What the Libservatives should do for us

Unlike pretty much everybody else on the planet, I loved Britain’s hung parliament. I always fancied being an anarchist, but Mammy wouldn’t let me. That was anarchy she couldn’t do anything about. I was also keen on our new system of confusing politics with cricket: we played for days and nobody won.

He Who Knows Everything was confident in the prospect of a Labour/LibDem coalition and had been saying as much for weeks. I think he was rather disappointed when we ended up with the LibDem/Tory coalition.
Personally, I’m very pleased that Dave is our new leader. I have great faith in Nick’s ability to launch a bid for outright power the second Dave goes on paternity leave. Nick, if you’re reading this, remember: Bloodless coups are definitely the way forward.

It’s an easy thing to forget that the Tories are, actually, slightly demented. I don’t recall what Dave has said on the matter, but many of them are quite keen on repealing the ban on fox hunting. Over here, it’s still legal and a hunt, even one like my local – three blokes who can ride and 27 of mixed ages and genders who can’t – is a hideous thing to behold. It’s hilarious to watch them attempting to trot up and down, waiting for the hounds to find the scent while the wives and Mammies sit in their Ford Mondeos drinking tea from a thermos; then you remember that they consider it to be a fun and appropriate day out to watch dogs tear a live animal apart.
Although I am a hippy who feels massively guilty even using flyspray, it’s not the death part of the hunt I object to. It’s the detachment the riders have from it. If you wish to spend your weekends jumping over hedges and killing stuff, it’s the least you can do to get off your horse and do it yourself with your bare hands. If you are unable to do this, I will let you use a weapon of your choice. If you remain unable to do this, you have absolutely no business participating in it in the first place. It’s important to be honest about what you do and the consequences of it. There’d be much less gun crime about if the television special effects people put more effort into their portraits of blood and grey matter and how difficult it is to wash it from the walls afterwards.

The historic LibDem/Tory government we now live under (or, in my case, look wistfully at from beneath the incompetent rule of another nation), offers unparallel opportunities to create new ways of thinking. To many, it would seem the punishment loving, immigrant hating, upper middle-class braying toffs could have little in common with their new longhaired, hippy, pinko-liberal best-friends; but I think the time is right to combine the ideologies of both parties to create a Change for Good.

Take wind farms. Every Lib Dem loves a wind farm. By affixing a loudspeaker system designed to broadcast demoralising messages to the unemployed, the Tories can love them too. Who doesn’t want a field full of metal shouting ‘Hey you! Dole Scrounger! Scrounged much dole today?’

How about Trident? Nick Clegg may dream of a world in which we live free of nuclear weapons, but Dave isn’t so sure. Why not use nuclear war as a way of raising awareness about climate change? Instead of a mushroom cloud, design your missiles to write a useful energy saving tip in the sky following impact. We may have instantly killed hundreds of thousands of people, but we’ve alerted everybody else to the fact that their mobile chargers consume energy even when they aren’t charging a mobile. Useful!
Finally, the biggie: Immigration. Dave hates it and wants to track down illegals and ship them back home. Nick says we should offer citizenship to everybody who has been in the UK longer than 10 years. Can such diametric views find a happy medium? Yes. Yes, they can.
We must form an unholy super-army and rebuild the Empire. By bringing other places under our rule, those who were once illegal will become citizens without the need for complicated paperwork. It has other advantages too; those hardline Tories will be able to buy up estates in those areas of the world whose views remain distressingly obsolete: Malawi, for instance. Everybody wins!

I don’t know why everybody finds this politics business so hard.

I agreed with Nick First

Ahhhhh… politics. Such a fickle swallower of my time. It seems like only weeks ago that “Call me Dave” Cameron was going to lead us into the golden dawn of a new empire. Now look where we are; forced to understand the implications of coalition governments and the breathtaking unfairness of the UK’s electoral system.
He Who Knows Everything has been tinkering with the BBC’s swing-o-meter and explaining, in increasingly agitated tones, exactly how stupid and unfair the electoral system is. I’ll spare you the details in case you are foreign and therefore do not need to fill your brain with superfluous information regarding the British Parliamentary System (particularly as is may shortly be subject to change), but basically we have managed to create an arrangement whereby the three major parties can receive equal percentages of the vote, but Labour gets a hundred seats more than anybody else.

As a British Citizen, I am entitled to vote in UK elections even though I no longer live there in any official capacity. Through an odd quirk of fate (otherwise known as HWKE filling out my voting application form), I am registered in the North West Hampshire Constituency. I wanted to be registered in Cardiff so I could familiarise myself with the policies of Plaid Cymru before I didn’t vote for them, but HWKW was too quick for me.
Happily, I no longer need to bother researching and making important decisions about how to use my vote because the interwebs can do it for me. Votematch.org.uk will ask you to rate whether you agree or disagree with a number of statements and give you a percentage score of how the parties match up to your preferences. It told me to vote Lib Dem, which shows it works because that’s how I was going to vote despite not being terribly good at remembering what their policies actually are.

To begin with, the Lib Dems seemed like a good bet for my vote. Any respect Gordon Brown earned during his years as Chancellor were decimated with the resurrection of Lord Mandy. He received his final death knell in my eyes the day his wife Sarah became part of his campaign. This is also my major problem with Dave. While any man is entitled to be proud of his virility, it’s not a reason for me to vote for him. Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron are not standing for government; I don’t need to see them following their husbands around and gurning at underprivileged children.
Mrs Clegg, by contrast, has said she has better things to do than try and get people to vote for Nick. I approve of this.

Another thing I approve of is the Lib Dem policy on Trident, the UK’s nuclear warhead program. Nick says he would scrap it and that he dreams of a world in which we are all hippies and nobody has any nuclear weapons any more. Gordon tells Nick to “Get Real” and mentions Iran and North Korea. This worries me. What has Gordon done to Iran and North Korea that he’s not telling us about? It’s clearly something serious enough to make them want to nuke us.
I’ve never understood the wisdom of having a nuclear deterrent. If you have a weapon of any sort, you must be prepared to use it otherwise it’s just something extra to dust. I don’t want a government who would be prepared to use a nuclear weapon against another country, particularly not against countries like Iran and North Korea who are not exactly noted for having the infrastructure needed to rebuild following a nuclear attack. I would much rather be the nukee than the nuker.

Nick has also got a rather controversial policy on immigration. He wishes to have an amnesty on illegal immigrants who have been in the UK for 10 years. I also approve of this. I grow tired of this debate on immigration and would like it if we could all stop being quite so Daily Mail about things. If somebody has lived in the UK for 10 years, they are no longer going to be fully equipped to return to live in whichever place they have come from. Absolutely let them become part of the system: can you honestly tell me that our resources are being plunged into tracking down people who have lived in the UK for a decade and shipping them back home? I hope not, it sounds like a monumental waste of money.
Immigration is one of these issues that few politicians are willing to stand up to people about and I do not understand why. Who, in all honesty, can tell me a story about the ways immigration has personally impacted upon their life? I’m not talking about the one about the Nigerian woman who can’t get her pram on the bus and leaves it behind because she says she’ll get a new one, or any of these stories, I’m asking for people whose circumstances have diminished due to influxes of migrants to their country. Very, very few of you, I imagine. In fact, I’m pretty damn sure that you are as grateful as I am that Tesco now stock decent beetroot to cater for our Eastern European friends.

Last week, Gordon Brown was caught referring to a woman as a bigot after getting into his car and failing to remember that he had a microphone attached to him. She had complained about the number of immigrants “flocking over here.” I am reliably informed (My dad knows the dad of the fella Brown was complaining to – I thought I’d mention because it makes me feel special) that Mr Brown in a lovely bloke and had misheard her. Even if Mr Brown had not misheard her, she was a bigot. I know people like this old woman and they are ignorant, bigoted people. In any case, she was more upset about being referred to as That Woman. The media palaver is pathetic.

Anyway, if you are a UK based personage, I truly hope you will take the time to go and vote this week. If you do not know who to vote for, or do not wish to vote for any of your local candidates, please, use your vote to spoil your paper. If you wish to not vote, it is better to actively do so rather than just not going down the polling station. Apathy is a terrible thing.

In Other News: I am awarding myself a small prize for biggest decrease in blogging over the last month. I’ve been pushing on with other writing based projects so the blogs have taken a bit of a back seat to them. If there are no blogs, this is why.

On attractiveness

Attractiveness is a subjective thing. I am eternally grateful for this. It means that somewhere in this multifaceted universe, there exists somebody who thinks I’m really good looking. In fact, when you think about it, the universe is so vast, it is perfectly possible there is somebody out there who thinks I’m really good looking and who isn’t legally blind.

Thanks to the interweb, this idea no longer has to be proven through probability statistics and can instead be demonstrated as true through the medium of my Myspace inbox. While it’s always nice to have messages that begin with the words “you’re really beautiful”, they do rather get consigned to the pile of Things I Am Actively Ignoring.
This is ultimately for two reasons.
1) The way I look, and indeed your opinion of that, has no bearing on my abilities, achievements or behaviour; I would prefer you to appreciate me for who I am and what I do, not for something as transient and relative as attractiveness.
b) I have Photoshop.

As I do not place any great value on the way I look, it follows that I neither place any great value on the way you look. While height, a chiselled jaw and a manly bearing can make the world of difference in a potential partner, it will always remain a bonus to who you actually are. All I really require is an adequate amount of attention to personal hygiene and an awareness of social order when you get dressed in the morning (there is a time for jeans and ripped t-shirts, the office and dates are not they).

Mammy has always worried about the way she looks. Whenever we are out, she will take me to one side and whisper, “Am I as fat as that woman over there?” This is a bad thing to ask me. She may be my Mammy, but I’m not going to enable her neurosis by humouring her. These days she prefers to go out with Strider.
As she slides further into pensionerhood, Mammy examines older women on the television, comparing herself with them. “How old do you think she is?” she will ask, “Does she look older than me?”
Sometimes she asks if I think she should have a facelift. I’m trying to put her off by claiming a facelift will leave scars she will have to cover with makeup. Mammy is not keen on applying lots of makeup.
Mammy disputes my claim regarding scarring and jiggles her bingo wings. “If I had the money for a facelift, I think I’d spend it on liposuction instead,” she says.

Cos does not help matters. She has become a fan of Botox. When we saw her 18 months ago, she had already had one course of it in her forehead. Since then, she tells us, she has had her lips done and further updates to control the wrinkles on her forehead. This makes Mammy keen to try it herself.
“How will you be able to communicate adequately if you can no longer move your eyebrows?” I ask. “And what will you do if you have too much and your face freezes in a permanently startled expression? You know how annoyed you get when we constantly ask you what’s wrong.” Mammy agrees with this.

To be honest, there is far, far too much emphasis placed on the way we look. It is hugely depressing to read about how x% of 8 year olds think they are too fat or that you have to be thin to be popular. I think we have got to the stage now where we are no longer worried about how we look, but that we are instead worried about worrying about how we look. I’m not convinced an 8 year old genuinely feels they have an inadequate body, I think they feel that they are supposed to feel that way. How stupid is that?
It is the same with the rising numbers of women feeling the pressure to conform to the standards of the porn industry. Seriously ladies, is there a man in existence who is going to get far enough with you to discover the size, shape and styling of your labia, only to decide you are too repulsive to sleep with? Preferences are fine, we all have them, but to be made to feel it is the social norm and unacceptable not to be a certain way is both ridiculous and dangerous. The minute anything like that becomes a deal breaker is the minute we need to point out the exit.

At the end of the day we are as we are and we must accept each other as that. We must avoid placing too much emphasis on such ephemeral values as attractiveness. Sometimes we look great in photographs, sometimes we look minging. It’s always worth remembering that the hottie mugging at the camera probably spends much of her day in front of a computer wearing a cardigan covered in soup and toothpaste.

In Praise of Alpacas

It’s never a great idea to admit to a passion for a particular breed of livestock, particularly when you are Welsh. I’ve never known how the international stereotype arose and probably never will, it falls under the heading of Things I Am Worried To Google, yet it perseveres even amongst our own kind.
Many years ago, a friend I shall refer to as Berwyn, because that is his name, told us he had broken a sheep’s leg over the weekend. Into the vacuum which followed, he rapidly explained he had fallen over a fence and onto the sheep. We were all very relieved to hear this explanation but I’m not sure any of us then present will ever remember Berwyn for anything other than breaking a sheep’s leg in definitely not dubious circumstances.

I am as fond of sheep as the next person, unless that person is Berwyn of course. I love the Hampshire Down and Lincoln breeds. The Lincolns are basically an Old English Sheepdog re-imagined as a sheep that you’ve permed, while the Hampshires are round, fluffy and slightly evil looking.
While I am able to summon an enthusiasm for sheep, such enthusiasm does not last for very long. Once the fact of their existence has been fully assimilated into my brain, I grow bored of them. Sheep do not do much other than catch pneumonia when the weather is excessively wet. They are also only worth keeping if you intend to kill and eat them at a later date. A sheep’s fleece is barely worth the money it costs to sheer it.

Instead, I have an enthusiasm for Alpacas. Alpacas are great. They’re look like Llamas, but instead of biting your head and spitting at you, they protect things. If they are pregnant, they conveniently only give birth between 10am and 3pm.
On The Yokel Show, which the BBC insists on referring to as Countryfile, Adam the farmer went down to visit some sheep on Portland Bill. In the field, the shepherd had three alpacas to protect the sheep from whatever calamities might have befallen them in an isolated field on the south coast. As soon as the alpacas clocked the threatening ginger figure advancing upon their charges, they immediately ran to form a defensive triangle around their dinner trough and looked at him with great suspicion. Oh yes, alpacas can look suspicious; that’s how great they are!
When not being convenient, protecting things or looking suspicious, alpacas remain busy growing their fur. An unprocessed alpaca fleece, I am reliably informed, goes for about £30 sterling (a sheep fleece is worth under a pound) and a freshly shorn alpaca remains one of the most comedic sights upon this earth.

Clearly, I need to find some sort of excuse to buy some alpacas. Having given this some careful thought, I have decided that what County Wexford sorely lacks is an Alpaca Rental Service.

As in the UK, it has become rather au fait around here to keep your own chickens. My neighbour (not the porn star, another one) is getting some chickens. My other neighbour already has some. My Dutch friend is getting some. My posh friends out on the Hook have some. Miranda at the garden centre had some for sale but when the bloke came to take them away for the winter, she gave him some money to let her keep them instead. Mammy has been desperate for some for years.
So, my plan runs thusly: You get chickens. You swiftly discover said chickens are vulnerable to foxes, dogs and other rural based predatory creatures. I come to your house and hand you a leaflet filled with threatening statistics regarding how many chickens a typical buzzard can carry away in a year and how this can be prevented through renting an Alpaca from me for a reasonable sum. You rent an Alpaca from me. Your chickens are kept safe, I have Alpacas, the world becomes as it deserves to be.

If only my bank manager could understand my vision.

In other news:
It’s been a rather damp day today. The newsagent, no doubt spurred on by the plethora or news surrounding him, observed this.
“It’s a wintery day,” he said.
I knew this. I had just been out it in. I made the reply Mammy made to me when I made a similar observation earlier that morning; “Yes, but it will bring the garden on a treat!”
“No,” he said, “It won’t. It’s. Too. Cold.”
He didn’t verbally add “now take your paper and go you hippy, Guardian reading optimist,” but I like to think it was implied by his stance.

Mail Overload

It may have taken me a while to notice and then a while longer to get around to mentioning it, but it was a great thing to know that my begging did not go to waste regarding the Irish Blog award nominations. My thanks extend to the nominatory elves who filled out the form. It’s more than I managed to do.
Of course, this meant judges visited the blog and read it. Had I noticed they were going to do something like that, I would have ended up trying to write something hilarious to win me something to fit on my, already overflowing, desk; now featuring a WWI medal, Stanley knife and Tibetan Temple Bell (What, you don’t have one?).
In any case, they didn’t like what they found here as much as what they found elsewhere. I think it was mainly due to my habit of referring to the British as a Liberation Army rather than the more colourful terms the Irish usually use. My use of the words “peasant mentality” were also unlikely to have found favour with the judging panel. No official long-list nominations for me, I’m afraid.

I may not have any prizes, but I have received a small bump in traffic. This increase in attention has led to communications reaching my inbox (as well as comments linking to websites of a dubious nature). It’s nice to receive communications. They make me feel wanted. Unfortunately, I’m not the greatest at replying to any of them. Much of this is due to my inability to actually read them. I only check my email when I’m expecting something and I only read my email while I’m waiting for something to arrive. I consider inbox twelve hundred an achievement.
The majority of the information clogging up my inbox comes from circulars and newsletters. They aren’t important things, but they are usually things I need to at least cast my eye over. When I reach something which consists of an actual communiqué from a real person who typed it out using their real fingers rather than smacking their head against a keyboard until the space was filled, it gets filed away in the “address this later” folder and never returned to.
I have massive guilt due to a bloke who took the time and the trouble to tell me that he’d read my MS on Authonomy, thought it was wonderful and hoped that I would finish it because he couldn’t bear the idea that it would go to waste. He sought out my email address because he noticed that I wasn’t using the Authonomy website anymore. How nice is that? Yet, I ignored him. If he’s reading this now, I apologise profusely and admit that while I could have spent my time sending you a note instead of writing this, I didn’t. It’s the kind of person I am.

When I’m not receiving undeservedly kind and complementary messages, I receive messages offering me monies to place advertisements on my website. For some reason, these are in Dutch. For further and slightly bizarre reasons, I’m able to read them pretty well without the help of Google Translate. Apparently I’m able to speak Dutch now.

I’ve also received a message offering me an interview with some guy I’ve never heard of, who will be able to give valuable advice and information to the OAP members of my readership. I’m sorry to disappoint the OAP members of my readership, but I’m of the opinion that if you have the nous to operate a computer well enough to find your way here, you are doing better than he is. He can’t manage to employ marketing people who read enough of a blog to realise it’s not the kind of thing they are looking for before they cut and paste a message off to its author.

Numerous mails have arrived to let me know that I have inherited several thousand dollars and that this money can be transferred to my account as soon as I forward them my bank details. I’m very impressed with these particular scamming emails. There is only a slight lapse in the quality of the language used towards the end of the message. If I were less cynical and didn’t know my entire family tree back to the thirteenth century, I might consider the possibility it was true.

Anyway, congratulations to all those on the long-list and good luck with the next round.

The Book Snob

From the length of the blogs I end up writing, you can probably guess that I am one of those odd people who reads for pleasure. Not only do I read for pleasure, I read proper books full of words with many syllables written by people you probably haven’t heard of and who sometimes compound that error by also being foreign.
You see, rather than impressing through the usual routes of attractiveness or achievement, I like to impress through literature. I bought a copy of Douglas Coupland’s Generation A the week it was published. I didn’t actually get around to reading it for a month, but anybody who came to my house was able to see it occupying the surface of my coffee table and ask if it was okay to use it as a coaster.

Happily, my local library manages to defy the trend of the rest of my local amenities by being rather good and for this I forgive them their conviction that Braille is a necessary and desirable thing on all of their signage. Unlike the local library where I grew up in the UK, they do not keep Lady Chatterley’s Lover beneath the counter; nor do they file Helen Fielding’s books under J.
Instead, they provide a wide variety of newly published books, run two book clubs, hold events for aspiring writers, organise exhibitions about local history and promote reading as an activity to the next generation. All this and interweb access. Marvellous.

Of course, being in a small town not generally renowned for its literacy, the librarians know all the regular users of their facilities and like to be helpful to them. I was returning my books on one occasion and the librarian said she had something out the back that she thought I might enjoy. I was very relieved when she returned bearing nothing more scandalous a copy of Xinran’s Sky Burial (and she was right, I did enjoy it).

The down side of this is that a book snob such as myself can no longer just pick out the books that take her fancy. She must instead treat the books as a collection. For every piece of populist dross I check out, books totalling a level of opposite complexity must be included.
For instance, last time I was in I borrowed a Sophie Kinsella and to cancel it out, took A.S Byatt’s The Children’s Book (recent Mann Booker nominee : +20 points) and Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts. To be on the safe side, I took an Andrey Kurkov as well.

This may seem like an unnecessarily complex system but it actually helps me to push myself with regards to the books I read. If I get to the end of the shelves to find I have too many, let us say, “commercial” novels in my bag, I’ll do another round with an eye out for something impressive by somebody who gets nominated for things.
It was in this way I came to read Michael Booth’s Just As Well I’m Leaving (Non-Fiction about somebody Dead : +10 points) from which I learned a wealth of things about Hans Christian Andersen which his Wikipedia page, inexplicably, fails to mention. Did you know that not only was he thought to have died a virgin, he was also a copious masturbator who made careful note of the frequency of his habit? Don’t say I never teach you anything useful.

Clearly I am wrong to behave like this. Shame on me for being so snobbish and judgemental. Shame on all of us.
You see, anybody who enjoys reading is a little bit of a book snob. I blame our childhoods. Show me a person who buys books exclusively from a supermarket and I will show you a person who made fun of me as a child. They called me weird. I will now take my revenge by sneering at their literary choices. Dan Brown? Ha! I mock your convoluted plotlines and questionable grasp of Parisian geography! James Patterson? Ha! I look sideways at your repetitive narratives and conveyer belt output! As for you celebrity ghosted commercial fiction, do not think your sparkly pink covers will diminish my disdain. They will not.

It’s rather bizarre that we Readers are so averse to anybody joining in. Shouldn’t we be a little bit pleased that we no longer have to explain the purpose of these flattened trees we insist on carrying around with us? Instead, we’re like all of the hardcore gamers who complain about the influx of casual gamers they now have to put up with. Personally I’m just pleased that people no longer look at me with fear when I mention that I’ve been wasting all of my spare time growing crops which don’t exist, but for many, playing the wrong sort of games is, somehow, far worse than not playing games at all.
Really, it all boils down to frustration. There are a wealth of brilliant games on a multitude of systems and instead you’re spending your money on “Imagine: Lobotomy” and “Hannah Montana Looks At A Poorly Animated Background”. It’s the same for us Readers, why are you reading Martine McCutcheon when you could be reading virtually anything else? This is time you are never going to get back and you waste it.

Even I waste my time reading dross. As a book snob, the majority of the dross I read is by whoever the literary author of the moment happens to be.
Ian McEwan can write; he just doesn’t seem to write anything I enjoy reading. Saturday? Atonement? I found them both hugely boring. It’s just selfish the way he refuses to acquaint himself with my personal tastes in literature and bend his talents to writing something I would part with money for.
The aforementioned A.S Byatt’s novel was, again, wonderfully written, but enjoyable? Only in parts. It came and it went and paused helpfully for book club discussions. There were characters that didn’t seem to do anything; they would occasionally be mentioned and I’d have no idea who they were.
I read Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger and, having absolutely loved it to pieces, went to read Affinity. It was disappointing. I found the protagonist underdeveloped and never had a sense that anything happening when she wasn’t there. I was similarly disappointed in The Night Watch. I was left underwhelmed by the story and still don’t really “get” why it was structured as it was.

However. Reading literary novels you haven’t enjoyed is not the same as reading some of the more transient authors landing publishing deals. My complaints about the above authors stem from my frustration because I know that somewhere in their writing is something I can connect with and forget what is going on around me, it’s just being stopped by something which doesn’t quite click. I could talk all day about any one of the above authors - what’s good, what’s bad, what I would have liked to have seen more of , why a character behaved the way they did – but how long can you maintain a discussion about a celebrity Chick Lit novel?
People who only read bestsellers from Tesco are missing out on half the pleasure of reading a really good book: talking about it. Like a film, a book doesn’t stop when you reach the end; it enters into your culture and the way you think about things. You can quote parts to other people you know have read it and you can apply its language to your life.
More valuably, it will teach you more about yourself than any other medium I have found.

A Bit Lost

Like everybody, I have a number of completely pointless skills. For instance, I can move my left eyeball independently of my right. I can’t see much and it’s really quite painful but it does have the additional bonus of either impressing boys or sending them wailing to their mothers. It’s dependent upon age and temperament.
Another skill is my ability to score 173 lines on the original GameBoy version of Tetris. I can bring swift swat based death to flies and other buzzy insects (although I prefer not to on account of being a hippy) and, if the occasion should warrant it, discourse knowledgeably on the development of the Protestant Church in England.

This is not all though. My most useful of my pointless skills, if you can forgive the oxymoron, is an ability to follow the plotlines of films and television shows upon first viewing. It may not sound like much, but I am the only person I know who fully understood the entire plotline of the original Matrix film and was able to explain it to Mammy on the way home.
It upsets me then, that somebody has seen fit to create a television show that I am entirely unable to follow, understand or even manage to remember what has happened in. Thank you very much, creators of Lost.

Lost is a show I would have happily remained ignorant of if it weren’t for Strider. She get into it as soon as it aired and, having requested and received the first half of Season One on DVD, demanded Mammy and I watch it with her. Having watched it, we were then required to have conversations which ran along the lines of “Yes, but what about that Polar Bear, eh?”
As the final season begins, we are still left wondering about that Polar Bear. Well. Strider is. Mammy can barely manage to remember what she watched last night, let alone an American TV drama she watched five years ago.

Happily, Sky One, who are responsible for broadcasting Lost in the UK (I don’t have RTE. I did once but it was so close to brain death it scared me. Judging Amy was Prime Time viewing for crying out loud), devoted an hour to reminding us who everybody in Lost was, what they’d been up to, and getting our heads prepared for the shiny new final season. Rather gratifyingly, between that and the “Previously On Lost” bits of the actual program, we got to watch stupid Juliet being sucked into a hole five times in just over two hours.

I’ve never been a fan of the American TV serial format. I become annoyed by advert breaks kicking in 4 minutes after a program has begun, particularly when many of the adverts were shown immediately preceding the program. I also dislike the mix of standalone episodes and 24 episode story arcs. I’m all for great epic stories, but in any 24 episode series, there are four or five episodes that have nothing to do with anything and which have been written to be filmed as cheaply as possible so the spare funds can be directed towards the season finale. I dislike it immensely.

The second biggest gripe I have with Lost is the nagging feeling that the writers have taken their story and spread it into as many episodes as they could get away with. Rather than sitting down and thinking about pacing and how it relates to plot, they’ve teased the story into a thread so fine, even I am unable to follow or remember any of it. If five series can be comfortably condensed into an hour-minus-advert-breaks minute program by Sky One, one can only suppose that much of what went before probably isn’t important to what will happen after. I’m very grateful for this because my mental prompt card for “Lost: The Plot” reads “Plane Crash. People Live on Beach. Scottish Bloke pushes button in case of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Annoying Child with Improbable Name leaves Island. Annoying Child with Improbable Name ages 18 years in a series for reasons that have nothing to do with the plot and more to do with lack of foresight on writers’ part when they wrote a child as a major character. Blond Bird even more annoying than Dark Haired bird looks anxious. Repeats. Ooo, look! Jim from Neighbours!” It’s good to know none of what I can’t remember matters.
Were it not for the helpful people at Sky One, I wouldn’t have remembered Jacob and the mysterious bloke in black at all. I’m still struggling to remember what happened to the French woman and her curly haired sprog. I remember them dead but I can’t for the life of me remember why, or whether it’s important.

Also, what is it with all of these “clever” names? Locke, Hume, Faraday… they don’t seem to mean anything. It’s more a way of generating discussion. Good marketing, sure, but a good show doesn’t need such cynical tactics.

The single most annoying thing about Lost though, has to be their portrayal of women. I’m sure that the writers’ believed they were creating feisty women who stood up for themselves. Unfortunately, they then committed the cardinal sin of creating women who are ultimately dependent upon men for their redemption.
If Kate stopped pouting long enough to realise that if couldn’t decide between Jack and Sawyer she probably didn’t really want either of them, she probably would have got much more done. Why does it have to be an either/or choice anyway? Does her brain explode if there isn’t a man who fancies her within 100 metres?
What about Sun? She speaks English, she’s got half a brain, yet she ultimately needs her bloke. It’s dressed up as love and all of that gubbins, but sensible girls remember that a relationship which forces you to compromise who you are is not a relationship you want to be in. Why does a heroine have to “save” a man? Why is it only then that she is “rewarded” with love?
Then there’s Juliet. Clever, educated, brilliant at her job, yet controlled by men. By Ben, by Jack, by Sawyer. Only achieves happiness after ditching the science job for mechanics and shacking up with Sawyer, who is incidentally higher in the Dharma hierarchy than she is despite her years of formal education and hard work. At no point does she tell them all to get bent and take control of her own life.
I suppose we should all just be grateful they haven’t written in any random lesbians to boost viewing figures.

So, with all of these complaints, you could be forgiven for wondering why I am bothering to watch it, particularly when I can’t get through an episode without shouting something abusive at the screen.
There have been 103 episodes in the first five series. Each episode runs at 43 minutes. 4429 minutes of my life have been wasted watching this stupid program which makes no sense. That’s 73 hours. Three days. Three days of my life that I am unable to get back have been invested in this. I have to watch it to the end, otherwise that time really would have been wasted.

Thankyou, And Goodnight

If Forbes magazine is to be believed, Ireland is the perfect country for blogging. Its people are naturally loquacious and in a time of great socio-economic change, they were the ideal nation to narrate their stories in a clash of wit upon wit, unfettered by the threat of invitation to take it outside. It would also, although Forbes did not make this point, give them something to do of a Friday night if the plans to reduce the drink drive limit come to fruition.
If Forbes magazine is to be further believed, Irish blogging is dead. They cite an article from the Irish Sunday Times as evidence. Can there really be any rebuttal to such a compelling line of reasoning?

To be honest, I’ve don’t really understand what position blogging is supposed to hold in the world. The impression I garner from the print media is that bloggers should be an online equivalent of them; blogs should break news, give analysis and opinion as well as producing high quality content on a regular (preferably daily) basis. This is clearly nonsense. The day I start delivering content on a daily basis is the day I have been locked in a room with only word processing software for company.

Also, unless a person is directly involved in an event, they are not going to be able to get a story online more quickly than a news organisation. At best, they will have a few hours head start. Once this head start is lost, they will be competing against specialist analysts who are able to pull their factual information from the wire agencies rather than finding it out themselves. No blogger is going to be able to consistently provide a breaking news service to rival the networks and yet, this is what the print media seems to think they should be doing.

Another complaint levelled at bloggers is their failure to hold politicians to account. Forgive me for being sensible about this, but surely that’s the job of the free press. I know that the British liberation forces spent many, many years suppressing the Irish media so there isn’t quite the print tradition there is in other countries, but it’s been the best part of a century since then. You can’t tell me nobody has managed to get a grip on the idea that they can print what they want to, yet.
Perhaps the print media feel that bloggers have more freedom than they do. After all, a blogger can’t be sacked if the person who owns their blog plays golf with the person they’ve just written an exposé on. A blogger can, if they wish to, retain a degree of anonymity or, if they are particularly tech savvy, create almost total anonymity.
However. A blogger is also denied the protection of a publisher. Anything they write, they are responsible for in the way that print journalist is not.

Let’s say I am a journalist. I drink too much and my wife has left me. When we met she was the greatest broad on the block but she couldn’t take my obsession with Big PJ O’MacDonagh. I knew he had something mean going down in those Waterford back alleys but I needed to find the proof. If I spent enough time in those dark underbellies, I’d find it for sure, but all she wanted was a trip to Ikea Dublin and eventually, she found a man who’d take her there and assemble her flat pack furniture when she got back.
So there’s me, in the pub, with a cigarillo. There’s Big PJ O’MacDonagh in the corner drinking a Cosmopolitan. Sean Og Cumhail is next to him with a Long Island Iced Tea. Both men have a white wine spritzer chaser. I know there’s something going on. I remember what went down in Wexford. Some nights I still wake up screaming with the smell of courgettes in my nostrils.
So, I move closer until I can overhear their conversation perfectly and when I get home, I immediately write down all the nefarious schemes they are planning. I don’t have any proof but my editor publishes it anyway. The following morning, the paper is sued.

By contrast, if our hero were a blogger who wrote something without any proof and published it on the interwebs, they would be the person being sued. It is the publisher who is held responsible for what is printed, not the writer. Is it any wonder then, that bloggers are unwilling to put their necks on the line? Even if they did, what would it be for? A temporary surge in blog traffic?

The other reason there are no investigative bloggers around here is because the Irish have what He Who Knows Everything refers to as a “peasant mentality”. When they come across somebody doing something a bit shady or underhand, they do not immediately away to the Justice mobile and bust the whole thing wide open, they try to work out how they can get in on the act.
Heaven alone knows how many euro are drained from the social welfare network each year by people who live together but pretend not to because single mothers get more welfare than married ones. The amount of people I’ve heard openly boasting about this kind of thing is unreal and that’s just people. Add in all the schemes the Travellers get up to and it must equate to millions. Not so long ago I read a story in the local rag about a traveller family who were caught trying to get their child christened a week after they’d had him christened in a different parish. The only reason they were caught is because the priest performing the service was filling in for the regular priest and just happened to have performed the first service from the week before and recognised them. This is why christening certificates tend not to be accepted as proof of identity.

So, what if blogs are not intended to challenge the status of the traditional print media? What if they are merely a pleasant diversion from whatever important job is awaiting your attention? Well the canny print media has already thought of this one. There is no need for blogs like that because newspapers already have amusing comment sections and in any case, goes the argument, blogs are not as well written, nor as funny as something which somebody gets paid for writing.
There, the print media may have a point. Blogs are not as well written as the print media tends to be. I’m incredibly good looking and clever but I make a heck of a lot of typos, malapropisms and factual inaccuracies. Yes, most of it is to do with the dyslexia but some of it is down to not having a sub-editor who is not me. Unless you are Giles Coren, you need a sub-editor.

It seems to be generally considered that the top Irish humour blog is Twenty Major’s. He has won best Irish blog for two years running and would probably have one it again this year had he not kindly put himself out of the running (or so Wikipedia tells me). He already has one published novel based upon his blog and a second is forthcoming. You would, in that case, expect the blog to be quite good.
It is… sort of. Were I to describe it I would probably go for “nothing particularly wrong with it”. I can appreciate why people like it but I’ve never read anything on there which is funnier than a column written by Charlie Brooker or Tanya Gold. It’s certainly not going to rival some of the genius available around the interwebs (Awkward Family Photo, anybody?). Yet, this is held up as the best blog Ireland has to offer.

To claim that Irish blogging is dead is the kind of vague, badly researched statement that remind us the print media needs just about anything to fill the pages. Irish blogging isn’t dead, but it’s not exactly world class either.

*If You Have Enjoyed This Blog Post, We At A Trivial Blog For Serious People Would Like To Take This Opportunity To Remind You That Nominations For The Irish Blog Awards Are Open Until The 5th of Feb. Should You Know Of Any Irish Blogs or Blogs Based In Ireland You Think Deserve A Nomination, The URL Of The Blog Is www.atrivialblogforseriouspeople.blogspot.com And The Contact Email Is atrivialblog@gmail.com We Thank You For Your Attention On This Matter And Promise Not To Mention It Again. Until Next Year.*
Irish Blog Award Nominations

Fancy Nominating an Irish Blog?

I have just noticed that the nominations are now open over at http://awards.ie/blogawards/nominations/ to nominate the best Irish Blogs of 2010. Should you know of any, ahem, Irish blogs which you think are deserving of a nomination to win massive kudos, the oppurtunity of a trip to Galway and possibly a KitKat, do have a scroll and fill out your nomination in the appropriate area/s.
If you would also like to point people on your own blogs in this direction so they can see how great somebody might be and how deserving of kudos/Galway/Kitkats then, y'know, feel free.

Carry On.

A Book, By Theo

It was the ever lovely Sarah who commented that I should write a book. I approve of this suggestion. If there is anything this world could use more of, it is drivel written by me. If it can be delivered in book form for which people are forced to part with currency to acquire, so much the better.

As it happens, like every blogger on the interweb, I harbour secret dreams of being an author. I would like nothing better than to receive quarterly royalty checks and get paid to visit bookshops. I yearn for the days when I can inform people where I get my ideas from and tell them whether or not I base my characters upon real people.
For me though, this remains something of a vague notion which I may or may not do something about some day. Although I write, it is very clear to me that I am not, nor will ever be, a Writer. I simply don’t care enough about it and take rejection with a shrug rather than crumpling to the floor and weeping over my failed MS before opining that the person who did this to me doesn’t know anything about anything and that they’ll be sorry when I win the Nobel prize for literature, as I obviously will, because I’m that great.

To be a Writer is to fail to understand that a commercial fiction agent is never going to represent your epic 18 part science fiction saga even though you’ve managed to use the letter X 432 times in the first chapter alone. To be a Writer you need to have a bag full of excuses and the certainty that anybody who doesn’t like your book must be blind, stupid and a much worse writer than you are. I see a routine rejection letter for what it is, not as a personal attack against my person.
It is no surprise then, that I and Harper Collins’ Authonomy Website do not Get Along.

If you’ve not heard of it, the idea of Authonomy is that writers can upload an amount of their MS onto the site and other users can review and suggest ways to improve it. If a person likes your MS enough, they can place it upon their “bookshelf” which raises its ranking. Whichever book has the highest ranking at the end of the month gets a review by an editor from HC.
In theory, this is a sound idea. Peer review can be the most effective way to improve what you do. Unfortunately, the Authonomy site is basically a popularity contest and the book which makes the top of the pile is not the best or even the most interesting, it is whichever one has an author with a lot of time on their hands.
You see, rather than just looking around the site and seeking out the books which interest them, the vast majority of users do trade reads, usually initiated by a random message asking you to read their novel first. Anybody who is attempting to climb the greasy pole of the rankings chart will place and remove dozens of books to and from their personal bookshelf in a single day in the hope of other users returning the favour.

Of course, the other trouble with this system is that it does not help users to become better writers; all it manages to do is drown them in obligation. How on earth can you give an honest review of somebody’s MS when you are desperate for them to have a look at your own? Or point out flaws when they’ve just given you a glowing appraisal? You can’t, so the result is a website full of reviews suggesting everything is marvellous. In what way does that help anybody?
The other trouble is that if you sit down and work out how many hours you need to spend courting other users and worked out how much you could earn if you worked that time, you’d have enough money to pay for several editor’s appraisals.

When I uploaded a rather ancient MS I have mouldering on my hard disk, it was more in the curiosity of what feedback I would receive because, in all honesty, I have no idea if it is any good or not, let alone publishable (although given the timeframe between my writing it and now, I would say no. I’ve improved a lot since then). The first feedback I received was from somebody who absolutely loved it and thought it was wonderful and who thought, on the basis of what they’d read, that I would be really interested in their novel. What they’d read only seemed to be the synopsis, but never mind, eh?

My second review came from somebody whose work I’d given the once over. They’d very kindly sent me a note asking if I would like to have a look at their book, so I did.
At first, I was a little taken aback. The synopsis was a little jerky and didn’t make a great deal of sense, it began with an author’s introduction containing an anecdote about shooting the wife of the local Labour MP which was meant to be funny but which I thought wasn’t (maybe it’s something to do with all the masked gunmen in my area), and the entire first chapter was written in a vague play script form which I found almost entirely unreadable.
Yet, I persevered. As recommended by the synopsis, I picked out a few chapters to read at random (this being structured as standalone stories) and continued until I had formed my opinion.

To begin with, I was careful to let the user know that anything I said would be of limited use to them as I was not the intended audience for this book (it was aimed at children and I don’t have any) and it was not the sort of book I would be interested in reading. This was my first mistake.
I then compounded this error by suggesting their synopsis could do with some polishing and opining that the opening anecdote fell a little flat. I suggested that they might think of moving the play script chapter to further on in the book as it gave people a false impression of what the book was like and may be putting them off from reading further. I went on to say I felt it was a little contrived and unoriginal in places (the final chapter sees the child hero thwart a terrorist hijacking on an aeroplane by tying the shoelaces of the terrorists together – his mum manages to sleep through the entire drama) and recommended that they have a little more fun with it.

The response was astonishing. I could hardly have done worse if I’d drowned their puppy and spat upon their mother’s grave. The rebuttal boiled down to “Loads of other people say it’s great and find all the bits you’ve cited really funny”. An hour later, they left me a second message to ask me why I’d bothered to read so much of it if I had hated it so much. An hour after that, a third, from which I got the impression they believed I’d taken offence from their original review request because it included the line “I don’t mind that you’re Welsh” and that was the reason for my criticisms. They defended themselves this racist aside by mentioning Anne Robinson. Anne Robinson? Shakespeare made Welsh jokes for heavens sake.

To this, I wrote an eloquent and polite response in which I tried to be encouraging and reiterated that it was only my opinion. Unfortunately, because I wrote it in Word and cut and pasted it across in a hurry, I failed to notice I only managed to post half of my message back to them. Even more unfortunately, this included the half which stressed that, as I mentioned clearly on my profile, I did not give reviews in the expectation that they would be returned and urged them not to trouble themselves with it if they felt disinclined to.
The following day, I realised my cut-and-paste error when I encountered their review of my MS. It was told me that they had really wanted to like my MS(!) but that my style was repetitive and my protagonist boring. They also said they could make no sense of my first line. I can only assume they thought this was going to really hurt but unfortunately, I’m not about to take offense from somebody on the interweb I’ve just managed to upset. That, and I didn’t have any confidence they’d read past the third paragraph.

So, I tried again. I thanked them for their review, said I was sorry they hadn’t liked it and promised to bear their points in mind when I came to do my revisions. I also said I had noticed they had improved their synopsis and agreed it was clearer now.
Yet, that didn’t seem to be the end of it. I was left with the impression that they really wanted me to approve of the changes they’d made and declare that actually, I really liked their book. Why they would be so desperate for my appreciation I have no idea, but there you go.

Clearly, when it comes to seeking opinion on creative work, I am better prepared to handle it than a lot of people. I’ve been to Art School. I’m used to sitting in a room full of people who are discussing what I’ve done wrong and it frustrates me not to have access to a group of people who can honestly discuss and give constructive feedback to me on something like creative writing.

Anyway. While my experience on Authonomy was a brief and perplexing one, it would certainly be remiss of me to suggest that everybody on the site is a jerk. They aren’t. Even my antagonised chum stated that they felt bad to being mean to me when I was so nice and kept trying to help them. They didn’t actually apologise nor have a proper look at my MS, but never mind.
Authonomy sounds a good idea but, in all honesty, anybody who wants to be an author, rather than a Writer, would do far better to spend their time on their MS, synopsis and covering letter. An agent will get you published, Authonomy won’t.

Ice, Ice Baby

As a Brit, I enjoy talking about the weather. It’s what we do. We frown at the sky. We grumble and compare the weather of today to the weather of our youths. We complain about its every aspect. We prophesise worse times to come in the coming days before muttering “Ah well, musn’t grumble” and continuing with our day.
The Irish are also keen on talking about the weather. They prefer to take a more direct approach with no chance of disagreement and state what the weather is doing rather than the more disagreeable British style.
Once you have greeted somebody, the usual line of conversation is to comment on the current climate conditions, state whether it is better or worse than during the previous days, remember a time many years before when it was just like this but something happened to somebody’s livestock as a result of it (which may or may not have happened this time around), state what the forecast is for the coming days and state either relief or concern at that prospect.

At the moment it is very cold. Freakishly cold. In some parts of Ireland it has been dropping to -12C at night. Even here in the Sunny South East it was getting down to -5C. In the 6 and a half years I’ve lived here, I’ve had to defrost the car maybe half a dozen times. In the last fortnight, it’s needed doing every day.
This type of weather is really unusual for here. It hardly ever gets below zero but at the moment, the ground is frozen so even when there is a bit of respite, the thawing frost refreezes and we’re back where we started. This causes something of a problem with the roads.

The Irish are not good drivers. They don’t need to be. Until recently, anybody who was on their second provisional license did not require a qualified driver in the car with them, which rather destroyed the need for people to sit a test at all. Some years ago, the waiting lists for new drivers to sit the test was so long they arbitrarily awarded licences to the people who had been on the list for the longest times. The man who won the Wexford Rally in September is currently one year into a five year ban for causing death by dangerous driving. He has no apparent problems obtaining a racing licence nor any apparent twinges of conscience; he competed in a race mere weeks after managing to drive his 911 into a wall, killing his wife and injuring his mate, but remaining unscathed himself. The Irish Independent referred to him as a “local hero” in their write up of his racing victory.

It is with some trepidation then, that I have been examining the road surfaces. It is gut wrenching enough at times driving over here, so you can appreciate I was not looking forward to driving on ice.
Happily, I am just about old enough to have sat the driving theory test when applying for my own licence and because I am extraordinarily good looking and clever, scored a hundred percent – an achievement which is rarer than I would have expected it to be. It is because of this that I know how to drive on ice, even if I have never done it before. So, when I turned left at the end of the road and found the car was unable to gain enough traction to get up the hill, I did not immediately panic and drive into a hedge as Mammy would have done but instead calmly slipped it into fourth and smugly made my way the two miles up to the main road where driving was better.
Apart from that first worrying five minutes, it was really rather nice. I’ve never managed to drive at anything less than 59mph on the main road without getting overtaken with much gesticulating but on that day, everybody was driving at 50mph. It was great. I’d forgotten how relaxing driving without somebody nudging your rear bumper and flashing manically is.

That was on the first day of the cold snap. After that, it got much worse. He Who Knows Everything and I were driving behind a bus. HWKE braked gently to be greeted with a terrible screeching noise and the worrying prospect of explaining to his wife why there was a wall shaped dent in the front bonnet of her car. As HWKE was required to do an Advanced Driving Course many years ago, he was able to keep control of the car and disaster was averted but it was still a perturbing experience and not one I am keen to repeat.

Much of the problem is caused by the fact that the councils don’t appear to be gritting the roads with the amount of vigilance the conditions would suggest they need to be doing; if at all.
This cold weather has not come out of the blue. It was predicted well in advance and, for once, all of the forecasts have been accurate about the harshness of it. If we had all woken up one morning to a blizzard, then I could appreciate why the councils have been so lax with their gritting. As it is, all they can do is claim they have had a lorry on it every single day but won’t be any more because they’ve run out of salt. If the N25 has been salted every single day since this weather started, I’m a custard filled pudding.
The simply hideous accident in Gorey should have been a wakeup call. It hasn’t been. I know it has been Christmas and I know these are unusual circumstances, but the councils have had plenty of warning and they’ve just crossed over into a shiny new financial year. Get the council check books out and sort it. Please.

This cold weather is set to continue for another week at least and it’s even beginning to cause me some problems. You see, I live in a field. To get to the main road from my field, one has to drive two miles on roads covered in snow and ice which haven’t been gritted at all. I’ve got my fingers crossed a thaw happens before I run out of tea.

Hope all your new years are going well and you are slightly less stranded than I am.