16 Dec 2009

a change of climate

9 Lessons and Carols for the Godless, Robin Ince's annual atheistic shindig at the Bloomsbury Theatre, demonstrated last night (just in case there is any lingering any doubt about the matter) that themed comedy doesn't really work.

The brief for the comics *was* a hard one: tell us some jokes about science; poke fun at religion, but DON'T be rude; be funny and only Dara O Briain really managed it, although respect to Josie Long who bravely snuck an anti Dawkins joke into an otherwise clumsy routine ("If this doesn't work I don't want any of you blogging about it, OK?" Oops.)

Q: What do you call themed comedy that is actually funny?
A: Comedy

The unexpected fall guy for the evening was Johnny Ball, erstwhile star of 1970s kids' TV and father of Zoë. He died on his backside out there with "get off!" lights flashing in his eyes, hisses of "Stop" clearly audible from the wings, and slow hand-claps, whistles and boos from a riled audience.

His unforgivable crime? An agonisingly childish routine with arrows drawn on a piece of cardboard "Now it points left, but now it points right - oh no! Left again, and now its pointing up!" A trick with which I have delighted four year olds at three different birthday parties. For that he would have deserved 'the treatment' but no, the audience sat dutifully silent, no doubt lost in the mist of nostalgia.

What did trigger the audience's protest - eventually - was a sustained AGW-denial riff, that started with a childish song, followed by a ten minute rant descending to a incoherent ramble. Doubting that the tiny proportions of CO2 in the atmosphere can cause global warming at all, and doubting still more that the tiny amount of CO2 from man-made emissions makes any difference Ball was on dangerous territory: the audience had signed up for an attack on the old religions, not the new one and feet shuffled, and people murmured.

Mrs Botogol fell asleep.

The crunch came when Johnny rather clumsily invoked the discredited CRU scientists at UEA to his cause. A cry of "shame" from the audience broke the dam, the boos started and a perplexed and shaken-looking Ball was finally forced from the stage.

"We weren't telling him to get to get off because of what he was saying", reassured the hapless Ince when he finally regained control of the stage, but because he went 13 minutes over his time"

Yeah, Robin, that might have been why *you* were booing.

Ball lost his skirmish last night - but significantly he was heard out for a full 12 minutes before a counter-attack came. Since the UEA fiasco broke two weeks ago the climate of the debate at least has changed, AGW deniers have gained much heart, and they are on the front foot now.

I think that in the months to come we're going to see more and more dissent like Ball's brave, but misguided, speech last night.

13 Dec 2009

the sound of guffaws

Off to watch the Varsity match last week I searched everywhere for some old college regalia.

rugby_match by Jim Grady

My old rugby shirt? Nope: borrowed by a member of the 3rd XV for the infamous '85 tour of Wales and never seen again.  College scarf? cufflinks? umbrella?. all lost.  I gave up and then I suddenly realised I still have my gown!

It's kept in the dressing up box; it's commonly known as the Harry Potter Outfit.

"Don't be silly", I told myself a few minutes later, inspecting my crumpled appearance in the mirror: "you can't possibly go to Varsity match in your gown"

I took it off but impetuously stuffed it into my rucksack anyway (well, you never know). Then I headed out and followed the sound of guffaws to the stadium. Were we like that when we were students?

The first time I went to Varsity Match I was a student. It was 1982 and 60,000 people were there. We stood in the wooden West Stand and cheered the three members of my college who had made the team.  Nowadays only 30,000 turn out and all the team are from Hughes Hall and St Edmunds  (the undergraduates play in a U21 curtain raiser). Perhaps those things are connected.

This time I was sat in a corporate box and there were eight of us -  with food for 12 as the party from our supplier's other client had failed to pitch. Beef Wellington, a glass and a half (cough) of claret, Bakewell tart and meat pies for tea, and afterwards there was a sea eagle to scare the pigeons!

What's that? Oh yes, Cambridge won.

Walking home, happily, later that evening I found myself alongside a group of girls from my old college. They were wearing their red boat club fleeces and college scarves, and laughing and joking with some rugby players from the college next door.. I felt an insane urge to approach them -  "Hey, I used to go to St John's as well!"

I restrained myself - obviously they wouldn't believe me, and would no doubt take me for some random, drunk and sad, middle-aged wierdo.  If only I had had my cufflinks to prove my bona fides.

And then I remembered my gown...

9 Dec 2009

Rye Christmas

More Rye Yule, really.  There seems to be something, something old, something sinister, something pagan perhaps about the Rye Christmas Parade that stirs the Gods: for each year they send rain. Perhaps they are tipped off by prayers from the Kindly Ones

At the front of the parade strode the town cryer, stern faced under an umbrella, looking quite unlike the familiar, welcoming soul who announces the wedding party to thrilled tourists on a Saturday morning.

Following him: giant puppets of wire and papier-mache glowing with inner light, each accompanied by shadowy black-clad children peering out from rain-sodden hoods, and no little donkeys, oxen nor sheep neither: but bright, ungainly mermaids, centaurs, gryphons, orcs and chimeras,

And then at the heart of the procession: the Rye Drummers , blown in the sea wind, dressed in black and red, faces painted, drums adorned with skull and cross-bones, they hunched into a circle, backs to rain and the crowd, hat brims dripping, in their midst a sweating soloist as, red-faced, black-faced, grim-faced they sounded out the rythms of Saxon Rye when the sea pounded at the land-gate causeway, and the French raided and stole the church bells, when Old Winchelsea stood, still, in Rye Bay.

And it wasn't about the children, either: even as Father Christmas approached, waving and hohohoing from an ersatz american limousine, the Rolf Harris-sound-alike MC, in a gold lame jacket made sure to puncture the spirit of Santa, slurring suggestions of his half-pint too many. Beside me a mother gripped her daughter's hand tightly, a whistle blew and the drums restarted.

Afterwards Mrs Botogol and I retired to the steamed-up Apothocary, its drawers with hand-lettered promises of Hemlock, Foxglove, Monkshood and Laburnum
"Well, they need to sort it out", opined a local shopkeeper, warming his hands on an espresso, "is it supposed to be late night shopping or not? We need to be organised".

8 Dec 2009


Every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo the Duke of Wellington would hold a banquet at Apsley House.

For the first few years the meal was in the 'small' dining room and it was limited to thirty-five or so officers who had actually commanded at the battle. In later years the Duke built the Waterloo Gallery and the guest list became slightly less exclusive and as many as a hundred of the great and good might be invited, the dinner attracting great crowds to the pavement, eager for a glimpse of the great and good - a bit like the big brother house.

Here's a painting of the sumptuous 1836 event

Wellington was son of the Earl of Mornington and brother of the Governor General of India. He was nothing if not an establishment figure and his annual dinner was a triumph of the values of tradition privilege and patronage

Even while Wellington was fighting the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812 the Grande Armee was marching on Moscow in the ill fated Russian campaign. The French army, composed of conscripts, peasants, foreigners lived through the most unimaginable conditions. Men froze in their boots standing in the cold, cut meat from their horses and stole clothes from their prisoners' backs. Only 50,000 men came home from Russia and Sergeant Bourgorgne recounted in his memoirs that whenever veterans met, years after, their talk always turned to Moscow, and Borodino, and the crossing of the Berezina.

French veterans were not recognised until 1857; they did not have banquets in Apsley house.

Which type of reunion would you be proudest to attend?

2 Dec 2009

suspiciously simple

Older daughter has brought home some recruitment brochures

Day 85/365: We Love Diversity by kugel

I am looking at a typical cover - it is for an international Fortune 500 company and it depicts a 50th floor meeting room with floor-to-ceiling windows affording a panoramic view over a blurry city.

On the table sits a laptop and a single sheet of paper: the laptop is showing a colourful, but suspiciously simple-looking, graph. Standing over it is a tall, good looking, even-toothed African American man (yes, somehow you can tell he his American) who is wearing a tie. He smiles as he points out something to a young, beautiful, smartly dressed, even-toothed, Asian-American girl seated at the table. She is beaming at him

Questions for discussion:
  • is this picture in any way dishonest? if so what justification could you offer for this?
  • should recruitment brochures portray a firm as it is, or as it would like to be?
  • can you name any dimension of human diversity that firms might aspire to, other than employing different coloured Americans?
  • in a typical Fortune 500 firm, which department do you imagine is the least diverse in terms of race and sex
    - sales
    - engineering
    - information technology
    - financial
    - the recruitment department