Not liking Mondays


This was the day when I decided to start job-hunting again. I’ve stayed where I am maybe a bit too long; the organisation and I are not going in the same direction; expectations on both sides are not being matched.

First job application went off today; others will follow, as will an assiduous networking campaign. Updates here as and when I feel like it.

On the plus side, Loncon 3 memberships have steamed through a couple of milestones (3000 adult attending, 4000 total in all categories) and also my cousin Jane had a baby boy whose name is Nicolas (named after someone else, I’m sure, but gratifying all the same).

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50 years of Who: 1967

1967:

TV
The Highlanders (last episode)
The Underwater Menace
The Moonbase
The Macra Terror
The Faceless Ones
The Evil of the Daleks
The Tomb of the Cybermen
The Abominable Snowmen
The Ice Warriors
The Enemy of the World (first 2 episodes)

Book
1968 Doctor Who Annual (2)

The first Who from 1967 that I encountered: on a blistering hot day in 2006, I took B out of the way on a long drive so as not to interfere with F’s birthday party, and listened to The Evil of the Daleks on the car stereo, the first Who I had encountered from the year of my birth. I didn’t actually enjoy it as much as I had hoped, but it leads on to greater things.

My favourite Who from 1967: Despite the dodgy racism, plot holes and violation of continuity, Tomb of the Cybermen remains my favourite of this season. I have a soft spot for most of the others, apart from The Underwater Menace (though I have not yet watched the recently recovered episode of that story).

Moving swiftly on from: The dance of the fish-people.

So, what was your favourite of the above? What is the best bit? (And if you like, what is the worst bit?)

1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

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September Books 18) Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath

Occasionally I like to pick up a self-help book to think a bit more about myself. This turned out not to be so much a book as a ticket for an online self-assessment survey, owned by Gallup, which identifies your personal five strongest areas from a list of 34. Mine, for the record, are:

Input: People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

Context: People who are especially talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.

Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Intellection: People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

Connectedness: People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

I’m not sure about the short description of the last one, but the longer one seems more familiar, and I can relate to the other four immediately. I am not sure if I got the value I expected for the price of the book; ask me again in a month, perhaps.

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September Books 17) The Moment of Eclipse, by Brian Aldiss

HOZ STAP SAN: A writer’s attitude to other writers
LAHAH SHIP: Taking fresh air after one has worked several hours at one’s desk
SHAK ALE MAN: The struggle that takes place in the night between the urge to urinate and urge to continue sleeping
SHEM: A slight cold afflicting only one nostril; the thoughts that pass when one shakes hands with a politician
TOK AN: Suddenly divining the nature and imminence of old age in one’s thirty-first year

This collection of short stories won the BSFA Award for 1970; I first read them as a teenager, and found them mindblowing then. I still find them mindblowing now – maybe it’s just that Aldiss got to me at a vulnerable age, but there’s something about his laconic yet cosmic vision that sucks me in, almost uncritically.

Not completely uncritically. The story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”, which was the basis for Spielberg’s film A.I., is the weakest of the collection, and “Swastika!”, about a documentary maker catching up with a disguised Hitler living in Ostend, was surely in poor taste then and worse now. And the stories about the crumbling veneer of civilisation in former British colonies are rather of their time. But beneath the surface detail, Aldiss’s preoccupation with the future of humanity, explored through language, grabs me as viscerally as ever.

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September Books 16) The Beast of Babylon, by Charlie Higson

‘Tell me about Rose Tyler.’ Ali watched as the Doctor peered at some kind of monitor and, satisfied, stepped back from the controls. He turned and beamed at her.
‘Rose? She was funny and tough and clever and resourceful. She saved me, and she saved her boyfriend Mickey, and she saved the whole damned planet.’

At the end of Rose, when she refuses at first to travel with the Doctor, how long is he gone for, before he rematerialises and tells her that it also travels in time? On screen, of course, it is just a few seconds. But here Charlie Higson has the Ninth Doctor – in the first published Ninth Doctor story since 2005 – going off for a whole new adventure with Ali the alien crustacean, taking in both her planet and ancient Babylon. It is short (I felt if anything a bit shorter than the other short books in this series) but effective, and Higson captures Ecclestone’s much missed characterisation very well.

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September Books 15) Who and Me, by Barry Letts

When I first worked with Patrick Troughton in a TV studio, I was wearing an enormous wig.

Letts needs no introduction to Who fans; he was producer of the show for the entire Pertwee era, plus a story or two either side. Apart from the usual set of anecdotes of personalities (including quite a shrewd dissection of Jon Pertwee), He includes detailed accounts of how making a TV programme at the BBC in the 1960s and 1970s actually worked, linked with his own career progressions from actor to director to producer. His heart was clearly in directing, and it’s there that we get the most vivid descriptions of what he was doing; in particular, it’s surprising to read his low opinion of The Enemy of the World, the first Who story that he worked on – I have always found it interesting enough, and Philip Sandifer calls it “an absolute triumph”. (I’ll note that another story Letts feels particularly unhappy about was The Ambassadors of Death, also a David Whitaker script.) He also writes about his attachment to Zen Buddhism, managing to convey his deep personal commitment to it though not quite so much what it is all about.

Very sadly, this book is only half the story, taking us up to the end of Letts’ second of five seasons as producer of Doctor Who. It looks rather as if there were no notes, and Letts reconstructed it from memories cross-referenced with other sources, so presumably there is little or no primary material for the second half of the story to be told. But it’s good that he got the first half done.

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September Books 14) Home Truths, by Freya North

‘Girls,’ said Django, and the pureness of his audible pain was not for himself, but for those he loved most on whom he was about to inflict it. ‘Girls.’ Carefully he put the tray down. He did not know in whose eyes he should look. So he looked at her. ‘Girls. This is your mother.’

Chick lit isn’t my usual genre, but I do dabble very occasionally, and I really enjoyed this – the story of three sisters, brought up by their uncle, whose love lives and career are all in slight disarray, then completely disrupted by the reappearance of their long-vanished mother. North has a very credible and compassionate way of getting into people’s heads. Nobody is an angel, nobody is completely evil either. And the ending is not a completely happy one, but does bring some resolution, and sometimes that’s all you can ask. Apparently North had written a novel about each of the three sisters previously; I’ll keep an eye out for those.

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September Books 13) The Year of Intelligent Tigers, by Kate Orman

Anji walked alone through the city of tigers. It was a fast walk, a bad walk, shouldering and dodging crowd. Sunlight splashing off concrete and glass, bright faces and clothes. And on every corner, from every doorway, in every window, the music.

I had read and enjoyed this five years ago, so not a lot more to add, except that I appreciated even more the side-step away from the usual adventure story into an exploration of art and innocence, which fits the Eighth Doctor in a way that the others wouldn’t suit as well.

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September Books 12) Evil under the Sun, by Agatha Christie

[the murderer] had risen. His handsome face was transformed, suffused with blood, blind with rage. It was the face of a killer – of a tiger. He yelled: “You damned interfering murdering lousy little worm!”
He hurled himself forward, his fingers stretching and curling, his voice raving curses, as he fastened his fingers round Hercule Poirot’s throat…

I found this Christie story really disappointing, to the extent that I am going to curtail my Agatha reading project. The murder takes place in an isolated location, and there’s a locked-room element in the sense that it takes place on a deserted and inaccessible beach. There is some nice character stuff, particularly the victim’s troubled step-daughter. But the solution depends on crucial misdirection of the reader by the author, and the motivation for the crime is pretty obscure. Enough Agatha for me for the time being.

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50 years of Who: 1966

1966:

TV
The Daleks’ Master Plan (last 6 episodes)
The Massacre
The Ark
The Celestial Toymaker
The Gunfighters
The Savages
The War Machines
The Smugglers
The Tenth Planet
The Power of the Daleks
The Highlanders (first 3 episodes)

Books
1967 Doctor Who Annual (1)
Doctor Who and the Invasion from Space (1)
The Dalek Outer Space Book

Film
Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.

The first Who from 1966 that I encountered: I remember finding and avidly devouring the 1967 Doctor Who Annual at a cousin’s house in the late 1970s; but I am pretty sure I also saw Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. on TV around that time. (And again, perhaps the film doesn’t count.) Once I got back into Who, The Massacre was one of the first audios I bought.

My favourite Who from 1966: A difficult choice. I prefer The Power of the Daleks to The Evil of the Daleks, which is a minority position; I also really enjoy The Gunfighters, which is also a minority position. Of course, the most memorable sequence is the change from Hartnell to Troughton between the end of The Tenth Planet and the beginning of The Power of the Daleks.

Moving swiftly on from: The Celestial Toymaker.

So, what was your favourite of the above? What is the best bit? (And if you like, what is the worst bit?)

1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

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50 years of Who: 1965

1965

TV
The Rescue
The Romans
The Web Planet
The Crusaders
The Space Museum
The Chase
The Time Meddler
Galaxy 4
Mission to the Unknown
The Myth Makers
The Daleks’ Master Plan (first 6 episodes)

Books
Doctor Who and the Zarbi (1)
1966 Doctor Who Annual (1)
The Dalek Pocketbook and Space Travellers Guide
The Dalek World
Doctor Who and the Crusaders (1)

Film
Dr Who and the Daleks (Peter Cushing)

The first Who from 1965 that I encountered: I am slightly uncertain as to whether I saw the Peter Cushing film Doctor Who and the Daleks before or after I first read Doctor Who and the CrusadersDoctor Who and the Zarbi. In any case it was in the late 1970s. (And perhaps the film doesn’t count.)

My favourite Who from 1965: Again, singling out a particular episode, “The Space Museum”, which opens the story which generally goes by the same name, is a brilliant 25 minutes of TV, sadly somewhat let down by the other three parts.

Moving swiftly on from: The Chase.

So, what was your favourite of the above? What is the best bit? (And if you like, what is the worst bit?)

1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

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50 years of Who: 1964

My second post on this series: listing the Doctor Who and related TV and books and reminiscing briefly about the first time I encountered any Who of that year’s vintage, as well as my personal favourite and least favourite moments from the selection.

1964

TV
The Daleks (last 5 episodes)
The Edge of Destruction
Marco Polo
The Keys of Marinus
The Aztecs
The Sensorites
The Reign of Terror
Planet of Giants
The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Books
The Dalek Book
Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (1)

The first Who from 1964 that I encountered: It was a very long time until I saw any of the TV stories from this era. But probably in the late 1970s I read David Whitaker’s Doctor Who and the Daleks, originally published in November 1964 as Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, which I still think is the best of any of the novelisations of Old Who stories.

My favourite Who from 1964: I do love “Day of Reckoning”, the third episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, with its fantastic scenes of Daleks in London and intense music. But I have soft spots for most of the above, and repeat my recommendation of the David Whitaker novelisation.

Moving swiftly on from: The Sensorites.

So, what was your favourite of the above? What is the best bit? (And if you like, what is the worst bit?)

1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

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Wednesday reading (on Thursday again)

Current
A Book Of Silence, by Sara Maitland
[Doctor Who] Shroud of Sorrow, by Tommy Donbavand
The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 2005-2006; Series 1 & 2, by Tat Wood

Last books finished
The Moment of Eclipse, by Brian Aldiss
Home Truths, by Freya North
Who and Me, by Barry Letts
Evil Under the Sun, by Agatha Christie
[Doctor Who] Year of the Intelligent Tigers, by Kate Orman

Next books
The Far Side of the World, by Patrick O’Brian
Streetlethal, by Steven Barnes
The House of Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
[Doctor Who] Catastrophea, by Terrance Dicks

Books acquired in last week
[Doctor Who] The Beast of Babylon, by Charlie Higson
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 2005-2006; Series 1 & 2, by Tat Wood
George Eliot, by Tim Dolin
Selected Essays, by Virginia Woolf
The Waves, by Virginia Woolf

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50 years of Who: 1963

This is the first in a series of slightly different anniversary posts: I am going to take every year from 1963, list the Doctor Who and related TV, books, audios, and (in 1965 and 1966) films of that year, and reminisce briefly about the first time I encountered any Who of that year’s vintage, as well as my personal favourite and least favourite moments from the selection. No comics, I’m afraid, as I haven’t located an easy-to-use list (though will be happy to incorporate one if I find it). But otherwise I hope to be fairly comprehensive.

We start rather quietly with 1963:

TV
An Unearthly Child (4 episodes)
The Daleks (first 2 episodes)
(For convenience I am using the generally accepted names of stories before The Savages.)

The first Who from 1963 that I encountered: In common with many fans, I watched the rebroadcast of An Unearthly Child as the opening of the Five Faces of Doctor Who season in 1981, so that was my first exposure to the first calendar year of the programme, at the age of 14. (I didn’t see The Daleks until 2006.)

My favourite Who from 1963: I’m going to be very inconsistent about this, picking stories, episodes, and individual moments as we go. But here it’s pretty simple: the opening episode, “An Unearthly Child”, is a fantastic set-up for a series which was meant to last 3 months and has actually managed 50 years. (Honourable mention for the cliff-hanger at the end of the first epsiode of The Daleks.)

Moving swiftly on from: the scene where Carole Ann Ford is running on the spot while the production team hit her with fronds.

So, what was your favourite of the above? What is the best bit? (And if you like, what is the worst bit?)

1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966 | 1967 | 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 | 1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

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Projecting the British 2014 European elections

I have been doing some number-crunching on the likely outcome of next year’s European elections in the UK, or rather in Great Britain. In 2009, the UK Independence Party managed to come second with 16.5%, ahead of both the Labour Party (15.7%) and the Liberal Democrats (13.7%). They were still some way adrift of the Conservatives, who were riding high in opposition but were still disappointed with their 27.7% total. Three other parties got two seats each: the Greens (8.1%), the British National Party (6.2%) and the Scottish National Party (2.1%, but it only stood in Scotland). Plaid Cymru, who stood only in Wales, won the other seat with 0.8% of the national vote tally.

I have looked at the figures from each constituency, and in each case worked out the percentage by which each party won, or failed to win, the last seat. For the Conservatives I’ve worked out also the margin by which they hold their second last seats in those regions where they have them; for Labour I’ve also calculated the extra vote share needed to gain a second seat from their 2009 tally. I have filed my calculations here if you want to check them for yourself.

UKIP are now confidently predicting that they will be the largest single party in the 2014 election, citing the supposed collapse of Conservative and Lib Dem support and the supposedly lacklustre Labour leadership. I am not so sure. A national poll the week of the last European election had the Conservatives on 40% (12% more than they actually got); Labour on 24% (8% more than they actually got); the Lib Dems on 18% (4% more than they actually got); UKIP on 8%, the Greens on 4% and the BNP on 3% (half their actual result in each case). The same company today has the Conservatives on 33%, Labour on 37%, Lib Dems on 11% and UKIP also on 11%. (Of course European voting intention is different, but I think the swings will be much the same.)

The shift in the polls – Tories +3%, Lab +13%, LD -7%, UKIP +3% – would actually put UKIP in third place behind both Labour and the Conservatives, if applied to the results from the last Euro-election (a notional result of Lab 29%, Cons 34%, UKIP 19%, LD 7%, which I think flatters the Conservatives but in any case UKIP are pretty far behind both them and Labour). We mustn’t forget that 2009 was an abominable year for Labour, and the Euro result truly appalling. For all UKIP’s decent by-election showings, they have still not come all that close to winning a Westminster seat. I’m inclined to see a modest up-tick in the UKIP vote, but a much stronger resurgence for Labour – who were less than a percentage point behind them last time – and the Tories disobligingly failing to collapse as predicted. If Labour are really up by anything like 13%, they could look to gain not one but two seats in the likes of the North West (which looks particularly volatile), the West Midlands and the South West (where they currently have none).

Moving down the scale, it’s difficult to be cheerful for the Lib Dems. I make all eleven of their seats, including the second seat in South East England, vulnerable if their votes slips by 7.5% overall; YouGov has them currently at 7% below their 2009 rating, which would just about salvage a couple of them. By contrast, the Greens and BNP both had a number of near misses in 2009, and may be luckier next year as the numbers shake out. My gut feeling would be that the Greens will indeed pick up a couple; but both BNP seats are vulnerable to the merest downtick (1200 in the North west, 5000 in Yorkshire and the Humber) and look very tough defences to me. (Ohdearwhatapitynevermind.) Finally, the SNP were surprisingly close to winning three seats out of six in Scotland.

Anyway, there is much still to play for. Details below, full spreadsheet available here.

By region:

East Midlands (2009: 2 Cons, 1 Lab, 1 UKIP, 1 LD)
Lib Dem seat vulnerable on 2% margin; BNP, Tories and Greens all within 5% of gaining it.

East of England (2009: 3 Cons, 2 UKIP, 1 LD, 1 Lab)
All four parties have seats vulnerable to 5% slippage. Greens, BNP and Lib Dems within 5% of making gain.

London (2009: 3 Cons, 2 Lab, 1 LD, 1 Green, 1 UKIP)
UKIP, Green and Tories lose seats on 5% slippage; Lib Dems, BNP and Labour within 5% of gaining.

North East (2009: 1 Lab, 1 Cons, 1 LD)
Lib Dem and Cons both could lose on 5% slippage; UKIP within 2% of gain.

North West: (2009: 3 Cons, 2 Lab, 1 UKIP, 1 LD, 1 BNP)
BNP very marginal, Cons and Lab also vulnerable to 5% slippage; UKIP, Greens, Lib Dems close to gain, Labour and Tories also – very volatile numbers.

Scotland (2009: 2 SNP, 2 Lab, 1 Cons, 1 LD)
Labour and Lib Dem both lose on 2% slippage. SNP and Greens best place to pick up.

South East (2009: 4 Cons, 2 UKIP, 2 LD, 1 Green, 1 Lab)
Lib Dem and Labour both lose on 1.5% slippage. Cons very narrowly missed 5th seat in 2009; UKIP, Greens and BNP very close behind.

South West and Gibraltar (2009: 3 Cons, 2 UKIP, 1 LD)
Cons and UKIP both lose on 3% slippage. Greens, Labour, Lib Dems best placed to pick up.

Wales (2009: 1 Cons, 1 Lab, 1 PC, 1 UKIP)
UKIP lose on 2% slippage. Lib Dedms, then Cons and Lab, best placed to pick up.

West Midlands (2009: 2 Cons, 2 UKIP, 1 Lab, 1 LD – 3rd Cons allocated under Lisbon)
Cons lose on 2% slippage, LD and UKIP on 4%. BNP, Labour, Greens best placed to pick up.

Yorkshire and the Humber (2009: 2 Cons, 1 Lab, 1 UKIP, 1 LD, 1 BNP)
BNP very marginal, Cons and Lib Dems also lose on 5% slippage. Labour, Greens UKIP all gain with less than 2%.

By party

Conservatives got 27.7% of the vote in 2009, and won 25 seats, increased to 26 after Lisbon Treaty.

Seats missed by 5% or less:
5th seat in South East, by 0.4%
2nd seat in Scotland, by 3.2%
2nd seat in Wales, by 3.3%
3rd seat in Yorkshire and the Humber, by 3.6%
4th seat in North West, by 4.5%

Seats won by 15% or less (bold if second loss in a constituency):
3rd seat in North West, by 1.4%
3rd seat in West Midlands, by 1.6% (this was the seat allocated under Lisbon)
3rd seat in South West and Gibraltar, by 1.7%
3rd seat in East of England, by 3.5%
North East, by 3.7%
2nd seat in Yorkshire and the Humber, by 4.6%
3rd seat in London, by 4.7%
Scotland, by 6.4%
4th seat in South East, by 7.0%
2nd seat in North West, by 8.5%
2nd seat in West Midlands, by 9.0%
Wales, by 9.3%
2nd seat in East Midlands, by 10.3%
2nd seat in South West and Gibraltar, by 10.5%
2nd seat in London, by 11.5%
3rd seat in South East, by 13.7%
Yorkshire and the Humber, by 14.1%
2nd seat in East of England, by 14.5%

UKIP got 16.5% of the vote in 2009, and won 13 seats.

Seats missed by 10% or less:
2nd seat in North West, by 0.1%
2nd seat in Yorkshire and the Humber, by 1.7%
North East, by 1.8%
3rd seat in South East, by 1.9%
Scotland, by 4.7%
3rd seat in West Midlands, by 5.0%
3rd seat in South West and Gibraltar, by 5.9%
2nd seat in London, by 6.2%
2nd seat in East Midlands, by 6.3%
3rd seat in East of England, by 8.4%

Seats won by 5% or less:
2nd seat in East of England, by 1.6%
Wales, by 1.9%
2nd seat in South West and Gibraltar, by 2.8%
2nd seat in West Midlands, by 3.3%
London, by 3.4%
2nd seat in South East, by 4.2%

Labour got 15.7% of the vote in 2009, and won 13 seats.

Seats missed by 15% or less (bold if second gain in a constituency):
2nd seat in Yorkshire and the Humber, by 0.1%
2nd seat in West Midlands, by 1.4%
South West and Gibraltar, by 2.2%
3rd seat in North West, by 2.8%
2nd seat in Wales, by 4.0%
3nd seat in London, by 4.5%
2rd seat in South East, by 5.1%
2nd seat in East Midlands, by 6.0%
2nd seat in North East, by 6.9%
2nd seat in East of England, by 7.5%
3rd seat in Scotland, by 9.5%
4th seat in North West, by 9.6%
3rd seat in West Midlands, by 10.8%
2nd seat in South West and Gibraltar, by 11.6%
3rd seat in Yorkshire and the Humber, by 14.0%
4th seat in London, by 14.1%

Seats won by 5% or less:
2nd seat in Scotland, by 1.2%
South East, by 1.2%
East of England, by 1.5%
2nd seat in North West, by 3.8%

Lib Dems got 13.7% of the vote in 2009, and won 11 seats.

Seats missed by 5% or less:
2nd seat in North West, by 1.5%
Wales, by 1.9%
2nd seat in South West and Gibraltar, by 2.4%
2nd seat in London, by 3.7%
2nd seat in East of England, by 4.7%

Margins of victory for seats won:
2nd seat in South East, by 0.2%
Scotland, by 1.6%
North East, by 1.8%
East Midlands, by 2.0%
West Midlands, by 3.1%
Yorkshire and the Humber, by 3.4%
East of England, by 4.5%
North West, by 5.8%
London, by 6.1%
South West and Gibraltar, by 7.1%
1st seat in South East, by 7.3%

Greens got 8.1% of the vote in 2009, and won 2 seats.

Seats missed by 5% or less:
North West, by 0.3%
South West and Gibraltar, by 0.7%
East of England, by 0.9%
Yorkshire and the Humber, by 1.2%
2nd seat in South East, by 2.2%
Scotland, by 2.8%
West Midlands, by 2.8%
East Midlands, by 4.9%

Margins of victory for seats won:
London, by 3.5%
South East, by 4.3%

BNP got 6.2% of the vote in 2009, and 2 seats.

Seats missed by 5% or less:
West Midlands, by 0.7%
South East, by 2.5%
East Midlands, by 3.2%
East of England, by 3.4%
London, by 3.8%

Margins of victory for seats won:
North West, 0.1%
Yorkshire and the Humber, 0.4%

SNP got 2.1% of the vote in 2009, and 2 seats.

Margin needed to gain a third seat in Scotland: 1.5%

Margin of victory for second seat in Scotland: 9.9%

Plaid Cymru got 0.8% of the vote in 2009, and 1 seat.

Margin needed to gain a second seat in Wales: 5.4%

Margin of victory for seat in Wales: 6.9%

Finally, among the minnows the English Democrats missed a seat in South East by 4.5% – the only other party within a 5% margin.

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September Books 10) Royal Assassin, by Robin Hobb; 11) The Queen’s Bastard, by C.E. Murphy

Occasionally my planned reading schedule throws up an unexpectedly appropriate pair of books to read together. and this was one of those times – both books feature palace politics in a grand fantasy world, and in both cases the main character is an illegitimate offshoot of a royal family, trained as an assassin, with the added benefit of imperfect access to wild magical skills. Royal Assassin is of course the second of the Farseer trilogy, the first of which I very much enjoyedThe Queen’s Bastard was the first of a series of which only the second has appeared.

The similarity in concept throws the differences between the two into sharp contrast. Hobb’s FitzChivalry is a defender of his dying grandfather, king of a realm being assailed from outside by barbarian and inhuman raiders, and from within by the ambition of his uncle. Murphy’s Belinda is the secret daughter of a thinly disguised Elizabeth I, and romps through lushly imagined courts and cities in her world’s equivalents of England, France, Scotland, Italy and Russia. The one has a confined canvas that is getting steadily narrower; the other is a beginning exploration of a new world. (The religious disputes in The Queen’s Bastard are nicely thought out – it is striking how rare it is to read Elizabethan-style fantasy which actually takes note of the Reformation!)

The difference carries through to how the two protagonists deal with their lovers: FitzChivalry is engaged in a difficult and discreet love affair with a maidservant, and also confused by his attachment to a young wolf; Belinda uses sex as one of her weapons, and uses it with greatly detailed enjoyment. Both are put in positions where they must choose between their political mission and their lovers, though we are frankly never in much doubt about the choice in either case.

I ended up liking both books. Royal Assassin seemed to me to have quite a slow start, but gets going about a quarter of the way in. The Queen’s Bastard is a bit more breathless – the change of tense to present when we are getting Belinda’s point of view is part of that – and it’s also a very sexy departure from Catie’s usual style. I suspect that people who like the one will like the other.

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September Books 9) The Castafiore Emerald, by Hergé

Tintin-The-Castafiore-Emerald-Page-009This is a very unusual Tintin book – the action takes place almost entirely at Marlinspike mansion, the residence of Captain Haddock, who is very much the central character for a change – confined to a wheelchair after his tumble down the stairs, and assailed by the overwhelming singer Bianca Castafiore. A side plot relates to the emerald of the title, apparently stolen; is it the gypsies, who Captain Haddock has invited to stay in the meadow? Or the dubious-looking paparazzi? Or the cowed accompanist, Wagner? Or is it something else entirely? There is more going on here than immediately appears, though I feel not quite as much as Tom McCarthy thinks, and it is a fun ride.

The Castafiore Emerald features four female characters (Castafiore, her maid Irma, and the gypsy mother and daughter) which is more than most of the other Tintin books combined…

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September Books 8) Meeting the British, by Paul Muldoon

We met the British in the dead of winter.
The sky was lavender

and the snow lavender-blue.
I could hear, far below,

the sound of two streams coming together
(both were frozen over)

and, no less strange,
myself calling out in French

across that forest-
clearing. Neither General Jeffrey Amherst

nor Colonel Henry Bouquet
could stomach our willow-tobacco.

As for the unusual scent
when the Colonel shook out his hand-

kerchief: C’est la lavande,
une fleur mauve comme le ciel.

They gave us six fishhooks
and two blankets embroidered with smallpox.

A collection of very dense, layered poems, first published in 1987, rooted in the author’s experience in the small but deep-rooted world of Northern Ireland’s cultural community. The title piece is above; the last poems in the book are a sequence imagining the author in the position of figures such as W.H. Auden, Salvador Dali and Louis MacNeice; most of them are short and end somewhat abruptly (though few have quite as vicious as sting as the title piece). All very thought-provoking.

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Wednesday reading (on Thursday)

Current
Home Truths, by Freya North
The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
Evil Under the Sun, by Agatha Christie
[Doctor Who] Year of the Intelligent Tigers, by Kate Orman

Last books finished
[Doctor Who] Just War, by Lance Parkin
A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie
Meeting the British, by Paul Muldoon
The Castafiore Emerald, by Hergé
Royal Assassin, by Robin Hobb
The Queen's Bastard, by C.E. Murphy

Next books
The Moment of Eclipse, by Brian Aldiss
A Book Of Silence, by Sara Maitland
The Far Side of the World, by Patrick O'Brian
[Doctor Who] Shroud of Sorrow, by Tommy Donbavand

Books acquired in last week
Evil Under the Sun, by Agatha Christie
Meeting the British, by Paul Muldoon
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

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Links I found interesting for 16-09-2013

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September Books 7) A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie

[Miss Marple said:] “Fifteen years ago one knew who everybody was. The Bantrys in the big house – and the Hartnells and the Price Ridleys and the Weatherbys… They were people whose fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, or whose aunts and uncles, had lived there before them. If somebody new came to live there, they brought letters of introduction, or they'd been in the same regiment or served on the same ship as someone there already. If anybody new – really new – really a stranger – came, well, they stuck out – everybody wondered about them and didn't rest till they found out. But it's not like that any more. Every village and small country place is full of people who've just come and settled there without any ties to bring them. The big houses have been sold, and the cottages have been converted and changed. And people just come – and all you know about them is what they say of themselves. They've come, you see, from all over the world. People from India and Hong Kong and China, and people who lived in France and Italy, in cheap places and quaint islands. And also those who made some money and could retire. But no one knows any longer who's who…”
And that, thought [Inspector] Craddock, was exactly the source of his trouble. He didn't know. They were all just faces and personalities vouched for by rationing and I.D. cards… well-printed but without photographs or fingerprints. You could get an I.D. for the asking – and partly due to this the subtle ties that hold the structure of the rural society together were loosening. In a city nobody knows their neighbours; neither in the country, but sometimes you have the illusion that you do.

In my current run of Agatha Christies, this is the first I've read from after the second world war, and I must say I found it very interesting. It combines a particularly ingenious plot with some fascinating, if somewhat wrong-headed, social commentary. Christie puts words in her characters' mouths which suggest that she feels the world is going to pot as a result of the upheavals during and after the war (in a way that she doesn't do so much for the aftermath of the First World War; she was born in 1890 so experienced both in adulthood), and the story – the first murder being that of a Swiss immigrant – seems to be an indictment of how the general decay of morals in society works itself out in a specific case of corruption of the outwardly very respectable murderer. There is also another character who is a refugee from Nazi atrocity, and appears at first to be a complete stereotype but actually turns out to be one of the most helpful in solving the mystery.

Another point which is very deserving of note: the book features what I understand to be the most overtly gay couple in any of Christie's works. The omniscient narrator speculates as little about the sex lives of Miss Hinchliffe and Miss Murgatroyd as about any of the other characters, but it's pretty obvious what is going on, and it really takes some colossal blinkers to claim otherwise. And it's an absolutely clear statement from Christie, in 1950; true, the characters are somewhat stereotyped (though nothing like as badly as Mitzi the maid) but their treatment by the author is entirely sympathetic, and their relationship is accepted without comment by everyone else in the village.

This is also the only Agatha Christie novel which I've seen adapted for the stage. (I have seen The Mousetrap, but that is based on a short story which has not been published in the UK.) Back in February 1981, the newly reopened Grand Opera House in Belfast hosted the stage adaptation by Leslie Darbon, starring Hazel Bainbridge (mother of Kate O'Mara) as Miss Marple. I remember that both she and Margaret Ashcroft (niece of Peggy Ashcroft) who played the lady in whose living-room the murder takes place, were pretty impressive to my thirteen-year-old judgement. I didn't remember the names of the actresses, but was delighted to find that the programme book is preserved online. I see that the lesbian couple are dropped from the stage play, along with a number of other extraneous characters; my memory is that the climax is Miss Marple snatching away the covering for the murderer's embarrassing scar, and then explaining it all at slightly too great a length to maintain the dramatic tension.

Gosh, it's interesting to look at advertisements in a Belfast theatre programme in 1981. It's very nostalgic to see that Robinson and Cleaver have the best spot, inside the front cover, but it didn’t stop them closing three years later. I see that the Carriage Restaurant, located in the railway station at Helen's Bay, was offering "French, Jewish and Italian" specialties; I wonder how adventurous the Grand Opera House's clientele were in those days. (In a fit of curiosity I googled what had happened to the chef; he moved to Gloucestershire to breed Afghans, and the business was taken over by Michael Deane, who is still one of Belfast's best known restaurateurs.)

In 1950, "fifteen years ago" seemed like a completely different era (as Miss Marple actually says). The stage adaptation specifies the setting as being not 1950 but "Agatha Christie time". It's very weird to reflect that the story, published in 1950, was less than half its present age when I saw it at the Grand Opera House in 1981. Has the world changed more since 1981 than in the previous 31 years? I think so.

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September Books 6) Just War, by Lance Parkin

At a quarter to seven on June twenty-eighth, the Germans attacked. I was there, most of us were. It was Friday, the warmest evening of the year. We were just coming back from church and Mayor Sherwill was making a speech on Smith Street, trying to reassure everyone. There was a droning noise, a squeal, and then a thud. We’d never heard a sound like it before, so we didn’t realize at first that the Germans were bombing the harbour.

This is a New Adventure with the Seventh Doctor, Benny, Ros and Chris, with flashbacks to the Seventh Doctor’s travels with Mel (which have never merited a full-length spinoff novel of their own). I realised about a qurter of the way in that I had heard an audio adaptation of it several years ago, one of the very first Big Finish audios about Benny, with her husband Jason replacing most of the other regular characters. The audio was good, but the book is also very good; too many Second World War stories, and not just in the Whoniverse, reach for easy cliches, and although the nastiest characters here are German and the nicest (apart from regulars) are Brits, there is a decent level of ambiguity all the way thorugh – including about the Doctor’s role. Ros in particular gets some good moments as an authoritative black woman officer impacting the establishment in London, and poor Benny gets some nasty torture at the hands of the occupiers of Guernsey. The New Adventures seem to have been passing through a good phase generally at this point, in early 1996, though the end must have been already looming.

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Torchwood

Despite the lack of regular updates, I have been continuing my rewatch of New Who, an episode a day unless other circumstances intervene (eg good weather at the weekend, or taking the car to work so I can't watch on the train). Yesterday I reached the end, so far, of Torchwood, and it's a wet weekend, so it is opportune to write it up properly.

To start with Miracle Day. I had seen only the first couple of episodes when it was first broadcast – summer holidays are not a great time for me to catch up with new shows, what with travel disrupting my usual routine – and it rather failed to grab me. Episode 2, in particular, is almost entirely about a transatlantic plane flight and seemed almost as long, though of course it is only 50 minutes, and then I think I just lost interest partway through episode 3.

It's worth persevering with. Episode 5 (of the ten) is where it really catches fire, if you will excuse the metaphor, with wild sex and pyrotechnics; from then on, Jack and Gwen, with new American colleagues Rex and Esther from the CIA, and orbited uneasily by child-murderer Oswald and various others, try to discover who is behind the sudden absence of death from the world, to an eventual dramatic showdown simultaneously in Argentina and China. It's a global reach for the longest single chunk of narrative in the Whoniverse (unless you count Season 16). I would add that, apart from Episode 3 where I stalled first time round, my favourite parts were those written or co-written by Jane Espenson.

It also sees Torchwood come closest to the core concept of some of the best Who stories – the charming quasi-immortal hero, with his girl sidekick from a different culture, helps a small team of dedicated locals to confront the sinister forces of Big Business and government. Of course it isn't quite the same as Who – it turns out that Jack's long-ago relationship with an Italian chap is part of the key to the problem – but it does tick some of the boxes as well as providing entertaining script, acting and effects. The very last words are one of Jack's new American friends asking him, "What the hell did you do to me?" and the viewer who has enjoyed the accelerating rollercoaster of the last few episodes may well ask the same.

These are not the last words of Torchwood, however. Concurrent with Miracle Day, an interactive app for iPhones and iPads was released called Web of Lies, which features two parallel stories told through animated webcasts similar to those the BBC did in 2001-03: Gwen and Jack in an adventure in 2007 which takes them to Chernobyl, and a 2011 plot which brings a young woman investigating her brother's shooting in Los Angeles, to Coney Island for a showdown with the allies of the bad guys from Miracle Day.

I haven't worked out how to get access to the various walled garden app stores so as to get the full value of the interactive games, but the narrative bits of the episodes are bootlegged on Youtube, and watching them gives an eerie feeling of nostalgia for the old bootlegged Doctor Who videos. The very last words of Torchwood, so far, are "I'd figure out something else", spoken by none other than Eliza Dushku, who is the lead guest star, and as always excellent in a not hugely stretching role.

I previously wrote up the first two seasons of Torchwood in the course of this rewatch (1a, 1b, 2a, 2b), and also wrote up Children of Earth when it was first broadcast (to great debate). I would urge Torchwood fans to also seek out the seven radio plays (1, 2-4, 5-7) – particularly the first (Lost Souls, by Joe Lidster) which despite dodgy science gives a certain closure to Toshiko and Owen, and the last (The House of the Dead, by the ever-reliable James Goss) which does the same for Ianto. I have listened to them again in sequence with the TV programmes as part of my rewatch (more on this when I have finished the entire exercise, which will be in about a month at current rate of progress).

I'd also like to flag up the Torchwood books, which I think are the most consistent in quality of any of the post-2005 ranges of Whoniverse novels (the best of all, of course, are the Brilliant Book annuals). I particularly enjoyed, well, anything by James Goss, but especially First Born, which is set between Children of Earth and Miracle Day and may therefore not be as accessible to non-fans. More casual browsers should try Border Princes by Dan Abnett and Slow Decay by Andy Lane, both set during the first season, to see if this is their cup of tea. The direct-to-audio stories are also good, with again a shout-out to James Goss for Ghost Train.

So after all that, was Torchwood worthwhile? I can't match the eloquence of Philip Sandifer, who has chronicled how Torchwood mapped the beginning and end of his marriage, but I share his defensiveness of the project; taking the Whoniverse concept but bringing it closer to the X-Files and Buffy in execution, with a decent ensemble cast, is not a stupid idea, and when it is good (Out of Time, Adam, the P.J. Hammond episodes, Children of Earth, the second half of Miracle Day) I find it very good television indeed; also as noted above I like the audio plays, and find the spinoff books and audiobooks to be generally pretty good quality. On the other hand, I must admit that the low points (End of Days, Fragments) are worse than any of the low points of either New Who proper or the Sarah Jane Adventures. Of course, part of that is about having high expectations, which is never a bad thing. And if we were to judge all of Old Who by The Twin Dilemma, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.

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Links I found interesting for 14-09-2013

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Wednesday reading

Current
Royal Assassin, by Robin Hobb
The Queen's Bastard, by C.E. Murphy
[Doctor Who] Just War, by Lance Parkin
Home Truths, by Freya North
A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie

Last books finished
The Books of Magic, by Neil Gaiman
Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing, by Katherine Ashenburg
The Theology of the Gospel of Mark, by W. R. Telford
[Doctor Who] The Suns of Caresh, by Paul Saint
The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie

Next books
The Subtle Knife, by Phil Pullman
The Moment of Eclipse, by Brian Aldiss
A Book Of Silence, by Sara Maitland
The Year Of Intelligent Tigers, by Kate Orman

Books acquired in last week
Planesrunner, by Ian McDonald
Be My Enemy, by Ian McDonald
A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie

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