Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Well, I will, for a start.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Nooooooooooooo!

I just found out that Billy Bragg played at Duke last night. He was practically on our doorstep and we didn't even know! I took a look at his website and it turns out that he's not back in the USA until March 2009. Even then, he's only going to Austin, Texas and New York City. Is there no justice in the world?

You can read about the gig on Akma's blog.

My attempt to cheer myself up (or does it just rub salt into the wound?) is to incessantly YouTube some of my favourites. Mark, unfortunately, is inconsolable. The first clip is one of Kate Nash singing Foundations that segues into her singing A New England with Billy Bragg. The second clip is an old video of Sexuality that includes Johnny Marr, Phill Jupitus and the late, great, Kirsty MacColl (who was excellent when I saw her live at The Junction in Cambridge (UK) all those years ago).



Saturday, November 01, 2008

Miley Cyrus in Paris

My Mum standing behind Miley Cyrus in ParisMy sister, her family and my mother went to Paris for a short break earlier this week. My niece said that she saw Miley Cyrus on the Eurostar platform as they got off the train in Paris and were walking just behind her.

She said:

She walked along our platform with us when we got off the Eurostar in Paris. And no one noticed it was her, except me... And I kept staring cus I wasn't sure, so she smiled to me. And then when we got off the platform and all the paparazzi were taking photos and whatnot and my ma was stood RIGHT behind her and just went "Omg, who the hell IS she?!" Ahahahhaha. She just wanted to get out and got proppa annoyed. I was like "Ma, shes famous".

Emily did a quick bit of googling and found a good picture. My mum is the woman with the red scarf. You can also see a bit of my nephew (mainly his right ear). She also found a good video. If you know my mum, my sister or any of my sister's family, watch the video and see if you can spot them (it's quite easy because they are standing right behind Ms Cyrus).


And to think that we forked out $150 each to go and see her in Greensboro!

Killer Roadtrip

The Killers are undertaking a US tour. They are coming to all the states that border NC, but are not coming to NC! The tour includes Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (about 3.5 hrs drive); Fairfax, Virginia (about 4.5 hrs drive); Atlanta, Georgia (6.5 hrs drive); Nashville, Tennessee (8.5 hrs drive). The problem is that the Myrtle Beach gig is on a Wednesday night, the Fairfax gig is on a Thursday night and the Atlanta gig is on a Friday night (and too far to drive to after school finishes).

This has narrowed down our options somewhat, so we bought our tickets for the Nashville venue. Even though it's the farthest away, it is on a Saturday night.

The Killers Gigs MapSo here's the plan -- Emily and Lauren finish school at 3pm on Friday. We jump in the car and drive about 5.5 hours to a motel in the Smoky Mountains (about an hour past Asheville). On the Saturday, we drive through the Smoky Mountains National Park to Tennessee (something I'd like to do anyway), then on to Nashville. We see The Killers at the Grand Ole Opry, stay the night in a motel in Nashville, then head home on the Sunday.

It's a long way to drive, and a drive that we wouldn't have to do if The Killers had just thought to schedule their Myrtle Beach gig for the Saturday, but I think that the drive will be beautifully scenic and that it will be well worth it to see The Killers live.

We don't yet have their latest album, so we'll have to buy this and get up to speed before the gig. In the meantime, here's a few YouTubes to help us get excited:



Monday, August 18, 2008

Brittany 2008

Le Cosquer

We stayed in a nice little complex called Le Cosquer near St. Connec that consisted of a farmhouse, a few gites, a swimming pool and a games room. We (minus Lauren) stayed in the farmhouse. My sister and her family (and Lauren) stayed in the neighbouring gite. I'd never before stayed anywhere like it because the property was bought and renovated by an English couple. They renovated it with Brits in mind, even to the extent of fitting British plug points. In addition, everyone staying there was British. One had to leave the property before one could feel that one was in France.

Pontivy

This is a small town where we visited the market and small chateau.

Lac de Guerlédan

We parked our cars at a picnic site just outside Mur de Bretagne and walked around the lake to Caurel. We were aiming for Beau Rivage, but didn't quite manage to make it. Four hours and one ankle-injury later we gave up and settled for a pint in a nice hotel bar in Caurel instead.

Josselin

This is a nice, picturesque town. I would have liked to have visited its large chateau, but we ran out of time. The chateau was closing by the time we got around to it. Ditto with the central church's tall tower from which one is reputed to be able to see for miles around.

Carnac

A great day out by the seaside. We had a seafood platter to die for -- it was so fresh that I had to battle one of my clams for the right to eat it. We had blazing sunshine all day, even though Le Cosquer had had non-stop rain that day.

Feast of the Assumption

This is a public holiday in France, so everyone had the day off work. The festivities involved a big fete at the lakeside (at the aforementioned picnic ground near Mur De Bretagne). I was hoping to catch some traditional Breton costumed dancing, but unfortunately I didn't manage to.

In the evening, we ate at a small restaurant where the staff were good natured enough to put up with our feeble attempts to speak French. Upon noticing that we were English (not difficult to do), they immediately offered us fish and chips. It took a little persuasion to get them to show us their menus so that we could order whatever we liked. I had some delicious seafood in cheese sauce and some escargots in garlic, herbs and olive oil.

Nantes

We spent a few hours in Nantes before heading back to Nantes Atlantique to catch our flight back to Old Blighty. It would have been nice to be able to visit the cathedral there, but we didn't have time (again).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Olympics Thus Far

Beijing Olympics 2008 logoThus far, Great Britain (as an aside, if anyone knows why we're referred to as "Great Britain" instead of the "United Kingdom", even though the GB team includes Northern Ireland, I'd be interested to know?) are doing pretty well in the 2008 Olympics, as are the USA (our "home from home"). Today we finished in third place on the medals table, with the USA in second place and China taking the lead. Doing well in these games is all the more important this time around for Brits because it's a warm-up for when Britain hosts the games in 2012. It'd be nice if in 2012 we could have the added bonus of getting a fair number of medals too.

However, even with Team GB doing well, I still find myself asking the same questions that I often ask. How does the number of medals won relate to the population sizes or wealth of the participating countries? I also find myself wondering about how the types of events that a country is likely to compete in and/or do well in are affected by its wealth and/or cultural influences.

It seems that I'm not the only one to have wondered at the first question. A light-hearted Los Angeles Times article drops the USA's position from second to 40th and China to 73rd by taking into account the population size. For more analysis, you could start by taking a look at these articles:

Harder, better, faster, stronger
Economic Briefing Paper: Modelling Olympic Performance
Bill Mitchell's Alternative Olympic Games Medal Tally - 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mamma Mia!: The Movie

Yesterday we went to see the Mamma Mia! film and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. I won't bother reviewing it, because Mark Kermode's review is spot on. Despite all it's flaws, it's the ultimate feel-good movie.


Mark's written a couple of Mamma Mia! posts too:
Pre Mamma Mia: An Abba fan's anxieties
Post Mamma Mia: An Abba Fan's Delight

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Obama Practices Looking-Off-Into-Future Pose

The Onion are running a War for the White House section during this presidential campaign. It's worth a look now and again. The latest "headline" is the laugh-out-loud article entitled Obama Practices Looking-Off-Into-Future Pose, which includes an interactive graphic that explains to us lay-people "The Science of Inspirational Poses". Very funny.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Roommates

They played this video about evangelism in church this morning -- very funny.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Eastern Fence Lizard

Eastern Fence LizardHere's a shot of a small Eastern Fence Lizard that was basking on our front steps. The photo was taken by Emily, using her phone.

Monday, April 14, 2008

April Snow

Normally we go to England twice a year -- once at Christmas and once in the Summer. This year, we went in April too. Mark had a conference in Oxford, so we decided that it would be nice for us to all go. We spent a few days with Mark's family, then visited friends in Birmingham. Mark then went off to his conference, while the rest of us visited some of my family. We met up at Heathrow at the end of the stay so that we could travel home together. There was quite a lot of snow for a few days. Snow in March/April is not unusual, but it doesn't usually fall in such copious amounts.

The vacation's Theme Song is Heartbeat, by Scouting for Girls. They've disabled embedding, so I'm afraid that you'll have to click the link to see/hear it.

I didn't take many pictures, but heres a few shots of the snow:

Snow in April: Snowfall at NightSnowfall at NightSnow in April: The morning afterThe Morning After



Lauren sweeps snow off the carLauren Sweeps Snow off the Car

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

April Fools

The media (at least in the UK) have a long-standing tradition of perpetrating April Fool jokes on the 1st of April every year.

This year's big hit on YouTube was the BBC's footage of a newly discovered species of flying penguins.


Here's the "making of" video:


As a bonus, here's an all-time classic -- the spaghetti harvest:


And for all you Yanks, here's a more recent US take on the spaghetti harvest:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Talent Show

Here's Lauren dancing at her school's talent show last Thursday. It was a talent show, not contest and was a nice family night out with a very laid-back atmosphere. There were about 45 or so acts, of which Lauren was about act 15. She choreographed the dance herself and practised in her bedroom.

video

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Song for Europe

It's that time of year again. Here's the song that will be representing the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest this year:


Will this song do well? I doubt it.

Politically, we don't stand a chance:
  1. Many of the Eastern European countries just vote for each other
  2. Some of the countries aren't even in Europe (I don't know what this has to do with it, but I'm just saying it anyway.)
  3. Most of Europe still haven't forgiven us for siding with Bush over Iraq
To stand a chance of winning, the UK entry has to come up with a song that is able to gain people's votes in spite of these obstacles. I doubt that this song has what it takes. My prediction is that this is good enough to prevent the "nil points" humiliation. I reckon that this will come in at about 25-30 points.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Passion Première

Mark set off for London today. I drove him to the airport (RDU) and dropped him off at lunch time (about 1:30pm). From there he flies to Charlotte, then on to Gatwick. In London, he will just about have time to have lunch with an old friend, go to his hotel and freshen up, attend the Première of The Passion (a BBC/HBO mini-series that he's the historical consultant for) and get a night's sleep before getting back on a plane and returning home by Friday evening. The girls and I are going to pick him up.

I haven't watched it from beginning to end, but what I have seen has been really quite good. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I don't think that I'm revealing too much if I say that it has what can be described as a rather Harry-Potter-esque ending ;-).

You can read about Mark's madcap flyby visit to London in his blog.
You can read about The Passion at its BBC website (Mark's article).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Primary Top Trumps

Although we can't vote, we've been following the various Caucuses and Primaries the best we can. It's been quite educational as we have to keep googling/asking people to explain various aspects of US politics to us.

At the moment, it seems that McCain is now the runaway favourite for the Republicans. Huckabee (who apparently has a degree or some other qualification in "Miracles") is trailing behind. Even though he now can't win even with a clean sweep from now on, he's sticking with it. He probably reckons that McCain is so old that he could croak or have a major health scare that would put Huckabee in the lead. Paul is just wasting his money (unless he's waiting for McCain and Huckabee to kick the bucket).

On the Democrat side, although they seemed neck-and-neck on Super (Shrove) Tuesday, Obama seems to be taking the lead against Clinton, who at one stage had to supplement her campaign funds with $5 million of her own money. I don't think there's that much between them on the policy front, but Obama seems to be more charismatic. Obama's main cards seem to be the "I'm the embodiment of the American dream" card and the "I'll be the first black president" card. Clinton has the "I've been campaigning for improvements in health care etc. for years now and would really relish the opportunity to get something done" and the "first female president" cards.

But, which are the trump cards?

At present, it seems that Obama's effervescence and having risen up through the ranks from an non-privileged background have the edge. However, unless one of them starts to streak ahead, the decision for who is to be the Democratic Presidential candidate may have to go to the super-delegates.

Let me leave you with these YouTubes. The first is a Will-i-am video that puts some of Obama's words to music. The second is a minute and a half spoof of the first video that puts some of McCain's words to music. I first came across the latter video on Here's the Thing.



Sunday, February 10, 2008

GreenCard Update

Mark and I now have our greencards, but Emily and Lauren's birth certificates are not acceptable to the USCIS because they don't have their parents' names on them. We've got until the end of this month to produce adequate certificates, so I've had to order some especially from the UK's General Register Office at £26 (about $50) each (including p&p). Here's Mark's account.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

SuperBowl

Last Sunday was SuperBowl Sunday -- the day of the 42nd NFL Championship game (sort of the American equivalent to the FA Cup Final). For the first time ever, we were invited to a friend's house for a "SuperBowl Party". This involved watching the game, whilst eating chilli and tacos (very nice) and huge quantities of crisps (chips). The game was New England Patriots vs. New York Giants. Our hosts were supporting the Patriots, so, by default, we were too.

I dare say that the game was quite a good introduction to American football because it was very close. The title was up for grabs until the last minute or so. It was rather funny at the end when there was one second left on the clock and the field was flooded with reporters, photographers, fans etc..., but the officials were adamant that that the final second needed to be played before the Giants could be awarded the title. Great fun. Another highlight was when one of the players had to run off the pitch within a given time otherwise ... actually, even though our hosts explained it at the time, I really can't remember why he had to run off the pitch and find myself wondering whether I understood it in the first place. Anyway, it was questionable whether he'd managed it, so they had to refer to camera shots to determine the outcome. It was such a close call that there was even discussion about what the the rules had to say about if his foot had left the ground but was still over the pitch and whether or not this constituted having managed to leave the pitch. I think the upshot is that he just about made it.

Our team didn't win, but you can't have everything.

Groundhog Day

On Saturday, Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. This mau well be true up in Pennsylvania, but down here in NC, it's sunny, warm and very dry as we weather through the worst drought in 118 years. The photo of our reservoir shows how low the water levels are. Now that it's winter, we get the odd mild sprinkling of rain, but it's not nearly enough to replenish the supplies.

Map of Drought in North Carolina
The Drought in NC
Falls Lake, Raleigh during the drought
Our Local Reservoir

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sweets and Creeps

You may notice that I've added to my sidebar a picture of The Jackpot Golden Boys' new EP, Sweets and Creeps. If you're in the US, you can click on the picture to listen to sample tracks, download MP3s and/or buy the CD from a US distributor. If you're in the UK, you can do all this from the Jackpots' own website.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Worth Watching

Cloverfield

Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project. Good, but would be better if I didn't have to have my eyes closed through most of it for fear of puking. Go and see it, but take some travel sickness tablets first and take a sick-bag with you, just in case.

Cranford

Very good. Nice to see a period drama that isn't (as much as I like it) Pride and Prejudice yet again. It was nice to see Philip Glenister putting in an appearance (we're very much looking forward to trying Ashes to Ashes when it starts).

Lead Balloon

This can best be described as a British Curb Your Enthusiasm. It lacks all the Hollywood stars, but is just as cringe-worthy and funny. This second series was every bit as good as the first.

Moving Wallpaper & Echo Beach

One programme in two halves. The first half, Moving Wallpaper, is about the production crew behind a soap opera called Echo Beach, which is filmed at Watergate Bay, Cornwall. The second half is the soap opera itself. Very original, quite funny and thoroughly enjoyable. Of course, the theme song for the soap opera is Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins.

Primeval (Wikipedia; YouTube)

I liked the first series and, so far, this series is much better. Thus far, Hannah Spearritt has managed to keep her clothes on.

Spooks (MI5 in the USA)

You know when they're going to get rid of someone (kill them off or have them go into hiding) because they give the actor some acting to do and allow the viewer to get to know them a bit better first. All except Adam, who seems to be untouchable. This was good, with a very harrowing ending, but I liked the old days when anyone was expendable.

Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles

Includes yet another example (e.g. Hugh Laurie, Michelle Ryan) of a Brit (Lena Headey) putting on an American accent. So far this has been enjoyable, but makes the same mistake of many programmes (e.g. Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes) in that it seems to lack humour. The other problem with the aforementioned shows is that they can get so wrapped up in their own mythologies that it becomes easy to tire of them. However, it's nice to see Summer Glau from Firefly (which I was sad to see cancelled) as a goodie-terminator.

Torchwood

In the UK, they've now started broadcasting a family version before the watershed and an adult version after. It was a good start to the series and very nice to have James Marsters (an example of an American putting on a British accent). I'm not sure how much is cut from the family version because I haven't seen it yet. In the USA, the new series is being screened on BBCAmerica from the 26th of January.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Individual Communion -- An Oxymoron?

Celebration Cup
"Celebration Cup"
When I was a child, communion was served as little wafers and a sip of wine from a communal goblet. As I grew older, my family and I started to attend a church that instead used real bread and tiny, individual, stainless steel cups that were washed and reused each week. I have been to other churches that use tiny glass or clear plastic cups. These too tended to be washed and reused until they broke (although I suspect that some churches, with no environmental conscience, shamefully throw away the plastic ones after each communion service).

Today, however, I went to a church that practised the ultimate in throw-away communion. At communion time, they passed round baskets of little, individualized, vacuum sealed packs, each containing a single wafer and a small amount of communion wine (grape juice). The top of each pack is printed with "This is my body, which is broken for you. Take, eat. Do this in remembrance of me." One peels off the first layer and eats the wafer, then peels off the rest of the lid and drinks the grape juice. The plastic containers are then discarded.

For a moment I wasn't sure whether I was at church or in a cheap coffee shop.

With regard to the environmental concerns, I came across the idea for a liquid filled, wafer covered, edible communion cup. One eats the wafer, drinks the grape juice, then eats the cup too.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Doctor Who Christmas Special

I just finished re-watching this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, Voyage of the Damned with the family (the first viewing was on Christmas Day). We also watched the episode's Confidential and I have to say the Murray Gold has done it again. He seems to have a knack for writing songs that have the feeling of being old ones from yesteryear -- but one can't quite put one's finger on what they're called or who sang them originally. The first of his songs to have this effect on me was Song For Ten, then there was My Angel Put the Devil in Me and this time it was Stowaway.


And who can mention this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special without mentioning their managing to get Kylie. Here's a classic from a few years back (the Blue Monday mix of Can't Get You Out of My Head):

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dixville Notch

Over the past few evenings, Mark and I have been enjoying the highlights of the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary. It's an educational experience and a lot of googling for definitions of US political terms is involved. For example, most Brits have heard the term "Primary", even if it's just because Jack Bauer's first really bad day was the day of the California Presidential Primary, but one still needs to ask "What on earth is a Caucus?" and "What is the difference between a Caucus and a Primary?" Follow some of the links below if you're really interested.

We were also fascinated by the elections in a small town in New Hampshire called Dixville Notch. We watched the entire thing from beginning to end. The town is small and has a tradition of opening the polls at midnight and being the first to get a result, so they can televise the casting of votes, the counting and the subsequent announcement in real time. This year, only 17 people voted. It rather reminded us of Blackadder the Third: Dish and Dishonesty, wherein Baldrick stands against Pitt the Younger's younger brother as the candidate for the rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold, which has only one voter -- Edmund Blackadder.

(As an aside, Blackadder is very well known in Britain and many of its cast are household names. If you're not familiar with Blackadder, you may be interested to know that it was part-written by Richard Curtis. You may also be interested in seeing Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent and Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder. In my opinion, Blackadder is a work of Genius.)

Update:

It seems that there is an episode of The West Wing wherein there is concern about a small town in New Hampshire called Hartsfield's Landing (fictional town, but based on Dixville Notch).

Links:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Caucus-Race
The Difference Between Primaries and Caucuses
The Party Caucus: A Study in History and Etymology
PhiloBiblos
The Grammarphobia Blog
Wikipedia -- Caucus
Wikipedia -- Primary
Wikipedia -- Presidential Primary
Wikipedia -- Super Tuesday

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Christmas 2007

As usual, we went to England this Christmas / New Year. Last year, the theme song was America, by Razorlight. This year it was About You Now, by the SugaBabes.


Since watching the Liverpool Nativity, I've also been rather prone to humming You Will You Won't, by The Zutons, which is a very catchy song.


This year, we visited Mark's parents, then spent Christmas with my family. It was great to bring in Christmas day with a traditional service at Peterborough Cathedral, singing "Yea, Lord, we greet thee, Born this happy morning" as the lights came on just after midnight. From there we returned to Mark's parents. We then attended a wedding in Salisbury Cathedral, with the reception in Salisbury's Guildhall, where our very own Q (close friend and frequent commenter) married M. Unfortunately, even though Salisbury is only a stone's throw from Stonehenge, we didn't have time to take a quick look. That'll have to wait until another time. We then popped up to Birmingham for a couple of nights, visiting friends before returning to my sister's house for her annual New Year party. Then it was back to Gatwick.

Wedding Photos

The Guard of Honour was provided by members of Q's regiment.
Outside the cathedralQ and friends at the reception
Emily and Lauren at the receptionFriends together
Cutting the cakeThe bride and groom leave
As always, if you see yourself on any of these pictures and would rather that your face were not plastered all over my blog, just let me know and I'll blur you out.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The End of the World Cult

Warning: Some of the links lead to some really weird stuff that includes sexual content. If you are under-age or of an easily offended disposition, please don't click on them.

Mark and I recently watched the Channel 4 documentary "The End of the World Cult" that aired on the 12th December 2007. The documentary looks at a small cult in New Mexico, USA that are awaiting the end of the world. For some reason, the USA has more than its fair share of weird cults. Is this because the USA has more than its fair share of nutters, or is it just because the USA allows their nutters more space/freedom in which to thrive?

Normally speaking, apart from the odd documentary maker, everyone leaves these people to get on with it. However, one worrying thing about this documentary is that the resident nutter/con artist (you decide) admitted to the documentary makers that he has done things that I would have thought should warrant police/FBI investigation (for paedophilia). Googling around, I found that some blogs/discussions say that the FBI are indeed investigating the cult. I just hope that this is true.

Here's a few more links:
The Documentary Itself
The End of the World Cult
New Humanist
The Truth About Michael Travesser
Wayne's World
DigiGuide Forums

May 31, 2008

It seems that Mr Travesser was arrested towards the beginning of this month. Here's another good link: British documentary might have triggered New Mexico church’s battle with State. This event passed me by until now. I did, however, notice the Warren Jeffs story, which is a bit more high profile.