Saturday, 31 December 2011

It's an honour...

Today sees the publication of the 2012 New Year's Honours List. Little Lorraine Kelly and (even littler) Ronnie Corbett get their medals this time, along with the usual raft of sports personalities, some devoted lollipop and dinner ladies, a few friends of David Cameron and the Tories, a couple of TV producers, some ex cons and Helena Bonham Carter.

Below is a list (thanks to Wikipedia) of those who have declined honours. Some are declined then later accepted, some are declined in the hope of getting offered a better/higher honour. Some are declined for political reasons and some for personal reasons. I've not included those who have renounced honours.

The artist LS Lowry holds the record for the most honours declined. He twice declined appointment to the Order of the British Empire: as an Officer (OBE) in 1955 and as a Commander (CBE) in 1961. He turned down a knighthood in 1968 and appointment to the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in 1972 and 1976.

Knighthood

Frank Auerbach, artist
Alan Bennett, playwright
David Bowie, musician
Lester Brain, aviator and airline executive
Hugh Cudlipp, OBE, editor
Paul Dirac, Nobel Prize winner for physics in 1933
Michael Faraday, scientist
Albert Finney, actor
E. M. Forster, OM, CH author and essayist
Michael Frayn, dramatist
Stephen Hawking, scientist
Keith Hill, Labour MP
David Hockney, CH, RA artist
Charles Holden, architect, declined twice
Trevor Howard, stage/film actor
Aldous Huxley, author
Richard Lambert, editor of the Financial Times
Essington Lewis, Australian mining magnate
L. S. Lowry, artist
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum
Frank Pick, chief executive of London Transport
William Pember Reeves, New Zealand statesman
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and critic
Quentin Skinner, historian

Appointment to the Order of Merit (OM)

A. E. Housman, poet and classical scholar
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and critic

Appointment as a Companion of Honour (CH)

Francis Bacon, artist
Robert Graves, poet and novelist
L. S. Lowry RA, artist

Appointment to the Order of the Bath

As Knight Companion

Admiral George Cranfield Berkeley

Appointment to the Royal Victorian Order

As a Commander (CVO)

Craig Murray, former United Kingdom Ambassador to Uzbekistan

Appointment to the Order of the British Empire

As a Dame Commander (DBE)

The Lady Callaghan of Cardiff, campaigner and fundraiser
Doris Lessing, CH, OBE, author
Geraldine McEwan, actress
Vanessa Redgrave, CBE, actress
Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby

As a Commander (CBE)

Ian Albery, services to drama
Alderman Nick Anstee, former Lord Mayor of London
Francis Bacon, artist
J. G. Ballard, author
Nancy Banks-Smith, television critic
Alan Bennett, playwright
Honor Blackman, actress
David Bowie, musician
Sir Francis Boyd, journalist
Kenneth Branagh, actor and director
John Cleese, actor/comedian
John Cole, journalist
Francis Crick, scientist
Bernie Ecclestone, owner of Formula One commercial rights
Albert Finney, actor
Michael Frayn, FRSL dramatist
Lucian Freud, OM, CH artist
Robert Graves, poet and novelist
Jocelyn Herbert, theatre designer
Sir Wally Herbert, polar explorer
Sir Alfred Hitchcock,KBE director
Elgar Howarth, conductor
Leon Kossoff, painter
John le Carré, author
C. S. Lewis, author, theologian, Oxford professor
L. S. Lowry, artist
Geraldine McEwan, actress
George Melly, musician, artist and raconteur
Dame Helen Mirren, DBE, actress
Sir V. S. Naipaul, author
Gareth Peirce, solicitor
Cedric Price, architect
Keith Richards, guitarist (The Rolling Stones)
Robert Simpson, composer
Savenaca Siwatibau, Fijian academic
Claire Tomalin, writer
Polly Toynbee, columnist
Leslie Waddington, gallery chairman
Evelyn Waugh, novelist
Paul Weller, musician
Garfield Weston, businessman

As an Officer (OBE)

Peter Alliss, golfer and commentator
Jim Broadbent, actor
Roald Dahl, author
Dawn French, comedienne
Graham Greene, OM, CH author
Laurence Harbottle, services to theatre
Hamish Henderson, poet and folklorist
Lenny Henry, comedian
Hattie Jacques, actress and comedienne
Jonathan Kent, theatre director
Philip Larkin, CH, CBE, FRSL poet
Nigella Lawson, chef; cookery writer
Doris Lessing, CH, OBE author
Ken Loach, director
L. S. Lowry, artist
John McCormick, controller BBC Scotland
Ian McDiarmid, actor, theatre director
Geraldine McEwan, actress
Hank Marvin, guitarist (The Shadows)
Doreen Massey,Professor of Geography
Alan Mattingly, Ramblers' Association
Stanley Middleton, FRSL author, 1979
Craig Murray, former United Kingdom Ambassador to Uzbekistan
Max Newman, mathematician and wartime codebreaker
V. M. Sabherwall, Birmingham industrialist
Jennifer Saunders, comedienne
Jon Snow, newscaster
Grace Williams, composer
Michael Winner, director
Benjamin Zephaniah, poet

As a Member (MBE)

Major Derek Allhusen, CVO, Olympic equestrian gold-medallist
Leonard Barden, British chess champion
Patrick Collins, sports writer
Joseph Corré, co-founder of Agent Provocateur
Emer Rose Crangle, aid worker
John Dunn, broadcaster
Marjorie Hebden
David Heckels
Anish Kapoor, CBE, sculptor
Gwendoline Laxon, charity worker
Susan Loppert, art historian
John Lydon, musician
Barry McGuigan, MBE boxer
John Pandit, musician
Weeratunge Edward Perera, MBE social entrepreneur in British Malaya
Doris Purnell
John Sales, gardener
Joan Smith, journalist
Rachel Whiteread, CBE artist

Today's run at 08:11
Distance4.01 kmTime23:35
Pace5:53 min/kmCadence81 spm
Comments: Drizzle. Backache.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Not waving but drowning...

During my lunch hour today I went in search of a suit that I can wear to a black tie function that's a couple of weeks away. I had two dinner suits that I threw out earlier this year because they had become too big for me.

This time around, I didn't want to buy a traditional dinner suit as they always seem to look so square on me - I invariably end up looking very cuboid and stumpy in them. I was after something that would make me look slimmer; something you might describe as elegant and stylish rather than traditional/functional. I was after something that didn't cost me an arm and a leg and, for some reason, I had become set on something in navy blue.

For some reason, I ended up in Moss Bros. How this came to be, I know not; I don't particularly like their styling or their aggressive sales technique. Despite all this, I stumbled upon a navy two piece suit that I liked and all at a reasonable price too. Within seconds one of the shop assistants had swooped and was bundling me into a changing booth to try on the suit.

The jacket fitted perfectly as did the trousers, except for the calves, which were too tight. I asked the assistant if I could try a larger pair of trousers on. He said he'd get me a suit the next size up. I explained that it was only the trousers that needed swapping as the jacket fitted perfectly. He said that he couldn't mix different size trousers with a different size jackets. I tried reasoning that not everyone comes in the standard sizes and proportions in which they make their suits but he wouldn't budge. It was policy.

I eventually gave up and agreed to try the next size up. This suit fitted my calves perfectly but unfortunately was far too big elsewhere. I was drowning in it. It looked worse than the ill fitting, boxy dinner suits I'd recently thrown out. The assistant said that it would be no problem to have it adjusted at a local tailor's and that it would not, in all probability, be that expensive for me.

I explained (slowly, in case he didn't follow): that I was looking for a cheap suit that I may only get 3 or 4 wears out of, that I did not want to spend additional funds on top of the cost of the suit, that I did not wish to get the whole suit altered simply to be able to cover my calves. He looked perplexed. I left.

I eventually picked up a similar suit in Next. Yes, again the trousers are tight around my calves but having bought the next size trousers up, I only need to get the trousers altered because Next have a sensible policy around mixing and matching suit trousers and jackets.
Today's run at 18:23
Distance4.17 kmTime23:10
Pace5:32 min/kmCadence81 spm
Comments: Rain. Backache

Thursday, 29 December 2011

I would...

I remember accidentally tuning in to a kids' wildlife programme in the 80s and being mesmerised by the beauty of one of the presenters. He was tall and slim with the most angelic face and a shock of blond hair cut in a Mohican style.

He looked as if he should be in a rock band rather than in a BBC wildlife TV series for children. I can remember sitting there, gobsmacked, and thinking, how does someone get to be that handsome?

That kids' wildlife programme was The Really Wild Show and that handsome presenter was Chris Packham. It ran for 20 years and won numerous awards. Since that first chance encounter, I've followed Chris Packham (now 50) over the years. He has a passion for his subject and he really connects when he communicates. I must admit he still looks as handsome as ever.

Tonight he appeared on Celebrity Mastermind, winning his heat - add erudition to his many attributes. If there was any justice in this world he would be sat in bed now, exhausted having made me dinner and then washed up and tidied. He'd be calling my name right now to come in for a cwtch.

Life is so unfair...
Today's run at 17:40
Distance4.17 kmTime24:00
Pace5:45 min/kmCadence80 spm
Comments: Wind, rain.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Peace on earth...

With doubt cast in recent years as to whether Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, whether he was born in Bethlehem and even if the three wise men were kings, three in number, wise or even men; it's nice to be able to hold on to the theme of peace at this time of year. It's comforting.

Peace on earth... or so goes the Christmas message. Have a look at any Christmas carol or nativity story and you'll more than likely find the word peace sooner or later. The birth of Jesus ushered in a new chapter; gone was the vengeful and warring God of the Old Testament, swept aside by the new caring, merciful God of the New Testament. Yahweh had undergone a make-over.

With the birth of His son he mellowed; fatherhood gave Him a softer edge. Out went the aggressive Jeremy Paxman image to be replaced by a cuddlier Eamonn Holmes character. And He hasn't looked back since that first Christmas. Indeed, the festive season has long been associated with forgiveness, kindness and generosity. Legend has it that on Christmas Day in 1915 the German and British soldiers put down their guns and put aside their differences for a festive game of football in No-Man's-Land.

The message of peace has rung down the ages and stands as a bright and guiding torch in the depths of winter; a beacon on which to fix our gaze as we enter another year wondering what it will bring. It forms the core of many a leader's yuletide message; a cardinal point on our moral compasses. How then to explain this fighting between rival groups of Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

Doesn't give much hope for the  rest of us, does it?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

R.I.P....

Well, my PC finally died this morning. If the truth be told, Beastie's been looking rather poorly for the last couple of weeks. I wish I could report that it passed away quickly and peacefully in its sleep rather than the spluttering and protracted agony it suffered as I screamed obscenities at it.

I went for a run to try and figure what I should do next (if in doubt, go for a run). Was it worth resuscitating Beastie? If I followed that route then it would be Professor PC's 3rd visit in the last 6 months. Was it time to move on; to accept that Beastie had finally died and to buy a replacement?

My mind drifted to my visit to the Apple Store yesterday as, wide eyed and over-awed, I fingered the iMacs on display. Had the day finally arrived to bite the bullet and buy a Mac? I dreamt of this for a kilometer or more before finally coming to my senses and realising that I could knock the best part of a grand off the iMac I wanted and still have a decent PC to work with. I couldn't justify spending £1,250 on a new iMac (beautiful though they are).

So it was then that I hauled my sullen butt over to PC World this afternoon to buy a cheap base unit to replace the gone but not forgotten Beastie. It then took me the rest of the afternoon to try and configure the new one and replace the programmes I'd been using on Beastie.

I still haven't finished that configuration but the rest can wait. I'd also intended picking over Beastie's carcass this afternoon to see what I could re-use but that will also have to wait until I can face the emotional stress of seeing it laid out - like a patient etherised upon a table.
Today's run at 09:34
Distance4.01 kmTime22:01
Pace5:29 min/kmCadence80 spm
Comments: Calm, still, cloudy.

Monday, 26 December 2011

A whole 183 days' worth...

I started this blog back in late June of this year so that I could capture my thoughts as I ran, swam and cycled (but mainly ran) around Cardiff. It seemed such a shame to allow the things I thought about to evaporate into the ether. I wanted a record of these thoughts. In starting this blog, I also set myself the objective of blogging these thoughts each and every day for 6 months. That's 183 posts to this blog, one day after the next. Today saw me achieve this.

It's not an easy task writing a post for this blog every day because sometimes my thoughts don't always resolve into oven ready, just add water, easily digestible, tasty, bite sized morsels. Usually, I have to admit, it's not that difficult; there are a number of thoughts that pass through my mind that easily offer themselves up as candidates for blogging - I just need to season well, heat in the microwave for 5 minutes and then turn them out onto a plate known as Blogger.

Sometimes, however, it's not that easy. I have to start from scratch; much scrubbing, peeling, weighing and mixing is needed before I have anything nourishing to show for it. Sometimes, all I have is a scramble of half snatched, semi-formed incoherencies that take quite some cooking before publication. There have been times when I've sat here trying to remember what went through my mind on my run. My failing memory leaves me staring blankly at the screen without a clue as to what I should write about. Some of you may argue that I should never have bothered in the first instance.

And what have I learned from it? Well, it's quite therapeutic having to write your thoughts down every day and it's certainly interesting looking back, as anyone who's kept a diary will testify. Will I carry on writing this blog? Certainly but maybe not every day. Here are some of my favourite posts over the last 6 months:
Such a drag... I like this one because of the video of me letting loose my inner drag queen. Well, what else does a boy do after a few glasses of red on a Friday night?
Land of my fathers. And mothers... I like this post because it takes me back to the instant I saw the text from my mum with her photo. Such a nice memory.
Nature, red in tooth and claw... I can still see the distressed look on the poor girl's face each time the guy swam past her.
Marble domes and delicious torture (Istanbul 3)... Blogging on holiday may seem like a waste of precious time but it pays dividends when you read these posts several months later. This one covers the day I went to a Turkish bath and had a massage - oh the pain and the pleasure.
Singing like a canary... I laughed out loud the first time I saw the tweets quoted in this post. I've just laughed out loud again re-reading them.
The men's underpants special edition... Way too much personal information but I guess I wouldn't be a blogger if I wanted to keep my life a secret.
A veritable smorgasbord... Good memories from the hotel restaurant at breakfast - my favorite meal of the day.
Good company for the godless... A reminder of the great company I keep. We are not alone.
Today's run at 13:12
Distance4.27 kmTime24:35
Pace5:45 min/kmCadence81 spm
Comments: Impressive, given the kilos of Christmas dinner I'm still carrying around.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Now that's what I call Xmas...

As anyone who know's me will testify, I'm not the biggest fan of Christmas. However, that said, I have been known to enjoy the odd mince pie, slurp the occasional dry sherry and tap my foot to one or two Christmas choons. So here it is, Merry Christmas:
Jingle Bells - The Puppini Sisters
All I Want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey
Santa Claus is Coming to Town - The Jackson 5
Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End) - The Darkness
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard
Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
Last Christmas - Wham!
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon
Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
I Believe In Father Christmas - Greg Lake
Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid
Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop) - Adam Faith
Frosty the Snowman - The Ronettes
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - The Crystals
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Dean Martin
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
Winter Wonderland - Peggy Lee
The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
White Christmas - Bing Crosby
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby/David Bowie
Walking in the Air - Aled Jones
Fairytale Of New York - The Pogues/Kirsty MacColl
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland
Troika - Sergei Prokofiev

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Flesh...

I am not a vegetarian. However, I have, by and large, eaten a meat free diet since August. Yes, when I eat out I'll eat meat but I haven't really cooked any at home. I don't feel deprived and I can't say that I've missed it. It's no hardship.

Why am I doing this? It's not a conscious effort in support of green issues or animal rights or my own health - although, by varying degrees, I think all three are important to me. I just seem to have fallen out of the habit and, I must say, my food shopping bill hasn't scaled the heights it otherwise would have, had I been regularly buying meat to eat at every meal.

Of course, Christmas changes things somewhat: the frequency of eating out and also the pressure to eat meat increases. It can't be easy being vegetarian at this time of year. I remember when, as a student, I was vegetarian proper; everyone just expects you to eat meat at this time of year and if you don't then you are not enjoying yourself. In that Welsh food as a substitute for love culture, vegetarianism can even be seen as subversive: like you're spoiling it for everyone else by insisting on this silly behaviour.

My gran had a hierarchy of meat. Whenever I visited she'd always insist on cooking something for me. On learning that I was vegetarian, she paused for a moment then said, "So you don't want any beef then?" "What about pork?" "Will you try a bit of chicken?" "I got some cooked ham in the fridge?" "Sausages...?" "I think I got a tin of ham in the larder somewhere?" She looked flummoxed each time I refused her offers. When I suggested omelette, she went quiet and adopted a hurt expression, as if I'd told her that I didn't love her anymore.

That was 25 years ago. Attitudes have, no doubt, changed and I am no longer vegetarian. My diet of late, whether conscious or subconscious would not, however, impress my gran, "What about a pasty then boy, that's got potato in it...?"
Today's run at 08:17
Distance4.03 kmTime23:16
Pace5:46 min/kmCadence81 spm
Comments: Calm, cloudy and cool.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A holiday from life...

I came across this website today for Downside Abbey near Bath in the South West of England. It brought flooding back memories of my stay there quite some years ago...

In 1989, when I was an actor, I was cast as a priest in a play about religion, politics and witchcraft in medieval England. At the time I knew very little about Catholicism - modern or medieval so, as part of my research, I spent a few days at the abbey.

Downside is a community of Benedictine monks many of whom spend their time teaching at the famous school which shares the same site. Also on site is a wonderful library, which I had access to during my stay with them. There's something wonderful about the smell of old books and some of the books in the abbey's library are very old indeed.

Each day I shadowed the monks as they went about their duties; from Vigils at 6am to Compline at 8pm. I sat in church as they sang their prayers and in the refectory I ate with them in silence while a novice monk read aloud from Tolstoy's Letters from the Crimea.

Over a couple of bottles of wine, I talked into the night with some of them about medieval church history. They instructed me on how to take mass, coached me on how to sprinkle holy water, helped me with medieval church latin and taught me how to wear a habit.

I was shown what was claimed to be a relic of the true cross. It makes little difference whether it's genuine or not; its power arises from the thousands who have placed such faith in it. It's such an odd feeling seeing this lump of wood sitting in its glass casket, knowing that it has been the subject of such veneration down the years. Such a very odd feeling indeed for a confirmed atheist.

My stay at Downside served its purpose well in terms of preparing me to play the role of a medieval catholic priest but that is not the memory I'm left with now, some 22 years later. It is the hospitality and kindness of this very dedicated and erudite community of monks that stays with me; their sense of humour and their sense of fun. Yes, we're poles apart in many respects but there's more that binds us than separates and there are lessons we can take from each other.

Some years after the production had finished I returned for another stay of a few days and a year or two after that returned again for a short visit. It's so very peaceful at Downside; an ideal place to rest your mind - to assess and refocus. Whether you're religious or not doesn't really matter; it's a haven for contemplation.

The abbey is set in the small village of Stratton-on-the-Fosse. It's surrounded by the most beautiful countryside with a nearby pub to retire to in the evening. Perfection. It's the closest I've ever come to having a holiday from life - something perhaps we need from time to time...?
Today's run at 16:23
Distance4.05 kmTime22:28
Pace5:33 min/kmCadence81 spm
Comments: Spitting...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Shibboleth...

A shibboleth, according to Wikipedia, is a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.

The word originates from the following biblical tale:
And it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.
Judges 12:4--6, KJV
Slain for not being able to pronounce a word properly; pronounciation betrays our origins. In the UK it not only tells you where you come from but also which social class you belong to. You can wear the right clothes and drink the right wines but as soon as you open your gob, a stray flat a will give the game away.

I always found it a bit implausible when, in countless war films, British officers disguised as locals would be challenged by German border patrols whilst trying to escape. They would reply with what must've been perfect German pronounciation, for the guards never ever cottoned on.

In Denmark an unofficial test to establish your Danishness is to pronounce rødgrød med fløde (a red fruit dessert with cream). To a non Danish ear it sounds like someone trying to talk with a mouthful of hot potato. In British English the neutral vowel, and how well you throw it away, is a dead giveaway of the impostor.

As for Wales, many would argue that you could pick any Welsh word at random as all are incomprehensible to the non Welsh ear. Judging by the awful attempts BBC newsreaders make at pronouncing the simplest of Welsh place names, I'm inclined to agree. They take immense pride in navigating their tongues through a list of Swahili villages but ask them to pronounce Llanelli and they're lost.

Newsreaders must go to bed at night praying that nothing interesting will ever happen in Machynlleth or Dolgellau.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

An Apple and Orange...

I recently upgraded my phone from an HTC to an iPhone and today it arrived. Anyone who has bought an Apple product will know that they make the buying experience so wonderful it's almost addictive. Great service, cool packaging, helpful staff, down to earth attitude; it sticks in the mind. It stays with you.

Orange, on the other hand, leave a lot to be desired. Their website is usually riddled with faults and often, the functions they boast of there don't work. It's frustrating, to say the least. In the past I've had problems logging in, I've had problems viewing my bill, I've had problems viewing the plan I'm on. The list goes on and on.

Today my problem was with their contacts backup service. They boast on their website:
The Contacts Backup service gives you peace of mind knowing that you’ll never lose a number again. So when you replace your Orange phone you can easily restore your contacts, saving you time and hassle and best of all the service is free in the UK.
I backed up my contacts from my HTC on Monday and tonight tried to restore them to my iPhone, however, everytime I tried I was met with a connection failed message.

After trying numerous times over a couple of hours I rang them, only to be told that it's a failure they're aware of, that it's been going on some time and they don't know when they'll get it back. Hopeless! If it hadn't been for the excellent service given by the guy who answered my call, I think I'd have exploded.

So I now have a lovely new phone with lots of features except that if I want to make a call or send a text, I have to manually type it in from my old phone and I have no idea who's calling me. The future's Orange...?
Today's run at 18:32
Distance4.04 kmTime21:23
Pace5:18 min/kmCadence81 spm
Comments: Still and relatively warm.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

He who laughs last...

I've always been a bit behind; always a follower and never an innovator or a pioneer. I'm always somewhere in the middle of the pack and never running out front somewhere. I've never been leading edge, never mind bleeding edge.

I'm currently working my way through Spooks. I first saw the programme during (the last ever) series 10 and loved it so much that, after that came to an end, I went back to Series 1 and started watching them. I'm currently on Series 5 and kicking myself that I hadn't discovered them sooner. The same thing happened with Downton Abbey, except I did manage to discover that after only one series had been broadcast and I've now caught up.

I noticed that between Facebook and Twitter today, I got sent a link to a You Tube Christmas themed video four times by different friends. You've probably seen it before; you more than likely caught it last Christmas or maybe the one before that. I have only discovered it today.

And so, to all the other sheep out there, I give you, The Digital Story of Nativity (Christmas 2.0). And remember the old saying, He who laughs last... doesn't get it.
Today's run at 18:36
Distance4.06 kmTime21:06
Pace5:12 min/kmCadence82 spm
Comments: Quite mild and drizzly.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Fandabidozi...

What has the world come to? Is nothing safe anymore? I feel sick to the bottom of my stomach to hear that wee Jimmy Krankie and his father were having sex. Not only that but they went to swingers' parties together! They've admitted their sordid past in an interview with the BBC and now it's all over the papers. The whole of Scotland is hanging its head in shame.

To think, these perverts were entertaining innocent children through the 1980s and all the while indulging in all manner of perversions with each other, and not only that, but with complete strangers! They not only enjoyed sexual filth of all sorts but have also boasted about smashing up the lovely Status Quo boys' tour bus, punching magician and family entertainer, Paul Daniels in the face and streaking through respectable middle class neighborhoods for a bet.

To think, I used to be a fully paid up member of the Krankies Klub...
Today's run at 18:04
Distance4.27 kmTime23:42
Pace5:33 min/kmCadence80 spm
Comments: Damp and dark.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Up with the sun this morning as I wanted to fit a run in before heading off to the Blue Anchor in Aberthaw for Christmas lunch with a few mates. We've been doing this for a number of years and it usually always turns into a rather boozy affair, so the odds on going for a run this evening are practically nil.

It was very cold and very slippery first thing this morning because of all the ice, which meant that I tottered with little baby steps the entire distance to avoid going arse over tit. About midway through the run I realised that we're only one week away from the culmination of what we've been building up to since the festive season first started sometime back in late August.

In a week's time, you'll be sat in an arm chair feeling bloated and a bit woozy from the excesses of another Christmas Day. Nauseous from the over-eating and binge drinking, bruised by the family fights and bored by yet another Christmas TV Special; you'll be looking forward to Boxing Day when you can queue at an out of town store's customer service desk in order to return your unwanted gifts.

To see you through this final stretch, I thought I'd tell you a Christmas horror story from when I was a kid:
I must've been about eight years old and during the run up to Christmas my Grandmother, who worked in a shop, used to supply my younger brother and I with festive treats such as foil wrapped chocolates intended to be hung on the tree. Of course, they were never hung on our tree; they never made it that far - my brother and I would greedily devour them when we got home after school, ignoring my mother's warnings that we'd ruin our appetites.

On one miserable and grey afternoon in December we arrived home from school and rushed to the cupboard to share out our chocolate spoils. It was sheer heaven; sat there on the floor infront of the telly ripping at the foil to reveal the hollow chocolate bells, balls, snowmen and santas. We didn't stop to savour this cheap confectionary, we ate it quickly and mechanically while our attention was almost wholly focused on Scooby Doo or Hong Kong Fooey. Occasionally we might pause slightly or relax our feeding frenzy as my mother's voice echoed from the kitchen, "I hope you two aren't eating those chocolates yet?" My brother and I would grin at each other for a brief moment before picking up the pace again.

During my trance-like state I'd half noticed that one of my chocolate santa's foil wrapping had been punctured. I thought no more of it. I tore off his shiney red dressing and bit his head off. I then lifted his decapitated body to my mouth and tapped so that any chocolate debris that had fallen into his body fell into my mouth. I swiftly followed this with two bites at what was left and the whole santa was now in my mouth. I chomped away at it, the chocolate melting away between my teeth. However, this one tasted a little odd. It was an alkaline taste; the taste you get from silver paper. Rather than pull the paper out of my mouth I decided to chew at it a bit more and suck the melting chocolate out of it's folds. After a few more seconds I decided to retrieve it as the taste of the metal was beginning to spoil my enjoyment.

With my fingers I reached into my mouth to remove the chocolate sodden foil that had become mashed on my molars. I held it up so that I could have a better look at it. However, grasped between my thumb and forefinger was not the foil I'd been expecting to find but instead the biggest, blackest beetle I had ever seen. Its body was pretty much mutilated, crushed by my teeth, but there was enough of the animal left to identify it. Two of its legs were still twitching. My brother had stopped eating and looked on in silent horror. This silence was eventually broken by my hysterical screams as I tried to retrieve any remaining beetle body parts from my mouth. I cried and cried and continued to cry for the rest of the evening. Eventually, my mother lost patience (and any sympathy she might've had) and smacked me so that I'd shut up.
This next week I'll be wishing my life away to get to the other side as quickly and painlessly as possible. And I won't be eating any foil wrapped chocolate Santas...
Today's run at 8:16
Distance3.86 kmTime22:26
Pace5:48 min/kmCadence80 spm
Comments: Very cold and slippery because of all the ice.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

He's not the Messiah; he's a very naughty boy...

David Cameron has spoken. In a speech at Oxford to mark the 400th birthday of the King James Bible he said, "the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today".

So, what biblical values and morals did you have in mind then, David? Perhaps you're talking about love or possibly equality and fairness or maybe nothing more complex than good old fashioned family values.

Maybe I've misjudged it completely and you're talking about something far more devastating such as floods or plagues of frogs and locusts. Perhaps it's something far simpler such as stoning to death those who work on the sabbath?

By your own admission, you may be only "vaguely practicing" but please David, help us understand; show us the light...
Today's run at 16:36
Distance4.34 kmTime23:16
Pace5:22 min/kmCadence80 spm

Friday, 16 December 2011

Back to the future...

Back in the 1960s when I was a kid, we were led to believe that the 21st Century would be clean and disease free. Cars would be faster and fashion slicker in the world of tomorrow. Magazines and TV promised a brighter future from the dinge I remember as the 60s.

I imagined a future where food would consist of a pill you popped to satisfy all your nutritional needs and housework would be something that was taken care of by a robot, as it silently swept along all your wipe-clean, modular surfaces. I wanted to live in Tomorrow's World.

Back then my world was a world of slide rules and tinned food where computers were the size of rooms and telephone numbers were three digits long - if you were lucky enough to own a phone. Music came in three speeds and the closest we got to a designer label was St Michael. Much has changed since then.

Indeed, much has changed but much remains the same; regretably, I don't have a robot to clean the flat and food, thankfully, is not a tasteless pill popped once a day. Sadly the 21st Century is dirtier than it was 40 years ago and, for all our sophistication and technological advances, we live in a world that is far from disease free.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Homework...

How I used to hate my name. Why couldn't my mother have called me something normal like David, Mark or Stephen. Why Duncan? My dislike of my name can be traced back to a homework assignment I was given when I was about 12 years old.

The teacher had asked the entire class to research what our names meant. We had a week to do our research before presenting back to the class. Off I rushed after school and bullied my father into driving me to the library that evening. Excitedly, I asked the librarian where I might find a book on the meanings of names and, without waiting for her to finish her directions, I rushed off to where her finger was pointing. I could hardly contain myself as my eyes scanned the shelves.

There it was! The Dictionary of Names. I seized the book and flicked through the pages desperately looking for the entry, Duncan. My fingers wouldn't fly fast enough as they flicked at the page corners. By this point, I think I must have been panting in ecstasy. I was full of anticipation and fit to burst. At last...!

Surely to God, life couldn't be this cruel? My entire world was falling in. I choked back sobs and tears filled my eyes as I read the entry.
Duncan: /'dəŋkən/ male given name and surname; originally Irish Gaelic Donnchadh - Brown Warrior.
Brown Warrior? Brown Warrior!! I was mortified! To me it may as well have translated as Shirt Lifter or Arse Bandit; in my head it sounded the same. It took me years to forgive my mother for dreaming up such a spiteful name for me.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Wouldn't you like to have fun...?

I treated myself to an Apple TV unit yesterday. What an exquisite bijou thing of absolute loveliness it is ...and that's before you do anything practical like plugging it in.

For those of you who've not yet stumbled upon it; it takes nano seconds to configure and allows you to access film rentals, your iTunes library, You Tube, vimeo, flickr and (via your iPad2 or iPhone 4s) BBC iPlayer all through your TV.

Picture quality is good (surprisingly good for You Tube), menus are intuitive and it's so simple and easy to use that even I can use it. At £99 it's a give away. It fills that gap in my life that, were I a practicing Christian, would be filled with love and admiration for the baby Jesus.

And in other news...

In some wild moment of abandon a few months ago when my sanity had left me bereft of my senses, I agreed to a karaoke night as part of my team's Christmas party. When I made this agreement, that night was a long way away. That night is now this Friday.

If I said to you that I'd been practicing for weeks; that I and my dancers knew the routine like the backs of our jazz hands and that I'd tonight finally finished hand stitching every last sequin on to my spangly scene stealing costume, I'd be lying.

And so I now find myself dreading that moment when on Friday night I'm bullied into position to sing some R&B number made famous by someone who came third on X Factor in 2009.

Alternatively, I could always do this...!
Today's run at 17:59
Distance4.28 kmTime22:44
Pace5:19 min/kmCadence83 spm

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

5,424 calories later...

I'd talked myself out of going for a run tonight; I'd decided instead to have a lazy night. However, it doesn't feel right getting in straight from work and sitting down. Going for a run after work is more of a mental need than a physical need. And so it was that I pulled on my shorts and scampered off into the high winds and squally showers.

Tonight's run was one of the best runs I've had in a long time. Look below at the statistics and, I'm sure you'll agree that, it can't have been a good run for the nothing-to-write-home-about distance, pathetic time, paltry pace and lazy cadence. I've run further and faster many times before. No. It was a good run because of the way I felt.

It started before I left the house when I found my other running glove. I'd searched high and low the evening before but could only find one glove. My frozen handed frustration last night was counterbalanced by a gloved calmness tonight. The other thing I enjoyed about tonight's run was the weather; the winds were especially high as I crossed the bridge and the squally showers spat at me from all directions. There was a spring in my step as a bobbed along, buffeted by the windy gusts and rain spattered by the squally showers.

Tonight's run was my 16th outing since November 26th when I got my Garmin running watch. Since then it tells me that I have spent a total of 6 hrs running 68 km at an average speed of 11.2 km/hr. I have burned 5,424 calories and run over of 59,000 steps. This may sound like beginners class to some of you hardy runners but I can say with the utmost sincerity that I've thoroughly enjoyed nearly every one of those 59,000 steps.
Today's run at 18:21
Distance4.38 kmTime24:12
Pace5:31 min/kmCadence81 spm

Monday, 12 December 2011

Flaccid...

Flabby, soft, floppy, drooping, droopy, limp, loose, pendulous, relaxed, sagging, saggy, shapeless, slack, unfit, anemic, asthenic, bloodless, chicken, cowardly, debilitated, dull, effete, emasculated, etiolated, faint, faintish, feeble, flimsy, gone, gutless, impotent, languid, languorous, lax, limp, listless, loose, lustless, marrowless, pithless, powerless, sapless, sapped, sinewless, sleazy, spineless, unnerved, unstrung, weak, weakened, lacking energy or vigor, having no strength, pooped.
Today's run at 18:09
Distance4.49 kmTime25:08
Pace5:36 min/kmCadence80 spm

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Good company for the godless...

Whilst I loved The Office, I've always had a bit of a disliking for Ricky Gervais. I know he's a comedian and being funny is what he does but he always seems to be playing the clown and, because of that, I find it hard, sometimes, to understand who he really is. I just wish he could be serious for a minute or two.

Today I read this article by him, entitled, Why I'm an Atheist; it's a well written and personal piece. I must admit, he's moved up in my estimation. He's included below in a (by no means exhaustive) list of atheists, many of whom I was pleasantly surprised to see there:
David Aaronovitch, Douglas Adams, Larry Adler, Dave Allen, Keith Allen, Woody Allen, Sir Kingsley Amis, Lance Armstrong, David Attenborough, Francis Bacon, Kevin Bacon, Iain Banks, Björk, Johannes Brahms, Howard Brenton, Jim Broadbent, Luis Buñuel, Richard Burton, Angela Carter, Sir Arthur C Clarke, Sir Noël Coward, Prof Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Alan Davies, Russell T Davies, Richard Dawkins, Frederick Delius, Johnny Depp, Marlene Dietrich, Beth Ditto, Carol Ann Duffy, Christopher Eccleston, David Edgar, Harvey Fierstein, Jody Foster, Morgan Freeman, Stephen Fry, Bill Gates, Bob Geldof, Ricky Gervais, David Gilmour, Germaine Greer, Eddie Izzard, Dr Christian Jessen, Burt Lancaster, Hugh Laurie, Nigella Lawson, Bruce Lee, Armistead Maupin, Sir Ian McKellen, Arthur Miller, Dame Helen Mirren, Friedrich Nietzsche, Dara Ó Briain, George Orwell, Sir Michael Parkinson, Bruce Parry, Andy Partridge, Ivan Pavlov, Grayson Perry, Steven Pinker, Brad Pitt, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Peter Purves, Daniel Radcliffe, Claire Rayner, Keanu Reeves, Griff Rhys Jones, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Fyfe Robertson, Richard Rodgers, Oliver Sacks, Andy Serkis, Omar Sharif, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Clive Sinclair, Dennis Skinner, Arthur Smith, Robert Smith, Dan Snow, David Starkey, Juliette Stevenson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Matt Stone, Sir Alan Sugar, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Tatchell, Louis Theroux, Emma Thompson, Tracey Thorn, Michael Tippet, Sue Townsend, Alan Turing, Kenneth Tynan, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, Gore Vidal, Lars von Trier, Roger Waters, Edmund White, Gene Wilder, Terry Wogan, Frank Zappa, Mark Zuckerberg.
Today's run at 13:46
Distance4.06 kmTime22:14
Pace5:28 min/kmCadence79 spm

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Living with God...

There are many who proclaim that they are living with God. And it's not just the zealots and fundamentalists who say this. No. There are many ordinary Christians who boast that they share their lives with the Lord; I've seen the t-shirts and bumper stickers. Living with God can't be easy.

I don't think I'd like to share my domestic arrangements with the Almighty. Does he do his share of the housework? Is the phone always engaged with calls from numerous religeous leaders. Is the bath clogged with white beard trimmings? Does he talk in a low and booming voice when you're trying to watch the telly?

No, I don't think I could put up with it: always judging people and proclaiming from on high. I'd rather live with someone on equal terms and, let's face it, you're never gonna get that sharing a flat with someone who's omnipotent, are you? Sooner or later you'll start to feel inferior and then you'll end up resenting him. It's asking for trouble.
Today's run at 8:12
Distance4.01 kmTime21:51
Pace5:27 min/kmCadence82 spm

Friday, 9 December 2011

Sibling rivalry...

It's a well documented phenomenon: when a second child is born the first often feels jealous of the attention given to the new arrival. It's a hard lesson; discovering that you are not the only being of importance in this universe. I reacted quite badly when my brother arrived. My solipsistic existence soon lay in tatters.

Up to and including May 27th 1965 I reigned supreme but on May 28th 1965 I'd been relegated; not just to second place but to second division. All I wanted was to regain my pre-sibling number one pole position. Nothing was going to stand in my way.

I constructed towers of wooden blocks on top of him in his cot which I then demolished - the bricks showering down on his head. I stuffed his beloved teddy up the chimney and my mother had to then throw it out - so ingrained it was with soot. I well remember the day when I threw a dart at him which lodged in his temple and my mother had to tug really hard to remove it - my brother balling his eyes out all the while.

He recently, completed his second course of chemotherapy after the cancer he thought he'd conquered returned. He's hopeful for the future. We all are. I'm meeting him for a drink tomorrow.
Today's run at 17:41
Distance4.19 kmTime22:23
Pace5:20 min/kmCadence81 spm

Thursday, 8 December 2011

If you'd been any prettier...

In 1961, Peter O'Toole started filming in the title role of David Lean's epic, Lawrence of Arabia. By the time filming was finished 18 months later, he'd lost 13kgs, sprained both ankles, dislocated his spine, broken his thumb, received third-degree burns, torn ligaments in his hip and thigh, sprained his neck and was twice concussed.

Lawrence Of Arabia was hailed as a masterpiece when it opened in 1962. His extraordinary performance made him a star. "I woke up one morning to find I was famous. I bought a white Rolls-Royce and drove down Sunset Boulevard, wearing dark specs and a white suit, waving like the Queen Mum. Nobody took any fucking notice, but I thoroughly enjoyed it."

His hard drinking and flamboyant character have often made the headlines. He is reputed to have once said, "I can't stand light. I hate weather. My idea of heaven is moving from one smoke-filled room to another." When asked if he had any regrets about his hard drinking reputation he replied, "Regrets, ah," he said, "Only French singers don't have regrets."

Upon the release of Lawrence of Arabia, Noel Coward is said to have told O'Toole, "If you'd been any prettier, it would have been Florence of Arabia."
Today's run at 17:44
Distance3.98 kmTime21:39
Pace5:26 min/kmCadence82 spm

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Camp as tits...

A friend of mine from my college days used to use the phrase, camp as tits to describe anything that he thought was really camp. I could never work out why female secondary sexual characteristics should be camp (unless some guy is wearing a false pair perhaps - which, I guess, is what he meant) but I like the phrase anyway.

Whilst most of us recognise it when we see it, defining camp is not easy. The Oxford English Dictionary gives it the following definition: ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual; pertaining to, characteristic of, homosexuals. In Susan Sontag's essay Notes on 'Camp', she emphasises artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness and shocking excess as key elements of camp. In his book, Camp, Mark Booth defines it as "to present oneself as being committed to the marginal with a commitment greater than the marginal merits."

All of the following may be considered camp: Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Bette Midler, Carry On films, the films of John Waters, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Dynasty, Dallas, the 1960s TV series of Batman, Absolutely Fabulous, British panto, drag, retro fashion, the 1970s, musical theatre, John Inman, Dale Winton, Russell Harty, Kenneth Williams, The Eurovision Song Contest, Eurotrash, ABBA, Cilla Black, Liberace, Marlene Dietrich and, of course, Kylie Minogue. I'm sure you could come up with as many yourself in just a couple of minutes.

Search on any of the above in YouTube and you'll see enough examples of camp to make you a world wide authority on the subject. Alternatively, you might just want to watch this example I came across recently which does it for me...



Today's run at 17:17
Distance4.07 kmTime21:32
Pace5:18 min/kmCadence83 spm

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Roadkill...

This morning I stumbled upon this BBC page about road deaths in the UK. The page points to videos and infographics telling the story of human injury and loss of life as a result of traffic accidents over the last 12 years.

Between 1999 and 2011 there have been over 3,000,000 casualties as a result of traffic accidents, of which there were 373,985 serious injuries and 36,000 people lost their lives.

Whilst out running tonight, I passed a roadside shrine of flowers tied to a railing marking someone's death. I've seen it on previous runs; I'm sure it's been there for at least a couple of months. I'd never paid too much attention to it before but, with the statistics highlighted on that BBC page still whirring in my head, I saw it in a different light.

5 people die on Britain's roads every day. Shocking and truly horrific.
Today's run at 16:46
Distance4.01 kmTime21:37
Pace5:23 min/kmCadence82 spm

Monday, 5 December 2011

A land fit for heroes...

Alan Turing was a British mathematician who is widely held to be the father of computer science. He developed the concept of a Turing Machine, an early theoretical computer, in the 1930s. The Turing Machine is considered the basis for the modern theory of computation.

In the war years he worked as a cryptanylist for the Government at their code breaking centre at Bletchley Park. Here he led a team responsible for breaking the Enigma Code. It's been estimated that the intelligence gathered by this deciphering work brought the war to a close two years before it otherwise would have, thus saving millions of lives.

After the war he continued his work with computers, creating one of the early designs for a stored programme computer and during the late 1940s and early 1950s at Manchester University, his work founded the basis for the field of artificial intelligence.

In 1952 he was prosecuted for homosexual offences. His security clearance was withdrawn and he was chemically castrated.

He committed suicide in 1954.

In 2009 Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British Government for the way in which Alan Turing was treated.
Today's run at 17:23
Distance4.02 kmTime21:24
Pace5:20 min/kmCadence81 spm

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Chillin'...

Today started with an early(ish) and (as you'll see from the stats below) leisurely run around the Bay. I tend not to like running first thing; instead, I prefer to run in the evening. As return visitors may know, I use running to process the day and there ain't much to process at eight in the morning (well, not usually). However, needs must: today I have a luncheon engagement with my dear old mum.

Having said all that, this morning's run was a pleasant trollette around the more picturesque areas of the bay. There was a chill in the air but it was pleasant running weather. I started in Hamadryad Park, clinging to the water's edge, I then zipped through the wetlands and onwards to the Norwegian Church via a circumnavigation of St David's Hotel and a dance along the boardwalks of Mermaid Quay. I certainly felt like I'd earned my coffee when I returned.

My new fridge freezer (see yesterday's post) is now well on its way to being fully chilled. I hadn't realised how noisy the old one was (I think it must've been clockwork): I guess you get used to background noise. This one is so quiet; I keep opening the door to check it's switched on. It is monstrously huge and I still haven't got used to this monolith in my kitchen. It's the elephant in the room, so to speak, and a white one at that.

And so, with a pot of strong coffee brewing and a pan of porridge bubbling away lava-like, I tuned into my podcast: Dave Edwards' Countdown to Ibiza 2012 whilst I checked emails and messages on Twitter and Facebook and Gaydar. I'm more of a classical music man on a Sunday morning having hung up my dancing shoes some time ago. However, I must admit, I enjoyed this a lot and was quite impressed by Dave's turntable (do they still use them?) skills.

I know I'm not the most chilled person on the planet and, therefore, any recommendation about music must be tempered by that. However, I recommend you give @DJ_Dave_Edwards and his top choons a spin.
Today's run at 08:11
Distance4.12 kmTime23:26
Pace5:43 min/kmCadence79 spm

Saturday, 3 December 2011

All-in wrestling...

When I was a kid you could tune into shots of large men in brightly coloured lycra on the telly every Saturday afternoon: Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo and Kendo Nagasaki were household names in the UK throughout 70s. British wrestling was enjoying its moment in the sun. By the late 80s British wrestling had fallen out of popularity; stories about staged moves plagued the sport, viewing figures began to fall and eventually the sport's main arena in the UK, World of Sport, got pulled. British wrestling had failed to keep pace with the times; it had become irrelevant to all but its most committed fans.

I've been involved in some wrestling today. Firstly, with a new fridge freezer I had delivered this morning. It's a bit of a beast at 2m tall; I'm thinking of getting buried in it come the day my time is up. This afternoon I spent nearly two hours trying to adjust the doors so that they hinged on the left rather than the right. Despite assurances in the manual that this was a simple and easy to perform manoeuvre, I was bleeding, sweating and swearing after only 30 minutes. The tone and content of the manual make this adjustment sound like something my 74 year old mother could do with one hand; nothing could be further from the truth.

My second bout of wrestling was with the news that the Church of England has declined to allow its churches to be used for civil ceremonies, despite a new law allowing that, which comes into force on Monday. As a single gay man, this has little relevance to my life right now. When I was in a long term relationship, I was not big fan of civil ceremonies to prove my status. But hey, horses for courses; there are those to whom it does matter and I support them.

The legal office of the Church of England does not consider it discriminatory and has responded, stating:
A gentlemen's outfitter is not required to supply women's clothes. A children's book shop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults. And a Church that provides a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for registering civil partnerships.
I guess there will be those who will try to challenge this because it matters to them. However, I think that the number of people to whom this matters diminishes by the day. The church has repeatedly failed to move with the times and, through its actions, becomes more irrelevant to our lives with every year that passes.

As an atheist, I happen to believe that the deceitful manual to my new fridge freezer, with its sunny and optimistic tone toward door adjustment, is closer to the truth and than the bible. I think that British wrestling from the 1970s, with its staged moves and bright lycra, is more relevant to my life than the Church of England (or, for that matter, the Catholic Church).

As attitudes toward homosexuality change (and undoubtedly they have done and continue to), many of the official bodies that claim to speak for Christianity become more obsolete by their old fashioned attitudes and unchristian behaviours. The day is fast approaching when the church, through its failure to keep pace with the times, will become irrelevant to all but its most committed fans.

And while we're waiting for that day to come, why not enjoy some vintage wrestling with Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy
Today's run at 16:11
Distance4.29 kmTime21:34
Pace5:01 min/kmCadence80 spm

Friday, 2 December 2011

A pair of star crossed lovers...

Stories live on through their reinvention. It's the retelling of a tale for a changing and evolving culture that keeps the story relevant, ensuring it lives and breathes for a new audience. Stories that have a relevance for us live on and, for Western society, Romeo and Juliet, it seems, is one of those relevant stories.

We all know the tragic story of this pair of star crossed lovers but, had it not been for this tale being reinterpreted time and again for different cultures over the last 2,000 years or so, it might languish as a forgotten fable; of interest only to academics. Indeed, you might argue that we needed it to be interpreted because of the gap it fills; we may have no choice but to reinterpret this tale.

The story of Romeo and Juliet existed before Shakespeare got hold of it. He did not invent the story but, rather, reinvented it for Elizabethan society. Romeo and Juliet draws its narrative strands from a number of different sources stretching back to antiquity. In the form we recognise, it came together as an Italian novella by Matteo Bandello in 1554. It was then translated and reshaped by Arthur Brook into a narrative poem entitled, The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet in 1562. William Painter then published the story as part of a prose collection of Italian tales, Palace of Pleasure in 1582. Some time between 1591 and 1595 Shakespeare got hold of it and turned it into a play.

Since then, Shakespeare's text has been staged countless times and each time it has been reinterpreted in some way to make it relevant to a particular audience. In addition to the stage productions there have been numerous celluloid versions throughout the 20th & 21st Centuries. These have been tailored for different audiences, speaking different languages, living under different circumstances and at different times over the past 100 years or so. Each version reaches out to it's audience in a different way.

Compare Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film, Romeo and Juliet with Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. Both are acclaimed productions but look and feel remarkably different. Zeffirelli's is set in Verona in Italy in the late 1500s whilst Luhrmann's is set in Verona Beach in 1996. One looks like an historically accurate version whilst the other looks very modern and updated. Make no mistake, both speak to the audiences of their day: 1968 and 1996.

One of the biggest successes of Luhrmann's is his casting and direction of Harold Perrineau as Mercutio. He's a difficult character to make relevant to a contemporary audience because of the mix that makes up his character: he has an edge of aggression but equally a romantic quality. He is hot headed and impulsive yet insightful and philosophical. He mixes poetic sweetness with the vulgar and the course. Take a look at Luhrmann's take on Mercutio's arrival at the Capulet's party - glorious!

The story of Romeo and Juliet has been retold through operas, ballets, jazz pieces, choral works, symphonies, pop songs and (most famously) musical theatre. Indeed, West Side Story is probably its most popular and original reinterpretation in recent times. The production is iconic, the choreography is breathtaking and the music instantly recognisable. Enjoy!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Only connect...

I'm fairly open and honest about my diabetes and have been ever since I was diagnosed aged 15. As a diabetic, you don't really have much of a choice about being up front about it; when you're injecting yourself to bring your blood sugars down after a meal or cramming glucose into your face because your blood sugars are plummeting between meals - people tend to notice.

Ask non diabetics to tell you what they know about the condition and the answer is generally something like, "You can't eat sweet things and it must be a bit of an irritation" - both of which are somewhat wide of the mark. I often wonder why people don't understand diabetes better; it's not as if it's a rare condition - most people know someone who's diabetic (even if that is their Nan).

I've read two quite wonderful blog posts in the last couple of days from Matt's I Have No Idea and from Kristian's Sex, drugs and sausage rolls. Matt's is entitled Gary Speed but discusses Matt's experience of depression and Kristian's is entitled When failure is not an option and discusses Kristian's HIV experience. They are quite wonderful because of one thing that they both have in common: honesty.

Diabetes, depression and HIV infection share a number of attributes: all are chronic conditions which need to be managed, all are misunderstood to an extent and all require honesty; honesty with oneself to effectively manage the condition and honesty with others to promote a better understanding.

I wrote here recently in a post entitled Nobody's perfect... that life scars us from our first gasp to our last rattle. This scarring (along with the experience it brings), I argued, should be valued. I have a wealth of insight and experience as a result of living with diabetes. I know that Matt and Kristian will have their own insights and experiences from living with depression and living with HIV.

Life is often described as a journey - a cliché but a useful metaphor. One of the main things we all have in common is that we are all on different journeys. Your journey may be wildly different to mine in many respects but not so different that I can't benefit from the experiences you've had on your journey.

EM Forster wrote, "Only connect" as the epigraph to Howards End, advocating a bringing together of different elements and thereby promoting a higher understanding. The first step down that road is honesty - about who we are and what we've experienced. Here, in Matt's and Kristian's blogs, you have two people talking honestly about their experiences.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
- Howards End
Today is World AIDS Day. Let's live in fragments no longer.
Today's run at 18:01
Distance4.26 kmTime22:22
Pace5:14 min/kmCadence81 spm

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I've not been feeling myself...

ailing
bad
below par
donsie
down
faint
feeble
frail
ill
indisposed
infirm
laid low
not quite right
off colour
out of sorts
peaked
poorly
qualmish
queasy
rocky
seedy
shakey
sick
sickish
sickly
somewhat ill
under the weather
unwell
weakly
wobbly
dålig
doente
enfermo
have det dårligt
ikke rask
indisposé
indisposto
indispuesto
krasslig
onwel
opasslig
sjuk
souffrant
unwohl
utilpas

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In the beginning was the word...

Split into Old and New Testaments and made up of 39 and 27 books respectively; the Bible, having been translated into over 450 languages, is the best selling book in history. The word bible can be traced back via Medieval Latin to Late Latin and ultimately to Greek τὰ βιβλία meaning the books.

It has played a key role in the history of printing, the rise in English Protestantism in the Sixteenth Century and Nineteenth Century literacy in Wales. The King James Bible is widely recoginised as a milestone of English literature, celebrating its 400th birthday this year.

In addition to over 450 translations of the Bible, there have also been numerous versions in English alone: The American Standard Version, The New Authorised Version and The Good News Bible to name but three from a long list of modern versions of the Bible - there's even been a Cockney Rhyming Slang Bible, a Manga Bible and a Klingon Bible. Perhaps my favorite versions are:
The Brick Testament - the Bible as told using Lego bricks.
The Polari Bible - the Bible translated into gay slang by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Dominus vobiscum...
Today's run at 17:36
Distance4.02 kmTime21:25
Pace5:20 min/kmCadence82 spm

Monday, 28 November 2011

He died with a smile on his face...

Ken Russell died yesterday after a series of recent strokes. He was 84 and, his son reported that he died with a smile on his face. He was one of the best film directors this country has ever produced.

For anyone in any doubt:
Women In Love (1969)
The Music Lovers (1970)
The Devils (1971)
The Boyfriend (1971)
Mahler (1974)
Tommy (1975)
Liztomania (1975)
Valentino (1977)
Altered States (1980)
Gothic (1986)
Mark Kermode said of him, "Somebody who proved that British cinema didn't have to be about kitchen-sink realism". Mad as a box of frogs but an innovative and wonderful director.

Ken Russell 1927-2011
Today's run at 17:24
Distance4.03 kmTime21:14
Pace5:16 min/kmCadence82 spm

Sunday, 27 November 2011

How we laughed...

Apparently "Harry Potter and yoga are evil". Father Gabriele Amorth, one of the Catholic Church's best known exorcists, is being ridiculed across the interweb today by the likes of Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins and Dr Christian Jesson for these remarks - and rightly so. Perhaps he's a Daniel Radcliffe fan and the poster on the right has incensed him?

Where do they get these loons from? It's hilarious that anyone should believe such twaddle strongly enough to voice it in public. It seems that organised religion is awash with the unhinged. How we laughed...

Until we remembered:
The Vatican cover up of hundreds of child abuse cases to protect its clergy.

The death of at least 6 individuals following the advice of churches in London, Manchester and Glasgow that HIV patients should stop taking their medication and trust in God to save them instead.

The Vatican advice to millions that condoms offer no protection against HIV infection.

The Church of England's opposition to Government proposals to lift the ban on civil partnerships taking place in religious buildings.

The Vatican involvement in arranging the escape of Nazi war criminals at the end of the Second World War.
I could go on and talk about the Inquisition and the treatment of Galileo Galilei but I'm fed up. Isn't it about time we firmly dealt with church apologists who bleat their excuses in an attempt to promote, reason and rationalise this hatred?

Anyway, I've spent the first part of today nursing a hangover, having unexpectedly been invited out for a little drinkie last night (which turned into a big drinkie). I then gave myself a shake around lunchtime and ventured out to the supermarket on my bike (the first time in over a month I've been for a cycle). Following that I then went for a run and, although the results below are a bit of a backward step on yesterday, it's a minor miracle I could put one foot infront of the other - given the way I was feeling.
Today's run at 15:12
Distance5.01 kmTime27:08
Pace5:25 min/kmCadence81 spm

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Gadgetry II...

Some of you may remember that towards the end of October I treated myself to Nike+ GPS Sportwatch (as a late birthday present to myself) but things didn't quite work out and I had to return it in early November. Today I took delivery of a Garmin Forerunner 610 as a replacement (and early Christmas present to myself). This was the GPS watch I was initially considering before making the wrong choice with the Nike+ model.

I must say that it's a great watch: easy to configure and to wirelessly pair with both the foot pod and then the computer for uploading results. Getting started needed no reading of manuals as everything is quite intuitive. Within minutes I'd got to grips with the menu and was customising the settings.

From my first run I can report that it feels comfortable to wear and is easy to read whilst running. I thought it was going to be more cumbersome than the Nike+ model whereas in fact it actually feels and looks smaller. It's highly configurable and I've set it up to display the time, distance and pace whilst I run (although there are a number of other options I could have chosen). I've set it up also to vibrate at every kilometer and display my time for that particular kilometer.

There are many other features that I've yet to get my head around like the Virtual Racer function where you can race against yourself in a previously stored run (or against someone else by downloading their previously stored run) and the Where Am I function where the watch guides you back to where you began (or a preset location) - I don't really envisage using this around Cardiff Bay but it could prove useful when I run on holiday.

After my run, upon walking back into my flat, it automatically uploaded the results to the Garmin Connect results page. The layout of the results page feels serious and not gimmicky or patronising - unlike the Nike+ website, which is in danger of becoming so with its cartoon animations and motivational messages.

Fingers crossed that this one doesn't start misbehaving like the Nike+ model. I certainly hope not.
Today's run at 13:34
Distance4.89 kmTime24:55
Pace5:06 min/kmCadence82 spm

Friday, 25 November 2011

It seems that even God has limitations...

Tonight I read the news about the dangerous advice given by certain churches in London, Manchester and Glasgow for people with HIV to stop taking their medication. Instead, the churches claim, the Lord will cure these people. As a consequence, at least six people have already died after following this advice.

At Lourdes, crutches, walking sticks and canes are hung up as proof of the miracles that the Lord has performed there, allowing the lame to walk again - a testament to our Lord's infinite powers. But if his powers are so infinite, where have they hung the false legs and prosthetic arms and glass eyes...?

Advice to people with serious conditions to give up their medication and instead trust in God is surely evil and unchristian. Don't we still prosecute people in this country for assisting suicide...?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Don't go there love...

I've never believed in astrology. Its wild claims are nothing more than utter nonsense. There is no such thing as fate and no-one can predict a person's future from planetary configurations at the time of their birth.

Following his recent appearances on BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing, astrologer, Russell Grant is at pains to resurrect his dormant career. In an interview for the Radio Times, he claims that he foresaw Princess Diana's death 10 days before the accident that killed her in 1997. Indeed, he claims to have warned her of it, "Don’t go there, love. Just don’t go anywhere with him. You’ve got to knock this on the head." Leaving no cliché escape alive he goes on to say, "I basically said their relationship was so fated it was going to end in tears."

There are believers in astrology that, when under attack, wheel out the psuedo-science. A favorite explanation being their claim that the gravitational pull of the planets and stars, given their mass and particular alignment at the precise moment of our birth, will act as an influence on us. However, what they fail to understand is, gravitational pull is not merely dependent on the mass of an object but also on its proximity. Given the distances involved, the obstetrician and midwife are far more likely to have had an influence on us.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Not bloody likely, I'm going in a taxi...

Do accents matter? Well, they're not the best indicators of a person's character when you first meet, although, everybody makes certain assumptions as soon as you open your mouth. In a country so obsessed with class and status, as the British undoubtedly are, your accent or dialect gives away so much about you. How can such a relatively small island hold such a vast array of intonation and pronunciation?

You don't need to travel to some far flung corner of Albion, however, to witness peculiar pronunciations. No, nevermind your Yorkshire brogue or your Cockney rhyming slang; you needn't look any further than that once favorite accent of the BBC (and it really is just another accent), Received Pronunciation (RP). Here, you'll find some pretty ripe examples that make a nonsense of any link between spelling and pronunciation. English is certainly not a phonetic language.

So before we start sneering at the way the Welsh, Scots or Irish pronounce our beloved mother tongue, consider the spelling of the following words compared to how we're told they should be pronounced in Received Pronunciation:
Leicester (Lester)
Gloucester (Gloster)
Bicester (Bister)
Leominster (Lemster)
Cholmondley (Chumley)
Marjoribanks (Marchbanks)
Colquhoun (Cahoon)
Featherstonehaugh (Fanshaw)
And how the hell does Lieutenant end up sounding like Leftenant in the British Army, L'tenant in the British Navy and Lootenant in other countries' forces?

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish dramatist, attempted to reform English spelling to reflect English pronunciation but was unsuccessful, despite a lengthy campaign. His play, Pygmalion (later made into the musical My Fair Lady), deals with dialect and how important it is if you want to break out of the class you were born in to.

Consider the different ways we pronounce ough in the following words:
though (as in toe)
tough (as in cuff)
cough (as in toff)
hiccough (as in up)
plough (as in cow)
through (as in blue)
nought (as in caught)
lough (as in loch)
Shaw is often attributed with using the example of ghoti as an alternative spelling of fish to point out how ridiculous the rules of English spelling actually are. Whether this actually was Shaw or not, doesn't matter. He was right; British English, in its spelling and pronunciation (and often in its grammar), has no rhyme nor reason. Add to this regional and class variation and you've got a time-bomb awaiting any foreigner foolish enough to want to master this tongue.

Having said that, most of the inhabitants of these isles speak English as if it were a foreign language...