Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not Just a Ball Game

The half-time show was from the World Freestyle Football champion, John Farnworth. This guy can do just about anything he wants with a football, keeping it up on his head while skipping with a rope was my favourite. Some good footage available on YouTube here.

If controlling the ball was all you needed for success in football, then this guy would have it made. However, the match that bracketed his performance was a demonstration that football is far more than a game of keepie-uppie.

Bolton started with a worrying lack of care and it wasn't a surprise when Birmingham scored. It was much more of a surprise when our goalie got sent off for dishing out what I imagine he thought was a well-disguised smack in the mouth.

Then Birmingham scored again and all seemed lost.


Bolton clawed their way back into it with guts and low cunning.

First, Kevin Davies bullied his way into the box and drew a foul for about the millionth time in his 250 league games for Bolton. 2-1.

Then something really surprising. Robbie Blake, who I thought was a washed-up makeweight, knocked in a blinding freekick for the equaliser. Fact : I'm officially the worst judge of footballing talent in the world. Check out my fantasy football team if you don't believe me.

Amazing fightback and it was a pleasure to hear the players applauded off the field. Shame about the treatment of the referee, who got most decisions right, but I wasn't about to point that out to the mob.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dubious Means

All of the fines that Magistrates can impose are calculated as a multiple of the miscreant's "relevant weekly income" - which is the figure they've scrawled on their means form.

You'd expect that these figures are checked ? No, they are not.

Spot checked - maybe one percent of them ? Nope.

We have to take the offender's word as to how much they earn, and without wanting to be rude, some of these people have been repeatedly proven to be unreliable in other matters, so it's entirely possible they would lie here.

As a result, the fines imposed I suspect are often grossly under-calculated, except in the cases where the offender has been helpful enough to tell the truth.

So, here's an opportunity to increase government revenue and remove a penalty for honesty. Spot-check the forms when Magistrates have suspicions that the income is understated and check a small percentage of the rest.

I'll give you an example:-

A part-time security guard, who also ran a business trading cars, was caught driving his girlfriend's car which he claimed to be taking for an extended test drive of over three days with a view to buying it. When stopped by police, he protested that his motor trader's insurance covered him to drive any car for any length of time as long as he was thinking of buying it. To cut a long-ish story short, we decided that this wasn't on and found him guilty of driving without insurance.

When he filled in his means form, he disclosed his income as a security guard, but nothing relating to his income from motor trading. His solicitor had told us that his motor trader's policy was costing him over £1,000 per month, so presumably he was earning at least as much to make it worthwhile.

We had no alternative but to fine him a multiple of the extremely low earnings he had disclosed, despite knowing damn fine that he had other sources of income.

I don't think that's right.

Vote Stan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bang the bell, Jack; I’m on the bus

Jimmy Reid, the Glasgow union leader, has died. 

I used to work on Clydeside - in fact at the same yard where he had. In his day they built ships for Cunard - in mine we finished off gas turbines and sold them to the Middle East.  Today ? Nothing happens there.

His idea of a "work-in" in 1971 to protest the withdrawal of government subsidy was pure genius. A strike would have been an uplifting act of vandalism that would have hastened the end of the yards by scaring business away. Instead, they stayed and without pay (and even "without bevvying") they completed the ships they were working on.

You've got to wonder whether this would have been a better strategy for the miners in 1984. Sure, the miners had a genuine grievance - unfortunately Arthur Scargill was no Jimmy Reid.

Take a look at the speech he made on the subject of "Alienation" as Rector of  Glasgow University the year following the work-in. Even flat on the page his words have impact. He was acclaimed as one of the best orators of his time, so I can imagine that in person he would have been yet more impressive.

Can't resist including my favourite bit of the speech at the bottom. It's an analysis of society that is as relevant and as poignant today as it ever was then.

At a time when we desperately need more Jimmy Reids, today we've found ourselves with one fewer.

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problems in Britain today.  People feel alienated by society.  

Today it is more widespread, more pervasive, than ever before.  Let me at the outset define what I mean by alienation.  It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. 

It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making.  The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel, with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop-outs, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics.

Society and prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially dehumanises some people, making them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings self-centred and grasping. 

The irony is they are often considered normal and well adjusted.  It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else.

Monday, August 09, 2010


I really, really wanted to like this film. A well-funded, original, science-fiction script - these don't come up that often, so what's not to like?

Well, as it turns out, there's quite a lot not to like.

For a start, Leonardo DiCaprio cannot act. Well, OK he can, in the same way that Roger Moore "acted" in the Bond films. And the sad thing is that he's actually the best drawn character in the film. The others don't even count as one-dimensional. Nothing against the actors - they just didn't get a thing to work with.

And then there's the plot. The thing about science fiction is that everything is possible. Everything. The very best science fiction is tautly written, with detailed internal consistency. It creates a world unlike this world, but one where, over time, you develop an understanding of the way it works. Read Larry Niven's "Ringworld" for the best example I can think of.

"Inception" is the opposite of this - there's no development - just every once in a while a new plot device falls from nowhere. It wouldn't have been a surprise if the next time the plot ran into trouble, the writer would have some breakdancing antelopes surf in on a bed of luncheon meat and eat the problem. In science fiction you don't have to use the laws of the real world, but you damn sure need to have some kind of rules.

Without too much in the way of Spoilers, the bit that really annoyed me was that Edith Piaf played in a dreamer's ear was perfectly audible even though the dreamer who was living a much slower pace than reality. Surely the music would be slowed to the point of inaudibility ?

And the final third of the film was like being tied up in zero gravity and pushed slowly along a hotel corridor. Really slow and totally pointless.

Don't get me wrong, it's a perfect accompaniment to popcorn on a day off - it just felt like an opportunity lost to explore the weirdness of dreams.

For example, I was once chased though a bowl of muesli by a wooden mosquito - someone ought to make a movie about that.