(Newest entries first)

Pointless

Well that was a waste of time.

The Tipping Point seemed an interesting enough book in principle - claiming to be all about what makes trends turn into crazes. Not that the author, Malcolm Gladwell, ever uses the words 'trend' or 'craze' to get his message across - that would be too simple - and not that he ever gets down to really explaining much about the so-called 'tipping point'.

Missing the point would be nearer the mark.

Some of it is interesting enough - like his in-depth analysis of what made Sesame Street tick - but you spend most of the book wishing he would get to the point and explain how tipping points come about. Having sneaked a look at the back and realised that the last chapter was called 'Conclusion' I was still clinging to the hope that there would be some revelation at the end, but all the so-called conclusion really did was summarise what had gone before. This was made even worse by the fact that he had already spent the previous 250 pages repeating himself at every turn.

It's also hopelessly American in its outlook, and understanding it relies on knowing, for instance, the social implications of being a "downtown Manhattan kid".

The only good thing about the book is that there are a handful of little nuggets, the most interesting of which is its consideration of the concept of the 'six degrees of separation'.

This comes from an experiment done by a psychologist called Stanley Migram in the 1960s. He got the names of 160 people who lived in Omaha, Nebraska, and sent each of them an envelope. Inside was the name and address of a stockbroker who worked and lived in Massachusetts. Each person was instructed to send the envelope on to somebody they knew who might be able to get it closer to its destination. So, if you had a cousin in Massachusetts, you could send it to him, even if you didn't expect him to know the stockbroker personally.

In most cases, it took only five or six steps until the envelope ended up in the hands of somebody who knew the target recipient personally - and it turns out that if you repeat the experiment anywhere in the world, it will get there just as quickly. In other words, it's a small world after all (a phrase that will strike terror into the heart of anybody who's ever visited Walt Disney World).

We had some experience of this small-world principle at my nephew Richard's wedding, recently, when, apart from knowing lots of relatives there, we also knew several of the guests, independently of the bride and groom. In one case, Julie and I both knew one particular guest, but for completely different reasons. Other surprise guests included Sean's PE teacher - and his wife, who used to be Julie's PE teacher.


Sad

Much more encouraging than The Tipping Point is a book called Far From The Sodding Crowd, which I've borrowed a copy of.

This is the sequel to Bollocks to Alton Towers - which I haven't read - and is all about off-the-beaten-track touristy places that seem totally unpromising on paper but turn out to be real gems if you make the effort. Just the sort of places, actually, that I love going to whenever we are out and about, such as on our camping weekends.

The book is extremely witty and brilliantly written (by four regular contributors to Viz) but whereas you would expect it to be flippant, its message is that the sorts of places featured really are little gems.

I have already visited several of the places mentioned in the book - Dunwich, Margate Shell Grotto, Dunsop Bridge (the village at the centre of Britain), Bovington Tank Museum, Poldark Tin Mine and Brownsea Island - and will be getting to most of the others as soon as I can - especially the Bubblecar Museum, the Rochdale Pioneers Museum and the Bakelite Museum, which is in Somerset. I tried to go there once but Julie and the kids refused to go.

So inspired have I been by the book that I have looked out some old photos and compiled a list of places we've been to which could be contenders if they ever do another book. They are in the Lucky Bag.

The new Old Firm

Well that must have been the worst FA Cup final in its 135-year history.

It was built up as something special, mainly because it was the first at the new Wembley, but only proved what a sorry state English football is now in.

I was cheering for Chelsea - who eventually won with a goal, five minutes from the end of extra-time. This wasn't because of any allegiance to Chelsea - because I don't have any - but it was nice to see Manchester United brought down a peg or two.

Remember this is the team who, a few years ago, announced that they would not be entering the FA Cup in that particular season, effectively saying they had become too big for the competition. As the team most responsible for devaluing the FA Cup in recent years, they clearly didn't deserve to have the glory of being the first new Wembley winners.

The only real entertainment value in two solid hours of mediocrity came from seeing Christiano Ronaldo flop. Just lately, everybody has been raving about him being player of the year and even - if you can believe this - comparing him to Pele and Maradona. Throughout all this I've stuck by my view that he's the most over-rated player ever. Some people, who have clearly believed all the hype, have scoffed at this, but I can now rest my case. Just as in the recent European Cup tie against AC Milan, when United were outclassed and you could have been excused for thinking that Ronaldo had missed the team bus, so he was completely ineffective today.

To be a great player you need to do it in the big games - and he doesn't. Even I could score goals against the Middlesbroughs and Fulhams of this world if I had Rooney, Giggs and Scholes to give me the ball or turn a poor cross into a bad one.

What we now have in our league is what they've always had in Scotland - and that's not much to get excited about. United and Chelsea have become the Celtic and Rangers of the Premier League, and as I told Sean, just before Drogba rescued us from the another pathetic penalty shoot-out - just think: if we had Sky Sports, we could watch this every week.


A bit of a pig

Continuing the theme of being unimpressed, I've just finished reading a book called The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, which promised alot but mostly failed to deliver.

It's a collection of a hundred 'thought experiments' in which author Julian Baggini - a bit of a philosophy boffin, apparently - throws up moral and logical dilemmas and gives a bit of a commentary about possible answers to them.

Sadly, most of the 'thought experiments' are pretty uninspiring, especially as many of them are science fiction which require fantastic leaps in technology to be viable, such as brain transplants. He argues that these still have parallels in the real world, although I'm not convinced that they do, and it seems pretty futile to consider them.

The best ones are the logic puzzles, but I can only remember two of these without dipping into the book again. One argues that it's very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to make a 'surprise visit'. Briefly, the idea is that if I am a hygiene inspector and I tell a restaurant that I am going to make a surprise visit, sometime in the next month, logically speaking it's not possible to surprise them. You can rule out the last day of the month because if you turned up then, it wouldn't be a surprise because they'd know you were coming since there's only one day left. The same logic can therefore be applied to the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and so on.

As sad as it is, these are the sort of things that I sometimes lie awake, thinking about, but there isn't much in the book that I'd lose much sleep over.

Much more interesting is trying to come up with your own 'thought experiments'. One they could have included - which also neatly fits in with the pig theme of the title - is something that my old sports editor, Alan Johnson, once said. It's worth remembering as a philosophy because it can be applied to many everyday situations, especially in Britain Today... You can't educate pork.


Kaiser killer

Re-reading the above, I sound like I'm in a real strop, and I haven't even trashed The Kaiser Chiefs yet.

Actually, if I'd written this a couple of weeks ago, when I first bought their new album, I'd have needed only two words to sum up Yours Truly, The Angry Mob: utter rubbish.

This is all part of my new policy of trying out new music because a) there must be some good new stuff out there and b) my recent experience of discovering The Bees' new album, Octopus - which gets even better, every time I listen to it - proves that a) is right.

I'd been at least partly impressed by two Kaiser Chiefs singles (I Predict a Riot, despite crappy verses, and Ruby) which is why they were chosen as the latest guinea pigs for my great experiment.

After the disappointment of the first hearing, I decided you could at least remove the 'utter' from my original assessment, and a third listening has improved it again, but only so that the name of one of the tracks could be used to sum it all up, if I was feeling really cynical. It's called Everything is Average Nowadays.

A lot of these new groups seem, to me, to be trying to sound like Swindon's finest, XTC, who I still maintain have been vastly under-rated. A couple of the Kaiser Chief tracks sound so much like XTC, in fact, that I'm convinced that it's a direct rip-off attempt.

But whereas XTC were capable of blinding lyrics, The Kaiser Chiefs really don't have a clue. Boxing Champ - a surprising slow one that had the potential to be something special - begins: We went to the youth club/And we looked out of place/I didn't know where to look/So I looked at your face. Now, you sometimes have to be careful that the lyrics aren't deliberately naive, but this is roughly typical of the rest of the lyrics on the album, so I'm on fairly safe ground.

Compare this with the poetry of XTC: It's raining on the beach/She's inches close but out of reach/The waves look painted on/Seagulls screaming, 'Kiss her, kiss her'/The sea is warship grey/It whispers 'fool' then slides away/Black coastline slumbers on/Seagulls screaming, 'Kiss her, kiss her'.

Now, what else can I give a good panning?...

That's Rich

Now that's what you call a good wedding.

Obviously, whichever one you go to, you get an unforgettable day - I can remember every one I've been to - but the marriage of my nephew Richard to Carla (Frost) today will be memorable for lots of reasons, and all of them good.

I've never seen a couple so determined to celebrate the day in the way they wanted to do it, and you've never seen a bride and groom really enjoy themselves as much as Carla and Richard.

The venue was suitably unconventional, being a converted barn in the middle of nowhere (Wellington Barn at Calstone near Cherhill), and this turned out to be the perfect setting for a smart and no-doubt expensive do that somehow also achieved a high level of informality all day - including curry for dinner, fairy cakes instead of a traditional wedding cake and bacon rolls and sausage sandwiches for supper.

Best of all was a 'surprise' appearance by bhangra drummers and dancers, wearing full regalia, who did a quick display after the speeches and then gave some of the guests a quick lesson on the patio. Fantastic.

Nothing could have summed up the relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere of the day better.

The bride and groom even insisted on coming back on the coach to Swindon after the wedding because they didn't want to miss out on even a minute of it - so the driver dropped them off in Faringdon Road.

Carla is as nice as she looks, and went up even higher in my estimation when, with genuine excitement in her voice, she told Julie before we left: "I'm a Carter now!"

Lucky girl.

There are more pictures here.





'The black pudding's very black today, mother'

I've just finished reading Michael Palin's Diaries 1969-1979 (The Python Years) and can't remember the last time I was so disappointed to get to the end of a book.

I'd asked for it for Christmas, but didn't touch it for weeks - partly because I was reading other stuff but also because it seemed like it was going to be a sort of a chore, even for a Palin/Python fan like me, because it runs to 650 pages (that's 5cm thick!)

But I couldn't have been more wrong.

It's extremely well written and is interesting for many reasons, especially in that it gives you an insight into the kind of lifestyles the six Pythons led/lead. They were, for instance, very friendly with George Harrison.

When I started the diary, Michael Palin was already one of my TV heroes - having been successful as a performer and writer (in Python and Ripping Yarns) and as probably the best travel show presenter ever seen on TV. The diary only strengthens my regard for him as being a down-to-earth chap, despite his immense wit and intelligence.

The only downside is that the diary ends abruptly in 1979 and, after telling readers so much about what he was up to in the 1970s, he suddenly goes off into the 1980s without them. I'm going to miss him.

Forgetting the needle

Holly forgot to inject herself this morning and had to be reminded before going off to school - which makes it a significant day.

It's now nearly two months since she was diagnosed as diabetic and this is the first time she's forgotten to do one of her four-a-day injections. I suppose we should be a little concerned that she overlooked the injection, but it's actually a good sign - because being so blasé about it shows that it's become 'normal'.

She's still getting on very well with the whole diabetes thing, her blood glucose levels are well under control and we're still really proud of the way she's taken to the change in lifestyle.


Favourite fonts

According to the BBC News website, Helvetica is 50 years old this year, and they've done a bit of a feature on it. I suppose everybody these days knows that Helvetica is a font or typeface. But there probably aren't many people who are sad enough to have favourite fonts.

I put this down to professional interest rather than just pure anorakism.

If anybody ever asks me what my favourite is - and funnily enough, they never have - it's Gill Sans, which is actually quite similar to Helvetica but with an unmistakable touch of class about it (don't you just hate that square dot on the top of Helvetica's i?). Gill - or some close derivative of it - appears on the London Underground and pops up often on the BBC, and you can't get more wholesome than that.

The only thing that Helvetica has going for it is that it's 'safe' because most computers and most software can handle it without any problems, and that's not true of all typefaces. It makes Helvetica the Pizza Hut of printing - not the best by any means, but it's cheap enough and you know what you're getting.

Just to prove that typefaces can be a whole lot of fun, here's a typographical joke:

Two fonts walked into a bar and ordered a drink. The barman said: "We don't serve your type in here."

Come on you... um, Blues (again)

It was a very strange feeling today - the enjoyment of being at a party but all the time thinking that I'd somehow ended up at the wrong one.

By the time I'd made up my mind, about Wednesday, to get a ticket to see today's crunch match between Town and Walsall, it was sold out. To be honest, my heart wouldn't have been in it, anyway. These days, watching Swindon Town is even more of an ordeal than it has been for most of the past 38 years that I've been watching them. I'd only seen two games this season - and one of those was absolutely diabolical.

Having said that, if I could have got a ticket this morning I'd have gone. As there was no chance of that, I decided, instead, to see what turned out to be an historic achievement for Swindon's other team, Supermarine.

While Town drew with Walsall to clinch promotion to League One, Supermarine beat Taunton Town 2-0 to also clinch promotion. And deservedly so. It was never a classic game but they scored two good goals and made their opponents look pretty ordinary.

It was the play-off final of the Southern League Division One, and they now go up to the Southern League Premier Division - effectively the same league that Town were one of the founder members of in 18something. It will be the highest grade of football any team in Swindon - apart from Town, of course - has ever played.

I took my camera along and got a few pictures, including one of the goalie sat on the ground, just after he'd let in the second goal. The only real shame is that they couldn't have somehow rearranged the game so it didn't clash with Town's game, which would have boosted the gate from four or five hundred to possibly a couple of thousand. At least the win should mean that a few Town fans will adopt them as their second team and cheer them on next season.

Meanwhile, at the County Ground, promotion for Town hopefully means that manager Paul Sturrock - who I said was a great choice when he was appointed, months ago - can now get down to the business of building a team capable of winning a second successive promotion.

So, a memorable - and even historic - day for football in Swindon, even if I saw the support act instead of the main feature.



Triumph stag

Today I went to the Globe in Old Town for my nephew Richard's stag night - who is getting married to Carla next Saturday (12th).

It was the first stag night I'd been to for ages, and the first one I'd ever been to where I could remember the day the groom-to-be was born.

I have three nephews who are getting married this year - all to girls they have been living with for a while, so it's strange that they've all decided to tie the knot within three months of each other. The weddings promise to be completely different to each other, with next week's having curry on the menu. Is that cool or what?

I am not at liberty to divulge any details about the stag do, although I can confirm that no shaving of heads, tying the groom to a lamp post or putting him on a train to Aberdeen had taken place by the time the youngsters went off for extra-time at the Beehive.

It was then that the oldies in the gathering got a lift home, shamefully ignoring my pleas for us all to stop and have a kebab - but having had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.


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