Saturday, 28 April 2012

Talent? Where?

Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched a few snippets of "The Voice".  The idea is that this is another talent show, but that people are judged on their voice alone without any consideration of their background or appearance.

The concept sounds good.  Interesting at least. But every snippet I saw was awful.  Once the first selection of contestants had been made the second round was a sing off.  The idea being that contestants sing the same song, in pairs, and try to out-sing each other.  With professionals that could be bad enough, but with a group of people without stage experience whose idea of strong singing is to shout the highest note you can for as long as possible, it descended pretty quickly into a bellow-a-thon.

So, I thought I'd watch the first live show just in case it got better. It didn't.  One performance (by someone called Jazz) was OK, although not really my kind of thing.  The others were shouty, out of tune and in a few cases, completely out of time, too.

Don't get me wrong - I know singing isn't easy.  But everyone who made it through the first two rounds of a singing competition should be able to sing in time, and preferably in tune.  The whole thing was awful, absolutely awful.

But even worse was the group performance given by the coaches at the beginning. It seemed incredibly under-rehearsed, if it'd been rehearsed at all.

Needless to say, I shalln't be putting myself through watching it again.  Shame really, as it could've been so good.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

At The Gym

I've been going to the gym for a few years now.  When I'm there, I tend to zone out and not notice other people.  I never watch other people doing their workout, just as I wouldn't want anyone to stand there and stare at me.  But there are some things which you just can't help noticing.There are loads of posts out there about the annoying guys in the gym who make lots of noise, drop weights, hog all the equipment and things like that, so I shalln't talk about those kind of things.

The other day, I was in the changing room after a swimming lesson, and I noticed a guy using the hairdryer provided.  Except he wasn't drying his hair.  He was using it to dry his feet.  Not something I've seen before - but then again, I'm usually in my own little world, so perhaps it happens all the time and I just haven't noticed.

Everyone has ways of timing the rest period between sets.  Personally, I just take a drink, stare into space and go for another set when I feel rested.  But I've noticed some people pace out their rest period.  One rest period equals one lap of the gym, walked along the same route every time.

The gym is the only time when I listen to music truly at random.  Even when I have the music shuffling on my phone, I usually have the phone out of my pocket and skip to a track I want to listen to.  So I always know what track is coming before it starts. Not so in the gym.  The music depends on which of the staff is at reception, but it's all from Spotify and pretty random.  So when a new track comes on, and I'm resting, my mind tries to guess which track it is from the intro.  Sometimes, you can be utterly convinced of which track it is, only to find that it's another track with a very similar intro.  For instance - "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" by Bon Jovi and "I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett.  More interestingly, how about "Modern Love" by David Bowie and "Red Light Spells Danger" by Billy Ocean. I've mistaken one for the other quite a few times now.

I actually use two different gyms.  There's one near work where I see my PT, and then I go to one near to home over the weekend.  Both have similar machines, but with different numbering scales on the plates.  As far as I can tell, neither scale is either kilos or pounds, and they don't seem to bear any relation to each other.  For instance, the cable machine in Chiswick goes up to 15.  The same machine in Bannatyne's goes up to 75 in units of 5.  And no, it's not as obvious a relationship as you may think...  All very confusing.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Pride is a strange thing.  To have pride in something is to stand by it and say "I'm happy to be part of that".  But to say you don't have pride in something seems to be code for saying that you are ashamed of it.

But for me, I'm "not proud" of pretty much everything in my life.  I'm certainly not ashamed of the colour of my eyes, but I don't have any pride in it either.  I like to believe there is a middle ground where one is neither proud nor ashamed of something.

When I make something I'm happy with, or do a piece of work which I like, then I do have pride in it.  I had a loss of confidence in the middle of a sprint training session last night for instance, and I'm proud of the way I pushed through that and got the session back on-track.  That's something I did, and I can take the credit for making it good.

What I lack is the sense of pride by association.  I am not proud to be British, for instance.  Don't make the mistake of presuming that means I'm ashamed to be British, because I'm not that either.  I'm just British, it's a fact and not something I view as either positive or negative.  Either way, it's certainly not something I had any more control over than the colour of my eyes.

I don't feel any loyalty to my country.  I don't feel any disloyalty or desire to betray my country, but countries are arbitrary inventions.  A country exists because of people long before I were born and wars they fought over where a particular line should be drawn.  Being born on one side of that line or the other is nothing to be proud, or ashamed of.

The notion that everyone should be proud - almost to the point of jingoism - is rife through the media at the moment.  The notion that every member of the armed forces is a valiant hero, fighting to protect the country of which we are all so proud is pushed at us as if it's natural that everyone should think that like.  Whereas the truth is - many of us don't.  I don't wish any harm to our soldiers, but in the absence of conscription, it is job which people have chosen to do, and whilst it's a job which takes courage and training to perform - so is being an airline pilot or a surgeon.  I simply don't hold with the notion that "being British" is somehow better than "being French" or "being Iraqi".  The current fervour for Britishness is starting to resemble a cult, and that's not something I find easy to live with.

There is a fine line between patriotism and racism.  I don't wish to suggest that everyone who is "proud to be British" is a racist, as that is obviously not true - but it's easy to slip from the idea of defending what "we think is right" to slip into a defence of "the British way of life" and that's dangerously close to Empire-building talk.  The truth is that some countries in the world would seek to destroy the British view of the world, but it's also true that a lot of people in this country seek to destroy the other country in return.  Morals, rights and ways of life are all subjective, and whilst there are certain fundamental rights which most people in the world agree on, even that is not as easy as you think.  Think of those people who are happy to condemn a country for having the death penalty still in force, but would then celebrate the murder in prison of a mass-murderer.

The people on the streets of Iran or North Korea don't hate me any more than I hate them.  Governments fight each other with words, and at a certain point that turns into a fight with guns.  But it's ordinary people who pull the trigger and face the bullets.  These days, we mourn the death of every British soldier with a solemn procession through the streets of a small town outside London - yet the same people celebrate the deaths of a member of the opposing army.  They are both men (or women) with families, friends and a life which has ended.  The difference between how many people mark them seems to outweigh the ideological differences of two governments.

I'm not a pacifist, and I accept that war is sometimes the answer.  But we have people who have signed up to fight those wars on our behalf, as do our enemies.  We should mourn death of anyone in a war, on either side, not with an overt display of patriotism, but with a sadness that we the world has grown large and divided enough that the loss of life is necessary to settle an argument over the position of arbitrary lines in the sand.

I can honestly say, that I've written about many things in this blog.  But why do I get the feeling this post is going to get me into trouble more than any other?

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Le monde est plein de fous

"Le monde est plein de fous,
Et qui n'en veut pas voir,
Doit se tenir tout seul,
Et casser son miroir." 
(Thomas Love Peacock,  1831)

Is starting a blog post with a French quotation pretentious?  Now there's a question.  But it's not a question for this posting...  

The world indeed full of fools, and avoiding them is pretty much impossible.  On the tube, in the sports centre, in Waitrose, in the street - the word is full of people who do stupid things without even realising that what they are doing is stupid.

Every Sunday, I have an hour of badminton booked at 9am at the local sports centre in Wapping.  The sports hall has four badminton courts.  The two near the door are in use, and the other two are behind a curtain and the space used for toddlers' football.  So, parents and kids come in through the door and walk around the edge of the badminton court to get over to play football.  Or most do.

Of course, these are toddlers and so as soon as the door is open, they tend to bolt in a straight line for the football and that means straight across the court.

My problem with this isn't with the kids, it's with the parents.  I don't mind too much if my badminton game is occassionally interrupted by a wandering toddler.  Kids are kids, after all.  But I don't really appreciate getting a torrent of abuse from parents like I did today when I simply suggested that three times was fairly often for the same toddler to run into the middle of a game - and I politely pointed out that should I be running backwards for a shot at the time and run into a toddler, then I'm not going to come off as badly as the toddler in that.

The whole thing culminated in my getting so much abuse that I had to go to reception to complain - and which point the father followed me to reception and hurled more abuse at me.

It's true that I just needed to get this out of my system, as it really pissed me off, but it does seem to be quite common these days that parents let their kids run wild and then attempt to absolve themselves of any blame.  I'm not stupid - I know that a five year old doesn't know that they shouldn't run onto the badminton court - that's why I expect the parent to take responsibility and attempt to stop them.. 

I did think I was just getting old and grumpy, but none of my friends would let their kids run amok in a sports hall.  I may have been a little git at times when I was a kid, but my parents wouldn't have let me run wherever I wanted to. 

Of course, it's not just parents who can be stupid.   People who travel up escalators and as soon as they get off the top, stand still looking confused whilst deciding where to walk next whilst everyone behind is thrown into them by the escalator.  People who stand right in the middle of the tube doors on the platform as if they expect that by some magic force, all those people getting off the train can magically walk right through them.

But the fundamental problem is with me - I know that.  Something like the two guys at badminton this morning shouldn't put me off my game; it shouldn't case me to stew on it for most of the day.  But it does, and that's why I had to write this rant to get it out of my system....