Friday, December 31, 2010

Ten things I learned to love in 2010

1. The Kindle
Just as I inherited Mrmonkey's iPhone when he switched to a Nexus, I inherited his Kindle when he moved to the iPad. I had my reservations at first, and honestly found it difficult to concentrate on the first book I read on the device; I was too wrapped up in the novelty of reading an ebook to pay proper attention to the book sometimes. This wore off though, and although I can't see myself ever abandoning paper, I do love a book I can read while brushing my teeth, or with both arms under the covers. And I can get a new book right away! Plus I can read huge or embarrassing books with the same ease and confidence as I read slim or erudite ones. Result.

2. Ian's Classic Book Club
Okay, so I only read three of the books and (so far) turned up to one of the meetings, but it's good to be part of a book club that admits to not having read many classics, and that it's good to read those classics. I was particularly gutted to miss the discussion on Frankenstein, but it was my own stupid fault. Next up is Northanger Abbey for February, I believe. I've not read it before, and I'm greatly looking forward to it.

3. Going to the gym
Once upon a time, long long ago, I used to go to the gym on a regular basis, but I stopped (great story, Trish). Well, I started again this year and although there's been a bit of a hiccup due to the bad weather recently, I really enjoy it. Overall, in fact, I've been enjoying an increased level of fitness this year, partly due to losing a lot of weight, but also due to just getting out and about and moving more. Must keep this up in the new year. I don't want to slip into bad ways again.

4. Watching television with people on Twitter
The Apprentice, Coronation Street, and most of all, The Eurovision Song Contest, are just some of the shows that are massively improved by watching them with your pals on Twitter. Indeed, Twitter's done more for getting people to adhere to the actual published television schedules in 2010 than any other factor (I have made that up, but if I was a freelance journalist I would leave that there and let it become a truthy fact).

5. Audio books and podcasts
Don't know why I never cared about these before, I guess I was always a reader who listened to music when I was a commuter, and now that I'm not a commuter anymore, I just don't listen to as much audio content as I used to. But 2010 brought us more stable foster dogs (well, ones who were either going to stay with me or piss off as they saw fit, regardless of whether I was listening to them), so it became more feasible to stick in a single earphone and listen to A History of the World in a Hundred Objects, Pimsleur Spanish, and my second audiobook ever, The Man Who Invented the Computer by Jane Smiley, which I listened to while in the gym. Like the Kindle, listening to audiobooks is something I've had to learn, but I have the hang of it now and will be doing a good deal more of it in 2011.

6. Pointless
Hosted by Xander Armstrong and Richard Osman (brother of Matt Osman from Suede, connection fans!) this is ideal cup-of-tea-time television. Featuring beautifully laid-back banter, intriguing questions, and no ad breaks, it pisses all over Countdown.

7. Taking my camera just bloody everywhere
When it comes to photography, I am certainly not Mrs. Right, but I am often Mrs. Right There, particularly when it comes to documenting big family events. Take your camera with you when you go places. It's no use to you sitting at home. And then print the photos, or at least put them online where people can see them. Otherwise, really, what is the point?

8. Going out for dinner
Since we moved out to Laytown our eating out arrangements have really slipped. But we've been taking advantage, unlikely though it may seem, of our weekly visits to our diet counsellor to eat out in Dublin at least once a week most weeks. It helps that so many restaurants have top class early bird deals right now. Mmm, mundane.

9. Being 40
There's something liberating about being able to say "I am 40. I don't have to care about this." Particularly things that people with children have to care about. Noisy, expensive things that take precedence over more genteel entertainments, like, I don't know, Justin Bieber maybe. Or that young woman who smokes a bong. I don't care if the X Factor single gets to number one in the charts. I've no idea what's in the charts anymore, or what that word is that they're all using this week (are they even doing that anymore? I couldn't tell you).

10. Paying someone else to walk the dogs
This year, our neighbour set up his own dog walking and dog minding business. The freedom this has given me, I can't begin to describe to you. Going to the city, going hillwalking up in Carlingford, and more activities have become so much easier now that I can just text Michele and get him to take the dogs out, bring them back, feed them, and leave them to snooze till I get home. They know him really well and will go anywhere with them, and he gives them a decent walk for not much money. It is a result. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I don't mean to be all Angry of Laytown

But I'm listening to people on the radio saying that people should be made to wear winter tyres on their cars because councils and local authorities can't be expected to clear the roads. It should be the law, people are saying.

Maybe it should. But it is currently the law that you have to have working headlights on your car, and people don't bother obeying that. And that you should observe the speed limit, not drive on your emergency tyre, turn your fog lights off when it's not foggy, not throw litter out of the car window, etc. etc. etc., and nobody bothers with any of these. This wouldn't annoy me so much (we all break minor laws, after all. Just the other evening I was driving home from the city behind a guy from Cork who I assumed was lost, when after a while I realised he was just driving at 30 kph, like you're supposed to in the centre of Dublin. I'd never seen anyone actually do this. I certainly don't do it), but not only do I see gardai break these minor laws all the time themselves, I very rarely see them stop anyone for speeding, and I never, ever see them stop anyone around me for broken lights, cracked windscreens, dodgy driving, or any other minor infraction.

Good, you might say. Let them get out there and catch some proper criminals. Well yes. Fine. But it's stopping people for minor offences that lets you pick up guys like this, who are on the run from prison or have "99 previous convictions, 92 of which were for driving offences".

Well, maybe it is very right-wing of me. Maybe. But every time I'm dazzled by a single headlight set on high-beam (because one headlight on high-beam is the exact same, safety-wise, as two headlights on dipped), a common occurrence at this time of year, it makes me think of the money that could be collected from fining these eejits, and how that might bring in enough to grit the road a bit, maybe.

Moan moan moan. Grumpy of Laytown.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Off on the wrong trotter

Strictly Come Dancing is over for another year, and not before time too. I have loved this show since halfway through the first season when I discovered that, far from being yet another reality show in which "celebrities" bicker with one another over stupid tasks, it was actually a show that celebrated improvement, cooperation, and partnerships. It has always had lovely little character arcs, individual "journeys", and fantastic interplay between the pro dancers and the celebrities they look after.
Oh, but the recession has hit Strictly hard. I'm guessing that part of the decision to jettison a bunch of my very favourite dancers this year in favour of some unknowns (Matt, Ian, Darren, Lilya, and Brian were all out and Robin, Artem, and some others I still don't know the names of were in) had to do with being able to pay the newer, younger dancers less money. In fact, the amount of dancing on the show was drastically cut. Contestants didn't do as many numbers, there were fewer pro numbers in each show (sometimes none at all), and a lot of the little bits of VT they used to do to make up the running time of the show were also removed. In an effort to draw attention away from these changes, they brought in props and non-traditional costumes, like they have on (whisper it) the American show. To my mind, and I realise I have come over all Federation President Barry Fife here, these are changes for the worse. They also introduced the Argentine Tango at a much earlier stage of the competition (I wonder if that was in order to get celebrities to agree to appear on the show? Everyone seems to want to dance the Argentine Tango), which was definitely a mistake because you just need a certain level of skill to be able to dance it even vaguely well.
It was a real shame as well, because apart from the inexplicable popularity of homophobic, reactionary, conservative old crone Ann Widdecombe, the core of the show was strong. The dancing was great, there was a little romance, and yes, I even warmed to the new dancers. Well, to Robin and Artem anyway. I still couldn't tell you what the other ones are called.
Even Claude's show was compromised. She had the same people on over and over again, no celebrity guests, and no budget for VT bits. Much discussion of pictures of dresses, which was most dull. Even Claude couldn't hide how bored she was with business like the Strictly A-Z.
Of course, it's possible that none of these changes had anything to do with cutbacks and everything to do with trying to shake the show up in order to make it more competitive. If that's the case, that's even worse. If the BBC are just trying to ride out the lean times by putting on a stripped down show for a few years, that's fine, but if they really are messing about with it to try to attract viewers, then the tinkering won't stop until they've wrecked it, because that's what happens.
Still, there's always Pointless.