For now at least, I don't really want to do anything else.

Gulp.

I've been committed in other jobs that I've done in the last few years. Working on the 2012 Olympics and Boris's Mayoral campaign were great experiences. I'm well aware that I am in a hugely privileged position. I live in the best part of one of the best countries in the world during one of the best moments in time. It might seem disrespectful to be discontented with my lot. But it is also unavoidable.

I know I'll be a nicer person if I'm following my chosen path. Not only will I be less frustrated, but I'll be the REAL me. The real me has been hidden for years beneath a cloak of unhappiness, both physical and spiritual.

Moreover, it's not right to take jobs that you don't really want.

So from now on I'm going to do the things I want to do and try to get paid for them, instead of trying to fit them in around other work. I may have to do odd bits of work just to make money - because ultimately you have to make your own way in the world and not let others finance you. I'll throw myself into them wholeheartedly; I like doing research, factchecking and speechwriting. But my main focus is to become a stand-up and an actor and to write things in my own name. And when people ask me what I do, I'm going to tell them that I'm a stand-up comedian, not that I work in politics and do stand-up in my spare time.

I'll sometimes have to do these things unpaid. I won't always be paid for stand-up; I'll get a pittance at best for most acting jobs, at first. And unless I can attract a sponsor, I won't make any money from this blog. I'm going to do all of this anyway, and have to keep faith that it'll become financially viable in due course.

The blog will be worth reading, I hope. Not every post will be about me; I simply wanted to get this down in prose form. I hope too that some of you will be inspired to be similarly bold.

Throughout my life the old cliche has been true - I've regretted the things I've not done far more than the things I have. Being so excited by the offer of a former professional footballer to coach me and my friends that I never actually acted on it. Not being more active at university. Not pushing for particular jobs during the phase in my life when I was eager to see how much I liked politics.

This isn't about suspending reality. There will be bumps along the way. I may get disheartened. I have to be able to make ends meet. But I've seen the impact it has on friends when they have made every effort to follow their dreams. They have become happier. And they've made their dreams come true.

Life is for living, in an unbridled, passionate and forthright way.
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