Having moved house recently, I have had to find a new gym to frequent. It has been something of a shock to go from the spacious environs of Virgin Active to the slightly less salubrious quarters of the Fitness First situated under the gap between platforms 17 and 18 of Liverpool Street station. One receives similar looks from overburdened commuters of a morning disappearing down into this subterranean netherworld as those seeking out the intra-mural platform for the Hogwarts express.

One of the compensatory features of my new venue is that lots of the exercise machines have their own TV screens. I was very impressed with this at first, as it allows you to control what you watch (since Midsomer Murders is never the most inspirational programming to be cycling along to), and allows people with rubbish eye sight like me to watch the TV without straining and looking like a puffed-out mole on a hamster wheel.

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The other day I was, nostalgically, if a little ill-advisedly, perusing the NME website, when a couple of reviews caught my eye.

Firstly the 1/10 review for Frankmusik’s album, with which I, as an early (only in very relative terms) champion of Mr Frank, took particular umbrage. I suppose he is something of an acquired taste, and did himself few favours with the choice of his 3rd single and what even I will admit is an annoying video starring Holly Valance, but I really don’t think he deserves 1 out of 10; the first 2 singles at least are ace. And frankly, (pun slightly intended), NME criticising anyone for being attention seeking can jog on. (more…)

Last Thursday (3rd September) was the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, a conflict that killed 60 million men, women and children, ravaged the face of much of the world, precipitated the downfall of Europe as the centre of world gravity, and which was, to a large extent, caused by the explosion of competing nationalist fervour throughout the world. To commemorate, I bought myself a jumper in Union Jack colours. (more…)

BandWagonesque

Why is it that, like the proverbial London buses, films seem to come in twos?

There are a whole series of films that came out within a matter of months or even weeks of each other which share oddly similar themes, for example: Dante’s Peak and Volcano [which, incidentally, is graced with the brilliant tag line “The Coast is Toast”]; Deep Impact and Armageddon; Antz and A Bug’s Life; Mission to Mars and Red Planet; The Illusionist and The Prestige; Tombstone and Wyatt Earp; and, one from the old school, Turner & Hooch and K9.

This has to be more than a co-incidence. Whether it is because there is a hot script going round all the studios which gets made by one studio and the others make a similar (but invariably worse) movie, not wanting to miss out, or because they get wind of a rival’s big project, I can’t believe that all these films with similar plots and/or premises just happen to come out in the same year.

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My mother tells a funny story about a linguistic mix-up.

A couple she knows were going skiing with some friends and taking their daughter along with her boyfriend. The day before they left, the daughter broke up with the unfortunate chap, but since the holiday had been paid for in its entirety, he came along anyway. Having never skied before, and being on holiday with his now-ex-girlfriend and her parents, he was understandably looking glum while nursing a pint in the bar one evening when one of the family friends came over and commiserated, saying how miserable it must be for him. “Oh well,” he replied, “déjà vu…” (more…)

Meanwhile there have been worrying developments in the Premier League close season.

The fragile truce between Manchester United and Chelsea enshrined in the 2005 “Mikel Accords”, whereby Chelsea were limited to an equivalent of 3 Ballacks to every 5 of United Rooneys, looks to have crumbled, leading to a headlong arms race.

Like a demented Wilkinson Sword and Gillette adding more and more pointless extra blades, Chelsea and United have been acquiring offensive weapons with reckless abandon. Word has reached this reporter that United plan to play 10 strikers next term, with Christiano Ronaldo as a rush goalie. (more…)

Max Hastings, in last Sunday’s Sunday Times, reviewed a book by Cambridge historian Ben Wilson, What Price Liberty. I should say first of all that I have not read the book, although, after reading Mr Hastings’ review I have added it to my to-read list, and it is something in the review itself which I want to address.

 According to the review, the book tackles the thorny issue of the balance between liberty and security, and how the twin assaults on individual liberty, from over-zealous security policy on one hand, and the fussing of the nanny state on the other, has moulded us into a risk-averse big brother state within which the liberty of the subject is eroded bit by bit.

 This question is clearly as important as it is topical, and I have to say that I concur broadly with the Hastings-Wilson-Benjamin Franklin view that he who would sacrifice essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither safety nor liberty.

 The review, however, starts by opining that “One of the most injurious blights to fall upon British society in the 21st century has been that of health and safety”, and it is this with which I want to take issue. Let’s face it, Health and Safety is a pretty easy target. Contempt for it is often bundled together with a distrust of “the nanny state” with its “yuman rights culture”, Euro-sceptic opposition to “meddling” from Brussels and a swiftness to label any and all of the above as “political correctness gone mad”.

 In fact, the concepts behind Health and Safety are nothing new. Indeed, the Health and Safety Act is the direct descendant of the Factory and Mines Acts of the mid Nineteenth Century, the very era lauded by Mr Wilson as a gilded age of individual liberty.

 Similarly, a great majority of the more progressive legislation enacted in this country over the past 50 years (from the Equal Pay legislation to the Human Rights Act, via the Discrimination Acts) has come from or mirrors European Law.

 The erosion of civil liberties is certainly a valid concern, but it seems to me that the risk comes far more from excessive security powers of the state that it does from legislation which is designed, however over-zealously it is enforced, to protect people.

 And slagging off Health and Safety is just lazy journalistic short-hand.

 So, in conclusion, do buy Mr Wilson’s book and read it, but if you should drop it on your foot on your way home, it’s probably nobody else’s fault but your own.