Thursday, 9 June 2011

General Update June 2011

Wow, it is hard to believe that it's been a year since I last blogged. Really not good is it? Suppose I should really give an update on where things are at.

Thankfully, I am still in work - well I say thankfully, do not ask me at 6:40 in the morning when I am dragging my body to the station for the morning commute! The job is okay, but it is really the people that make it worth while.

The commute is getting to me though. Two hours each way door to door. So, the only solution is to relocate a little closer. I am therefore, finally, starting to look for a pad in Manchesterford. I will still have an hour commute but I think that will be more managable than the present one. My search officially starts on Saturday when I have a few viewings. More likely than not, I will be making the decision on the day.

Not much happening at the moment on the writing front (Damn you, Angry Birds!!!). I did have a DW short story signed off recently and that is just waiting e-publication. Some people will love it. Fandom will hate it! My work is done. I will give a shout out when more details about publication is known.

I will also have two - yes you read that right - articles published in Paul Castle's latest book Shooty Dog Thing: 2th and Claw. Really looking forward to the release of the book and will let you all know when it is available for order.

I promise to try and get back into the habit of updating this blog on a more frequent basis.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

General Rules

There is always something nice about the day when you leave the flat with the sun shining and return to find it doing the same.

After a tad disappointing Bank Holiday weekend, this week is turning out to be rather fine indeed on the weather front. The sun is shining, there is a nice refreshing breeze blowing, and there is no hint of any of that pesky rain to get in the way.

The sun is very much a feel good factor of life. Now, I know that not everyone likes hot weather and that it is easier to warm up rather than cool down. I am personally like Goldilocks when it comes to heat – neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right.

I am not sure why the right sort of sun and the right level of heat as a beneficial effect on the psyche. I am sure that some Red Brick University researcher has conducted a study into why this is the case, although I am not really bothered enough to actually do research into it to find out exactly why it is the case.

I am happy to take it to be “one of those things”, not unlike the sun always rising in the morning and other rules of life. There is no empirical evidence that dictates that the sun will rise tomorrow. It is possible, although highly improbably, that it might not. But still we work on the assumption that it will, we still accept the General Rule that it will rise. Likewise, I will work on the assumption that the General Rule is that sun and heat is good, irrespective of whether this is the case or not.

This morning was rather unique on the commute to work since the sun was rather bright and I wanted to read on the train. Therefore, at 7:30 am I was at the station (Oxford Road to be precise fact-fans) wearing sun glasses! There was something decedent about it; something not quite right for the time of day. However, it was also rather fitting.

The main reason for this is because of what I was reading that morning on the train – Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. It was fitting because the lead character and the iconic image of her wearing her dark sun glasses. It seemed almost perfect to be reading about her whilst wearing my own.

It was also a practical thing as well, since I was able to read without squinting because of sun in my eyes. There is nothing worse than trying to read when you cannot see.

The decadence was probably taken a bit too far by wearing the sun glasses whilst on the Metro to the office. However, that is the peril of prescription glasses. I just need them to see and I am lazy enough not to want to change them before I am safely in the confines of work.

In fact, even now as I write this on the return journey I am back to wearing them again. The glare on the screen is just bearable but what the hell, it is summer and the situation is not entirely unwarranted.

The actual read itself is rather good. I am, thanks to the film, already familiar to the story, and so there have been no surprises with the read itself. However, the thing that is always missing from any cinematic recreation of a book is the description, the way that the author brings to life the world they are creating. This is something that Capote seems to be very good at. The world he writes about, the people who tell the story, seem real.

It is probably easier to visualise because I have already seen the film. After all, I already have a visual reference to place the characters in. Audrey Hepburn is my Holly in my mind’s eye, George Peppard is my Narrator.

However, these are just short hands for me and it probably helps that Hepburn fits the Holly of the book well.

I am about two thirds of the way through the story already, and should have finished it by the end of tomorrow morning. There are some other short stories in the volume that I have and they will probably be the focus of my reading at the beginning next week. It will be interesting to see how I react to Truman’s story telling without the obvious cinematic references already available to me.

It is probably true what people say, it probably is a General Rule, that you should always read the book before watching the film.

Life seems so full of them because realised another General Rule today as well – it is never too early to wear sun glasses!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

An eclectic read

One thing struck me this morning whilst I was choosing what my commute book was going to be this week, and that was how random and broad my recent choices have been.

Whilst they have all been fiction in basis (yes I know that I need to really make a start of the rack of Nietzsche books that sit on my bookshelf), the actually type of book have varied considerably.

Three weeks ago, my book of choice was Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile by Gyles Brandreth. The latest addition, and a worthy one at that, to the Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries series deals with the adventures of Mr Wilde – from London, to America, to Paris – and the misfortunes that befall a celebrated French theatre company.

Whilst the specific events are very much fictional, the settings are indeed very factual in basis. The one thing that the author promises is that on any particular date Oscar Wilde was in the location that the book says that he was – even if the reason for him being there is not exactly the same.

It is obvious that the author knows his stuff when it comes to Wilde and the dialogue that you read feels perfect for what we know of him – in fact, I tend to read any Wilde dialogue as if it was being spoken by Stephen Fry since for me his performance in the film was the portrayal of the great man.

The plot is also interesting; the clues are all there if you can piece them together. Unlike many of the “period novels” of the early twentieth century there is none of the bringing people and facts in at the last moment to explain what has happened. Whether you can unravel the pieces, however, is a different matter entirely.

Two weeks ago, you would have found me reading The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Hammett is famous, and quite rightly, for The Maltese Falcon and the adventures of Sam Spade (which is a must read for everyone who enjoys a good detective novel with twists and turns galore).

However, it was for the lead characters that I picked up The Thin Man. I have always been a great fan of the movie comedy Murder by Death which features the five preeminent detectives of the age. One of these is Dick Charleston and his wife Dora (played wonderfully by David Niven and Maggie Smith). Now, I had had exposure to all the other detectives in the film – Hercule Peroit, Jayne Marple, Charlie Chan, and Sam Spade – but I had never read anything featuring Nick and Nora Charles who the Charleston’s are based on. This was my chance.

The book itself is a decent read. It is not The Maltese Falcon, although it is probably unfair to compare the two since Falcon concerns one of the most iconic private detectives (the other being Philip Marlowe). However, it does stand up in its own right as a piece of fiction. The characters feel right and you do get the sense that you know them. The setting, New York City during the 20’s, is well realised.

My one problem with the story, which is in contrast with the previous weeks fair, is that the ended seemed to suffer from the Nick Charles introducing information the reader had not already been aware. However this did seem to work since, as Nick tells Nora, his job is to advance a theory, a 'what might have happened', which fits the facts and it is up to the prosecutors to prove that theory. Keeping this in mind you are always able to forgive and forget that not all the pieces where there to be spotted before the denouncement.

Last week was a complete change of pace. The detective novel strand that the previous two weeks had given was replaced with The Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. Set in an alternate reality where Germany and Japan won the Second World War, this book is regarded as being one of Dick’s greatest pieces of Science Fiction – praise that I believe is well deserved for several reasons.

Firstly, the world in which the story is set is well realised. There is nothing in our sphere of reference for what a World divided by Germany and Japan would be like, let alone an America divided between the two powers (with a demilitarised buffer zone separating them). There is nothing which we can refer to outside of the book to give us a point of reference, something that we can go”yes, that is what it would be like”. Dick manages create a realistic world with relative ease. There are no long detailed descriptions and presentations of the world. Yes, there is some info dumping but that is to be expected. However, it does not feel forced. It comes within a context. It is realistically delivered.

Secondly, there are the characters. There is a fairly large cast of players considering the size of the book but they do not feel like cardboard cut outs. Through the use of inner dialogue, giving the reader an insight into what they think and why, what could have easily have been two dimensional characters feel more rounded, more real. No character feels rushed and you grow quickly to care about them and the situations that they find themselves in.

Lastly, there is the story itself. Dick, like with a lot of his work, is using the medium of Science Fiction to actually say something about the present and not relying on the “toolbox” of Science Fiction of the time. This story is not about the future but about the concept of what is reality, is it what we see or is it something beyond our senses. It is refreshing to read something that tries to say something on an issue so profound, as opposed to a nice narrative story or a hard edge academic tome.

It is this last aspect that makes the read even more rewarding. The story, if it had been told without this angle, would have been lacking. It would have been a story where you would get to the end of it and think “that was nice”. Instead, you get to the end of The Man in the High Castle and you think. It provokes more of a reaction from you rather than just a “that is nice” one.

And now we get to my choice of reading material this week. We have had the detective novels. We have had Science Fiction of a high calibre. This week we have a romantic adventure concerning Miss H Golightly, Travelling. My reading material this week is Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.

I have always loved the film and now it is time to enjoy the source material, and from what I have already read this morning I think I am going to enjoy the ride.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The view from the commute

So, this is a new type of update for me.

Yesterday, I indulged in a new purchase in the form of a Netbook for use on the train whilst travelling to and from work. The principle behind the purchase is simple. I presently have about two hours on the commute where I have the ability to write. The Netbook is a tool by which I can do this without the need to then copy it up from hard copy.

Hence this update.

Some days it will be updates to the blog which I can later load onto here. Sometimes it will be working on some prose work - whether fiction or non-fiction.

Blog-wise, what can you expect from me? Well, it will probably be just random stuff rather than with any particular purpose in mind. It might be on TV, on what I have been reading during the mornings, on current events, or just life in general.

Now, I am not promising regular updates. Hopefully they will be more regular than what I have done to date, cos let's face it they have not been that regular so face.

So, hang onto your hats cos it could well be a bumpy ride.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The 55% Lock

There is a lot of chatter about the proposed 55% lock on the dissolution of Parliament and the argument that it is a bad idea.

Most of the chatter seems to be around that Parliament cannot kick out a government. This is incorrect.

The present situation is that a sitting PM, without reference to Parliament, can dissolve Parliament and start an election. This allows the PM to call an election when it suits their party.

Under the new proposals, this power is being taken away from the PM. In future, the term of Parliament will be fixed at 5 years unless 55% of MP's vote for it's dissolution. This means that the next General Election will be fixed for May 2015, unless 55% of MP's vote for the dissolution of Parliament before that date.

It is important to note that this change is only concerned with the dissolution of Parliament. It is not concerned with a vote of no confidence in the government. This remains at 50% plus one MP.

In the past, a vote of no confidence usually resulted in Parliament being dissolved. This will no longer being automatic.

Going forward, if a government loses a vote of confidence then it would be up to the opposition parties to try and form a government in it's own right. If it cannot do so, then Parliament would be dissolved by another vote of Parliament.

Let's look at the present make up of Parliament and how the new rules would come into play.

Presently, the make up is CON 307, LAB 258,LD 57, OTHERS 28 (apologies to others for lumping them as one) - Thirsk and Malton as been included and awarded to CON who won the seat last time.

This gives CON 47% of MP's, LAB 40%, LD 9%, and OTHERS 4%.

Now, under the new rules, a minority Tory government cannot dissolve Parliament just because the Polls are favourable to them. Dissolution would only come about if 8% of opposition MP's joined with the government for dissolution.

If a minority Tory government was to lose a vote of no confidence then it would be up to the Opposition parties to try to form an alternative government. It is only if they could not that Parliament would vote for dissolution.

This is the difference that the 55% lock makes. Under the present rules, a minority Tory government could call an Election when it was beneficial without any recourse to Parliament, which does not presently have any right to call for the dissolution of Parliament.

It is also worth pointing out that there are arguments to have a higher lock. The Scottish Parliament has a 60% lock on dissolution.

The proposed change is not a fix or a stitch up, as is being alleged. It is a honest attempt to remove some power from the sitting PM and to pass that power to Parliament.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Why the Con-Lib Dem Coalition will be good for the United Kingdom.

The answer to this is simple - stability.

We live in fragile times economically and whilst the depression seems to be over the recovery is not secured. For this reason, a stable government is need. A government that can secure a working majority in the House of Commons and be able to put forward a legislative programme which it can get passed.

Usually, we have one party with an overall majority in the Commons. This means a one party government and, barring internal splits, this is the most stable of governments.

Where there is not an overall majority, as is the situation after the recent election, then a coalition that can command an overall majority is the next best option. The question, in relation to stability, is one of maths with the more stable coalition being the one with the least number of parties.

On the back of the 2010 General Election, a Con-LD coalition gives an overall majority where as a Lab-LD coalition would not and therefore would need additional parties to get the majority needed. The more parties the less stable any coalition.

A lot of play as been made about the issue of which parties are "natural allies". This is a bit of a nonsense issue since no political party, when we are talking on partisan terms, are "natural allies".

The very nature of the Liberal Democratic party, the principles upon which it is founded, is one which can find itself close to both the positions of Labour and the Conservative parties - but in different aspects. There is an argument that economically the Liberal Democrats, on a broad brush basis, are closer to the Conservatives and that socially they are closer to Labour. This is a very fast and loose view since there will always be specific policies where there are harsh demarcation.

So, can the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats form a working coalition. The answer, in my opinion, is that yes they can.

For a coalition to work, there must be a sense of collective responsibility - with both parties working together in Cabinet to achieve a shared legislative programme. Where collective responsibility exists coalitions can function properly.

To reach the shared legislative programme there must be compromise where agreement does not exist already. The talks that have been going on since Friday as been working towards this - to agree the basis for the legislative programme, the principles for taking government forward, If what were have been hearing from the talks over the last few days then it would seem that this as now been achieved.

As always, the devil will be in the detail and if the final deal is approved tonight by both parties then we should hopefully have them soon.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A New Politics

The election is over and the people have elected their representatives. However, unlike the usual process the make up of the MP's returned to the House of Commons does not form an overall majority for any one single party, and we find ourselves within the sphere of a Hung Parliament or, using the less pejorative term, a Balanced Parliament.

The reaction to the events which have occurred after the results were announced however have not be positive. I think that this is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the political process in the country.

The first misconception is that people are voting for a government when they vote. This is not the basis of the UK political system. The way our system is formed is on the basis of voting for someone to represent them in the Commons, someone to fight for the constituency that they are elected to represented and to try to achieve the manifesto that they are elected on.

The government is formed once the individual constituencies have had their say. If there are sufficient MP's of the same party to form an overall majority then they will form a government.

However, the electorate does not directly vote for a government. They do not vote for the Prime Minister. The UK system is a parliamentary and not a presidential system, like in America.

The new territory for the present generation is that there is not an overall majority of MP's for any one party, so the automatic formation of a government is not possible as is the usual case.

Now is the time for a new politics. A politics based on principle and national interest. A politics based on consensus, compromise, and agreement.

This is a politics which is not the usual for us. We are used to confrontation rather than co-operation, argument rather than agreement.

The needs of the country at the moment, in light of the uncertain economic situation which faces us, is for a stable government - a government that can command a majority within the House of Commons. This will only be achieved through political parties co-operating and compromising, reaching a consensus on priority of policy and principles.

The is no denying that the Conservatives have the strongest mandate and the right to try and form this government. It is only right that they have reached out to the Liberal Democrats to try and form this government. A government comprised of two parties will be stronger and more stable than a government of many parties (which is what the "rainbow" alliance that would be needed for the Labour party to form a government).

All parties fight for their manifesto commitments in a election, party politics is the name of the game. However, without the overall majority there will need to be some compromises. No party can hope to full achieve their manifesto pledges, no party can hope to implement their manifesto as if they had an overall majority.

For a government to be formed there will need to be compromise by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on their manifesto pledges.

Now is not the time for party politics. Now is the time for a government in the national interest.

Now is the time for a new politics, a politics based on co-operation and consensus, based on agreement and not argument, based on compromise and not confrontation.