A Far Fetched Resolution

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council hiring taxis to scuttle round the city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I’ll tell you.. You can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Desmond or a Douglas?

I had my British Politics and Government Since 1900 exam this week - it was supposed to be the good one that might drag the other 7 dog-awful ones up a bit. It was ok - but not sure about good enough frankly.

I answered these three questions, which I thought might provoke a bit of debate (I'm paraphrasing since I've lost the copy of the exam paper which I stole):

1. Could the "Progressive Alliance" before 1914 accomodate the sectional interests of the Labour Party and the Radicalism of the New Liberals? (My Answer: yeah but no but, probably not forever)

2. Is there evidence of Thatcherism before 1974? (My Answer: Sort of Heath tried but failed, but actually Enoch Powell in the 1950s, and Callaghan killed crap Keynesianism first)

3. Is the Labour Party after 1994 the political heir to the SDP? (My Answer: No way, dirty Lib Dem scum. And anyway, half the cabinet worked for Kinnock.)

These weren't really the best questions that could have come up for me - I was kind of hoping to be asked a comparative question between Thatcher and Blair, Something about Macmillan and the Economy, and Something about the extension of the Franchise in 1918. But if you could pick your questions I suppose they wouldn't really be exams would they?

Exams trundling along anyway. Only three more to go and I'm really getting that low 2.2/3rd feeling.

A Desmond or a Douglas?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Just 2 words for you all; "Monkey" & "Forest"

"Welcome to Monkey Forest at Trentham in Staffordshire

Experience this unique opportunity to visit 'Monkey Forest' an exciting walk amongst 140 free roaming Barbary macaques.

You will be able to discover this amazing species as they exhibit their natural behaviour with no bars or cages to hinder your view.

Freedom !

At Monkey Forest the Barbary Macaques roam freely in a 60-acre forest. As you enter the park you will feel privileged to observe the monkeys living in their fascinating society as they would in the wild .

Trentham Estate woodland is situated on a beautiful site, but it is the relaxed atmosphere of the monkeys that strike the visitors straight away. That's how it should be! Here, the animals reign supreme! They have large home ranges and will play, pose for pictures, interact with each other, and climb trees right in front of your eyes … and cameras! A unique experience in a unique setting! "

Thoughts thus far...

"Whooah, we're half way there
Livin on a prayer
Take my hand and we'll make it - I swear
Livin on a prayer"

4 down, 4 to go. See you on the other side.

update: I've just realised that when you write that down...it really doesn't scan at all does it? It's alright shouted drunkenly on the dancefloor of some indie dive, but it's clearly got a few syllables missing which Jon Bon just improvises grunts to fill.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Nefarious Monkey Business

This blog will probably be very quiet until the weekend (when you may get a halfway update on my exams...i.e. I'll let you know exactly how blankly I stared at the exam paper on discovering the 3 days wasn't enought time to learn the history of Philosophy from Descartes to Kant).

But in the meanwhile reflect on this:

Supposed "comrades"* have arranged a trip, together, to the zoo of all places...


What is more they had the front to actually invite me! This has to stop. What next? These people have had a lifetime of waiting for that ultimate zoological experience - surely a few more days wouldn't have hurt?

* Supposed Comrades:

Comrade 1
Comrade 2
Comrade 3
Comrade 4
Comrade 5

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Monkey Insurgents (Monkey News 6 - Monkey under siege)

In this leaked video some US soldiers, I think in Iraq or Afghanistan (there's Arabic writing in the corner of the shot) are taunting a local (monkey). The response is hilarious.

Is this a metaphor? I don't know. It's definately really funny.

I don't want to be held accountable for the contents of the rest of that website though. It's a bit risque frankly.

Class in Britain

Tonight I've been reading about class. It's presently 2:30am and I intend continuing reading about class, but with a glass of wine. Which is poignant in so many ways.

I have been mainly reading David Cannadine's "Class in Britain". I intend answering a question on class in my exam on British Social History on Friday so I thought I ought to read up on it. As you do.

I remember buying this book in about 1997 for Neville's* birthday , which he shares with me. This coincidence allows us to send non-too-subtle hints via my mother as to what we expect from each other present-wise. Hence a 16 year old buying someone a work of sociological history as a birthday present. I have however fallen down in recent years by failing completely to honour his birthday in the manner I'm sure he'd expect. I don't even have the excuse of forgetting it. I'm generally a pretty inconsiderate person.

I had however, never read the book. Which is why, when I recognised it on the reading list I decided to tackle it first. I think it's really rather interesting. The basic thesis appears to be that there are three models of class identification in Britain:

1. Upper, Middle and Lower/ Aristocracy, Bourgeoisy, Proletariat
2. Us V. Them
3. Organic/traditional heirachy of individuals each with a determinate social position.

[Correction: I don't mean determinate here as in, 'inevitable' or 'scientifically determined' or anything. It's clumsy wording but I can't think of what I should have put instead.]

He appears to be arguing that actually none are true, and that all three are true. Essentially that in reality social relations are far more complex than class divisions can capture but that what has defined our relationship with class has actually had far more to do with how our politicians talk about it, and how we see ourselves. (I.e. the Inter-war political consensus was very much about perpatuating the 3rd for fear of falling victim to the 1st).

I've not read the final chapter regarding developments up to the present day (or, rather 1997) but I'll let you know how it progresses. I feel this may have me thinking...

*who shortly afterwards, married my mother. I'm not sure what
this says about anything really.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wine report, Chomsky can F**k off & A Date for your diary

Have Opened a bottle of the "McGuigan's Estate" Chardonnay I recommended further down this board and am presently sipping gently on a glass of it as a reward for having read Chomsky, Mackie & Bennett waffling on about the innateness of our ideas & language blah-di-whatever until three clock in the sodding morning. This is my first read-til-your-eyes bleed night but, sadly this will not be the last. The exams start on Thursday.

For those of you in Oxford (and judging by Tracksy that's about 60% of you, although how many of those are actually just Steven Longden checking in every 5 minutes from different computers in the Social Sciences Library is something I'm yet to work out) or those of you who, like me, can't quite beleive I'm actually going to be finishing finals and just want to be there to witness the momentous occasion here are the details:

I will be leaving the "exam schools" (Old building, Oxford, where the exams are, trots occupy them occasionally in protest at things) at 1730 hours on Tuesday, June the 6th.

It is traditional in Oxford to be met out of your exams by a posse of people who give you nice things like:

1. Alcoholic drinks
2. Hugs
3. Banter
4. Encouraging noises about how a 3rd isn't the end of the world
5. A hand shake.
6. Flowers


The wine, by the way, is not as amazing as I remembered it. (I did though first drink it having an enchanting night in with the beloved watching Blues Brothers. I can't believe I'd never seen it and it's now one of my favourited ever films. Especially the car chase at the end. So that's probably why I remember it so fondly.) But nevertheless it's a really reliable Chardonnay which does exactly what it says on the tin. And you can't say fairer than that for less than £4.

Get your paws on it if you can. Here's to more nights in front of Blues Brothers - when these sodding exams are out of the way. Hi Ho, Hi Ho.

Friday, May 19, 2006

"Planning of the Apes" (or "Monkey News 5 - better than Police Academy 5")

Planning of the Apes
From Sciencemag

"Anybody who has been stuck without a bottle opener at a beach picnic knows the value of future planning. But is planning a uniquely human trait? Perhaps not. A new study shows that bonobos and orangutans can save tools that help them access a future snack."

"The findings suggest that cognitive precursors to human foresight may have evolved in great apes more than 14 million years ago."

"First, the animals spent five minutes in a room with two suitable and six unsuitable tools for a food apparatus that the apes could see but not touch. Then, the researchers led the animals to a neighboring room, letting them take along any tools they wished, and left them there for an hour while an attendant cleared out the remaining tools from the test room. When the apes returned to the test room, the apparatus was accessible, and the apes could get food from it as long as they had the right tool with them."

"Finally, to ensure that the animals were not making a simple association between tool and the reward, the researchers removed the apparatus from the test room before the animals returned for the second visit but still rewarded them if they came back with the right tool. The animals started bringing wrong tools more frequently under this condition..."

UPDATE: The monkey in a hammock is a Bonobo. (I'm allowed to call apes monkeys because monkey world does.) I know it looks a lot like a Chimp but Sciencemag insist it is a Bonobo. And I'm not going to argue.

Monkey world does not have Bonobo. (Bonobae? Bonobabas? Bonobos? ...Who knows...) But it does have Chimps. It does not have Gorillas either and this is a more tragic loss - but Gibbons, Orang Utans and others are all present. As, of course, is the Woolly Monkey.

Charity set up for Old Etonians - Donations welcome

This has got to be some kind of sick joke...

Eton, Harrow, Westminster etc (the "top fee-paying schools") have admitted breaking competition policy by exchanging "information" between the years 2001 & 2004. As a result the Office of Fair Trading has let them off lightly - fining them £10,000 each.

So far so fair enough. But get this; The Independent Schools Council their representative body is said to have proposed the deal that got them such light treatment. Part of that deal is a "charitable" donation of an average of £50,000 which is to go to a seperate charitable body.

Now my first thoughts were that this money would be used to let in some more pet poor people into these establishment safe-houses. That would at the very least be a nice gesture - even if I am innately suspicious of any attempts to legitimise ingrained privilege by giving it a "meritocratic" lick of paint.

But no. This "charitable" donation is going to a far more needy group. The BBC says

"A charity set up to help pupils who attended the schools during the years 2001 to 2004 gets £3m. The settlement was co-ordinated by a steering group led by Independent Schools Council general secretary Jonathan Shephard.

He said: "The settlement reached represents a sizeable cost to the schools for inadvertently breaching competition law by continuing to share information in a manner which had previously been perfectly legal."

So...in order to right a small wrong (infringement of a minor bit of regulation) we're going to perpetuate a much bigger wrong.

"It is estimated that roughly 40,000 people will benefit from the fund, which will be used for educational purposes and would pay out before the pupils' 30th birthdays. "

According to the Guardian the money "will be used to benefit students who attended the schools during the period that the cartel was in operation."

Well...I'm glad some good has come out of all of this.

Sub-Fusc Farce

Sub Fusc is the academic dress of Oxford University. However unlike any university I've ever heard of you're not only supposed to wear it for your graduation (touch wood) and for your matriculation;

But you're obliged to wear it for ALL of your exams. I think this is beyond ridiculous. The students union has never even managed to get strong policy against it as every time they try to have a referendum the young Tories and Hooray Henrys manage to mobilise against it.

Whilst the rest of us, sensible and reasonable though we are, have absolutely no choice but to turn up looking like penguins and sitting deeply uncomfortably in eight three-hour exams over 8 days.

I don't own that many white shirts. Or a white bow tie. This is a total farce and frankly, an outrage.

(Cheers to St Cross College for the photos)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Monkey Latest (Monkey news IV - a new hope)

I am such a good Monkey-Marketter. Maybe one day I could work for a monkey ad agency.

It would seem that I have anticipated a development in the naming & publicising of monkeys so as to engender support for endangered simians. (say that pissed). Here's what I wrote but a few short days ago on discovery of a new genus of Monkey, the inappropriately named 'Rungwecebus':

"Apparently it's endangered - so "Save the Rungwecebus" is a cry likely to be heard from many a loud hailer in the coming months and years. The scientists who found it are making a big deal about how we need to save it, but I can't help feeling they could have given it a more Sale-able name, like "Cuddly Monkey" or "Cute Monkey" in the interests of public relations."

Well here is a story that was pointed out to me by my beloved long-suffering Emily (who's resigned herself to humouring me & my monkeys - having long given up explaining that there are in fact more important things in life).

From MSN: 'Little Sucker'

"He may be only a couple of months old, but we're real suckers for baby woolly monkey Julio. The cute animal is being hand-reared at an animal sanctuary after being rejected by his mother. He was found clinging to his dad Bueno after mother Kuna abandoned him immediately after giving birth on 16 March"

"WOOLLY MONKEY" - now there's a good name for a monkey. None of this Rungadungapalaverwhatdjemecallit. "Woolly". and. "monkey". You don't need a biology degree to picture something that is both woolly and a monkey do you? It's words-as-pictures marketting-genius. It almost makes calling the baby "Julio" superfluous. Although the question
occurs; which Julio where they naming him after? My money is on Julio Arca the Sunderland wing back - but a number of people have already texted in suggesting Julio Iglesias. Any suggestions in the comments box.

The BBC have also reported this and they spoke to Dr Alison "comforts Julio by making woolly monkey noises" (!?) Cronin who looks after Julio who told them:

"He's doing fine - he's sitting in my lap right now. He's actually teething and just getting the last couple of molars in. He is also learning to stand up - that's the new thing - and he's very chatty"

You can read their full story here. But there's one key fact about Julio the Woolly Monkey which I have kept from you, dear reader. For this is the the most important of all of the facts an I wanted to keep you in suspense. Julio lives....you guessed it....


Here's the last sentence of the paragraph I included from MSN above, although this time I've not cut out the killer fact;

"He was found clinging to his dad Bueno after mother Kuna abandoned him immediately after giving birth on 16 March at Monkey World rescue centre in Wool, Dorset."

There's two things that I want answers to.

1. Why have only discovered that heaven is in Dorset when I am in my 26th year?

2. Is the fact that the Woolly Monkey lives in Wool a coincidence?

Answers in the comments section. My trip to Monkey world is going to be so so so exciting. I have decided to up your excitement level, dear reader, by committing to learning how to upload pictures from my phone or alternatively borrowing a digital camera and making my visit to monkeyworld my first photo story. I spoil you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bird news

Our anonymous source reminds us of the time he drove us to Cornwall for dinner.

We passed Stonehenge - but also, in a remarkable echo of "Monkeyworld", "Birdworld".

"Britain's largest bird park and gardens"

"Birdworld has a large restaurant (open 10am - 5pm BST, 10am - 4pm GMT) serving a wide range of food, from snacks to a full meal. Visitors are welcome to visit the restaurant without paying to go into the park. The restaurant is in pleasant surroundings with views over the wildfowl pool, fountain and the first section of the park. Bookings for parties are welcome for our special meal deals, roast dinners and cream teas. Don't forget birdworld for that special birthday party."

What do they roast? Chicken? This opens a whole new perspective on Monkeyworld.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Monkey News III

My anonymous source continues....

"A colleague known only as "The Doctor" received a birthday present from friends for his 30th birthdayof a year's sponsorship of an ape being held at Monkeyworld. That's right - you can sponsor monkeys/apes who have been run through the mill (drugs testing,etc) and need a bit of sanctuary; and you can sponsor them as a present for friends and loved one's. "The Doctor" even went to visit his little one (who was named "Mercedes") in the monkeyworld (he's the one who has actually been inside) and, im sure, would be happy to furnish you with more information."

Watch this space.

On a related note - the controversial Oxford Animal Lab is being built on my street. By the sounds of it Monkeyworld's residents would have strong views on the matter...

Monkey (& Tank) News

Writes my anonymous source:

"Monkeyworld does indeed exist. Not only do i have this on reliable evidence, but i've driven past it....Right down the road from Monkeyworld is Bovington Tank Musuem.

And when i say right down the road, i mean like half a mile. We went to a place for NewYear's just 8 miles away and, in the midst of the drunken ramblings that inevitably
occur when you have 18+ drunken 20 somethings within a short hikingdistance of a tank museum and monkeyworld.

Talk quickly grew of whether wecould try and merge the two: either by breaking out the monkeys with use ofthe preconfiscated tanks or (ideally) by somehow releasing the
monkeys andgetting them to break into the tank museum and take charge themselves of thetanks' exit (1000 monkeys on 1000 tanks, etc). It was all very exciting."

indeed. The plot thickens. And my post-exams day out just got more exciting.

Although - what kind of New Year's Party was that?!

Wine News #2

Myself and Emily went down to London on Sunday evening to see my Dad, Anna and Monkey (Nina). Dinner was fun, with Nina her usual troublesome self. She's learning a Norah Jones song on the keyboard and entertained us with several renditions of the intro - which was very impressive, although I do hope she's progressed by next time we go as the intro is quite repetetive after a while.

Emily and Anna ended the evening debating access to university and various related issues - which I will probably end up blogging about before I leave the dreaming spires as it's long been a bugbear of mine. Dad got a call from his Director (he's doing Toby Belcher/Claudius in As you Like It/Hamlet in Southwark which hopefully I'll catch after my exams.) Anyhow he had a surprise run through and had to sneak off before dessert (MARS ICE CREAM!) in order to learn lines. He finds it harder these days - "the decay of a human mind".

I got a couple of bottles to take down.

I got this Cotes du Rhone 'Parallele 45' Paul Jaboulet Aîné from Oddbins on Little Clarendon Street - not my usual Oddbins. The young man working there didn't meet up to the usual standard of friendly and informative oddbins staff. He was pretty patronising, quite rude and actually wrong on a couple of key points. As a result I'm minded not to recommend this too highly. Although it wasn't bad at all.

Oddbins say: "Dark cherry colour with intense red fruit aroma and a round and harmonious palate with a long, warm, spicy finish."

And that's about right. Having said that he claimed that this was likely to be about 60 -70% Syrah (Shiraz) which sounded a lot to me. True enough the Oddbins website confirmed it was 55% Grenache, 45% Syrah. This is a fact that is totally irrelevant to me. But it's a little victory that the oik has been found out bullsh*tting since he was so rude.

Also he recommended this to go with a mild curry - and in my personal opinion for a couple of quid less I could have chosen myself a big bastard Aussie Shiraz that I would have enjoyed more. Sadly I can't really slag this wine off properly though, since it was pretty good and went well with the food.

He also recommended this Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris Cuvee Reserve Caves de Turckheim, that the ladies claimed was very nice. But having tasted it myself I think they were either;

a. Being polite
or b. Already pissed from the bottle they'd polished off first

Now I admit I was ready to just take his recommendation and get out on this so I should have been more awake. Frankly I knew that Alsatian wines were very sweet. Now he claimed that the Pinot Gris grapes would work with that and make for an interesting wine. But it wasn't quite enough and this was not "my bag".

Oddbins say this:
"A lovely wine from Alsace - the driest wine region in France. This Tokay Pinot Gris is packed with stone-fruit flavours and displays good varietal character and complexity."

UPDATE on previous post. The excellent wine which Emily brought round a few weeks ago was the McGuigan Estate, Limestone Coast, Chardonnay 2005 which Sainsburys have on offer here in Oxford right now. It's list price is £8.99 but they've gots shelves of the stuff for £3.99. Now that would normally make me run a mile since it's a hell of a reduction and if it were any good you'd imagine it would go. But this was really really good. Definately grab a bottle of this if you see it. It ain't worth 9, but 4 quid is a steal.

Amusingly however I found last year's vintage of this wine reviewed in 2005 as reduced to £3.99 too - so clearly Sainsbury's have some plan here to make this look like more than a bargain than it actually is. Still it's got to be worth it for what this bloke in Manchester calls (admittedly last year's vintage) "the straightforward light oak of McGuigan Estate Chardonnay" from what he calls "a consistent if not exciting producer". At less than £4 consistent is all you're going to get - but that's not to be sniffed at.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monkey News: Update

A friend with more time than sense gets in touch with further details of Monkey World & its environs. These will drip-fed into the public domain in an attempt to create a sense of "momentum" for Monkey World.

In the mean time...The first new genus of monkey for 83 years has been discovered...

This has *got* to be big news in Monkey World.

It's certainly big news in the monkey world.

"The monkey, first described by WCS scientists who found it in Tanzania last year, was initially believed to be related to mangabeys. However, DNA work published in this recent study reveals that the species is truly unique, marking the first new genus for a living monkey species since Allen's swamp monkey in 1923. The new genus, Rungwecebus, (pronounced rung-way-CEE-bus) refers to Mt. Rungwe, where the monkey was first observed. Perhaps 500 remain in the wild."

"The monkey is brown, with a long, erect crest of hair on its head, elongated cheek whiskers, an off-white belly and tail, and an unusual call, termed a 'honk-bark' by the scientists who first described it. It stands about 3 feet tall (90 cm). The monkeys occur as high as 8,000 ft (2450 m) where temperatures frequently drop below freezing; its long coat is probably an adaptation to the cold."

Apparently it's endangered - so "Save the Rungwecebus" is a cry likely to be heard from many a loud hailer in the coming months and years. The scientists who found it are making a big deal about how we need to save it, but I can't help feeling they could have given it a more Sale-able name, like "Cuddly Monkey" or "Cute Monkey" in the interests of public relations.

Scientists. Typical.

I'm also fascinated by "Allen"; who he was, whether it was he who found the "swamp monkey" and what one has to do in order to acquire possession of a swamp monkey as Allen appears to have done.

Any swamp monkey experts do please get in touch.

Monkey News

I know, I've nicked the title. But at the end of the day this is bloody well worth it.

First, monkeys have caused me to find God. I mean it. I know i've posted a bit of secular gubbins in the past few days but I am now a firm believer in Him, the Un-caused cause, the Prime mover, the omniscient noumenal being, the Lord God Himself.

Why? well this leads me to the first bit of Monkey News for the week.

I, and those who know me well will confirm this, am possibly the world's biggest monkey fanatic. I love monkeys. Actually it's mainly apes, but, and this will be relevant later, apes and monkeys are confused often enough and other than when it's part of the excellent phrase "ape-shit" 'ape' is an inferior word to 'Monkey' all told and therefore I consider it legitimate to call myself a 'monkey fanatic' when in fact my fascination is as much with apes as monkeys.

It's important that you understand the esteem in which I hold our fellow primates. This story won't make sense unless you do. A couple of days ago I was wandering down the street near my current abode. I was pretty down it must be said - exams aren't going as well as I'd hoped etcetera. Up ahead two young women were having a very animated conversations, one was clearly disgruntled and the other had a consoling air. As I drew level with them my mopey nosey self tried to make out their conversation in order to distract myself from the tasks of the day.

And this is what I heard...

Agitated Woman: "fsdinfosinaoihfdoifhsf...."
Consoling Woman: "I know, and you're going to Monkey World tomorrow" [Strokes arm sympathetically]
Agitated Woman: "mdjas9dijaoifjddsiofdoifhtfruio..."

Yes. You read that right. "You're going to monkey world".

My feelings on this miraculous vision are very difficult to put into words. I think the best chance I have of transmitting the impact this snatched phrase has had on me is to draw up a list of the thoughts that have occurred to me since this momentous event...

1. Why is a woman who is clearly a student going to "Monkey World" in the middle of term time?
2. If she's going to "Monkey World" tomorrow, who's she going with? It sound like a chore...
3. Why is the person with her consoling her? Is Monkey World actually a metaphor for some kind of trauma centre?
4. Does "monkey world" even exist?
5. Did the conversation even happen? was I dreaming it? Is this the medication doing this to me?
7. Hold on, is monkey world real? If so where is it? It's definately not near Oxford as I recently checked out the zoo related attractions in the Oxfordshire area (long story).
8. What If I googled" Monkey World?"
9. What the HELL is Monkey World?
10. I've googled "Monkey World". It exists. It's near Bournemouth.
11. If it's called "Monkey World", why is it an "Ape" rescue centre?!?
12. How much call is there for "Ape rescue" in the Bournemouth area?
13. I have to go.
14. The th0ugh of this is going to get me through finals.
15. "Monkey World" has saved my life.
16. Why did I of all people walk past at that very moment? there are thousands of finalists under pressure. There's only one finalist who would have been so profoundly affected by the discovery of "Monkey World" - me. What are the Chances of me being the finalist who walked past at that point?
17. A million to one.
18. That's fate.
19. God exists.
20. I believe.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wine News #1

Had some old friends up to college for dinner last night - Guest dinner in the college's v v v old dining hall is a treat I'd forgotten all about.

The food isn't bad at all - and as a "mature" student (it says so on the forms) I'm allowed to go on post-grad night which I think means it's a bit posher.

Anyhow, to business. I said when I started this blog I'd write a bit about wine and I've not done so yet. Normally because I forget what I drank once I've drunk it. Which ain't great for a wine bore in training.

Yesterday however I wrote the names of the wines on the back of a menu - thinking ahead. I've been buying pricey wine at the moment since I'm going out so little and when I do drink it's often over dinner and I want to make it worth it - and the money I save not going to the pub is therefore well spent.

I'm also trying to teach myself about wine - and it's so hard doing that when every bottle of wine for a fiver or less is branded and tastes more or less the same as another - i.e. not bad, and like it tasted last year. There's a place for it - I'll usually pick one of those up without thinking and they do the trick. But if you're trying to get a nose for different grapes, styles and so on you're basically not going to get anywhere.

I'm also only really starting out in my wine odyssey - so if you're a proper wine buff please don't scoff, just post any thoughts in the comments. We learn by doing, or in this case drinking and waffling on about it.

So.... Wine number 1. "Wither Hills" New Zealand Pinot Noir (Oddbins) 2004

This was a cracking wine - but you pay for it. If you really like red Burgundy and you're willing to pay for it - then get a decent red burgundy. I had this Santenay 1er Cru a few weeks ago when myself and Emily went to London for a meal at a good friend 's. Exactly the same price (£15.99)- and a whole class of different experience.

Pinot Noir from Chile or California isn't really Pinot Noir from Burgundy - it's good, but it's not the one. I'd heard that New Zealand was the place to go if you want that authentic complexity and - and the bloke in Oddbins confirmed that in recommending this. It didn't disappoint - but then if you pay this much for a Burgundy from a good producer (Vincent Girardin, and the Borgeot brothers are the two the Oddbins people- who've not recommended a bad wine to me yet - are raving about) and you're not going to be disappointed either - and you're quite likely to get your head blown off. This didn't quite blow me away.

I loved this though - and a great way to start the meal off. Beardy oddbins man (as opposed to bedraggled oddbins man) recommended it for exactly this purpose - in that it didn't need the same breathing time as the others. Oddbins can waffle about tasting notes far better than I can - so here's what they say:

"The aromas are youthful, complex, and ever evolving in the glass. Look for aromas of ripe black cherry and rich plum, surrounded by blueberry fruit. Spice with hints of licorice and rose petal are compelled with a bouquet reminiscent of being deep in an oak forest in the Autumn."

Wine number 2 is a Chianti Rufina; 'Castello di Nippozano' Riserva Frescobaldi 2002

This came highly highly recommended by beardy oddbins man. Frankly most of the time I've had Chianti it's reminded me a little bit of Haze or Glaze or whatever that airfreshener is called. Very herby and perfumey but none of the oomph you really want from a good red. I was willing to try something new however - I'd had a very drinkable Chianti in Leeds at the beloved's parents (although it was a very Chianty Chianti and hence controversial) and was therefore open to persuasion.

This did the trick - it had all the flowery nonsense I expected but was also really well rounded and flavoursome. I really enjoyed it . But again, I'd go back to the price (£11.99). At the end of it all I could probably have got a reasonable Claret for the price (not a great one - but a decent one) and it would probably have given me more pleasure - but then I'm not really being fair on the wine since that's just what I like. And an Aussie Shiraz for that price (or even less, like this Swan Bay one for £7.99 which I had in January) would have got me more excited - at least given me the proper "wine tingle" which this didn't.

But if you're a Chianti fan then you'd love this as it's got everything - flowery nonsense and proper grown up wine taste. And I'm probably being unfair since it came after the cracking first wine. So, for those who want a more professional description (if nonsensical) Oddbins says:

"Intensely perfumed with aromas of redcurrant, chocolate and spice. Smooth, finely structured and very long."

And it's won all kinds of awards and stuff.

If you're looking for a wine that's decent value but will go down well over the dinner table you could do worse than go for La Chasse du Pape, Cotes du Rhone. One of my friends picked up from somewhere where he claimed it was on offer - he had Oddbins plastic bags with him but I can't find it on their website so maybe it was all an elaborate double bluff. It's eminently drinkable- but I have no idea how much it was. But it's on offer. Somewhere.

Friday, May 12, 2006

"We don't do god"

President Mahmood Ahmedinejad (Iran), 2006

“Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the Liberal democratic systems.
We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point - that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: 'Do you not want to join them?'
Mr. President, Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.”

George W. Bush (USA), 2006

“Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom's advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward -- optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of the victories to come. May God bless America.”

Sir Karl. R. Popper (1963)

“That the utopian method, which chooses an ideal state of society as the aim which all our political actions should serve, is likely to produce violence is shown thus. Since we cannot determine the ultimate ends of political action scientifically, or by purely rational methods, differences of opinion concerning what the ideal state should be like cannot always be smoothed out by the methods of argument. They will at least partly have the character of religious differences. And there can be no tolerance between these different Utopian religions. Utopian aims are designed to serve as a basis for rational political action and discussion, and such action appears to be possible only if the aim is definitely decided upon. Thus the Utopian must win over, or else crush, his Utopianist competitors who do not share his own Utopian aims and who do not profess his own Utopian religion.”

I'm still alive...

Just in case you all thought I'd died or something...

I've done the next best thing. I've spent most of the past few days in the library reading about Kant. Well get me.

Anyway - in my absence I leave you with yet another delightful picture of my fat old cat.

Take it away, Tipsy.

[Finals commence in a fortnight. I have absolutely no idea what a good or a bad result will be. I could be cruising for a third, I could be scraping a 2.1. It's probably closer to the former than the latter, but we can but hope.

Kids, a word of advice. Don't try and do a three year course in 6 months. And if you do, try to be a bit more organised than I am. And if you're not...well you're probably me. ]

P.S. If anyone knows anything about the Philosophy of Science & Social Science, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, British Social History since 1870 (in particular - Class, work, unemployment, education and social mobility), and Modern British Government (with reference to the Human Rights Act, the Party system, Party funding, House of Lords reform & the electoral system) that does not already feature in Wikipedia and cannot be Googled please email.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Reflections on the elections in Oxford (and the rest)

Interesting few days...

I've tried to keep working for finals but it's been a bit chaotic frankly so I'm falling behind again. Rather like Big Tony i'm trying to use this weekend to regain the initiative. Haven't really blogged for a few days so here's some thoughts.

1. Really Really Really well done to the Labour Club. Nigh on 30 activists out at 5am to get 5,000 leaflets out to the Labour promise before any of them had woken up was a startling achievement. There are at least 3 councillors here in Oxford who owe their seats to OULC.

2. Really well done to the Oxford Labour Party - a huge swing in terms of seats (probably votes too but I can't be bothered to do the maths) to Labour from 2004, against the background of the last few weeks is a wonderful achievement and a real reward for all the hard work of the past 12 months. There's one ward I know of where 50% of the electorate have been spoken to in the past month. Accross Oxford East 10s of thousands have had a call from their local councillors, from Andrew Smith MP or from local activists and the Labour Club in the past year.

3. Congratulations to Councillor Antonia Bance, representing Rose Hill and Iffley ward, now the second safest Labour seat in Oxford! Enjoy Kefalonia, but the hard work starts when you get back ;-)

4. Congrats to Rae Humberstone, councillor for Blackbird Leys where I spent the day on Thursday. a 60 vote margin over the Independent Working Class Association. I won't expand on the IWCA since I'd rather not get myself in any trouble. Suffice to say that Blackbird Leys will now have the representation it deserves - and not least thanks to the hard work of Rae, Andrew Smith MP who has lived on the estate for decades, his wife Val and all those who slogged around the estate for the past year and for 17 hours on polling day.

5. Nationally an interesting set of results - clearly not great for Labour but on the other hand not as bad as I and others had feared.

A few friends worth a "shout out":

Kirsty Mcneill elected in Southwark - well done Kirsty!
Nick Small increased his majority from 18 to over 300 in Liverpool Central Ward - good work Nick. (great results overall in those councils too, woohoo)

Bad luck to Rhodri and Ellie and Pete who I know all worked hard in Southwark, Lewisham and Haringey respectively. And To all the ex-Oxford posse in Haringey - well done, looking forward to a better Haringey ;-)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The next journo I hear or read waffling on about lack of trust in politicians...

...and Who tries to blame Tony Blair, or whoever the obsession is this week...

Is getting a piece of this:

"More people trust the government in Britain than they do the media, according to a BBC-backed poll published today...

...The media scored poorly on both accuracy and balance of reporting, according to the 10-country survey, which polled more than 10,000 people."

Having said that, I may not mention this:

"Worldwide, television was seen as the most trusted source of news, with blogs the least trusted."

Which would explain why nobody believed me when I exclusively reported yesterday that it was in fact David Davis who was personally responsible for releasing most of the foreign prisoners, since he'd been distracted by an affair he was having with someone in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Well done OULC

I've been busily reading away in the Library for much of the past few days - although actually focusing on work has been a difficult task. I've borrowed a pair of reading glasses off a kind hearted gentleman known only as "LD" to see if they help - and if they do I'm getting my eyes tested. They probably won't. I don't think I'm seeing funny I just think philosophers write funny.

However I've been able to nip out and do the odd stint on the doorstep - nothing remarkable to report I'm afraid. Labour people still Labour and we're going to have to wait for polling day to see if there's enough of them out there to ensure that the genuine good this Labour government is doing isn't lost in a maelstrom of, what largely amounts to the odd cock up. In both senses of the word. "Odd" I mean. What did you think I meant?

It's hard frankly forcing oneself to focus on the studies when, firstly they're so bloody boring, secondly one has good friends pounding the streets fighting for something so worthwhile (not the cock-ups, the good stuff) and therefore it's really reassuring to know that my old Labour Club are in fine fettle - putting the other parties' student members' activitiy to shame. (not that anyone's grumbling).

Well done to the team - by all accounts you're putting a lot of really hard work in.

The photos are a few shots from the weekend's activities - well done on getting so many out, but with the polling day push still to come I suspect we ain't seen nuttin' yet...