31 December 2007

Happy New Year and a few resolutions

Happy New Year to all. Hopefully, 2008 will be a successful and prosperous one for you all, and your resolutions are achievable. In that sense, here are some of mine:

  • Get to the gym more, and not just weights but cardio as well
  • Update this more

So not many, so hopefully I will be able to keep them going for more than a month.

I read today that TIME has awarded Vladimir Putin the Man of the Year award. At first I thought it was a practical joke given that Russia have started sending out their long range bombers to probe the Western air defences (something that has not happened since the height of the Cold War in the 1980s).

However a review of the TIME's Man of the Year awards shows that this is not entirely without precedent. Previous recipients have included notables such as:
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Joseph Stalin
  • Harry Truman (in the year that Hiroshima and Nagasaki was bombed)
  • Nikita Kruschev
  • Lyndon B Johnson (in the year prior to the Vietnam war escalation)
  • George W Bush (enough said)
As such, Putin joining such a list is therefore not entirely out of character for the editors of TIME. Here's hoping that Putin does not join his Russian predecessors...

22 November 2007

It's not always good to be right.

Last night the expected happened, and England failed to qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 14 years. This has been quickly followed up by the FA sacking McClaren and starting an urgent review of football in the country.

On the replacement coach a number of names have been mentioned as possible successors. Personally, I hope whomever is appointed is picked for his skills and not because he is a "safe" option, as McClaren was considered. Among the listed are:
  • Scolari: current Portugal coach and former coach of Brazil when they won the World Cup in 2002. He is proven on the international scene with a good pedigree while leading Brazil, I think he has been found a bit lacking for Portugal. This makes me question whether he can achieve much with England.
  • Mourhino: the controversial former Chelsea boss is currently sunning himself somewhere. Unproven on the international circuit but impeccable in domestic tournaments, he has stated that he is only interested in club football at present and would only consider coaching Portugal. Still, if there were enough 0's on the cheque, I am sure he could be persuaded.
  • Lippi: former Italian coach who won them the World Cup. Also whereabouts unknown, but may be worth a punt. However, Italy did not play particularly attractive football last year.
  • Klinsmann: the former German coach took them to the semis, even though it was his first managerial role. I cannot see the English press taking a German as the national coach though.
  • Hiddink: just signed a contract with Russia, who made it to Euro 2008 at England's expense. I cannot see him giving up that role; he doesn't want ex-KGB hitmen after him for a start!

Then there are some British names in the mix:

  • Sanchez: got a win over England when coaching Northern Ireland although currently with Fulham. A possible candidate.
  • Allerdyce: was annoyed he wasn't offered the role last time and to be frank, I would rather have had McClaren. I am not convinced that Allerdyce has enough to offer and has been found to be somewhat lacking in the more pressured environment of Newcastle.
  • O'Neill: the Aston Villa was turned down for the role originally, and although I think he has a lot of potential, it may be too early for him.
  • Shearer: there has been talk of the former Newcastle captain taking the coaching position. The worst that could happen is that this is done to try and emulate Klinsmann's success.
The selection process I imagine will be a drawn out affair, especially as a couple of the candidates are tied up until post Euro 2008. Personally, I favour Mourinho - as mentioned is untested in the international arena, but on the plus side he can eat the English press for breakfast and spit them out; and unfortunately that is prerequisite of the job nowadays. Failing that, given that we have such a long time to the next qualifying campaign, give O'Neill a run and allow him to build the team up.

For the review, I have written before about what I believe England needs to introduce in to their coaching. Hopefully, they will use this opportunity to reconstruct themselves as France did post Euro 1994. It is however a long shot if they can't get the clubs on board...

09 November 2007

Sheep, lemmings, etc...

Obsession is a dangerous thing... The cult of the iPod totally confuses me: it is a device that has a very high volume of competitors, often with superior products and despite the negative press (battery life, locking you in to iTunes), people continue to buy the thing.

Now, Apple have released the iPhone and again the lemmings are let out. This is a phone that's one innovation is the built in tilting mechanism, other than that it offers nothing and in some respects is a retrograde step (e.g. lack of 3G, vendor-locked service provider, etc). By the looks of it, there is again no way of changing the battery so within 18 months, users will have dead phones as good old memory effect will make them useless.

I am sure people will continue to buy them irrespective of how good the product is or the company's ethics. Wonder if Steve Jobs will ever get round registering Apple as a religion? He does a better brainwashing job than the Moonies.

13 September 2007

Migrating my holiday blog

I decided recently to migrate my other blog (JamesHeatherHols.blogspot.com) to Travellers Point. Progress has been pretty slow but I am getting there.

The reasons why I am doing this? Well, Traveller's Point offers the following:
  • Mapping of holiday journeys on a map of the planet, including distance travelled
  • Uploading of photos and linking them to cities on your mapped travels
  • Blogging and diary facilities

The biggest reason that I am using them however, is that it is possible to book accomodation through them. We used this site a lot on our travels last year, and have used them since, as they do the range from budget up to 5 star. I was comparing their prices with those on Expedia and they were roughly half the price for the same hotel.

As such, I would recommend them to all independent travellers out there.

10 September 2007

What will he have to say for himself?

The Telegraph is giving readers the opportunity to pose questions to David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party. Reading through the questions posted so far, there seems to be a pretty common theme: immigration, EU and crime.

After gaining some good momentum while Blur ran the country into the ground, Cameron has lost it all and is allowing Brown to take the upper hand. There seems to be a genuine fear in the Tory ranks of "lurching to the Right", which is complete nonsense. The simple fact is that the UK's resources in all areas are stretched way beyond capacity, and a firm line must be taken. Brown produces the rhetoric and is lauded for it, Cameron does it and is accused of being Right wing (as if it is a crime). It's something Nick Robinson of the BBC has also observed.

In my opinion, Cameron has to stop being Blur-lite and make some definitive policy statements on some of the harder issues to tackle. At least that way, people can either get on board or jump ship. The lack of anything of substance is going to be damaging as nobody will not what he or the Tories stand for. The incumbent government have many areas where they are prime for attacking: violent crime is rising, unions seem to be getting their edge back (a new winter of discontent?) and the Health service is failing with more administrators than there is capacity to treat patients. Sadly, Cameron and the Tories are failing to voice these - they must do if they want to be a credible opposition.

07 August 2007

Flapping McClaren = problems for England

Perusing the sports section of the Telegraph today, I noticed that Steve McClaren is considering bringing Sol Campbell back into the England fold, after firing him via an answer machine when he took over the reins. This has been brought about by a "defensive crisis" in the England squad with John Terry, Jonathan Woodgate and probably Gary Neville (woo hoo!) out injured.

Although the role of England manager is a thankless task, and I have tried not to criticise too much, McClaren has brought this all on himself. He would rather have players out of position on the field, rather than mustering the courage to drop those that were under-performing. This has lead to players being heckled on the pitch, him storming out of press conferences and quality players considering retirement from international football.
Since taking the England mantle, McClaren has travelled round the country to watch a number of Premiereship games (and will shortly be adding America to the mix), supposedly to pick the best squad available. However, the result of all this travelling is that he will have reverted to the same pre-World Cup squad of Sven. The World Cup 2006 squad was not the "golden generation" as heralded by the press; although it did possess a great deal of talent, it was not enough to see the result home. England need to build for the future, they need a squad that will last and and calling back Campbell and (allegedly) David James is not going to be the answer in the long term, despite how well they played last season.
The England line-up should be (subs are in brackets):
GK: Robinson (Carson, as Foster is injured)
RB: Richards (Shorey)
CD: Carragher (Neville)
CD: Ferdinand (Campbell)
LB: Cole, A (Bridge)
RW: Lennon (Wright-Phillips, Beckham)
CM: Hargreaves (Carrick)
CM: Gerrard (Lampard)
LW: Cole, J (Taylor, Downing)
ST: Owen (Crouch)
ST: Rooney (Smith)
Add to the squad a few players such as Johnson and Nugent up front, a few of the younger midfielders such as Jenas, Dyer and Bentley. It also may be worth calling up a couple of others from the U21 that impressed in Holland this year.

11 July 2007

The FA Need This Man!

Flicking through the BBC Sports website at lunchtime, I ran across this interesting article about football skills. It has been said that the current teaching methodology employed by the FA produces nothing but "leather-lunged athletes" with good pace (not that England uses that pace in their tactics) and able to withstand knocks from the opposition (a positive hinderence in the era of diving that FIFA encourages).

If England were to employ this guy to coach in all junior training and complement this with the existing training techniques (there is space in the curriculum, England trainees do the least number of hours per week of any European team), there is the real danger that we may win a meaningul trophy.

All we need to do is develop a coaching programme for trainee managers that a) improves their tactical abilities, b) makes them less bloody arrogant and c) removes their reliance on teeth whitening products.

28 June 2007

Never a truer word spoken

I was reading this impassioned piece over my morning coffee and pill breakfast and have got say that I fully agree with everything that Danielle Murphy has to say. Charlton Athletic have shot themselves in the foot with this: to disband a successful team to try and save money is short-sighted at best. The fact that the team is composed of part-timers means that the overall savings will amount to much I imagine.

Women's football in England is starting to gain momentum, as indeed it is internationally. Leveraging off this popularity could have enabled Charlton to sell more shirts, or whatever it is they have set as their corporate goal. Now, all that will come to naught for short-term gain; a poor decision, I believe.

I understand Ms Murphy's resentment at how the board managed situation. I hope her and her team-mates soon find success at another club.

27 June 2007

Bye, bye Blur

Well, our illustrious/lame-duck Prime Minister has left office, Downing Street and if rumours are to be believed, will be leaving Parliament to take up a "foreign envoy" position (so he can still travel First Class, no doubt). At the end of his tenure, it is probably a good idea to reflect on his many achievements while in office:
  • 900,000 civilians killed in a non-UN sanctioned war in Iraq.
  • spiralling juvenile crime, fuelled by ASBO "badges of honour" (an oxymoronic term).
  • devaluing of the peerage system, so that anyone with a bit of loose change for the Labour coffers (OK, several thousands) can nab themselves a gong.
  • Interesting aside: my first realisation of things were amiss with the Honours system was when Alex Ferguson of Manchester United became Sir Alex Ferguson immediately before or after (I forget which) appearing on a Labour party Election broadcast.
  • Sleaze, scandal and cover-ups ranging from philandering Cabinet ministers (fair enough really), children of Cabinet ministers being sent to selective schools (a bit hypocritical) and the "sexing up" of the WMD document & its fallout.
  • A truly classless society, as epitomised by this nugget.

Will Brown do a better job? He certainly lacks the weaselly demeanour, which can only help his profile however a hard shift to the left may not be in his best interests. The recent defection of some MP from the Tories to Labour will make him feel confident; he would be wise not replace that with complacency.

Here's hoping for some improvement...

29 May 2007

Five of the best looking blokes on the planet

While browsing around FaceBook, I noticed that one of my friends had added a post about his celebrity look-alikes. Always eager to try out something new, I followed the link and uploaded a picture taken at the Roskilde Rock Festival that we were at last year. At the time that the picture was taken, I had not showered or shaved for more than a couple of days, so to say I looked a grot is a bit of an understatement.

After a couple of minutes, my results came through and I was slightly suprised by the results (to say the least). My results are below...

Robbie Coltrane and Peter Jackson I can sort of see, but Kofi Annan????!!!! Obviously the tan after 6 months on the road was better than I thought. I'm quite happy about Patrick Swayze and Michael Douglas though :)

22 May 2007

We're off!

After getting home tonight, I found an envelope from the FA. After ripping it open, I found it contained the expected tickets to England's game against Brazil. The picture on the right shows where we will be sitting; although it's right at the back, it's the very first of the rows and apparently all seats have great views. I think I will be taking the camera along.
It's unfortunate that it will not be the first official game of the new Wembley; that distinction was taken by the FA cup final last week. At least if it was the England/Brazil, it would not have been quite so boring a match. There is nothing less interesting to watch than two teams working to cancel each other out on the pitch.
I think most neutrals were hoping for a Man U win, I however was quite happy that Chelsea won it. There is something appropriate that the FA cup is held for the first time in the new Wembley by the English captain. But as one of the guys at work said, I am a bit of a sentimentalist.

10 May 2007

Who can I abuse now?

Well, after much procrastinating our wonderful Prime Minister has thrown in the towel and is going to leave office in June. Obviously this is not too soon for the country as it is being dragged further and further down by his vain-glorious policies designed to leave a "legacy". One of the most expensive has been the imposition of a major IT programme that is not only is way over budget, but is also failing to meet the key targets. Not too great a legacy...

But what about peace in Northern Ireland? I'm sorry but if a group of power-mad Islamic terrorists had not started trying to pick fights with the US, there would likely be no power-sharing, NORAID will still provide funding to the republican terrorists and sectarian killings would likely be happening. Blair thinking that he has a special touch and can apply that to bring peace to the Middle East is just delusional.

Maybe if he hadn't been so quick to follow GW down the road to war could he have been taken seriously...

04 May 2007

We're still going anyway...

After my last rant about the FA only allowing the sale of tickets to the England-Brazil game to paid-up members, today they started the sale to the general public. Preceeding this sale, there was a ballot to members of the England fan club, which we entered. Unlike our last attempt at a football ballot, we were actually successful.

Heather and I had a quick discussion about how much to spend and came to the agreement that we should go for the best available. By the time I had got to the front of the queue on the ticketing website, the £60 ones were all taken and the most expensive available were £50. Two tickets were duly bought and we got our allocated seats.

1 June, 8pm kick off - we will be there!

20 April 2007

They cannot be serious...

Today at midday the fans-only sale for the England's defeat against Brazil at the new (and late) Wembley went on sale. This sale was fully paid up members of the England fan club, of which I am one. At midday, the reminder went of and I immediately went to the ticketing portal and joined the queue. It said I had 1 hour to wait, giving me time to duck out to lunch.

I get back and I have a 5 minute wait. Excellent news. The time ticked by slowly (I didn't want to miss my window of opportunity so I was doing nothing else) and eventually the page loads. I punch in my member details (number and password) and specify that I want 2 tickets. The first field is populated with my name, the second requires the England fan number of the other person. Naturally, this is going to be Heather. After trying a couple of times to skip past this screen, I give and call Heather for her details, which are duly obtained.

This number is keyed in and I hit the "Submit" button. I immediately receive the message "This person is not a paying of the England Fan club". WTF?!! It's fair enough to get fans to be free members in order to get tickets, but to force everyone to be a paid up member in order to buy their tickets is just greedy. After shelling out for the tickets and membership, that would have cost around £100 per person.

I am sorry but in their current form England are not worth that amount. My pessimism about their qualification chances I have already mentioned, but even if we were to qualify, the football played will be boring and we will struggle to win anything, scratching out 1-0 wins.

Although Sven McClaren is receiving all the flak at the moment, it has to be said that some players do not play to their best when playing for England: Lampard, Rooney, Carrick, either of the Nevilles. Drop them from the first team and make them earn their spot again. Some of them (especially Rooney) seem content to rest on their laurels, so the shock my change their attitude and if it doesn't then they don't deserve to wear the 3 Lions.

Still, with McClaren's lack of balls, that's not going to happen any time soon.

07 February 2007

Have they thought about the root cause?

It appears that someone has a grudge against Government bodies responsible for the various aspects of car ownership in the UK. Targets have included the DVLA and the mob managing Ken Livingstone's pride: the Congestion Charge. The obvious culprit for this mentioned by the press is a disgruntled motorist (d'uh), however who is to say that it is one person? I propose that it may in fact it may be a newly-formed militant wing of the RAC.

Joking aside, the Government must look at themselves to a certain degree. While I don't condone violence, the fact is that the under the incumbent mob, the costs associated with motoring have risen manyfold, leaving more and more people out of pocket. The Government (local and national) have attempted to spin the fact that they are forcing a green agenda, but the facts do not back this up. The Congestion Charge gives Livingstone more money to spend on Cuban "fact finding missions" and duty on fuel and licence fees gives Brown more to pay for a greater number of administrators in the NHS.

As long as the government continues to penalise those that are easy targets, more and more people will become disgruntled. A change of Government is long overdue...

(not that things will probably change much)

05 February 2007

Damn English Thugs

Yet another major football hoolganism incident happened in continental Europe. In this case, an Italian policeman was murdered by a bunch thugs who had thrown a homemade inciderary device, which subsequently exploded in his face.

This sadly is not an isolated case, the English fans in Germany during the World Cup 2006 were among the best behaved of the fans. There were a couple of incidents that warranted few arrests, but by and large the English fans were well behaved. Not least part of the reason for this was that the German police had a really great policy of non-intervention unless necessary. When I was at the England-Sweden game in the fan enclosure, a cretinous English fan thought it would be clever to set fire to a German flag in front some riot police. The self-policing of the English fans soon ensured that the flag was soon put out (repeated chants of "You are a wanker" soon embarrassed him).

However despite the years of relatively good behaviour, there is still the perception of England fans being the troublemakers abroad. Repeatedly, the England team is threatened with expulsion from tournaments due to a small percentage of people getting drunk and causing problems. Some while ago (just after Euro 2004 to be precise) I posted on Usenet a counter-argument about English football hooligans which I have reproduced below
  • The largest incident of hooliganism in the tournament so far has between Germany and Holland fans.
  • Portuguese police have praised the English fans behaviour in recent weeks.
  • The "rioting" in the first week was well away from any games being played by England, and has been attributed to excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Any fan deported from Portugal will be subject to a ban ranging from 2 to 5 years (IIRC). This has already been used in this tournament

Some other hooliganism facts:

  • English fans have not instigated a major hooliganism incident for 5/6 years, both at club and national level
  • During the 1998 World Cup a French policeman nearly died after being badly beaten by German fans.
  • In 2000 two Leeds United supporters were stabbed to death by followers of the Turkish club Galatasaray
  • Italy's ultras (their organised hooligans) are said to view the English drunkenness with disdain because it impairs the ability to fight.
  • In 2000, Den Bosch (Holland) supporters rioting for three days after a match was called off after a fan was shot
  • In 1998, about 26,000 Manchester United fans travelled to Holland and there were just 28 arrests, mostly just for

Of course, I don't have answer for all these problems, but consistency of treatment would be a good start.

03 February 2007

Come on, England! x 2

Today is the start of the Six Nations tournament, and it's the first time that a certain England player who has not had an international start since 2003 will be having a run-out. Having been ravaged by injuries for so long, some are concerned that throwing Wilkinson straight into the bear-pit exposes him to unnecessary risks both to him as an individual and the team due to his lack of match practice.

Wilkinson however is the consummate professional and as long as Scotland do not go out to deliberately injure him, I believe he will be more than capable of holding up his end of the bargain. If anything the risks come from him throwing himself into the game with the same level as gusto and reinjuring himself rather than being a liability on the pitch.

The England Rugby squad do have a number of World Cup veterans who have not seen much International game time since 2003. The one I most delighted to see is the return of Jason Robinson. He scored a fantastic try in the World Cup final, and has an amazing ability to jink his way around a defensive line. Bringing him out of International retirement is great for us in the short-term, but we need to look to the future.

And on Wednesday, the England football play a friendly at Old Trafford against Spain. Hmm, an underperforming team playing against an underperforming team. I am a paid-up member of the England Fan Club, and to be frank I am not entirely convinced that I am getting value for money. There are players in the England squad that I have the utmost respect for, but England are constantly coming up short. As I said earlier, I do not believe that we are likely to qualify for the Europe, although if we do, it will be a struggle. We have (and have had for a long time) a problem with at the management level. Sven was risk averse to the detriment of the England game, and when he did take risks it was illogical ones such as taking Walcott, rather than adopting aggressive formations. If he seriously believed that a 4-5-1 formation was going to get England through to the finals of the World Cup, then he was misguided at best.

Despite my pessimism, I would have gone and seen the game if it was either a) not at Old Trafford or b) not on a Wednesday night. As it is, I am going to have to take my England regalia to work and find a pub showing it before kick off. And Wednesday is meant to be a gym night...

The players that I have the most respect for are:
  • Paul Robinson: the stick he got after the Croatia game from the gutter press was a disgrace. The team are responsible for the result - not one man.
  • Jamie Carragher: should be the first-choice right-back for both club and country.
  • Steve Gerrard: this guy is the best midfielder in England bar none, but carries himself off the pitch with humility.
  • Owen Hargreaves: I am not a bandwaggon jumper - I voted for SG as the fan's player of 2006 - however, Owen Hargreaves gained my respect a long time ago for no other reason than the abuse that was levelled at him by "fans" and he continued to put on the England shirt and play the game.

08 January 2007

TFL = Too Flaming Lazy

Grrr... Why is something so intrisically simple so difficult?

I have switched to using my Oyster card for my general rail travel to stop having to carry around paper tickets, which consequently get jammed. Today I decided to renew and went online - oops forgot my password and locked out my account. No problem I thought, I will go to the Cannon Street Underground and get it renewed there. There were about half a dozen people queuing at the machine, so it wasn't too bad.

Unfortunately, they decided to turn off the only Oyster top-up machine at the station, just as I was about to get there. I wandered over to the office where I expected someone to be serving, no joy. Obviously, 5:30pm is tea-break time for both TFL staff and machines (hopefully, the actual trains don't cotton on to this, or we will be screwed).

I wandered back up to the Cannon Street BR station and looked in the ticket office. There was another queue, but they had Oyster leaflets and posters scattered around. Thinking I had a chance of renewing, I joined the end of the queue. No flaming chance, they "don't do them anymore".

There is no reason for any BR station sitting within Zones 1 to 5 to not have facilities to top up Oyster cards. Ken Livingstone should bloody stay in Cuba, rather than try to replicate their infrastructure over here.

On more positive news, over 3 million people turned off the latest Celebrity Big Brother. Hopefully, there is a glimmer of light ahead.

07 January 2007

Winter's Night in Blackheath

A few weeks ago, Heather and I were crossing the common and saw this picture which we thought was well worth taking. After getting home, I dug out my camera tripod and went and took the snap. Hopefully, the snow promised in the next week or so will come - I reckon a snow-covered picture of the church would make quite a good Christmas card for everyone.

One thing I have been killing time with is to try and research my family tree. Heather had bought me a book on family history research for Christmas (I had asked for it), and it's really useful that so many indices exist online with cheap or even free access. Unfortunately, they are mostly English (which isn't really a bad thing) or American. A bit of a problem for me, as I am such a mongrel with Jamaican, Irish and French ancestory. Also, there is a lot of inconsistency accross an index - one entry in a birth register will have the mother's maiden name listed whereas one won't. Coupled to this is that sometimes it is impossible to find an entry, it makes looking for a needle in a haystack easy.

I think this will not be an easy task...

05 January 2007

Drugs are bad!

Heather and I were visiting a friend who publishes a free paper aimed at the clubbing crowd and got in to an interesting chat about illegal drugs. I have never touched an illegal drug in my life, I have been offered but have refused everytime out of choice. That is not to say I have not been wasted a lot, I just do that with alcohol. :)

I am however realistic. People choose to do drugs, whether to party harder, to escape the futility of their existence or whatever. Just as prohibition in the US during the 30s failed to work, so is drug control not working. I am very much in favour of legalising soft drugs.

Current TV advertising warns about the increasingly stronger strains of cannabis hitting the streets and how it should be avoided. Here's an alternative suggestion: legalise it and regulate how strong it can be, just like alcohol. By doing that, dealers will no longer be the preferred means of obtaining, as it would still be an offence to supply cannabis without a licence. This also means that dealers will no longer be able to lace cannabis with heroin to get smokers addicted.

Ecstacy could be sold over the counter by pharmacies, with a limit of one per person per week or something. By making them legal, the government can regulate their contents and prevent rat poison and all manner of junk being put into them. The result is less risk to clubbers from taking a spiked pill.

When legalising these drugs, it also gives the government opportunity to tax them, money that is currently spent but not seen by the government. This money could be injected back into the Health system, and given the volume of drugs consumed it should amount to a sizable fortune. Better this than spending money on policing something that is becoming ever more difficult with the the constantly limited resources the police have.

While they're at it, they should legalise the oldest profession in the world. The five girls killed before Christmas could have been protected if they weren't having to ply their trade on the streets. A properly regulated setup would also help to stem the flow of human trafficking - proper proof would be required from the "job applicant" that they are doing it:
  1. of their own free will
  2. have a right to work in the UK
  3. are willing to undergo six monthly checkups to check for STDs, etc.
May be I am too liberal to be conservative. Personally, I just like to think I am good at seeing money-making opportunities for governments. Beats Brown's "environment taxes" that will not achieve any improvements.