Archive for the ‘Distractions’ Category

Eurovision 2016 wrap-up

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 | Distractions

eurovision-2016

So, Eurovision 2016 is over and Ukraine have won the day. Now that Russia haven’t won, I can start enjoying Sergey Lazarev’s “You Are The Only One” for the quite good song that it really is. There were no obviously rubbish songs this year. I think that is the problem with the semi-final system: it filters out all of the really crazy stuff.

Sweden rocked our world

I thought Sweden did a brilliant job of hosting. It was a little different, and definitely for the better. I am pleased Justin Timberlake performed. Not because I am a big Timberlake fan, but I hope that it will lend a note of legitimacy to the contest that will encourage bigger names to take part, which can only benefit the UK (with our massive stock of big artists).

They also stole the show with the best song of the night…

The UK did not do very well

Alas. It was looking quite good for Joe & Jake when the judges’ votes came in, but the public did not feel the same way. It’s a shame because I think it is one of the better songs we have put up recently.

The new voting system is odd

I think I prefer the old system. The new system does keep the surprise until right at the very end, but then it also makes the rest feel a bit pointless. They have to rush round the other countries, with only one score announcement each and the tedious reminder to get on wit hit. Do they not brief the people giving the scores beforehand so they know to just get on with it?

I was hoping we could make some FiveThirtyEight-style paths to victory which showed how a country was doing compared to how it should have been doing. For example, if Belarus gives us two points and Russia eight points, on the face of it, that would seem to put Russia ahead. But it doesn’t of course, because they would normally give Russia 12 points and us nothing. It would be interesting to model, but the new system makes it impossible (it would have been difficult before anyway).

The public have very different opinions

Poland, who you will remember entered a rubbish song, were rightly at the bottom when the judges’ scores had been set up. Yet when the public vote came in, they were third from top. This happened to them a few years ago when their churning milkmaids were shunned by the British jury but very popular with the British public. This time, on a European-wide scale.

I’ve come round to songs

I initially shunned Laura Tesoro’s “What’s The Pressure” when listening beforehand. However, seeing it in the contest brought it to life.

It’s a fun, upbeat song and I like the retro disco theme. Even more impressive, that girl has moves! Have you tried doing a dance that choreographed while belting out a song like that? It is damn hard to sing and play an instrument at the same time, and I imagine singing and dancing is harder.

Also, Jamie-Lee’s “Ghost” was so bizarre that I can’t get it out of my head.

As Graham Norton pointed out, they clearly had a lot of costume ideas: and liked them all.

Eurovision 2016: 24 hours to go

Friday, May 13th, 2016 | Distractions

eurovision-2016

Last weekend I published a preview of some of the songs to watch. Well, that’s all changed. I’ve been listening to the songs on Spotify all week and have some new favourites.

Russia

Not a song I want to win. In fact, I’m starting the hashtag #AnyoneButRussia. They are now heavy favourites though. Paddy Power are offering 1.57 on them. 2.0 would be evens (50% shot at winning), so they’re running away with it. The nearest rival is Australia at 11/2.

Australia

They have moved up to second favourite. It’s a good song.

Ukraine

Third favourites. They must be counting on a lot of political sympathy though. The song just isn’t that good. Bold topic, but not great music.

Poland

Poland are having a nightmare! The song I have been singing along to most this week has been Margaret’s Cool Me Down. It’s super-addictive. Great song. The bookies were loving it too.

Then I find out that they picked another song to compete in Eurovision. And it’s shit.

Norway

I’m disappointed Norway did not make it through. Agnete’s Icebreaker is a nice tune.

Malta

Another slower but nice song is Malta. It’s got that nice kick-up.

Conclusion

Obviously I hope Joe and Jake nail it for the UK. However, as I can’t vote for them, my favourite so far is Amir, representing France. It’s the only song I have been singing as much as Margaret.

Five Star Babies

Thursday, May 12th, 2016 | Distractions

five-star-babies

Five Star Babies was a two part BBC documentary looking at Portland Hospital, a private maternity hospital in London. No expense is spared. The dining is gourmet, you get your own private consultant, and the birthing suites come with a lounge area for guests.

Having not been through the process myself, it’s hard to judge some aspects. For example, sending your baby off to the nursery for the first few days. If that was an option, I think I might take them up on that. As a new parent, I imagine I am going to want all the help I can get.

Other things just seemed downright strange though. Sending your new-born off for a clean and a nappy before holding it for example. That seems like a weird rich-person thing. In fact one of the most interesting confessions on the show was when one of the nannies admitted that she almost always saw the baby’s first smile, but would never tell the parents that.

There is also something about private healthcare. My dad told about the time my granddad went private for something. He needed pain relief and the doctor, rather than recommended what would be best, just gave them a price list. The quotes for epidurals, which come in at just under £1,000 if you are interested, reminded me of that.

As the show goes on, it just becomes silly. People redecorating entire floors, bringing in their own designers, making secret entrances and spending up to £250,000 reveal a deep problem with the growing income inequality in the UK. Do you need all of that? The answer is almost certainly, no.

The Blind Side (film)

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 | Distractions

the-blind-side

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game is a 2007 book by Michael Lewis. I reviewed it in 2014 and in another post discussed my thoughts about the story.

In 2009, it was made into a film, which, after a recommendation from someone, I finally got round to watching. It shares quite a bit in common with the book, while at the same time concentrating exclusively on the relationship between Michael and Leigh Anne.

That is the whole thing. It is not, to Elina’s relief, a film about American football. Nor is it, to my disappointment, a film about economic theory. It is a drama revolving around those two characters, with almost everything else cut out.

I thought having read the book helped me out on a number of occasions during the film. A lot of things made sense to me because I had read the details in the book. You would miss them if you had not, but maybe you just wouldn’t notice.

Eurovision 2016 preview

Saturday, May 7th, 2016 | Distractions, Video

eurovision-2016

It’s only one week away! Here is a quick round-up of the entries I will be watching out for.

United Kingdom

We have definitely put up a lot worse in our time. I think it would have worked better if it had kicked up into a dance routine with some fancy light show, but we’ll see. We scored 5 points last year, so basically anything would be good.

Sweden

I think this is a poor effort from Sweden. The bookies put them fairly high up, but I feel it lacks the magic of their recent winners.

Russia

Russia are strong favourites to win, at 2/1. It is a pretty good song. Still, I live in hope that the bad guys won’t win. Eurovision was designed as a contest to bring war-torn Europe together. It would be sorely ironic if it were in Russia next year, while Ukraine remains occupied by Russian forces.

Did you know, last year they used anti-booing technology for the first time ever to try and hide the anti-Russian boos. Imagine how loud they would have been without it!

France

France are the only other country with a chance of winning if Paddy Power is to believed. Almost as hot as Russia, leaving everyone else far in the distance. It’s a really upbeat song. It’s probably got my vote.

Finland

Last year, Finland entered a band of punk rockers with learning difficulties. They didn’t make it through the semi-finals. Now, I’m not saying that makes the whole of Europe simple-minded bigots. Clearly Finland have learned their lesson trying to be inclusive though, and dropped it in favour of a pretty typical Eurovision song. I like it, but the bookies don’t. It’s no Hard Rock Hallelujah, but it is a catchy tune.

What is legal tender?

Saturday, March 5th, 2016 | Distractions

legal-tender

Legal tender is money, right? But what is illegal tender? If we have a term like ‘legal tender’, what does that mean, and what does it mean for things that are not legal tender? I was thinking about this on my walk home today. Luckily Wikipedia came to the rescue with a good write-up on the subject.

Legal tender is anything that can be used to settle a debt. If I owe Fred £10, I can give him a £10 note and the debt is paid. He cannot say “no, I only accept coins”, because a £10 is legal tender and therefore has to be accepted as payment of debt. The UK has some quite complex rules on it. For example a ten pence piece is legal tender, but only up to a certain value of £10. Someone is not obligated to accept a payment of £1,000 in 10p pieces. Guidelines are available from the Royal Mint.

Things get a little more complicated around the union. Notes issued by the bank of England are legal tender in England and Wales. Scottish bank notes however, are not. In fact technically Scottish bank notes are not even legal tender in Scotland, though they are typically accepted to be by general agreement.

Another issue that comes into play is whether you have a debt, or whether you are treating. If you have not yet established a debt, the trader is under no legal obligation to accept your money. So a shop or a bus could refuse to accept a £20 note from you (many shops due refuse £50 notes) because no debt has yet come into play. However, if there was a debt established and then payment has requested, so as an invoice or a restaurant meal, they would then be obliged to accept your legal tender.

It is sometimes claimed that stamps are legal tender. This is not the case, and was confirmed by the Royal Mint.

The Inbetweeners

Friday, March 4th, 2016 | Distractions

inbetweeners

Occasionally, I do actually watch some TV. I was recommended The Inbetweeners by a few people and as the entire series was available on Channel 4’s on demand service All4, we decided to give it a watch. Best of all, with only six episodes to a series, and three series in total, it was small commitment we could get through easily.

It’s pretty funny. It’s not massively high-brow, relying on predictable stereotypes for humour. It is also Peep Show cringey at times. Entertaining nonetheless though. The film was also quite good. There was actual character development and everything.

Dawson’s Creek DVDs

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 | Distractions

dawsons-creek-dvds

Over the past five years my DVD collection has been reducing in size as they were replaced by digital media. However, I kept hold of a few just in case the world suddenly jumped back a decade. Now though, with increased pressure to find spaces for my books, I have come to the conclusion that they all have to go. Even my complete set of Dawson’s Creek DVDs, including the special series finale DVD. Farewell Mr Leery, see you on the iTunes Store.

Scandimania

Saturday, February 27th, 2016 | Distractions

scandimania

Scandimania is a 3-part TV series in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall visits Sweden, Denmark and Norway to investigate their cuisine.

There is no Finland, but that makes sense given how much duplication there would be with the Swedish episode. While it is in theory about food, it more reflects Hugh’s views on conservation and sustainability. Some of it goes rather darker: discrimination in Sweden, crime drama in Denmark and Anders Breivik in Norway.

Each episode bases itself around a concept of modesty and simplicity. ‘Lagom’ means ‘just enough’ in Sweden. ‘Hygge’ means ‘coziness’ in Denmark. The Law of Jante teaches people to be humble in Norway. Perhaps this is another reason not to include Finland, who have ‘sisu’ which is all about having the stoic determination and guts to beat the Russians – probably not quite the character the show’s producers had in mind.

All of this means that there isn’t actually that much discussion of food. Therefore, while it was interesting, I think the Hairy Bikers did a better job of exploring Nordic cuisine.

The Hairy Bikers’ Northern Exposure

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 | Distractions

Hairy-Bikers-Northern-Exposure

The Hairy Bikers in Finland? We had to watch that, of course. We also watched the Swedish episodes for good measure.

I had never seen The Hairy Bikers before I watched it. I have mixed feelings. At first I was put off by the somewhat low-brow comments and humour they seem to display. But I have since warmed to them, and both Elina and I agreed that they did a good job of representing Finland.